It should be noted before beginning that this story takes place after Operation Z.E.R.O.

The doors to the living room opened with a creak, The Delightful Children's heads hung low as they once again approached Father as he sat up right in his chair, facing the glowing fireplace.

They stopped five feet away from the chair, waiting for him to speak the first word.

"So, how long did you last this time?" he asked indifferently.

"We're sorry Father," they responded, ashamed.

Father rotated his chair and looked at the state of his children.

It was the usual scrapes and bruises coupled with disheveled hair. Though there was the rare sight of their clothing being ripped. Varying length of his boys' ties were ripped off, the hem of his girls torn, and at least half of their sleeves where missing. At least they had more of the same clothing in their closets.

The Delightful Children waited for their Father's wrath at yet another one of their failures.

They waited.

And waited.

And waited.

It must've been five minutes before Father let out a soft miserable laugh.

They couldn't stop their mouths from hanging open slightly or exchanging glances with Father as he continued laughing.

"Would you look at me, huh?" He swiveled his chair back towards the fire place. "No flames, not even a flicker."

He stood and approached the fire place. Licks of flames danced in his vision.

"How many times? A thousand? A million? Eleventy-billion? Somewhere in that range is the number of times you've walked through those doors defeated. The number of times I've gone to bed having been humiliated. The number of times everyone on our side has lost to the Kids Next Door.

He walked around his chair and stared down at his children, who stared back in both respect and empathy.

"You all want to become adults, right? And you wanna be prepared for it? Here's something you should know: when others you trust or you yourself fail, you're gonna be furious the first time, and the second, third, fourth, fifth and so on. But each time your anger, your disappointment, your desire to do it right next time dies a little more. And it'll go on and on until it's gone and you feel nothing. Until all you want to do is quit.

Their eyes widened as soon as his last word entered their ears.

"But Father!" they exclaimed. "You can't quit! You're the best there is!"

"And it still isn't enough," he responded as he stretched his hand out toward the fire and made it vanish, leaving only the moon and the stars outside the window to illuminate the room.

"Father," they began as he walked past them.

He opened the doors to the hallway and gestured to the right.

"You all head to your rooms, clean up, and head to bed. We'll talk about this more in the morning."

Their heads hung low once more, this time to hide their watery eyes.

"Yes Father."

They exited the room as slowly as they had walked in.

Father watched them go down the hall, separate off and enter their rooms. Then he closed the doors, returned to his chair, and stared at the lightless fireplace.