A/N Okay, so this story has been eating away at me for quite sometime now. I just had to write it. It starts out pre series, then progresses through to shortly after the series timeline. I hope you like it!

A/N2 For those of you who are following my H50 story, don't worry I am still working on that one, but my muse insisted I start this one as well, so I did, because, you know, I'm apparently a glutton for punishment!

16-year-old Andy Yablonski hunkered down in front of the door. His partner-in-crime and best friend, Joey Brendan, stood watch, ensuring no one was aware of their presence. Joey was 2 years older than Andy and the closest he'd ever had to a big brother.

"You got it yet, Runt," Joey asked over his shoulder in a teasing whisper.

"I told you to stop calling me that," Andy returned, his fingers making good use of the lock picking tools his uncle Mike had given him for Christmas a few weeks back. His dad had always told him, he had the hands of a surgeon. He paused at the thought of what his parents would think if they knew he was doing this, working for uncle Mike, breaking into peoples' homes and taking things that didn't belong to him. Then he shook himself free of the temporary mental bondage. His parents wouldn't think anything of his current line of work because they were both dead. The tears that formed in his eyes were forced back. It had been a year already. Suck it up, Yablonski!

"Dude," Joey whispered harshly, "what is up with you? This should be a piece of cake for someone with your talents. These people aren't going to be out at their high society shindig for much longer, y'know!"

"Well, maybe if you aimed the flashlight on the key hole instead of at your feet, we'd be inside by now," Andy deflected, not wanting to explain his suddenly hesitant fingers. He was rewarded with a near blinding light being shone in his face. The exposure had been so unexpected, Andy hadn't had time to put his game face on in time and Joey clearly saw the pain in the younger boy's eyes before they were squeezed shut against the light.

"Hey, you okay?"

"I'm fine," Andy insisted, returning his attention to the job at hand. "Just give me a bit of light here, will you?"

After a brief moment, Joey complied, aiming the flashlight at Andy's once again nimble fingers. Andy didn't miss the fact that Joey had also taken a step closer so that, even while he watched the street, one leg was pressed lightly against Andy's back, offering support the only way he could at the moment. And it worked. Andy's heartache seemed to dissipate almost completely.

"Just think," Joey told him. "We finish this job and you'll have enough to take that sweet Rena girl out for a nice dinner on Valentine's day."

Andy finally heard the telltale click. He stood and opened the door enough for him and Joey to slip quietly inside. Closing the door behind them, he turned to his friend. "Yeah. Maybe. Haven't even talked to her yet."

Joey's only response to that confession was a small smirk and a slight shake of the head. He stepped away from Andy and into the living room.

"What?" Andy whispered. "I'm just waiting for the right moment."

"Whatever," Joey snarked. "Come on. We got a job to do. I'll explain the birds and the bees to you later."

"I don't need you to explain the - " It was too late, Joey was already at the other side of the room, piling whatever valuables he could carry into his bag. With an indignant sigh, Andy slipped into criminal-mode and crept into the dining room on the other side of the hallway. He whistled softly when he saw the large buffet and hutch filled with various silver trinkets. "Jackpot," he muttered to himself. Uncle Mike was definitely gonna be happy with this haul.

"Put your hands in the air and turn around slowly."

Andy froze. Crap! Cops! Silently, he did as he was told. When he turned around, however, he didn't see what he had expected. Instead of a uniformed police officer, Andy was faced with a panicked civilian in rumpled pyjamas - a little too panicked for Andy's liking, what with the shotgun held in trembling hands and aimed directly at Andy's chest. If the reddened nose and watery eyes were any indication, the man appeared to be hopped up on cold medication... and not the drowsy kind. Perfect! Stoned and holding a gun!

"Listen, mister, this isn't what it looks like." Andy cringed inwardly, knowing what a stupid statement that was but not knowing what else to say.

"Oh, really," the man challenged. "Because it looks like you're trying to rob me."

Before Andy could respond, Joey tackled the man from behind. They fought for the gun but the man, being twice Joey's size, overpowered him and Joey was tossed to the side. Andy pulled him to his feet. "Nice moves, bro," he whispered sarcastically. "You okay?"

"Yeah," Joey confirmed. "You?"

"Yeah."

"Don't make another move," the man told them sternly as he reached for the phone.

Both Andy and Joey were unable to take their eyes off the shotgun held in the man's unsteady hand. "Could you, uh, aim that gun somewhere else, please," Joey requested.

"Huh. Yeah, you'd like that wouldn't you? Then you'd be able to try to attack me again - "

"No, sir," Joey insisted, raising a placating hand while taking a step in front of Andy. "You have our word."

"Joey," Andy whispered fiercely. "What are you doing? Get back here!"

"Stay cool," Joey tossed over his shoulder. "I won't let you get hurt."

"It's not me I'm worried about!"

Not hearing their exchange, the man continued: "Right. Like I'm gonna take the word of a couple of common thieves!"

The sound of a car backfiring startled all three of them, followed almost instantly by another deafening sound - BANG!

Joey was thrown backwards into Andy and they both toppled to the floor. In shock, it took a moment for Andy to fully realize what had just happened. He looked up and saw the smoke billowing from the barrel of the shotgun. Then his eyes followed the horrified gaze of the man. Joey's white shirt was covered in blood! He was leaning back against Andy's chest, fighting to breathe, fighting to stay alive.

"NO!" Andy shouted. He scrambled out from beneath his friend and tried to pull him to his feet but Joey's cry of anguish stopped him. Instead he held his friend's hand in a fierce grip. "No! Joey, hold on. Just hold on, bro!"

"I - I didn't mean to," the man stammered.

"Call 9-1-1," Andy yelled at him. "Do it, now! Please!"

Joey squeezed his hand to get his attention. Once they made eye contact once again, Joey said, "Run, Andy!"

"What? No, Joey! I'm not leaving you!"

"Have... to..."

"No! I won't do it! Please, don't ask me to do that, Joey! Anything but that!"

"Get... outta... this... life... bro! Be... a surgeon... like your... dad... wanted!"

"Joey -"

"RUN!" Joey seemed to use the last of his energy in that one word and his eyes drifted shut.

Andy fought the tears as his best friend took his last breath. He backed away from the body, still on his hands and knees. He looked up and found the man still paralyzed with fear, telephone receiver in hand. He could hear the tinny voice of the operator on the other end of the line and knew it would only be a matter of minutes for this place was swarming with cops. But he couldn't bring himself to run. Then he realized, it was Joey's last request. He hadn't had the chance to hear a last request from his dad. Certainly not from his mom.

Intent on doing what Joey wanted, Andy finally managed to get his feet under him and ran out the back door. He sprinted across the yard, opened the gate and ran along the dirt path that led to the woods at the other end of the street. He ran and ran and ran and ran... until he collapsed with exhaustion in some clearing. As his thoughts returned to Joey and his memory showed him once again how his best friend had taken a bullet for him, he saw the blood coating his hands and vomited into the dirt and grass, then curled himself into a ball and allowed the darkness to overwhelm him and take him into a blissful state unconsciousness.

TBC

A/N Thank you so much for reading. Please Review? ~Kelcor