Disclaimer: Daria and associated characters are owned by MTV. This is fan fiction written for entertainment only. No money or other negotiable currency or goods have been exchanged.
This is the thirty-fifth John Lane story
Daria allowed herself a faint chuckle as she watched her father and John standing on ladders beneath a new ceiling lamp in the dining room. Jake was trying to read the instructions while John was twisting a cap onto a wire splice.
Jake yelled, "Dammit! What do all these squiggles mean?"
Daria smirked and placed her hand on the light switch. "Maybe a little light will help."
Jake shouted, "No, Daria! Don't!"
"I was joking, Dad."
"Besides," John said, looking around the fixture hanging by the wires. "We flipped the circuit breaker for the kitchen before starting."
"Oh, um, yeah," Jake admitted.
John took another cap from his pocket and started to twist a second pair of wires together. He said, "Daria, we're almost done here."
"I'll go see what excitement is going on in the living room," Daria said, turning and walking away.
A TV announcer very seriously said, "The man who rescued Donna that snowy Christmas Eve was no ordinary roadside mechanic. The authorities have no record of his existence, but someone, or something, fixed the tire on her sport utility vehicle. To this day, Donna believes it was...a guardian angel."
Quinn was seated on the sofa, sniffing and gently blotting away tears with a tissue.
Daria stopped next to the sofa and said, "Too bad the angel didn't throw in a brake job before they went out and Donna lost control, hitting that dynamite factory."
Quinn said, "You wouldn't say that if your life were touched by an angel."
"If my life were touched by an angel, my boots would be explaining that I'm not interested."
"Daria! Don't even joke like that. Angels are everywhere and can hear you."
John said, "There sure wasn't a guardian angel around when Tommy Sherman was beating the crap out of me."
Quinn said, "But Ms. Li showed up pretty fast to stop things."
"Do you really want to think of Ms Li as a guardian angel?"
"Ms. Li?" Shocked, Quinn gulped, picked up the remote and turned the TV off. Daria sat on the sofa to Quinn's right and said, "Since you're not watching TV, do you want to do some more studying for the PSTAT?"
Quinn shook her head. "Daria, you're brutal."
"You're the one who wanted help, remember?"
"You're not on a date and not fulfilling your Fashion Club duties, whatever they are, therefore, now's a good time."
Quinn looked over her shoulder. "And John's busy, so you don't have anything else to do, either."
"So we're both pathetic losers with nothing to do at the moment."
"Okay Daria, you win," Quinn said, getting up and heading toward the stairs. "See you in my room in a couple minutes."
Daria took her time following, faintly saying, "If you do well on the test, you win."
Jake looked up at the new ceiling light glowing and proudly said, "We did it."
Without burning down the house or electrocuting ourselves. John said, "Yep, we did."
"You know, my old man never would've let me help with something like this," Jake started to explain.
Hearing the telltale pitch in Jake's voice, John said "He wanted to spend more time yelling at the wires to fall into parade formation." to quell the approaching rant.
Jake laughed and said, "You bet he did!"
John looked at the refrigerator. "How about some dinner? I'm starved."
Jake nodded and grinned. "Boy, will Helen be happy to have the light fixed and have dinner ready when she gets home!"
"Um, right. That too," John replied, hoping that Jake wouldn't expand on how happy he thought Helen would be.
Seated at her desk, Quinn expectantly waited as Daria checked her sample test. "How am I doing?"
"Hold on a moment," Daria said as she counted missed questions.
John pushed the door further open and said, "Hey, dinner's ready and we now have light to see it."
Daria held up one hand while she finished counting. She wrote down the score and looked up the equivalent in the standard test score. "Good timing, we're about done here."
"What did I get?" Quinn asked.
"Ten-thirty-five; a nice improvement over the nine-fifty-five you got on your first sample test."
"Hey, that's good," Quinn said. "You said that most schools want a thousand, so I'm in."
"Quinn, that's the minimum. If you don't have much of anything else to offer, like...I hate saying this, good extracurriculars, a minimum PSTAT score won't get you in."
"Then why am I studying like this?"
"Because that nine-fifty-five you started with wouldn't even get you considered. We still have time to bring your score up a bit more, if you want to work on it."
Accepting the truth of the statement, Quinn relented. "Okay." She turned to John. "You didn't let Dad cook alone, did you?"
John said, "Do I look suicidal?"
Helen was rubbing her tired eyes when she got home. After tossing her briefcase on the sofa, she turned to the kitchen where her family had already gathered to eat. "I'm going to kill Eric one of these days, I swear it."
"I don't think that's the kind of comment you want witnesses for," Daria said.
Helen was cheered a little by her daughter's humor. "I think I can make the case for justifiable homicide."
"What do you think of the new light?" Jake asked, grinning.
She looked up and noticed it. "Oh, Jakey, it looks wonderful. And you have dinner ready," she said, coming over and giving him a kiss. "Thank you, honey."
"John helped, too," Jake said, grinning from Helen's attention.
John held up his hand. "A simple 'thank you' will be fine."
"Thank you, John." Turning to Daria, she asked, "And what did you accomplish today?"
"Helping Quinn prepare for her PSTAT."
"Oh, sweetie, that's great."
"And think of all the money you're saving on prep courses."
Jake perked up. "Saving money? You're saving us money, Daria?"
Daria shared a fast, mischievous glance with John. "Doing my bit to help out."
Walking out of Lawndale High toward their car, John looked over Daria's shoulder at her report card. "All A's again, congratulations."
Daria half-turned and took John's from his hand. "I see you even have an A in something other than Art and a B- in Math."
"I'm inspired," he said, quickly giving her a kiss on the cheek. "Technically, we're no longer in school, so Li can't complain about me kissing you."
Daria leaned against him and then let out a sigh as she saw Brittany running toward them. The cheery blonde said, "I got a C! I got a C!"
Daria stopped Brittany from waving the report card and read it. "A C average. Very good, Brittany."
Brittany threw her arms around both of them. "I never knew I was so smart!"
John peeled himself away, saying, "You never know what you've got in you, huh?"
"Be careful, Brittany," Daria said, "With great power comes great responsibility."
Kevin came around the corner of a building and spied them. "Hey, Brittany!"
She spun and ran toward him. "Oh Kevvie! I got a C!"
He stared at her chest. "Um, babe, they look the same to me."
She looked down and then stamped her foot. "On my report card!"
"Oh. Um, cool?"
Brittany gave him a tired look and then asked, "What did you get?"
"I got a D+. I think that studying helped."
John whispered to Daria, "Now that would almost make me believe in the supernatural."
"A D+!" Brittany exclaimed, jumping up and down. "We need to celebrate!"
"I'll ask my dad. Daria, John, you have to be there!"
Dread caused by memories of the recent football barbeque made Daria feel queasy. "If we don't have plans for something else."
Holding the phone by two fingers, Quinn entered John's room, finding him staring at a blank canvas on the easel and Daria flat on the bed, her head hanging over the side. "John, it's that brother of yours. You know, Trent."
John flipped the brush he was holding into a cup and took the phone. "Thanks, Quinn."
Making a quick exit, she said, "Don't take too long, I'm expecting a couple of calls."
"It's my brother; he never talks a lot." To the phone, he said, "Hey, Trent. What's up?"
Trent said, "Hey, Johnnie. Busy Saturday?"
John looked quickly at Daria and said, "Do you need something?"
"Need some help with a gig."
A smile spread on John's face. "We're there."
"Cool. See ya Saturday."
"Five, maybe six."
In the background, John could hear Max yell, "Can they stop at Cluster Burger and grab us something to eat?"
Trent said, "Um..."
John didn't let him finish. "I heard, and sure, we'll grab a few burgers for the band. We know how much you need to keep your energy up."
"Okay, we've got a plan."
"See you then."
John turned off the phone and sat next to Daria, leaning over to kiss her neck. "What would you say if I got us out of Brittany's party Saturday?"
"I'd call you hero for the day, though if we're roadies for Mystik Spiral, I hope that this time the gig has indoor plumbing."
Standing outside of Mr. O'Neill's classroom, Daria said, "I'm sorry Brittany, but we can't make it to your party. John's brother is in a band and needs help for Saturday."
John said, "I'm the only family he has in town and besides, he's my brother and we've kind of looked out for each other."
Brittany nodded and seemed honestly disappointed. "It won't be the same without you there, but okay."
In her room studying with her sister, Quinn crossed her arms and said, "Daria! Brittany's party is tonight and I don't want to be unfashionably late."
"I know, Quinn," Daria said, "But this is your last weekend to study before the PSTAT. Give me another half hour and I'll let you off the hook, okay?"
"Half an hour? That leaves me only two hours to get ready!"
"The more study time you eat up complaining, the less time you'll have to get ready for the party."
Quinn frowned and turned away. "You're enjoying this way too much."
"Maybe a little."
Quinn spun her chair around. "A lot."
Daria shrugged. "It makes up for dealing with you complaining about needing two hours to get ready for a party."
"Okay," Quinn demanded. "How long is it going to take you to get ready?"
"None. I'm not going."
"You're not going?"
"John and I are helping his brother with a gig tonight. We see Brittany almost every day; John doesn't get to see Trent as much anymore."
"Oh, that makes sense."
"So, are you ready to get back to studying?"
"No," Quinn said, "But I'll do it anyway."
"Only half an hour, right?"
"Half an hour."
John pulled into the alley beside Axl's Piercing Parlor and drove around to the back, parking next to the Tank. Seeing a total lack of activity, John said, "Either they've already loaded the van or they're still asleep."
After the car stopped, Daria got out and said, "Maybe they're trying to determine the philosophical importance of an E sharp chord."
"Too quiet for that."
"There is the chance they've already discussed it and have knocked themselves senseless."
"It would simplify loading."
Carrying two take-out bags from Cluster Burger in one hand, John loudly knocked on the door with the other. When there was no response, he opened it and said, "Hey, Trent!"
The band was gathered in a circle in the small living room, staring intently at something on the floor between them. Trent looked up and said, "Hey, Johnny."
"What the hell is so fascinating?"
"It's a puppy."
John came in and looked at the small, black dog frolicking at the feet of the band members. As far as he could tell, it looked like a cross between a bull terrier and a cocker spaniel. Daria followed and said, "Trent, you can barely feed yourself, how do you expect to feed a puppy?"
"You don't?" Daria asked.
Jesse said, "It's Axl's."
Max said, "He's going to be a guard dog to protect the place."
"And Axl's buying the food," Nick said.
Trent squatted down and scratched the puppy's head, who in return licked his hand. "He's already given me an idea for a song."
John asked, "Does it have a name?"
Max squatted and said, "Damien. He's going to be a killer guard dog."
The puppy gave a yip and bounced over to Max, licking his face.
"Yeah, a real killer," John said. "Is he going to help us load the Tank?"
"Ah, man," Jesse said. "I knew we forgot something."
Max said, "Forget...hey, John, did you remember dinner?"
John held up the bags and the band quickly gathered, grabbing burgers and starting to eat.
Nick looked at Damien, held out his sandwich and said, "You want some?"
John tossed the empty bags aside and grabbed an amp. "Maybe it'll be easier this way," he said to Daria.
"As long as you remember that I draw the line at physical labor beyond that of lifting a book."
"Then grab the mike stand," John said.
While the band ate, John got most of the equipment loaded, with help from Daria beyond what she'd implied. Jesse and Max finished eating first and helped to complete loading.
Sitting in the open side door, Daria asked, "Where are we going tonight, by the way?"
"It's a house party," Nick said. "Hey, doesn't someone have a map?"
Trent scooped several scraps from his pockets and finally retrieved a rumpled sheet. "Yeah, here it is."
Max waved toward the van. "Then let's go!"
Watching the band climb into the van, Daria said, "They still haven't answered my question."
John shrugged. "So what? We're getting away from it all."
John and Daria really didn't mind being crammed into the back of the van amid the gear since it afforded them some privacy and a chance to be close. Their cuddling was interrupted by Trent saying from the passenger seat, "Ah, man, I always have problems dealing with authority."
"That's why I'm driving, remember?" Max said.
"Besides, it's only the guardhouse."
From outside of the van came a voice familiar to John and Daria that said, "Residence you're visiting, please."
"Um, just a sec," Max said, grabbing the directions off of the dashboard. He read, "Um, Steve Taylor."
Daria closed her eyes and slumped against John. "Dammit."
The guard at the gatehouse said, "Okay, your...business?"
"Hey, we're Mystik Spiral!"
The guard checked his list and then said, "Ah, okay. Entertainment staff. Go ahead, sir."
Max pulled away from the guard house and John said, "You're playing a party at the Taylor's?"
Jesse said, "Yeah, that's the name. You know 'em?"
"Yes, we do. I thought Mystik Spiral didn't do high school parties."
"A gig's a gig," Trent said. "Besides, he's paying us double what McGrundy's does."
Face still buried against John's chest, Daria mumbled, "The universe hates us."
"The band's here!" Brittany said, happily hugging her father. "Oh, thank you, Daddy!"
"Nothing's too good for my little girl," Steve Taylor said.
Trent said, "Um, hey. Where do we set up?"
"In the living room. Follow me," Mr. Taylor said.
The band followed and then Brittany spotted the teen couple. "Daria! John!"
"Hi, Brittany," Daria said.
"I thought you couldn't make it."
"We're helping the band," John said. "Surprise."
"Oh, you two," Brittany said, taking it all in as a joke.
"No, we really are helping the band," Daria said as she picked up a cable coil.
"Wow, you know them?" Brittany said.
"Trent's my brother," John explained. "I thought I'd mentioned that before."
Brittany looked back through the open door of the house, twirling her hair on a finger. "Hey, he does look like you."
"If you'll pardon us," John said, "We need to start unloading."
"Oh, okay. I'll be inside helping Ashley-Amber get the chips ready."
After Brittany was gone, John said, "I suppose that Ashley-Amber would be of more use than Kevin."
"Yeah, she wouldn't eat them before everyone showed up."
Picking up an amp, John said, "Maybe we can hang out in the van and avoid the party."
Walking toward the house, Daria shook her head. "You know that wouldn't work, Brittany would come looking for us."
"She's mostly harmless," John said. "And she means well."
"I know, it's just, you know how I feel around crowds."
"We'll try to stay out of circulation as much as possible. Maybe we can hide behind the ceramic tigers."
"We better make sure the speakers aren't aimed in that direction."
Holding a "Mystik Spiral" banner by one corner, John stood on a stool to hang it from the wall with a large blob of poster-tack. The peculiar aroma of smoke, beer, and other unidentifiable components coming from the fabric made him squint and say, "I wish that they would wash this thing sometime."
Holding the other side, Daria wrinkled her nose and said, "I'd say burn it, but I think that would violate several sections of the Clean Air Act."
The one person that John considered to be even "bubblier" than Brittany, her step-mother Ashley-Amber, entered the room. When she saw them, Ashley-Amber said, "Brittany said you surprised her! That's so sweet."
"Hi, Ashley-Amber," John said as he stepped down from the stool and moved it to the other side of the banner.
Daria handed over the banner edge and moved aside when he stepped up on the stool again. She said, "We were a little surprised ourselves."
"Oh, I love it when that stuff happens."
"Um, right," Daria said.
By the time the party had really started, Daria and John had placed some chairs behind the mixing board for the sound system and used the amps to further make them inconspicuous. "That was almost as much fun as dental surgery," Daria said.
"Next time," John said, "We follow your lead and make sure that we know where the band is playing before we agree to help."
John grinned and said, "At least this place has indoor plumbing."
"Oh, and let's not forget that they finally installed the Jacuzzi, or all of the people from school whom we told that we wouldn't be here."
"Yeah, that was kind of awkward. Hey, the band's about to start playing."
Trent coughed, held up a note card and spoke into his microphone. "We're Mystik Spiral and we're here to honor...um...Brittany Taylor."
Light clapping rose from the gathered students.
"This is a new song." Trent glanced over his shoulder and nodded a rhythm to start the band. "Called, Every Dog Has His Day!"
At the end of the verse, all four band members started howling like dogs. Daria flinched and looked at John. "That poor puppy is going to be blamed for that."
"Nah, Trent will forget his inspiration after a week or two. I'm more worried about the puppy having to hear it himself."
At the end of the set, an uncomfortable-looking Trent shuffled and said, "Thank you. We're, um, the band Mr. Taylor hired and he wants to say something."
Mr. Taylor came up to the microphone and held it like a dodgy game show host. "Hey kids! We're so proud of Brittany's C average that we have a present for her. Ashley-Amber, if you please."
She came into the living room from the den holding a large, hinged case. Ashley-Amber stopped next to Steve and presented the case, tilting it slightly forward for all to see as he opened it.
Mr. Taylor opened the case and brought out a glass bullhorn, which he presented to his daughter while saying, "Brittany baby, in commemoration of your C."
Brittany jumped and squealed, "Oh, Daddy! Thank you!" Settling down, she picked it up, stopped to think hard before slowly saying, "It's a mechaphone? Hey, it's like the ones we use for cheerleading."
"Genuine near crystal," Mr. Taylor proudly said. "Borrowed again from Brian's college fund, but you're worth it."
Kevin examined the glass megaphone and said, "Hey, this has a C on it. Even I know that Lawndale starts with an L."
Mr. Taylor cleared his throat and said, "It's a C for her grade, Kevin."
Daria asked John, "Should I be impressed that he knows that Lawndale doesn't start with a C, or disturbed that he couldn't make the connection about his girlfriend's grade?"
Daria had retreated to the snack table in the kitchen and grumbled, "Behind My Eyelids doesn't sound any better with the new verse and Ashely-Amber trying to convince everyone to dance is just disturbing."
John held up bowl. "Nachos? Salt and cheese goop to take your mind off of the noise"
"I don't think that will help."
He set the bowl down and picked up a platter. "Donuts?"
"No, thanks. What I really need is someplace quiet where I can get away from the crowd for a few minutes."
"Daria!" Quinn said in a strident whisper when she saw her sister and John about to go into the laundry room. "I thought you were classier than that."
Daria rubbed her temples and said, "I need some quiet and this is, regrettably, the only place in the house where I can find it."
Quinn gave Daria a funny look.
"It's true," John said, "You know us, Quinn."
"Okay, but you two need a lookout so that you're not seen. If someone sees you two coming out of there, it will hit the rumor mill in no time, and you know that'll get back to Mom and Dad."
"Are you volunteering?" Daria asked.
"What about you not being seen with the beautiful people around the party?"
"They're all hanging around looking at Brittany's silly glass bugle or hitting on your brother or that Jesse guy."
"You mean my brother meets with popular approval? Whoa," John said.
"Musicians are allowed a few fashion exemptions, but, eww. That's why I'm back here."
"That I can believe," Daria said. "Give us a few minutes and...thanks Quinn."
Quinn looked around and made shooing motions with her hands. "Go."
Daria and John quickly stepped inside the laundry room and closed the door. Immediately, the sound of the party was muffled and Daria visibly relaxed. "Better."
John put one arm around her and Daria let her head rest against him. After a few moments, he said, "Do you remember the first time we were here?"
"Yes," she said, wrapping her arms around him and snuggling closer.
Mr. Taylor's voice broke through the relative quiet as he yelled, "That's my wife, you little puke! I'm going to kick your ass!"
"That doesn't sound good," John said.
Another voice, clearly Upchuck's, cried, "Aaaaah!" accompanied by the sound of running feet and the crowd getting agitated.
"Doesn't sound good at all," Daria said, not moving from her comfortable position.
Next, there was a loud crash and louder crowd noises, possibly even cheering.
John asked, "Why is it that every time we go to a party, chaos prevails?"
"I don't know, but by now, you'd think that people would be superstitious enough to not let us in."
"We can only hope for the future."
The sound outside rose for a few more moments, and then fell off following the sound of tires squealing. Remaining in each other's arms, Daria and John went back to enjoying the quiet and intimacy. John stroked Daria's cheek and kissed her. She returned the feelings and slipped one hand behind his neck, pulling him closer for another kiss.
The outside world was quickly forgotten until Quinn knocked on the door and then cracked it open. "John, you better get out here."
John started and let go of Daria before proceeding to the door. "What?"
"He broke the mixing board!" Nick yelled in the distance.
"Look at my drums," Max also yelled. "He put the kid's head through the bass."
Quinn told John, "I think your brother's band needs some help."
"They always need help," he said, hurrying out to the living room.
Daria followed John out and stopped next to Quinn. "Do all high school parties have this kind of excitement?"
"No, usually, they're kinda dull."
"So everyone saves it up for when John and I are around?"
Quinn thought for a moment and said, "Hey, you're right. Something always happens when you two are around. We need to get you out to more parties."
"No, we don't."
Quinn smirked and reached up to lightly brush Daria's hair back into place. "Oh, really?"
Standing outside the front door, Mr. Taylor signed a check, tore it from the checkbook, and handed it to Daria. "This should cover everything for the band."
"I'll make sure they don't spend it on burgers and beer," she replied.
John guided Max past them toward the van, struggling to keep him on his feet. Max slurred, "I'm gonna get me Drumma'ter 3000 with my money."
"Sure, Max, but we have to get you back to Trent's first."
"Oh yeah, which way is that?"
"Right here," John said, pushing Max into the van. He scanned the inside to make sure the rest of the band was where he left them and then the ground for any more empty beer cans from their stash. Satisfied, he slid the side door of the Tank shut and said, "There, everything's packed."
Pocketing the check, Daria came up to him and said, "Good, let's go."
Around them, the party was breaking up and cars were driving away. Brittany and Kevin were making the rounds to say goodbye to everyone and stopped at the van. "Thank you for coming to my party," she said.
Polite, Daria said, "You're welcome, Brittany. And congratulations on bringing up your average."
Brittany suddenly hugged Daria. "I couldn't have done it without you and John!"
Daria squirmed, but accepted the gesture. "We showed you what to do, you did it."
Kevin looked down and scratched the ground with his foot. "Um, you know, it's good not to be on proclo...probation any more."
"You're welcome, Kevin," John said.
"You know, being with a band makes you kinda cool," Kevin said.
Daria said, "We're unpaid roadies for them from time to time. We're not part of the band."
"But, you're here with the band; that makes it cool."
Daria shook her head. "I can't argue with that logic."
"Who'd have thought brains could be cool?"
Getting into the passenger seat of the van, Daria said, "It must be a miracle."
John crossed around the front of the van and got in. He called out, "Good night."
They pulled away and Daria slid down in her seat. "I'm glad that's over. I can't believe we started making out in the laundry room."
"So we got a little carried away; it was fun."
"John, we would've been carried away a lot if Quinn hadn't knocked on the door."
That made John pause. "Oh, yeah."
Daria reached across the engine housing to touch his right arm. "That doesn't mean I didn't like it, but we need to be more circumspect."
John glanced over. "What did your sister squeeze out of us this time?"
A week later, Quinn, Sandi, Stacy and Tiffany left the testing building after taking the PSTAT, along with a crowd of other shell-shocked looking students. Sandi said, "Well, that was a waste of perfectly good Saturday shopping time."
Tiffany slowly said, "I think my brain hurts."
"I didn't know we were supposed to know all that stuff," Stacy said. "I hope I did okay."
Noticing her mother's red SUV in the parking lot, Quinn said, "There's my ride. I'll see everyone tonight."
"See you tonight," Stacy said.
"Yeah, tonight," Tiffany added.
Quinn quickly crossed over the lawn to the car and climbed into the back. In the front, Daria was driving and John was in the passenger seat. "Are you ready for some shopping?"
Daria grumbled, "No, but I'll do it anyway. I gave you my word."
Quinn grinned. "It'll be fun, and besides, maybe we can find something really cute for you to wear to the next party."
Some dialog from Groped by an Angel by Jonathan Greenberg
Thanks to Kristen Bealer, Ipswichfan and Mr. Orange for beta reading.