Duncan clutches the railing of the balcony, leaning back and forth on his toes as he tries to reorient himself. The world spins around him, without him, and it leaves him feeling dizzy and sick. He leans over the railing, half expecting to vomit, but he knows what has him isn't illness. It's shock, and fear; though illness would be a great cover-up.
"Jesus Christ, how long has it been?" The words sound foreign as they slip out of his mouth. This team is really getting to him. New memories stand next to returning memories in stark, painful contrast.
How long has it been since he's seen Mal? Since he heard that familiar tune, that back then, was merely a warning? Duncan realized the connection early on; Mal whistled that tune, the next day the toughest tough guy had a black eye and the one with the biggest ego had a limp. That's how it always happened, so Duncan quickly learned to stay clear of him.
Of course, no one could stay completely clear of him. The juvenile detention center was only so big. So he saw Mal every so often, but managed to stay out of his way… for the most part. Duncan thinks back to the first day, when he was a just a naïve newcomer (as naïve as a kid in juvie could get, that is), and had thought Mal was just a harmless showoff. He still remembers taunting Mal ("You can talk the talk, Death Metal, but can you walk the walk?"), before his face hit the damp, icy floor. So maybe he hadn't always avoided Mal, but after that incident, he knew it was best.
Mal was running the place. While most of the other inmates had realized their mistakes (or were too scared to make any more) and were mostly good natured, Mal enjoyed causing trouble. He would take on any challenger just to see them fall. After all, nobody had ever beaten him. The boy was scrawny, but he was clever. One mistake and you found yourself on the ground, begging for mercy. And Mal didn't associate himself with the word "mercy."
Some nights—most nights—Mal could be heard talking in his sleep. Duncan always found it odd that the meanest, scariest, take-no-mercy-iest guy in juvy would say things like, "Get off my lawn," and "Crickey, mate," in his sleep. Looking back on it, it was odd—just not in the way he would have expected.
But on some nights—other nights—Mal would stay up. He would stay up late, until the wee hours of the morning. But he didn't whittle wood or keep other up or even toss and turn. He would just sit there, violently shaking. And if Duncan laid very still, and kept his breathing very quiet, he could hear small gagging noises, repeating, repeating…
Mal's breathing came out in small gasps, as if he was being smothered. And between the gasps—sometimes, occasionally—Duncan would hear a small, simple request.