Silco is familiar with nightmares. He's familiar with the feeling of being stuck in your own body as your mind concocts all sorts of horrific memories and images to torment you.
Silco can recall many nights when he was younger, waking up sweaty and terrified—terrified to go back to sleep—terrified to make any noise, lest he wakes up his mother.
And through the years, Silco began to do things to prevent the nightmares. He would tie a rock above his hand and keep the rock suspended by holding a string tightly in his hand. If Silco ever drifted off, the stone would fall and crush his wrist, instantly waking him up.
His parents told him it wasn't an ideal solution. In The Lanes, wounds and injuries are a guarantee for death. If you can't run, you can't survive. If you can't climb, you can't survive. And Silco, ever the innovator, improved upon his method.
He rigged a system of pulleys in his room that would be set to go off every fifteen minutes. This worked for years in keeping the horrors at bay.
And as Silco drifted further and further from his childhood, he learned how to control his dreams. He taught himself how to wake himself and how to deal with the aftermath of the things he saw. Nobody would respect a man that woke up sniffling like a child, still trembling with fear from whatever images plagued him.
Silco stopped feeling so terrified when he met Vander. The man was strong and had hands that held Silco tight whenever he woke up, short of breath and trembling.
Silco was ashamed when Vander first found out. He was angry and demanded that Vander leave him alone, embarrassed for Vander to see him in such a vulnerable state.
But Vander didn't leave. He sat at the end of Silco's bed and waited until Silco's tears ran dry. And when the silence between them rang in Silco's ears, Vander spoke.
"Bad dream?" He had asked, smiling a little. Silco had scowled and brought his knees closer to his chest.
"No, I'm not a child."
Vander had shrugged and turned his head to the window. Bright neon lights were glowing outside, and the sounds of faint clattering from the allies around the building. Things were never completely quiet in The Lanes.
"You don't have to be a child to have a bad dream. I mean, I get nightmares sometimes—ugly ones. Sometimes, I feel like I'll never get out of them. And I'll be too afraid to go back to sleep."
It's hard for Silco to imagine. Intimidating, strong Vander, trembling because of a nightmare. No. Vander is probably lying. He's probably lying to make Silco feel better.
"Do you know what I do to help me through it?"
Silco keeps his eyes on his bed. He's too afraid of what he might see if he meets Vander's eyes. He shakes his head.
"I'll get help. I'll find someone to hang out with me. It doesn't always work, but at least someone is there when I wake up."
Silco scowls. "I do fine on my own. I don't need help."
And suddenly, Vander is much closer than before. His enormous hand is on Silco's knee. "We all need help sometimes, Silco. There's no shame in that. Do you know how common nightmares are down here? I mean, how could they not be? It doesn't make you weaker, Silco. Remember that."
Silco's stomach had turned over when Vander took his hand off his knee. But, he was too afraid to call out to the man. Too scared of being set up for failure.
So, things went on for weeks. Silco still dreamed, and each one was an ugly and horrific thing that left him shaken.
Vander didn't say anything else for a while. He would smile at Silco and offer him extra food. He would have Silco stick close to him on supply runs, and the two of them would stay up late into the night, drinking and talking and laughing.
One night, Silco woke up screaming bloody murder. His bones felt like they were trying to wriggle their way out of his skin, and he could hear his blood pounding in his head. His blankets were all twisted around his legs, and his body was coated in a thin layer of cold sweat.
Silco sat up, panting and sniffling. Tears ran fast down his cheeks, and he hazily looked around the room, trying to decide whether it was all real or not. The door burst open, and Silco let out a pathetic sob, clutching the soaked fabric of his shirt and waiting for some terrible monster to scarf down his flesh and entrails like a stew.
But, it was Vander. Strong, intelligent, protective Vander. The man was holding a spiked bat, and his hair was all mussed, sticking up in all different directions. Vander's eyes scanned the room, falling on Silco's trembling body, shining with sweat and stinking of tears and fear.
"Oh, Silco," Vander dropped the bat and hurried over to Silco, who seemed dazed and confused.
"It's alright," Vander soothed. "Everything's fine. Breathe, Silco. Everything's okay."
Silco felt like his skeleton was shaking inside of him. He could feel his fingernails against his skin, and his shirt was suddenly suffocating. The tears rolling down his cheeks fell heavy into his hands, and he sobbed loudly.
Vander's arms swept him up and pulled him close. Silco could hear Vander's heartbeat and smell the familiar scent of cheap booze and smoke that always stuck with Vander wherever he went.
Vander's hand moved up and down Silco's back, just letting him cry as Silco's breaths got deeper and evened out. After a while, Silco was breathing normally again.
And Vander didn't say anything else as he helped Silco out of bed and brought him a cool washcloth to get some of the sweat off. Vander gave Silco a fresh shirt and put him back to bed, climbing in beside him.
"I'll be here when you wake up," was all Vander said as Silco felt himself slip away.
And for years after, Vander was the main thing keeping Silco's horrors at bay. He was the one always there whenever Silco was about to come undone.
But somewhere along the way, Vander became another monster in Silco's dreams. The main monster. The only monster.
Acidic river water burning his lungs and strong hands that had once brought him so much love and comfort now squeezed his throat so tight that Silco thought his eyes would pop out of his skull. Vander slammed him down so deep that Silco felt his head hit a piece of metal that had been left in the river.
His fingers scraped ruthlessly down Vander's wrists and kicked viciously, desperate for just a breath of fresh air. Bubbles left his mouth in muted attempts at a cry for help. Tears might have been falling down his cheeks, but everything was wet, and everything familiar was gone for good.
His fingers managed to get ahold of Vander's knife and slashed at his arm.
And down Silco went. The only man that had always protected him now left Silco to drown. The world was going dark, and nightmares were licking at Silco's heels. Silco could hear all those voices. The startlingly loud ones are screaming in his ears, and the eery voices off in the distance, always calling to him.
And for the first time in his life, Silco accepted the nightmares. He invited the demons in as his lungs swam in pollution and choked gasps, begging Vander to stop.
Silco's mind went delightfully blank, and his body stayed suspended deep underwater. No sound met Silco's ears. The world carried on above him, and underwater, Silco became reborn.
When he emerged from the river, Silco was a different man. A stronger man that would lead The Lanes into something extraordinary. Something Vander would never have been able to do.
He confirms this when Vander is brought to him. A mighty man, now beaten and bruised at his feet.
Silco's mouth feels dry for a moment, and he remembers the taste of betrayal and the burning sensation of water in his nose and a hand so big that his head could've been popped off his shoulders.
Silco feels that sensation again as he drives a knife through Vander.
He feels fear, that same fear that had paralyzed him while he was shoved underwater, too deep ever to resurface. Vander's hand is once again around his throat, squeezing tight, prepared to kill.
But Silco stabs him again. He can feel Vander's blood around his fingers and water in his hair. Vander doesn't let go. He brings his face closer, scowling deeply, face smudged with dirt and chemicals. Everything about him oozes hatred toward's Silco.
But Vander's hand drops, and his head falls against Silco's shoulder. It might've been a hug. It could've been. But, Silco has things to do, and he pushes Vander over the bridge.
And with that, Silco thinks that Vander is finally gone. A sort of calm washes over him. A peacefulness akin to what he felt whenever Vander stayed the night, the two of them laughing and talking until the sky exploded brilliant shades of pink and orange, ushering in a brand new day.
But Vander is a stubborn son of a bitch, and Silco is reminded of that when Vander injects himself with Shimmer and comes back swinging, body destroyed by what the chemical has done to him.
And Vander is ruthless, enhanced by what Shimmer does, and motivated to kill Silco and save the people he loves. However, he can't do both. Because Violet will die if Vander doesn't get her out of the burning building, Vander can see that. Silco watches, paralyzed as Vander's rage is turned on him for only a moment before he turns, grabs Violet, and jumps out the side of the building.
Silco finds his body in the rain, deformed and bleeding. A small girl is sobbing by his body. Her head is pressed to the concrete, and she holds herself as her body trembles. Silco stands over her, gripping his knife tightly, still dripping with Vander's blood.
He could kill her. He thinks about it. But she's sobbing so loudly, and he can see salvia dripping out of her mouth and mixing with tears on the ground.
"Hello, little girl," he kneels in front of her, mindful of Vander's body. The bastard has a habit of coming back from undeniable death. "Where is your sister?"
And the little girl looks up. Her face is wet with rain and tears. There is blood running from her nose. Her blue hair sticks to her face, and her clothing clings to her body.
She charges at Silco, and for a split second, he thinks she'll try to kill him. But she doesn't. She clings tightly to his waist, sobbing hard into his jacket.
"She left me," the child sounds angry now. Hatred runs red through her voice as her grip becomes crushing. "She is not my sister."
And Silco's eyes drift to the body behind them. To Vandar's dead body, mangled and stinking of smoke and rotten body parts. It's so different from how Silco knew him. Then again, they've both changed so much.
Silco's hands move slowly as he hugs her back. She's crying again. Silco can hear her teeth chattering.
"It's okay," he wraps his arms around her shoulders and pulls her closer. "We'll show them. We will show them all."
He can feel her nod against him, and her fury burns bright in her eyes.
The little girl, Jinx, is far more than Silco had assumed.
At first glance, the little girl seems innocent, delicate. But as the weeks turn into months, Silco realizes just how valuable she is.
She's smart, smarter than most of the meatheads Silco has to deal with. And she knows how to be ruthless. She knows how to kill.
However, Jinx has her demons. Voices in her head that she talks to. Sometimes, they influence her. Sometimes they help her figure out a problem. And sometimes, they enrage her.
When that happens, Jinx is inoperable. She'll tear her room apart, blowing things up and setting bombs off just to drown them out. Silco began to think he had made a mistake.
She's valuable, but she is also unstable.
It's late at night. Much too late for Silco to still be awake. Jinx bid him goodnight a few hours ago, leaving a brightly painted mug on his desk. She does things like that quite often. She'll leave him little things with silly faces painted brightly on them.
He's rubbing his eyes, contemplating whether or not he should turn in or just stick it out until the sun comes up when a shrill scream makes its way to his ears.
It can't be a grown-up. It's much too high. No doubt about it that is a child. A child that is crying for help.
Silco can remember waking up to inky blackness, too scared to make a sound, too frightened to go back to sleep. He's almost glad that Jinx is crying out.
His body is stiff as he moves, but he makes it to her room in the end.
Jinx is shaking with her face pressed against her pillow. Her hands grab at her sheets, eyes tightly shut. Her legs kick out behind her, and her blankets are twisted around her waist, restricting her movement.
As quick as he can, Silco pulls her blankets off and turns her over. Jinx gasps loudly, breathing in greedy gulps of air.
Her cheeks are stained with tears, and her eyes are red. They shoot open, and her hands grab Silco's arms as tightly as her sleep-weak hands can manage.
"Silco," Jinx's voice is raspy, and it shakes so bad that Silco almost doesn't hear it. "I-"
Silco doesn't need her to explain. He should've known how bad her nightmares would be. He should've assumed. Just how long did she have to struggle with these before her brain finally couldn't take it and scream for help?
Silco doesn't want to think about that. Right now, he just needs to comfort her.
"It's alright," he soothes as he picks her up and grabs a fresh pair of pajamas from her drawers. "It was just a dream. Shhh, don't cry, Jinx. It's alright now."
Jinx clings to him so hard that he doesn't even have to hold her as he makes his way back to his room. He knows that his shirt is probably wet from her tears and salvia. He doesn't mind, not really.
Silco has to literally pull Jinx off of him in order to get her onto his bed. Her face is dirty with snot and tears. She's clinging tightly to a ratty stuffed bunny, burying her face in its head.
Silco gently wipes her face clean with a cool cloth and begins to tuck her in when she grabs his hand.
"Can we stay awake for a little bit longer?" She's looking up at him with such adoration on her face. Her hands are so small in his. Truly, just a child. A child that can kill twelve people with two monkey grenades but a child nonetheless.
"Of course," he smiles. "What would you like to do?"
Jinx clings to his hand for a little while longer, and her eyes turn to the ceiling. "I have stars in my room. They soak up the sun during the day and then glow at night." She turns to him, a devious smile on her face. "We should put them in here."
Silco smiles. He's doing that a lot more with her around. "If that's what you would like to do, we'll do it."
Jinx's face lights up, and she leaps at him for a hug. Her hugs are always so crushing despite her age. But Silco never has the heart to complain. How can he? She's always so much more sure of herself whenever she hugs him.
"I'll be right back!"
The two of them stay up late, sticking the stars to Silco's ceiling. Silco tries to teach Jinx about constellations, but she gets bored and throws a pillow at him to shut him up.
When he throws one back, she squeals and takes cover beneath the bed, hurling smaller things she can get her hands on.
Silco lets himself be lost in the timeline of whatever story she's concocted in her head. She names herself the admiral of a feared gang of space pirates and demands that Silco cowers before her.
The two of them spend hours chasing after each other until Jinx sets herself up in a pillow fort and ends up falling asleep with her 'gun' tucked underneath her head.
Silco can feel the smile that spreads across his face as he tucks her into his bed and takes out her braids.
Her hair has gotten so much longer, and it fans out around her like ocean waves. Silco ponders going back to his office, getting more work done.
But he's tired. Playing with Jinx took a lot more out of him than he thought it would. But it isn't the usual tired that he feels. Instead of his back aching and his hands cramping, his heart is slowing down, and his eye is drooping.
His bed is much more inviting, and he can't help himself as he collapses beside Jinx.
She yawns and stretches closer to him, drooling on her pillow as she snores softly.
Silco stares up at the ceiling and traces the patterns of stars. It's clear to him which ones were placed by him and which ones were placed by Jinx. Her's are in nonsense places, and she must've had a crayon tucked somewhere because little drawings are etched into the wood.
Silco lets out a heavy breath and puts his arm around Jinx.
He's going to protect her. They're going to protect each other. And together, they will succeed.
Silco's eyes go wide, and he stares at his chest, more specifically, at the bullet holes in his chest.
Jinx instantly drops the gun and collapses in front of him. With shaking hands, she cups his cheeks, apologizing and crying.
Silco's world is going dark as he looks up at her. Still a child. A little girl screaming from nightmares and laughing excitedly when Sevika brought expensive candy she stole.
"I never would've given you to them," his words feel heavy on his tongue. It's so clearly a goodbye. "Not for anything."
Jinx's hands grip his, and she sobs into his lap. Her teeth are chattering loudly, and apologies spill from her lips like vomit.
Silco wants to hold her. He wants to hold her the way he would when she was younger. He wants to play games with her and chase after her late at night.
"Don't cry. You're perfect."
But everything is so quiet in his head, and his arms are too weak to move.
Maybe this is his own nightmare. Perhaps he'll wake up, and he and Jinx will both be fine.
But, Silco doesn't remember going to sleep.