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Stand By You

By Quillblade

Oh, why you look so sad? The tears are in your eyes
Come on and come to me now
But don't be ashamed to cry, let me see you through
'Cause I've been in the dark side too
When the night falls on you, and you don't know what to do
Nothing you confess, could make me love you less
I'll stand by you, I'll stand by you
Won't let nobody hurt you, I'll stand by you
-- "I'll Stand By You", The Pretenders


Felicity stroked the beak of her tiny little son as he lay in her arms, blinking sleepily, Kai watching them together with the same proud but somewhat bemused expression he'd been wearing the entire afternoon.

Only a day after the birth Felicity deemed herself fit enough to go back to their quarters, but the doctors had given her strict instructions to rest and so she was now pretty much tied to either the sofa or her bed. Not that she minded very much. She had Kai, and her son (whom they had as yet to name), and she had her friends and family stopping by continuously. Both Kai's father and her own parents -- they were grandparents, now, she thought with a smile -- had been in and fussed, Bayard and Kwame, too, and Sierra had stayed almost a whole hour with her...

However, she knew Kai was still a little intimidated by too much socializing, though that was a habit Felicity had gently been trying to break him of for a long time now. To spare him further discomfort, after a while she'd said she was feeling a little tired. Her friends had smiled, said their good-byes, and now she and Kai were alone again.

His hand touched her shoulder. "He needs a name."

"I know." The child in question opened his eyes wide, as if knowing they were talking about him, then reached out toward Kai's fingers. Felicity smiled. "I think he wants you to hold him again."

Kai smiled back and gently took the baby into his arms. He didn't think he'd ever get tired of holding him there. "Hey there, little guy, it's me again." Two huge, purple-and-brown eyes looked up into his own, and their owner blew a bubble at him. Chuckling, Kai said, "Meka."

"Meka?"

"'Eyes'," he translated, brushing a hand over the newly named Meka's forehead.

"Fitting," Felicity decided. "And--"

She never finished her sentence, because the door opened and a familiar voice intruded. "Hey hey, I hear I'm an uncle now?"

Felicity hissed in a furious breath. Calm down, she thought, You knew he'd come to see at some time. Just be cool and polite, and he'll go away eventually. "Ranger," she said, acknowledging his presence without welcome or even looking up.

Hesitating, Ranger turned an almost pleading expression on Kai, who returned his look with a blank, slightly puzzled gaze. He'd never understood why Felicity was so cold toward her younger brother, though he had never asked her why, either. He figured that if she wanted to tell him, then she would, and if she didn't, then it wasn't his business to press matters.

"I, uh, I just came by to say hello to the kid," Ranger said, somewhat awkwardly.

There was a just as awkward silence for a moment, until Kai broke it by stepping forward with his son. Ranger gave him a quick, grateful look before grinning down at Meka. The baby blinked his overlarge eyes, gurgled, and shoved a hand in his mouth, sucking on the fingers. "Aw, he's so disgustingly cute... could I hold him?"

With a lot of effort Felicity had managed to stay calm thus far, but when she saw Ranger reach out for her baby... late night, dark nursery, a shadow standing over Kwame's cot, the sound of weak struggling, the pillow... "No!" she cried, leaping at her brother and pushing him away. "Don't you dare touch my son!"

Ranger's mouth fell open. "What..?"

"Out! Get out!" He stayed where he was, stunned by her sudden venom, and she shoved him toward the door again. "Get out, Ranger, right now! I never, ever want to see you try to touch him again! You go away and you stay away, do you hear me? If I see you so much as look at him I'll-- I'll cut you to pieces! GET OUT!"

He backed hurriedly toward the door, mumbling apologies and doing a very bad job of hiding his hurt and confusion. She chose not to see it, and didn't relax until the door had closed. With a sigh, she fell back into the chair, feeling suddenly weak.

Kai rocked the whimpering Meka in his arms, staring at her. After a time, he managed "Why?" but she just looked away. "Fel... that was your brother."

"I don't care. I don't care. You don't know..."

Her voice trailed off, and he waited for her to continue. When nothing else came he sat down beside his wife, still cradling Meka in his arms. "Know what?" She sighed and bowed her head to her hands, not answering. Kai put a hand on her shoulder, wondering. He had neither brothers nor sisters of his own, but family was very important to him, especially since Kalani's death. And in a way Felicity's brothers were now his, too. And while, admittedly, he hadn't always trusted Ranger -- or even liked him, at times -- Kai could tell he was making a genuine effort to improve these days, and was succeeding. Felicity just didn't see that. "Know what?" he repeated.

"It's not important," she mumbled, closing her eyes and sinking back into the chair.

He kept his hand on her shoulder. "It was important just a minute ago."

"It happened a long time back."

"Then why does it still bother you?"

Felicity didn't reply at first, standing instead to take Meka from him and settle their son into his cot. She spent a few minutes there, waiting until he fell asleep, singing a lullaby Kai had taught her while she was pregnant. Then, once Meka was snuggled up and dozing, she left his side and came back to where Kai stood.

Taking her hand, Kai helped her sit down again. "Fel..."

"I know." A sigh. "It-- I was six at the time. Yes, about twenty years ago now. Kwame was only a year old, and he was still very weak. Mother and father had to take him to the Avias' every week, he didn't learn to walk for another year yet. But Ranger was surly, ever since Kwame was born. He never played with us any more, always off on his own. Kai, he hated Kwame, and he'd said it himself, it's not just my own thoughts. He said he hated Kwame and wished him dead. But he went further than that; he took matters into his own hands.

"I don't know why I woke up right then, that night. I guess I'd like to say that I felt something wrong... it was probably just chance. Everything was so dark, but I just heard noises over by Kwame's cot. I thought he might have been in trouble, tangled in the sheets or having nightmares or something, so I went over there to see if I could help, and Ranger was already there. He-- he'd taken Kwame's pillow and was holding it over his head, Kwame couldn't breathe, and Ranger was smothering him... so I grabbed him and I hit him, and-- and he just sat there and looked at me when I picked Kwame up. He didn't even care."

She wiped at her eyes and looked away, while Kai absorbed all this before finally putting an arm around her shoulders. "What did your parents do?"

"Nothing," she replied. "I didn't tell them. I never told anyone else."

"And Ranger?"

"Has conveniently forgotten the whole thing happened, or so he claims. He never tried anything again, but am I supposed to forgive him for that? For trying to murder Kwame?"

Kai inadvertently found his gaze moving toward the cot where Meka lay sleeping quietly, and slapped himself mentally for this. He could understand why Felicity felt as she did, but her shock would have left a vivid memory of the whole episode in her mind whereas it might have faded from Ranger's. He'd been only four years old.

It occurred to him that it was so easy to take the side against Ranger. No one really trusted him to begin with, and the idea that he'd planned and attempted to execute the murder of his own brother was so in keeping with the cruel streak he harbored that it just fit like a piece of puzzle...

Is it really that bad? he wondered. Some are willing to believe that Ranger is capable of any act, no matter how atrocious. Is he really accountable for something he did two decades ago?

"You know, Fel," he began softly, nuzzling her cheek, "twenty years is a long time to hold a grudge. And if you don't believe so, think on this... If you really blamed him for it, if you really thought he was still guilty... then why did you kept this a secret?"

*****

Stupid, stupid, stupid! Ranger snarled at himself as he headed back upstairs to his own quarters. What was I thinkin'? That motherhood might've mellowed her down a bit? That she'd welcome me with open arms? That she'd let me anywhere near the kid?

That hurt. That hurt a lot.

He shook his head, trying to force the whole thing to the back of his mind where he could forget about it. But it stubbornly refused to go, and he was horrified to realize that he was close to crying. Geeze, Stormwing; pull yourself together, he thought. It's nothin' to cry over, and you know Felicity, she's just a... just...

He couldn't say it. Hell, he couldn't even think it. The sad fact was that, despite Felicity's own hatred and belief that he was lower than dirt, Ranger loved his sister -- he loved all his family. He was just totally incapable of showing it.

Even to Kwame...

Ranger remembered nothing of the night where he'd supposedly taken a pillow and attempted to suffocate his little baby brother. Neither did Kwame, being only a bit over a year at the time; or at least he said nothing of it if he did. But Felicity remembered very clearly, and while she'd told no one else she reminded him frequently of what he'd done... was supposed to have done...

Why the hell do I feel so guilty about something that I DON'T EVEN REMEMBER DOING?!

Swallowing hard, Ranger tried to calm down; those tears were looming threateningly, and the last thing he wanted to do was cry in the open. "It's past. It's past. It happened, and you can't do a thing about it now, so don't care." For once, that line was not in the least reassuring.

"Ranger?"

He jerked to a halt, spinning around to see Kwame standing on the stairs. Oh no, no, damn it all, not Kwame, why Kwame? He could bluff anyone but his overly perceptive little brother. "Yeah," he said, a little shortly. "It's me."

Kwame frowned, concerned. "Is something wrong?"

"No, I'm fine."

"You don't sound fine."

"It's nothing." He turned, walking quickly up the hallway toward his quarters, but it didn't take a sixth sense to know that he was being followed. He didn't say anything until he was at his door, though. "Kwame, please, just leave me alone."

"Was it Felicity?"

Sweet Jorah, and is he telepathic, now, too? "Yeah, sorta," he admitted, and shrugged even though he knew Kwame couldn't see.

"I thought so," Kwame replied softly. "She's the only one who can make you cry."

That stung. "I'm not cryin'!"

"Maybe not on the outside."

Ranger looked at him for a moment, then sighed and slumped against the door. "Yeah, well," he muttered. "Yeah, it was Felicity. As of ten minutes ago, I am not allowed to touch, speak to, let alone even go near her baby. I should have figured that would happen, but I didn't. Happy now?"

"No. I'm not." Somehow Kwame managed to look right at him, but his hand had to paw at the air before finally touching Ranger's arm. "I think it's time we talked, brother."

There was a note of command in Kwame's voice that had never been there before. Sighing again, Ranger opened the door and let him in. The floor was a bit of a mess from the previous night, so he took Kwame's hand and guided him to the nearest chair, where his brother sat down gratefully.

Dragging over the second chair, Ranger flopped down into it and glowered at the floor. "Well?"

"This problem between you and Felicity really has to stop," Kwame said. "It was something best left in the past."

"You know?"

"She's mentioned it to me, once or twice," he said. "I don't remember that night, though."

"Me neither," Ranger muttered bitterly. "Still she hangs it over my head. I don't even know if I did it at all and she's not just makin' it up!"

"She wouldn't do that."

He just stopped himself from sighing a third time. "Look, Kwame, no offence, but why are ya here?"

"You feel guilty."

"I--"

"Don't deny it. It's understandable. If you didn't feel guilty, then I'd worry even more. It's understandable," he said again. "But so was what happened. You were the youngest child, getting so much attention from your parents, and suddenly... I'm born. With all my frailties." There was no trace of bitterness in his voice; Kwame had come to terms with his own problems years ago. "And now mum and dad are spending so much time with me, there you are feeling forgotten, unable to comprehend why you're suddenly not getting as much attention as you were. You are confused, hurt, and jealous. You would, naturally, seek to get rid of the cause of your perceived abandonment -- me."

Ranger could only stare; his expression was agonized. "Kwame! How can ya just sit there and say that ya understand why I tried to murder you?!"

"Because I don't believe that you are still that jealous little boy. You've grown up. It might," he added with a slight smile, "have taken a little longer than is usual, but you grew up."

Ranger couldn't help smiling back at that, even if it was a rather lopsided smile. It faded away too quickly. "Well, maybe, but--"

"Don't say but. It's true." He fell silent for a moment. "You were four years old, Ranger. Whatever reason you had for what you did, you did it, and it can not be changed. But you have. And I do not, will not believe that it should sour your life like it has."

"Kwame, I don't think you get it, I tried to kill you..."

"But you didn't."

"Only because Felicity stopped me!"

Kwame looked toward him. "Do you honestly believe you're a monster, Ranger? Do you actually take all those rumors and insults about you to heart?"

"Oh, go psychoanalyse someone else," he growled, turning away from his little brother..

"They're not true."

"Why are you botherin' with this?" Ranger almost screamed at him. "You said it yourself, it can't be changed, there's nothin' I can do to make things any different now, so just let me deal with it on my own, will ya?"

Kwame reached out and put his hands on the older boy's shoulders. "Why do I bother? Because I'm your brother, Ranger, and I love you. And because for whatever you might have done so long in the past, I forgive you."

"You still don't get it." Ranger's voice had gone hoarse, and he swallowed, trying to moisten his dry throat. "You might be able to forgive me, but I can't, and Felicity sure as hell won't."

"I cannot make you forgive yourself," Kwame answered, calmly as before. "That's something you only can do. But I can talk to Felice, and maybe get her to see past her prejudices for long enough to talk to you. But you have to talk to her, because if you don't it'll stay the way it is forever." He paused briefly, lifting a hand to Ranger's eyes. "It's okay to cry, you know. On the outside."

Ranger jerked back quickly. "Not for me it isn't."

"Who's here to see you?"

"It-- it's not that, it's... eh. Yeah, it's my pride." He gave a faint, slightly cynical laugh. "Somehow I manage to have enough to make life just that much more difficult. I can't cry."

"Would you talk to Felicity, at least?"

An answer was a long while in coming, as Ranger looked back at the floor, just to get away from Kwame's sightless but strangely penetrating gaze. "Yeah," he said eventually. "Yeah, I would."

His younger brother smiled, lifted his head. "Felicity?" he asked, and Ranger almost fell out of his chair. Leaping to his feet, he immediately gained the look of a fel backed up in a corner, and it was only because of Kwame's presence that he didn't snappishly demand -- as she had -- that Felicity get right out of his room.

She hovered in the doorway, holding the panel open with one hand, her expression a hundred emotions at once. Ranger realized that he'd not only heard the door open some time back but he'd noticed the faint scent of her jasmine perfume, it all just hadn't registered.

Kwame stood up, holding a hand out toward his sister. "Felicity?" he repeated, looking intently in her direction. "Please."

"All right," she said softly. "I'll talk."

"I'll go then." When Ranger started to protest, Kwame stopped him, smiling faintly. "No, Ranger, best if I leave. To leave you free to say what you need to say."

Felicity kept the door open for him as he slipped out quietly, and then shut it behind her, standing in front of it with her eyes on Ranger's face. He managed a rather sardonic smile, bowing to her as he indicated with a sweep of his arm the chair Kwame had just vacated. Smiling tightly, almost warily, in return, she took the seat, and Ranger fell back into his own.

There followed a long silence, brother and sister just looking at each other. Felicity broke first, dropping her gaze to the floor. "I've believe I'm meant to say I'm sorry."

"You asking me?"

"You're right, forget it."

"It's your choice, but Kwame expects something to come of our talking, and I don't think he was hoping we'd sit here and be bored to death."

She tensed. "Ranger, your sense of humor is as bad as always."

"I wasn't kidding."

"Which means that your usual jokes are far, far worse."

"Oh, stop it, you're killing me," he said, his voice a lazy drawl but his eyes revealing that he was picking his words quite carefully.

It had the intended effect. Felicity flinched and glared at him. "And to think that for a minute, when I saw you with Kwame, I thought I might have been wrong about you. That maybe you weren't the inavian demon-spawn that I'd always believed you to be. No, it seems I wasn't wrong at all, and I never was. I see little point in apologizing for something I'm not sorry about."

Ranger sat back, interlacing his fingers, allowing nothing of the regret at his needling words or the hurt and anger at hers to show. "Well. Thank you for being honest. At least now I'm sure of where I stand as far as you're concerned. Pity I can't say the sentiments are returned."

"I'd be surprised if you had any sentiment at all, you certainly seemed to have none when you tried to kill your own brother."

"He forgave me," Ranger pointed out.

"He'd forgive Dragaunus, he's that naive and loving!" Felicity's voice was a mixture of anger and of fond exasperation. "Kwame believes there's good in everyone and everything, but unfortunately this is heading into the realm of blind optimism. Because there's no good in you, Ranger, and you prove that almost every day."

Leaning forward, Ranger folded his arms across his knees and looked at her calmly, the only outward signs of his inner hurricane of tangled emotion being a paling of his knuckles and the color of his eyes. "Look, Felice. I'm a cynical-minded bastard, and I don't expect you to believe me when I say this, but I love Kwame." His eyes narrowed a little. "Now I value my life quite highly, I'm not one to go throwin' it in death's path for just anyone. But if it came down to Kwame or me then I'd die for him, if I had to. As for Bayard, or mom, or dad... or even for you. I may be demon-spawn as you say, but I know what family is. And I know what love is. And both mean a lot more to me than people might think.

"And I know what people think," he continued. "I know what they say. I know about the rumors, the superstitions, and I know what's true and what isn't. I know that few people, if anyone, trust me, and that only a very few like me at all. I know what it's like to feel completely alone in the middle of a crowd, to hear my name being bandied about by people like a curse, to see them stop talkin' when I come near and then start again as soon as I turn away. I know what they think. If I cared much about public opinion, I'd have gone insane a long time ago. Besides, it's not as if I've done much in my life to warrant trust and friendship.

"But I do care what my family think, and it-- it hurts that you hate me as much as ya do, but that's tough for me. I can't, won't hate you back, because you're my sister as Kwame is my brother. And I love you as much as I do him."

There was another long silence. Once again they each had their eyes locked on the other. Once again it was Felicity who blinked first, then twice, three times, biting a trembling lip. She tried to keep her composure, but it broke down as he watched and tears trickled out onto her cheeks. "Oh, damn you, Ranger... damn you. You always could give a grand speech."

Ranger shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "It wasn't just a speech," he muttered.

"I know... oh, gods. I don't hate you, Ranger," she whispered. "I mean, I wanted to hate you, and maybe I did for a while, but I don't think I could ever-- you're still my brother, too. Even if you are a cynical-minded bastard." A smile, very faint, but genuine.

He stared at her, astonished, and could only just manage a similarly weak smile in return. There was a strange ache in his chest that he couldn't identify...

"His name is Meka," Felicity said suddenly.

Ranger blinked. "Eh?"

"Meka. My son, it's his name. It means 'eyes'." She hesitated a moment, before adding, "Feel free to come by and see him... a little later tonight, perhaps; he's sleeping at the moment."

"I'll do that."

With another faint smile Felicity stood up, absently rubbing her elbow. "That is, unless Kai has been unable to contain himself from holding his new son again, and is at this very moment racing around trying to warm up a bottle of milk to the music of Meka's hungry screams."

"The joys of parenthood," remarked Ranger. "With which I am thankfully not blessed."

"Oh, it's not all bad," she replied, with the traditional dreamy look of new mothers. Ranger walked her to the door, and stood there as she stepped outside. Once there, though, Felicity paused, half-turning back to him. "I'm... I'm sorry. For everything I said."

"I've heard worse," he said, shrugging it off.

She turned to leave again.

"Felice?"

"Yes?"

He smiled. "Thanks."

It wasn't total reconciliation -- but it was, at least, a giant leap in the right direction.

 

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