Duncan's gift was special, but dangerous. "Use it to look." his mentor had told him. "But only on the surface. Don't go deeper."
But could he really follow that advice, when his friends - his family - were plagued by nightmares, and he had the power to help them through it?
This one is a dry run. A test on how the characters tick. Through the POV of a character that’s not the lead but is central anyway. I wrote about fear, and how one gets through night terrors.
It’s a character study.
Duncan had always been told that his gift was both useful and dangerous. He had been told that he was lucky that his parents had not sent him away to the laboratories, that they had brought him to a safehouse instead.
No one will take advantage of his powers this way.
As soon as he was welcomed to the safe haven meant for the other children - other people - like him, they began to teach him how to control his gift.
"Use it to look." Dana had told him, during one of their many lessons. "But only on the surface. Only when necessary, only enough to know if you have to run or not. Don't go deeper, Duncan."
Duncan, then fifteen, had looked up to Dana, a young man who was a mere four years older than him, but whose eyes had seen so much.
He hadn't mean to - he had very little by way of control back then - but the next thing he knew, he was seeing flashes, glimpses: fire, tears, blood, sad things, some happy things, but many sad things-
"You're looking, aren't you?" Dana had asked him then. "I felt surprise and fear, all of a sudden. What did you see?"
Duncan, young and shaken as he was, had hesitated to answer. "Y-You… Your-"
"I can't tell who has it worse between the two of us." He remembered Dana saying, "When I can feel what they feel, but I can't see what they think. And you're the opposite."
"But if I don't look-… What should I use my powers for?"
"You should look." Dana had shaken his head, patient. "But like I said, only the surface. Who they are. What their goal is, maybe. Are they like us, or not? But don't look further."
"They won't know, though? They won't notice."
"How would you feel about you not knowing if someone was sneaking a peek into your mind, Duncan?"
"It's not just them." the older teen had said softly, patting the younger one's head. "It's for your sake too. You'll be seeing many things in your life, and you'll meet many people… people who would need our help. And Duncan, it's very easy to drown in other people's darkness."
Maybe he never fully understood what Dana had told him, but he trained hard anyway, trying to control his abilities. Soon, he grew accustomed to only looking in the surface of people's minds. He never dared look further. He never questioned why he never looked further, never dug deeper. The fear and dread he once felt, that one time when he looked into Dana's memories, and those other times before when he saw too much… those were things he didn't want to ever see, or feel again.
Despite that, while he worked to suppress his abilities, he also knew that he could do more. He didn’t necessarily want to. He just knew that if he wanted to, there were other uses for his gifts.
He had been eighteen when he joined the cause. He had been eighteen when he finally said he was tired of staying cooped up in the safe house, that he wanted to join Ross and his little team on their ‘road trip’.
Ross hadn't wanted to involve “kids”, but Dana had given his recommendation: “Duncan’s not a fighter, but he’ll make a good tracker, and you know how useful psychics on the team could be.”
Ross still didn’t want to risk it.
“And I can drive.” Duncan had pushed. He adored Ross – he wanted to come with him, know him better-
Alright. So it wasn’t totally an all-for-the-greater-good thing. He had wanted to help, but it had also been him being a silly boy with a crush.
He had been eighteen when they let him volunteer.
They had a few good runs. He got along with the team. Duncan already knew most of the team well enough, most of them having stayed in the same safehouse as him for a few years.
There was Ross, their leader - steadfast and unsure at the same time, wearing his duty like a borrowed coat. Kali and Soren, siblings - ‘veterans’ in a way, protectors first and fighters second. Zoe and Tim, the safehouse's golden children, who were even younger than Duncan at only sixteen but were somehow allowed to tag along. Garnet, a new addition, mysterious and quiet but strong and kind. And then there was Val.
Val, with the ginger hair obnoxiously dyed blood red as if to prove a point, with lips painted scarlet, with her frilled dresses and black stockings and high boots. Val, who was all classy tea cups and cute kittens yet wouldn't let you call her Valeria. Val, with her way with guns and rocket launchers. She only barely reached Duncan’s shoulder when they stood together but had the authority of a military general.
Duncan liked Val. He liked her enough to kiss her and more. She never committed, because that was how she was. It was a casual thing. It was an open thing. It was a “let’s-share-this-much” thing. She had a nice bunk and a cozy, lived-in nook in their truck that she might as well own. Duncan figured that it was because she’d been on the team long enough. They were both eighteen but she had started fighting for this cause at fifteen.
Val was special. Val was Duncan’s best friend.
Val was how he discovered another potential for his gift.
Duncan had promised Dana that he will never look deeper than necessary.
Val was important, and that night, she was tugging at his shirt and panting and… crying. Duncan woke up groggily and saw the girl beside him shaking, moaning in pain.
“Val? Val, are you-…? Val, wake up – it’s just a nightmare. Val?” Duncan tried to shake her awake, but the terrors kept their grip on her. She started sobbing and calling for names he didn’t recognize.
With an effort, Duncan pulled her close, his forehead pressed to hers as he closed his eyes and looked.
He had trained himself not to open minds. Only the labels, the summary… never the contents. But this time, he broke through the surface, took a deep dive.
He didn’t know if he could see through her nightmares, but he tried.
There was fire. Explosions. A man dying in his arms – no, not his. Val’s. The man was bloody, hurt, the pain written in his face, eyes ghosting… There was screaming, it was Val’s voice.
“Eon!!! Please, hold on! Don’t leave me – don’t leave us!”
For a moment his throat was raw and it hurt, then he snapped out quickly knowing it must be Val’s thoughts. The man called Eon coughed, and there was more blood. Duncan could almost see the life leaving him, but his hands – Val’s hands – held on tight to the man.
“Iago’s comin’! Iago and Ross and the others, Eon please! I-“
“Aw, li’l lady, yer cryin’…” the man said weakly, and he lifted a hand. Duncan thought he would touch Val’s face, but instead he took her hand and squeezed it. “Y’have to go. Y’have to take… cover. Hide. Still gotta fight. Y’have ‘ta… help Iago and the gang. No one knows my guns more than you do, kid.”
“No. No, I’m not leavin’ you-“
“Valeria.” he said, this time lifting her hand to his lips, kissing it weakly. “Y’gotta do it, babe. Do it fer me.”
“Eon! I can’t-”
“Yes y’can. Where’s that good ol’ spunk? Y’know, m’glad I took you in. Y’like my baby sister. M’sorry I couldn’t give ‘ya nicer stuff. Sorry I just taught ‘ya how ta shoot and reload. I just thought… thought t’least give ‘ya a fighting chance.”
“Stop saying that! You gotta hold on, stupid! Iago’s-… the others-“
“Won’t make it. M’fraid this is as far as go, babe. There’s still some o’ our babies in m'pocket. Light ‘em up. Throw the the cherry at those motherfuckers. Take the gun. Run. Y’have to… y’have to protect the team now...”
Val cried harder, gripped tighter… screamed-…
It was too much, too vivid. The sounds and the images were so clear – Duncan wanted out, but he was in it now, he was-…
The scenery changed – and there was no dying man, but there was still fire and debris and loud sounds and gunshots and-… And then he was holding a gun. No, wait. Val was. She was holding a gun, and this time… this time, Duncan recognized the person in front. It was Iago, the man who was the team’s leader before Ross. He was fighting, there were things moving around him even when he wasn’t touching them. Duncan had heard stories of how good Iago was at his gift. Now Iago was fighting, his attacks precise and furious and there was someone-… there was someone who was going to shoot him-
A quick flash of an image. Eon, dying. Then it was back to Iago, then to Eon – telling Val that she had to protect the team-…
Val raised the gun and aimed.
Right then and there, Duncan knew. Val was going to pull the trigger, and it’ll kill her just as much as it’ll kill the enemy.
Duncan had plunged deeper than ever before. He didn’t expect dreams – no, nightmares, to be this vivid, crisp-… painful.
He wanted out, he really did, but it looked like he couldn’t. He couldn’t undo his grip on Val’s mind. He was stuck. But he had to do something.
He knew his gifts must include communication. It wasn’t just peeking – he can… prod. He was a psychic, more of a navigator than a telepath, and at the moment, he was already pushing his abilities… But he felt like he should be able to… nudge other people. Send a signal-
A beacon. A call.
He didn’t know how to do it. He’d never done it before, but he tried his hardest. He reached out to Val, who was still aiming her gun, whose hands were shaking because she had shot people, she had thrown grenades and bombs, but she never put a bullet through someone’s head before and if she pulled the trigger, she’d be a killer.
“Val? Val, d’you hear me?” He tried to reach out. He didn’t know if she heard him. He didn’t even know if it was really working. “Val, c’mon, it’s just a nightmare. You have to wake up. You have to-”
He was too late. She didn’t hear him. Val pulled the trigger. The shot didn’t make it, but she kept her aim, this time taking deep breaths and determined to get it right- Save Iago, you've already let one big brother die, you can't let that happen again-
He heard her cry harder.
“Val, you have to wake up, no no no please stop- Stop.” Duncan couldn’t bear it, and in his subconscious he knew that he must be gripping her too hard.
Her hands stopped shaking. Her aim was true, and while her vision was blurred with tears, Duncan had the sinking feeling that the shot would make it.
“STOP. VAL, STOP!!!”
There was darkness – absolute darkness, and it terrified him so much that he was able to let go.
And when he opened his eyes again, Val was sitting up on their bunk, panting, awake.
He sat up. “V-Val?”
She turned to him, face tear-streaked. He didn’t ask her what happened. He didn’t ask her if she realized he was there with her, in her nightmare. He just held her, and told her that everything will be okay.
“It’s just a nightmare.”
“Not really.” she whispered, and the laugh she let out was bitter. "T'was more like a memory."
The next time it happened, Duncan realized that it was him who stopped it the last time. It was just him, willing with all his might for the nightmare to stop, but it wouldn’t, so he willed – he sent the darkness instead.
And it worked. The darkness worked. Val always woke up before any of those horrible things could continue.
It was easier to dream of the dark, than of fire and blood.
Nobody knew. Val didn’t know that Duncan had been doing something, that sometimes he stayed up just to wait for the night terrors to kick in and to stop it before it got too bad.
At first, it was difficult and sometimes he would grip too hard like the first time. But it was easy to want everything to stop. Perhaps it was just instinct, to want the pain to go away.
It wasn’t long before he gave in to temptation and decided to ‘expand his horizons’.
‘Dana would be so proud of his protégé.’ he thought ruefully, one night when he was on watch duty.
He was still trained to be a navigator, so it was easy to reach out to the other members of the team, feel their presence, check that they were all tucked in, in their respective places. He always did this, every night. Sort of like a headcount to assure him that everyone was safe.
This time though, he decided to hone in on one person and then look deeper.
Duncan didn’t choose Ross, no. He was curious, but Duncan had seen a snippet of Dana’s memories and to this day it haunted him. Ross was older than Dana. Ross had been on the field longer, he’d been a volunteer even before they started calling themselves volunteers. He'd been there when the missions weren’t just to provide relief or check up on other gifted people like them. When the missions involved fighting tooth for tooth, surviving, losing people, a glimpse of which Duncan had already seen when he looked into Val’s nightmares.
Duncan was reckless and far from careful, but even he had to draw the line. He knew he wasn’t ready to see what Ross had seen.
Tim’s nightmare, ironically enough, had fire as well. For someone whose gifts were heat manipulation and combustion, you’d think that Tim’s nightmare would be something colder.
But there was fire everywhere, ruins, screams and a child screaming and crying.
It took Duncan a while to figure out that it was Tim crying, calling out for his parents, calling out for help… looking at the house burning down before him.
"Somebody, please? Somebody! Anybody! Please help! My-… M-My family’s still-"
Duncan felt a surge of helplessness, as he looked through the child’s eyes. Tim couldn't have been older than six, seeking help, calling for anyone to come for him, for the family burning inside the house.
He could do nothing. Tim was just a child, and what use was his unstable gift of heat when a fire was already killing those he loved?
Duncan was too stunned to notice when the screaming and crying turned from that of a child’s to that of a teenager. The voice was the Tim that Duncan knew.
Tim, the golden boy, all warmth with his brown hair, gold eyes and boyish smile. They called him a prodigy with how he had total control over his gift. Tim, who was just sixteen but favored by their leaders: Iago and Dana and even Ross. Tim, who the smaller kids looked up to. Tim, who had lost his family to one of the laboratories’ city-wide “searches” that always ended up in broken families, tear-streaked loved ones and crumbled homes. Tim who despite his youth can work right beside seasoned fighters like Kali and Soren.
This Tim was whispering, “No. Please, God, no.”
This Tim was watching a safehouse – their safehouse – burning down. This Tim was hearing the screams of the people inside who couldn’t get out.
And Duncan has had enough. That was his home as much as it was Tim’s. That was everyone’s home and it was burning and their friends, their fellow gifteds – their family – were inside.
He made it stop.
When Duncan opened his eyes, he saw Zoe standing nearby, looking at him curiously.
“Are you okay, Dun?” the girl asked. “You seemed… out of it.”
“Yeah, just… doing the routine check.” he reassured.
“It looked a bit… harsher, than usual.”
“Just struggled a bit. I have my off days.” Then as Zoe was about to leave, Duncan said, “I sensed something off with Tim. Care to check?”
The girl nodded and quickly headed off.
Duncan reached out again, a few minutes later. Zoe was with Tim by then. They were both awake. Duncan felt the notable calm and relief in Tim’s mind, and he only had to take a little peek to see the two teens sitting together, fingers twined, and talking about the nightmare.
They had each other, that was how Duncan knew that they’ll be alright.
Garnet’s nightmare had no fire.
It was empty and silent and all the walls were white. She sat in front of a piano, and even though her fingers were pressing the keys, there was no sound.
It was then that the view shifted, as Garnet looked to her side.
There was a mirror.
This wasn’t the Garnet who Duncan knew. This was Garnet when she was still being forced to comply to society’s standards, to be who she isn’t. This Garnet was wearing a suit – coat and shirt and slacks, hair gelled back, face strange, melancholic.
This wasn’t the Garnet with the black crop top, the jean skirts, the pixie-cut raven hair and red lips. This wasn’t the Garnet who’d stomp her combat boots on the earth and then bend it to her will.
The Garnet in the mirror probably hasn’t called herself Garnet yet. This Garnet probably hasn’t told anyone that she was a she, and not a he, despite what her biology dictated.
Then on a blink of an eye, the mirror was gone, and there was the sky. All of a sudden she was standing on top of a building.
Garnet stood up from the piano chair, and then walked towards the edge of the building.
She looked down. It was a long way to the bottom.
Duncan knew – he just knew – what would come next.
Maybe it was because Duncan was too used to stopping Val’s nightmares, and too terrified of the height that Garnet was going to fall into - that before he even knew it, he had blocked it out.
After that, he sought Garnet out. He found her lying on her bunk, awake, looking up at the ceiling.
Duncan would have left her alone had the nightmare been like Val’s or Tim’s – bad memories, terrifying what-if’s… but this one… Garnet was going to jump. It was suicide.
“G?” he asked in a whisper, because the others were sleeping. “You okay?”
He saw her turn her head. She bore her normal expression. Calm, peaceful, expectant. “Yeah, why?”
“I just…” he started, sitting down by her bunk. “I was doing the usual check, noted something weird ‘bout you while you were sleeping, then you woke up.”
He was a good liar like that.
She blinked. “So…?”
“So… are you okay?”
“Did you look?” was all she asked.
He didn’t answer that.
“It never cut off like that before. Was that you?”
Duncan just nodded. He didn’t feel like lying any more.
Garnet simply sighed, calm as always. “Just so you know, that’s how I got out. I jumped. Also how I discovered my powers. The ground saved me.”
“And then you ran?”
“Then I ran, yes.” She looked at him and smiled a small smile. “I’m okay, really. Use your gift, tell me I’m lying.”
She wasn’t. If there was one thing he admired about Garnet, it was her grounded strength.
He didn’t watch out for the others for a while. It was just Val, particularly because they slept beside each other, and he always knew when she suffered from the terrors. But every now and then, he’d still check Tim and Garnet, though he never did a deep dive. Some nights were peaceful. He relished these nights.
They got new members. Erin, electrokinetic, with Camille, an omnilinguist. They joined together and did everything else together too. Soren brought Clari in. Young Eli tagged along after they rescued him.
There were on the road when Eli suffered from fever. Because of the nature of their group, the local hospital denied their services. They had to drive to the next town over. It got bad.
Their youngest member – just thirteen – was having fever dreams and nobody knew what to do. He was pleading for the “doctors” to “stop” and “please let me go”.
“Let me.” Duncan said, and the others made way for him. He sat on the boy’s bedside, ran a hand through curly brown locks and then closed his eyes.
They all knew what Eli had gone through. He was part of a project for “installing” special traits to normal, non-gifted people. His right, robotic arm was proof of what was done to him.
Eli’s dream involved a bright blinding light from the ceiling, and people in blue and white, wearing masks, talking in hushed voices…
“Please stop. Please, please! I’ll be good-… I promise-!”
The child screamed, and Duncan winced as he saw the scalpels dig into his flesh.
He blocked it out, purposely – tried to send an image of flower fields and blue skies. He didn’t want to scare Eli with the darkness.
Maybe it worked, because when he got back, Eli was sleeping peacefully. His fever was still there, he was still burning up, but at least the terrors have stopped.
He looked at the rest of the team. “I’ll stay here. I’ll try to ease it somehow.”
“What’re you doing, Duncan?” Ross asked, because of course he had never seen Duncan do this before.
“Trying to give him a nice dream, project something nicer, to block out the nightmares. I need to concentrate to do it, so… so I’m staying for a while.”
“You can do that?” came from Erin, curious as always.
“A bit. It’s difficult though. I’m not used to it.” he lied. Again. He exchanged glances with Garnet, who said nothing.
No one else can read minds in the team anyways. He got away with it.
Duncan limited himself, but he came back to the guilty pleasure of, as Dana would call it, meddling.
Camille. Camille, the girl with the long high ponytail and bright summer green eyes, all kind and gentle grace, who had the gift of understanding any language, written or spoken. Her nightmare was not being able to use her legs. She was terrified that she will never dance again.
Erin. In many ways her opposite, with bright ginger hair and neon highlights, sardonic and frank with a tough look about her, gifted with electrokinesis. Erin’s nightmare was the attack on her old safehouse when she was a child, and being back in her cell in the laboratories.
But they always had each other, to wake the other up, to hold each other, to tell each other everything will be fine.
And sometimes, it amazed Duncan how Camille’s nightmare would change because Erin would be there, pull her back up to her feet, lead her into a clumsy waltz, proving that she could still dance. Or sometimes it’s how Camille will appear on the cell across Erin’s, and then they’d talk, and Erin’s nightmare will turn into a good dream, reminiscing how they first fell in love.
It made Duncan smile, how two people can give each other hope, how they can change things so easily by just being there, together, without even using any power.
Clari almost never had nightmares. She came from a loving family who didn’t know about her gift (it’s fairly easy to hide), nor has she ever been attacked or hunted…
Until she joined their little troupe, of course. Duncan didn’t know what they did to deserve her, because ever since the blonde tagged along, she took the empty space beside Soren and became the “mom” to his “dad”. Suddenly they were all eating real meals.
Duncan had only seen her have a bad dream once. Just one, single time. It was after one of the more “complicated” missions of the team. When it didn’t just involve distributing goods and regular check ups. When it involved some fighting and rescuing one of their own.
Duncan remembered that she had been compromised, but only for barely a minute, because Soren managed to save her just in time.
In her dream, her captors threatened to take her blue eyes. She couldn’t fight back. There was only so much that a gift of enhanced vision could do to help someone with no fighting experience.
Duncan helped, although like with Eli, he didn’t send a blackout. Who knows how Clari would react to darkness when her dream was about people trying to take her eyes?
Duncan had plenty of time to get the trick when he worked on helping Eli back then. This time it was easy to send Clari an image of a bright, clear blue sky.
When she woke up, she seemed fine, as if nothing happened – she wasn’t even breathing hard, or shaking.
But she stood up, grabbed her pillow, walked over to where Soren was and asked him if she could sleep beside him. Of course he simply nodded, pulled her close.
It got easier the more Duncan did it. Sometimes the dive was tricky, sometimes he still gripped too tight. But he was improving.
Duncan thought it shouldn’t be so bad.
He let them keep their dreams when these dreams were good. If they weren’t, he’d help them out. They wouldn’t know – at least, he hoped they wouldn’t know. Save for Garnet, Duncan didn’t think anyone else knew.
Dana had told him once: “It’s very easy to drown in other people’s darkness.”
Duncan had thought he was safe, but he was proved wrong. And he didn’t expect that it would be young Zoe, of all people, who would make him see that.
If Tim was the golden boy, Zoe was the golden girl. The petite, brown-skinned raven-head was like Iago’s, Dana’s and Ross’ kid-sister. She did not have gifts, but she was a strategist with a mean brave streak and unshakable principles.
Everyone knew that Zoe was a leader-in-the-making.
Like Tim, she lost her family in the “searches”, was saved by Iago and taken to the safehouse. It was why they were both so close. They were children saved by the cause. They were children who would volunteer and die for the cause that saved them.
And because the cause was their new, found family – of course her nightmare would be losing them. They were all she has.
I terrified Duncan, seeing the team, the safehouse, their friends and allies – all of them on the ground, in the debris, fallen. There was no fire. No, the fire had gone out. There was just the smoke from the fire, and then, the rain.
It poured. Hard. It was the aftermath. Zoe cried.
And it was unsettling, because everything was quiet. Even in her dreams she couldn’t perceive sounds.
The rain washed away the blood and dirt on the fallen fighters’ faces, and for a while they all looked like they were just lying there sleeping. Zoe screamed, and cried.
“I failed.” was all she said under her breath. “I failed everyone.”
Maybe it was too much, even for Duncan, to see their safehouse in ashes, their teachers, students and family dead on the ground.
He let go. Or more like yanked away, from the piece of Zoe’s subconscious he was holding on to. He didn’t know – he couldn’t remember if he helped her snap out of it or not. He just knew that he wanted to stop seeing what he was seeing.
A few minutes later, Zoe got up and walked gingerly towards Duncan, who was that night’s watch.
“Can’t sleep?” he asked.
“Bad dream.” she answered. “Y’know, the kind where everyone who ever mattered to you dies.”
“You won’t let that happen, Zoe.”
The girl nodded, but hugged her knees to her chest and sighed. “Yeah. I won’t.”
He watched her as she watched everyone else sleep. Alive, breathing. Surely waking up for tomorrow. The best comfort she could use.
Soren’s and Kali’s nightmares were failing to protect each other and the team, watching their mother get hurt or captured or hostaged for them, watching a safehouse burn down under an attack, Iago failing, old friends fallen, and not being able to do anything about it.
Duncan didn’t know which of those were the siblings’ memories, and which of those were the tragic possibilities.
One thing’s for sure, though – it was painful at best, and it kills at worst.
It was, like Zoe’s nightmare, the darkness that Dana warned him about.
He couldn’t help them through it. He tried, always, but he was in too deep, with a grip that won’t dare let go. He didn’t know why – why couldn’t he move?
He wanted things to stop, and he just couldn’t will it too. So he just sees it through to the end.
It was painful, sharing their nightmare instead of just ending it for everyone – but he knew that it was the least he could do.
It would be more than a year after he volunteered, and Duncan still hadn’t dared look into what made Ross toss and turn in the night.
He had seen how it was for Dana, how it was for Soren and Kali… they dreamt memories. Memories they must have shared with Ross, as they all fought together back in those days.
But one night, he didn’t know what came to him. He just thought ‘fuck it’ and then took the leap.
In the dream, Ross was holding out his hands, like always. His shield was usually impenetrable. He was just standing there, holding his ground against physical attacks. It made him an unconventional, but effective leader – he was a pacifist and his gifts were not for offense, but he made them feel safer anyway.
Then the shield cracked… cracked further… and Duncan saw Ross’ arms shake, struggling to keep the cover up, because otherwise his team, including him, would die.
The shield collapsed.
It was just like Zoe’s, except this time he could hear all the screaming. He could hear the death and destruction, the explosions, the crackles of fires starting, burning, not ending, just growing louder and louder-
Then Ross was turning around. There was a man standing, bloody, struggling above the others. Duncan recognized him.
“I asked you to cover me, Ross.”
“We promised. You promised Tansy you’d always protect everyone while we fought.”
“I did! I did, as much as I-… I TRIED!”
Duncan has never heard Ross cry before. The sound of his voice in anguish was both startling and unnerving.
Ross was always their calm, collected, kind leader. He didn’t look like a fighter, with his light sandy brown hair falling into his gentle, dark blue eyes almost shyly, or with the way his orders never carried the strong authoritative weight of Iago’s... but he still spoke with compassion and bravery. They'd follow him no matter what.
“Goddammit, Iago – I tried! I gave it my all, I gave everything-“
“s’not enough, then.”
“I told you! I told you that! I-… I’ll never be enough! Y’should have made Kali into the leader, then! She’s better! I-… I’m useless!”
For some reason Duncan couldn’t tell if this was a memory or just a mere reflection of Ross’ fears. The man in front of them didn’t sound like Iago. Iago will never ever call anyone inadequate.
And Duncan had seen with his own two eyes how Iago looked at Ross in reality - all his sharp edges soft, all the love he had to give in a gentle smile.
But in the nightmare, Iago’s face turned to that of anger, then to shock – and pain. He collapsed. Someone had shot him.
Ross cried, “Iago! No!”
“You could have protected me, Ross.”
“You could have protected everyone.”
When Ross turned around, the rest of the team – people Duncan didn’t know, people he’d only met once, and people Duncan spent time with every day – they were lying on the ground beaten bloody and dead.
A chill ran Duncan’s spine – he was in there too.
It made sense that a leader and protector’s nightmare was that everyone they led – everyone they had to protect – went into harm’s way.
Duncan shivered, and he didn’t know how he could do it for Ross when he couldn’t do it for Soren or Kali. He sent the darkness – it was all he could do and he hoped it was enough, enough for Ross – and then left the nightmare.
He sat up then, panting hard.
He felt Val’s hand on his arm. “Dun? What’s wrong?”
“Just… nightmare.” was all he was able to say.
Val gave his arm a quick squeeze. “It’s not real. C’mon, it’ll be fine. We’re all fine.”
He wanted to say, ‘No, it was.’ but he chose not to. He simply laid back down and let Val hold him until he fell asleep.
He confessed to Dana, once they got back to the safe house. About looking past the surface, about prodding everyone’s mind while they slept.
The expression Dana wore was that of both disappointment and distress.
“I know it was reckless, and I shouldn’t use my powers like that. But it was either that or watch them sufferin’ ‘cause of things that already happened, or things they were afraid would happen-”
“I can feel that you’re scared. Right now, for whatever it is you think I’m going to say.” Dana started, ever as careful with his words. “But I don’t think you regret it.”
“Yeah, well I don’t!” Duncan snapped. “D’you know how horrible it all was? Eli-… freakin’ Eli, Dana! He’s just thirteen and he’s dreamin’ of people cuttin’ him up, taking more of him-… Fuck. Tim was watchin’ this house burn. Garnet was goin’ to jump-“
Dana closed his eyes with a grimace. “Duncan, I can feel your dread-”
“Stop, stop fucking telling me what I feel! I know what I fucking feel, goddammit!”
Dana complied, simply looking down and nodding subtly.
“And for starters, I have it worse than you! Yeah, you can feel things, but you’re safe from the goddamned images. Me, I can see them. I see everything, and I know what’s happening and I-… I freakin’ feel it even if I don’t want to.”
Dana sighed. “I warned you. I warned you that you’ll drown-“
“What, you want them to wake up screaming instead?”
“Duncan, you can’t just take their pain and make it yours.”
He looked at his mentor defiantly. “I can. And I will, as much as I can! This is my power, Dana! You can’t keep me from using it forever. I can do so much more and you know it and you limit it and-“
Dana looked disappointed this time, but it confused Duncan when he also saw a little look of understanding in the man’s eyes.
“-and I’m not going to sit around and do nothin’ while my friends are beaten up by their own damn dreams.”
He wanted to walk away, and he took a step to start.
Let Dana stop him. Whatever. He'll do what he wants-
“That’s your choice, Duncan.” Dana finally said. “We’re sorry if you felt limited, we simply thought you’d want to avoid-”
Duncan looked away. “I don’t want to. Not if I can help.”
“How about you?”
“What about me?”
“Who would be your dreamcatcher, Duncan?”
He didn’t answer. He had no answer.
Dana simply continued, “I understand, you know. When we lost Eon, I could hardly keep myself from taking Val's and Dove's grief. Then we almost lost Iago too and- I've never felt so much fear in my life, from every single person in this safehouse-" He sighed. "I understand you."
Duncan only looked back at the man – his mentor – soft-spoken Dana in the safe house who simply chose to stay with the other kids and guide them as well as he was able.
"I won't stop you." Dana said, a sad smile on his face. "It’s your gift. Use it wisely, and please be careful.”
Duncan kept his head held high as he said “I am. I will.”
Then, he walked away. He tried not to feel fear, not to let Dana’s words get to him. If he felt scared, Dana would know.
So he tried to be brave.
Let Dana read that all he wanted.
This was his gift.
It may be very easy to drown in other people’s darkness, but he also knew, from experience, that it was easier to jump right in to save someone, than to stay on the surface and reach out in the vague hope that they can grasp his hand back.
Maybe this was not what he was meant to do, and he may not have made a promise to anyone to do it, but he would keep helping as long as his team needed him to.
He didn’t care if he doesn’t get credit for it.
He’s not a hero, he’s just a volunteer.
And he was, above all else, willing.