"WHAT?!" Duke screamed, snatching the crushed thing from Nosedive's tentatively outstretched hand. "Dive, you're dead!"
"But it was a mistake!" Nosedive exclaimed, and cringed back as Duke shook the pair of smashed sunglasses in his face.
"Mistake? MISTAKE?? These were brand new! Do you know how much they cost me, kid?"
"I was only trying them on…"
"Under your foot?!"
Dive stroked the black-feathered wings of his pet. "Hey, at least you're here for me, right Gal?" he asked jokingly. "My little best buddy, huh? Sometimes I wonder if you're the only one…" He felt those traitorous tears welling up again, and angrily shook them away.
Lately, Wildwing had been distant from him, always busy with one of the other Ducks or with Phil, sometimes even with Klegghorn. It was as if he didn't care any more, or at least not as much as he'd used to. Nosedive fell silent as he remembered how Wing had used to be; serious but somehow still playful, always looking out and standing up for his kid brother. Always there, for him… not any more. The Mask of duCaine was like a curse!
Slowly Dive had been watching his brother change, and it hurt worse than any bodily injury he'd sustained in the past year and a half on Earth. When he'd finally confronted Wildwing about this, Wing had brushed it off – as if he was imagining it – and said he'd always be there, even if he couldn't spend as much time with him as he'd like to. That maybe later he'd make the time.
"He shouldn't hafta make time," Dive mumbled. "I'm his brother! Man, my life sucks. I've gotta end it all somehow…"
A tap on the door. "Dive? Are you okay in there?" It was Mallory. "Can I come in?"
He paused a few moments before saying, "Yeah. Come in."
Mallory pushed open the door and walked in, almost cautiously. "I heard… you and Duke shouting. Are you okay?"
"What do you care?" he asked miserably, turning slightly away to sulk. It came out sharper than he'd intended but he didn't withdraw the question, even when it was obvious that Mallory was hurt by it.
"I care," she said. "But if you want to be like that I'll leave you alone."
Galloway gave a chirp and whizzed over to Mallory, landing on her beak; she smiled and plucked him off, holding the little lizard in her hand. Et tu, Gal? Dive thought sourly. That's the last straw! When your 'loyal' pet leaves you, life is going down to the sh*t gutters. He stood up and shoved roughly past Mallory, who stared after him.
"Where are you going?" she asked, temper rising indignantly as she shooed Galloway back into Dive's room and followed after the teen. Nosedive stopped in the middle of the hallway, and then turned around.
"Out," he said pointedly and left for the roof.
The rain pelted down, soaking his hair and clothes and perfectly matching his depressed mood. He sat on the edge of the roof, ignoring the water the was pooling on his beak, staring dully out over the city and swinging his legs from time to time. An empty Coo-Coo Cola can sat next to him, and, absently, he swatted it with his hand and half-watched it fall down onto the car park pavement below. He looked down and the ground such a long way beneath him, and sighed heavily. The same sentence kept ringing through his head.
I've gotta end it somehow… end it somehow… end it somehow…
"Dive?" Mallory stepped out of the damp shadows, her red hair plastered against her face. Her expression was one of concern as she approached him. Nosedive didn't even bother turning around, ignoring her presence until she sat cross-legged beside him on the roofing edge.
"What are you doing here?" he asked softly. "I didn't ask for company."
"I'm here because I care." She shrugged and pushed her wet hair back, away from her face. "And because I'd like some company."
"Care?" Nosedive asked with a derisive snort, completely ignoring the latter reason. "What's to care about?"
"You," Mal said.
He shot back, "Why?"
Mallory was nonplussed. "Why do I care about you, you mean?"
Giving a short, somewhat bitter laugh Dive stood up, balancing on the edge with ease come from being up here so often. So often now… Mallory looked startled, and began nervously, "Dive…"
He twirled around on his heels and walked along the edge like a circus tight-rope walker, his arms held out for balance. "Yeah, that's exactly what I mean, Mal. Why care. My own brother doesn't." He bit his lip, looking down at the car park again, and wobbled slightly from his precarious position.
She felt a stab of fear strike her heart. No… No! Not Dive! Don't jump, please don't jump! Please! Mallory forced her voice to remain calm and reasoning. "Look, Dive, I'm just going to get Duke, okay? I'll be right back. Don't go anywhere." She couldn't handle it by herself, she'd tried once before and it had only No! Don't bring the memory back! Tears mingled with the rain as she ran to find Duke.
Nosedive stood like an idiot on the edge. He closed his eyes, and sighed. Don't go anywhere… where was he supposed to go? Apart from straight down. Down? Yes, down… He peered over the edge. I wonder what it's like to die? He mused. Does it hurt? It can't hurt as much as my life does right now.
"Hey kid," the familiar voice which only less than half an hour ago had been roaring at him in rage, was now quiet, subdued… frightened? "You shouldn't stand that close to the edge, Dive, I don't particularly want to see you end up as street pizza."
He looked around from his balanced position. "Not you too."
"Me too what?"
"First Mallory comes, now you, when will you guys quit hanging over me like vultures? You know I can take care of myself." As he said this, his mind sneered: You can't have it both ways, Dive! You either want attention or you don't. Angered by the thought he shook his head, wobbling a bit on the edge. Duke's eye widened a little.
"Look, I know that, kid. If you want us to lay off, fine, we can talk about it. Maybe a little further from the edge, for a start..."
Nosedive folded his arms, unknowingly making his balance far worse. "No thanks, I'm fine where I am." He took an abject pleasure in seeing the look of consternation cross the grey duck's scarred face. Duke stood closer to him than Mallory, possible within arms reach if he leant forward a little, while Mallory hang back, biting her lip, looking unnaturally scared.
Duke had to forcibly restrain himself from leaping forward and grabbing the teenager as Nosedive flung out his arms again and started walking unsteadily away down the edging. But if he fought… he could fall… And it was a long drop. He bit back a curse. "Dive! Nosedive, come down from there. Please. Just so we can talk for a while, okay?"
The kid looked back and frowned. "Why should you guys care? Not even Wildwing cares about me any more."
Oho, now we're getting somewhere… not far, but at least we now have something of a reason. Duke shook his head. "Of course he cares, Dive! That's why he yells at you sometimes, because he's scared for you!" An' he ain't the only one…
"If we didn't care," Mallory said softly, "Then why would we be here?"
What does Duke know, or Mallory? Dive thought bitterly, turning his head away again. He looked down into the car park, leaning slightly over the edge and ignoring the alarmed looks on the other two's faces. "Hey, Duke," he said with false brightness, "I can see the numberplate on Phil's car from here!"
Duke swallowed, throat dry. "Uh, that's nice…" he said, choosing his words carefully. "Listen, do you wanna go inside? It's cold out, and raining..." He reached out a hand for the kid. Come on, Dive, take it! End this lunacy and take my hand! Please! But Nosedive shied away, almost falling off the edge, and with a gasp of horror Duke withdrew his arm, looking back at Mallory helplessly.
Nosedive caught his balance again, and wiped some wet strands of hair from his eyes. "If my brother loved me so much, then where is he? Do I see him, standing at yonder door? Do I hear him saying he… he…" He choked on the words, and sniffed loudly. "Why isn't he here when I need him?"
Gaze falling to his feet, Duke realised he couldn't answer. "He does his best, Dive," he said finally. "That's all any of us can do."
Mallory walked around to block Dive's other side, not saying anything, her pose indifferent. Her eyes told a contrary story, watching him with a pleading look, so strong he had to look away again, but Duke was also watching him intently, too see what his next move would be. Nosedive glared from one to the other. They do care, his mind said softly. They care, and you just don't want to admit it!… But Wildwing doesn't! But Duke said… said he did… He felt hot tears of all the pent up anger and frustration pours out of his eyes and he slumped down into sitting position. "I just don't know what to do!"
Sympathy gave Duke's heart a little twist, and slowly he crept forward, taking a place on one side of the sobbing teenager and resting a hand on his shoulder. "Hey, hey, c'mon kid. Nobody does, that's life."
"Yeah," Nosedive whispered, "That's life." He barely noticed Mallory slipping forward and sitting down at his other side, his gaze instead fixed on the car park below. "Life can end, it wouldn't be so hard."
"You'd really take that way out?" Duke shrugged. "I wouldn't recommend it."
Nosedive gave a snort. "And what would you know?" he asked, looking up. "Have you ever felt like this before?" Depression so deep it makes a bottomless pit seem shallow in comparison?
Duke turned to him, looking him squarely in the eyes with a burning intensity that had Dive locked for a few seconds. "What do you think?" he asked, a catch in his voice as he said it. "What do you think?"
Unable to stand the gaze much longer Nosedive tore his eyes away and glanced up at Mallory, but she was staring out into space and he found no help there. What do I think? He asked himself. I don't know anything, that's what I think. I should learn more before I start making accusations. The self-lecture came at so ridiculous a time that he nearly laughed, but depression subdued the laugh and turned it into a sigh.
I think it's time to tell them, Mallory thought to herself, still watching the city lights flicker on and off. I can't let Dive go. I can't fail another young man… "My brother is dead," she said with an abruptness that startled the others. "He killed himself."
Nosedive looked up, feeling strangely struck by this. "I didn't know you had a brother." Duke shook his head; he hadn't either.
"Well, I did." Mallory pulled her legs up to hug, resting her chin between her knees. "And I miss him a lot. He died half-way through the Invasion." She noticed Dive's mouth becoming an O, heard him ask How? "He thought we'd never win. A high roof, a rainy night. I was up there myself, on lookout. I grabbed his hands, and he hung off the roof, screaming at me to let go. My hands were too wet," she ended in a whisper.
Duke closed his eyes briefly in sympathy. Good gods… and I never even knew…
She continued, "If only he'd waited. Things started getting better after that, he just gave up too soon. Too soon." She found herself staring across at Nosedive, who stared back at her before looking down at the pavement. Something in his eyes told her what he was about to say, even though she couldn't have known the words.
"Mal…" He sighed. "You're right. You're right."
Feeling a smile touch her beak, Mallory gave him a quick, tight hug, and then moved away. Nosedive matched her half-smile, but Duke grinned openly with relief; although the faraway look in his eyes told he was lost in his own thoughts. Rain had plastered their hair against their faces, clothing against bodies, but though it was still cool the night seemed to have lost the worst of the chill. Probably hypothermia, Mal thought dryly.
Dive and Duke stood up as one, Nosedive moving back from the edge as Duke took his position next to Mallory, wrapping an arm around her shoulders and pulling her close. She looked up at him gratefully.
I should go, Nosedive thought to himself. Leave them alone. Hah! Listen to me, I was contemplating suicide just before… I should not be the one left alone. "I'm going to bed, guys," he said, a cynical smile twisting his beak as he added, "If nobody thinks I'm going to try anything, I'll leave now."
Duke smiled slightly at him, head turned. "If ya say you won't try anything, I believe ya, kid." Dive nodded. "Goodnight, Dive."
"We'll see you later," Mallory murmured.
And Nosedive managed a genuine smile for the first time that night. "G'night, guys," he said, and headed downstairs.