Disclaimer: All recognizable characters, lines, and scenarios belong to Eoin Colfer. This story is purely for entertainment and I do not profit from it.
"It's hard to see in the dark," said a nervous voice.
"You don't say," came the playfully sarcastic reply.
"Oh shut up," a third said. "You know he doesn't like the dark." Always sticking up for his little brother.
There was silence but for the scuffling of boots on stone as the trio made their way down the tunnel. Then…
"Hey, what're you doing?!"
"I hit my head," the youngest complained, lying on his back and holding his hands to the small, bloody cut on his forehead. Blue sparks danced over the skin, mending the wound. Slowly, the headache faded as well.
The girl got up from where she'd tripped over him and felt above. Sure enough, there was a small outcrop of rock protruding from the ceiling. She ducked under it. "I'll take point, then."
The older brother waited until the blue sparks were gone. "You're alright, then?"
A sigh of relief. Injury was never something one wanted to share with Mother. "This didn't happen, correct?"
The younger was well used to this drill. "What head injury?" his high-pitched voice asked.
"Can we move, now? I have to get home."
"Right then, let's get going."
"Suck it up." A harsh voice.
This wasn't a wound the blue sparks could heal. Tears flowed down the younger's face. "He's gone," he whispered. It was still hard to believe. "Gone."
An arm found its way around his shoulders. Not his brother's. The girl's. She squeezed.
"It's hard," she told him. "But he's in a better place now."
The older didn't show the pain he felt, the younger's but multiplied. He'd always preferred the younger, simply because he was that. Even though the older had had more time with him. The younger was a momma's boy, but he'd still had that bond the older never did. And that made him angry. And the anger that could no longer be vented at its cause triggered the pain. The pain clawed at his heart, coursed through his veins. And that pain, that anger, had to be directed somewhere.
"He's gone," came the younger's voice a third time.
"Shut up! We get it. He's gone, we all know it. We don't need you reminding us every three seconds!"
"He's upset, just let him –"
"He needs to grow up!" The one thing he didn't do was swear.
"That's no excuse."
The corporal and the captain stood one in front of the other as they waited in line. Yearly physicals were an unpleasant experience for everyone in the vicinity of the two.
"Suck it up," was the older's instruction.
"Mind your own," was the corporal's reply.
"Shut up, you too," came a tired voice from somewhere behind them.
The girl had given up trying to reconcile the boys' differences. If they wanted to hate each other, who was she to say they couldn't?
"Maybe someday you'll get this rank, too," the captain taunted, his tone indicating he thought anything but.
"Maybe someday you'll get this one," the younger replied, his tone indicating he thought it very likely.
"D'Arvit," the girl breathed. Even as far from them as she was, they were easy to hear.
An uncomfortable silence filled the room. The two boys would take sides in any conversation they overheard and turn it into an argument, so no one spoke. Fearfully they glanced at the boys, and hoped the doctors would please just hurry it up already. Anything was better than this.
Some time later the corporal was called.
"Drawing blood today," the doctor said. He stiffened.
"Suck it up."
"How could you?"
"We aren't so different, you and I. This could have been you." The older's voice was icy.
The younger, by comparison, felt some compassion for the disgraced ex-captain. "We used to be. You didn't have to do this. You can change, right your wrongs, make the world better again. That's why you took the job. You swore an oath."
"Oaths, like rules, are made to be broken." His teeth flashed white with his grin, which dashed off his face as quickly as it had come. "But you never learned that."
He shook his head. "I don't believe that. And now I'll rise higher than you ever did." He hung his head, walked away, and let the others take care of the mess.
"You won't even say goodbye to your own brother?" the older spit, yelling at the retreating back. There was no answer. "You did this to me! You stole Father from me. You made me who I am today!"
"No!" The elf spun on his heel, face red as the tomatoes he loved so much. "You did this to yourself. You're the one in shackles, not me. There's a reason for that."
He turned. "Goodbye, brother."
The girl was there, always. Even after all that had happened, she was still there. The only reason he was sane, even if she also made him crazy. In some ways, good. In others, bad.
That other girl she'd backed. Wow. What an officer. But a handful. So in that way, the older drove him crazy, because the younger did.
But she drove him crazy on her own. Sometimes, it was the things she requested. Others, the things she did. Occasionally, the things she said. But always, the way she looked.
There was a picture in his bottom drawer, under the fungus cigars he'd become addicted to some time back. A picture he'd pull out when he was alone, late at night, the only one in the building save security. When the other officers were home, safe in their beds, and he was in his chair with a cigar and a bottle of the strongest spirits he could find in the underground.
There was another picture, nestled in the back corner of another drawer. This one was the boy, the girl, and the woman, as he'd come to know them. And it was only seen in the same circumstances. Alone.
"It's been too long."
A grunt, nothing more.
"Why are you always cooped up in that office of yours?" The woman, formerly the girl, kept pace with him easily as he tried to speed past her.
"I'm not," was his gruff reply.
"Not right now. But usually. Don't pretend you don't sleep here more often than at your apartment."
"Haven't got one. Sold it." Not like he needed the money he saved. Most of it went right back to the force in sizeable, but anonymous, donations.
"You live out of your office?"
"That's not healthy."
"I eat three square meals a day, have a gym, have a job, get paid." He tried slowing down. She did too.
"And never leave the building?"
"That doesn't count."
"It's leaving." He tried once more to outpace her, and again she lengthened her stride to match.
"Why don't you go out sometimes?"
There was a long pause. Then –
"Went to the bar last week."
"Not what I mean."
A sigh. "I know."
"Have you been to visit him?"
He gave her his 'you've gotta be kidding me' look. "Why would I?"
"He's your brother."
"He was almost killed today."
"So I heard."
She leaned on the edge of his desk, palms on either side of his name placard. "Is that all you have to say?"
"Is there anything else?" He clunked his boots down on the desk. She glared at the soles, then the red face above them.
"You don't even care. He's one of your best officers, if nothing else. And he's got a younger brother who looks up to him, needs him, and you can only say 'So I heard'?"
It was only after the words were out of her mouth that she realized her mistake, and they hung awkwardly on the air between them. If only she could grab them, take them and shove them back down her throat, she would. But even though she could see each letter written before her, that wasn't an option.
"Out. Get out."
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean it."
She tried to speak again, and was stopped by the muted thump of his boots hitting the carpeted floor. "Get. Out."
And she obeyed, sparing a glance over her shoulder when she reached the door. His head was in his hands, and he was shaking.
The drawer slammed shut, the pictures misplaced as he hid them roughly.
"Wing Commander." He put his feet up on the desk. She smacked them to the floor.
"Don't what?" Innocence.
"I saw you. You were going for another cigar."
He brushed the matter aside. Let her assume. It was better than telling her the truth. "You wanted?"
She dropped a thick stack of files in his lap. He winced.
"Did I hurt you?" she asked mockingly. He squeezed his eyes shut, then shook his head and opened them.
Not a direct answer to the question, she noticed, deciding not to push.
The woman sat on the edge of the desk. "They're close."
Rolled eyes gave him an answer and he wondered why he bothered to inquire when he knew it.
"Good. They need friends, with this job."
"Closer than that."
"I've seen them. I disagree with the direction you're going."
She shrugged. It didn't matter if he agreed or not. "Look those over." She gestured to the files. "And you may see to it that they don't make our mistake."
"And what was that, m'lady?" he asked, sarcasm dripping from every word.
A slight nod from each; that was all. Mutual respect. They had, on occasion, had conversations. They liked each other, they thought. They weren't sure. Unless it was directly related to work, it wasn't discussed. What conversations they had could be summed up in four words: 'Rogue. Here. Gear up.'
But today wasn't like that. "How are you?"
It was tentative, from the boy.
Startled, the older's reply was delayed. "Fine," he said gruffly. Belatedly, he realized he should ask the same. "And… and you?"
But he was gone, had slipped away in the tide of officers heading to the mess. Briefly, he contemplated following. It wasn't often he joined his subordinates. Maybe today was a good day to. He'd been asked to talk to a pair of them.
He sighed. Not today. Today was a bad time. He returned to his office, retrieved his drink and his cigar. The door was locked. There was no harm in it.
The pictures came out. One, the trio of old. Gods he looked young. Had he truly been that innocent? At one point.
One, the trio of now. He noticed with no small regret that he wasn't part of it.
The pain in his chest couldn't be healed.
But it could be ignored, if temporarily.
There was an elf in front of him with a gun leveled at him. Never a good thing. This time was no different.
But it wasn't her. She was huddled in an office somewhere, oblivious. And it wasn't him. He was sitting in a cell in Atlantis, bidding his time. Nor was it the younger he, standing outside with a team unable to come to his defense. If they figured out a way, it would be much too late.
Regrets? Yes, he had those. Who didn't? He should have gone for it, though she was many years his senior. But he hadn't. He should've told them how he felt. They were family. Could've visited the only flesh-and-blood family he had. But he didn't.
He spoke occasionally, listened to the conversation around him. But even as he said the words he didn't know what they meant. He was losing his grip.
And so he did the only thing he knew how to. He looked at her, his daughter, and spoke just two words.
Then came excruciating pain… and nothing but blissful silence, and peace.