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Regeneration

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“Tech! Look out, behind you!”

Rev skidded to a stop, taloned feet digging into the ground as he swung around, seeking the familiar green-accented shape of his friend. Ace hurtled toward the coyote, sword held in both hands out to the side, ready to swing and slice, but Mastermind was already moving, already laughing as she squeezed the trigger of the Disintegration Ray (a sticky yellow label plastered on both sides, slightly crooked, proudly proclaiming itself as not one of her inventions, but Tech’s).

Out of the corner of his eye, Rev saw Lexi throw something his way. He reached out and caught it without looking, knowing it had to be rope. They had discussed, only moments before, that their best chance of subduing Mastermind was to disorient her, tie her up before she could catch her bearings, and the only one fast enough to make it was, of course, Rev.

He knew what he had to do, was already sprinting in the villain’s direction when the gun went off—there was no bang, no explosion, no quick burst, but a straight beam of green lit energy that simply melted everything it touched, like ice cream on a hot day. Slam snarled and spun into his signature tornado, but there was no getting close; even Duck had quacked to a safer distance away from the mayhem, and maybe—just maybe—it would have been the smartest thing for all of them to do.

But that wasn’t how they rolled. Backing down from a fight? A seemingly impossible one? Nah, that wasn’t their style. Even as his feathers bristled at the thought of being hit by that beam (he could feel the change in the air, the vibrations of molecules that he had only ever felt within, before now, the low hum reverberating through the marrow in his bones and making his beak ache), Rev knew that giving up and hiding it out wasn’t an option. It was now, while she was distracted by Tech’s proximity, or never.

Tech! ” Ace yelled again. “ AM-SCRAY!”

But their resident super-genius didn’t budge. To be approximate, he moved, but not in the direction anyone expected. It took half a moment of indecision, a second’s pause before he flung himself, not to the side, but straight into the oncoming disintegration ray. Ace yelled in frustration and Lexi cried out in dismay, but...well, they knew how this was going to end. Upsetting in the moment, but not really worth getting riled up over.

The world seemed the slow down, like it always did when Rev accelerated into hyperspeed, as he watched the beam slice through Tech’s legs. The result, while not immediate, produced an immediate reaction; Tech dropped to the ground and rolled over, clutching at just below his knees, and when he opened his snout, he screamed.

The hard material of his boots began to steam and then melt, collapsing inward; the steam turned to smoke, black and vile, a smell unlike anything Rev had ever scented before in his entire life, and his hands flew up to cover his nostrils before he gagged. Tech screamed again, in a higher pitch, and Rev realized, belatedly, the smell was that of burning flesh.

Tech!” Slam shouted in his characteristic snarl, the garbled rush of his native language falling away from that one word as he hurtled toward his teammate.

“Oh, I don’t think so!” Mastermind cackled. She pulled the trigger again, focusing the beam on Tech’s torso; he screamed—Rev wanted it to be a scream, because he couldn’t consider that it might have been an attempt at a pitiful howl. He didn’t want to think about his friend making that noise, helpless and reduced to...to that . That wasn’t Tech.

Black smoke filled the air, accompanied by the sickening smell of flesh melting into hot, muddy-red sludge, punctured by white shards of bone that were all too quickly absorbed into the mush. Beyond him, beyond the encompassing world of Tech disintegrating before his very eyes, Rev became aware of...of the others. They were trying to help, but every time they got close Mastermind punished Tech again, with another excruciating wash of green light that began to erode the asphalt beneath his curled, decimated body.

Rev watched, mesmerized. An arm fell away from Tech’s shoulder, the muscle pulling taught in thin strips that snapped when the erosion hit. Another shot to his head, and his eyes bulged and popped, sliding down his cheeks like dollops of ice cream.

Tech made one final noise before his jaw dropped from his mandible, a low whine that sent a chill straight through Rev’s heart and settled in his gut. He felt like throwing up, but what good would that do? Swallowing down the acidic taste of stomach bile, he took off, rope untangling in his hands and feet pounding the pavement faster than he had pushed himself in a long time.

“Slam-get-on-my-level-I-need-you-to-distract-her-please-Slam-help-your-buddy-out-for-just-a-moment-and-then-this-should-all-be-over!” Rev yelled into their communicators. Blessedly, he saw his teammate’s path of destruction change course, headed right for Mastermind. At the last moment, the Tasmanian launched himself up onto the side of the nearest building and spun along over and behind Mastermind. Ace—Ace was already there, carefully dancing around the sludge that had once been a fully functioning super-genius and brandishing his sword in a flashy maneuver that kept Mastermind’s eyes on him. Even Duck had rejoined the fray, a large bucket in hand and eyes glowing menacingly.

Lexi brought up the flank, angry tears in her eyes that almost broke Rev’s heart; none of them enjoyed watching Tech take the brunt of physical damage, but Lexi always seemed to take it the hardest. ‘Not because I’m girl!’ he remembered her snapping one time. ‘I just...don’t like seeing my friends get hurt...even if they do have molecular regeneration abilities!’ She had punched Tech in the arm and stormed out of the room after that. They had laughed about it and went on with their lives. Their family was a far cry from perfect, but it was theirs and they made it work.

They always came back.

“You’re gonna regret pointin’ that doohickey anywhere near Tech!” Ace taunted, twirling his sword in a move hat might’ve taken off someone’s head had they been standing too close. Mastermind just laughed, lowering the weapon and placing a dainty hand against her cheek, obviously flattered they thought so highly of her. Or, maybe she was still riding the high of having destroyed her nemesis.

Rev’s world began to slow again as he crouched, everything inside of him super-heating until he swore he could see the kinetic energy of everything surrounding him. Slam leapt from his position, giving Rev a thumbs up and an impossibly wide grin. It was now or never.

Now!” Rev yelled before taking off, leaving a streak of fire in his wake as he hurtled at impossible speeds toward Mastermind. Slam dropped his elbow on the back of her gargantuan head, reminiscent of one of his favorite wrestling moves; she cried out and the gun dropped from her grasp, bouncing on the pavement and skidding away with a clatter. Lexi was there the next instant, snatching it up and dancing out of reach and a moment later, Duck wrapped his arms around her waist and, together, they quacked to a safer distance, removing the Disintegrator from play.

Rev dashed forward, lassoing Mastermind and circling her in tight formation, feeding the rope around her scrawny body until she stood, teetering, with her hands lashed to her sides and legs stuck together. Tying off the end in a neat little bow, Rev smirked and leaned in, blowing on her with exaggerated gentility. Like clockwork, she fell over, screeching her giant head off and rolling around, kicking her bound legs and wriggling like a worm caught on a hook.

“The-new-look-suits-you!” Rev said, chest heaving as he slammed to a halt, leaning against Slam, who stood there looking like so much primed muscle ready for another beat down it was almost comical. Duck, Lexi, and Ace reappeared, Duck with the bucket he had grabbed from somewhere, and it was only when he bent down at the edge of Tech’s sludgy pile that Rev realized two things that almost caught his accelerated heartbeat to slow down for the first time since the meteor struck.

The bucket as intended for the coyote, who had yet to regenerate.

That stuck out more than anything—usually, it never took longer than a few seconds after death for Tech to reform as his old self, not a scratch on him, and usually more foul-tempered than he was going in. It was the coolest part of his powers; maybe not fun, Rev couldn’t ever think of dying and being resurrected as particularly fun , but...being essentially immortal? That was cool.

When it worked, apparently.

“Whoa, wait! ” Lexi gasped when Duck reached for the putrid goo, his face contorted into a mask of disgust. “You can’t touch...him! Not like that! We need...shovels or something.”

She winced, looking vaguely remorseful, but Duck yanked his hands back into his lap as though he had already been burned. Everyone looked down at the sludge pile for a moment, each one entertaining similar thoughts in their head. Why hadn’t Tech regenerated?

“Thought I saw a gardenin’ shop ‘cross th’ street,” Ace said, jabbing his thumb over his shoulder. “Gimme a few an’ I’ll grab some. Slam? Help a guy out, would ya?”

The two took off at a trot, leaving Rev room to kneel close to what was left of Tech. He wanted to poke the sludge, move it in some way and maybe that would...jump start the regeneration process or something. He wasn’t sure. As much as he helped Tech out with his inventions and as close as he got to the science behind it all, he had never really pried into the coyote’s powers. Why would he? It was none of his business, as fascinating as it was.

Besides, he always kind of figured that, if Tech ever really wanted him to know, he’d tell him...or at the very least, make the information available to him through some subtly unencrypted files on his computer (always with an attached note to encrypt them when he was done, because they were not barbarians and information of this caliber needed to be protected). It was all part of the unspoken agreement they all had with one another regarding their abilities. Sure, they let Tech do a little testing, in the event the basic info ever needed to be accessed while one of them was out of commission or something, and Zedavia seemed to know more about them than anyone else, but...anything more was a little too personal.

A little too intimate.

“What’s wrong with him?” Duck finally asked, scratching the back of his head.

“Well, he was disintegrated, so….”

“I know that. But even so, shouldn’t he have regenerated by now?”

Lexi shrugged and knelt down beside Duck while Rev tapped his foot impatiently, so hard and fast the asphalt began to develop stress fractures. Lexi shot him a look, which he pretended not to notice.

“He’s just got to work himself out,” Lexi said, trying to put as much cheer and confidence into her voice as she could muster; her effort showed. “Let’s face it, Tech’s died a lot of ways, but never like this.”

He’d been burned, shot, dropped from considerable heights, and sent to the bottom of the ocean, but he had never been hit with an actual disintegration ray. Rev blanched, his hand coming up to the column of his throat as he fought to keep down a sudden surge of stomach bile. He hadn’t thrown up then and he wasn’t going to throw up now. Those pain-filled screams still echoed in his head; he couldn’t have blocked them out even if he tried and they swarmed like death rattles, shaking the contents of his skull into a daze. What happened?

“Alright everyone!” Ace proclaimed as he bounded back towards the group, a shovel in each hand. He tossed one to Rev, which he caught, and the other to Duck, who didn’t and had the nerve to look indignant about it. “Let’s all dig in!”

Inappropriately cheerful, Rev thought, even though he could see what it was that Ace was trying to do. Someone had to keep them together throughout this insecurity, this...uncertainty . The future was ambiguous; no one knew what was going to happen from this point on, after everything had derailed. Tech wasn’t even trying to reform and it slowly, visibly ate away at their cohesion.

“Make-sure-you-get-underneath-him,” Rev said, trying to fill the silence with something other than the sound of metal striking rock and dirt and the squelch of escaping air when Tech’s goop shifted. “Better-to-get-the-rock-and-throw-it-in-’cause-y’know-he-can-probably-separate-it-and-reform-anyway-plus-it’s-all-mixed-in-anyway-so-better-safe-than-sorry-that’s-what-I-always-say!”

“I don’t think you’ve ever said that a day in your life before,” Lexi said, laughing weakly.

Scoop, scoop, scoop.

The bucket filled, and when they were done the road sported a sizable pothole that would need filling in, but at least they hadn’t missed anything. Duck strained trying to lift the bucket, and when Rev nudged him out of the way he, too, struggled but refused help, insisting that it wasn’t too heavy at all. It was only Tech, after all, and why shouldn’t he be able to carry his friend, plus a little extra?

The walk back to the tower was agonizingly slow. After several blocks, Rev had no choice but to hand the bucket off to Slam, who hugged it to his chest with all the determination in the world gathered in his tight-lipped expression. Rev didn’t have to ask to know that half of that look was for the smell emanating from the bucket: burnt skin and boiled bodily fluids. It had put him off eating for the next week, and poor Slam probably wasn’t going to fare much better, with his sense of smell.

They walked in silence, the verge of something on the tip of everyone’s tongue, but no one had to the heart to voice their thoughts. No one wanted to admit they were worried and frightened, and no one wanted to admit that they didn’t know what was going to happen. If they lost that certainty, where would they be? So many unspoken rules between them, and so little time actually spent hashing them out. We need a safeword, Rev thought to himself as he ran ahead of the group, propping open doors and kicking miscellaneous items out of the pathway.

By the time the gang had made it to Tech’s room, Rev had hacked his way past the coyote’s formidable firewalls and opened both the lab and his bedroom; any other time, Rev would have kept that information under wraps, because while he trusted the others, he didn’t trust them not to poke fun once they found out he had the personal codes to Tech’s everything memorized. Fortunately, no one made mention of anything, and simply watched in silence as Slam placed the bucket down on a hastily cleared lab table and stepped back.

They all stepped back with the exception of Rev, who sidled closer and looked at the bucket expectantly, as thought at any moment it would begin to shake, rattle, and roll its way to ejecting a fully formed, completely healthy, and altogether aggravated coyote. He watched, but the bucket didn’t so much as wiggle.

“Eeehhh, maybe we should leave it alone fer a bit,” Ace suggested after a tense fifteen minutes had passed by unannounced. “I doubt Tech’d want us all here jus’ waitin’ on ‘im. It’d go straight to ‘is head!”

Another attempt at humor, and only Duck snorted in response. But Ace was right, like he usually was, and one by one they all filtered out of the lab and back into the common area of the tower to...do whatever it is they did to pass the time and distract themselves. Only Rev lingered.

“Y’ comin’?” Ace asked, hovering at the doorway, a concerned expression taking his face out of its usual cocksure mien.

“No,” Rev said, taking a deep breath and making a concentrated effort to speak a little slower. “I want to wait. I’ll wait. Someone-needs-to-be-here-when-he-comes-back-otherwise-he’ll-think-we-just-dumped-him-in-here-and-forgot-about-him-which-is-essentially-what-we-did-isn’t-it? But-it’s-fine-I’ll-stay-here-and-let-you-guys-know-when-he’s-back-and-stuff. Don’t-worry-about-me-I’m-fine-really-now-go-take-a-shower-or-something-you-smell-like-you-need-it!”

Ace smiled and left.

Maybe...maybe they weren’t the family he thought they were. Rev’s knees shook and he fought the sudden urge to just collapse right there on the floor. Family looked out for one another, didn’t they? If they really cared, would they all have left like that? Just left , Tech sitting in a bucket on a table, alone in his dark lab with no one to watch over him? It struck Rev as intensely wrong in that moment, but Ace did have a point.

His head hurt.

The bucket remained steadfast, stubbornly still in a way that seemed, to Rev, almost petty . Why wouldn’t Tech just come back?

Flopping onto the couch—the only source of comfort in the otherwise sterile lab—Rev folded his hands across his stomach and waited. If no one else was willing to stick around, then he would, because that’s what friends and family did—they waited for people to stop being lazy and mopey and they waited for them to get their act together so they could go on being a family and not having to worry so much about...about not. Rev fidgeted in place for a moment, unable to decide which leg to cross over which knee and how intently to stare at Tech inside Tech’s bucket.

Family , right? Right?

He closed his eyes for a moment, just a few seconds, and flashes of imagery crossed the back of his eyelids like a sick projection of everything that had just happened; the Disintegrator, Tech screaming, Duck reaching for the goop and that first shovelful disappearing over the rim of the bucket. The urge to vomit rose again, and this time there was nothing to keep himself distracted. Rev felt the burn of bile at the back of his throat, clinging to his tastebuds, and promptly jumped up, racing toward the bathroom.

Superspeed was a blessing in most things, but especially this, as he wasted no time in emptying the contents of his stomach into the toilet, dry-heaving as he flushed and washed his beak and face, trembling fingers stroking down fluffed feathers.

He couldn’t remember the last time he had actually thrown up, let alone over something that wasn’t a stomach virus or the flu. His limbs shook and he felt, all of the sudden, tired and weak. The journey back to the couch was long and filled with shame. Maybe it was a good thing the others had left...he would’ve rather died than have them witness to his blowing chunks just because he...he….

Tech was in a bucket.

On the table.

In his lab.

And he had been in so much pain.

Rev jumped on the couch and dropped down on the one end, legs curling up beneath him and arms folded over the cushion to make a pillow for his head. Unwilling to close his eyes again, even just to blink, Rev stared at the bucket, wondering how much longer this would take. The possibility that Tech might...might never come back was a thought that he refused entry into his mind.

Tech was going to regenerate, like he always did. He was just...taking his sweet time or something. Playing a game, maybe, though the coyote wasn’t really one for games or pranks. Not that he couldn’t see the humor in things, he was just...well, he was usually so focused , wasn’t he? Rev liked that about him, admired Tech’s single-minded intensity and near-obsessive levels of concentration. It’s what made him a great inventor and an amazing scientist.

C’mon , Rev thought, we need you here. What’re we gonna do without you?

He stared at the bucket until his eyelids grew too heavy to keep open, and as he closed them with the promise to nap for just a few minutes—hardly even napping, just resting his eyes, really—he wondered what Tech would say if he could see them like this, barely holding it together, waiting for the string of tension to snap and push them one way or another. He’d probably just roll his eyes, make some offhand comment about how they needed to stop relying on him so damn much anyway , but he’d also be secretly pleased that he was needed. That was too much power to just hand over to the coyote; his already considerable ego would be through the roof.

That won’t work, Rev told himself as he allowed his thoughts to drift—but just for a minute! He wasn’t falling asleep!

Ten minutes later, he had fallen asleep.

Twenty minutes after that, he frowned and wriggled his way into a more comfortable position.

Thirty minutes more and the lights began to dim and brighten at ten second intervals. Rev snored.

Fifteen minutes after that, the bucket rattled and the lights cut out. They flickered on a few seconds later. The bucket remained on the table, unmoving.

Five minutes later and the bucket shook again, some force from the inside rocking it onto its rim and forcing it into the center of the table where it began to bulge and distort from the inside as something began to claw its way out.

The digital clock on the wall read 10:15 PM in bright green.


The clock read 1:43 AM and Rev woke from his ‘nap’ with a jolt, his entire body lashing out as he tried to make immediate sense of his surroundings. Just as quickly, he remembered where he was: safe, at home in the tower, nestled in a blanket in Tech’s lab after another battle with Mastermind—all around achy, as he tried stretching a little, but nothing too serious that required immediate medical attention. He could definitely afford to nap for a little while longer.

Gripping the edge of the blanket he had all but thrown off in his wild flailing a moment before, Rev rolled himself back into warmth and comfort and tucked his beak into the seam of the couch, inhaling the familiar scent of chemicals and Tech, and tried to find his way back to dreamland with calm, sleep-inducing thoughts, such as ‘where did this blanket come from?’ followed by ‘TECH’ and a mad scrambling to free himself from the offending covering as quickly as possible.

Tech! ” Rev squawked as his momentum carried him from couch to floor before he was able to kick the blanket aside and climb to his feet, using the nearby table as leverage. The bucket remained, a misshapen lump of metal that vaguely looked like it had once been capable of carrying something, crumpled on its side among a bed of asphalt debris. Rev tasted his heart in the back of his throat and threw himself around, looking for Tech, who had to be somewhere , because super geniuses didn’t just disappear into thin air even after a miraculous regeneration.

Tech-c’mon-buddy-where-are-you-at-you-can’t-keep-hiding-forever-y’know-’cause-everyone-was-really-worried-about-you-and-if-you-don’t-come-down-to-show-you’re-alright-they’re-gonna-worry-that-much-more-and-you-wouldn’t-want-that-I-mean-maybe-you-would-that’s-kinda-your-sense-of-humor-not-knocking-it-at-all-buddy-no-complaint-from-my-end!”

His heart hammered against his ribcage like a drum as he sped around the room, tripping over his own feet and twisting his body and head in different directions as he frantically tried to locate the coyote. The more he searched, the most he called Tech’s name, the less of an answer he seemed to receive; the silence was deafening , and he could have sworn he was talking to thin air, that there was no one else even present , if not for the evidence strewn across the top of the work table. Tech just had to be nearby! Where else could he be?

He’s hiding out around here somewhere , Rev tried to convince himself as he zipped from lab to the private room at the back, where Tech usually managed to drag himself for some semblance of sleep after pulling an all-nighter. The room was meticulously clean, barely lived-in except for a few personal effects that Rev recognized as belonging to Tech if only because he had once seen the coyote handle them. The bed looked freshly made (or never slept in, take your pick), the carpeted floor was free from dirty clothes, and the walls were bare except for what looked like a fresh coat of paint, and the more Rev stared, the more he tried to convince himself that this wasn’t some trick, that he wasn’t on the receiving end of one big joke.

He had to be punk’d at this point.

“Tech?” he tried once more, feeling a thickness in his throat that made the word difficult to get out.

Nothing.

Not even an exasperated sigh Tech usually reserved especially for him.

He considered retreating before he embarrassed himself further, but then, a door to his left he had neglected to acknowledge slid open and a cloud of hot steam billowed out, crawling along the floor as though searching for something. Rev stared as a lanky coyote followed after, a towel wrapped around his waist, fur still damp, and rubbing the back of his neck with grimace.

Rev’s greatest speed to date had been clocked at 9,887 meters per second—a universally recognized achievement, and the current record on the market as far as he knew, but for some reason he couldn’t get his feet to move from where he stood, rooted in the carpet, steam filling the room with humidity, and watching his best friend—he was , Tech had to be his best friend because he couldn’t think of who else came close—knead at the muscles in his neck like he was trying to work out some of the kinks.

And he wanted to move. More than anything, he wanted to fling himself at Tech and hug the breath out of his lungs, even though Tech usually wasn’t one for hugs and Rev usually tried to keep his hands to himself. But he wanted , and he wanted badly enough that he took one unsteady step toward Tech, feeling wobbly and unbalanced, weak-kneed but relieved.

Tech ,” he managed to croak, and this time the coyote heard him, long ears swiveling toward the sound of his voice and bright, intelligent eyes focusing in his direction with a look that wasn’t o much surprise as it was ‘Ah, there you are,’ and the distinction was enough that Rev grinned, stupidly, and stifled a noise that probably would have embarrassed him further.

“I was wondering when you’d come to,” Tech said, cocking his head to the side and digging a finger into his ear. “You sleep like the dead.”

“Y-yeah, well…,” Rev said, voice as shaky as the rest of him, “hauling you around in a bucket takes a lot out of a guy.”

Tech gave him a strange look, half amused and half...something else, that Rev didn’t recognize, but it took the humor away and felt like a heavy stone dropped into the pit of his stomach, and a sense of dread arose in his chest, the pressure unbearable, and he forced himself to look away as Tech began to get dressed.

The questions he wanted to ask fought for precedence at the back of his throat. He didn’t know where to start or what he might gain or even if Tech would indulge him, but he had to know what had gone wrong. He needed to know for his own piece of mind, so he could tell himself it was nothing, just a glitch, and it would never happen again. He didn’t think he could bear the uncertainty again, of not knowing whether or not Tech was coming back and not knowing what it’d do to them, as a team. He shivered, feathers fluffing up, as Tech zipped up his suit and pulled on a long whit lab coat.

“You okay?” he asked, and the tone of his voice made Rev want to laugh because it should be him asking Tech that question. He nodded anyway, not quite trusting words to come out of his mouth that weren’t a jumble of mismatched questions. He wrung his hands for a moment before realizing he was doing it and then followed after Tech as he ambled back into the laboratory, looking for all the world like nothing had ever happened.

And that was the weird part. Rev wanted something to happen, wanted something to cut the tension he felt, but he didn’t know how, or even if he should. Everything felt so preternatural—like he was floating in a waking dream where things sat just a few inches shy of absolutely ordinary. It felt like...like there was something just beneath the surface of their reality, shifting and cracking at the glass illusion of the room, the facade of who they were, and it wouldn’t take much to break...but if it did, he didn’t know what would happen.

Tech didn’t appear hurried or frazzled. He took his time, hands in the pockets of his lab coat, strolling along with the confidence and surety of a genius at home in his own dominion. Rev tried to get a read on him, but wasn’t satisfied. Wasn’t Tech...wasn’t he also worried? Didn’t he have any idea what had happened, how long it had taken him to come back?

No, of course he didn’t, because apparently he had found time before his shower to grab a blanket off his bed and toss it over his sleeping teammate, and if that didn’t prove the coyote to be at peace with the entire ordeal, then Rev didn’t know what else to do. He felt like he was grasping at straws as it was.

Maybe they didn’t have to talk about it. Maybe it was one of those things that no one ever really acknowledged as being too weird or out of the ordinary, because speaking it brought it to life and no one really wanted to deal with the fallout. He could respect that, if he knew for certain it’d never happen again.

He thought of the sound of bones breaking and flesh melting—sizzling— and a long, pain-filled howl that echoed inside his head, and he thought about throwing up and a dream where he was frightened awake and he knew he couldn’t—he just couldn’t keep up the charade that everything was fine.

“H-hey, Tech?” he said, still forcing himself to speak slower than usual.

The coyote’s ear’s twitched and he turned, barely-restrained patience a familiar look on his snout.

“Yes?”

Rev hemmed and hawed for a moment, shifting his weight from one foot to the other and still feeling like he was losing his balance.

“Are you...are you okay?”

Tech arched a brow.

“I’m here, aren’t I?” he replied. It was an answer, but not the kind Rev wanted. He kicked at the floor and caught his wrist behind his back.

“It’s-not-the-same-as-being-okay,” he rambled. “We-were-really-worried-about-you! You-took-so-long-to-come-back.”

Tech reached across the table for the misshapen lump of metal that had once been a bucket and Rev’s stomach dropped again when he realized he had followed Tech all the way back to the point of origin. The blanket he had woken up with was still balled up on the floor and he stooped to pick it up, shaking it out and refolding it with the kind of care he usually only reserved for Tech’s belongings.

“It’s not the first time I’ve died,” Tech said, airily, as though trying to dismiss the notion that they had been worried. He had never once done or said anything to make Rev feel like he was stupid—he wasn’t stupid, not by a long shot—but Rev knew when he was being spoken down to and frowned.

“It’s-the-first-time-you-haven’t-immediately-come-back,” he argued, crushing the newly folded blanket to his chest. “We-waited-and-waited-but-nothing-happened-and-you-don’t-get-to-act-like-it-means-nothing’s-wrong! We...we were scared!

“I’m not ‘acting’ like anything,” Tech growled, and that should have been Rev’s first warning that his friend was done with the conversation, but, true to form, Rev pressed on, seeking answers from a minefield.

He zipped toward Tech, circling around him to look him in the eye, knowing it’d be harder for the coyote to beat around the bush if he had to face him, instead of turning his back and talking over his shoulder.

Please ,” he tried, “I-just-need-to-know-that-you’re-alright-that-this-isn’t-something-that’s-going-to-happen-again-’cause-I-don’t-think-the-rest-of-the-crew-can-handle-something-like-that. You-didn’t- see- them-Tech-you-didn’t-have-to-watch-them-scoop-you-up-and-and-and-put-you-in-a- bucket-for-crying-out-loud!”

“I was dead ,” Tech sneered. “I don’t remember anything , except a great deal of pain , and then nothingness. It doesn’t matter to me one way or the other—it happens often enough that you should know what to expect!”

“This-wasn’t-the-same!”

“Then how do you expect me to give you a factual answer outside the set parameters we’ve already experienced and are familiar with? This is new to me too, alright? I don’t….”

Tech trailed off and squared his shoulders, setting the bucket back down on the table with such finality that Rev worried his friend was going to ask him to leave. It was his right, of course, but...this was a conversation they needed to have—a discussion Rev desperately needed, before he would ever feel okay again. But if Tech asked him to leave, he knew he would. Respect was something they had talked about before, and often.

“You-don’t-what?”

The coyote placed his palms against the edge of the table and leaned against it, shoulders sagging and ears drooping, just marginally enough that no one else would have noticed if they hadn’t been looking...but Rev was always looking, and he always noticed. He knew that when Tech didn’t want to talk anymore he just clammed up and refused to say another word. He knew when he didn’t want to be touched his rounded his shoulders and hunched in on himself like he was trying to shrink out of existence. He knew that when Tech wanted or needed contact, he found ways to be close to others, and he found ways to say, in not so many words, that he needed them.

Now, Rev thought he could recognize bits and pieces of different tics—the rounded shoulders, the silence, but also the way that Tech swayed closer, his shoulder brushing Rev’s outstretched fingertips.

Conflicted.

Rev dropped his hand on Tech’s shoulder and squeezed. As much as he wanted to hear what Tech had to say, those words he was clearly holding back, he knew that it wouldn’t do any good to push him. As much as he needed to talk, it was more important how much Tech simply needed time to process what had happened. And he understood, he did. It ached in that way that unfair things usually did, but he understood.

“It’s okay if you don’t wanna say it,” Rev said, taking a deep breath and measuring his words carefully. “I mean...I get it, I think.”

“You think? ” Tech barked out a hollow laugh and shrugged Rev’s hand from his shoulder. “You’ve got no idea what I think, let alone what I experience every single time this happens! None of you ever have to face the consequences, you’re just... there, and now that you’re dealing with it first hand, you want—you’re acting like—!”

Tech shuddered and seemed to rein in his final thought, clamping his jaws shut and curling his hands into tight fists. Rev wanted to tell him it was okay—he could let it out, say whatever he needed to say, vent or whatever. No one was going to judge him, and Rev wasn’t about to run off and go tell the others anything Tech didn’t want them to hear. It was just the two of them, and Rev...well, he thought Tech had trusted him.

“It’s-okay,” he said, waving his hands and backing off. “We-don’t-hafta-talk-about-it-if-you-don’t-want-to-it’s-like-we-all-don’t-got-secrets-from-one-another-and-hey-I-totally-respect-that-it’s-just-that-I-was-really-worried-I-mean-we-all-were-y’know-but-if-you-don’t-wanna-talk-about-it-I-understand-’cause-you’re-pretty-much-my-best-friend-and-I-respect-you-but-if-you-ever-do-need-to-talk-I’m-right-here-and-even-if-I’m-not-smart-enough-to-understand-it-I-can-listen.”

He could give Tech the space, if he needed it. It hurt, but...yeah, he didn’t understand what was going on and it wasn’t fair of him to just jump Tech like that. He still wanted to. More than anything he wanted to know what went on in his friend’s head, and he wanted to know how it worked and what it felt like, just because it’d give him some idea of how to better relate to their resident mad genius...but if that’s not what Tech wanted, then that was fine too. He’d figure it out on his own, like he usually did.

No one had to hold his hand.

Tech sighed.

“Don’t say that,” he said.

Rev cocked his head and made a face.

“Don’t-say-what?”

“That you’re not smart enough—you are . It has nothing to do with intelligence. It’s just...I don’t...there aren’t words , sometimes, and I don’t...I don’t know how to explain to you that I...that...”

He trailed off again, snout pointed toward the ceiling like the answer was written up there. It must have been hard, Rev realized as he watched. Must be hard, being so crazy smart that only a few people really understand you...must be hard not being to relate to the rest of the population.

“You-want-somethin’-to-eat?” Rev blurted out. “I’m-gonna-make-a-sandwich-buddy-you-look-hungry-I-bet-all-that-regenerating-really-took-it-out-of-you-now-just-wait-right-here-and-I’ll-be-back-in-a-second!”

He didn’t wait for an answer and took off at a speed only slightly slower than the usual mad dash, throwing himself into the kitchen and removing plates and bread from the pantry and meats and veggies from the fridge faster than the eye could follow. For Rev, he might as well have been standing still. Slathering the bread with mayo and spicy mustard, meats and cheese and a few veggies he knew Tech would enjoy took longer than it had any right to, but it gave the roadrunner time to think.

He had really jumped the gun on this, pushing too much and too fast when what Tech really needed was time to decompress, relax, and gather his thoughts. He was way too tightly wound and didn’t have the space he needed. No matter how slowly Rev tried to make a sandwich, it wasn’t going to give Tech enough time to do what he needed to do.

The other thought that kept creeping into his mind—the one he selfishly tried to avoid dwelling on—was that maybe Tech didn’t ever want to talk about what happened. That was definitely his right, of course, and Rev would never argue that (well, maybe he’d argue a little ), but it didn’t set right in his stomach. He didn’t want this to be the thing that hid in the closet and no one ever talked about it, but they all knew it was there. He didn’t want this to be the proverbial elephant in the room. He didn’t...he didn’t want there to be secrets of this magnitude.

And it was a selfish thought, he knew. He was being incredibly selfish in wishing Tech would just...just tell them. He was selfish for wanting to know the terrible details. He accepted that, would feel bad about it later, maybe, but for right now it was all he could dwell on.

The sandwiches were done. They’d been done for several minutes now, but Rev just kept looking at them, trying to figure out how he should approach this situation. Ace would probably have the right words to say; being all leader-y and take-charge, like he usually did. Not always, but most of the time he knew what to do and what to say. Lexi was kind of like that too, except her way was different. Not softer, or nicer, ‘cause she really wasn’t. Not all the time and definitely not moreso than Ace, but she had that intuition of hers and was really good about hitting the nail right on the head, like ninety percent of the time. Rev always liked talking to her ‘cause she did all the guesswork and took the responsibility for spilling the beans out of his hands.

Duck, on the other hand, was like walking into a room while the room was already on fire and watch it try to put itself out with more fire. He meant well but didn’t have any real clue how to go about expressing it. Slam was great when it came to releasing tension, but not for words. He understood everything perfectly and would listen without comment, and he always knew the best places to go blow off steam, but giving advice wasn’t really a strong point of his, and that was fine. If you got to the point where you were going to Slam anyway, it wasn’t advice that you wanted but a good time wrecking things.

What am I?

Rev tilted his head and thought back. He was…good at distracting, he guessed. He had the uncanny ability to change the conversation, and he had a pretty good read on the kinds of things his teammates would prefer to talk about than their own issues. He preferred making them laugh than seeing them mope around with a black cloud hanging over their heads. He was definitely the most gregarious, after Duck.

But all that wasn’t really helpful in the moment. He didn’t want to distract Tech. He didn’t want to see him smile, he just wanted closure on this day so they could put it behind him and so he could stop worrying.

You’re so selfish .

Everything about his tactics screamed red flags: he distracted them so they wouldn’t have to talk about their problems, so he wouldn’t have to listen, thus avoiding the uncomfortable, prickly feeling that came when he felt useless, like he couldn’t help them.

Like he felt now—useless.

The sandwich was rye bread—Tech liked rye because of the texture, not the taste, and Rev had remembered that detail from a period a year and a half ago when he had first started to work closely with the coyote. He remembered things like that, small bits and pieces that anyone else might’ve overlooked because it’s bread, who really cares?

But he cared, and he cared enough to make it a point to remember the little details, just in case. He wasn’t useless ...not completely...maybe he was just really bad at this whole thing.

He plated the sandwiches and grabbed a whole bottle of juice from the fridge, trusting Tech had cups or beakers or something that wasn’t being used for chemicals that could pass for cups, and headed back to the lab, each step feeling like it took a thousand years.

“Tech?” he called into the room as he shouldered his way through the door, balancing plates and sandwiches and juice all at once. “I’m-back-and-I-made-food!”

No answer, but that came as no surprise. Like Rev, Tech was dangerously good at distracting himself. Probably better.

Rev zipped in and noticed nothing beyond the ordinary except the clock only read five minutes past the time he had initially left and Tech was nowhere to be found which was actually impressive. Then again, he had practice.

“Right here,” a muffled voice sounded from the couch, directly behind him. Rev spun on his heel, heart pounding in the split second it took him to realize he hadn’t bothered to check his surroundings, but there was no real danger here. Not unless one counted the coyote sitting on the couch, head in his hands, lab coat thrown over the arm and the blanket—still neatly folded—hanging over the back.

“Um,” he said, intelligently. One of the plates began to waver, and like any good delivery guy, Rev set it down, quickly and carefully, right beside Tech before taking a step back. He didn’t want to—to do that again. Invade Tech’s space if he wasn’t ready. Even if he was never ready, as much as it pained him to think that might be the case. It wasn’t fair, but then...so was life.

“You-should-definitely-probably-eat-something,” Tech said after a tense moment passed. “Promise-it’s-all-your-favorites-and-we-don’t-even-have-to-talk-if-you-want-to-be-alone-I-totally-understand-and-I’ll-go-if-you-want-me-to-no-biggie-just-make-sure-you-eat-something!”

No ,” Tech immediately groaned, rubbing his cheek like he was trying to rub a bald spot in his fur. “I don’t want you to leave, I’m just...trying to figure out how to do this.”

“Do what?” His feathers itched and it took him a moment to realize he hadn’t changed out of his suit or taken a shower since his return and wow, it was uncomfortable.

“….to talk. About...what happened.”

“But-you-don’t-need-to,” Rev was quick to reply, and in the blink of an eye he was on the couch, both plates balanced on his knees and the juice tucked against the opposite arm.

“It’s-fine-I-mean-it’s-your-business-and-I-was-wrong-to-pry-it’s-cool-even-though-I’m-worried-I-still-respect-you-and-if-this-something-you-don’t-wanna-share-that’s-fine-too-I-just-want-you-to-know-that-I’m-here-for-you.”

“I know, I know ,” Tech said, pinching the bridge of his snout and waving his hand at Rev’s words as if to push them out of the air where they hovered, sounding far too complacent and simpering, even to Rev himself. He wanted to squirm around; the couch felt uncomfortable beneath him, lumpy and misshapen like it didn’t belong. Like he didn’t belong...like he was an intruder.

“We could...we could pretend it never happened?” he asked, tentatively, with deep, shuddering breaths. His fingers gripped the plates tightly and he didn’t think that had sounded like the right sort of thing to say either, but he was kind of testing the ice here. What could one say in the face of such a daunting and impossible task? What was he supposed to do? It’s not like there were any manuals or step-by-steps.

But Tech shook his head, hand curled under his chin, and glanced sideways at the sandwiches. He seemed to be making up his mind about something and once Tech E. Coyote got something into his head, there wasn’t any way of dissuading him. It was almost a relief, in a way. Rev didn’t want the responsibility of this conversation, as much as he wanted to have it. He didn’t want to be made to feel guilty or selfish just because he wanted to know what was going on in his friend’s head; it was all to help him, at any rate.

“Pretending isn’t going to make it go away,” Tech sighed, reaching for the plate Rev quickly held out to him. His stomach grumbled, a hollow, empty noise that split the silence of the room like a crack of thunder. Rev almost jumped and Tech dared to look a little embarrassed by the volume, but neither made comment. Like he had predicted, Tech’s regeneration must have taken a lot of energy. He needed to replenish.

“I-I know,” Rev said, staring down at his own plate as Tech dug in. He probably could have inhaled the sandwich in four or five bites, but made a conscious and visible effort to slow down and savor the meal, if only to express his gratitude. “You’re-always-right-I-mean. I just….don’t want you-to-think-that-I’m-pressuring-you-or-that-I-expect-you-to-tell-me-everything. I’m—I’m worried. I was...scared . We-all-were-like-a-whole-lot-and-we-didn’t-know-what-to-expect. It was like we couldn’t...couldn’t function properly. You’re...we were scared you were gone for...for good, this time.”

He didn’t answer right away, which, while expected, still made Rev uncomfortable. These long periods of silence between them weren’t odd, in and of themselves; they spent plenty of time working together in the labs without a single word spoken between them for hours . They liked to talk and sometimes filled their time with the kind of discourse most distinguished scientists would be jealous of, but there were those times, also, when they had nothing to say, or talking didn’t seem as necessary, and that was okay. It had taken time for Rev, whose gregarious nature always put him on edge when Tech lapsed into work-mode, but he no longer feared what silence meant. He knew, with Tech, that it didn’t mean anything bad.

Sometimes it was okay to just sit and be quiet together, to enjoy it. There was no pressure on him to throw words out into the void. He didn’t have to be worried all the time. Now didn’t feel like any of those times, though, and he felt anxiety rising within, unbidden and unhurried. It crawled over his skin, beneath his feathers, a phantom itch that wouldn’t be sated. Rev took quick bites out of his sandwich, swallowing thickly so he wouldn’t have the chance to open his mouth and shove his foot further down his throat. The silence stretched thin between them, the weird bodily noise of chewing and swallowing an internal backdrop against that void. Tech’s stomach rumbled twice more before he finished his sandwich, and fell silent afterward, which made Rev feel a little bit better. He had to be hungry, no way he wasn’t, after all he had been through.

“You know,” Tech said, after they had set their plates aside and sat back with beakers-for-cups and lukewarm juice in their hands, “I never really thought I’d have—or need—friends before I met you guys.”

“Yeah?” Rev vocalized, not sure what he could really say to that.

“I’m used to being on my own,” the coyote continued. “Independent, I guess. I’ve always worked better alone, never needed supervision or anything. I mean, look at me: I’m a genius. Naturally, I expected my life would always fall into more...predictable margins.”

“...you didn’t think anyone would ever care?”

“I suppose. Then again, I never thought I’d one day possess magnetic manipulation powers or molecular regeneration, so you could say that my expectations were...adhering to a predetermined notion of logical standards. So much for that.”

Rev smiled, but it felt fragile and small and he didn’t want Tech to think he was uneasy, even though he was. He cleared his throat and leaned back into the couch, downing the rest of his juice.

“I-always-had-friends,” he said, “but-some-were-more-like-acquaintances-and-I-guess-I-was-just-so-hard-up-for-company-I-didn’t-really-care-too-much-y’know-and-besides-all-that-I-was-trying-to-make-it-through-college-and-helping-out-the-family-and-trying-to-prove-myself-that-it-never-really-occured-to-me-that-things-could-be-different.”

“The meteor changed a lot of things,” Tech agreed, “but, perhaps, for the better. I have opportunities and funding now that before I’d only ever dreamed of, and I’m allowed to work on whatever I please at my own pace. There’s the inventions I make for us, naturally, but there’s also patents for machines and technology that have real-world applications, that we can use to better ourselves as a society!”

“You-mean-like-the-disintegrator-ray?”

It was out before he could stop himself, but Rev refused to look guilty. Tech, however, did.

“It was meant to be used as a demolition tool,” he said, setting aside his half-empty beaker. “It can break down any material it comes into contact with. I just thought...well, there has to be an easier way than all that noise . I just didn’t think anyone would...take notice of it. Mastermind, she…well, I should have expected it from her.”

A sick expression took over Tech’s face and Rev worried that he might be on the verge of throwing up.

“What’s-it-like?” he hurried to ask, before Tech could dwell on his current train of thought for too long. “When-you-die-what’s-it-like-where-do-you-go-are-you-still-aware-the-entire-time?”

Immediately after the final word left his mouth he clamped his beak shut and covered it with both hands. He...hadn’t meant to ask all that . Not in that way, so suddenly and without warning. He had wanted to ask something else, like ‘What’s it like being sought after by so many companies wanting you to invent things for them?’ and that definitely would have been the safer, saner route…. And now Tech was staring at him, just looking , and there wasn’t a readable expression on his face, nothing Rev could recognize and he almost wished Tech was angry, or weirded out, or disgusted—anything was better than not knowing, but when Rev opened his beak again to apologize, Tech just...shook his head, like it was okay.

It wasn’t okay.

“It’s like—,” Tech stopped himself, clutching at his knees and looking around the room as though he were about to reveal a secret. His ears twitched and Rev waited with baited breath, feeling altogether foolish and anticipatory. He shouldn’t have asked, but Tech wasn’t saying no and he wasn’t shying away from the conversation so that had to be a good sign, right?

“It’s unlike anything,” Tech continued in a muted tone. “It’s like...sometimes it’s like going to sleep and waking up a split-second later, and sometimes it’s...different. Sometimes it hurts.”

“Like this time?” Rev asked, slightly awed. He could have kicked himself.

“No, this was...it’s never been like this.”

The look on his face said it all—wide eyes, his entire body tensed like he didn’t know whether to run or hide, and hands gripping his knees so hard Rev worried his knuckles might pop under the pressure. Even his voice was tight as he forced every word out of his mouth with a sort of astonished breathlessness, like he couldn’t believe he was saying these things and actually talking about it. Rev wanted to hold his hand, give him some encouragement, but was unsure if touch would be a welcome stimulant. So he sat there, quiet, waiting patiently as he could in an effort not to put any more pressure on Tech than the coyote was currently putting on himself.

“Normally,” the coyote continued after a few measured breaths, “normally it’s...quick. Instantaneous, I suppose. I never feel much beyond a few second’s worth of...pain. But it’s never felt like pain, really. Most of the time it’s this intense heat that tapers off into nothingness, or like an overwhelming pressure that suddenly cuts off. It doesn’t even feel like what you might imagine death to feel like. I’m not sure I even consider it to be ‘death’.”

“What do you think it is, if not...that?

“I...I don’t know, honestly. I’ve conducted a few experiments in my spare time, but there’s so much uncertainty revolving around the process that I’m hesitant to go too far.”

That didn’t sound at all like the Tech he knew, and the sentiment must have showed on his face because Tech shrugged and ran his hand around the back of his neck, rubbing and trying to look everywhere but Rev.

“It’s different,” he tried to explain. “It’s one thing to apply the scientific method to virtually anything else, and another to...apply it to myself, when there are so many unknown variables. It’s not that I’m frightened...there’s just so much risk involved, and the cost of one mistake— any mistake—is too high. I don’t even know if I’m...if I’m able to….”

“To die?”

The unspoken ‘for good’ hung there, understood by both friends but neither daring to give life to the words lest it spark a deeper conversation neither wanted to touch upon. For his part, Rev was pretty sure he wasn’t prepared to deal with a reality or the probability where Tech was incapable of actually dying, anymore than he was ready to deal with the possibility that he might have been irreversibly dead. They had seen a lot and been through worse, but his mind couldn’t quite wrap itself around the concept without a lot of ugly feelings making themselves known. He pushed that thought path away and scooted a little bit closer to Tech, knees bouncing as he tried to regulate all the energy that had built up inside him the past few minutes. His hands itched to close around something, anything, just to hold it for a moment and ground himself again.

“Maybe if I hadn’t been such a coward this would have played out differently,” Tech mumbled.

“You’re-not-a-coward,” Rev snapped, glaring at his friend. “You’re-one-of-the-smartest-bravest-people-I-know-and-there’s-nothing-wrong-with-taking-precautions-and-refusing-to-run-experiments-if-you-don’t-know-what-will-happen-I-mean-how-many-times-have-you-told-me-to-take-it-slow-or-wait-another-day-or-not-to-get-too-carried-away!”

Tech smile and relief washed over Rev, because it was a real smile, not a fake, put-on thing to try and make him feel better. Nah, he knew a genuine smile when he saw one.

“That’s different,” Tech said, but without exasperation. “You’re you and I’m supposed to be me.”

“Yeah-and-what’s-that-supposed-to-mean?”

“It means I’m supposed to know better.”

“Uh-huh-like-you-ever-do.”

And he did, but Rev knew better than to think Tech was infallible. More than once he had been there, scraping himself off the wall or floor or what-have-you after one of Tech’s inventions failed in a less-than-spectacular way. Trial and error, though—both had their place in the world of inventing, and Rev was mostly used to it. And Tech did know better...most of the time. He nudged the coyote with his elbow, flashing him his own wry grin. The air was clearing between them. It wasn’t as heavy, as suffocating as before.

“Maybe you’re right,” Tech went on, ribbing Rev back. “I should have done more to ensure that the probability of this happening was between four and eight percent, with a ninety-five confidence level. Those are the acceptable margins of error, you know.”

He had known, but he let Tech keep talking, because words were coming easier and he was looking more and more relaxed. This was good for them. This was good for him.

“Honestly, I half-wish I had just...gotten out of the way.”

“Yeah, no kidding. Why...why did you do that? I-mean-she-was-waving-it-around-like-she-didn’t-even-care.”

“...truthfully, the only thing I was thinking at the time was that this was my mess. Mastermind was— is—my fault. I created her, essentially.”

Rev shook his head because no one blamed him for that—how could anyone call it Tech’s fault when she had, clearly, already taken a trip around the crazy bend? He had stopped her, but it had been her own delusions of grandeur that had led her to where she was now. Mastermind had no one to blame but herself, and society at large could go walk off a cliff if they thought Tech was responsible for her own bad choices.

“I think the one thing that kept running through my mind was ‘I can take it’. Obviously I can, I’m still here, after all...but if you or one of the others had taken a hit….”

Well...there was part of it at least, and this time when Tech did that thing where he hunched in on himself, Rev reached over and took his hand like he had wanted to, squeezing as tightly as he dared. Tech took a moment, but slowly rotated his wrist so their fingers could intertwine. It was...intimate, and special. Rev’s heart caught in his throat and he wasn’t sure he had ever possessed a friend he had cared so much about other than right now, with Tech, holding his hand and helping him through what had to have been the most traumatic experience of his life.

He wanted to say something stupid and impulsive, like Tech was the best friend he ever had and he didn’t know what he’d do if something were to happen to him again, like this, but he reined it in like a champion because Tech wasn’t done and this was just the tip, the very tip of an iceberg so huge he wasn’t sure how to navigate it...but they were trying and that, that had to count for something.

“We would have been fine,” he prodded, trying to coax Tech into continuing. It was an outright lie, but it gave him some semblance of power over the narrative he preferred to believe, the one in which they were simply too good and outclassed Mastermind at every turn, and not a single one of them was ever in any danger. Tech just scoffed.

“You’d have died and then I would have had to live with that on top of everything else,” he said. “No, it’s better it happened the way it did.”

“...it was worse, though….wasn’t it.”

Tech squeezed his hand and Rev felt like crying.

“It...was. I don’t know how to describe it...it was like something on—on the inside, pulling pieces of me apart, bit by bit. Like...the pain hit first and for a second I couldn’t even breathe , it was like my lungs were constricted and my throat was paralyzed. It knocked the wind out of me and I didn’t think it was possible to feel that amount of pain and still be...conscious.”

He shuddered and looked to the ceiling, staring at the lights.

“I never want to die like that again.”

Rev scooted closer and dared—dared—to wrap his other arm around Tech in a firm hug. It was all he had left, in that moment, and the only thing he knew he could do, because words weren’t going to be able to express how sorry he was that Tech had to go through this, that he had forced him to cough up the details, that he was reliving every moment and his skin twitched like the disintegration beam was clawing its way through his molecules all over again. Tech didn’t return the hug, but his grip on Rev’s hand tightened again, and he knew they were gonna be all right.

“I-don’t-ever-want-you-to-die-like-that-again-either,” he mumbled. “When-you-didn’t-come-back-immediately-we-were-standing-around-just-trying-not-to-panic-I-think-and-then-Ace-got-some-shovels-and-a-bucket-and-we-tried-to-make-sure-we-had-all-of-you-but-we-didn’t-know-what-else-to-do-or-if-there-was-anything-we-could-do.”

 He had wondered if they had made a mistake...maybe they had contaminated Tech with all the debris and dirt from the asphalt. Maybe they were wrong to lock him in a dark room with no source of natural light. Maybe they were wrong to have tried to move him at all, and what if they had left a piece of him behind? In the end, Rev simply realized he didn’t know that much about his friend’s regenerative abilities, and that, more than anything, bugged the hell out of him.

They were supposed to be family.

“What’s it like when you come back?” he asked, pushing further because he needed to know, for peace of mind, and he needed Tech to be the one to tell him because he wasn’t sure he’d believe it if it came from anyone else. Tech squeezed his hand again and gently extracted himself from the one-armed hug, and Rev didn’t know he had been enjoying the warmth until it had been taken from him. He swallowed thickly and retracted his hand, clasping them together in his lap. At least his leg wasn’t bouncing up and down anymore.

“It’s like being born, I think,” Tech said, looking far calmer and more collected than before. “There’s immense pressure, but not painful, and there’s a ticklish sensation—I think that’s all of my organs being regrown at different intervals—then it’s itchy, and then I’m...here.”

He shrugged again and grinned this apologetic grin, like he was sorry the answer Rev had asked for was so underwhelming. To be fair, it always looked like a bigger deal than it actually was, and Rev was probably guilty of imagining the whole ordeal to be more...intense than it actually was. Itchiness definitely hadn’t been on the list of words he would have used to describe a miraculous return from the dead, but Tech knew better than he did.

“Why’d -it-take-so-long?”

“I...I’m not sure. I can hypothesize about how, due to the shock of the pain, my consciousness and subconsciousness were disoriented enough that the process I normally use to kick start regeneration was...hiccuping, so-to-speak. Or the molecular breakdown was so thorough that it took longer to gather myself together—“

“Wait-you-have-to-consciously-think-about-regenerating-to-be-able-to-do-it?”

“Not entirely. Its...more of a feeling than a thought. I don’t need to actively think about it, because the knowledge is already there—I know I’ll regenerate if something happens to me, so it’s trapped in my subconscious. Most of the time, however, if I know I am about to die, I tend to just bring that knowledge to the forefront of my mind and I think to myself ‘This is it. You’ll die for a moment, and then you’ll come back,’ and I usually have enough time to command my thoughts to that one focal point.”

“You-mean-like-commanding-your-powers-to-obey?”

Tech winced and tilted his hand back and forth. Sorta.

“I think ‘Regenerate’ and force all of my willpower behind that word until it’s the only thing going through my mind. It’s not easy and sometimes there’s not enough time to go through with it. Truthfully, I don’t even know if it helps or holds any veracity, but...well, it makes me feel better.”

Rev couldn’t tell, but he would have bet anything Tech was blushing in that moment, deep beneath his fur. He was the genius, the guy grounded so deep he once installed a self-destruct button on his graduate thesis for extra credit, and for people like him, admitting to any kind of belief in immaterial practices like ‘hope’ was tantamount to blasphemy in the scientific community. It was strange and unlike him, but also kind of humbling in retrospect. Rev couldn’t think of a time when he had felt closer to anyone.

“Whatever-helps-you-out,” he declared, feeling more chipper by the moment. He wanted to shoot through the streets at his highest speed, he wanted to run across the ocean’s surface and revel in the sensation of malleable water as asphalt beneath his feet, and he wanted to circle the globe and tell everyone he met that everything was going to be okay, that they had made it through this awful night and they were stronger than ever, together, and nothing or no one was ever going to take them apart.

“It helps,” Tech chuckled, “but don’t you dare tell anyone else about it. I have a reputation to uphold.”

Rev nodded enthusiastically.

“I-won’t-tell-anyone-anything,” he rushed, “not-a-single-word-of-it’s-gonna-lave-my-beak-you-have-my-solemn-vow-but-uh-you’re-gonna-hafta-tell-the-rest-of-the-guys-something-’cause-they-were-real-worried-too-andI-don’t-think-they-should-be-left-out-of-the-loop-sorry.”

He didn’t know why he apologized, but the moment he did, he couldn’t seem to stop . What if Tech blamed him? What if—what if they had screwed up in some way and they were the reason it had taken so long? Tech said himself that he wasn’t sure, and what if he found out they were the cause and no one had ever bothered to say anything except the usual ‘glad to have you back’ spiel? Mortifying.

I have to say sorry, Rev thought to himself, the edges of his vision focusing on the narrow point of Tech beside him, a concerned expression on his face that rev couldn’t help but see as anything but. Maybe he was already angry and doing a really good job of hiding it? What if he thinks they’re used to him dying and it’s just not that big of a deal? What if he thought they were just pretending to care? No one has ever apologized!

“I’m-I’m-s-sorry-we-c-couldn’t-help-you,” he stammered, freezing up as he tried to gain control of the emotions running amok inside his head, “we-tried-our-best-but-we-didn’t-know-ya-k’now-and-we-tried-to-catch-her-first-but-it-was-too-late-and-I-was-running-as-fast-as-I-could-but-it-still-wasn’t-good-enough-but-we-should-have-tried-harder-and-it’s-not-an-excuse-but—“

“Hey, whoa there,” Tech said, turning his body to face Rev and holding up both hands, fingers splayed. “Whoa, slow down, you’re...you’re going to hyperventilate. You don’t need to apologize for anything. I’m fine . I’m here.”

“Yeah-but-you-almost-weren’t -and-I’m-so- so -sorry-we-weren’t-there-in-time-especially-’cause-it-it-happens-a- all -the-time-an’-you’re-th-the-only-one-who-gets-hit-with-it-an’-it’s-n-not- fair—

“Rev breathe!

He sucked in a deep breath but it didn’t help until he felt Tech’s hand at the back of his head, forcing him to bend down between his knees; on impulse he hugged himself, half wondering what was happening and why he felt this way, and half wishing he could reach inside and tear this out, the overwhelming feeling that was bursting inside of him, clawing its way through his stomach and lungs and throat and choking him. What was happening? Everything was okay with Tech so why?

“Rev, calm down,” he heard Tech say, “I think...I think you’re having a panic attack. It’s alright, just keep breathing, but slowly. I’m right here and you’re going to be okay.”

His voice sounded so far away and Rev could barely hear anything through the pounding of his heart reverberating in his ear drums. He swore he could hear blood flowing through his veins and it felt, simultaneously, like a massive fist was squeezing his heart and stretching it out. His lungs ached and he felt dizzy. He didn’t want to sit anymore so he curled in on himself, drawing his legs up, knees to his chest, and searched for something to hold onto.

When something took hold of his hand he almost jerked away, but fingers intertwined with his for a second time and he felt a rough, furry paw rub over his thumb before he realized Tech had pulled off their gloves and was holding his hand. The other hand at the back of his head slipped down to cup the back of his neck, and he felt fingers there moving, massaging, and it felt...it felt good. It was nice. It was still tight—his chest felt so tight—but it was getting better. He felt grounded, and when Tech slid closer to let Rev rest his head on his lap, he finally felt like he could breathe on his own again.

“Take it easy,” Tech encouraged from somewhere above, voice still slightly muffled but not nearly so far away sounding as it had been before. “Breathe slowly, you’ve introduced too much oxygen into your bloodstream. You need to counteract it. Don’t try to rush.”

And he did what Tech said, because Tech was a genius who cheated death on a regular basis and who would know better than him about anything? It hurt to slow down, it hurt to take those necessary breaths and it made him squirm, but Tech sat there, holding his hand and stroking his thumb and soon it came easier—his head hurt but was no longer dizzy, his heart ached but for different reasons than before, and his lungs were working at their normal unusual pace.

“Wow,” he croaked when he finally felt like talking again. “That was...wow.”

“Panic attack,” Tech said, sounding amused. “You’ll be fine, just...wait a while before trying to sit up.”

“I’m sorry,” Rev blurted, even though apologizing was what got him there in the first place. “I’m-sorry-Tech-this-is-all-my—“

Don’t ,” Tech growled, closing a hand over Rev’s beak. “Don’t you dare finish that sentence, or so help me I’ll use you as my next test subject.”

You already will, Rev said to himself, but clamped his beak shut with an audible little click.

“Nothing is your fault,” Tech sighed. “You did nothing wrong, you were just...overwhelmed. If anything, I’m the one who should be apologizing for putting everyone through such a trying ordeal. It’s clearly affected you to the point where a panic attack has been building this whole time. I should have...been more open about everything. Not so secretive. You deserve to know.”

“No,” Rev rasped, squeezing Tech’s hand this time, with all the strength he had, “no, you-don’t-owe-us-anything-you’re—we’re-allowed-to-have-secrets. We’re allowed to be independent of one another! You said so yourself!”

“Yeah,” Tech grimaced, “but we’re also family.”

Rev felt his heart skip a beat.

“Isn’t that what you said?”

“W-when?”

“A long time ago, when we first started this. I pay attention, you know. My head’s not always buried in some book.”

He sounded offended up until Rev twisted his head to check and caught glimpse of a fang-filled grin and knew he was teasing. Tech didn’t often tease except to remind everyone that he was the superior scientific and technological genius on the team, and it took Rev aback for a moment until he summoned the courage to laugh.

Imagine, Tech teasing just to make him feel better.

“Listen,” the coyote said, easing their hands apart again, and Rev hated that he missed feeling so close, “I’m not saying I want to start divulging all my innermost feelings and desires or anything like that, but I don’t want to be the cause of everyone suffering a breakdown just because I like to keep my research under lock and key. I can make concessions. I can...compromise.”

He looked unsure of himself and Rev wanted to take that burden away from him; he didn’t need the responsibility of babysitting their feelings, he wasn’t their caretaker or anything even if he was one of the oldest on the team.

“Or-we-could-just-trust-that-you-know-what-you’re-doing-and-not-get-in-your-way,” he said, sitting up a little more quickly than he should have. His head was pounding but there was no help for it now. “You’re-the-smartest-guy-on-the-team-Tech-you-shouldn’t-be-worrying-about-whether-we’re-gonna-be-able-police-our-own-emotions-and-stuff!”

“Maybe not,” Tech conceded, frowning when Rev kept moving about like he had been specifically warned not to. “Maybe not, but that doesn’t mean I can’t take some precautions. If it’s within my power to set your minds at ease and it costs me so little to do so, then why shouldn’t I? Besides, it’d save me time and energy in the long run. No offense, but I don’t want to sit down after every mission and hash this all out again with one of the other guys.”

Fair enough. Rev didn’t really have anything else to say in defense of his point, so he shrugged and leaned aback against the arm of the couch, tapping his fingers across his knee and rubbing the spot on his chest where it had felt like his heart was going to claw its way out.

“I-can-work-on-trusting-you-more,” Rev insisted. “That-you-know-what-you’re-doing-and-making-sure-the-team-remembers-you’re-an-old-hat-at-this.”

 “’Old hat’?” Tech snorted. “Promise me you haven’t been listening to Leghorn’s sportscast again.”

 “I’m-being-serious!”

“I know, I know. Look, Rev...we can go back and forth about this until the end of time about who has more responsibility over whose feelings and whose job it is to create a safe environment for intelligent debate and conversation, but...for now, at least, can we just...let’s just agree that everything is going to be okay, and we’re going to work together, from now on, when it comes to figuring out where to go or what to do.”

It sounded like a trick. Like something sneakily inferred between the lines that Rev couldn’t quite catch because he was too busy gawking at Tech like he had just sprouted another head. A year ago and he’d have sooner sawed off his own leg than admit to any of this, or even insinuate that he was at all responsible for anyone other than himself. For him to have even said that they were a family…. Rev was sure he had misheard, at some point, but even if he had, he wasn’t sure he wanted to know. A smile crept up the sides of his beak and he cocked his head to the side.

 "You know somethin’,” he said, “I think maybe you didn’t come back all the way. The Tech I knew was waaaay too high and mighty to admit caring about a bunch of reckless idiots like us.”

 “Yeah, well, someone has to play at being an adult,” Tech snorted. “May as well be me.”

“Okay. Yeah-I-mean-I-can-get-with-that….we’re gonna be okay, right? All of us?”

Tech paused and made a face. Rev recognized it as the same face he made when facing down a new problem. It was the expression he made when forming a new hypothesis.

“I think so,” Tech said, slowly. “It’ll take time, but...we’ll be alright. We always are, aren’t we?”

And it was good enough. It wasn’t everything, and it wasn’t the end, bit in the end it was good enough, and Rev agreed with a nod and smile.

“Family-always-comes-through. We’ll be okay.”