Legion of Lawndale Heroes
Chapter 13.6 - 'Broken'
Written by Roentgen
Legion of Lawndale Heroes created by James Bowman
(NOTE: This chapter contains language and scenes that may not be appropriate for younger readers. It is rated TV-14-DLSV.)
The irony of it was that, even though Jane was hurt far, far worse than she ever let on by what happened because of Tom's - well, Tom being Tom - she really did end up coming out on top.
I'll never tell about Jane's playful adventures, or with who - and before you even think it, no, I never even made a pass at Jane! - but oh, did she have a lot of fun. LOTS of fun.
Did she ever tell you about the time she and Sandi got each other's powers when that bioprocessor machine went haywire and switched all of our powers around? Well, Jane didn't come out of her room for a day and a half after they figured that we'd all be okay, and the machine needed to be fixed. From the way Daria couldn't look her in the eye for about a week (she had Tom's powers, and looked through the walls) and Julia's total inability to keep from falling over laughing (she got Daria's powers) - we sort of got the idea that Jane took 'playing with yourself' to an entirely new level.
All that being said - I think that she really did love him.
-from The Collected Diaries of Anastasia Rowe, Legionnaire
I had my wake up - won't you wake up?
I keep asking why
And I can't take it - It wasn't fake
It happened - you passed by
Now you're gone - now you're gone
There you go - there you go
Somewhere I can't bring you back
Now you're gone - now you're gone
There you go - there you go,
Somewhere you're not coming back
The day you slipped away
Was the day I found it won't be the same
-from 'Slipped Away', by Avril Lavigne
"Is he still asleep?"
"Yes," said Julia. "I exchanged spit with him." She kept to herself the fact that the exchange was one-directional, and from a distance, leaving anyone less smart than Jodie Landon to conclude that Julia had exchanged the saliva through a kiss. "But it seems not to have done much for him, except heal the more obvious wounds. At least he doesn't look like a train wreck anymore."
Charles entered the medical ward on the second sub-floor of Legion Tower. Jodie Landon was carefully watching the sleeping form of Tom Sloane.
"So why isn't he up on his feet?" Charles asked.
"Well, there's an old saying," said Jodie. "Mend a broken plate and the crack will still show. Julia's osculatory gifts restored Tom to the way he was before his encounter with Jane, but it will take a while for Tom to regain his biogenetic balance."
"Am I done here?" said Julia.
"Yes," sighed Jodie. "Away with you." Julia left and was glad to leave.
"I'm surprised why you're here, Mr. Ruttheimer. Is this a social club for Lotharios?"
"Uh...no. I just felt sorry for him. I wanted to talk."
"You're wasting your care on him."
"Oh really?" Charles's antennae perked up. "Why is that?"
"I think the two-timer got what he deserved. Maybe a beating will wipe the smirk from his face." Jodie put down her book and departed. "I'm still human enough to have empathy for Jane," Jodie said, in the hope of convincing herself more than Charles. Charles was not convinced, but couldn't figure out why Jodie was putting on an act over her concern for Tom, even it was concern in the negative sense.
This left Tom and Charles alone in the room. "Tom?" ventured Charles. "Tom?"
Tom still slept. Charles continued the vigil.
(* * *)
A voice stirred. "Mmmm? ...Jane?"
"No. Not Jane. Charles."
"Oh yeah. 'Upchuck.'"
"I'll ignore that," Charles said. "I'll assume your intellectual controls are still set to full 'asshole' mode."
"Where am I?"
"Your vaunted invulnerability kept you alive...but that was all it did. Jane took care of you like yesterday's news." Charles couldn't help but smile. "She worked you over completely."
"Yes. Well....I was holding back."
"Sure you were," said Charles. "And I'll say you did an admirable job of doing so. Such a great job that a mere observer like myself couldn't tell the difference between an act of chivalry and a complete ass-kicking."
"No." Tom was insistent. "I was holding back."
"I'm not convinced. I don't think you're that kind of guy. I think you might have held back for the first few minutes, but once you were injured it was all holds barred."
"So why – GAHHHH!!" Tom had tried to sit up but stopped immediately. Charles rushed over to him.
"I'm just...stiff. I felt that I've run a marathon! Every bone in my body aches. Tom was still sitting up but was slumped over and holding himself up by one arm.
"A suggestion. Lie back down. It helps after you get your ass kicked. Trust me...I'm an expert," said Charles.
"As I was saying," Tom muttered, "so why are you here? Are you to provide a Greek chorus? Or to announce that I've been expelled from the Legion?"
"No...and no. The consensus is that you've gotten what you deserved. There wasn't a call for pitchforks and burning torches, but don't expect hugs and kisses when you poke your head out of this room. I expect, though, that in a few days the Fashion Club membership might be drawing straws for you."
"Oh. Them. And what's your opinion?"
"I don't have an opinion. I didn't ask Daria, and after our interlude in that alternate dimension, I'm a closer friend to her than I am to Jane Lane. I figured that what was going on between you and her was none of my business until she decided to air mail your cranium to Pluto. My understanding was that this was some kind of violent breakup."
"Don't doubt the evidence of your own eyes." Tom sighed. He said to himself (and not to Charles) "I don't know what I'm going to do."
"Maybe...you could...change?" Charles was hesitant to venture the suggestion.
"So why would I want to do that?" said Tom. "I'll give you a clue, Charles, because you seem like a fairly nice person. Jane was a paranoid freak that never let me know what was on her mind. She expected me to guess it like we were in some bad Broadway drama. I should have known right off that this wasn't going to work. I just should have told her to get bent when I figured out what she was all about. There's a lot you can say about her best friend, but at least Daria Morgendorffer says something when she's steamed. Jane just holds it inside until it blows up. Next time, I'll stick to my own kind."
Charles had nothing to say. He didn't want to say anything, especially if it concerned Daria Morgendorffer. "So then are you going to stay here? With us?"
"I don't see why I should." Without Jane, Tom figured, there was no reason to stay with the Legion.
"Right," said Charles, wondering how he could be so bold. "Tom...you don't have any friends here. Jane can't stand you and I'll bet Daria can't stand you either. The Fashion Club just wants you as a boy toy. I know Julia doesn't like you either."
"I have no reason to prove any of them wrong." Tom was hoping to avoid some sort of lecture from this red-haired geek.
"Well, I don't know if I'm ever going to be your friend. We hang around, we live on the same floor, but we never share anything confidential. We don't pal around. I don't have any friends here, really. Except maybe for Mack, and maybe for Stacy a little bit. And maybe Daria for a little bit."
"Okay...so 'you don't have any friends'? I'm to take that at face value?"
"And that's what you don't get, Tom!" Charles said, a religious spirit taking control. "You don't know me or know what I was, do you?"
"Jane said you were a master pervert," said Tom, airily. "She's still undecided."
"And you know what?" said Charles. "She was right. They were all right. I could have kept on being that way. I could have kept on being the kind of guy I was. But I changed the important things. I still think Shemp Howard is the greatest, most misunderstood Stooge of them all. I think that George Lazenby would have made a fine, down-to-earth James Bond. I still think that Marilyn Chambers made some really great porn. I'm still a big fat geek. But I'm not a pervert, not anymore. I don't come on to every woman I see in the vain hopes that I can quench the fire in my Ruttheimer loins. I've got my problems, but I'm not happy with the status quo. I know I can be a better person. That's what the Legion taught me."
"So before you tell me that you're God's gift to the masses, I'll tell you that you've got problems. Big ones. You act like you're superior to everyone here. But you're not. You're just conceited. You want to give everyone the benefit of your dubious wisdom, and you actually act offended when no one takes it. The only reason Jane probably liked you is because you're good looking and you're rich. One's an accident of genetics and the other is an accident of circumstance. Yeah, you're smart and you can throw three-dollar words around with the best of them. Yeah, we're all supposed to be impressed with your intelligence and you're coolness. But you still stink, Sloane. We can feel your contempt for us because we fall short of this imaginary place in the clouds where you're supposed to live."
Charles continued. "You need to meet some people who don't hold what you were before against you. There are people who want to throw my past back in my face every time they meet me. As least I've met someone who doesn't think that way about me."
There was quiet, except for Tom making an assessment of Charles's speech.
"Hey, Charles, I have some advice for you, too...go fuck yourself."
Charles swallowed. He stood up. "I don't know why I even tried. Besides, I don't need your advice about how and when to fuck myself over. I already know how. The problem is that you don't."
(* * *)
No sooner than Charles had left when another person entered the room just as Charles existed. It was Mack Mackenzie.
"Mack," said Tom. "So what are you here for, to pile on?"
"I don't know if I should slug you or not," said Mack. "I don't think it would make a damn bit of difference. Man, Charles had some major balls putting himself on the line like that. I don't know why he tried, either."
"And now you're here to gloat," said Tom. "At last, the circle is complete."
"Why can't I gloat? Sloane, you're not the only person who likes feeling superior to morons. You're an ass. You deserved everything that happened to you. If you feel she went over the top, yeah, she acted like an angry, shrieking, bitch. I just think that all that pain she put you through was karmic payback."
"Okay. If it's payback," said Tom, "then wipe the slate clean. If she knocked all the bullshit out of me, then why crucify me?" Tom held his arms out perpendicularly like Christ on the cross.
"Because if there's anything I'm an expert at, it's being friends with idiots."
"You always were too loyal to people," said Tom.
"That's because I believe that people should always get a second chance. Even a third chance. I remember back when we were fighting Zack that you said my name should be 'Mack MacSucker'. I'd rather be a MacSucker than a MacPrick. Better to be fucked over than to go fuck over someone else."
"I did not fuck over Jane," Tom protested. "I loved Jane!"
"Oh, SHIT!" said Mack. "Tell me that I did not hear the word 'love' come from your mouth!" Mack walked over and stood directly over the supine Tom Sloane so that Tom could not avoid the onslaught. "Do you think I'm a fucking idiot or something? Do you think I can be snowed?"
"Sloane, I've seen all of your bullshit since Day One! Goddamnit, I've seen your bullshit since before Day One, and Mack MacSucker decided that it was smarter to keep his mouth shut. Well since you can't learn anything, and since you're going to flee the consequences, I'm going to shoot my bolt before you run out the door!"
"Let me tell you something, Tommy Boy. I've known Jane before she was in the Legion. My Daddy grew up in this town, and no, it wasn't the rich part of Lawndale. I've known Jane Lane since we went to Lawndale Elementary together. I've also known you as the kind of asshole that somehow gets what he wants and figures out a way to justify it to himself and everybody else later."
"And let me tell you something – Daria and Quinn haven't been in Lawndale for long. So they can't read Jane like I can. Daria might be her best friend, but she doesn't have the history. You dumb motherfucker, every time you took a look at Daria you might has well have been talking in a loudspeaker, and no one in the Legion don't need telepathy to know that you've got the hots for Daria. And Jane would just shrivel up and die inside a little bit every time you were dogging after Daria."
"Even if Daria didn't hold that emergency meeting, no one was going to go out there and save your sorry ass from that ass-whipping, not even me Love? LOVE? You're not even capable of love. Love is a fucking foreign language to you, Sloane! You're like one of those assholes who speaking in gibberish and pretends that he's speaking Chinese! All you can do is pretend to love someone, because it's all you know how to do! You can't even talk the talk OR walk the walk. No one who 'loved' anyone would have done any of this shit."
"So you'll forgive Mack MacSucker for not being as nice as Old Upchuck – because I think you deserve to be here. I wish Jane had hurt you worse."
"And I found out that Jane was mad at your screwing around when we were Zack-hunting. Hah! She read you like an open book! So tell me, rich boy, Mr. Genius, Mr. I-know-more-about-women-than-anyone-else, tell me why didn't you tell her what had happened?" Mack waited for an answer that was not forthcoming. "Why didn't you share that with her? Why weren't you honest the one time it counted? That's love, Sloane! Why weren't you honest with her? Why didn't you tell her? Why don't you have an answer for that?"
Tom was silent. Silent for a long time.
"You're hopeless," said Mack. He turned.
Mack turned back around. "You want to know why?" said Tom. "All right."
Mack sat down.
"When we went to fight Zack, Archangel had so much faith in us. He chose us for a reason is what he said. He said that he could have picked any of us, but the two he wanted by his side were Mack Mackenzie and Thomas Sloane."
Tom continued. "But I never understood why. I was scared. I'm still scared. I still have fucking nightmares. Mack...I...I...."
Tom was crying. He looked like he was barely holding it together. He said, in a tiny voice, "i thought...that we would never come back. That it was all over. That I lost Jane, I lost my Mom and Dad, I lost Elsie, I lost everyone. That out there, on some forgotten shithole of a planet, I was going to die. That my powers wouldn't protect me at some point. That all I had ever been had amounted to a big pile of shit. That I was a failure."
Tom wiped his eyes with the ripped sleeve of his uniform. "So when these desperate women were looking for something...what the fuck? Why not give it to them? I wasn't going to be alive much longer anyway. I was going to be the one who fucked everything up. I just wanted something to kill the pain. So if I screwed someone, I could forget I was Thomas Lyman Sloane for about fifteen minutes."
Mack thought he understood. "I'm missing something. Why didn't you tell Jane? Jane could have understood that. Anyone could have understood that." Mack didn't know that if that were true, but it was his personal perspective.
The tears had stopped. "Because Jane would have known that I was a failure. Or that I thought I was."
"Jesus, what do you think she would have done? Laughed in your face? God-Damn man! How fucking conceited does someone have to be?" Mack was almost shouting. "The great Thomas Lyman Sloane fails at keeping it together and the world comes to an end?"
"Do you know who my best friend was in high school? Kevin Thompson! He was the world's biggest fuck-up, but what I admired about him was that he just let worries roll off his back. I think he was too stupid to do otherwise. I'd have a tough time with Dad or with Jodie, but you know what Kevin's motto was? "I'm the QB!" Kevin might have been an arrogant douchebag sometimes, but he wasn't stuck up. And I saw him get knocked down on the football field with a crushing sack, and ten seconds later he'd be right in the huddle like it never happened. If he had a setback, he just ignored it. I just thought he coasted through life – but looking back, I can see he had something we didn't."
"Well," said Tom. "I guess I'm just not as good as Kevin Thompson, the great God of Lawndale who is beloved by millions. Shit," said Tom, running his fingers through his hair, "what do I do now?"
"You stay right here," said Mack. "I'm used to having idiots as best friends. Just a warning. Call me 'Mack Daddy' and I'll cock-punch you."
"They are not going to let me stay here. And I don't know if I can change. Or if I want to change."
"Hey, I suspected that you didn't give a damn, but I can see that that's not true. That's a change, whether you admit it or not. As for them letting you hang around, they'll give you the fish eye for three days and when they see that you refuse to leave, they'll have to let you stay. I have some advice, though. Apologize to them, and apologize to Armalin."
"Yeah. I kind of acted like a douchebag."
"'Kind of?' Oh well, I guess it's a start. I'll tell you one thing – if you go into Armalin to apologize, he'll shit a brick when he hears it coming from your mouth. He might die from the shock."
Tom laughed. "Hell, yeah. 'Who's this guy and what did he do with Tom Sloane?'"
Mack laughed. "Yeah – no, wait! I'd better set him up first. He might think you're being mind controlled or that you're a doppelganger or something." Tom laughed, but Mack wasn't joking.
"Oh yeah," said Mack. "You have to apologize to Chuck, too."
"Chuck's got some balls, huh?" said Tom. "Maybe we should hang out with him more."
"True that. Hey...we're the only three guys in a harem of women. You might need some help, Rich Boy. Chuck's got a whole god-damned harem of his own. The man's becoming a major player. Everyone wants to hook up with him. I never saw you do that."
"Really?" Tom arched an eyebrow, which believe it or not, hurt. "I didn't hear the name Mack MacKenzie anywhere in that sentence. Do you think that you're beyond help, Mr. I-went-out-with-the-same-girl-forever?"
"That's because when I'mwith a girl...she's the only one in my life. You know that. And," said Mack with a smile, "I'm a free agent now. The Fashion Club aren't going to be the only girls drawing straws...."
(* * *)
Yeah, Upchuck – Chuck – did have a lot of balls. I'll apologize, and I'll make sure he knows that I really mean it. I guess I miss that about home. Elsie would always tell me when I was being a real douche, but I never let anyone get that close to me before. Maybe Jane was just too afraid to lose me to tell me. I don't know. I need that from a girlfriend. Jane wasn't the right person for me – and I now know that I was definitely wrong for her.
Then how come I still love her? That's the part that hurts most of all. Maybe it will go away.
I still don't think much of this Legion. But I'm willing to give it a try. Could I ever tell them...about The Elite? No. Not yet. Too much is at risk. If there's anything I'm scared of, it's The Elite. They could kill everyone I love. Even the Legion.
I guess I have to change. I don't know what to change about my fine self, but I'm not making a good impression. I suppose an apology is a good start, but I need to let them see that I really mean it, and I can only do that with behavior.
Hmm...I guess there's one thing I need to change about myself. Jane defeated me because I just charged in. Next time I face an opponent...that won't happen. I always joked with Jane that I had the wrong powers. But it's not that. I'm using them the wrong way. I'm a thinker, not a brawler, and I can't fake that. My powers should always be the last resort in a fight, not the first one. I should be outsmarting my opponents. Then, I'd use my strength as a back up.
Jesus H. Christ. That insane physical torture regimen by that martinet Armalin. That has to be the most useless – no, the Legion agrees to it, and I'm a Legionnaire. I think. I guess I need to work out more...but I haaaaaaaaaaate working out.....
(* * *)
The next day, Tom Sloane was left to his own ends. He had returned from the medical unit back to his own room.
Usually, both he and Jane would share some breakfast, even it were nothing more than a frozen Pop-Tart. Mr. Tom, it's dinner for one for the time being.
Standing up was still difficult, and Tom ached with every step. The important thing was that now he could step, and step unaided. He still hurt, but the pain was more an inconvenience than an impediment.
Tom noticed that there was a light behind him. There was a flash. No. There was an antiflash of light, much like light being sucked rapidly into some gap. It was hard to explained.
He turned. There was someone in the room that he well knew. It was David Allen Farrington. He knew Farrington from a very long ways back, but didn't expect to see him so soon.
Farrington pulled a cell phone out of his shirt pocket. After dialing a number, two people suddenly appeared in front of him. One was a young cadet named Tainn Reynolds. Tom was more familiar with the other...Tiffany Blum-Deckler. Tiffany Blum-Deckler familiarized herself with the surroundings in a split second. She then walked away and walked through Tom's door and out of the room, leaving Tom with his two unexpected visitors.
"What the fuck--?" said Tom.
"Don't bitch. I expected that when I got here, you would be dead. I telelocated you, trying to get to you before Jane Lane delivered the coup de grace. The problem is that Reynolds and I forgot about the temporal shift."
"Yeah," said Tainn looking Tom up and down (Tom was wearing only his boxers), "he's still alive...all right."
"Temporal what?" Tom asked.
"Forget it. The explanation won't illuminate you. We've been somewhere else. I know that you and Mack have seen enough weird crap to make explanations about where people have been and why they got there when they got there massive wastes of time. Alternate dimensions. Chronal shifts. Unanticipated adventures right out of Doctor Who. They ought to call it PPT -- Parahuman People's Time."
"You've been somewhere weird. It figures," said Tom. David Allen is right. It is the only necessary explanation.
"See? You catch on fast."
"You came here to pile on?" said Tom. "Is some sort of march of everyone I ever pissed off going to come through this room?"
"No, I don't have those kind of superpowers. I can only pile on so much anyway, because you're too obstinate. It would probably bounce off you, you're critic-proof as far as I can see."
"You must have always loved me, David Allen. You came here to rescue me. Should I swoon?"
"Don't flatter yourself. Part of my reason to come here was to pay the proper respects." David Allen opened the box. All Tom could see was a bunch of bric-a-brac.
"Part of the Torn Cape Ceremony. If you're lucky, you'll never find out about it."
"It sounds like a memorial."
"Look David Allen. You've never liked me, and I've never liked you. Why would you come all the way over here for a memorial ceremony? What is it about me that you want to memorialize?"
David Allen sighed. "The Great Zack Walkabout was your first encounter with High Weirdness, wasn't it?"
"No. Everything's been weird. Having powers is weird. Being in the you-know-what is weird. Being in the Legion is weird."
"No, that's just ordinary weirdness. I'm talking about High Weirdness. Weird is just something that's strange, that doesn't quite mesh with reality as we know it. Professor Blumenberg told me it was like a new key trying to fit into an old lock – you have to shove it in the keyhole, and the lock jams, and the cylinder jams, but you can get the lock open with persistence."
"High Weirdness," David Allen continued, "is like trying to open the lock with a petunia. Or a fish. Or a pebble. There's no frame of reference. "Hi, Elsie? Tom Sloane calling. Just came back from an alternate zombie-infested dimension where a gigantic corps of spacefaring rangers wearing magical rings is engaged in a battle with an army of the living dead numbering in the millions that have infested an Australia that has never existed. Don't hang up!""
David Allen mimed a phone cutting off. "Hm. She hung up. Which means only a handful of people on the planet can sympathize with you. But what you don't get is that there were hundreds of fighters out there, just like you, yanked out of places here and there to fight the same fight and all just as bewildered as you are."
"And how do you know so much about it?"
"I was there."
"Pull the other one."
"No. We didn't meet. I didn't really want to meet you, anyway. Besides, with my power level I was fighting under the ocean - ."
" – I don't believe I'm even hearing this."
"That's because I don't greet High Weirdness as unexpected. Face it, Sloane, there is no such thing as a socialist distribution of paranormal ability – some are decidedly more equal than others. I'm one of them. I was sent to fight Zack under the ocean because I was one of the few people who could survive there. I had to seek Zack out where he went...and Zack can hide in a lot of places, places that you think even he couldn't survive."
"You're still not answering my question," said Tom. "I don't want to hear about how great you are."
David Allen mumbled something inaudible. "All right. You remember the Second Battle of Perth?"
"Yessss?" said Tom, hesitantly, wandering what the punchline was.
"You wanted to do that fish or fry thing that you and Mack worked out. You wanted to drop yourself right in the middle of that column of the undead when there wasn't a spare body to fight them. We were in danger of being outflanked and the Ringbearers weren't there. I couldn't be there, because I was barely holding the line in the South China Sea. Archangel told you not to do it, but you went in anyway."
"I had to. I had to try something. If they had overwhelmed our survivor redoubts, it would have all been for nothing."
"So it was Tom Sloane vs. The Zombie Nation. You had stopped shooting for their body mass – you said the heat beams just went right through their corpses – and you were just aiming for their necks, burning off their heads like a match applied to a tick."
"That was just desperation. I was still terrified. My head was splitting open, I didn't have my invulnerability, and I knew that if I missed too many times...it was over. I had to concentrate...I couldn't waste a shot. I was terrified. I thought I was going to lose."
"But you didn't. The soldiers sat there from their cliffs, waiting to see what would happen, trying to save their ammo in case you got overwhelmed. Everyone was waiting for the Ringbearers. When would they show up? Would they show up at all? It was dead of night. The area was lit up by those heat beams, and after a while...they saw stars appearing in the sky. "
"Stars moving fast. Ringbearers. I could see them with my astral form. They moved briefly across the sky and disappeared to some part of the continent. Those little pricks of light in the sky were our hope. One said that in every new blot of light in the sky, there was a Ringbearer...to help Tom Sloane save us all."
"You've got it wrong. I'm not a hero, and I'm not a fucking superhero," said Sloane. "I'm the farthest thing in the world from a hero."
"Well, I hate to break it to you, Sloane," said David Allen, "but you don't get to make that decision. Being a 'superhero' isn't in wanting to be one. It's entirely in results and perception. You act like a superhero, you're a superhero. Doesn't matter how scared you are or how hopeless it was or how you thought someone else should judge what you did. That night, there were thousands of people, all praying for Jesus, and if they couldn't get Jesus, a superhero would do."
"You're it. You're going to be it. You're a superhero. Everyone watching you felt just a little bit more confident. Some people say that if there were real superheroes in the world, humanity would shrivel away and die, never able to match the standard. But the standard of being a superhero isn't in what powers you had. You lifted up every single person who was watching you that night. You were an inspiration. And that, you shit-for-brains preppie, is what I came to memorialize."
"So," said David Allen. "Now that I know you're alive, I can get back to treating you like the asshole you always were. Tainn," David Allen said, referring to his traveling companion, "it's time to go."
Tainn was looking at Tom Sloane, still dressed in only his boxers. She had stars in her eyes.
"REYNOLDS!" barked Farrington, as if he were addressing a cadet line.
"Oh! Huh! I mean, uh, what? You wanted me? Huh?"
"Time to go home. Leave Wonder Boy to his extended family." And in a few seconds, they were both gone, leaving Tom with a lot to think about.
(* * *)
The day progressed. Tom didn't feel like going out again, but dressed from sheer force of habit. He chuckled. You wouldn't know that I had been beaten half to death just the day before. There's something to be said for invulnerability - it beats the alternative.
Tom's Legion phone rang. He had almost forgotten about the thing. Who would want to call me anyway? Don't we have rings that can just send messages by thought? God, I hate these rings.
Flipping open the clamshell, he looked at the name associated with the message sender.
Egad. The display for Jane Lane's name was a sad reminder of what had happened. He had had not time to change the display. Furthermore...he didn't know if he wanted to take this call or not. Why was she calling him? What did she want?
He answered with trepidation. "Hello?" No answer. "Jane."
"Hey." It was Jane, but the tone was flat and lifeless.
"Hey." Tom couldn't even muster up anger. "Uh...."
"...yeah. I guess we need to talk. No. We have to talk."
"I don't really want to." It was a chore that was best avoided.
"No. We have to talk about this. No violence."
"Okay." He knew it was better to get this over. "Where? I don't want to talk in some abandoned field." Like a junkyard, where you could make weapons.
"Give me a second." Jane was talking to someone. Tom figured it was Daria. So what were they talking about.
"Okay, Tom." She named a place. "Can you be there?"
"I'll try to figure it out."
(* * *)
The roof of the Bank of America building was deserted. Built in the 1920s, it was for a time the tallest building in Baltimore, Maryland until the Legg Mason building was built in the 1970s. Jane and Tom sat along the sides of the building, Jane lazily kicking her feet back and forth. They were dressed like normal young adults.
"Are you sure no one could see us flying up here?" said Tom.
"Nothing to look at," said Jane. "And even if they saw us, we're out of sight. How are they going to verify what they saw, anyway? They'll just convince themselves that they saw birds."
Jane sighed. "So you gave up. You thought that you were never coming back to Earth. But what bothers me is that I don't know if that's how you really felt...or if it's just the lie that you told yourself to get what you wanted."
"I wasn't lying."
"Then why were you so afraid to tell me?"
"I didn't want to disappoint you."
"Well," said Jane. "I would have been disappointed. But I might have forgiven you. But this...."
Jane watched some birds fly overhead. "You know, Tom, not telling me was just the same as lying to me. It doesn't take words to lie to people. I think you can lie to people without words, if you don't tell them something that they should know. And I just thought...that I'd end up married to you, or something, and if things didn't work out, you'd would never have been honest with me."
"Hey. I'm not Mack. I wouldn't have stayed with you because of misguided loyalty."
"No. You would have had a mistress on the side. And if I'm the one that's dragging you down...well, that puts it all on me, you see? You do see that, right?"
"Yeah. But I don't get why you went wild. You tried to kill me, Jane."
"I didn't think you could be killed. Black Majesty hit you so hard they're still hearing the punch in Switzerland. Boy...Armalin sure let me know that I was wrong about that!"
"You talked to Armalin?"
"Let's just say the words 'arrest' were used," said Jane. "But yeah. I should have not thrown that fit. Because you weren't worth it. I just have just said, 'This isn't working out' and swallowed my pride and moved on. But I didn't say it, and you didn't say it, and...well, there we are."
"Yeah. It just happened. I'm an idiot. It was all my fault."
"Nah. It was ninety percent your fault, ten percent mine. See, I'll take some of the responsibility. But I'm not going to argue about who deserves the major share of the blame."
"This leaves you free to cat around Daria if you want to."
"Right. But I'm coming to think that 'Tom and Daria' work better as a couple than 'Tom and Jane'. Not to say that I wouldn't be pissed if she did hook up with you. All I can tell you is that...she can really get into your mind, if you know what I mean."
"Yeah. Thought you'd feel that way. And by the way...I told her that you feel that way, too. You don't even like wearing the rings. Never let it be said that Jane Lane can't throw one final wrench in the works."
"Thanks," said Tom sarcastically. "We should have just broken up, and I never should have dragged Daria into this."
"Who's dragging who?" said Jane. "Oh! Well...if you were thinking that way, you would have had a super time dating Daria. Daria's a real big ball of fun."
"I figured that."
"So let me ask you one last question." Jane looked straight into Tom's eyes. "Were you dating me all this time just to get to Daria?"
"Are you crazy?" Jane could feel that Tom was being honest.
"So you really did care about me?"
"Yeah. I screwed up. I made bad decisions."
"Well," said Jane. "Then I guess it ending the way it did worked out for the best after all...except for the broken bones and massive collateral damage."
Tom had one final chance to tell Jane how he felt about her. "I really like you, Jane. You're smart and you're funny, you have a great attitude... you do everything on your own terms. You're, like, from a cooler world."
"Yeah," said Jane, glad that Tom was being honest. "I am, aren't I?"
"You really are."
"Too bad you're such a dork."
The two both sat and watched traffic go by from above for about five minutes. "Maybe I should just leave the Legion," said Tom.
"Nah. Because everyone would think that I was the one that kicked you out. I'm just going to go away for a little while. To the Ashfield Community for the Arts. It's one of my Mom's old haunts. They have guest speakers there, and I have a chance of losing myself in my art. Actually...I can barely even stand the sight of you right now. I just have to start acting like a grown-up about things."
"There's such a thing as too much honesty."
"And your problem is not enough honesty," said Jane. "And I don't want you to give up on the Legion."
"I wasn't going to. I think I've met some other cool people there," said Tom. "I think I want to stay. I'm going to be a pariah for a little while, so I guess I'll take my lumps."
"You'll be a pariah until Sandi Griffin or Stacy Rowe decides to sink her claws into you," said Jane. "My advice, Sloane: don't let it happen."
"I think that's a fate worse than death," said Tom.
"Yeah. It's getting cold. I need to go. You don't have to tag along," said Jane. Tom knew that she wasn't just saying it for politeness's sake. "I'll probably still feel the same way about you - good and bad - when I get back. I just have to let it sink down to tolerable levels."
"Bye, Jane." Tom watched as Jane levitated out of sight, disappearing into the dusk.
He stood on the Bank of America building. The noises and sights of the high-rises in Baltimore intrigued him for a little while, but after a few minutes all they had to offer was sameness and white noise. Satisfied that Jane was safely away, Tom Sloane looked down over the city of Baltimore, tried to figure out his place in the world, and headed back to Legion Tower before it turned dark.
(* * *)
At Jane Lane's door, there was a knock.
"Go away, universe," muttered Jane. She was sprawled out in bed, in her nightshirt, discarded tissues littering the bedspread. Dammit, when will these tears stop? I got rid of him, God, okay? Why do I have to be so lame?
There was a second knock.
Jane cast an imaginary thought message to the flight ring bearer on the other side of the door. Go away. If that's you, Daria, double-go-away.
"So," said a faint voice outside the door, "should I bring you a sandwich?"
Jane recognized the voice. Trent. She crawled out of bed and walked to the door.
"Hi," said Trent. He looked at the unlit apartment. "Kind of dark in here."
"I prefer the dark."
"C'mon, Janey." Trent walked over to the lamp and flicked a switch. The room, now partially lit, revealed piles of debris.
"Wow. You must have thrown a fit."
"Actually," said Jane, "those are just dirty clothes. Remember the big pile in my closet at home?"
"Yeah," said Trent, first coughing, then laughing. "I miss home."
"You miss the fact that the floorboards in the living room sagged?"
"Nah. I miss the way we were." Trent noticed the redness in Jane's eyes. "I think you're taking this way too hard. He's not worth it."
"So let me get this straight, Trent," said Jane, "rumor has it that you were out there with a gun when Tom and I were having it out. I don't think you're up to rescuing me any more."
"If I thought he was going to hurt you - physically, or otherwise - I don't mind."
"He could kill you, Trent. He could kill you by accident. I want you to stay away from Tom," said Jane. "And I mean it."
"Yeah," said Trent, rubbing the back of his head. "I swear though. If I had known what was going to happen that day you met him - I could have gotten Jesse, Max and Nick together and we could have given him a real welcome. He didn't have his powers, then."
"You need to make up your mind," said Jane. "You tell me he's not worth it one minute and the next you're planning a cue-stick party outside the Zon."
"Both are true. It's like...between the emotion and response...lies the Shadow."
"Hey. Daria read that to me. T. S. Eliot."
"Uh...nah. I think I heard that from a Devo song."
"Still. I mean it. Lay off Trent. I'm not the little sister that always needs protected."
"Not true. That's always the way it's going to be...between us. I can't change that, Janey. But I guess I could...hell, I don't know...spit in his food, or something."
Jane laughed. "You go do that. Go spit in his food!"
"And shit in his shoes."
Jane began to laugh hysterically, bending over. "Trent, you're going to make me pee. Shut up!"
"All right. I'll just say about Tom...I'm not a fan. I guess I should have said something, too, at the very beginning. I didn't like the guy, he was too glib. I never trusted him."
"That was just you being big brother. You don't think anyone's good enough for me."
"I guess not. But sometimes, guys have an instinct about these things. Sometimes, you can sum up a person in just a few seconds. To me, he added up to zero."
"Yeah. But there were times when he was a million, too." Jane's lips suddenly contorted to a wavy line, and the tears began to pour out again. "I was going to let him go all the way. I feel like I was conned! Like I'm an idiot!"
Trent pulled Jane close to him. "Janey...you gotta pay the dues if you want to sing the blues."
Jane, between tears, smiled. "Ringo Starr! You could get me a tissue, because I don't like crying into your chest. You smell like old bologna."
Trent stood up and got a tissue. "Anyone who makes my sister cry...I don't like him." Trent stood silently for longer than was necessary to get Jane's tissues. Then, silently, returned to comfort his sister.
Jane recoiled from Trent as she leaned in. "Jesus! Do you spend your days in a freezer or something? Or is the thermometer broken?"
"It's just my cold, cold heart," said Trent without much whimsy. "Don't you sometimes wish your heart was a heart of stone? Just sometimes?"
"Yeah. But I wouldn't want to be any other way that the way I am."
"Same here. You don't mind me hanging around the Legion for a little while, though? Even when you're gone?"
"You'll wait for me to get back?"
"Hey," said Trent, "I wouldn't betray you or anything." Trent stood up to leave. "You had better call or something when you're in Ashfield. If something happens, I'll steal a flight ring and get you."
"You know...I think you would. I think I should say goodbye to Daria when going."
"Nah," said Trent. "I know part of this Tom thing was bound up with Daria."
"How do you know about Tom and Daria?"
"Guys can see it. I've been watching them around The Legion."
"He hasn't been fucking her, has he?" Jane's eyes turned into miniature thunderstorms.
"Nah. Just like...friendly. Wanting more. Not able to have it, but thinking about it. And I think the thought crossed her mind, too. It's not like she was running away from the vibes he was giving."
"Well," said Jane, "you're right. But Daria isn't that great about reading a guy's vibes. I don't hate Daria, but maybe leaving without a by-your-leave will give her something to think about. I'll call her from Ashfield...after leaving her hanging for a day. Then, I'll forgive her for all of her sins, phony or otherwise and everything will be just like it used to."
"Good on yah."
"I think I feel a lot better."
"I'm glad to hear it. I'm going to bed, for real this time. I'll leave tomorrow morning."
"Good night, Janey."
"Good night, Trent."