Author's Note: Yes, this is another song-fic, and it's one of the most…confusing I've ever done. Probably because it's in the Dark Ace's head, and I think he's a little confused. But it jumps from the past to the present/future. Just humor me, and try to follow along!

Disclaimer: Don't own the Storm Hawks. Foo Fighters wrote "The Pretender."

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Keep you in the dark
You know they all pretend

The Dark Ace's blood red eyes peered at the seemingly peaceful night over Terra Atmosia. Seemingly peaceful, because it wasn't going to be peaceful for very long.

Those Atmosian hypocrites! They accused Cyclonia of all these sins, all these wrongdoings, when their own Terras were filled with the very evils they fought so hard to destroy. At least Cyclonia was open about the fact that they weren't perfect.

But Cyclonia was gone. The Sky Knights had seen to that. There was only him left, and not for long.

Keep you in the dark
And saw it all begin

Young eyes, still black, not yet turned red by overexposure to Firebolt crystals, peered into the calm, clear night over Atmosia.

"You do realize that they are all lying to you. You do realize that you are fighting on the wrong side of this war. You're not fighting for freedom, or justice. You're helping destroy it." The words of Master Cyclonis echoed through his mind, and as much as he hated to admit it, he was beginning to doubt.

He glanced at the proud, confident form of his redheaded leader. Lighting Strike didn't realize that his young copilot had followed him. After all, he wouldn't want to be seen in this part of town.

Ace watched as Lighting Strike walked into a secret meeting, with what seemed to be the most influential members of the Sky Knight Council. The leader was speaking.

"Now, as we all know, Terra Tropica paid the protection fee." Protection fee? There was no fee for protecting innocent Terras from Cyclonia. "Terra Gale didn't. All Sky Knights should stay stationed around Tropica. If Gale falls, it's their own fault. They should have know better than to not pay up."

Blackmail. Bribery. The Sky Knights were just as bad as the Cyclonians, only they hid their black hearts under fake heroics.

At once, Ace was sick. He wasn't proud of being in a squadron anymore; in fact, it repulsed him.

He had been naïve, and he wasn't too happy with his wake-up call.

Send in your skeletons
Sing as the bones come marchin' in, again

The knee you buried deep

The secrets that you keep
Are ever ready, are you ready?

He blasted a few houses with his crimson blade, starting a raging fire in the warm, dry fall air. Of course, they sent their new pet Sky Knight out to stop him. They were always cowards when the battle came to their own front door.

"Aerrow," he hissed, but suddenly, he wasn't just seeing Aerrow…

"Lightning Strike," he hissed. "How could you betray us like this? How could you want to have anything to do with this blatant corruption?"

"Took you long enough to find out!" his leader laughed. "I guess I'll have to give you the 5% cut, too. Pity, I was enjoying the extra spending money."

"You think you can just bribe me too and I won't make a fuss!" Ace was bristling.

Suddenly, there was a blue blade at his neck. "You can take the money and shut up, or you can argue with me and I'll cut your throat. The method of protection has worked long enough. We're following the Sky Knight Council's orders. Do you understand?"

Ace swallowed, pushing his burning rage and hate down deep. "I understand, and I'll never speak of it again, sir."

The blade lifted from his throat.

"Good. You'd better."

His leader stalked away, and Ace could only call after his retreating form, "But I'm not taking your filthy money!"

It was that night that he sent the first message crystal to Cyclonia.

Aerrow's eyes widened in confusion. "Lightening Strike? I'm Aerrow. And what do you mean, he betrayed you?"

But the Dark Ace was silent, his feverish eyes seeing both the now and the not-now.

I'm finished making sense,

Done pleading ignorance

That whole defense


"You'll have to kill your squadron."

The words echoed in his head, pushing his thoughts in dark directions, fueling his hate and anger until they overwhelmed him.

But as much as Lightening Strike now disgusted him, he couldn't just kill him in cold blood.

The anger, the guilt, the uncertainly cycled over and over and over in his head. He was just a boy, and he shouldn't have to deal with this, but he did. It made him stronger.

It made him the Dark Ace.

Cyclonia had been destroyed. After all, she was only a girl, only a kid, and there was only so long that she could keep her kingdom together against all of Atmos united. They blamed her for their ills, then they fought to exterminate her and her great achievements with remarkable ferocity.

There had only been a dream for a Pax Romana, a Pax Cyclonia. It was a dream that they had crushed.

The Sky Knights ruthlessly murdered the fourteen-year-old girl as she came to them alone and unarmed in an attempt to create a peace treaty.

His rage drove him out of his mind. He was done thinking things through. He needed revenge on the men who had done this to them.

He needed revenge on the men who had done this—all of this, from when he was sixteen to now, ten years later—this whole mess that used to be a person's life. His life. Not anymore. He was done trying to make sense of things. He just wanted someone to kill.

Spending this energy

But the wheel that's spinnin' me
Is never ending, never ending
Same ol' story

He didn't want to have anything to do with that Sky Knight anymore. He didn't want to pilot his skimmer, or protect his back. It wasn't a choice. It was act normal, or die for knowing the forbidden knowledge of corruption that the rest of Atmosia couldn't find out about.

He put on a fairly good mask. He went along his daily routine with extra energy and enthusiasm.

But at night, he either cried himself to sleep, or screamed into his pillow in rage.

Every Cyclonian they defeated, there was more money, and therefore more corruption. If was a vicious cycle, an ever-spinning wheel, and there was nothing he could do but help it along.

He was through with life. Oh, he still felt the anger and the hate, and adrenaline still pumped through his veins, but underneath, he was tired of all the deceit and entangled webs of lies that he'd only had to break through all his life. He never expected to extract his revenge. He knew that he was going to die that night. His time was over. His story was over.

The worst part was, nothing he could do would make a difference. Even if he did end the blackness in the heart of their light, in a few years, there would be new businessmen and merchants who thought up the idea of paying squadrons to protect their goods. The whole thing would start all over again.

There was nothing he could do. He was just Ace, lowly co-pilot. No matter what he tried, it wouldn't make a difference.

What if I say you're not like the others

What if I you're not just another
One, look at your face,
You're the Pretender

What if I say I'll never surrender

"Lightening Strike, I'm not scared of you! Not anymore!" he shouted at his leader. "You have to be stopped!"

The man smirked mercilessly, staring at Ace with pure black eyes. Ace felt his resolve waver. Just what exactly had he gotten himself into?

"All the squaddies were like this, when they first started out. The truth is, the world's imperfect. We actually charge less than most. If we don't, someone else would, and it would be more of a rip-off. So tell me, Ace, what makes you different?"

Righteous anger shot through him. Oh, maybe the fact that he had just confirmed his deal with the Cyclonians. Or the fact that his family had been killed in an attack, because the Sky Knights couldn't get there fast enough. "Couldn't get there." More like they weren't paid enough.

Ace swallowed his pride. It would do no good to have his plans exposed now. "You're right."

"You're right what?"

"You're right, sir."

What if I say you're not like the others

What if I you're not just another
One, look at your face,
You're the Pretender

What if I say I'll never surrender

His red eyes flashed, and he was having a lucid moment. He understood what was happening. He was in the present, for the time being.

His red blade was clashing with two blue daggers, crossed into an "X." Determined green eyes met his, refusing to give up.

"Aerrow," he spat. "Why are you stopping me? They deserve this! It's wrong!"

Aerrow's eyes filled with confusion. "I don't know what you're talking about!" The Storm Hawks were still young, still innocent. They hadn't been made an 'official squadron' yet. They hadn't been sullied by the dirt and grime of dishonesty. They were still pure. They still thought that they fought for good.

The crimson eyes clouded over. "How dare you deny it, Lightening Strike! I know you take bribes from the Sky Knight Council! All of the squadrons do! I'm not going to sit back and watch you do it anymore! That's not what it means to be a Sky Knight!" The Dark Ace grimaced in anger, and heaved backwards. Aerrow fell flat on his backside.

It was his turn to be confused. Bribes? Surely his father hadn't taken bribes?

The picture-perfect image of the hero dad began to slowly crack at the seams.

In time I'm so I'm told

I'm just another soul for sale, oh well

The pages I repress

They are not permanent, they are
Temporary, same ol story

Master Cyclonis smiled as she looked down at her various plans. Her daughter was growing into a genius, surpassing her finest tutors in Crystal Science. With this new "Ace" boy, there was a chance Cyclonia could take down the Storm Hawks for good. Things were certainly looking up.

She felt bad for the kid for a minute—she was promising him peace that she probably wasn't going to produce, as the Atmosians had never stopped fighting, and he would probably die before he succeeded.

She was using him, and she knew it.

She was very clear about it. "We're not perfect here," she told the kid. "You'll find lying, and cheating, and bribery here, as much as if not more than in Atmosia. I can't guarantee anything, not even your own survival."

He would be evil. He would be a murderer. He would be a traitor.

All those things he could deal with, all those things he could push from his mind, as long as he didn't have to live every day a lie.

What if I say you're not like the others

What if I you're not just another one,

Look at your face, you're the Pretender

What if I say I'll never surrender

"One last thing, Ace, before you return to your Storm Hawks." Her back was turned to him, and she was typing on a large crystal machine. "It's not an important question"— the tone of her voice said the opposite—"why are you doing this? Is it for fame? Glory? Power? Riches?"

As much as he knew he should remain respectful to his new Master, he couldn't resist a sneer in contempt. "Do you really think I'm that typical? I'm doing it because I'm tired of lying. I'm doing it because they put a mark on my clean soul, and I can't bear to fight with them anymore."

He was not like the others. He had…an honor, or sorts. It was too bad that they hadn't seen this, or they would have saved themselves. As it was, it was his goodness that killed them.

A strange concept. The good killing the good.

But then again, he had always been strange.

What if I say you're not like the others

What if I you're not just another one,

Look at your face, you're the Pretender

What if I say I'll never surrender

"What are you talking about?" Aerrow's voice was cracking, as much as he tried to keep it strong. "My father was a good man!"

"Your father was a thief and a swindler. They all were! They all are!" Dark Ace spat. "Don't you know? Or are you not a real Sky Knight?"

Shame prickled in Aerrow's eyes. "We were never officially instated," he admitted.

The Dark Ace laughed. "Then you're still innocent. Well, you can thank me, then. It's a lot better to be told the ugly truth then to find out on your own. I can assure you that. The Sky Knight Council doesn't protect people out of goodness, they make Terras pay fees of protection."

Aerrow's world went reeling. All he could think was, "NO!"

The Dark Ace smiled. Finally, one person who understood the pain, the turmoil. He relished in the fact that the young teen now held his own burden. It made the weight on his own heart less heavy. "Oh, Aerrow, didn't you ever wonder why I would betray your dad?"

I'm the voice inside your head
You refuse to hear
I'm the face you have to face
Mirroring yourself


Ace—no, he was the Dark Ace now, he had been the Dark Ace ever since he sealed his bargain on Cyclonia—reached for the blade on his leader's back. He pulled it up.

"What do you think you're doing?" Lightening Strike hissed. He activated his daggers—he always kept extra weapons on himself, in case he couldn't use his sword. "Do you really think you can beat me? Who do you think you are?"

"I think I'm right," the Dark Ace growled. "I think that Atmosia deserves a better protector than you do. Atmosia doesn't deserve Sky Knights who are corrupt. I'm you, only not blackened by deceit. I'm the one that you have to answer to, because I'm the only one willing to stand for what I believe is right!"

"I stood for what I believed was right," the Dark Ace explained mockingly. "Surely you understand that."

"Sky Knights aren't like that!" Aerrow protested.

"Why do you think that Carver betrayed Atmosia so easily?" the Dark Ace asked. "Master Cyclonis offered him more money than the Atmosians paid in their protection fee."

Aerrow opened his mouth to deny it, but nothing came out. It was a lot harder to argue against the truth.

I'm what's left, I'm what's right, I'm the enemy

I'm the hand that takes you down and brings you to your knees

Blue and blue clashed as the two outraged Storm Hawks tried again and again to take the other down. It was a fight to the death, and each of them knew it.

They weren't teammates anymore. They weren't closer than brothers anymore.

They were enemies.

The Dark Ace kicked at his former leader, knocking him down. Although Lightening Strike jumped back up, the message was clear.

Dark Ace was younger. Dark Ace was stronger. Dark Ace had been very, very mad for a very, very long time now. Dark Ace was bringing him down.

Aerrow heaved, shoving the stronger man off of his as red and blue blades crashed. He jumped nimbly into the air, flipping before landing in a fighting stance. They were enemies, and this was a battle to the death. It wasn't a time for any uncertainty.

So who are you,
Yeah who are you,
Yeah who are you,
Yeah who are you?


"Who are you?" Dark Ace shouted, tears streaming down his face. "Who are you to betray all there people's trust in you? Who are you to steal their money? You should care about saving their lives!"

Lighting Strike didn't answer, he just smirked.

"Who are you?" Dark Ace shouted, tears streaming down his face. "Who are you to betray all there people's trust in you? Who are you to steal their money? You should care about saving their lives!"

Aerrow stared in confusion at his enemy, wondering what in the world he was talking about, until he realized that the Dark Ace was half-living in the shadows of his own past.

Was he fighting Aerrow? Or the memory of Aerrow's father? Or was it both of them?

Even in the dark, you know they all pretend….

For a second, the Dark Ace's eyes cleared, and he looked genuinely sorry. "Kid, I know how you feel. I fought on the wrong side, too. I'm sorry it had to be this way. I'm sorry it had to end like this."

Aerrow desperately wanted things to be simple, the way before Dark Ace had dropped his revelation like a bomb of mass destruction. He had destroyed Aerrow's purpose, and Aerrow's resolve. But how could he just pretend that none of this had ever happened?

What if I say you're not like the others,
What if I you're not just another one,

Look at your face, you're the Pretender,

What if I say I'll never surrender

"Kid, you can beat me, like you always do, but I just ask you two things," the Dark Ace looked resigned. "Firstly, kill me. I'm done with this world. Secondly, promise me you won't be like your father. Promise me you won't be another pretender. Fight for what you truly believe in."

Aerrow nodded unsteadily.

The Dark Ace's eyes clouded over again, and he narrowed them in anger. "You'll pay for what you've done, Lightening Strike!"

"I'm not Lightening Strike!" Aerrow tried to protest as he blocked blow after blow. "I'm Aerrow!"

But the Dark Ace was too far gone to hear him.

"I'll never surrender, Lightening Strike! I'm not like you! So you can either kill me, or you can accept your defeat. Because I'd rather die than be like you!"

What if I say you're not like the others
(even in the dark, you know they all pretend)

What if I you're not just another one
(even in the dark, you know they all pretend)

Look at your face, you're the Pretender
(even in the dark, you know they all pretend)

What if I say I'll never surrender

Blue blades clashed on blue. "I'm done being the naïve little kid that everyone ignores. I've grown up, and you're going to have to deal with the consequences!"

Red blade clashed on blue, and it was obvious that the Dark Ace was fighting to kill. Aerrow tried to hold back, but it was obvious that this was the most intense fight of his life. He couldn't hold back, not if he wanted to live.

Dark Ace kicked hard, and Lightening Strike was knocked down onto the wing of his skimmer, his daggers clattering down into the Wastelands. Fear filled his large black eyes.

"Ace? Don't do this! We can talk this out! We can—"

"Dark Ace? Don't do this! We can talk about this with the Sky Knight Council. We can end this peacefully!" His daggers knocked away, Aerrow still believed in his ability to resolve conflicts without violence.

So who are you? Yeah, who, are you? YEAH WHO ARE YOU?

Red eyed met green.

Red-brown eyes met black.

Red blade raised high.

Blue blade raised high.

Plunging down.

Sky Knight falling. Red liquid of life pouring out of a small, lean body.

Death.

Silence.

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I think I'm scaring me. No, make that I really am scaring me.

Well, what do you think? Please review!