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The Story in Which Stuff Happens

By Jadestar and Starsong Lightwing

 

Milantha raced down the halls, burst through the doors, and skidded to a stop at the door of the archive room, where her mentor raised an eyebrow at her, continuing her speech to the group of resigned-looking juniors standing in front of her without missing a beat.

Milantha tried not to breath too hard or look too flushed when Iliana motioned toward her and the three turned to look at her.

"My apprentice will also be helping you; she'll make sure you don't get into anything you aren't supposed to. I take infractions very seriously, so I wouldn't recommend ignoring her warnings. Milantha, no one here is apprenticed, so everything in the Archive room is off limits. Take these two with you and stay with them. The rest of you have the outer rooms."

Milantha took the two Iliana had indicated into the Archive room, where they began the tedious chore of dusting and cleaning the bookshelves. After less than a half an hour Milantha was sick of it. She set her dusting rag down and began replacing books on the now-clean shelf. She glanced up to see how the other two were doing.

"Hey!" she yelped suddenly. "Put that down!" The boy looked up, startled as Milantha came up to him. She took the book from him. "These records are off-limits to unapprenticed juniors," she explained.

"Sorry," he mumbled, turning away. Milantha felt bad for yelling at him.

"It's okay, you didn't know," she smiled. "I'm sorry I yelled, but Iliana will have my feathers for pens if I don't keep the rules."

He smiled a little at that, and Milantha blinked. "Hey," she said, staring at his hair. "Are you Spark?"

He grinned, and his eyes sparkled suddenly. "I see Estelle has been talking about me." He looked at her, as if saving her face to memory. "Milantha, right?" She nodded. "Nice name. Different."

"So's Spark."

"Oh, that's Estelle's idea of being different. Everyone else calls me Sparky. I answer to most, but."

His smile was open, honest and frank, and Milantha had to smile back. "So, what were you doing with that book anyway?"

He shrugged. "Just looking, I guess." He made a sudden face. "Cleaning isn't my idea of a good time."

She nodded. "I'd rather be reading the books."

Shockwave gave a half-smile. "So would I."

Milantha looked over to the other helper. After seeing that he was suitably occupied, she wondered if she ought to go back to her cleaning, or to continue her conversation with the other junior. She glanced at Shockwave, and blushed when she realized that he was watching her very intently.

"Can I start over?" he asked suddenly. "I don't think I made the first impression I want."

She stared. "Uh... I guess so."

He surprised her by bowing slightly, taking her hand, and kissing it before standing again. He pretended to tip his hat to her, and spoke in a Caltec accent. "Pleased ta be meeting ye, m'lady. Me name's Shockwave Featherstone. I know ye aren't new, but let me be hopefully the first to welcome ye to the Brotherhood."

She laughed. "Gee, thanks."

He dropped the accent. "I hang around Marshall too much." he shrugged. "So... Uh..." He vainly searched his brain for a new topic. Gotta keep this going for as long as possible... He was suddenly inspired. "How do you get apprenticed?"

Milantha shrugged. "You get seen, you get picked. That's about all there is to it. Why?"

"Well, I'd like to be apprenticed." Shockwave looked at her shyly. "Then maybe I could help you and Iliana in here."

She laughed. "If you got apprenticed, you'd probably be too busy to even see us!"

He shook his head vehemently. "No I wouldn't! I'd make time!"

Milantha had to force herself not to blush. "You don't even know us," she said lightly.

Shockwave smiled his infectious smile. "I can fix that." Oh, what am I saying? Help help help help...

Is he for real? His eyes were searching hers anxiously, and she found herself smiling at the honesty she saw there. I hope so...She suddenly realized she hadn't answered him.

"That's an awful lot of effort," she pointed out, still slightly on her guard. Honest eyes or not, he was a thief and a guy. How honest could he be? "You sure it's worth it?"

"I'm sure," he said seriously, looking down at her. Milantha gave up fighting the warmth that came to her face--and the smile that came with it. He suddenly flushed too and looked away. Milantha suddenly felt the other helper's annoyed eyes on them and she quickly began replacing the books on the shelves Shockwave had been cleaning. Shockwave cleared his throat and began helping her. They worked in silence for a while, each desperately trying to think of something to say. At least she didn't leave, Shockwave thought.

"So--" He jumped when she spoke. "So--uh..." Milantha had just been trying to make conversation, and now realized she had nothing to say. "How long have you been with the Brotherhood?"

"Since the invasion. I got caught trying to escape and they put me in a cell next to Marshall. We started talking and he got me out when the Brotherhood came for him. We met up a month later and I joined then."

"So Marshall brought you in? How come he hasn't apprenticed you?"

"I--" Shockwave stopped. Yeah, why hasn't he? "I don't know, I never asked him."

Milantha noticed the troubled expression on his face. Oh, no, what have I said--I think I just put my foot in my mouth again...She tried vainly to think of a change of topic. Great. Good thing Estelle's not here, she'd be laughing her head off. Me? Speechless? She strained to put a book on the top shelf. On second thought, maybe it'd be better if she WAS here--I hate being short! She wasn't really short and she knew it, but she wasn't overly concerned with details at the moment. Average, short, big dif. She still couldn't reach.

"I got it." Shockwave took the book from her and put it in place.

"Thanks," she smiled. He grinned back.

"No problem. One of the advantages of being tall."

"Tell me about it," Milantha sighed, glancing around. "This place is huge, and I'm usually too lazy to go get the ladder. I figure it'll take me a while to get to a point where I need the stuff on the higher shelves, anyway. There's a lot of information in here to learn. Iliana knows what's in just about every one. She even knows some of them by heart."

"Wow." Sparky looked around. "You have to learn all of this?"

"Well, for now, I'm just supposed to read as much of it as I can," Milantha moved to the next bookcase and began carefully removing the books. "And Iliana's teaching me the ancient language, and some of the ballads, stuff like that. She says that knowing the rest of it is really a matter of repetition more than anything else. People will come asking for similar things most of the time, and so I'll get to learn the most important ones just because I'll have to keep looking them up until it's so familiar I don't need to anymore."

"I guess that's true," Shockwave commented, pulling books off the higher shelves. Milantha smiled to herself. At least he doesn't look upset any more. They kept up the small talk as they worked their way around the Archive Room. Milantha found Shockwave easy to talk to--aside from those awkward silences between topics--and he made her laugh. And never once did the phrases 'so like a blonde' or 'for a girl' come into their conversation, as they so often had with the other juniors.

Shockwave couldn't remember ever being grateful for library duty. Milantha's smiles came easily, and when she laughed, it was with him and not at him. She listened with genuine interest to what he had to say, and when he hesitated, she encouraged him with a smile or a well-worded question. And she didn't pry about his past.

They were almost done. I can't believe I'm doing this... "So, does Iliana ever let you out of this place?" Shockwave asked, forcing a smile to hide his nervousness. Please please please... oh help me...

"Rarely," Milantha grinned, "Although I'm generally allowed to go eat. She usually lets me go for dinner around six."

"Maybe I'll see you then," Shockwave smiled shyly.

"I hope so," Milantha answered, almost as shyly. Shockwave grinned happily and swept off an imaginary hat with a flourish, bowing.

"Then until we meet again, m'lady," he picked up the Caltec accent again, and Milantha giggled.

"Later, Sparky."

He grinned back at her one last time on his way out. Milantha watched him go for a moment. If nothing else, he keeps me on my toes...She hoped Iliana would let her out on time tonight.

*****

"Spark? Charming?" Estelle looked at her as if she had two heads.

"Don't look so shocked," Milantha chided. "He was really very sweet."

"Sweet, yes. Charming?"

"Yes, charming," Milantha said, folding her arms. Estelle grinned.

"Well, what do you know."

"Don't look at me like that," Milantha warned. "And it was just one conversation."

"Of course." Estelle looked thoughtful for a moment. "Milantha Featherstone. I like it."

Milantha glared. "Ha, ha. Very funny. Need I even say that if you breathe a word of this to anyone, ESPECIALLY him, you will find something very nasty in your coffee the next morning."

"Of course," Estelle said dryly.

"And if you don't drink coffee, I'll still find a way."

"Of course."

"Anyway, thanks for listening, but I better book it before Iliana figures out I didn't come straight back."

Estelle nodded. "Better hurry, or you'll end up staying late tonight."

"Not tonight," Milantha sighed, heading for the door. "Any night but tonight."

She opened the door just as Shockwave raised his hand to knock. Her eyes flew wide. "Sparky! Oh--I was just on my way out. See you later!" She darted out and past as quickly as she could, hearing Estelle's muffled laughter behind her.

"Uh--yeah, later!" Shockwave dashed into Estelle's room, just as surprised as Milantha'd been.

"Real smooth," Milantha muttered to herself as she rushed back to the Archive room. "What a lovely impression that must have made. Hope Estelle didn't burst anything laughing."

*****

Shockwave was getting nervous. Well, he'd been nervous to begin with. But this was a different kind of nervous. This was a she's-fifteen-minutes-late-what-if-she's-not-coming kind of nervous. As time crawled, and she became nearly twenty minutes late, depression started to set in. He poked at what was left of his food. She didn't come. I must have sounded like a complete--

He looked up before the thought was complete to see Milantha rush through the door. She scanned the room quickly and spotted him, giving him a quick wave before she went to get her food.

She was intercepted halfway to his table by a broad-shouldered, dark-haired PreSaber. "Hey, Milly," he grinned. "Nice bookworm ya got on yer suit there." He slid an arm around Milantha's waist where the jewel snake printed on her white bodysuit circled her. Shockwave frowned.

So did Milantha, just before shoving an elbow into the presumptuous young man's gut. He doubled over. "First of all," Milantha snarled, "My name is NOT Milly. Second, I'm not surprised you don't know the difference between a worm and a snake. Allow me to enlighten you. Those--" she pointed to the PreSaber's gang of followers. "Are worms. Find some cronies about eighty rungs higher on the evolutionary ladder, and you'll have snakes." She flipped her hair back and started for Shockwave again. By this time the PreSaber had recovered and noticed where she was headed. He got in front of her again.

"Aw, come on, Milly, why'd you want to sit with that little freak when you could be with me?"

Shockwave flushed. So did Milantha. "The only freak I see here is you, you self-inflated egotistical piece of slime! You know, I bet people would pay good money to see a living cave-duck! Better watch it, you could be in trouble if one of your little pack gets it in his head to put you on display! Now get your machismo out of my way or you'll leave without it!" She shoved past him and finally it to Shockwave's table, her tray amazingly enough still intact.

"I'm glad you're still here," she gave a tired smile as she set down her tray. "Iliana had me hopping all day. I just got out." She glanced down at his tray. "You're finished already, huh?"

He nodded dumbly, getting over her angry outburst and the fact that she had come. He suddenly realized what she'd said, and he looked down at his tray. "I guess I have," he said, looking slightly surprised. "I didn't notice."

She started eating. "Do they annoy you often?"

He shrugged. "I try not to pay attention."

"You should stand up for yourself!"

"I do okay." He patted her arm, and after realizing what he'd done, pulled back too fast, knocking over his glass. Juice splashed all over him, and he jumped up. Bumping into the Saber Student behind him. The annoyed young man got up slowly. Shockwave gulped, and before he knew what he was doing, he grabbed Milantha's hand and raced for the door. She was too surprised too pull away. Once outside the Mess Hall, Shockwave leaned against the wall. "Whoops." was all he could say.

Milantha was about to make a sharp retort about being forced away and running away, until she saw the slightly bewildered look on his face. He was dripping onto the floor. She started to laugh hysterically. Shockwave grinned and started to laugh with her. Soon they could hardly stand.

Shockwave slowly stopped laughing as he looked down at her. She's so perfect... Why's she standing here with me? Milantha met his eyes, unsure of what he was thinking. I must look like such an idiot, they both thought.

What do you do now? Shockwave thought frantically. I never felt this before. "Milantha, would you like to go somewhere tomorrow night?" he asked before he knew what he was saying.

She had fully stopped laughing now, and she searched his face to see if he was leading her on. Seeing only anxiety in his eyes, she smiled. "I'd... I'd love to." Oh, what's Iliana going to say? "Only if I'm allowed, but."

His face fell slightly. That's right, she has responsibilities. People care where she is. No wonder. "Okay. It's... uh... it's a date."

"Milantha?" Iliana came up behind them. "Have you eaten yet."

Milantha nodded, finding her voice. "This is..."

"I know who he is, child. How are you, Sparky?"

"Fine." Shockwave seemed slightly subdued.

"That's nice. Have you eaten yet, Milantha?"

"Not really." Milantha smiled slightly, and Iliana wondered what she was thinking.

"Come eat with me then. We can do some revision." Iliana headed into the Hall. Milantha lingered for a moment.

"Where are we going?"

"Um... Surprise."

She nodded, and followed her master. Shockwave leaned against the wall, and closed his eyes, panting slightly. "Hoboy."

*****

Shockwave knocked on the door, hoping his friend was there. The door opened, and Marshall smiled at him until he saw the slightly panicked look on the boy's face. "Hi. What's up?"

"I need help." Shockwave said plaintively. Marshall led him in and sat down.

"With what?"

The red head wondered how to begin. "You see, there's this girl..."

Marshall looked slightly amused. "Does tha lass have a name?"

He nodded. "Milantha... I don't know the rest. Iliana's apprentice."

"Milantha Lightwing. Go on."

Shockwave was almost beside himself with worry. "I asked her out."

The older duck looked surprised. "To where?"

"That's the problem! I don't know where!" Shockwave fell back into his chair, and folded his arms. "Where can I take her?"

Marshall chuckled. "That's not the question. The question is where can you take her without being caught, am I right?"

"Right."

"Hmm. Not being the expert on this sort of thing, I can only suggest that you don't take her thieving."

"As if I would!" Shockwave was indignant for a moment. "I'll just take her to the movies. We can be careful."

"There, see? Ya dinna need my help after all."

The red head suddenly remembered something he'd been meaning to ask. "Hey, Marshall...?"

"What?"

"Why haven't you got an apprentice?"

Marshall shrugged. "I never really thought about it." Necessary lie.

"Well, you know, I can't find a master, so I was wondering..."

May as well be blunt with the boy. "No Sparky, I don't want you as my apprentice." He was about to continue, to explain, but Shockwave jumped up, trying not to look hurt.

"That's okay, I understand." Not. I thought you were my friend! "I'll see you later."

"Sparky..."

"Night!" Shockwave tried to sound cheerful as he walked out.

*****

Shockwave Featherstone curled up on his bed, trying not to cry. "It's not fair! Everyone hates me! They only pretend to like me!"

That's not true... a small female voice in his head whispered. It was quickly drowned out by another voice that Shockwave had always dreaded. The voice of his old imaginary friend. The one who hated him.

Why should they like you? There's nothing to like. You're a skinny coward whom is only remembered because he's a freak.

"You aren't real. At least I'm real."

Real? You? Get a life! You aren't real unless you're liked. And anyone who ever liked you once is *dead*.

Shockwave gasped out loud. He hated that word. Dead, death, die and dying. The four ds. Thankfully, the voice seemed to fade away, but the damage had been done. Shockwave started muttering feverishly to himself. "I hate this. I hate this. Why didn't I die with my parents? Why didn't I stay with them? I left them there, and they died! It's all my fault..."

He sat up, shaking. His eyes fell on the small bottle of anti-depressants the Doc had given him. Now's the time to take one. This is what they're for. To make you better. the female voice said. Shockwave knew he'd heard that voice before. It was a lovely voice. Who's voice? "No." he answered it lowly. "That's the coward's way out."

It's the smart way out.

Shockwave smiled grimly at the remembrance of all the times the Doc had tried to force the tablets into him. Subsequently, the label bore thick pen writing saying 'Sparky, EAT ME!'.

The glass bottle smashed against the point in the wall at which he'd thrown it. Tablets and pieces of glass showered down to the floor. Shockwave fell to his knees near them. Now, here's an easy way out. Sharp objects and overdose. He sniggered. Wouldn't Tarrin be annoyed? Not sorry, of course, just grumpy.

"Hey, who's in there?"

Shockwave's head jerked up with a start as someone knocked on the door. He didn't know what to do. Eat me, eat me, the tablets cried.

"That's Sparky's room." he heard another voice say.

Oh, don't let them come in, don't, please not now...

"Sparky? Is that you? Shockwave! Shockwave Featherstone!"

He panicked. Grabbing a large handful of tablets, Shockwave stuffed them into his mouth, swallowing. He instantly regretted it.

What have I done? I don't want to die!

"Are you OK?! Damn it, answer will you?!"

He couldn't answer. He opened his mouth to call, but no sound came. He tried to stand, but he couldn't do it.

This is it. This is how it's going to end.

The door slid open as someone entered his pass-code. Duke and Tarrin burst in, halting as they saw him lying on the ground near the broken glass and scattered pills.

Duke let loose with a volley of ugly Earth and Puckworld swear words as Tarrin knelt by Shockwave's side. "How many have you taken?" he asked urgently. Shockwave shook his head, starting to lose consciousness. "Curse you, how many?!" he yelled.

The world was swimming. Shockwave could hear Duke in the background, yelling something out the door. He saw Marshall arrive. All he could see was the stricken look on Marshall's face. The rest of the world tuned out, it was just Marshall and him staring at each other forever.

Then his beak was roughly grabbed by Tarrin. The doctor's face filled his rapidly narrowing tunnel of vision. "How. Many?" Tarrin asked lowly and pointedly.

"I... don't... know... Sorry..."

Darkness hit him like a brick wall.

*****

"A date?" Iliana looked surprised. "With whom?"

Milantha blushed. "Sparky." She'd been nervous about how her mentor would react to the request; she'd delayed it all through dinner. Now they were back in the Archive, alone, and she'd decided that she wouldn't have a better chance. She reached nervously for her necklace as Iliana considered the request.

Iliana was mildly amused as she watched the young girl waiting anxiously. I don't suppose I should be so surprised. She's young and pretty, it was only a matter of time. Perhaps I'm more surprised that she agreed than anything else. Just about every time I've ever seen her with a young man, she was yelling at him. She turned her thoughts to the young man in question. Particularly to his temporary desertion. Well... again, he is young, and it was natural for him to want to find his family. Milantha would probably do the same. And he has definite potential--Iliana stopped, chuckling silently at herself. It really wasn't her place to decide whom her apprentice should date. Besides, he was Marshall's friend, and anyone who could crack the Museum and steal what was without a doubt THE most valuable--You're doing it again. And your apprentice is getting worried.

"All right," she relented. Milantha looked relieved. "But." The girl tensed again. "You must remember to be careful. I certainly hope that if you're going out in public you'll wear something less... unique. I'm not so much worried about you being recognized, since we've haven't really been out yet, but if anyone got a good look at your young friend when he stole the Mask--"

"He *stole* the Mask of DuCaine?" Milantha's jaw dropped. "Sparky?" Iliana looked mildly amused.

"You didn't know that? I thought for certain just about everyone knew about that."

"That would have been while I was under Shendar," Milantha pointed out. "I didn't get around much then. Even less than now." Which is pretty pathetic. How much more isolated can you get than sitting in a library all day. Not that I mind that much... usually...

Iliana gave her a short summary of what had happened. "Wow." Milantha was impressed.

"As I was saying," Iliana began dryly, "Be careful. I'm hesitant to suggest you take your gun, but I hate to have you go out with no protection. And I expect you to be on time the next morning, no matter how late you stay out." Her smile was sardonic but genuinely affectionate. "Or at least as close to on time as you ever get, child." Milantha beamed. I can wear my jeans and that plain white shirt, that'll be cute but not noticeable, right? And I think I'll braid my hair--"*And,*" Iliana broke into her thoughts, "I expect you to keep your mind on your work. You can dream later."

Someone knocked on the heavy door of the Archive room. Iliana rose and unhooked her saber, ready to give the ritual challenge. She opened the door. Estelle stood there, looking uncomfortable.

"I need to talk to you, Lady Iliana."

"Estelle?" Milantha went to the door with her mentor. Her friend glanced down at her.

"Milantha, maybe you'd better let us--"

"Nonsense," Iliana stepped out of the Archive, Milantha on her heels. "I'm sure whatever Leila's sent you to tell me can be said in her presence."

"It wasn't Leila that sent me," Estelle said quietly, looking pained. Her saber hung activated at her side, Milantha noticed. The Raptrin visibly braced herself. "It was Tarrin."

"What happened?" Milantha asked, her voice wavering as the color drained from her face. She could only think of one reason Estelle could have wanted her out of the room for this...

"It's Spark," Estelle managed to choke out. "He's overdosed on his anti-depressants... Doc isn't sure..." She swallowed hard. "He did it on purpose. Marshall thinks it's his fault, apparently Spark asked him about being apprenticed, and Marshall told him no. Spark ran off before he could explain, and--"

Milantha didn't hear the rest. Her knees buckled and she fell, staring at the floor beneath her hands as her head spun. She felt sick.

"'Lantha!" Estelle ran to her side. Milantha's vision blurred. She felt Estelle haul her to her feet as Iliana got on her other side and helped support her.

"Oh, 'Stelle... It's not Marshall's fault," she managed to get out, "It was me. I mentioned it to him... I brought it up... it's my fault..."

"No!" Estelle shook her. "Milantha, stop it! It's not your fault!"

"She's right, child," Iliana's voice was, as usual, implacably calm, but there was something hollow in it too. "You can't help him if you blame yourself, and he *will* need you." Assuming he survives, they all completed the thought in their minds, afraid to say it out loud. "Go with Estelle, now. I will join you when I can."

*****

Shockwave's fiery hair stood out against the sheets, the only color Milantha could see as she entered the room. Marshall was standing on the far side of the bed, gazing down at his young friend. He met Milantha's eyes for a moment, and looked back down at the pale figure on the sheets. Milantha went to the bed and picked up Shockwave's hand. She looked up at Marshall again from across the bed. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "I gave him the idea... I didn't realize..." She bit her lip and looked down again. Marshall reached over to squeeze her hand where it held Shockwave's.

"We can't be blaming ourselves," Marshall said, as much to himself as to her. Estelle took up vigil at the foot of the bed.

Iliana slipped in, and moved to Marshall's side. She touched his arm and whispered a question. Marshall sighed heavily and motioned her to a far corner of the word, where they began conversing quietly. Estelle couldn't seem to stand still, pacing in irregular patterns around the room, coming to light at the foot of the bed for a moment before moving again.

After a moment, Marshall returned to his place beside the bed, and Iliana came to lay a hand on Milantha's shoulder. Milantha's mind was numb, she could barely think. She dimly felt the presence at her back that was meant to be a comfort. If I'd listened to her, this might not be happening. Think before you speak. How many times has she told me that. Why can't I ever learn to keep my mouth shut...

Iliana pulled her back from the bed as Leila, Tarrin and Duke came in. "I got most of the drug out of his system," Tarrin was saying, going to where Milantha had been standing to check on the young duck. "He should pull through. He'll be awake soon."

A collective sigh went through the room. Tarrin left to check on his other patients. Leila and Duke stayed, and the six ducks waited for Shockwave to wake up.

*****

Shockwave dimly felt himself drifting upward, toward consciousness. His eyelids fluttered, but he wasn't aware of it. It was a fight to wake up, and he wasn't sure he wanted to.

Sparky? That voice again--the sweet, feminine voice he'd heard before.

Sparky? Sparky, wake up... Sparky! Please!

Consciousness came a little closer, bringing a little more awareness with it. He is, he's waking up! He sighed, floating back down again. It was so hard... Sparky! The voice was insistent, worried. He felt someone shaking him lightly. His eyelids fluttered again, and this time he caught a glimpse of light and blurred colors.

"Come on kid," Duke breathed, watching as Marshall and Milantha worked to wake him.

Shockwave finally managed to get his eyes open. He blinked carefully, keeping his eyes half-closed to guard against the light. Marshall was standing over him, and--Milantha? He tried to say it, but it didn't come out. He blinked up at her again, then glanced around the rest of the room as best he could. Duke and Leila were standing at the edge of the bed. Iliana was standing behind Marshall, and Estelle was beside Milantha. He heard the door open and Tarrin came into view at the bedside as well.

Someone was gripping his hand so hard it hurt. Milantha. He looked up at her again, willing his eyes to focus. "You know," she said with a wavering attempt at a smile, "If you wanted out of our date, you could have just told me." No! Shockwave still couldn't make his mouth work, so he curled his fingers around hers as tightly as his limited strength allowed. He didn't notice the three pairs of eyebrows that shot up at the word 'date.' Well, three and a half. Estelle only raised one.

"All right," Tarrin said briskly, "You've seen that he's ok, now everybody out. Sparky, take a good look. All these people have been worried sick about you. Remember that." Everyone reluctantly filed out of the room but Milantha and Marshall. Tarrin frowned but Milantha's defiant eyes and Marshall's set jaw convinced him to leave them be as long as they stayed out of his way. "Madam," he said dryly, "I can't treat him while you're cutting off the circulation to his hand." Milantha blushed and relinquished both her grip on Shockwave and her place by the bed. She moved around to the other side with Marshall. He stepped back and nudged her forward. Shockwave's eyes lit on Marshall for a second, but quickly flicked away, first to the ceiling, then back to Milantha.

"Nice," Tarrin murmured as he leaned over Shockwave to check his pupils. "See what you would have missed?" He stood straight again. "Well, you're a lucky young man. It looks like you're going to be okay. A little weak for a while. Can't speak?" Shockwave managed to shake his head. "That'll pass as the pills wear off. Take it easy, but you should be back on your feet in the morning. Take it easy tomorrow though. When you're strong enough to walk out of here on your own, we'll discuss whether I plan on letting you." Shockwave sighed weakly as Tarrin started filling a syringe. Milantha laid a hand on his cheek and turned his face so that he was looking at her. She held him there until Tarrin removed the needle from his arm, talking softly to him.

"I should be mad at you for scaring me like that," she said. "Give me enough time and I probably will be. But don't think you're getting off the hook. I held up my end of the bargain, Iliana said I could go. So you better make good on your half!"

He tried to grin, but it only lasted for a moment. Milantha smiled, and stepped back. Tarrin, gave the boy one last quick check before leaving him to his friends. Shockwave swallowed as he made eye contact with Marshall. Milantha looked from one to the other, and decided to leave for a while. She left through the door, and dithered for a moment, feeling useless. She scowled. Well, when you need to take your mind off things, there's nothing like work. She went to find Iliana.

Marshall lent against the wall near the head of the bed. "Sparky, ye misread me meaning. Now, I'm going to stand here an' it explain it all to thee. Ye kin listen or not, but at least ye can't interrupt." Shockwave made a face, but signaled he was paying attention. Marshall looked gratified, and continued. "As ye know, my family has been in the Brotherhood for a long time. Actually, we started the Brotherhood." Marshall held his hand up to stop Shockwave trying to sit up. "Keep that to yourself. Going on, tradition is a big part of me life. Things, little things, passed down. And one of those things is that you apprentice your son."

"You don't have a son." Shockwave croaked suddenly. Marshall glanced up and over to him.

"No," he said sadly. "I don't. And I don't have any daughters, nephews or nieces. They all died in the Attack. And I ran."

Shockwave wished for a piece of paper. I know, I was with Leila when you came back with the other junior.

Marshall grasped at words to try and get his point across. An idea hit him. "Sparky, ye know those habits thy keeps and objects ye hang on to in memory of your parents? Ye wouldn't part with those for anything, would ye?" Shockwave shook his head slowly, and Marshall continued. "It's like that. You understand?" Shockwave paused, and then nodded. Marshall smiled with relief. "It's not that I don't like ye. Not that at all."

You'd be the first.

"I can see what yer thinking."

No you can't. I'd never let you.

"Sparky, people honestly like you. Why do you have such a problem with that?"

Shockwave couldn't answer, and even if he'd been able, he wouldn't have. Marshall sighed and decided to leave. He patted his friend's shoulder on his way out, silently.

The young thief closed his eyes. He went straight to sleep.

*****

"No."

"Now, come on Cutter, surely ye remember all the things I've done for yer over the years."

"No. I'm not a team player Marshall. I don't need an apprentice."

"Oh, come on!" Milantha broke in indignantly, hands on hips. The two men turned to look at her in surprise. "You've never even met him!" She looked around at the equipment in the room. The Mainframe that Cutter had brought from the former Brotherhood Headquarters took up most of the room, blipping every so often. "Sparky could help you a lot!" The Junior looked to Marshall for his agreement, and he nodded. "Couldn't you even give him a chance?"

Cutter looked amused. He smiled at her. "Well, since the lady insists." He bowed slightly to her, and Milantha wasn't sure if he was being sarcastic or not, so she barged on.

"Good. I've got to get back to Iliana. Marshall, I'll see you later, okay?" She quickly hurried away, a little ashamed for getting mad at two Honor Blades. Iliana's gonna kill me...

Marshall watched her go, and then turned back to Cutter. "Spirited lass."

Cutter rolled his eyes. "They all are, it seems."

Marshall smiled, and continued with his proposition. "At least trial the lad. He's very talented in this area."

"He just tried to kill himself. I'm not going to treat him with kid gloves, Marshall."

Marshall turned for the door. "That's exactly what he needs right now." He left.

Cutter moodily turned back to his keyboard and continued taking over the holo-vision network. He flicked on the set near his workstation, and comfortably put his feet on the table as the theme song for 'Get Sensible' suddenly interrupted a documentary on the history of the puck. He grinned to himself as a barely audible cry of disappointment went up from around the Brotherhood. He shook his head, chuckling. Well, it would be nice to have someone to share my... uh... 'victories' with...

*****

Tarrin looked doubtful. "I'm not sure he's ready to leave."

Milantha was helping Shockwave pack up the few items Marshall and herself had brought in for his stay in the Infirmary. The teenager in question was muttering snatches of C++ code to himself, on a different world.

Marshall put on his most reassuring look. "Don't fear Tarrin, he'll be fine."

Tarrin mumbled something under his breath, and pushed a new bottle of tablets into Marshall's hands. "One a day. *One*. No more, no less. Understood?"

Marshall nodded. "Loud and clear." He looked over at the two youngsters. "Ready?" They both looked up and nodded. Marshall started following them out the door. "Thanks for the hospitality, Doc."

Tarrin shook his head, and went to do some important task as they left.

*****

Cutter looked Shockwave up and down, pretending that the red head wasn't taller than him. "This is a trial, you realize." Shockwave nodded enthusiastically. Cutter groaned inwardly. Let's just hope he's so happy when I turn him down... "OK, I want you to hack into my area of the computer. Show me how good you are."

Shockwave nodded again, and took a seat. He smiled as he ran his hand over the keyboard gently. No sweat...

Ten minutes later Cutter stared, unbelieving, at the screen as his files were neatly accessed by the seemingly innocent boy in his chair.

"How'd you do that?"

Shockwave shrugged modestly. Cutter shook his head.

"OK, now let's spend the next ten minutes getting into the security sys... tem..." He trailed off as Shockwave typed incredibly fast and brought up a map of the Brotherhood. The map showed security using colored lines. Sparky entered a few commands and brought security up to a maximum, and then quickly brought it down to normal again. He looked up at the brown duck, trying not to look smug.

Cutter pulled a chair over, and grabbed an extra keyboard that was plugged into another terminal. "Where have you been all my life?" he asked, giving the red head a grin. "Kid, you and me have some serious damage to inflict on this government..."

"Does that mean you'll take me?" Shockwave was hopeful. Cutter nodded.

"I have a feeling we'll get on just fine. Ever hacked into a Holo-vision network before?" He smiled when Shockwave shook his head. "What's your favorite program?"

Fifteen minutes later every Holo-V in the Lair was receiving a Puckworld Geographic Explorer on poisonous snake breeds.

"Wouldn't have been my choice, but it works," Cutter chuckled. Shockwave shrugged and grinned.

"Milantha likes them."

"I see," Cutter smiled knowingly. "Never miss a chance to suck up to a pretty girl." Shockwave flushed.

"Well, I wouldn't put it like that," he said indignantly.

"Right," Cutter chuckled. "All right, moving on then. I guess the first thing to do is get you a little more familiar with the hardware."

"Great," Shockwave turned eagerly back to the console. "Does this thing run on a PS760?"

"Yes, actually it does," Cutter answered, mildly surprised. "But the Puckworld Systems processors aren't built to handle a network quite like this one, so I made some modifications on the 680 and used those in a couple of places..."

They talked tech for several hours, discussing chips and processors and security systems, and Cutter introduced Shockwave to the fine art of jewel cutting.

"You'd be surprised just how much trade goes on within the Brotherhood," he commented. "People can't sell a lot of the stuff they steal until it gets recut, and so they bring it to me and I either get a cut of the profit, or they owe me a favor later." He held up a newly recut emerald for Shockwave's inspection. It was noticeably different than it had been when he started. "Most members, especially in the higher ranks, have a specialty of some sort, so if you need something in particular done, you find someone who can help you, and then they'll come to you when they need something. Iliana, for example. Someone takes an artifact or an old book to her for appraisal or authentication, and then later when they're out on a job, she may have them pick something up for her that she's had her eye on." Cutter slapped Shockwave on the back as he passed. "And then when members go looking for an apprentice, they find someone that's talented in their area of expertise. Makes for a very well-rounded underground society. Besides, it's easier to get along when you've got something in common."

Shockwave stood up and followed Cutter to another piece of equipment. Cutter glanced at him and shook his head, then reached over and pushed Shockwave down into a chair. "Kid, we have got to do something about this height thing, I can tell already it's gonna kill me." But he said it with a smile, and Shockwave's gave up trying not to look smug.

*****

Milantha's hands were shaking slightly as she pulled the brush through her silky hair.

"Lantha, dear, if you don't put that brush down soon, you're not going to have any hair left." Estelle lifted an amused eyebrow.

Milantha blushed and set the brush aside. "I am acting like a complete--" She searched for a word.

"Lovesick teenager?"

The younger woman glared. "Thank you oh so much for your pearls of wisdom."

"Touchy, aren't we." Estelle smirked.

"Remind me again why I asked you to help me?" Milantha asked, turning back to her mirror and separating her hair into three sections.

The Raptrin smiled. "Because you're naturally nervous about going out with a boy you obviously like."

Milantha blushed further. "I'll have to remember not to have you remind me again." She sighed. "Men. It's so much easier when I can just yell at them."

Estelle chuckled. "You do seem to have a natural talent for it. I believe I overheard someone theorizing the other day that some sort of chemical reaction takes place when you're placed within a certain distance of a male that causes your volume level to rise exponentially."

"That's not fair," Milantha complained. "I don't yell at *everyone.*" She paused, then winced. "Well, not all the time at least."

"If it helps, he's probably more scared of you than you are of him."

"It doesn't, but thanks. How do I look?" She finished braiding her hair and turned to face her friend.

Estelle looked her over. "No one would ever suspect what you were capable of, my dear."

"That wasn't quite the answer I was looking for," Milantha said sourly, putting her hands on her hips. Estelle smiled.

"It's true. You look much... softer, when you aren't covered in snakes. And having your hair pulled back like that draws attention to your face and those big innocent blue eyes." She smirked. "Anyone who didn't know you might actually believe you were perfectly harmless. Pity they'd be so sorely disappointed."

Milantha rolled her eyes but smiled, happy that her appearance was acceptable.

*****

"So where are we going?"

"Huh?" Shockwave snapped out of his thoughts and looked down at her.

"You never told me where we were going," Milantha reminded him.

"Oh. Right." Shockwave flushed a little. "Well, I thought we'd go see a movie. If that's okay with you, I mean."

"That sounds like fun," she smiled. "I haven't been to the movies since--" She stopped abruptly. Since my mom and dad died..."In a long time," she amended quietly.

Shockwave reached over and squeezed her hand, smiling sympathetically. She squeezed back gratefully, meeting his eyes.

"Come on, let's go." She tugged his hand gently, and Shockwave flushed slightly as he realized she didn't plan on letting go. Not that I mind...

There'd been a big ice storm the night before, and the streets were frozen over. The two had opted for skates as the best transportation option as they wound to through the city, avoiding heavily populated areas as much as possible. There really wasn't that big of a chance they'd be recognized, but no point in taking unnecessary risks.

"Oh!" Milantha looked up at him suddenly as something occurred to her. "I meant to ask you, how'd it go with Cutter?"

"Great," Shockwave said happily. "He said he'd take me!"

"You're kidding! That's great, Sparky, I'm so happy for you!" She stopped and hugged him. He grinned and hugged her back. "Do you think you'll like working with him?" she wanted to know.

"It's gonna be great," he said enthusiastically. "He's got all the new hardware, and he knows his stuff. He even showed me how to hack the Holo-net."

"No wonder everyone was complaining," she giggled. "That's some trick."

"It actually wasn't that hard," he admitted brightly as they started skating again. "The programs they use to align the antennas have a glitch that works like a back door for any hacker that knows what he's doing."

"Is it a Pucksoft controller program?" Milantha asked suddenly. "I thought they fixed that."

Shockwave looked surprised. "Yeah, they had a patch that was supposed to cover it, but *that* had a glitch that makes it easy to crash the patch and open it back up again. How'd you know about that?"

"My mom used to work for Puckworld Technologies Incorporated," she told him. "She was one of their technicians in their research development department. I remember her complaining about Pucksoft at the dinner table one night, because they wanted to use it for one of their new products, but it wasn't secure enough. Looks like she was right." She smiled. "My dad worked for the same company in the biomedical division, so they'd discuss the stuff they'd been working on at night. They were really good about explaining it to me so I'd understand and stuff."

"That's nice," Shockwave said softly, looking at the ice going by beneath his skates.

"It *was* nice," Milantha corrected with a sigh. "I learned a lot that way. It's one of the things I remember most about them. Even when I was in the hospital for the snakebite, they used to come see me at night and tell me about the stuff they were working on. They were going to teach me to play hockey when I got better, but we never got the chance..." Milantha shook herself. "Sorry, I didn't mean to--"

"It's ok," Shockwave squeezed her hand again. She smiled. Shockwave frowned as part of what she'd said hit him. "You never learned to play hockey?"

"No, I was in a wheelchair for a couple of years after I got out of the hospital, and I hadn't been on completely on my feet that long when the Saurians came." She smiled ruefully. "I never learned to dance, either."

Shockwave suddenly thought of something, but he dismissed the idea almost immediately. He glanced down at the girl skating along next to him. No way she'd want to...

*****

"Which one do you want to see?" Shockwave asked, glancing over the movie posters.

"Well..." Milantha noticed Shockwave's gaze on an ad for a new science-fiction movie. "How about that one?"

"You sure?" He looked surprised. She shrugged and looked up at him.

"Unless you'd rather a different one--"

"No, that's fine," Shockwave said quickly. "Um--ok, let's go." Milantha smiled at him and he smiled back.

The movie wasn't one Milantha wouldn't have chosen to see on her own, but it was interesting, and Shockwave was obviously enjoying it. She glanced over at him and smiled. He was thoroughly absorbed in whatever explanation they were giving; she could almost see him thinking through it to see if it could actually work.

He's such a sweetheart. I don't know why anyone like him would want to be around a short-tempered loudmouth like me. She slipped her arm through his and leaned her head on his shoulder. Well, more like his upper arm. She wasn't quite tall enough to reach his shoulder.

It was several minutes before Shockwave came back to Puckworld enough to notice. Milantha felt him tense and raised her head to look at him. He smiled shyly and hoped it was too dark for her to see the flush coloring his face. Probably not, he thought ruefully as he noticed she was blushing too. That momentarily made him feel a little more daring, and he freed his arm and slid it around her shoulders. I can't believe I'm doing this... Shockwave held his breath, half expecting an explosion, but he exhaled slowly when she just settled against him and the explosions remained confined to the screen. Encouraged, he remembered his earlier thought. Maybe that wasn't such a bad idea after all...

Milantha desperately prayed that her face would return to its normal color by the time the movie ended; by the way it was burning, she was certain she had discovered at least three new shades of red.

*****

"What?" Milantha stared at him.

"Do you want to learn to play hockey?" he repeated with a grin. "I'll teach you."

"Now?" Milantha stared at him. "We don't even have any equipment!"

"So we'll pick some up on the way," Shockwave shrugged. "Shouldn't be too difficult, all we really need are some gloves, a couple of sticks, and a puck. It's not like we're going to play rough or anything."

"But--Right now?"

"Would you rather wait until the next invasion?" He asked pointedly. She stared at him, and Shockwave bit his tongue. Wrong thing to say...

She blinked, then she smiled softly, and a little sadly. "Okay, sure, let's do it."

"Great!" Shockwave grabbed her hand without thinking and pulled her along with him. "I think there's a pond not to far from here that should be frozen over by now, we can go there." He grinned. "Back when I had friends we used to play anywhere there was ice."

"What do you mean, 'back when you had friends,'" Milantha nudged him with a teasing smile. "You have friends now, silly."

Shockwave's expression closed abruptly, and he didn't answer. Milantha frowned and dug in her blades, pulling him to a stop with her. "Sparky! I'm not going another step until you tell me exactly what you meant by that!"

He sighed. "Nothing, let's just go..."

"No." The stubborn young blonde refused to budge. "Sparky, what about Marshall? He's your friend, isn't he?"

"He didn't want me," Shockwave said bitterly. "If he really liked me why didn't he want to apprentice me?"

"How about because he couldn't give you what you needed? Sparky, Marshall's a great guy but he's old school! He can't give you the training you need! You'd be wasting your talent! And what about Cutter, he took you on didn't he?"

Shockwave shrugged. "So he felt sorry for me. He doesn't even know me."

Milantha fought down her rising frustration with considerable effort. "Sparky, do you realize how hard it was just to get him to trial you? He was dead set that he was too young to take an apprentice, that he didn't need an apprentice, and that he didn't want an apprentice! You must have seriously made an impression on him for him to change his mind like that!"

"He thinks I'm good at what I do. That's not the same thing as liking me." That was the last straw.

Milantha turned to him abruptly and grabbed him by the beak, pulling him down until he was eye level with her. "Shockwave Featherstone, you are going to get this through that thick skull of yours or I'm going to crack it open! People. Like. You. Estelle and Marshall like you. Cutter must have liked you or he wouldn't have taken you on. I like you. Why the heck do you think I've spent the past two hours with you? Is that what kind of a person you think I am? Maybe we haven't known each other that long but I know that you are a sweet, caring, fun person and I am going to strangle you if you don't stop feeling sorry for yourself long enough to realize that there is at least one person on this planet who thinks you are something special so deal with it!" The last sentence had completely exhausted the sixteen-year-old's lung capacity, and as she was forced to stop for breath, she realized his face was only inches from hers. She blushed and let go of his beak. Great, Milantha, real sensitive. If you haven't scared him off already, that ought to about do it. "Unbelievable," she muttered to herself, turning away and bringing a self-conscious hand up to cover the flush coloring her face. "I even yell when I like the guy."

Shockwave stared at her, slowly straightening. He rubbed his beak absently, still looking at her. She folded her arms and looked away. He gave her a half-smile. "Yes Lanny." he said obediently, and started skating again. She hurried to catch up with him.

"Yes?" she asked uncertainly.

He glanced down. "Well, I mean, you're probably right. I can't imagine you being wrong about anything." He smiled. "I think I like people liking me."

Milantha was gob-smacked. She was about to argue with him, no she wasn't right about everything, she was sorry for yelling at him, but seeing the happy look on his face made her think that it could come later. "I'm sure they enjoy it too."

They skated in silence for a minute, then Shockwave pulled up.

"What?" Milantha asked. He shook his head.

"I just remembered. We'll have to steal the hockey equipment on the way. I don't even have any back at the Lair for another time."

She paused. "Maybe this isn't such a good idea..."

He interrupted. "No, you learning hockey is a good idea. Us stealing the equipment by ourselves is a bad idea. Plus," He made a face. "If we got caught we'd never live it down."

They looked at each other for a long moment. After awhile Shockwave mumbled. "But I really want to teach you how to play."

Then suddenly it was decided. They headed off for the nearest sports store.

*****

Shockwave fingered the lock on the door, nervously looking around. It was an old place, no security bar the old lock, but still...

"We have to keep this a secret." Milantha said firmly. Shockwave nodded.

"The combined forces of Marshall and Cutter would fry me, and Iliana and Estelle would fry you."

"Exactly." Milantha stepped up for a closer look. He grinned.

"You wanna do the honors?"

She giggled. "It would be my pleasure." She dug into her pocket, and brought out a pick. "I came prepared." She stuck it in the key hole and started twisting. Shockwave watched, first her hands, then her face.

"I like your hair like that." he said suddenly. She gave him a pre-occupied smile, too busy to register his words. The lock clicked open, and Milantha warily pushed the door ajar. When no alarms went off, she relaxed. The slipped inside and closed the door before they were seen.

*****

"Ow!"

"Whoops!" Shockwave apologized as he stepped on Milantha's foot in the darkness.

"It's a shame we can't turn the light on."

"Tell me about it." Shockwave waited while his eyes adjusted to the darkness. "Actually, it's not so bad now." He started moving again. He grabbed a puck off the rack, and tossed it to Milantha. She caught it, and he grabbed a handful of sticks. "Come over here." She did so, and Shockwave compared from his handful to her and back again. He chose one, and gave it to her to hold, picking himself one. "Now for the hard part."

"Which is?"

"Gloves."

They moved up to the back of the store. Shockwave cautiously turned on a display light. He grabbed the nearest thing in his size, a dark green set. "Be quick, please." he hissed, obviously disliking the light. He pulled on his gloves hurriedly, relieved when they fit. He glanced over at Milantha. She was standing still, staring at all the choice. He quickly picked her out a small blue pair. "Try these." She pulled them on. "Perfect." He helped her get them off, and tucking his bundle under his arm, they hustled out together and took off down the street.

*****

"Bet *that* was something you've never done on a date before." Shockwave grinned as he and Milantha got padded up at the edge of the Pond.

"Actually, no." Milantha smiled back, and slid out onto the ice. Shockwave followed.

"Hold your stick like this." He demonstrated. She copied him, and he nudged her until she got it right. "Great! Now... uh... Here, have the puck." He skated a small distance away and passed the puck to her smoothly. She tried to stop it, and missed. He quickly chased it. After a few goes, she got used to the stick and the idea, and was able to stop 90% of his gentle passes.

"What now?" Milantha was tiring of simple stopping the puck. He shrugged.

"Try shooting it." He made a small goal out of two branches, and pointed down the middle. Milantha took a huge swing at the puck. She missed, and the momentum carried her down onto the ice.

Shockwave managed to stifle a laugh. "That's okay. You're just trying to hit it too hard." She got up grumpily and tried again. She went all out on it, and nearly fell over again. But this time the puck flew in Shockwave's general direction. He swiftly lifted his stick up and stopped it.

*****

An hour later the two were laughing as Shockwave chased Milantha down the ice. While he had the skill advantage, and was the better player, his easy going attitude meant they were fairly even, or at least while he was only half trying.

"You can't catch me." she teased him, skating ahead. They were practicing handling now, so she skated around the edge of the pond, ignoring the goal.

He grinned. "I can always try." he called after her, and skated faster. He caught up and literally skated rings around her. She looked annoyed.

"Hey!"

He hid a snigger, whipped his stick out and stole the puck off her. She pulled up sharply, and he smiled at her. "You think you can handle a little one on one?"

She cast him a look. "You bet."

He smiled, and made another set of goals at the other end of the frozen Pond. He pointed to the new goal. "Mine." He pointed to the other one. "Yours. Okay?"

"Fine." The skated to the center ice, and faced off.

*****

"Yes!" Shockwave hissed as the puck slid into the goal. Milantha looked annoyed.

"This isn't really fair, you know. I've only known how to play for a bit over an hour."

He agreed. "True. But I'd like to win once before you get too good to beat me."

She smiled, took the puck, and took off down the ice. "Slow poke!" Milantha called over her shoulder.

"Hey! That's not in the rules!" He raced off down the ice after her.

"So?"

"Well, neither is this!" He grabbed her around the waist and forced her to stop. She turned to face him, and he realized had both arms around her. "Uh..." His heart pounded so loud he was sure she could hear it. After all, it was all he could hear. He looked down at her, and they found themselves staring into each others eyes. Shockwave was about to let her go and apologize, when she hugged him back. He swallowed hard, bent over, and gave her a quick butterfly kiss on her beak. Milantha lifted her head and suddenly they kissed properly, for a long moment. Then Shockwave let her go and took a step back like he'd been burned.

"What's the matter?" Milantha whispered, voice quivering slightly.

He winced inwardly as a goofy smile that he couldn't seem to erase covered his beak. "Uh... Uh... Um... N-nothing..." He cleared his throat, and tried to get his brain working again.

Milantha looked away. "Thanks for teaching me to play hockey."

"Nah, it was fun." Shockwave was infinitely relieved to find his mouth working again. She met his eyes again, and Shockwave reached a shaking hand out to touch her cheek, as if to check she were real. She closed her eyes briefly, and he smiled. "I really like you, Lanny..."

She opened them again, and clear blue met brown. "I really like you too..."

Shockwave shook himself out of it, and glanced at his watch. "Uh... Did you have a curfew?"

"Why?"

"I think we just broke it!" He showed her his watch, and she blinked.

"We have to go home!"

*****

Shockwave opened his door with a yawn after walking Milantha back to her quarters, tired but happy. He had his eyes closed and he flopped onto the bed with a sigh, ready to go to sleep in his clothes.

"Kinda late, ain't ya?" a dry voice said from the darkness.

Shockwave's eyes flew open, and his eyes adjusted to the sudden light. Duke, Marshall and Cutter were standing over him, all with their arms folded. "Uh... Hi?" Duke looked annoyed, Marshall looked worried and Cutter looked amused.

"What did I tell you? He's fine." Cutter shrugged, and smiled down at Shockwave. "I won't ask how it went, I don't think I want to know..."

"We were worried about ye, boy! It's two in tha morning!" Marshall sighed. "Where were ye?"

"I was out with Milantha..."

"Fer six hours? What did ye do?!"

Duke and Cutter exchanged glances, and had to hide their chuckles. Duke patted Marshall on the shoulder. "Don't worry 'bout it. He's back, and that's enough." He cast a quizzical look at Shockwave. "We were a little worried that you'd both gotten caught."

"I said you weren't that silly." Cutter grinned. Marshall looked injured.

"Now, I dinna say he were silly!"

Shockwave grinned at the upcoming argument. Duke left them to it, and sat down on the bed. "I hope you used protection, kid."

Shockwave sat up straighter. "Hey! It wasn't anything like that!"

Duke nearly ruffled his hair before he remembered. "Yeah, sure it wasn't." he grinned.

Shockwave was angry now. "Nothing happened, okay? Don't you ever accuse Milantha of that again!"

Duke lifted his hands in submission and got off the bed. "Fine, fine, I'm sorry." He started hustling the still arguing Marshall and Cutter out the door. "Let's let Romeo get some sleep, huh?"

Shockwave closed his eyes as soon as they'd left, and went to sleep happily.

*****

Milantha was perfectly aware that she had a pathetically girlish smile on her face as she stepped into her quarters, and she didn't care one whit. Not like there's anyone around to see it at this time of night--er, morning, she thought as she flipped on the light.

Complete shock might have not have been totally adequate to describe the look that hit her face a half-second later, but it was close enough. "STELLE??" Her jaw dropped as she realized that standing behind her best friend was Nylessa, wearing her typical smirk. Lyric stood there as well, and she, as usual, stated the obvious.

"You're back."

It was absolutely impossible to tell whether the flush that flooded her face was from embarassment or anger.

Nylessa grinned. "He was that good, huh?"

Milantha would have lunged for the gun on her desk, but the three were blocking her path. Estelle turned and whapped Nylessa's shoulder.

"Lessa! You know better."

"Right," Nylessa continued to smirk. Milantha'd heard that counting backwards from a hundred would give one's anger enough time to fade.

When she reached twenty-five, she gritted at her 'visitors', "You have less than thirty seconds to get out of my sight before I go TOTALLY BALLISTIC!!"

Estelle wisely shoved the other two towards the door. "Really, Lantha dear, we just wanted to make sure you got home all right. You've been gone a long time. I take it the evening went well?"

Milantha just smiled. Estelle nodded. "Excellent. I'll expect a full report tomorrow."

*****

Shockwave caught up to the retreating figure at last. "Lanny!" he puffed.

Milantha stopped, resting the books she was carrying on her hip. "Sparky! Hi!"

"Hi!" He suddenly realized he had nothing to say. "Uh... Just saying hello."

"I'm kinda in a hurry anyway. Iliana needs these."

"Oh, sorry. Um... I had a really good time last night... Er... this morning..."

The blonde smiled. "Me too."

He fidgeted a little. "You wanna do it again sometime?"

"Well, sure!"

"Great! I'll see you at dinner or something..." On a sudden impulse he stooped to her height and kissed her.

Milantha and Shockwave both paused and stopped at the large sigh that came from behind them. They turned, looking a little guilty.

Estelle motioned for them to continue. "Don't mind me."

Milantha glared at Estelle. "Stelle, scat!" Estelle grinned, and did so.

Shockwave gave a half smile. "Think we'll ever live it down?"

Milantha shrugged. "Nope."

"Do you care?"

"Nope!"

He smiled, and escorted her to the Archive Hall.

 

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