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Moments of Darkness by Lori McDonald, Muddpie
Moments of Darkness by Lori McDonald, Muddpie
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Author's Chapter Notes:
This story was written by Harlock and Lori McDonald on-line on Centre Neptune, which is a way of writing that is definately an experience and leads to stories that are somewhat unpredicatable. :) [None of this is mine]
MOMENTS OF DARKNESS Harlock and Lori McDonald

 

Bemused and more than a little annoyed, Ken swirled the remains of his drink in his glass and regarded his inebriated second. "You’re drunk," he told him.

Joe grins blearily. "S'not drunk." He hiccups. "Hones'."

Ken snorts right. "And I'm sure you'd share a drink with Katse if he just walked in right now. You're plastered."

Joe grimaces. "Pun' 'im in th' snoot, I w'ld," he mumbles, gesturing wildly and drunkenly.

Ken snerks. "Time to go home, dachi... enough for you."

Joe grabs for his glass. "Wai', wai'... gotta ge' 'nother beer..."

Ken waves the bartender off and hustles Joe out of the bar.

Joe fights him. "Wai'! No' done!" He struggles in his leader's grip, legs folding uselessly under him. "Woo... thish fun!"

Ken picks him up over his shoulder and drops him in the G-2 passenger side. "You're shit faced, Joe. Home we go."

Joe pulls away. "Hokay! Le's fly! BIRD GO!" Shifting into the blues and indigos of the Condor, he spreads his wings and flies.

Ken shakes his head. "Goddamn idiot. Gonna get us killed...." Mumbling a bird go and following him. "Joe, you moron!!!" Angling and slamming into him, bearing him to the ground and ripping off his bracelet. "STAY DAMMIT" Detransmuting himself as well. "We go home by CAR!"

Joe blinked. "Wha' hoppen...?"

Ken growls. "I clipped your wings." Snatching him up by the back of his shirt and hustling him off to the car. "Now get in and stay in." Forcing him into the passenger side, getting in himself before Joe can get out, lashing him in with the seatbelt.

Joe struggles with the seatbelt, singing at the top of his lungs. "I'M THE CONDOR, YES I AM! GONNA KICK ASS, CAUSE DAMN IT I CAN!"

Ken takes off his shirt, gives it a twist and gags Joe. Then he pulls off Joe's belt and lashes his hand together , tying them up and over his head to the head rest. "Shut up, be still, and let me get you home where you can pass out."

Joe squirms, trying to breathe around the shirt, still singing in a muffled sort of way, kicking at the floorboards with his feet.

Ken just grouses and drives toward Joe's trailer.

Joe's struggles get more violent, almost thrashing in his.

Ken leans over and pulls away his shirt. "Awww .. gross. Spit, Joe, spit."

Joe rasps, choking.

Ken pulls over undoes Joe, getting him out of the car. "Go ahead, breathe," he tells him, bending him in half and supporting him so he doesn't fall.

Joe throws up repeatedly, his knees buckling.

Ken holds him up. "Easy, dachi, easy." Pulling out a handkerchief and wiping Joe's mouth. "Shouldn't fly when you're drunk."

"Oh, God," Joe moans. "Shoot me, please..."

Ken chuckles softly. "Why don't we go to my place? It's closer. Get you all cleaned up and in bed. I've got the pull-out sofa thing."

Joe is about to answer when Ken's bracelet goes off with the signal that they're wanted. Joe immediately starts to sing again.

Ken rolls his eyes, Ohh, god, not now!! "Hai, G-1 here"

"We have a mission priority," Nambu tells him. "We need the whole team in the air now."

Ken grouses, tapping his bracelet and giving Ryu the signal to pick them both up.

Joe grins drunkenly. "Okay!" Grabbing his bracelet, he slips it on and transmutes, then jumps in his car, revving the engine.

Ken, in a low voice, "JOE..."

"Bye!" He peels out, barely missing slamming sideways into a tree.

Ken screams. "JOE!!!" Smacking his wrist,. "RYU!! He's on the move, nab his ass. I'm heading to my place to get the plane."

Twenty minutes later, Joe races down the highway at full speed, taking great delight in weaving all over the road so that the Phoenix, coming up behind him, can't connect with the grapplers.

Ken snarls into the bracelet, now on board. "JOE!! Let Ryu pick you up, damnit. We don’t have time for games. Stop goofing off, or so help me, I'll take the G-1 back out and blow that piece of shit you call a car to hell!!"

Joe laughs over the comm. "You wouldn't dare."

Ken growls. "That’s it.. I'm gonna blast that piece of shit car, then I'm gonna blow up his trailer and chain his ass into an ISO prison cell." Grousing more as he pulls the G-1 out of the Phoenix.

Joe whistles as he drives, not caring for once that he can't see straight.

Ken sights, then fires, taking out the back right tire and fender of the Condor Machine.

Joe yelps in total surprise as the G-2 lurches, trying to compensate, but his reflexes are too slow and suddenly the car is cartwheeling down the road at full speed before crashing with a terrible wrenching of metal and glass into the concrete divider that separates the lanes.

Ken gasps and puts the G-1 back in the Phoenix, letting Ryu hover enough so he can jump down to Joe. Stalking up to the car. "Joe????" Concerned over the mangled look of the G-2, he draws closer.

The G-2 is totaled, wrapped over the divider like a crumpled coke can, the top crushed down. Steam rises from the ruins of the engine. There's no answer.

Ken tells Ryu to call Nambu and tell them of their delay and possibly lack of arrival. Then he sees about getting his gunner out of the wreck. Finally getting the passenger door open, he looks in, trying to squeeze part of his body in to assess Joe.

Joe lies twisted in the wreckage, his BirdStyle tattered, his visor fractured. He's unconscious, ash white, blood on his obviously broken arm and on his BirdStyle. Cars start to stop outside, their owners gaping at the wreckage and the Eagle, or getting out to help.

Ken calls up, getting Jun to come down with the medivac unit they carry, getting Joe on a backboard and splinting his arm. With great care, he gets him out and then up to the Phoenix. Two thoughts fight in his head. 1- the G-2 reverted to civvie mode upon impact. 2- Joe, you’re a damn idiot.

Jinpei's eyes are huge as Ryu and Ken carry Joe past him. "Why did you shoot him, Aniki?" he whimpers.

Ken snarls. "Shut up, go back with Jun. I'll take care of Joe. Ryu, get us to CC. He'll need to be looked at." Cursing himself for shooting Joe in his intoxicated state, cursing Galactor more for their lousy fucking timing.

His communicator starts to beep. "Ken!" Nambu yells. "What’s going on??"

Ken sighs. "Joe's wrapped the G-2 around a concrete divider. He's in bad shape and we're coming in to CC. Have doctors waiting, and please send a salvage unit to pick up the G-2." Giving coordinates, then cutting the channel. Sitting in the med bay with Joe for the ride back. "Joe, you idiot. Why'd you get so drunk?" His head hangs down. "I'm sorry."

Joe doesn't answer, or move for the entire trip, not even when the doctors come on board to whisk him into surgery. "You have to go on the mission," Nambu tells them. "Even without Joe. There's rumours of an assassination of the prime minister of Kandah and you have to protect him. The doctors here will deal with the Condor."


Arriving back at Crescent Coral, Ken leaves his teammates to go make their reports, headed for the room where Joe is, his expression tight and pained as he lets himself in. "Joe?"

Slowly, drug glazed eyes open to look at him. "...ken..?" There are monitors everywhere, hundreds of wires sprouting out of the Condor's body to watch him, an IV dripping into his arms and tubes up his nose, taped to his cheeks.

Ken takes his hand. "Joe, I'm so sorry. " Hanging his head. "Won't blame you if you kick my teeth down my throat for this."

Joe struggles to keep his eyes open. "...fucking right... goddamn crazy bastard.... you SHOT me..! I'm gonna kick..." Suddenly, his face goes even whiter than it was before, his eyes wide with terror.

Ken grips his hand, "Dachi??"

Joe starts hyperventilating. "I can’t feel them. I can’t feel my legs!"

Ken feels the colour drain from his cheeks. "I'll get a doctor," he says, trying to hide his own fear. "Maybe they just gave you something to relax and to keep you still."

Joe is getting hysterical. "I can't feel my legs! I can't feel my legs! Oh, GOD!"

Ken gently pins his shoulders down, a quick move smacking the nurse call button. "Joe, Joe calm down. I'm gonna get someone." Screaming for help at the top of his lungs, then turning back to his second. "Joe, come on, calm down." Keeping his own terror locked inside.

Joe shakes his head desperately. "Oh, God, no! Not this! I can't deal with this! WHY THE HELL DID YOU DO THIS TO ME, YOU ASSHOLE!"

Nambu hurries in. "Joe, calm down." Pulling out a syringe, he pumps a light sedative into the IV set up. "Ken, out. Now." Ken hangs his head and slides outside, guilt ridden.

Joe feels the drug flow into his body, bringing a blessed numbness that he doesn't want to resist. He wants it to take all of him instead, forever. His eyes seek out his mentor. "Hakase?"

Nambu's hand strokes some of the tousled locks from his face. "Joe, I need you to stay calm now. Your spine has been injured and we're trying to assess the damage now. It's swollen, and that's why you can't feel your legs. We've also giving you some medication to block the pain, in case there is any. But I need you to lie as still as possible and rest. The swelling has to go down before we know for sure if anything has been damaged permanently. So far, things look good. But you have to stay still, and keep calm. We'll know more in a couple of days. Can I get you anything in the meantime?"

Joe stares at him, reeling in shock. "You're lying," he grates. "Just like you lie about everything else. I'm never going to walk again, am I?"

Nambu returns the glare. "Joe, I don’t lie and I think you will walk. It may take some time and surgery, but I'm sure you will."

"Don't LIE to me," he screams. "You just make it worse!"

Nambu shook his head, trying to get through to him. "Joe, I'm not lying to you. You may require surgery, you’ll undoubtedly require physiotherapy. But I won't know anything until the swelling goes down." Standing. "And I promise, if there is no way... no possible way to make you walk again, and if it’s what you want, I'll...." Swallows. "...release you." His voice goes gruff with emotion. "But only if we've tried everything else, okay? Fair enough?"

Joe glares at him, breathing heavily through his nose, jaw tense. "Leave me alone," he growls. "Bastard." He looks away, convinced that it's over. He may as well be dead.

Nambu sighs heavily. "Joe, the injury is fresh. It needs time for the swelling to go down. Give it a chance to heal before you give up."

"You just want to see me suffer," Joe snaps. "Gets your rocks off for all the times I mouthed off to you, doesn't it?"

Nambu reaches over and lightly slaps him. "If I want you to suffer, I know better ways then this. Like solitary in an ISO cell, and taking away your car and your freedom. I don't like seeing you like this. I prefer to have you yelling nose to nose with me."

Joe’s face is enraged. "Did you order Ken to kill me?"

Nambu blinks hard, startled. "Nani???"

Joe jerks away. "Bastard. You did. You ASSHOLE! Not happy your pet project didn't finish the job off for you? Well, why don't I make it easy for you instead?" He starts ripping sensors off his chest, yanking out the IV and tubes bodily.

Nambu shoves him down and straps him into the restraining devices. Sighing and carefully pulling out the IVs before laying Band-Aids on them, then reapplying the monitoring devices. "Joe, I don't know what you're talking about, but I know who does. KEN!!!" Yanking open the door and pulling the startled Eagle inside.

"Oh, so you DO want him to finish it!" Joe thrashes in his bed. "Go ahead, Ken," he sobs. "Do it! Kill me! I want you to!"

Ken starts. "But, I don't want to kill you." Looking helplessly at Nambu. "Hakase, why does he think I want to kill him? I was trying to keep him from killing himself or anyone else. He was drunk... he was supposed to stay put and let Ryu pick him up. I... just blew out his back tire..." He looks miserable and confused.

Nambu looks at him impassively while Joe laughs behind him, then deliberately pulls back his arm and slaps Ken hard across the face.

Ken reels back, holding his jaw, eyes wide.

Joe gulps, gaping at them both. "Why'd you do that?"

Nambu snarls. "KEN! That was a fucking irresponsible thing to do!! You could have killed him, do you realize that!!" Snagging him by the T-shirt and slapping him hard again. "Get out of my sight! You are confined to quarters until I can decide what to do with you!!" Ken's eyes widen and tear and he glances at Joe, sobbing out. "I'm sorry, so sorry," before dashing from the room.

Joe closes his eyes, laughing silently, unable to stop. "Oh, that's rich. That's real rich..."

Nambu's shoulders heave as he pants. "I can't believe he did something that stupid. Even you would never endanger him or one of the others like that. What the hell was he thinking????!"

Joe keeps laughing. "Like I'd make a REAL good hole in the ground."

Nambu turns back to him. "I will have him suitably punished, unless you prefer to designate his punishment yourself?" Giving him a level look, barely reigning in his anger at Ken. Trying not to lash that out at Joe.

Joe's laughter stills as he watches him, his eyes narrow.

Nambu looks at him. "Well? Any thoughts on the matter? You were the wrongfully injured party, and this goes beyond your occasional brawls with him."

"Don't bullshit me."

Nambu shakes his head. "No bullshit, Joe. If you want to, you decide. I'll offer my thoughts if I think it beyond harsh."

Joe's teeth grind. "Don't bullshit me! Don't pretend you give a damn, don't pretend you don't regret I'm not a corpse so you can get a nice obedient replacement and don't pretend you're gonna do ANYTHING to your favourite son!"

Nambu looks at him calmly. "I pretend nothing of the sort. Ken will be punished, severely. And as for not wanting you, I don't know where you get that idea."

Joe just breaths heavily, glaring at him.

Nambu pulls over a chair and sits down facing Joe, propping his arm on the side of the bed. "Joe, talk to me. I don't understand why you think I hate you. "

Joe looks away. "Then you're just lying to me again."

Nambu takes his hand. "Joe, I'm not lying to you. Why do you think I hate you?

Joe jerks it away. "You should have let me die."

Nambu grabs it again. "Why?"

Joe all but spits at him. "You just don't get it, do you?? You should have let me die on B.C. Island with my parents, or on all those missions, or in the G-2!"

Nambu doesn’t flinch. "But why, Joe? I don't understand. Why do you want to die??" Real concern in his voice and face, his eyes.

In answer, the Sicilian starts to struggle, trying to get out of the bed, gasping at the pain he feels in the part of his back that isn't paralyzed. "I hate you! I hate all of you!"

Nambu stands and presses him into the bed so he can't hurt himself. "Why? None of us hate you, Joe."

"Yeah, well, that doesn't stop me from hating myself!"

Nambu, softly. "Joe, why do you hate yourself?"

Joe just starts laughing again.

Nambu cups his face softly with one hand. "Joe, talk to me. Tell me why you hate yourself. You're not a bad person."

Joe’s voice drops to a whisper. "I'm a failure. That's why you had Ken try to kill me."

Nambu balks. "I would never have Ken try to kill you. And you're not a failure. Is that the way you think I see you? Because you couldn't be more wrong."

"Could have fooled me." His eyes close.

Nambu’s thumb slides over his cheek. Softly: "Oh, Joe. What have I done so wrong to make you think that?" Sighing heavily. "I don't hate you. I love you, Joe, like a son. A pain in the ass son at times, but I wouldn't have you any other way. I’m truly sorry you don't think I care about you and about what happens to you."

Joe doesn't look at him, his eyes squeezed tight. "I don't believe you," he whispers.

Nambu sighs. "What did I do or not do to make you distrust me so?"

Joe doesn't answer, trying to turn his back to him and, failing that, grabbing the pillow and holding it over his face with his good arm.

Nambu pulls the pillow away, his hand returning to Joe's face. "Joe, I do love you. I know I'm a lousy parent. I try but- I'm just lousy at it. I guess I trusted you kids to just tell me when you needed something. I was too ignorant to know otherwise. I'm sorry I hurt you."

Joe tries to glare at him, but he's too exhausted to put much effort into it anymore. "What are you going to do if I can't walk anymore?"

Nambu looks down. "Cry, scream, try not to inflict too much damage on Ken because of my anger at what he did. Cry some more, be moody and drive my staff insane. Find you an alternative job position and as a very last recourse, let you die if that's what you think you truly have to do. I'll hate it. I'll blame myself for it for the rest of my life. But I can't force you to live life from a wheelchair." There’s a tone to his voice that tries to get Joe to see the challenge, knowing he’s never resisted one before in his life.

Joe ignores it. "How you gonna kill me if I want that? Put me in another car and give Ken better missals?"

Nambu says softly: "I did not order or ask or suggest for Ken to do that. That was his own stupid idea. And if you truly want to, I'd inject an IV for you. Nothing painful. You'd just... " Choking tightly. "...go to sleep." He’s not able to look at him as he tears up.

Joe looks away. "Oh."

Nambu, softly, wiping hastily at his eyes says "Joe,. if I undo the restraints, are you going to try and hurt yourself further?"

Joe, just as softly. "I don't know."

Nambu takes his hand again. "I can stay,. or call in one of the others to stay with you."

Joe regards him. "What if I want that needle now?"

Nambu shakes his head, then sighs, "Joe, the swelling hasn't even had a chance to go down yet. Won't you wait until it does?" Pleading with him.

"You said I could punish Ken however I want." He relaxes in the bed. "I want that needle to punish him."

Nambu, softly: "Joe,. death is permanent. And your death would be pointless. Ken will only follow you. If you want to truly torment him, stay alive and drill it into him every day that he lives. Make him pay for what he did."

Cold gray eyes bore into him. "I know that. I want you to go to Ken and tell him I took that needle. Tell him I went to sleep. Tell him I died in this room and let him deal with that for a while. That's my punishment for him. I want to see if he gives a damn."

Nambu’s face splits in a grin. "I see now." Smirking to match one of Joe's looks. "Later, we’ll hang him from the ISO building flag pole, ne?"

"Maybe." The Condor’s voice drops to a soft murmur. "And maybe I'll just take that needle anyway. For now, can you just give me something that'll make me sleep for real?"

Nambu strokes his hair from his eyes. "I should reconnect the IVs, but I suppose that can wait for when you wake up again, ne?"

Joe nods absently. "Sure."

Nambu rises. "I'll be right back." Coming back in less then two minutes with a syringe and an alcohol swab for his arm. "This will sting a bit," he warns and injects him, smoothing over the wound and laying the needle down. Sitting down again and taking his hand, he waits for him to drift off. "Joe, I do love you, son."

Joe's eyes start to slide shut. "...me too... love..." he murmurs, then his breathing deepens and slows.

Nambu smiles softly, stroking his hair for several minutes before he even thinks he can deal with Ken. Rising and stalking, needle in hand to Ken's room. Kicking the door open with a bang. "Ken..."

Ken sits up on his bed, looking at him worriedly. "How's Joe?"

Nambu takes a deep breath. "I can't strip you of your command, you're needed too badly. BUT.. you are confined to Crescent Coral. You have no privileges whatsoever outside of when you're called to duty. You will eat, sleep, and work here until I decide otherwise." Watching him intently.

Ken's mouth works soundlessly until he manages to force the words out. "Hakase, I wasn't thinking. I'm sorry. It won't happen again, I swear it! I never meant to hurt Joe!"

Nambu glares at him. "You're right. It WON’T happen again." He drops the a syringe on the table in front of Ken.

Ken stares at it. "What's that?" He looks almost confused.

Nambu glares. "Joe's way out. Damn fool." Looking pissed.

Blue eyes widen. "What do you mean?" he whispers.

Nambu's voice is harsh as he answers. "He's dead," he tells him, seeing the shock hit him like a physical force. "I found him on the floor with this. His spine suffered some damage, I didn't think it was permanent but he managed to get a hold of a syringe and injected a large airbubble into his bloodstream. It killed him almost instantly."

Ken sways, absolutely white. "What?" he squeaks.

Nambu's hand lashes out and pulls Ken close. Shoving him out the door and down the hallway to the elevator, he takes him to a solitary cell and pushes him into it. Locking the door, he orders: "I want him watched constantly. If he tries anything, stun him." Afraid Ken really will commit suicide.

Ken stumbles into the cell and manages to turn, grabbing the bars of the tiny window in the door. "Hakase?" he begs. "Talk to me. Please! Tell me you're joking! Tell me Joe's alive! PLEASE, Hakase!"

Nambu looks back at him, his heart wrenching as much as it had when he'd talked with Joe. Not saying anything, he turns and walks out of the area. Finding his office, he collapses in his chairs and watches a monitor, split to show an image of Ken's cell, and Joe's hospital room.

In the hospital room, Joe sleeps, head turned sideways on the pillow, his breathing slow and even. In the cell, however, Ken stands frozen in place, trembling, then lunges at the toilet, vomiting before collapsing to the floor, sobbing brokenly. Nambu watches closely, wanting to tell Ken, wondering if Joe would be too pissed if he told him soon.

Ken rocks on the floor. Joe is dead. His best friend in all the world, lying cold in a morgue somewhere, dead because of his stupidity. "It's all my fault," he whispers, remembering targeting on Joe's car. How angry he’d felt and how long it took that anger to change to fear. "Oh, GOD, Joe! I'm sorry!"


Two hours later, Nambu goes up with a tape in hand to Joe's room, trying carefully to rouse him from the effects of the light sedative. "Joe.. Joe..."

Joe shudders, stirring slowly. "...poppa..?"

Nambu carefully sits on the edge of the bed, undoing the restraints. "Joe, Joe. It's Nambu. "

Slowly, Joe turns to look at him. "Hakase..? W-what is it?"

Nambu strokes his hair softly. "I have a tape of Ken's reaction if you'd like to see it."

A sleepy blink. "...sure..."

Nambu plops it in, letting it run, fast forwarding it through the broken sobbing and hysterical cries. Then he hits a series of keys on the remote to bring up Ken's cell. "And this is live now."

Joe watches, seeing Ken lying on the floor, arms wrapped around his knees as he cries. "...what a baby..." He manages a grin. "...can you patch my voice in there?"

Nambu smirks back evilly. "I think so. Give me a minute to get a mic." He returns in a few minutes with a mic and hooks it up. "Go for it. Just depress the red button to talk, and let off of it to hear."

Joe pushes the button. "...ken... ken... i'm calling you from beyond the grave... ken..."

Ken starts and looks up and around the ceiling of the cell. "Joe????"

"...ken... it's dark here... i can't see you... i'm cold..."

Ken stands up, "Joe?? Joe, where are you? Are you really..... dead?"

"...yeah.... prick."

Ken shudders and drops to the ground again. "Joe,. I'm so sorry. I wanted to stop you from getting hurt, not hurt you myself." His head lowering to the floor as he sobs again. "I want you back. I'm so very sorry."

Joe snorts. "Oh, so you SHOT me because you didn't want me to get hurt?? God, you're such an idiot, Ken!"

Ken sobs and nods furiously. "Wanted to hit your tire,. stop you. My fault, my fault."

Joe winks at Nambu. "Next time aim better. Now how am I gonna pay off all my debts? They're gonna haunt me for eternity, y'know."

Ken blinks. "Joe??" Something about that sounding wrong. "Next time...????"

Joe slaps his forehead. "Oops."

Ken catches Nambu’s chuckle in the back ground and snarls. "JOE!!! You son of a bitch!! " Laughing and crying at the same time, his voice lowering to barely a whisper. "I'm glad you're still alive..." Wiping at his face. "Somebody let me out of here!"

"Hell, I wanted to get you to pay off my debts!" Joe looks at Nambu. "Let him out," he tells him wearily.

Nambu makes a call and has ken released. The Eagle makes a fast retreat to Joe's room as Nambu looks back at Joe, "Feeling better?" he asks, a wicked gleam still in his eyes. "We can still hang him from the flag pole."

Joe shrugs. "I don't care. Guess I know how he's gonna react now."

Nambu, softly" "A little longer and I think he'd have slit his throat. If it makes you feel any better. " Poking his ribs lightly. "You broke too soon." Smirking. "But it will be amusing to watch him suck up, won't it?"

Joe closes his eyes. "For as long as I last," he whispers and sighs.

Nambu strokes his hair again. "Joe, you'll pull through this. I promise. I'll do whatever it takes."

"Do, please, Hakase." He takes a deep, shaking breath. "I never imagined myself dying by going to sleep before."

Nambu leans forward and hugs the Condor, being careful not to lift him or jar him too much. "It’s going to be okay, Joe."

"Hope so, Hakase. Hope so." He hugs him back with his good arm, awkwardly. "I have a hard enough time wanting to be alive when I'm whole."

Nambu sits up. "Will you talk with someone about this? Being depressed isn't normal, Joe. I want you to be whole and healthy, and happy."

A sudden flash of anger. "But I'm not whole, am I?? I might never be whole again!"

"Joe. You will be, I swear it."

Just then an annoyed, bemused, and terrified Eagle walks in. "Joe??"

Joe looks at him wearily. "I hope you feel like shit."

Ken pulls in a shaky breath and nods, still not in control of himself. Nambu glares at him. "You're supposed to be in your quarters."

Joe closes his eyes, lying back, trying to feel ANYTHING below his waist as Ken hangs his head, dejectedly saying. "I’m so sorry, Joe." Before turning to go out of the room.

Joe’s mouth twists. "...don't go..."

Nambu rises, giving Joe's shoulder a squeeze. "I'll try and find something to help the swelling go down faster." Waiting for Joe to open his eyes so he can smile softly at him. "I’ll be back soon." Giving Ken an nasty glare before leaving. Ken stays close to the wall.

Joe watches Nambu leave silently, then looks at Ken.

Ken lifts his eyes to look at him the drops them to the floor again. mute.

Joe frowns. "You shot me down." Quietly.

Ken just nods, afraid if he speaks he might start bawling again.

Joe’s expression doesn’t change. "I probably won't ever walk again." Still quietly.

Ken shudders. "Hakase said he could fix the damage..." Trying to keep hope in his voice.

"But if he can't he said he could put something in my IV that would stop my heart."

Ken pales drastically, coming off the wall. "Joe, no, please! He'll find a way, or I will..."

Joe shrugs. "He said it would be just like going to sleep... painless."

Ken clutches his hand. "Joe, no, there are all kind of technologies out there. One of them is sure to work. Please, don't do that. I'm begging you. Please!" Looking like he's about to cry again.

Joe smirks. "Haven't made up my mind yet, asshole. But if I do..." His voice hardens. "Don't think it's because I hate you. Or blame you. I'm pissed off as hell and I haven’t forgiven you, but you're still my best friend. Understand?"

Ken shakes his head. "I.. I.. did this to you...."

Joe shakes his head. "Don't let it destroy you, Ken. Losing one of us is too much to pay already for this."

Silent tears run down his face. "Dachi, please don't leave me."

Joe looks down. "I can't live like this."

Ken chokes. "I'll make sure you get better. You have to, you owe me payback, dachi." Trying to make a smile, failing.

Joe manages a laugh. "Got that already when you thought I was dead."

Ken shakes his head. "Doesn't count. You have to get better, then kick my ass like I deserve."

The Sicilian looks away. "Maybe. I'm tired though. So tired... you know when they're gonna operate or what?"

Ken sits on the side of the bed, taking Joe's good hand in his lap, fingers twined with his own, careful not to jar him. "Soon. They have to wait for the swelling to go down. It may be.. just a really good bruising and once the swelling is gone, you'll be fine."

"Maybe." He yawns. "Anyone told the others about this? Or will I just wind up with the whole lot of them in here nagging me not to die?" A faint smile tugs his lips.

Ken swallows. "I think, so far, I'm the only one to know. I don't think Nambu's told them yet. " Stroking Joe's hand and wrist. "Joe..... if... if this was over... and you were better....would.. would you still... want to die?"

Joe shrugs. "If I could walk? If I could fight? No. If I'm useless, then yeah. Most likely I will."

Ken, softly: "Joe, even if you can't walk you're not useless."

Joe’s face tenses. "Can't avenge my parents, I may as well be dead."

Ken shakes his head. "I would do that for you, if you let me. But Joe, there's more to you then vengeance."

The Sicilian laughs long and hard. "Like what? Drinking? Dating? Running up a tab at the Snack?"

"You're my best friend. What would I do without you? Who would keep me from doing the stupid things I do?"

Joe snorts. "Talk to Jun sometime. She'd love the job." The bracelets they both wear start to beep with an alert. "Oh, God," Joe sobs. "I want to go with you."

Ken grabs Joe's bracelet and his own, killing the comm and throwing the things across the floor. "Who's going anywhere?"

Joe's eyes widen. "You can't stay here."

Ken snorts. "And why not? "

Joe pushes himself up, his face paling at the effort. "You have to go!" he screams. "They need you! I don't get any vengeance anymore at all unless it's through you!"

Ken pushes him back gently. "OK, dachi. I'll go. You'll still be here when I come back, right?" Giving him a worried look.

Joe looks disgusted. "Where the hell am I gonna go?" He lies back down again.

Ken shakes his head. "Not what I meant, dachi." Hand lightly touching his face. "I'll go. I'll do my best for you, OK? Just be here when I get back." Getting up, he grabs his bracelet, leaving Joe's on a chair.

Joe lies alone after he's gone, staring at the bracelet. His entire life is in that complex strip of metal. If he can't wear it anymore, he just wants it to end. To be with his parents at last.


Nambu comes in some time later, a sedative in one syringe, another drug in a second. "Joe, are you awake?"

"Hai."

Nambu comes up to him. "I brought you another sedative, if you'd like it. And the anti inflammatory I talked about earlier. This should help the swelling go down faster."

Joe perks up slightly. "How long before it works?"

Nambu smiles. "Within 20 minutes it’ll start, and it’ll most likely take more then one dose, probably several. It might be after the second before you get any feeling back."

"Well, just give me double the dose now. I don't want to wait."

Nambu chuckles and preps his arm. "I can't. The best I can do is in two hours. This might make you very dizzy and nauseous, which is why I brought the sedative."

Joe watches him inject the drug. "Great. A hangover without the benefit of the booze."

Nambu waggles a finger. "That's partially what got you in this mess to start with. I'm having your trailer towed to my place and taking the wheels off. You're going to live with me for a bit once you're out of here."

Joe blanches at the though. "Oh, god..."

Nambu chuckles. "And if you pick up a girl, you're welcome to have her over. I have plenty of room inside, but I won't force you to stay inside with me."

Joe looks away. "Couldn't make me if you tried," he mumbled. He'd always hated living with Nambu, feeling like he was betraying his parents letting someone else care for him.

Nambu, softly: "Joe, I can't be a parent to you, but perhaps an uncle or a close relative?"

Joe just glares at him. "I hate it when you know what I'm thinking."

Nambu blinks.. "I was only guessing. Never mind. Joe, I want to repair our relationship. I don't want you hating me, or yourself."

Joe looks at him, wondering what to say. "If I can't walk, Hakase," he says slowly. "I want to be dead. All my life, I've lived just to avenge my parents. It's all that's kept me alive. If I can't do that anymore, there isn't anything left. It's nothing against you or Ken or anyone. I don't hate you, I'm sorry I said that. I really am."

Nambu nods. "I see. Joe, even if you can't walk, you're still so much more then vengeance. I wish I could find a way to adequately tell you that. There are so many other things you can do, even to avenge your parents, then being KNT."

Joe laughs bitterly. "All I'm good for is breaking skulls. I'm too stupid for anything else."

Nambu lightly pops his jaw. "Don’t you ever say that again. you are not stupid." Gentling his tone. "Joe, you are extremely well educated and you have a very logical, tactical mind. You're great at strategy and anticipating what happens next."

Seriously. "If I ask for it, you'll give me that shot, right?"

Nambu sighs heavily. "If after I've tried everything I can think of.... Yes, Joe."

Joe smiles. "Arigato, Hakase."

Nambu looks pale and sick at the thought of doing that to his foster son. "Don't give up on me yet."

Joe just looks away and doesn't say anything.

Nambu sighs. "I’ll be back in two hours to give you the next injection. Do you want the sedative?"

Joe nods. "Okay."

Nambu administers that and ruffles Joe's hair. "Cheer up, you'll be back to your usual pissy and grouchy self soon." Giving him a wink.

"Yeah, sure." Joe goes to sleep.


Three weeks later, Nambu comes in for his usual daily visit, only now he’s nearly dragging Ken into the room, the Eagle’s arm busted and in a cast. Several bruises shine on his other arm and he’s sprouting a magnificent black eye and a split lip. Nambu clears his throat. "Joe, I need to ask something of you."

Joe raises an eyebrow. "What happened to you? Get your fender shot up?"

Ken flushes and stares at the floor. Nambu sighs "No. He's the only one able to come so far. Jun is in surgery for shrapnel she took in her thigh. Jinpei of course won't leave, and Ryu broke his ankle." Giving him a softer look. "I need to send in a temporary replacement until you can walk again. I need to ask you for your bracelet."

Ken looks up, furious. "I don't want a replacement. We can handle this! Joe will be back soon!!!"

Joe goes absolutely white. "You're replacing me?" he whispers.

Nambu shakes his head. "It’s only temporary, until you're on your feet again. Katse is starting to notice your absence, and the team’s performance is lacking greatly without you. The next mission, they might not make it back with out a fifth member. Your role is crucial. It may be some time yet before you can walk so we need someone to stand in for you." He’s trying to be rational and logical, but Ken’s nearly having a coronary.

Joe stares forward stonily. "Fine. Take it. Do whatever you have to do." He unclips the bracelet and throws it at Nambu, bouncing it off his chest. "Make a new Condor. See if I care."

Nambu picks it up.

Ken is nearly seething. "I don't want another member, I want Joe back or no one at all. "

Nambu turns to him. "Ken, you have to be reasonable."

Ken snarls. "The hell I do."

"WELL, YOU AREN'T GETTING ME BACK, ARE YOU??" Joe screams. "BURY ME AND FIND SOMEONE NEW! I'M SICK OF THIS!"

Ken pales visibly. Nambu turns on Joe. "Joe, we are not going to bury you. You just need more time to heal. This is only temporary."

"No." Joe forces himself into a sitting position. "It's been three weeks. I get treatments every goddamned day and all I can feel is my toes! The doctors keep looking at me with these sorrowful eyes and say that being paralyzed isn't the end of the world. Well, for me it IS! I want you to keep your promise, Hakase." He slumps back down again, gasping. "I want that shot."

Ken looks like he's about to drop, breathing out. "No, Joe, you can't mean..."

Nambu sighs. "I'll come back later. If you're sure then... " Swallowing. "I’ll administer the shot." He leaves the room, Ken screaming after him that he can't do that. He can't mean that.

The young man spins back to face his partner. "Joe, please. Give it a little more time. I'll find a way to chase that replacement jerk off, you'll still have your spot on the team. Joe!!"

Joe closes his eyes. "Go away, Ken. Don't tell the others about this. Just say I had... complications all of a sudden. That's all they need to know."

Ken sobs. "Fuck you, you bastard." Dashing from the room toward the others and dragging all but the Swan back. "Go ahead, explain it to them!!" Turning his back to Joe. The other two look mystified, Ryu on crutches, Jinpei not even bruised.

Joe looks at them silently after glaring at Ken, not saying anything.

Ken, around the lump in his throat says: "He wants to kill himself."

Jinpei is at his bedside instantly. 'No, Joe-Aniki. You can't mean that!"

Joe growls under his breath. "Don't make me do this, Ken."

Ken snarls. "Fuck you if you think you're gonna lay that on me."

Ryu blinks. "Joe, are you giving up?"

Joe jerks his head away. "Not giving up. Accepting reality."

Jinpei starts sniffling. "Joe-Aniki, don't die! Please please please... I'll be good from now on. I won't tease you, or sit on the G-2 ever again. please!!"

Gently, Joe strokes his hair. "Sorry, Jin. This is just something I gotta do."

Ken snarls back. "Yeah, only 3 weeks and he's just gonna give the fuck up. Haven't even tried more than two treatments. But no, life is too much for the mighty Condor." Slamming the door behind him, he leans against the outside wall and sobs hard.

Joe closes his eyes, hating him for a moment. "I'm tired, Jin, Ryu. You can understand that, can't you?"

Ryu gives him a dark look, expressing his anger that way. "Don't expect me to forgive you for this." Gathering Jinpei to him, he hobbles out as well.

He'll never walk again. Never join them in a stroll across the hangar, in a fight, in play. Joe takes a deep, shuddering breath. If they want to deal with his death by hating him, that's their choice and the best to them. He'll be gone. It still hurts though. He pushes the thought away. All he is now is a burden.


Nambu gathers the team some time later. Jun in a wheelchair, and hustles them to his room. "Say good bye. " Standing back, he watches Ken push Jun closer, then step back himself.

Her eyes are wet and red. "Joe..." She reaches up to stroke his cheek softly.

Joe clasps her hand, smiling. "Heard you didn't dodge fast enough, Swan. Toldja you should wear more than that shrimpy little miniskirt.

Jun smiles back. "It went through the boot, asshole." Sniffing. "Love you lots, Joe. Say hi to your parents for me, kay?" Wiping a stray tear from her eye.

"I will," he whispers, trying to force the lump out of his throat.

She pushes back and Ryu's bulk is soon over him. Reaching down and hugging him tightly. "Jerk. Gonna miss you pissing me off and disobeying orders."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, if I raised Jinpei right, he'll be doing it instead." He chuckles, hugging him back, trying to imprint the memory of him on his soul.

Ryu ruffles his hair and lets Jinpei tackle him next. His small arms go around his neck. Sobbing.

"Don't cry," he whispers to him, hugging him. "Everything'll be fine. Nambu's just gonna give me a shot and I'll go to sleep. That's all it is." The lump is back in his throat, tighter than ever.

Jinpei hits him several times with a weak fist, sobbing some more. "I love you, Joe-Aniki. Be safe." Ryu pulls him off and hugs him tightly. The three leave the room.

Joe watches them leave, fighting to keep his face under control.

Nambu comes over to say his good-bye. "Joe, I...." Tears in his eyes, he sets a syringe down on the table next to Joe, leaning over to hug him close.

Joe hugs him back warmly. "I'm sorry for being such an asshole, Hakase. I appreciate everything you've done for me."

Nambu sobs once. "I love you, son." Letting him go and moving to the door, stepping into the hallway with the others.

Joe regards the Eagle. "You're not going to do it, are you? I thought Hakase was."

Ken moves over, his arm uncasted, looking all purple and swollen. He sits on the edge of the bed. Softly, he says: "I'm your best friend. It’s my duty." Swallowing hard, he leans forward and kisses Joe's forehead, tears in his eyes. "I love you, Joe." He takes a deep breath and picks up the needle.

Joe trembles. "Ken..." Tears in his own eyes now.

Ken strokes his face softly. "You’re sure?"

Wondering at the sudden fear, he nods. "Hai."

Ken nods and gently swabs his arm, lightly and without pain sliding the needle in and pressing it, then smoothing the vein after he pulls it out. The needle he drops on the floor. Leaning over, he slides his arms around his second, his face above his, hand stroking his cheek softly. "Sleep well, Joe." Eyes tearing up.

Joe puts his own arms around him, marveling at how heavy they suddenly feel. Can it work so fast? His sight starts to blur, the room fuzzing out. Terror fills him for a second. *What have I done??* But it's too late. His tongue thick in his mouth, filled with regret, he manages a few final words. "I'm sorr..."

Everything fades away into darkness.

Ken feels his arms around him, then hears the mumbled words before Joe's arms fall limply to the bed. He sits up, his heart twisting with agony, and stares at his second’s face for a long time, stroking his hair. He looks so peaceful, the anger finally gone... Finally, dry-eyed, he folds his hands on his chest and pulls the sheet up over his body before stumbling into the hallway.

Everyone stands there, waiting for him, and, to his confused eyes, looking relieved. Ken is just about to tell them it’s over when Nambu hugs him. "Ken, Joe's going to be okay. It wasn't the euthenizing agent. Only a very heavy sedative."

Ken drops to the ground, passing out.


Pulling... a sensation of being moved, lifted. Through a deep haze, he feels it happen, unable to resist or think or remember, sleep still so heavy on him that his body doesn't feel as though it's his own.

Nambu works with the others to clean him off, shoving a suction tube in his ears to pull out the fluid, the nose and mouth having been covered in a mask, eyes taped shut. He pulls off the tape himself, gently. Carefully, the rest of the fluid is cleaned from his body, Ken and others watching close by.

There's a light before him, white, brilliant. A low murmur of voices. Slowly, Joe starts to come back to himself, drifting closer to full waking, wondering. "Mama? Papa?"

Nambu smiles. "Not quite, Joe. How are you feeling?" The others let out a sigh and a cheer from the sidelines at the sound of his voice.

"What?" Joe stares at him confusion, finally realizing that he's not dead. "You asshole."

Nambu beams. "I pulled a fast one on you." Ruffling Joe's hair lightly. "I hadn't tried everything yet. Welcome back."

Joe sighs, too tired still to move. "Prick."

Nambu is still beaming. "God, it's good to have you back." Reaching down, he pings Joe's leg. "Feel that?"

Joe starts. "Yes! I felt it!" He struggles into a sitting position, eyes wide, exhilarated and baffled all at the same time. "What did you do!?" Finally spotting and looking at his team.

Nambu grins, "Fixed you, you impulsive, reckless son of a bitch. It was experimental, but it worked. You'll be weak for a while, but with physical therapy, you'll be smashing Galactor heads in, in no time." Smiling, he offers him a hand up.

Joe stands up gingerly, shivering in the air. "What about what's-his-face the new Condor?"

Ken smiles hugely. "Retired."

Joe laughs. "Sucked that badly, ne?"

Jun smirks. "He had more annoying tendencies then YOU did." Jinpei bursts out laughing and crying and hugs Joe’s waist tight.

Joe pats his head awkwardly, still confused by everything, looking around at the lab and the tall glass cylinder filled with fluid he suspects he was just in. "What happened?"

Nambu pries Jinpei off. "Let's get you more appropriately dressed and fed. And we'll fill you in on everything."

Joe looks down at his nude body, still trailing one or two sensor patches. "Oh, okay," he says lamely.

The team burst out laughing, Ken herding them out, snickering softly. Nambu shakes his head. "The shower's this way, Joe."

Still bemused, Joe follows the doctor, having to lean on him for support. The short walk seems to take most of the strength out of his legs.

Nambu sits him in a chair in the shower stall. "Need a hand?"

Stubborn, Joe glares at him. "I can do it," he grouses as he grabs the soap and proceeds to wash himself.

Nambu chuckles and pulls the curtain to give him some privacy, sitting on a bench in the locker room to wait, but be close enough if he’s needed. "Just let me know."

Joe washes himself bitterly, confused and angry. Finally he glares the way the scientist went. "Why did you go against my wishes?? Did you and the others have fun laughing at me?"

Nambu sighs. "None of them knew until after Ken injected you. He promptly passed out. And we didn't laugh at you, nor did I go against your wishes. I circumvented them. I promised you before that I would euthanize you if I had tried everything else without success. I hadn't even begun to try all the possible treatments when you gave up. So I knocked you out, dumped you in a suspended animation tank, and tried two other treatments. The second one worked and I let you heal completely, then pulled you back. If I had exhausted all treatments, I would have terminated your life as you requested."

Joe's lip twists. "So if you hadn't been able to figure anything out what worked, I just wouldn't have woken up."

"That was your request."

He looks down, shuddering, remembering his last thought while Ken held him and they both thought he was dying. "Hakase?"

Nambu comes to the curtain, not looking in, but his shadow there, and his voice closer. "Joe?"

He looks at him, hoping Nambu mistakes the dampness on his face for water from the shower. "Thank you for my life."

Nambu steps into the shower and hugs him in the chair, not caring that he's getting soaked. "You're very welcome. I'm so glad it worked, I couldn't bear to lose you."

Joe hugs him quickly, uncomfortably. "So, how long was I asleep for?" he asks, wiping at his eyes.

Nambu straightens and turns his back to him, standing outside the shower again to give him some privacy to finish washing. "Two months, four days and seventeen hours."

"Ouch." He winces at the number. "What about Katse? And that new Condor." He spits out the last two words.

Nambu chuckles, then coughs. "Katse is unfortunately still alive, though we're closer to getting him now. Your replacement is going to be retired to inactive duty or to RI by the end of the week. You should be back in form by then. He's only on call at this point if Galactor attacks." Extending his hand backward to Joe, he shows he has the bracelet in his hand. "But as the team just returned from a mission yesterday, I don't think it likely that Galactor will mount another offensive that quickly."

Joe looks at the bracelet, then slowly takes it and happily clips it on. "I'm the Condor," he whispers. "YES!"

Nambu chuckles, pleased to see him smiling. "God help us." Turning, he gives a wide grin back to Joe, who just laughs. "Are you done pruning up in there or what? I skipped lunch to haul your sorry butt out of the goo."

Joe struggles to grab a towel. "Yeah, yeah. You never eat lunch anyway." Pushing himself to his feet, he forces himself to walk out of the shower.

A wet Nambu smirks after him, keeping close in case he needs him. "Want to go out for lunch or suffer cafeteria food?:'

Joe smirks. "What do I care? I thought I was dead for the last two months. No wonder Hell was such a disappointment." He glances at him. "What did you do with Ken, by the way?" There's still an undercurrent of anger to his voice.

Nambu smiles and hands him his clothing. "Let me see, we started off revoking all privileges, he was confined to the room here at CC. I buried him under paperwork and useless reports, and he was forced to help maintain your tank. Not a pleasant job, I assure you. Then there were the compositions on the value of team members, or reckless actions and so forth. You're welcome to read them. They’re quite dull, and long."

Joe chuckles. "Really? Wish I could have seen him doing that."

Nambu smiles. "I’m sure I have video surveillance tapes somewhere. And he's still under those restrictions, by the way."

Joe blinks. "For how long?"

"I hadn't decided."

Joe snorts and grabs a pile of clothes left for him. They're his civvies and he gets a wicked grin on his face as he puts them on.

Nambu looks at him. "Think he's suffered long enough??" Watching the wicked grin.

Joe snorts. "Nope."

His guardian chuckles. "Would you like to redefine his punishments?"

"I don't know." Joe stumbles out of the locker room. "How am I supposed to react? He SHOT me, for God's sake! I wanted to die! ME! What the hell was I THINKING?? And he's my best goddamned friend in the whole fucking world!"

Nambu lays a hand on his shoulder. "His heart was in the right place; he was trying to stop you from doing what he inadvertently triggered. You were so intoxicated, you didn't have control of yourself." Lightly swatting his head." He was panicked because you took off at high speed in the G-2 and wouldn't answer him, or stop. He didn't mean to hurt you, Joe."

Joe rolls his eyes. "So it’s all my fault, is it? If he was so concerned, then he shouldn't have given me the keys. And SHOOTING me?? Shit, that's overkill! Even I know that!"

Nambu shrugs. "So go punch his teeth in for him. Work it out with him. Ken wasn't thinking clearly. He shouldn't drink and neither should you, for that matter."

Joe just growls and tries to hurry. "I'll be happy once I'm strong enough to kick his teeth down his throat." Stumbling, he falls to his knees. "K'SO!"

Nambu picks him up. "Easy, Joe. You underwent some physical therapy while in the tank, but the muscle control will have to be relearned. It should only take you a day or two." Keeping him against his side until he can stand again. "Joe, try to forgive him."

The Sicilian frowns, thinking. "Did he ask to be the one to inject me?"

Nambu nods. "Yes. He seemed to think it was only right that he be the one to end your pain. The pain that he had caused you. He was very... tormented is a mild word."

Joe smirks. "He was right. It did." He sighs. "I have to tell him I forgive him, don't I?"

"Only if you do. Lying to him won't help."

They stumble down the hall together, almost looking drunk. "Won't be lying," Joe mumbles.

Nambu hugs him tightly. "And I won't even make you come live with me, though your trailer is at my place for safe keeping. Wouldn't want it broken into while you were out of it."

Joe sighs. Much as he hates to admit it, there is work he and Nambu need to do on their relationship. Like it or not, the man meant a lot to him. "No, if the offer still stands, I'll come for a while. But I'm NOT doing any chores! I'll be too busy getting in shape and fixing the leak I'm sure my trailer has by now."

Nambu chuckles. "I took the liberty of fixing it up. And no chores, promise." Hugging him again.

Joe is aghast. "You touched my stuff??" He mock punches him, then grins. "Jerk."

Nambu shakes his head. "I didn’t touch anything, just fixed what needed to be fixed. I didn't go in your drawers or your closet. Just cleaned a bit and threw out the stuff in the fridge. How long had that pizza been in there?"

"Since I was about seventeen. It was part of an experiment. Ken and I wanted to see how long it would take to develop intelligence." He rubs the bridge of his nose. "Maybe you're right about the laying off the drinking shpiel..."

Nambu nods. "I don't mind if you drink, just not so much, okay?"

Joe looks like he's not making any promises. "Where are the others?"

"Waiting for us in my office. Did you want to go out, or eat cafeteria food if it doesn't eat you first?'

Joe rolls his eyes. "Well, when you put it that way, go out. But I want to talk to Ken alone first."

Nambu nods, "Where would you like to do it, your rooms or my office?"

"Your office'll do. It's closer."

Nambu nods again, going there and opening the door, ushering the others out and leaving Ken and Joe alone. Ken speaks softly. "You look better."

Joe stumbles over to him a little unsteadily and stops, drawing one hand back, fist clenched to punch, his eyes enraged.

Ken steps up to him and turns his chin for the best shot.

Instead, Joe steps closer and his arms go around his neck. "Arigato, Ken."

Ken gloms onto him tightly and just hugs him close. "Love you, Joe. Don't ever want to lose you. I'm so sorry."

Joe nods. "I wanted to thank you for being there with me at the end." His low chuckle sounds. "Or at least at what I thought was the end. Can’t think of many better ways to go."

Ken sniffs. "Welcome. Nambu's a sneaky bastard, but I'm glad he did it."

Joe barks out a laugh. "Yeah. He got you back lots better than I ever could. I hear he had you scrubbing out my fish bowl for me."

Ken nods. "Yeah. That goo is nasty stuff. I had to do your therapy too, not that I minded too much."

Joe chuckles. "Serves you right, asshole. Shoot me again and I'll break your jaw, got it?"

Ken snerks lightly. "Did he tell you I had to wash you off too?" Waiting for the outrage.

"WHAT?! Yuck! You touched me? Now I've got goodie-goodie germs!" He's laughing as he says it though.

Ken chuckles. "Come on, feel like some real food? My treat."

"Hai, Ken." Joe keeps an arm looped around him as he turns to the door. "Smack me if I fall asleep at the table, though."

Ken shakes his head. "Nah. you need the rest, dachi." Joining the others outside the office, he winces. "Ohhh. Can anyone cover me?? I'm sorta short on cash."

"Baka!" Joe yells and cuffs him across the back of the head while everyone laughs.

  THE END
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