Damien Alborn was a rebellious boy.
He hadn't always been. When Ted and Callan were home, he was a meek, mild-mannered, and very sweet boy that always obeyed his mother and teachers. And he obeyed the twins too, of course, he wouldn't dream of disobeying them. They were always the closest thing Damien had to a father, in his memory. He’d been extremely young when his real father had died, and well...Ted and Callan were the only father-like figures he could remember. Bernard, of course, didn't count as a father to him. They couldn't hold a conversation without it being awkward.
But Damien had started being a bit...different at school. More open, more defiant than he'd ever dared to be. It had started with him slacking off in class a bit, and making jokes and the like while his teacher was giving a lecture. It didn't seem like much defiance yet, but that was only the beginning. At home, his mother noticed him spending a lot more time in his room than he used to. He didn't spend quite so much time in the living room as he had before.
Shortly after, Damien must have realized how weak his form of defiance was, for he decided to step it up a bit. He showed up to school one day not wearing his uniform, and that was also something that was...very unlike Damien to do. The school had very strict rules against making yourself stand out, it was one of those mundane sorts of schools that liked everyone to look rather the same. So Damien began to do just the opposite. After being given a detention for failing to wear his uniform, he started spiking his hair up, which alarmed the school very much, as it meant their detentions were not working at all on him, and now he stood out even more than he did before. Naturally, Damien continued to do it.
Today had been the day they had to resort to suspending him, for he then came into the classroom with his left ear pierced, and naturally, the school was horrified by his open defiance towards their policies. His shouting teacher promptly sent to the principal, who in turn, sent him home.
Damien shoved his small hands in his pockets as he walked home. He didn’t have the heart to tell Mother that he had been suspended, so he just figured he’d walk around a bit and try to pass time before he was forced to go home and tell her. He was heading down the street to the church his brothers had received their uniforms from (unbeknownst to him), when he heard a whistle.
He turned around and saw two boys leaning against the wall of the newspaper publication company. One was a little older than he was, maybe twelve or so. He was not wearing a uniform either, and Damien blinked. He recognized this boy, and the smaller boy with him. These were his neighbors, the Kellner kids. Damien was a little surprised; he knew they went to his school too. Had they been suspended as well?
“Don’t you live on my street?” Damien asked them, hands still in his pockets. The older boy had jet-black hair and green eyes. His hair was kind of long compared to Damien’s, maybe a little above the shoulder. His hair was also very messy, and Damien supposed he let it be that way on purpose. The younger one, about Damien’s age, was like a tinier duplicate of the first boy, but his hair was styled in a mohawk. Yes, Damien knew the Kellner boys were sort of rebels as well. He remembered now, the stories Mother often told him about them, for Mother was a good friend of Mrs. Kellner. The older one must be Sebastian Kellner, who had been nearly expelled for constantly pulling the fire alarm, meaning the smaller had to be his brother Joaquin, who was mostly a troublemaker because he followed his older brother in whatever mischief he committed himself to.
“Hey, you’re that Alborn kid, huh?” Bastion asked him. Damien knew this was what everyone called Sebastian, even his mother. Bastion was about eleven years old, one of those boys that seemed to want to always prove himself. He crossed his arms and scrutinized Damien.
“Yeah. And you’re Bastion and Joaquin Kellner, right?” Damien asked, unfazed. Both boys nodded, the smaller one grinning broadly.
“So you've heard of us then.” the grinning kid, Joaquin, giggled.
“Yeah. We’re neighbors.” Damien replied calmly. Well now, they didn't seem to be as unstable and wild as the old lady across the street made them out to be. They seemed friendly, in fact. The sort of other boys Damien needed as friends. His mother had been urging him to make friends for a long time now. Before everything that happened, Damien had only needed Ted and Callan to interact with.
“What are you doing out of school so early?” Bastion asked Damien, rubbing the back of his head and messing his hair up even more. Damien glanced down at his shoes, which were rather plain, before looking up slightly to reply.
“Uhh...I got suspended, sort of.” Damien mumbled sheepishly. The two boys shared a significant glance before holding out their hands for a high-five, eyes wide and mouths in a grin.
“Right on!” Bastion cried enthusiastically. “How’d you do it?”
“This.” Damien said, showing them his pierced left ear. Both boys gaped at his ear before looks of admiration and amusement crossed their faces.
“Sure freaked old Crawley out, didn't you?” Joaquin giggled again. Damien smiled and nodded, recalling how Crawley had yelled at him before sending him up to their lethargic-seeming principal for his suspension. Just then, Bastion straightened up.
“Well, what’s your reason to rebel?” the older boy asked in a curious sort of way that made Damien look at him more carefully.
“Because I don’t want to be a little kid anymore.” Damien retorted passionately, trying to straighten up and look a lot braver than he really was. “I mean, it’s not fair. I don’t have either of my brothers anymore, and all my mum wants to do is go after her boyfriend.”
“Yuck!” Joaquin said with disgust, making retching noises and pulling a face. “That’s all women ever think about! Bet she don’t talk about your brothers loads anymore, huh?”
“Nope.” Damien affirmed, almost saddened at the thought of it. “I mean, I think it’s because she’s too sad to think about them, but it’s not right. I think listening on the radio to see how my brothers are doing is far more important than stupid old Bernard.”
Now Damien was feeling a bit guilty for saying all of this stuff. Yes, his mother did give a lot of attention to Bernard, but Damien could only blame himself for not getting a lot of attention from her. He chose not to hang out with her and Bernard, he just...it wasn't the same anymore without his brothers. He didn't have the courage to try to pull her attention on him for a moment. He was the one secluding himself, after all. His mother did care, she did try to get him to join clubs at school again, or make friends.
What Damien needed was someone to talk to at a time like this. Callan and Ted...Damien missed them very much, but he couldn't even tell his mother that. He didn't want her to cry about them anymore, so he kept it all to himself most of the time. Keeping all of his feelings about his brothers hurt sometimes and it made him cry when he was alone. But ever since he had heard Ted’s name on the radio, he spent hours in his room listening to it. That little radio that used to belong to Callan was his friend, his way of knowing how his brothers were. It was his only link to them now, he assumed that whatever mission they had been on was too important, so they couldn't write to him just yet. But Damien still looked in the mailbox every morning, hopeful to get a letter. He explained his feelings to the Kellners, and was surprised when he heard their response.
“Yeah, same situation with our older brother, Zane. Ma won’t talk a lot about him anymore, just sort of ignores the fact that he exists. So that’s why Joaquin and I are going to wait.” Bastion said, shifting nervously. Damien eyed the street around them to make sure no one heard before leaning in.
“Wait?” Damien asked in a low voice, puzzled. “For what?” His heart leapt, he just had a feeling they were going to propose something life-changing to him.
“Well, the Nebelheim military is looking for drummer boys now.” Joaquin explained, drumming in the air. “And Bastion and I think we can do that job just fine! After all, Zane was a drummer in a band once, and he showed us how to do it.”
Damien’s heart inexplicably soared at the news. He could play the drums! He had been a drummer in the school band, a month before Ted and Callan left, and he was very good. He had to quit for the time being for homework, but he knew he could still play alright, and he didn't think a whole lot of other kids in this area would know how to play.
“We should all sign up!” Bastion cried when Damien explained this to him. “See, then that gets rid of the problem our moms and the school has with us being rebellious.”
“Can’t be rebellious if we ain't here.” Joaquin concluded sagely.
Damien headed home in a very excited mood, completely forgetting that he had been suspended until he entered the house and saw his mum looking at him, apparently waiting for him. His heart took a slight dip, but not enough to put a dent in his new mood.
“Hehe, um...hi Mum!” he squeaked in a small voice. Damien rubbed the back of his head and grinned sheepishly in such a way that his mother’s face looked very sad.
“You just...looked a lot like your brother when you did that.” Damien's mother said, sighing. Damien guessed she must have been talking about Ted. Callan had never been in trouble, only Ted could have had such a reaction to being caught.
“Oh...” Damien replied meekly. He wasn't aware he was even capable of resembling either of his brothers, who were his heroes. Just the thought of it secretly pleased him a little. He liked any comparison that could be made between his older brothers and himself. Ever since he was old enough to interact with them, and even a bit before then, he had admired them.
“I’m never sure who you’re more like.” his mother mused, the sad look still present on her face. “You were so much like Callan when they were both here, but you've been acting like Ted lately.”
“...I see.” Damien said. He was secretly pleased for another reason, for it seemed that his mother had forgotten the suspension. He was not so lucky.
“Why were you suspended?” Mother asked, the sternness coming back into her voice.. Damien stiffened visibly.
“Er...this.” he said, showing her his pierced ear. She bestowed on him a look that clearly said “no-more-monkey-business-out-of-you-young-man”, and he hugged her tightly. Even Bernard couldn't get in the way of how much he loved his mother, but he noticed something that made him recoil for a moment.
"M-mum." he squeaked, a flush coming over his cheeks. "Y-your stomach! I-it just-"
"I know, Damien." she said, smiling. "What do you think, sweetie?"
“Yes Damien, but let's not get off subject. I know you’re not a bad kid, but if you keep acting like this, people are going to treat you like you're a hooligan or feral dog.” Mother said with a faint smile. “Now go get the mail, alright?”
“Alright, Mum.” Damien replied, nodding. As he was heading to the mailbox, he got a very strange feeling inside him, like something special was going to happen today. He wasn't sure where it came from or why he felt this way, but he just did. He peered in the mailbox, pulling out a pile of envelopes and beginning to go through them as soon as he walked back inside. Bills, bills, letter from the school (Damien strongly considered throwing this one away) and...there it was. The thing Damien had been waiting for, a thick envelope that was dark in color, with the Nebelheim National Military’s seal on it. And what’s more...it was addressed to him. To Damien Alborn.
Heart thumping madly in his chest, Damien slowly edged the envelope open, wondering what it contained. Hopefully, it was something good...no, it had to be. If there was bad news, Damien hardly thought they would address the letter to him. His hands shook as he pulled a letter out, dropping everything else on the floor.
“Dear Damien,” he read to himself. “Hope you and Mum are well. Sorry we've missed your birthday, can’t believe you’re actually nine years old now! I bet you’re taller than Ted was when he was nine. He was a perfect little ant at that age.
Speaking of Ted, we’re well...sort of. We were on a mission lately where one of our friends died, and Ted, typical Ted, went off and did something stupid and got himself shot in the leg. No worries though, he’s already been to surgery and had the bullet removed and they've been letting him walk again. Promise me you won’t ever do things on instinct like he does, or you’ll be giving me grey hair too. I’m sorry we haven’t sent a letter sooner, but we've been in a few battles already. Anyhow, there’s a picture for you in the envelope as well, so don’t throw that away yet. We've been moving around a lot, and who knows where we’ll be next? I’ll try to get Ted to write to you next time, though I’ll have to borrow someone’s walking stick and hit him over the head with it to get him to stop being so lazy. Say hello to everyone back home from us.”
Damien looked at the bottom, where a signature he knew so well was...Callan’s. He smiled broadly then, and reached for the envelope. He wondered what sort of picture of them he’d gotten. Would they look any different?
As he looked down at it, he could answer his question with a definite yes. In the picture were a bunch of young men wearing the Nebelheim uniforms together. He recognized his brothers in the middle. Sitting in the back of one of those black open-back trucks the military used was Ted, holding a gun with one hand and with his other arm around Callan, who stood beside him. Callan had written the names of the other men using the white edges of the picture. There was a taller boy on Ted’s other side, with thick dark hair and a daring and reckless sort of smile named “Kain”, and he recognized Ted and Callan’s blond-haired friend who also came from Laurentime, John Davies. Then he noticed a young boy standing on the edge of the picture named “Hilbert” and a tall, dark-haired young man that looked older than Ted and Callan, named “Ace”. The last man in the picture had his arms crossed and looked kind of cocky, his name was “Malcolm”.
Damien’s eyes were fixed on Ted and Callan. Gee, they sure looked older than they had when they’d been here, at home. Ted’s smile wasn't the way it used to be...kind of serious in comparison. Callan looked more serious as well. And both of them hadn't even bothered to wash their faces...in fact, none of the people in the picture had. And yet, there was also something so strange about seeing Ted holding a gun. It just wasn't something Damien had ever imagined him doing.
Damien quickly fled to his room, where he knew he had a picture of him from school, albeit with spiky hair. That would likely surprise his brothers, but Damien thought it would also be pretty comical imagining their reactions. He wrote a letter back, copying the address it was sent from onto an envelope before sliding his own letter and picture inside. He dashed outside, and stowed his letter in the mailbox and was surprised to find Joaquin there, looking startled. Joaquin broke into a huge grin.
“What is it?” Damien asked.
“They’re back, Damien! They’re recruiting!” Joaquin cried, excited. Damien’s jaw dropped open.
“When?” he asked, feeling his heart rising in his chest so much that he was surprised he hadn't begun floating.
“Tonight, at seven.” Joaquin whispered after peering around. “Bastion and I are sneaking out. Meet us over there, at the old cathedral.”
Damien had a hard time getting the events that had taken place out of his mind. He didn’t even mind when Mother asked him to help make dinner, nor did he care when Bernard sat at the table with them for dinner. He was focusing on shoveling some baked potato into his mouth when Bernard looked up from his plate.
“Suspended?” Bernard asked, trying to use a stern voice. Damien continued to munch on his baked potato, unnerved. He wasn't going to take the lecture.
“Yup!” Damien chirped back, perhaps in too overjoyed a way, for Bernard and his mother exchanged looks of shock. Meanwhile, he dug his fork back into the potato and continued to eat as though he had not a care in the world.
“You’re pleased about that?” Bernard sniffed, still trying to take the disciplinary route. Damien couldn't contain his grin, knowing how Ted would have reacted at this dinner. Ted would have probably made a big deal of it, high-fiving him and telling Damien how much of a rebel he was. And Callan might have even smiled at Bernard’s reaction. Damien laughed then, recalling his brothers. Ted used to get on Bernard's nerves when he was younger by exemplifying poor table manners, pulling faces across the dinner table at his brothers as they tried to stifle back giggles while Bernard looked on in disdain.
“What’s so funny about being suspended, young man?” Damien’s mother asked sharply as Damien dug into his steak next, grinning broadly. But it didn't matter to Damien. He was picturing that the two empty seats on either side of him were full, that his brothers were there, laughing. That made him smile even more broadly, and even laugh a bit. He might be seeing them again soon.
“Well the best part is the look on Bernard’s face.” Damien replied cheekily, earning disapproving glances. But the young boy didn't care, he was blissfully uncaring about the talk going on at dinner right now. As he was sent away early for his cheek, he was grinning as he washed the plate and silverware off before dashing into his room.
The one advantage to having Bernard over was that Mother wouldn't come looking in his room to check on him, meaning it would be a simple matter for Damien to sneak out. He waited until ten minutes before seven, his backpack slung over his shoulder. He opened the door to his room just a crack and peered out. The living room and kitchen were, as far as he could tell, empty. This meant the coast was clear, so Damien crept out of his room, quietly shutting it behind him
He was unaware how much this nighttime foray was like Callan’s own trip to enlist for Nebelheim. He found the Kellners across the street from the cathedral and noticed how there was a dearth of other boys. Including himself and the Kellner brothers, there were only eight of them heading to the cathedral. Damien pulled his red jacket on more securely and he crossed the road with the Kellners. Nebelheim soldiers patrolled the outer perimeter, making sure the boys got in safely.
Inside, there was a very stern-looking man who handed them each a set of drums issued for drummer boys and had them drum out the Nebelheim Anthem. It was an easy test for Damien, so easy. He had heard the anthem played every night, waiting to hear news from the battles, and had heard it on the night his brother had been promoted. He had a natural skill with drums. Ted had pointed out that ever since he was a toddler, he had drummed on tables and books like he was born to play.
Hang on Ted and Callan, Damien thought. I’m coming.
The man pulled Damien, the Kellners, and one other boy aside at the end and informed them that they had performed well enough to become drummer boys. He handed them uniforms then, not as elaborate as soldier uniforms, but in the same colors and style. There was a great moment of excitement among the four boys, and they all cheered together. The man who had pulled them aside, perhaps remembering himself what it was like to be a child, smiled. But these children wouldn't be children for very long...
Damien crept back in the house, and was surprised to find his mother in the living room, with the light on. He tried slipping to his room unnoticed, but it became apparent that she had been waiting for him.
“Damien.” she said, and Damien turned, knowing he couldn't ignore her. He walked into the living room, feeling like there was something trapped in his throat. Her eyes told him everything...she knew already. She had known the moment he snuck out, and Damien had confirmed it by showing himself, holding a Nebelheim uniform in his hands. He felt bad for enlisting now, for taking away his mother’s last living trace of her first husband that she had left.
“You’re leaving too, aren't you?” she asked him. Damien nodded then, walking over to his mother and hugging her very tightly. His hug was returned back with just as much emotion, and for the first time in a long time, Damien cried.
“I’m going to find them, Mum.” Damien said, trying to keep his composure. “I’m going to find Ted and Callan and bring them back home, so we can all be together again.” And he meant it. Damien wanted nothing more than to have his brothers back, and he was excited at the prospect of possibly seeing them again.
Damien then detached himself from his mother and ran to his room, shoving what few belongings he needed into his bag, unable to hold back his tears. He had to leave now, or he might have second thoughts and his mind would try to reason with him to stay with his mother. He couldn't let that happen, no matter what. He stowed Callan’s letter in the bag, then headed to his closet, opening the box that he had uncovered in the very back of the closet. He pulled three things from it. One of them was a locket with a picture of his father, mother, the twins, and himself as an infant, inside of it. The second item was a picture of his father in his uniform. The third was one of his father’s medals. He slipped the medal around his neck, tucking it under his shirt. It was cold against his chest, but he felt more courageous. As he left the house, Damien cast a final glance at his mother. “Mum, I love you. I’m sorry.” Damien cried, sobbing openly. “…I’m so sorry, I love you.”
Bastion and Joaquin were waiting for him. Bastion was wearing a fleece-lined coat of dark blue. His jeans were worn, a knee torn open on the right side, and he already wore his Nebelheim boots. Joaquin was wearing a leather jacket that was very big on him, and his jeans were baggy too. He also wore his Nebelheim boots. Damien had his boots in his pack…he had not thought to take off his high-tops and put them on when he was at home. “Ready?” Bastion asked him. Damien looked up.
As they found out from the fourth boy chosen, Lysander Smith, the passenger trains would not be running until five o’clock the next morning. Bastion had a few tricks up his sleeve, however. The freight trains, he explained, ran through the night. He helped them sneak up to the platform where the trains loaded, and they crouched, waiting for their train. The freight train pulled up, and once men inspected the first cars and headed further down the train, Bastion led them onto the railing and helped them slide into the boxcar. Lysander was reluctant; he had joined them after Bastion insisted they travel together.
Once inside, they slid away from the opening, their backs against the wall of the boxcar. The train jolted then, and Joaquin fell over, but Damien forced himself up against the wall still as the train chugged along now, picking up speed. The moonlight suddenly vanished and they were cloaked in darkness. They were going through a tunnel. Damien still had his back against the wall, and so he used it and slid down into a sitting position against it. Someone bumped into him then, then someone shouted and there was a moment of panic, full of shuffling and screaming.
“Stay still!” Bastion shouted over all the noise. “We can’t see where the opening is, and I don’t want anyone getting off early.” Damien listened carefully. The shuffling had stopped and it was deadly quiet. Damien pressed his arm against the wall and began to crawl along it in the direction opposite the way he had come in, to his left. He was jarred for a moment as he crawled headfirst into something, but he then realized it was only the back of the boxcar. He pulled his body into the corner then.
“Joaquin, you still here?” Bastion asked from the darkness on what sounded like the other side of the boxcar.
“Yeah.” Joaquin replied, sounding a little scared but otherwise fine.
“Right in the corner.” Damien replied, thankful that no one had accidentally crawled out of the boxcar while the train was going this fast. Moonlight suddenly streamed into the boxcar from an opening, and Damien could see Bastion against the other wall, looking back at him. Joaquin lay on the floor, having thrown himself down as soon as his brother gave the command to be still, while Lysander crouched only just across from the boxcar door.
“How do we know where to get out?” Lysander asked then. Lysander was half black and had hazel eyes and a kind-looking face. From what he wore, Damien gauged that he had been working in an ironworks, perhaps the same one Ted had worked in so long ago. He mastered the impulse to ask.
“Wherever the first stop is, we get out.” Bastion said. “They check the boxcars at every train station, so we’ll need to jump out real quick when we stop. We shouldn’t be that far from a camp, since this train is southbound…where the action is.”
For the time being, Damien rested his head against the wall of the boxcar. It was no bed, nothing like his bed at home with the numerous pillows and blankets to keep him warm, his teddy bear, or the pictures he had drawn or made with Ted and Callan on days when they had nothing else to do. But thinking of being with his older brothers again was more comforting than a blanket or a teddy or his moon nightlight, and he soon dozed off.
When Damien awoke, he was being shaken by Bastion. Rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, Damien Alborn stood and saw the other two ready to leap out, as the train had slowed considerably since the time Damien had fallen asleep. Damien shouldered his small pack once more and buckled it securely about the torso, and the others noticed him buckling his bag and decided to do the same.
“Ready?” Bastion asked. They all nodded, tense, waiting near that opening, which Bastion had pushed open even more. Moonlight beamed down on the four boys from above, and Bastion scrutinized them all, as though wondering if they had the nerve to jump off of a train. Damien was ready, in fact, he would jump off a bridge if he was reassured that doing so would lead him to Ted and Callan.
“Damien and Joaquin, you two jump out first. Sander and I will be right behind you.” Bastion said in a clipped tone, clearly nervous, perhaps believing they would take fright and need to be forced off the train. There was no such worry with Damien. As soon as he heard Bastion give the command, Damien leaped out of the boxcar, and a few seconds later he heard Joaquin tentatively join him. There were mens’ shouts at once, and Damien saw that he was at a more rural train station than he had imagined, but he ran, leaping over a small wooden fence, Joaquin hot on his tail.
There was a gunshot suddenly, and though Damien had never seen someone shoot a gun, he recognized the sound from Nebelheim soldiers firing blanks. Damien’s legs kicked into overdrive as the small boy rocketed through tall grass, heading towards a light in the distance. All at once, he fell, slipping into a ditch that had been covered by the grass and he lay in it for a moment. The air had been knocked right out of the small boy, and he lay there, trying to catch his breath. Just as he was trying to catch his breath, something landed on top of him and he gasped for air for another whole minute before pushing himself up on his palms, squinting through the darkness. It was Joaquin, struggling to steady himself. Damien helped him out of the ditch, and as they continued to sprint through the grass, Damien looked up and swore he saw a shooting star and he wondered if his brothers were seeing the same star right now, and the last thing Damien thought was a hope.
He hoped that it would take less than a shooting star to reunite them.