Quick Author's Note: First, THIS IS NOT A SLASH FIC. All you dang yaoi fan girls might still be squealing over this story, but it is BROTHERLY LOVE. Nothing more. Also, it starts off a little slow. Just try to get to the end of the chapter and you might be interested. ;)

Summary: Odd can't shake the feeling that he has to prove he isn't the weakest link, but when Xana starts attacking him directly, he might be too proud to admit that he desperately needs help. Rated T just in case.

Fading, Chapter 1

Odd snarled as one of his laser arrows just barely whizzed past the tarantula's head… Again. "Come on, Odd, you can do better than this!" he hissed at himself. He pressed forward on his Overboard before turning back to try and get another shot. "Laser arrow!" he shouted, missing for the fourth time in a row.

"Having trouble?" Ulrich shouted from his Overbike. Odd glared at him, then turned his attention back to the tarantula. He took aim, trying to keep his arm as steady as possible this time, and fired. The only sound that met his ears was an empty clicking, signaling that he was out of ammo.

"Great." He muttered, lowering his arm again.

"Want me to take this one?" Ulrich asked. The smirk on his face was visible, even at such a distance.

Odd scoffed at him. "Not a chance!" he shouted, leaping off his Overboard to land almost directly on the tarantula's back. He drew his arm back, claws ready to score into the monster's Xana eye. His weight shifted suddenly, thanks to the tarantula rearing up, and Odd tumbled backward and landed in the dirt with a solid thud. He flinched as the monster promptly exploded above him.

"I thought you were going to get it!" Ulrich walked over to his friend to retrieve the sword that had just finished the creature off.

"I was going to!" Odd insisted. He pushed himself off the ground, glaring indignantly at his room mate. Aelita's voice echoed throughout the Sector as the formerly activated tower glowed a soft blue color, and Odd let out a sigh. Once again, he hadn't gotten a single monster during this trip to Lyoko, and Yumi and Ulrich would probably not let him forget it. Sometimes he really hated being the weakest of the three of them…

Disappointed in himself, and not to mention irritable, Odd crossed his arms and waited for Jeremie to rematerialize them on earth.

"So, how far ahead of you are Yumi and I in that monster competition again?" Ulrich asked back in the scanner room, still smirking.

Odd rolled his eyes and tried to ignore it as he walked over to the elevator, but in his mind he couldn't help but reply. Twenty three.

Yumi picked up the last of the boxes from off the floor, then looked up at the stacks of textbooks on top of the cabinets. She and Odd had been drafted to help Mrs. Hertz move to her new room in a different part of the building. Odd had to stand on his tiptoes to reach even the top of the cabinet, and Yumi wasn't sure how he expected to be able to pull one of the textbooks down without causing an avalanche. She set the box back down and walked over to him. "Here, let me help you."

Odd grabbed onto the handle of the cabinet as if to pull himself higher. "No, I can do it." He said, gritting his teeth.

Yumi backed off for the moment. "You're sure?"

"Yeah, just give me a minute. In fact, just head to the new room, I can do this myself."

"Alright, whatever you say, Odd." Yumi shook her head at him, but he didn't seem to notice, too caught up in his task. Either he was determined to do this without help, or too stubborn to admit that he couldn't. Whichever it was, Yumi turned around and walked out of the room.

Only seconds later she heard a sound that could be nothing but textbook upon textbook falling onto the tile floor. Chuckling silently to herself, she didn't look back.

Just a moment after that, Odd was walking next to her with a stack of textbooks in his hands. His facial expression was one of annoyance, and he looked at her sideways to see if she'd noticed his mistake. Yumi knew he was watching her, and it took all of her concentration to keep a straight face, but luckily, Odd looked forward again. It was at that point that Yumi let herself burst out laughing.

A few seconds after Odd and Yumi had set the last few textbooks down on the table in Mrs. Hertz's new room, Yumi's cell-phone rang.

"Yeah Jeremie?" she asked.

"Are you and Odd finished at school yet? I have an idea that I wanted to test out, but I need all of you on Lyoko for it."

"We just finished. We'll be there soon."

"Great. See you then."

She hung up and looked over at Odd. "Time to go." She said.

"Watch out, guys, three mantas coming your way."

"Great, one for each of us." Ulrich said just as Jeremie got their vehicles ready for them. Each Lyoko warrior grabbed their own vehicle and charged at one of the mantas, trying to distract them from Aelita. Odd shifted on his Overboard, dodging laser blasts left and right as he circled around the Celestial Dome. One second he was headed forward and the next he was rocketing upward and looping back, trying to get a shot at the manta chasing him.

Upside down on his board, he aimed his wrist at the creature's Xana eye. Just as he was about to shoot, the manta tilted upwards and one of its lasers hit him in the shoulder while another just barely clipped his board. The board spun, and Odd had just enough time to grab onto it with one hand before he plummeted into what would probably have been oblivion. The board continued to spin out of control, and he dug into the surface of it with his claws.

"I've got your back!" Ulrich shouted as he rode along side him on the Overbike, having already taken out his manta.

"I'll be fine on my own!" Odd shouted in reply, grabbing hold of the board with his other set of claws as well. "Go protect Aelita!"

Ulrich looked at him for a moment before nodding and turning back to defend Aelita, who was focused on the interface.

Meanwhile, Odd was beginning to wish he'd taken Ulrich's help, although he hated to admit it. His board only spun faster out of control, but somehow he ended up running into the manta that was still chasing him. He used the moment to his advantage, let go of his board, and dug his claws into the monster's back. After trying to angle the manta right above the platform Aelita was standing on, he shot a laser arrow directly into its Xana eye, jumped off, and landed with cat-like grace next to Aelita. At least he'd finally gotten one of the monsters this time.

Soon after, Yumi's manta had been taken care of as well, and for the moment all was calm.

"All right Aelita. All you have to do now is find the zone codes for each tower so that I can program the defense shields. Then you'll have to go to all of the towers individually and verify my access from that end so I can install them. Ulrich, Yumi, and Odd will go with you in case Xana tries to stop us." Jeremie said, staring intently at his computer screen as the numbers denoting which tower was which started popping up on it. The entire group and been transported to Sector Five to retrieve information that might allow them a head start the next time Xana decided to activate a tower.

"Hey, Einstein, do you mind if I skip out on the hero business this once?" Odd asked. "I have a detention for Mrs. Hanson soon. If I'm late, I have to serve two detentions instead of one."

Yumi looked over at her purple-clad friend. "What, did you try to sneak food into her room again?"

Odd crossed his arms and glared at her. "I didn't have much of a choice. I was starving! All they serve in the cafeteria any more is a bunch of healthy junk. I can't work on an empty stomach you know!"

Jeremie sighed. "Fine, I'll just materialize you now. Try not to get any more detentions, though. Who knows, you might get stuck in detention the next time Xana attacks. These defense shields we're installing might delay him for a few minutes, not a few hours."

"Got it, Einstein. Now would you hurry up already? I'm going to be late."

"Materializing you now." Odd looked down to see his feet already disintegrating into a bunch of pixels.

"See you guys when I get out of hell!" he quipped cheerfully, right before the disintegration caught up to his mouth.

Jeremie clicked off of Odd's devirtualization program, ready to use the information Aelita had just gathered. He thought he heard the elevator coming up the shaft and realized it must be Odd already out in the real world again. That was fast, Jeremie thought. He must really not want to get that second detention.

Yumi, Ulrich, and Aelita backtracked their way out of Sector Five and into the Ice Sector, beginning with the southernmost towers.

They managed to install defense shields in two towers peacefully before Xana sent a round of monsters at them: two krabs and one tarantula.

"Divide and conquer?" Ulrich shouted up at Yumi, who happened to be flying quite a ways above them on the Overwing.

"Gotcha!" she shouted back.

Ulrich pulled over next to a large boulder and let Aelita take cover before charging at the tarantula on foot. He zipped under the monster with his super speed before turning around and launching himself upwards, hoping to land on its back. It moved at the last moment, causing Ulrich to land face first in the dust. He rolled over, just barely missing a laser shot at his back.

Yumi jumped off the Overwing and onto a krab, but was bucked off before she got the chance to take her shot. The other krab took the opportunity to slam her in the arm with its laser. She gritted her teeth and tossed a fan in its direction, somehow getting a bull's-eye even though she had never really aimed in the first place.

Ulrich scrambled to his feet, whipping out his katana to deflect a group of lasers. He feinted to one side, then to the other while using his 'triplicate' power, hoping to confuse the monster long enough to give him a chance to destroy it. Sure enough, the tarantula's head swiveled from side to side, not sure what to do. Ulrich took those few seconds to run straight at it and slash his sword through its face.

Meanwhile, Yumi was running from the second krab, trying to figure out a way to turn the situation around.

"Hey, over here!" Ulrich shouted, trying to distract the monster from its current target. Yumi turned around and ran back at the krab, who, by now, was going after Ulrich instead of her. With a flick of her wrist, she threw a fan at the creature, just barely hitting the target in the right place.

By the time they reached the Mountain Sector, Jeremie had lost count of the number of times he had installed the defense shields on each different tower. He checked his watch and realized it had been thirty minutes since the last time he'd looked at it, after they had already installed a few of the defense shields. At this rate, they were going to be here for at least a few more hours.

"Guys, I think we'll just call it a night and finish the towers on Sunday." He informed them quite a while later, once they'd already gotten halfway through the Mountain Sector. All three breathed a sigh of relief, having long since grown tired of all the monotonous running around. "I'm going to bring you back in. Nice work today."

Jeremie waited patiently as his friends took the elevator up to his level. Ulrich stepped out first, followed by Aelita and Yumi.

"Any idea why Odd's backpack was still in the scanner room?" He asked curiously, holding it up for Jeremie to see.

"Maybe he forgot it?"

Ulrich opened it and looked inside. "I don't think so… He wouldn't have forgotten his sketchbook, or his cell-phone for that matter. Are you sure he came back from Sector Five?"

"What, do you think the materialization program might have bugged up or something?" Yumi asked skeptically.

"I was pretty sure I heard him coming up the elevator though…" Jeremie trailed off.

"Could you at least check and make sure? Something just doesn't seem right to me. Odd might forget to do his homework, but his sketchbook isn't something he'd just leave somewhere."

"I don't see what you're so worried about, but yeah, I can check." With that, Jeremie walked back over to the computer and pulled up Odd's materialization history. The blinking red exclamation sign that certainly had not shown up when he last rematerialized Odd lit up the screen. Ulrich had been right to be worried.

"You were right, Ulrich… Odd… Odd never came back from Sector Five."

The three of them stared at him anxiously, waiting for an explanation as to why his voice had suddenly taken on that familiar "gloom and doom" tone.

"There must have been a bug in the Sector Five materialization program." He added, starting to breathe heavier.

Aelita walked over and put her hand on his shoulder, concern showing on her elf-like features. "What is it, Jeremie?"

By now he was typing frantically, searching for the backup file he had made for all of the programs. "I… Well, I… Look, do you guys remember the first time Odd and Ulrich got devirtualized when you all first went to Sector Five? They spent so much time in limbo between Earth and Lyoko that it depleted most of their energy. It was only about twenty minutes or so before I was able to bring them back, and both of them could hardly stand. Yumi wasn't as bad because she had only been devirtualized for a few seconds before she was brought back."

Yumi narrowed her eyes. "But didn't the same thing happen to you when you tried to go to Lyoko to apologize to Aelita? You were stuck between the two for almost a day, and you were fine." She said, trying to find a reason not to worry.

"The situation is different." Jeremie said, closing his eyes and pinching the bridge of his nose. "When I got stuck between the two worlds, I was saved in the Read-Only Memory. Odd's data was put in the Random Access Memory, which is far less stable."

"And? How long exactly has it been since you tried to rematerialize Odd?" Ulrich asked, eyes growing wide.

Jeremie looked at his watch again before returning to pounding at the keys as fast as he could. "I… I don't know, an hour maybe? I don't know what effect this will have on him. He might even-"His sentence trailed off there, and the rest of the group didn't have to hear the end of it to realize the gravity of the situation.

Ulrich gritted his teeth, his fear for his friend manifesting itself as rage. "How could you let this happen, Jeremie!?" he shouted. Jeremie flinched away, but didn't let his fingers slow down as he navigated the supercomputer, and Yumi grabbed a hold of Ulrich before he could strangle him.

"Leave it, Ulrich, he's the only one who can bring Odd back, and yelling at him isn't going to make things happen any faster." She said. Ulrich looked up at her, anger glinting in his eyes, but the logic got through to him anyway. He shrugged her off, crossed his arms, and turned away from them to deal with the idea of what might happen on his own.

Ulrich could only imagine the worst, and imagine he did, his face taking on a distant and terrified expression. He balled his hands into fists over and over again, growing impatient as Jeremie continued to work. Come on, Einstein, work faster, we could lose him at any minute…

The three of them stood in silence for a while before Jeremie's typing seemed to slow down a bit. "I think I've fixed the bug." He said, only half relieved. "Let's go down to the scanner room." He set up the auto-materialization program before standing up and briskly walking over to the elevator. The rest followed as quickly as they could.

One floor down, Yumi and Ulrich stood together, a few steps away from Jeremie and Aelita as they waited for the scanner to boot up and start the process.

"Yumi… Odd's already been devirtualized for at least an hour now. That's three times as long as last time." he said. His voice was soft, showing an uncharacteristic concern for his friends that he seemed to reserve for special occasions.

"I know."

"Just… Just brace yourself, okay?" he replied, although the statement was more for his own benefit than for Yumi's. She nodded all the same, grabbed hold of his hand, and squeezed it tightly.

Neither of them realized it, but they were both holding their breath as the light inside the scanner started to spill out into the room.

End Author's note: I can't guarantee how much I'll be able to update this, but I've got a good idea of where this story is going at least. Once again, if you're interested in this, please leave a review. It can be as short as "Keep going" or even "Yes" (or "No" if you didn't like it), I don't really care, but I would appreciate more constructive reviews as well! If enough people like it, I'll post the next chapter as soon as possible. There's your incentive ;) Hope you guys enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it!