A Broken Night
Legal: Plot-mine. Other stuff-someone else.
Summary: An AU story set during 'Is It Fall Yet' in response to Ned's Iron Chef Challenge to write a Daria/DeMartino shipper.
A cool wind howled past the small, shabby house, winding
its way through gaps in the weather stripping of windows long overdue for new
paint. He absently peeled a strip of dingy white from the frame, not really seeing
it, or the flashes of lightning outside the window. A clap of thunder sounded,
quickly followed by the dull roar caused by the deluge of rain hitting the
parched earth in sheets. The storm had finally arrived, breaking the long dry
spell. If he looked behind him, she would still be there. "I love you, Daria."
He whispered again.
But I get ahead of myself…
It was the last day of camp at the OK To Cry Corral, the campers gathered in a loose bunch under the blisteringly hot sun. Timothy O'Neill began his goodbye speech. "Well, campers, before you go, let's take a moment to reflect on the valuable lessons we've learned about our..."
A camper spoke up, cutting Timothy off as he wiped the sweat from his eyes. "Let Uncle Anthony talk!"
Mr. O'Neill continued, trying to ignore the interruption and the heat. "...um, about ourselves and the growth that only we can..."
"Uncle Anthony! He's cool!" Another camper broke in.
" ...um, the personal growth that..." Timothy was losing his train of thought, unsure what to do.
The first camper interrupted again. "Growth my butt! Uncle Anthony!"
A chorus of "Uncle Anthony" covered Timothy's feeble attempt at finishing. He stepped aside, confused as Anthony moved in front of him, obviously pleased at the attention. He glanced over at Timothy, then Daria, hoping they saw how much the campers liked him. He would be quick, the sun was too hot and they all needed to find shade. He watched a bead of sweat run down Daria's neck, tracing a winding path before soaking into the collar of her already damp t-shirt.
"Thank you, campers. Remember: if you feel yourself getting mad, go ahead! If someone's doing something to irritate you, tell them about it in detail! And hike... whenever you feel like it!" Anthony grinned at the campers as they cheered for him, feeling a glow of satisfaction. He thought Daria especially would appreciate his telling the young minds to voice their annoyance at stupidity and encouraging them to do what suited them without waiting to see what the rest of the herd thought. He was slightly disappointed at the lack of interest showing in her expression, but ignored it, thinking she never showed much emotion, and it was too hot to think anyway. He didn't doubt she agreed with him.
Timothy stood off to the side and mumbled to himself dejectedly. "I... I guess maybe I've been doing more harm than good..."
Anthony turned suddenly and hugged Timothy. His camp, wishy-washy as it was, had sparked a new hope in him. He had found what he was missing. "Thank you, Timothy. You've reawakened my hunger to enlighten. I want to teach again!"
Timothy laughed nervously. "Ooh... um, that hurts a bit."
Anthony looked to where Daria had been standing, but she was following one of the campers towards the bus. His smile dimmed somewhat.
Later that night, the doorbell of the Morgendorffer home rang. Helen opened the door to find Tom standing on the stoop. "Tom! Come in. Daria! Tom's here. Jake and I are so sorry we won't be able to make the museum benefit. Normally we love museums. In fact, we were thinking of seeing the Van Gogh exhibit this week."
Tom shifted uncomfortably. "Um, that exhibit left a year ago."
"Oh..." Helen chuckled nervously. Daria walked by her embarrassed mother, closing the front door behind her without a word and followed Tom to his car.
"Well, at least you can be confident your mother's not addicted to sedatives." Tom said flippantly.
Daria stopped and glared at him. "Hey, she didn't ask to be invited to that stupid fund-raiser." A cool wind whipped past them, but neither noticed the drop in temperature.
"My mother was just trying to be nice. A lot of people like going to those things." Tom said defensively. Hadn't Daria told his mother her family might be interested?
Daria continued to glare. "Sure. Helping the little people while avoiding contact with them at all costs."
"Um, is something wrong?" Tom had a feeling there was something he was missing. Why would she be angry?
"No." She replied sullenly.
"Come on. I had to beg you to come out tonight, and then the first thing you do is jump down my throat. What's going on?" Tom kept his annoyance in check, Daria didn't get emotional over little things. Hell, she didn't get emotional at all. Something must really be bothering her.
Daria sighed. "I don't know. It's the museum. And the country club. And your family. You know, your whole elitist world."
Tom bristled. "It's not elitist. And it's not my world."
Daria's anger flared again. "Don't tell me. Tell Aunt Mildred tomorrow when you get to your private island. And be sure not to mention me to her, okay?"
"What?" Tom had no idea what she was talking about. Where had that come from?
"It's obvious you don't want me mixing with your family, since you didn't ask me to the fund-raiser or the fireworks display." Daria spat at him.
"Daria, I didn't invite you to those things because I sure as hell didn't want to go and I assumed you wouldn't either. Right?" He replied calmly, trying to figure out what she was getting at. He hadn't done anything wrong.
"Well, you still should have asked."
"You're right." Just agree with her, and we can get on with the rest of the night.
"Unless you just assumed your parents were gonna hate me." Daria said pettishly.
"What? What are you talking about? My parents think you're great. They know you're really smart and headed for college and stuff. It's not like you're Jane." He knew instantly that was the wrong thing to say.
Daria narrowed her eyes. "What do you mean, 'not like I'm Jane?' Jane's smart."
Tom thought fast. "Yeah, I know she's smart. But she could get a Ph.D or spend the rest of her days painting tiles, and her parents wouldn't care either way. If we did that, our parents would have a fit."
Daria looked at him incredously. "So what you're saying is Jane isn't up to your family's standards. God, you're a snob."
Tom was getting fed up. "Damn it, Daria! Quit trying to pick a fight with me!"
Daria stared at him "Excuse me?"
"You attack my mother for inviting your parents to the fund-raiser, then attack me for not inviting you. You say my family disapproves of you, I say they relate to you better than Jane, and now I'm a snob." Daria saw a flicker of anger in his eyes. Another gust of wind blew down the street.
"Forgive me for being a loyal friend." Daria stopped when she realized what she'd said. Loyal? She almost missed what Tom said next as she marveled at her own gall.
Tom was almost shouting. "Why don't you say what you're really afraid of? The idea that you might actually start caring about someone. 'Cause that would make you vulnerable."
"Look, maybe we just jumped into this dating stuff too fast. Maybe we need to take a break." This was a bad idea from day one. How can I call myself a loyal friend? Why am I even seeing Tom?
"A break? From what? We haven't done anything! Come on, Daria!" Tom waited for some response from her but she said nothing. "I don't believe this. Well, I'm not going to stand here and beg." Daria just stood, her face expressionless. "Fine. Nice knowing you."
Tom got into his car, pounded once on the steering wheel, and drove away. He never saw the hint in her eyes that would have told him she just realized what their relationship must have done to Jane.
"Yeah, nice knowing you." She finally noticed the dark of the storm clouds approaching on the heels of a blood-red sunset and the wind that heralded a thunderstorm. She looked back towards the front door but turned and walked down the road instead.
She didn't know where she was headed, she just knew home was not a place she wanted to be. She found herself walking past Jane's, but Jane was still at the artist's retreat. And angry with her. Not that she would have been the best person to talk to about Tom. Maybe if Quinn had been home…she dismissed the thought, for all she had dated half the school, Daria didn't think Quinn knew much about relationships.
Maybe it wasn't just Tom that was bothering her. Daria stopped for a moment, staring ahead but seeing nothing, startled by a sudden thought. She couldn't think of one relationship she'd had, romantic or otherwise, that hadn't gotten screwed up. Quinn didn't even acknowledge her as family, her parents left her to practically raise herself…she'd always blamed them for their inadequacies but what if it was her fault? From her earliest memories, she had never wanted to try to fit in, to make any effort to connect to anyone. The same way she realized now she didn't want to change or make any real effort to work it out with Tom. Hell, she couldn't even get it right with Link.
How selfish was she? I really expect everyone to conform to what I believe is right, don't I? And when they didn't, she rejected them and stuck to her conviction that the world was out to get her. Jane was the only one who'd accepted her as is, and Daria had done the one thing that would have hurt her most. Was Tom right? She purposefully sabotaged relationships because she didn't like feeling vulnerable? Daria shook her head and kept walking. Her thoughts were running rampant, disconnected and careening though her head. Everything seemed like such a struggle, Tom, Jane, Link…and nothing went right. Why did she even bother?
Daria looked up and saw a flash of lightning in the distance. She strained to hear a thunderclap, counting to judge how far away the storm was. She didn't hear anything and stopped counting. It was still far enough away she didn't need to head back home yet. She plodded onward to an unknown destination, her footsteps heavy. She walked past houses with cheesy lawn ornaments and novelty mailboxes, the only sound the gust of wind through the leaves. She had just passed a smallish, derelict house when she realized it was the house Jane had once called the "House of Bad Grades", and then proceeded to tell a ridiculous urban legend type story. Daria smiled sadly at the memory and plodded on, past the house and down the street toward the woods.
She thought she saw something on the road ahead and slowed to a more cautious pace. Upon closer inspection she saw it was a squirrel. Well, mostly a squirrel. It looked like it had been hit by a car, it was lying on its side, its back legs crushed and bloody, breathing fast and staring at her out of one beady black eye. Daria stared at it.
She turned at the sound of an approaching car, squinting as headlights shone at her as it approached. It slowed as it came closer, but she couldn't make out anything, the glare off her glasses almost blinding her. Tom?
The car pulled up beside her, but she didn't recognize it. She instinctively backed up. The window rolled down.
"Daria!" The driver exclaimed.
Daria breathed out in relief. I've been watching too much Sick, Sad, World. "Hello, Mr. DeMartino."
"Not exactly an ideal evening for a stroll. Any particular reason you've chosen to wander in the dark alone?" There was only a hint of the normal stress on every few syllables that was his normal speech pattern. Maybe tension just makes it worse, Daria thought.
"I just needed to…think." She stated. She wasn't sure why she felt she owed him an explanation. She'd gotten to know him in a different context while working at the camp, he was as overly stressed-out as a camp counselor as he was as a high school teacher, but at the camp, she saw he really did want to help children learn. She had started to see him as more of a person than as just a 'teacher', someone you forgot about after the bell rang.
Although she'd hidden it at the time, the day he'd flipped out and thrown the chair through the window, she'd been shocked. The look on his face was chilling as he'd shattered the glass. She had been almost afraid of him then, but as he led the cheering children off on a hike, he'd seemed normal enough, happy even. And everyone had come back safe. She'd dismissed the thought as her imagination. If nothing else, it added to her new perception of him as a person, not just an authority figure.
"I can't, in good conscience, let you wander alone through the woods at night. Let me give you a ride." He leaned over and unlocked the passenger door.
Daria stood for a moment, unsure. Then, chiding herself for being ridiculous, she opened the door and got in. It wasn't like he was a stranger, after all. It wasn't until much later that she realized he'd offered her a ride, but had never said to where.
They sat in silence as she fastened her seat belt. She looked ahead again at the dying squirrel. The mood of night just seemed to get worse and worse. Anthony followed her gaze. He put the car in drive and accelerated. Daria felt the bump-bump as he drove over the squirrel. Her eyes must have widened or she made some sound she wasn't aware of because he turned to her, a strange look in his eyes. "It was suffering."
She merely nodded as he pulled back on to the road. "What were you thinking about that lead to your meandering on deserted roads in the middle of the night?" Anthony inquired. He couldn't believe she'd been there, on the side of the road, almost as if she had been waiting for him.
"I broke up with my boyfriend." Daria muttered. She turned to look out the window and didn't see the smile flicker across his face.
"Ah, well, let me assure you you'll find another." He tried to keep his voice even. "What was that?" He thought he heard her mutter 'yeah, right.' He stole a glance at her, she looked so sad, her forehead pressed against the glass. He didn't recall ever seeing her express so much emotion.
"Nothing." She replied.
He glanced at her again, then back to the road, the headlights cutting through the blackness that was the road in front of them. "You remind me of a young girl I once knew. Catherine. She was bright and beautiful, met her during the war."
"Really." Daria murmured, only half listening.
"She was a nurse at one of the camps." He seemed to be talking more to himself than Daria. He stared ahead, lost in thought as Daria continued to look out the window at the dark scenery passing by.
He had only known her for two weeks, the length of time he had been at the base while they waited for new recruits to replace the ones that had been killed or wounded. The massacre had been devastating, no one had gotten out without some kind of scar, most hadn't gotten out at all. But that was the way it was in the steaming hot jungle, death lurked behind every palm frond.
The rainy season had just started, only adding to the miserable atmosphere. Instead of hot and sunny, it was hot and wet, though at night it was slightly more bearable. He walked out of the barracks and crossed behind the medic tent. It was there he found her, sitting on the muddy ground, her forehead resting on her knees, hands clasped behind her head sobbing quietly into the dark, the sound almost lost in the steady drip of the rain.
They had only spoken a few times, but he thought he was beginning to have feelings for her. It hurt to see her so unhappy. He sat next to her on the wet ground and put his arm around her. She looked up, tears welling and spilling over.
"Another one today. In my arms, he was eighteen!" She sobbed again. "How many more? When will it be over? This can't go on forever, can it?"
He looked into her brown eyes, so full of anguish and pulled her close to him. He couldn't bear to see her suffer.
"It'll be all right." He whispered to her.
"She died the night they ambushed the camp." He said. Daria wasn't sure he even remembered she was in the car. Or that he was in a car.
He blinked. "She didn't belong there."
Daria looked over noting the faraway look in Mr. DeMartino's eyes. She hoped he was paying attention to where they were going. Wait. Where were they going? He didn't know where she lived and they were definitely headed in the wrong direction.
"Um, Mr. DeMartino?" She asked hesitantly. "Mr. DeMartino?"
He seemed to snap out of it. "Yes, Daria." She was suddenly reminded of the way he called on her in class.
"We're not exactly headed to my house." She started.
He looked ahead as a clap of thunder sounded above them. The storm was closer. He cleared his throat. "My apologies. I was distracted."
She was about to give him directions when he pulled into a driveway. She felt tendrils of fear curl in her stomach, where were they? As though he had heard her unvoiced question Anthony spoke.
"Force of habit seems to have gotten us to my house. Why don't you come in, you can call your parents and tell them you're all right. I'm sure they're worried."
Daria only nodded, expecting to feel relief, but finding none. Her parents wouldn't be worried, they thought she was out with Tom. she wisely kept that thought to herself. She got out of the car and followed him inside. She heard him curse as he tripped on something just inside the doorway. She stood in the foyer, unsure of what to do. Sure, it was strange to be in a teacher's house but why did she still have this nagging fear? It's just the storm, she told herself. And the Tom Thing. The lights flickered on, then off, then back on.
"Stupid electricity, every time there's a storm it flickers. There's a phone in the kitchen." Anthony waved to Daria's right.
She walked into the kitchen and looked around quickly. She spied the phone on the wall and grabbed it like a lifeline. She still felt uneasy, as though everything was part of some bizarre dream. She held the phone to her ear and started to dial, stopping suddenly when she realized there was no dial tone. She hung up the phone, her hand shaking slightly. She stood there for several minutes, just staring at the phone.
"Did you talk to your parents?" His voice called from the other room. Thunder sounded again and the lights flickered.
"Yeah, I told them I'd be home soon." Daria wasn't quite sure why she lied. "We should get going so they don't worry about us driving in the storm."
Daria turned to examine the kitchen in more detail, more out of nervousness than curiosity. She didn't hear Anthony come up behind her. "Would you like anything to drink? You must be thirsty after all that walking."
Daria jumped slightly. "No, thank you. We really should get going."
"Of course, but if you wouldn't mind if I had something before we left..." He got a glass out of the cupboard and poured a glass of water.
She searched for a safe topic to dispel the awkward silence in the kitchen.
"Did you enjoy working at the camp, Daria?" Anthony beat her to it.
Daria smirked. "The OK to do anything that'll cause you to burst into tears but not break a sweat camp?" Anthony laughed. "Yeah it was ok."
Anthony saw the frown flicker across her face, quickly hidden. "I thought you did a wonderful job with the campers, especially that one boy, Link."
Daria suppressed her snort of disbelief. She hadn't done anything nearly resembling a wonderful job with Link. She turned away, her earlier doubts about her ability to maintain any kind of relationship flooding back. "Link didn't think so." She muttered to herself. "First Jane, then Link, now Tom." She shook her head.
Anthony heard her self-admonishments and took a step closer. He'd watched her over the summer, listened when she thought no one was around to hear. He knew they just didn't appreciate her uniqueness. He almost laughed at that thought, he'd been around Timothy too long.
He put his hand on her shoulder, he looked into her eyes as she turned around. Before she knew what was happening, he had pulled her closer, covering her lips with his. It was a few moments before her brain caught up.
She slammed her hands into his chest, pushing him away. "What the hell are you doing?" She backed up into the counter.
"Daria, I'm…I've been thinking about you all summer." He managed to get out.
Subtle details she had dismissed over the past few weeks sprang to the front of her mind, all the times she'd thought he was watching her, then decided she was being silly. Anthony saw the fear and confusion on her face. It wasn't what he had expected at all. He thought she would be happy someone like him was interested in her, he was everything she could want. He hated that look in her eyes, confused, frightened, suffering. That lousy boyfriend was to blame, he was sure of it. He took a step toward her.
He had the same look in his eyes as he had when he'd broken the window and run over the squirrel. If no other thought would form, Daria suddenly knew she was in trouble. She felt behind her on the counter. This is not happening. Her hand closed around the handle of the cheap steak knife she had noticed earlier. She held it in front of her. "Give me your car keys. I'm getting out of here."
"Daria, just listen-" He came at her. He made a motion to grab her arm and she panicked.
She swung wildly, paling when she felt, rather than heard metal sink into flesh.
He yelled in pain, grabbing the knife handle and yanking it out of his shoulder, blood streaming down his arm. Daria stood in shock. He grabbed her with his wounded arm, pulling her to him so her back was to his chest. He wrapped his other arm around her as she struggled.
She managed to aim a backwards kick to his shin, but it only caused him to fall sideways, taking her with him. They landed hard on the linoleum floor. Daria cried out in pain as her head hit one of the kitchen chairs. Spots danced in front of her eyes. She could feel the sticky warmth of his blood soaking into her jacket as he held her tightly to him. It was so hard to breathe.
"Sshhh." He tightened his arms around her even more as she struggled vainly.
He felt her tears on his hand and the too rapid pace of her heart. "Please let me go."
He held tight with his uninjured arm and raised his other hand slightly so he could stroke her hair. She shuddered when she felt his fingers on her neck.
"I can't bear to see you suffer." He whispered softly.
Her head was spinning and she couldn't breathe. "Please, let me go."
"It'll be all right."
There was a small snap and then Daria fell bonelessly against him. He kissed her gently. "I love you, Daria."