And everyone is back home. What a joke. Diego sucked moodily at his long-empty juicebox while staring out his bedroom window.
How long had it taken before they all splintered off into the various corners of Anubis' mansion?
Five seconds? Max, still woozy, guided to an over-stuffed couch by Malcolm and Chase. The Mirror had glanced at him with an inscrutable expression, nodded slightly, then glided towards the kitchen. Did she have a favorite food? Anubis was presumably somewhere in the depths, doing damage control, figuring out what she'd have to apologize for this time. And Mack, coolly distant, disappearing after they walked through the door off to... who knows where.
Sometimes he missed how they were at the start, when there were simply villains to be defeated and parties to celebrate afterward. How had they gotten here?
But... How could he not be happy for his brother now? Of course he was happy! He had so many people in his life who loved him, so much support from so many directions, the seeds of his kindness finally sprouting into something that nourished him. That was a good change.
And Chase! He wasn't sure he liked Chase, in the beginning. But Diego had come to rely on him, despite the manic see-saws between a put-together adult and the kind of guy who would drop kick an eight-year-old (even if she did deserve it).
At least Chase had a friend on the see-saws with him in the Mirror. Was there even any Mary left? He realized he hadn't seen her all day, what with the Mirror and her war with... well, whoever that had been attacking Max. How do you rescue someone lost in their own head? He'd tried before but how much had he really helped? Did she even need his help?
Then there was Mack. Jesus.
He shook his head. The mood Mack was in, he was worried about her. He couldn't put his finger on it, but lately she'd gathered this cloud of dangerous energy around her that only a motorcycle and a leather jacket could dissipate. In those moments, she was tight-lipped and distant. Maybe that was better than when she was yelling? Yet other times, so tender. It was like the world itself strained her, asked too much of her.
But he'd never seen her look the way she'd looked in that facility. Ghost-white, shaking... she'd faced down enemies bigger than her with a smile, but all it took was her dad pushing her away to make her crumble.
So of course, in that moment, he'd struck, the words spilling out of his mouth before he could stop them. Stupid, stupid. What had he said? "Can't you stop running away from your problems?" Ugh. Was that what would push her away for good? Was that really what she needed in that moment? But he was so frustrated with her sometimes!
He probably wouldn't apologize, though. He'd meant it. But what if she ran away from him? Would he survive?
At that, he felt a whisper in his spirit trickle down to his fingers, smelled the ozone and petrichor scents of his power. Diego glanced at his hands and saw the lightning, watched it flicker, flicker, then fade away. Eyeing the blackened, empty juicebox, Diego frowned and dropped it to the floor.
Closing his eyes, Diego pushed all that aside and away. Focus. He reached deep inside himself but found nothing, a kind of dusty dryness, a sandy floor. He clenched his fingers, gritted his teeth.
There was going to be a time when he needed this strange new power, a shield for his friends, a storm for his enemies... would he be able to call it up? Would it consume him when he did? What was it asking of him? Why wasn't he good enough?
At that, when the tight band of frustration and fear squeezed his chest, when his breath was shortest in his lungs, he felt something loosen inside him, squeeze down his arms, felt the power in his palms, then spreading back up his arms, into his chest, making him feel lighter, floating. He looked down, but his feet were still on the floor. But he could feel it curling through him. He hadn't found his limits yet. There were deeper powers there, if he could find them. If he could only find them.
Goosebumps broke out along his skin. What the fuck am I doing?
He wished that someone would teach him, guide him through this. But there wasn't anyone who could help, no one who knew. Mack wrapped in her own problems, literally wrestling with her demons, the Mirror spelunking around inside her skull, Chase and Max locked in each others' gaze... What about me?
For a few seconds, he stood in the gathering darkness, staring out the window, flat with despair, his heart filled with a bristling, painful despair. The seconds crawled into minutes.
But maybe... maybe pushing it away was wrong. He was running away, just like Mack, running away from himself, from this storm inside. Maybe it was time to stop running. Maybe it was time to embrace this, himself, his weird-ass family. If he couldn't stop them from splintering, well then so what. He'd at least try to hold them together. No time for self-pity.
Diego wiped his tears away and took a deep, shuddering breath. He shook his head, then headed toward the kitchen. Maybe there was some chocolate milk left.