It had been years since he first joined the gang. So much had happened since then- they'd broken up, joined together again, taken on psychos in rubber suits and the realler deals of ghosts, goblins, and ghouls, of witches, warlocks, and werewolves, and of spirits, sparkers, and supernatural beings. Good times and bad had happened amongst them, fond memories and foul ones. Arguments, kisses, laughter, tears; all had been there in what was surely a bonding moment.

And it only took a moment to realize that he'd hated every second of their time together.

As he sat in that dark, cold cell, slumped alone against the icy, slimy stones, with his hands and feet bound in chains and a gag around his face, he realized how foolish it all was. They were helping people, yes - but in what way? They had childishly thought that by doing this, they were helping to rid the world of crime. And yet, what had come of it? Nothing. No one learned not to try to do it again. No one thought that dressing up in a fake rubber suit would be an even stupider idea then just commiting the goddamn crime in public because of the publicity it would garner. Or was that why they did this? To get their fifteen minutes of fame with a group of meddling kids who'd had far too much of the limelight as it was already?

And so, as his head hit the climy walls with a disheartening thunk, he knew that he'd been used by the law-breakers for a moment of fun in the oh-so-sunny spotlight.

And he sickened himself.

It's been so many years
Resenting the years
And my heredity.

The criminal was actually rather genius this time around. Instead of kidnapping and ransoming the one that everyone would clamor after - the bespectacled genius, the talking dog, the heiress beauty, or the all-American leader - the man had kidnapped him, waiting eagerly for the falling apart of a great group, or of a fantastic monetary payout. For it was a means of testing their loyalty to everyone in the group, of dividing and conquering their ranks slowly, starting with the weakest of links; all by seeing how far they would go to save their ownweak little friend, and their image of caring about him in the process of it all.

Only, he wasn't weak. He'd never been weak.

Just human.

After all, who'd been the one to hold the gang together through countless arguments and tiffs and disagreements? Who'd been the one to patch things up when things got rough, to get them to work together again after Scooby got kidnapped and nearly sacrificed? Who'd tried to change his human nature, his entire attitude and views towards life, just to see things their way, to try to help them more in mysteries? Sure, he got scared, but so did everyone else around him who didn't happen to be in Mysteries Incorporated. After all, who wouldn't be afraid when they saw a half-crazed maniac running towards you in a giant monster costume wielding some for of weapon and roaring?

And yet... not one person saw it that way. They saw him as a coward, an unreliability... a scapegoat. A believable scapegoat, one that everyone would accept, despite the overwhelming evidence against them.

What was worse then this fact was that he'd let them make him into a social pariah, that he'd been more then willing to sacrifice public image and the basic rights of human dignity, all for - well, all for what? Friendship? Some friends they were, if all he was was a human shield for them. He was only there to protect their precious little popularity from disdain and scorn. He doubted that even Scooby would still stand by him. Ever since the museum incident and the events following it at the mine, he'd become a hero in the eyes of everyone in the world.

And himself? He'd been more than willing to hide from the world, so long as he had his friends by his side. But what does someone do when they find out that they have no friends to hide behind anymore? He hated himself for that, hated them for that - and yet, how could he blame them? They'd put up with him for so long, laughed with him, comforted him. In some ways, they had been there for their tall, slender friend. They'd been his first friends, and the only friends that he'd ever had. He couldn't deny it; despite everything they had ever done to him, despite how they constantly shoved him under the bus for their own well-being and personal gain, he couldn't help but love them.

But he couldn't deny this new, growing anger at them, either. It was a strange, conflicting feeling, to adore and despise people he'd known all throughout his life. The soft warmth of a filial love clashed violently with this burning ice that swallowed the heart in his chest whenever he though of them, their faces, their voices, any and every little thing about them.

And after many torturous hours of sitting and waiting, before the criminal they'd been chasing came in with an ominous looking metal switch in his heavily gloved hand, and four other identical men behind him, he finally saw the truth of their relationship.

They hadn't come up with the money within 18 hours, like they could have, more than easily, with anyone else but him.

Or they just hadn't cared enough to bother to.

Oh, I have hated and loved you,
I have hidden behind you,
But I finally see.

He was left, bloodied and beaten in iron shackles against the walls of his prison. Blood dripped ominously from...somewhere on him, and his face was pale and bruised. One of his limbs he was sure was broken, but which one, he couldn't tell anymore; the pain had dulled to a harsh, muted numbness. The clothes he wore were burnt and browned by drying crimson stains, and his heart beat steadily, jaggedly, along his temples.

But what was most noticeable about him were the two steady trails of tears that poured relentlessly down his cheeks, tiny sparkling rivers that cut through the dirt and the grime and the blood that smeared his face. Why hadn't they come?

He knew, of course - they simply didn't care anymore. After all wasn't he dead weight? Just a spare tire that didn't fit the van anymore? He seceded to his emotions, and sobbed openly, his pain echoing throughout the cavernous cell. His friends, he has learned, are not his friends. They are no more then heartless co-workers who never bothered to show up to something important to him (especially as it concerns his very life). The pain he feels hurts tremendously - he doesn't know if it's due to his physical injuries or his emotional betrayal. He thought that he could count on them for anything - that they would pull through for him before it was too late - but it was not to be. He should have seen this coming, should have known that they weren't going to call and agree to pay the criminal his ungodly sum, should have known that they didn't care. And yet...

Damn his hopeful, positive attitude. Damn it to Hell. Let it burn with their lies.

He feels angry now, but who could blame him? He has been betrayed, hurt by the people he cares about most. Why hadn't they come for him? He'd always come for them, no matter how afraid he was before their situation of dire need and peril. He'd always been there for them, has always been there for them, and this is how they repay him? They let him be beaten and bloodied by common thugs, who'd caught him as he was out on an errand for them, no less, and don't even call to say that they refuse to pay? What a world we live in, he thinks, if friendship is defined so clearly by popularity and self-preservation.

You, I've mistaken for destiny
But the truth is my legacy
Is not up to my genes.

Hours are now passing him, and he takes no notice. He cries silently now, his anger burning out through hot, blurry drops of useless raging emotions that only work to make him sick, the knot in his stomach unwinding as he heaves up what little remains in his system in a nearby corner. The world has ceased to move now; all he can feel is a thudding pain and a Novacained heart, while a nearby candle flickers in the gloom. And as he watches the candle, something new slowly rises within his broken heart, in which all former opinions of his friends were shattered with one blow to the gut and a million others following in rapid sucession.

This new feeling, he wonders vaguely, why does it feel so familiar? It's making his heart feel lighter, his burdens fall away, and everything that has to do with them, the gang, his former friends, just... fade. He watches the candle with more interest now. How is it, he thinks, that such a small, thin, weak candle can continue to burn in such oppressive dampness, in such dreadfully dreary darkness? What purpose does it have, when nobody uses it, when nobody even wants it around; why does it continue to burn if no one is there to need it?

And then it hits him: he wants the candle around. He needs it around. Without it, he would've been lost to panic and uncontrollable fear ages ago. Without it, all hopes he had, no matter how feeble and foolish they were, would've simply vanished into the darkness without a trace. He would be lost without it, he realizes. And if it were not me who was here, he thinks, then someone else would want it there, with them, for comfort.

The candle did not just depend on one person for a meaning to life. There were others who would need it, given a bit of time; someone else would be there to want it, to need it, to use it properly and treat it kindly, with respect and honest means.

His epiphany comes: he is the candle.

And he does not need the gang to be happy. Others can make him happy, as long as he is given the time to heal, to rest, and to open his eyes to someone other then that group of meddling kids. His father, perhaps, for a time; he saw long before tonight how his 'friends' treated him, and had often encouraged him to leave them behind, find others who would accept him for himself, and not for their image of perfection that they'd failed to mold him into.

He'd refused to listen, before. But he's heard it all now; only now, he can accept what is and what isn't.

He can move forward. He can move on. And it is possible.

True, though the imprint is deep in me,
It will always be up to me,
Up to me.

The police arrive during the second beating that the criminal and his henchman are kindly bestowing upon the already bloody young man. They are quickly clubbed down and cuffed, with more then a few 'unnecessary' kicks in between. The Chief of Police himself strides in, spitting more then happily on these foul and moronic thugs, shoving aside the other stunned officers who are grouped around someone to stare down at the shivering form of his son.

He stops, and kneels down to him, amazed at the sight before him. His son is bloodied, broken, torn and tattered; the medics are already trying to force him away from the boy. Tear tracks are evident amongst the grime and blood, and are still glistening freely. And yet, despite the pain, the suffering that he has been put through, his son is smiling, grinning almost to himself. He hears a whisper drift away from him - "I'm free" - and he finally looks up at his father, his golden chocolate orbs sparkling in something that he hasn't seen in a long time:

Hope. Self-confidence. And liberation.

He looks at him, amazed, and slowly, as something sparks within the heart of the older man himself, words are exchanged between the two.

"Norville? Are you alright?"

"No. And yes. Maybe. I dunno. But I'm free, Dad. I'm free."

"But what does that mean?" At that, he looks up at his father, smiling as another tear drifts down his face. He chokes out a laugh, still smiling as it turns into shoulder-shaking sobs. His father pulls him in for a much-needed embrace, and in the tense atmosphere of the cell room, the two share a father-son bond that has never really formed between the two. And as he cries into his father's uniform, he answers.

"It means I quit, Dad. I quit." His father pulls away, stunned at these words, finally understanding what they mean. He's finally doing it, the chief of police is thinking. He is finally leaving them. Oh, happy days. His son mistakes this silence for something else, and continues. "And I-I know that you're disappointed in me for quitting --" he is shushed by a hand covering his lips lightly, quieting him and his doubts.

"Norville, I have been waiting to hear those words for so long. Why would I ever be disappointed?" He gently takes his hand away, and his son clings to him again, throwing his arms around his neck, like he did when he was a child. He helps him up, and offers to carry him - he looks light as a feather anyways - but his son stops him.

"I wanna walk, Dad. Help me walk."

And he complies.

I'm free at last.

As his father helps him up, he sees his former co-workers standing there in the room, with shocked looks plastered appropriately on their faces. They heard what he said, and his father's response; they are in shock. He then lets go of his father's arm, and slowly, calmly, coolly, strides over to them with all the regal confidence of a king, despite his bloody appearance and a dragging limp. He holds his chin up high and looks them in the eye, proudly for once, and repeats the words that he'd uttered only moments before.

And as he stumbles, barely catching onto his father's supporting arms nearby, they cannot believe what he has said to them, what he has told them. They want to believe that it is due to the pain and bloodloss he is experiencing now, that he doesn't actually mean those two, terrible, shocking words. But his eyes did not lie as he looked down at them, as though realizing for the first time that he was taller then them, better then them in some way because of it. His eyes were clear and cold as he said them; and yet, not without some regret. But they shone with hope as he left them behind in his wake, and they spoke of a brighter and more promising future; one that was without any of them.

So they let him pass unhindered.

They give him his freedom.

And he smiles in return, the last that they will ever see from Norville Rogers. Never again will he be pinned down to that horrible nickname 'Shaggy.' No; now he will make his own way into the world, on his own two feet this time, with a little help from his family, perhaps. Now he can fly; and he will fly very far indeed.

And so, as the young, slender man strode away from an ugly past and awful experiences, from brimming pain and burning rage, he felt Hope rise up within his like a majestic phoenix, filling him with power and with strength. His father feels this radiating from him as he stumbles along at his side, but he only smiles in response; it was about time that his boy was able to have some form of pride in himself without feeling guilty. Now he would be able to move on, to heal from other, less pleasant times that had afflicted him so. And he would help him do so, with as much support as he could offer.

He leaves that prison to imprison his helplessness; but before he leaves, he takes an old, worn candle from the wall, clutching it tightly in his harshly chafed hands. It has no real significance, many think, but to him it is as if it were a magnificent torch, guiding him to a better, brighter, and more hopeful future.

He lets it burn; and he is free.

Woah, oh
Free at last!


...Woah. Did not expect to write this, but I am glad I did. Written for Revriley's contest of emotional/physical turmoil within a member of the gang (I think I went a little overboard with it, though...). Sparked off by nicolasmandias' story 'Of That She Regrets'. Fully blazed into reality by the song 'Genetic Emancipation' from 'Repo! the Genetic Opera'.

I own nothing SD or Repo related. That is all. Please Review.