Hello again, I have now returned with the second book of the Defenders of Earth series! Updates will be every Friday starting this Friday. Hope you enjoy, and feel free to drop a review!

Chapter 1

Skylar closed his eyes for a second as he stepped away from the display he was helping to set up. Nearing the end of the eight hour shift, he was sore and tired. He took the moment's break to drink from his water bottle. His companion, Sam, didn't object. They'd both been working together to set up the aisle since Skylar had shown up for work.

All in all, though, he didn't mind work. It gave him a chance to integrate with everyday people and grow used to being bombarded with their feelings, but that didn't make eight hour shifts any less draining, and in more ways than one. Especially since One for One was particularly popular since everything in the store was only a dollar.

"Only fifteen minutes left," Sam said as he stood straight. He pushed his short brown hair out of his face as he checked his watch. "Then you're off. Lucky you, Skylar."

Skylar checked his watch as well. "Yeah, y'think we can get the rest of this box out in fifteen minutes there?"

Sam laughed once. "Doubt it. It takes at least five minutes just to separate all these stupid boxes." He kicked one of the Christmas boxes, which was filled with yet more Christmas boxes. "And that's not counting having to put them all on the shelf nicely. I'll be surprised if we get two sets done." He shrugged. "Never mind it, though, I'll finish after you go. You're here tomorrow, right?"

"No, I booked it off, actually."

"Ah, I see. Let's get as much of this done now, then."

Skylar picked up the next set of boxes to begin unpacking them. They didn't need to price them, which was fortunate for them because the only two sticker guns in the store were being used.

"That looks tedious and boring."

Skylar jumped. "Hitoshiba!" he said in surprise as he turned to his friend. "What are you doing here?"

Tado shrugged. "I walked. You're off work now, right?"

Tado, easily Skylar's best friend, was a skinny boy with messy black hair, beige freckled skin, and thin honey coloured eyes. He'd spent the last couple of months recovering from the wound in his stomach from when Akira had stabbed him with a scalpel. The incident at the lab seemed decades removed by now, despite the fact that Tado still moved stiffly. He looked exhausted, and the walk probably hadn't done him any good, either.

"Soon," Skylar told him as he turned back to the boxes. "I'll be off in about ten, fifteen minutes. There's an EB Games nearby, y'know. You could look around while ya wait."

Like the end of a sparkler stick, Tado's irritation flared to life, but it didn't even flicker across his face. "It's close enough, so why can't you leave now?" he said. There in his voice was where the annoyance lay. He'd been rather short with everyone, lately.

"He could if he wanted to get fired," Sam cut in. "But nobody wants that, right?"

Tado glared at him. Skylar almost felt their respective short tempers beginning to rub each other the wrong way. He strategically put himself between them under the guise of putting the next boxes on the shelves.

"Sam's right," Skylar said to Tado. "It won't be that long, though."

"No, never mind," Tado said, spitting his words with a sneer. "Never mind, okay? I'll walk home and wait there."

"It's nearly a half hour walk, sham. I have the car with me, just wait."

He turned away. "No. I don't care."

"So...boyfriend?" Sam asked as Tado walked away.

Tado's rush of indignant anger told Skylar that he'd heard Sam's bitter words. Skylar shook his head for Sam. "No, more like brother. Our parents are together. We're just friends."

"Brothers?!" Sam choked out a laugh. "Man, Skylar, you got the patience of a god if you put up with that everyday. Guess I knew that, though, seeing how you deal with Vicky so well. Christ, that woman..."

"Tado's not really that bad," Skylar said as he moved the boxes to his right hand to grab a necklace left on the shelf. "He's been in a bad mood lately."

He hooked his finger on the piece of jewelry. He dropped the boxes and leapt back, grabbing his head as a sharp spine of pain pierced his skull. Fear, anger, sorrow all dangerously mixed with unconditional love, all throbbing through his body. It quickly dissipated and Skylar was able to breathe again. Sam stared at him as he sighed and rubbed his eyes.

"Yo, something bite ya?"

"No, it's...it's nothing," Skylar said, smiling reassuringly. "Grab that necklace while I pick up these boxes."

"Sure thing." Skylar couldn't believe that Sam could hold the necklace so casually, feeling none of the emotion that swirled around it like a thundercloud. "I guess someone lost it. Shame, it's a pretty little thing. Seems important, too."

"Yeah," Skylar replied with an absent nod. "Important."

Sam shrugged and tossed it into one of the empty boxes to be thrown out. Skylar's eyes followed it for a second. Important is a good word, he thought.

He had to give himself a mental shake in order to try to forget the memories of past abuse that crawled along his flesh like ants. Ever since the lab, he'd found that touching certain objects, important little things filled with sentimentality, elicited a strong emotional response. Some were bad, but some were good. He remembered holding a lost toy a couple weeks ago and basking in the childish glee left behind by its owner.

There was nothing that could compare to the horror of Tado's old room, though. The walls had dripped with years of fear and rage. Memories and thoughts had bombarded him. He had almost been able to hear the screams. It had flooded the room and clung to him like tar, dragging him to his knees. At the time, he'd thought it was real, that he really had been watching Tado struggling against the scientists.

He'd sought advice from Fergus, but his father had no experience to offer on the topic. It wasn't an ability that they shared. For now, Skylar had to try to deal with alone. Fergus certainly helped but still didn't have much advice other than the usual stuff. Lucky for Skylar, though, it had only happened a few times since the lab and didn't seem to be growing any more frequent. That was a trend he could get on board with.

"And it's six o' clock," Sam said, pulling Skylar from his thoughts. Sam took the boxes out of his hands and shooed him away. "See you around, Skylar."

"Yeah, see ya."

Skylar jogged to the back to grab his things, including the keys to Fergus's car since he'd finally gotten his license. If he was quick enough, he would be able to pick up Tado before he got too far. He punched out and ran outside.

Tado ignored the sleek black car that slowed to a crawl beside him, even when Skylar rolled down the window and told him to get in. It wasn't until his friend parked the car and got out that he stopped, but only because he'd planted his feet in front of him and blocked his path. Tado glared at Skylar's chest, watching his breath billow out in the early October chill.

"C'mon, Hitoshiba, what's wrong?" Skylar asked.

"Nothing," he replied, keeping the force of irritation he wanted out of his tone. "I was bored, so I walked up to see if you were done. I miscalculated the time, that's all. I didn't want to distract you, so I left."

"You were upset, though. Ya still are."

Tado felt his own anger flare and his eyes snapped up to meet Skylar's. "Just because you can feel it doesn't mean that you have to bring it up all the time!" he yelled, making his friend flinch and step away. Tado immediately deflated, instead walking towards the car. "Whatever. Let's just go home."

"Y'know, Ying and Lizz are dating," Skylar said as they drove. He was taking the long way, Tado noticed.

"I know that," he replied, gritting his teeth. "What do I care what Newhouse does, exactly?"

"Well, I don't know about Lizz, but I thought ya might wanna know about your sister there," Skylar said.

"Half-sister, but the point is that I don't care. Relationship politics are not at the top of my priorities. I would rather focus on school and learning."

Skylar shrugged. "I just think they're cute together. You're not mad that Lizz is dating someone else, are ya? Is that what's up?"

"No. Why would I be?" Quirking an eyebrow.

Skylar was always doing this, saying things about what Lizz was doing that he thought were making him upset or angry and asking if it did. Tado didn't care what she did. He didn't care that she was dating someone. In fact, he'd already known, and if anything, it was a relief because she had finally stopped bugging him and turning off his computer right in the middle of a game or something equally infuriating.

"What's bugging ya?" Skylar asked.

Tado pursed his lips. "You already asked me this. Why do you think the answer will be any different?"

"Because I know ya. Ya aren't very forward with how you're feeling—"

"Okay, let's say I am hypothetically upset about something," Tado snapped, glaring at him. "My avoidance would normally be a clear indicator that I don't want to talk about it."

"I'm sorry, I'll stop pressing."

They both looked away, letting a tension filled silence settle in the car. Tado glared out the window, grinding his teeth until his jaw hurt and letting his frustration run freely, half-hoping that it was rubbing up against Skylar and irritating him, too. He closed his eyes and leaned his forehead on the cold window, feeling that anger drain away instead. Practice meant that Skylar didn't even need to be touching him now to steal it. He sighed, but decided to leave it.

"I booked tomorrow off."

Tado perked up a little when Skylar spoke, looking over at him again. "Why?"

"Dude, it's your and Ying's birthday tomorrow. Sweet sixteen!" Skylar replied, grinning. "Hell, can ya believe we've been doing this for over a year now?"

He could. Why wasn't that believable, that over three hundred and sixty five days had passed? And the best part was that it was three hundred and sixty five days not spent in the god forsaken lab. But he supposed that it was some sort of exaggeration on Skylar's part. Probably. He did believe it, right?

"Never mind, Hitoshiba, it's an expression," Skylar said, putting his confusion to rest. "It just means it's a pretty big deal, I guess. Just think, though, you'll be able to drive."

Tado suddenly smirked. "Or fix up someone's car so I can drive with no hands? With just my head?"

"Da would have a fit. Valerie, too."

"They can shove it up their asses," he said with a scoff. He paused. "I mean. Not literally."

"I know," Skylar said, laughing a bit. "I still don't think it's the best idea, though. Y'don't wanna get caught by the police or be making people suspicious. You could probably get in serious trouble, or..."

Tado huffed. "What's the point of being...'superheroes' if we can't ever do anything?" he said, rolling his eyes.

"Secret identities, right? We can't just..."

Tado jumped when Skylar abruptly stopped the car. They hadn't been going fast, but it still caught him off guard. His friend was staring out the front window, eyes narrowed and eyebrows furrowed, and just for a second Tado wished he had mind reading powers. Maybe it would make understanding people easier.

"What's wrong?" Tado asked instead, following his gaze. He didn't see anything. "Why'd you stop?"

"Check, uh. Hm." Skylar pursed his lips. "I'm gonna say... Check Bouchard Street, do they have cameras? I think it's coming from there..."

It took just a second to pull up all possible connections in the area and that same second to isolate all street cams. One more second and Bouchard was isolated. He blinked, and suddenly the slightly grainy footage from one of the cams consumed his sight, the others hovering in the back of his mind at his beck and call. One last second and he'd scrolled through them all and found what had probably alerted Skylar.

"It's a robot," Tado said, handing his friend a brief description of the thing.

Big, it looked like a forklift and graspers and treads all rolled into one vaguely upright shape. He looked up the code on the back of it. Worker bot, so why was it out on the streets surrounded by police, guns, and panic? Malfunction? Closed signal, he needed to get closer to get in. Touch it, maybe. That thought wasn't appealing.

"There are people hurt," Skylar said, getting the car moving again. Instead of towards home, though, he turned down the road that would take them towards the chaos. Tado felt his stomach twist, not sure that would be a good idea.

"Then let's head home and go get Demir-san."

"Message them, if ya want. We won't get close to it, I just wanna help. Ya said you can't hack it, right? That sucks. The problem would've been solved then and there."

"Yeah, but..."

"Come on, sham, this is what heroes do, right?" Skylar said, giving him a grin. "And hey, it's not like we're gonna fight the thing. I just want to make sure everyone's alright. Even regular people do this."

Tado didn't agree, but he didn't protest, either, deciding to just keep his mouth shut and let Skylar drive. He observed the situation through the camera, instead, distracting himself with watching the police set up make shift barricades that were useless compared to the destructive power of the robot. He closed the program, deciding to message Fergus and tell him about the incident.

Funny how something made to build can just as easily destroy, Tado thought.