After the Fall

And it's falling /apart/...

It's all just falling apart.


Snapper rested his hands on his chin, and looked at the files sitting on his desk.

The Principal had made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that these students *would* undergo counselling as part of the requirement for their return. No other choice had seemed reasonable.

'They were some of our best students, Snapper. Our /best/. Now... they're distracted, agitated... I'm getting reports of unruly behaviour in class, cutting class, outbursts...

'I have made /strong/ recommendations to their parents and guardians that they come to you.'

Snapper had caught the 'were' in the Principal's voice. 'Were'. Not 'are'. But 'were'. Put them right again, Snapper. Make them what they used to be.

Turn the clock back.

Restore them.

He shook his head. Maybe, maybe not.

They'd have to decide.


'What a /waste/... What a /waste/.'

'Oh yeah. /Look/ at those pecs...'


'And now he hangs out with the freaks and the cheerleaders.'

'There's a difference?'



She stared up at the house. At the 'Sold' sign standing in the yard.

Gone, now.


And she wanted to ask him so much, ask him why he'd left.

Left her.

But he'd told them, had already told them...

'I can't stay.

'As long as I come here, they'll keep coming for me, and for you guys.


He'd faltered.

'And I couldn't live with myself...' he'd whispered.

And she'd wanted to go to him, then...

To tell him that /they/ could live with him, would be there for him, like he'd been there for them.

But she hadn't. Because that was what he'd been afraid of.

And he'd left.

And if there'd been something, /anything/, she could do that would have let him stay, would have given him what he needed to stay...

...then she would have done it.

But there'd been nothing. /Nothing/.

When she'd needed it most... nothing.

Nothing that could make those beautiful, wonderful eyes stop hurting...

Waiting, always waiting.

Hoping he'd come back. Hoping she'd find the right words to say.

Hoping that one day, he'd come back to them. To her.

Out of the house. Away from the house, because right now she couldn't /stand/ to be there, would do almost anything not to be there.

Couldn't stand to be in fear, and in hurt, and alone and afraid.


Like the time before. Before she'd met him, and the others.

Never telling him, but sure he already knew. How could he not? How could those eyes fail to see?

And he never said 'no', and never said 'yes', because there was someone there, had been before she'd ever met him...

...and he'd known, but never wanted to break her heart.

But he had.

He'd left.

And she'd felt the hurt, deep inside, the tears welling to the surface, just not able to keep it /away/...

...but he had. He /had/ kept it away.

And he was gone, and she didn't know, felt the fear rising up in her-

She shivered, there on the sidewalk, her plain white skirt fluttering in the wind.

Afraid again, and he wasn't /there/, couldn't /be/ there..., please no. Not again.

Please, not again.

Not the darkness, the loneliness.

Not alone. Not again.




God, I wish you were here, man.

Then I could shout at you for being such a freaking idiot.

Or maybe you weren't. Maybe it was the right thing. I dunno.

I mean, what now?

I feel like I'm the one tryin' to hold things together. The girls are /incredible/ - but you knew that - they've been /incredible/ at helping out, supporting it...

...but it just feels like I'm the one everyone looks to. Mr Star Athlete, the Kid himself, numero uno on campus. Expecting me to hold it together for the team...

...and believe me, man, I want to, you have no /idea/...

...but it's taking everything I've got, and then some. Taking everything I've got...

...and you made it look so /effortless/. Like managing to hold us all together was somethin' you did, easy as breathing. Not even having to think about it.

My God, man...

You were a star. You were a star, and we never even realised it. You were the one who was always there, the one who'd listen to all this bullshit, who'd put up with all our crap.

And yeah, so you were this rich guy's son. Didn't matter - well, it /sorta/ did, cause you were /way/ loaded. Not like you /used/ it, but we sure as hell remembered it when you did.

And you just put up with us, and now I'm looking back and thinking, man, you were /tough/, cause we threw everything but the sink at you, and you didn't snap on us, not /once/-

-and when you did, it was like the world turned upside /down/, like as if Salma Hayek revealed she was Dick Clark in disguise, and I /know/ the simile - see, that's a word you taught me, simile - sucks, but you know what it is I'm saying, right? You were /there/, we /needed/ you.

Me? I'm a jock. Plain and simple. This just... this just wasn't something I expected, y'know? Not ever. You were always gonna be there when we needed.

/God/, I wish I could shout at you.



An' now they're gone...

He shook his head.

No-one would have recognised the figure making its way through the abandoned bar. Thin, emaciated, half-wasted, the spiky black hair only accentuating the impression of someone barely able to stand, let alone walk.

He'd had to.

Pulled himself out of his bed almost on will alone, each step taking more than he thought he could spare, taking all he had to spend...

...coming back.

Why, he maybe couldn't explain even to himself, or to them.

Somewhere, he'd made a decision, or some bastich had made a decision...

...and they'd known he was gonna stay. That he'd fallen to earth, been caught here...

...maybe, somewhere, had wanted to stay here.

Had chosen what he'd found over what he had.

And they'd known. And they'd left.

Leaving him behind.

A biker without a gang. Maybe not even a /biker/, any more...

...had gone down for the kids, for /them/...

And the gang had understood what that meant.

He'd fought for /them/, had gone down for /them/...

...not for the gang.

Sacrificed himself for the kids.

And the gang'd known what that meant.

The kids weren't a gang, maybe couldn't be a gang.

But they were what he had. All he had.

Had chosen the kids over the gang...

...And maybe he didn't know why, couldn't say why...

...but he understood, he /knew/, why he'd made that decision.

Finally did. Finally understood.

He fished out a leather jacket from the debris, dusted it off.

New look, new gang. That was how it went, didn't it?

He shrugged it on.

A jacket, a bike...

...yeah, yeah, he knew what he was, who he was.

Knew it again.

His smile was sharp in the shadows.

And they'd better watch out...



Ma was freaked halfway to Kingdom Come.

Which was good, 'cause at least she was there to be freaked /at/.

Grounded for /life/, and the next hundred years.

And that was good, cause it meant she was still alive to /be/ grounded.

She woke up each day, thinking that maybe the whole summer had been a happy dream, that she was going to wake up again, and there'd be-

blood, and hurt, and the taste of bullets in the darkness, and the darkness itself, almost /alive/

-that she, and Cass, and Suzie, and Anita, that maybe it had all been a happy dream, an illusion going through her brain, trying to deal with it all.

Maybe she'd gone crazy, hallucinating this whole summer.

If she was, then she preferred being crazy, thank you so very much.

But if this /had/ been a happy dream...

...then Bart would've stayed too...

She looked at herself in the mirror. No. No makeup.

Maybe he hadn't died. But close enough.

He'd looked into its face...

...and she wanted to scream 'WHY?'

Why, for God's sake? Why Bart?

Why sunny, optimistic, impulsive, Bart?

Why any of them?

No answers. Maybe there were no questions.

She knew /why/ - Tim had made that clear, that first exhilarating, terrifying night.

They were after him. Wanted to kidnap him because he was Jake Drake's son, the son of the wealthy archaeologist.

Had tried, a couple of times.

And then they'd got serious.

The type of serious with blood, and bullets, and screaming, and-

-and Tim had left. He couldn't take it, what his presence would do to them.

Had seen what his presence /had/ done, had almost killed two of them...

...and in coldness, in logic, and in heartbreak, he had left.

Had gone to Brentwood. /Willingly/.

Had ...left.

Maybe he wouldn't be safe. But they would.

And it didn't surprise her, the way the thought of 'two of us' came to her mind.

And shortly afterwards, Bart had left, too. He said...

Saying he just needed some time alone. Time /away/...

A release form. As simple as that. A release form, and he was gone.

Not gone gone. But good as. Even Carol couldn't speak to him, these days...

Act first, think later - if at all. That'd been him.

Always on the go.

...but even Bart's speed couldn't dodge a speeding bullet.

Hadn't dodged it.

And she remembered her eyes tearing up, hurting, and burning, and...

...she wanted answers, she'd wanted /answers/ right *then*-

...they'd had to tear her off the shooter, screaming into his face, demanding he tell her why-

She'd finally gone home, and seen her bow-

-snapped it across her knee, and Ma would /scream/ at her for that, but it was a /weapon/-

-and what if someone got hurt, if someone died, what if someone /else/ had to see the light in their best friend's eyes die-

-and she couldn't take it-

-why Bart? why anyone?-


-and she sat there, in front of the mirror, looking into it, her eyes open, not seeing the tears tracking down her face.



She'd watched the other cheerleaders cheering the team on.

And she'd wanted to scream at them, wanted to scream that they didn't /understand/, that it was all a big /joke/-

-at their expense-

-that while they did this, people were /dying/.

And then she'd caught herself one day, in the middle of a cheer...

...and realising she hadn't thought about *it* for the last two days.

And she'd been angry at herself - how could she forget, how /could/ she-

-but happy, in a weird way, 'cause that meant it was fading, that she was dealing, that she could think about school, and homework, and other dumb girl-stuff-

-and she hadn't /wanted/ to, had wanted to wear it as a badge-

-but how long could she have gone, always remembering it?

Never forget, that was what they said-

-somewhere deep down, you didn't. You didn't forget.

But you let yourself /forget/, so you could carry on. So you could deal with the now.

And she hadn't known what to think... had wanted to hang on to it, but she couldn't, not without losing it, losing /herself/-

-and so she'd tried to go on.

'Cause it was what Tim would've wanted. And maybe he was gone, but that didn't matter - she was doing this for him, and the memory of him-

-and Mom had taken her tight in her arms, like she never wanted to let her go, never let her go out there-

-standing up for the others, sticking together, 'cause right now, it was the only thing they all had, this group, her, and Ciss, and Con, and Lobo, and Suzie, and Anita-

It was the only thing they all had.

And the others didn't understand, called them 'The Freak Squad', the 'Geek Clique', 'cause who'd wanna hang with that weirdo Suzie, her brain fried out the wazoo... and you /had/ to know what Lobo's pack had done, back in the day... or Anita, Miss Voodoo Chick herself, and all that crap about sacrificing the chickens, or the sick black magic somebody'd heard they did down at the cemetery...

They hadn't understood.

It was theirs. It was /all/ they had.

And she'd be /screwed/ if she was gonna let that fall apart.



It wasn't the first time.

Not the first time death had touched her life-

-Mommy dying, and Daddy isn't here, he's not /here/, he could save her and he's not /here/-

-Granmere dying, her spirit passing on into the mystery-

-the hurt healed, in time.

It healed. And you moved on. Lived your life.

Always aware it had been touched by death.

The cycle. Round and round and round. Life and death and life, the cycle continuing on, and you could rage at it to stop, but that would do nothing.

The Mysteres were just that. Mysteries.

You could bribe them, buy them, appeal to them, plead with them... and they would answer, if they wanted.

But only if they wanted.

Fire, and wind, and the thunderbolt...

Perhaps she did have a guardian loa. How else to explain how they'd all survived that night?

But how to explain why her mom had died? If Oya had saved her, and her friends, why not her mother?

Guardian of the gates of death. Perhaps she'd let the gates swing wide, let the Baron take her...

Only Oya could explain why she'd died - and Oya was under no obligation to explain herself to her, or what she did.

But she had survived - they had /all/ survived - and for /that/, she had offered up thanks.

All alive. All together.

Perhaps it was Oya, or fate, or destiny, or who knew what... but they had survived. And she, and the others, had remained together, had been through the fire and survived.

Had been /burned/ by the fire, hurt by it.

Changed. All of them changed. Finding themselves different from the people they'd used to be. Finding they were still themselves, for better or worse.

And then coming to the big question.

What now?

What do we do, now two of us are gone?

But it went deeper than that, buried in that night.

They'd all been touched by the fire

(a dark racer, speeding towards Lobo's bike)

all come out changed

(the biker seeing him, the slow grin on his face)

and now it had passed

(the gunman raising his gun)

they'd found their relationships had changed

(knowing that only she and Lobo can see the racer, overlaid over the gunman)

rediscovering each other in the fire's wake.

(and maybe he doesn't even see the gunman)

Reassessing themselves, and each other.

Holding together. Holding /each other/ together.

Staying together, because they needed to - just as importantly, /wanted/ to.

Survivors, all of them. Survivors of that night.

It hadn't been the first time. Not for her.

But the first time with others... knowing that there /were/ others, who'd shared this with you, who'd survived...

There for each other, and for themselves.

So... what now?

She didn't know.

None of them knew what would happen next, what might happen to them.

Only Les Mysteres might know, and they weren't telling.

Here, now, they were together.

And, when all was said and done... the end, /that/ was what mattered.

She raised her head, let out a breath.

And then, she walked through the school gates to join her friends.


But maybe, just maybe...

...we can build something else from the pieces.




Author notes: I know, I know... but the challenge did say open to all, and the idea wouldn't let me go. A response to the 'normal' challenge. One possible future from Arlene's 'Young, Just Us'...

Hoping Arlene doesn't mind me borrowing the setup for this take on it.

Disclaimer: Likenesses belong to DC Comics, not me.


Copyright 2001 Imran Inayat