usual copyright disclaimer: CHANT: Characters are not mine, um-lalalalala
they are property of MTV -um, lalalalala this is from the Season 3 finale, Jane's Addition - more exploration on Trent's perspective. Anti D/T shippers might want to skip this.

Trent's Equation
by medea42

Jane and Daria appeared at the Zen just as the Spiral ripped into "Mr. Normal." Trent found their timing perfect; the cops already left for some high school party bust and Jane had time to persuade Daria to accept the fake IDs that Trent passed along as a special gift so they could see him perform. Since Daria would probably object at first, he actively encouraged Jane to use him as bait for her to bend her moral code a little – worked well enough when he took her for a piercing. Perfect timing, perfect time.

Lately Trent noticed time - particularly months and years - increased speed as the imaginary numbers zipped past him. He realized that Daria and Janey were close to finishing high school, and Trent wanted, as much as possible, to make a difference in both their lives before they left for parts unknown. Almost 25, he noticed life did not go according to plan, although the new line of rehearsals and gigs gave him some hope. Through Daria and Jane he knew for sure he could mean something to someone, since he now faced the mortality of his career as a musician.

As Trent launched into the next song, he thought about all the ways 0ne could change his right now, and what surfaced was his desire for a relationship that actually meant something. He wanted more than a life of Fridays at the Zen, Saturdays at McGrundy's and Thursdays covering some high school birthday party. He wondered if he stayed in Lawndale instead of leaving to take his chances in the city because Jane needed him, or because he needed Jane. A greedy part of his mind wondered, if he made himself available enough to Daria over her senior year, if he might tempt her to stay in Lawndale, a salve to his own pending loneliness and a magnet to bring Jane home before she too was struck with wandering Lane syndrome.

As he belted "Ow, My Face!" he contemplated how all emotional satisfaction in the last three years came ultimately from Daria or Jane, and
in the most stressful circumstances, from Daria's parents. Monique's mom still tried to make him feel welcome, a member of the household, but his breakups with Monique were lasting longer these days and Monique's mom really acted more like a cool older friend. Besides, Monique had her own gig. The Harpies were doing great, probably better without him around to distract her. He and she never quite connected on a lot of ideas, and departing from each others' company showed increasingly positive effects on both his and her creative processes.

Daria, on the other hand, jogged his creativity. She understood the way he thought and accepted him non-critically, something he accepted for the amnesty it was -- he saw, and heard from Jane, exactly how blistering she could be when she turned her criticism on the world around her. With him, she could criticize plenty, but instead only said what needed saying. The older she got, the more he appreciated her; when asked, he admitted he really liked Daria. When he told her he wished she were older so he could take her out, he said so half-joking, but the joking half was waning as she demonstrated more and more maturity. In the face of dawning emotional emptiness and the new slipperiness of time, he was really, really thinking about Daria, and her future - and how it might fit with him.

Trent saw Jane connect with some guy in the audience and smiled to himself. At least one Lane child pursued happiness when it happened, and could fit it in between art projects. He noticed Daria standing off to the side of the stage, looking a little pissed, and he signaled to the rest of the band to cut the first set short. Daria was not one to mix, and Trent guessed she might appreciate a rescue before some drunk tried approaching her.

Jesse traveled on some other plane tonight, for sure. "We'll be back for a second set in an hour," he told the crowd. Jesse raised his fist, yelled into the mike, "That was the first set!"

"Uh, OK," he gave Jesse his come-back-to-the-planet look. Daria needed attention now, so he would ask Jesse what dimension his brain went to later.

Janey mentioned Daria wanted to talk to him about something, and since she stood there alone it was probably important or some convenient ditch effort of Janey's -- she pulled it once with Jesse at Alternapalooza. Daria said something about both of them wanting to chat with him, and he gestured for her to follow him to the bar.

The bartender kept his beer bottle full of water ready (to protect his cords) and he set a glass of Coke out for Daria. She spent no time on pleasantries.

"We're doing a multi-media project for class," she explained. "And we'd like your help."

Multimedia held serious PR potential to an up-and-coming band. Much as he hated high schoolers, theirs was the demographic that could launch Mystic Spiral into record companies. "You want to watch Mystic Spiral rehearse, do a documentary on an up and coming band?" Sounded cool. "We're in."

Daria looked put off for a moment, making Trent feel as though his bar stool was biting him. "Actually, we were hoping you'd write some music for us, about thirty seconds."

Oh. Well, that was a little disappointing, since it meant no PR for Mystic Spiral and probably time isolated from Daria and Jane. NOT what he wanted at the moment. Still, Daria was asking, and he could deny her no more than he could Jane. "Sure, I'll do it. Cool. I'm going digital." He needed to develop the skill anyway.

He hoped Daria would smile when he said that, but all she did was shrink into her chair a little. Trent realized he felt strangely awkward around her, and began tapping his fingers on the bar, searching his mind for something to continue their conversation. Common subject...common subject...his sister. "So where'd Janey go?"

"She went for a ride with some guy she just met," Daria informed him. Uh oh, looked like a sour subject crashing on that front wave. "She said she'll be back for the second set."

Tick tock. Time slipping, so fast before, now slow and elastic. Daria mercifully spoke again. "Look, I'm kind of beat. I'd stay for the second set, but -"

Trent knew she really hated his music, and decided not to force her to lie. "That's OK. The second set is just the material that's not good enough for the first set. I wouldn't stay myself if I weren't playing." He saw a smirk quirking Daria's lips, and felt a tiny surge of triumph. The clock of his life resumed its tick in time to the beating of his heart.

Before the silence split into extended time again, he glanced at the imaginary watch on his wrist. "The second set isn't for another hour," and since Daria woke up in the mornings, she probably was tired. "Want a ride home?"

She seemed surprised by the offer. "Yeah, thanks." Daria jumped from the stool, ready to leave. Trent set aside his bottle; the band drank free, no need to finish.

Maybe the club made her uncomfortable, because Daria - for Daria - really let loose in the car. She was so verbal about Janey's leaving with some guy that Trent felt the muscles in the back of his neck tensing with each slash of her tongue. "Janey can take care of herself," he reassured her. As the youngest of five siblings with strong personalities, she better know how. Besides, Daria took that self- defense class with her.

"You're not worried?" Wasn't that what he just told her?

Clearly, this rant of Daria's was about something else. Janey dated a few guys since Daria came to town, so the sudden freak-out session mystified him. Maybe she noticed the rapid slide of time a too. "You gotta learn to relax," he told her. "Just let things happen." If her life became any more planned, she'd kill the oh-so-necessary opportunity for opportunity to knock.

As he pulled in front of the Morgendorffer home, Trent admitted to himself that he regretted having to leave Daria, even in her present foul mood. At her nastiest he still found her engaging. "Come by tomorrow," he told her. "We can talk about the project."

Daria hesitated, and Trent wondered if she wished to continue this moment, but responsibility overrode his desire. "I gotta get back before Nick and Max kill each other."

Daria half-smiled at this. "Yeah, I wouldn't want to miss that either."

Trent laughed, and everything he valued about her surfaced. "You're funny, Daria."

Trent arrived to see Jesse removing Max's drumsticks as he stood threateningly over Max. Jane was off to the side, laughing. She and the guy were looking friendly, but not touchy and Jesse, after assuring himself Trent was fully returned and ready to play, began grooving on his guitar as a warm up. Jane just smiled at him, and never asked about Daria, looking more involved in her new friend. Thinking about Daria, and about his new outlook on time, Trent took the stage and Mystic Spiral rocked the Zon off balance.

Voices and weird vibes rolling up the stairs interrupted Trent's dreaming the following afternoon. A run of fingers through his hair, pants, shirt. Some other reason to wake up today - go downstairs, the answer probably waited near the door.

Daria, Jane and the guy from the Zen were standing around the living room. Daria - oh yeah, that project. Jane clearly wanted a little extra time with the guy, and Trent decided to receive her signals.

"This is my brother, Trent," Jane introduced him. Formal intro? She planned on seeing him again.

"You guys sounded great last night," he said. Oh yeah, this Tom was in.

"I'll walk Tom to his car," Jane announced. He noticed the slight nod of her head and tapped Daria.

"Come on, Daria," Trent said. "We can talk about the project in the kitchen."

"Shouldn't we wait for Jane?" Daria asked.

"Nah," Trent said. "She needs to walk Tom to his car. We can talk." Maybe she would relax, stop hammering her expectations for a change.

He seated Daria at the table, then Trent fumbled through the kitchen, looking for a pot, or something, related to making coffee.

"You Lanes aren't morning people, are you?" Daria observed.

Trent thought her tone was vaguely insulting, and wanted to defend his lifestyle from whatever she was saying. "The night holds the key." Not bad for operating on half a cylinder. Coffee. Must. Have.

"The key to what?" she demanded. The key to adventure, to mystery, to romance. The key to knowing where the hell the can of French roast was at the moment.

"I don't know, Daria. It's early." Still, she challenged him, and Trent valued her for that. But no fair challenging before coffee or food. Water. Pan. Stove.

"So, about that project," Daria began.

Not one for a hint - she must still be tired. "Don't you think we should wait for Janey?"

"But you said we could talk about it." So THAT was the problem.

For someone so smart, Daria still needed to learn a lot about the way people operate. "I just did that so Janey could have some time alone with Tom."

"Don't you think it's weird that he's inviting himself over already?" Oh, this again.

Trent smiled to himself. He wished he was on a level with someone where he could invite himself over. "He likes her." And Janey might be happy for awhile. Good for her.

Daria's mood swung, and Trent noticed her empathic pendulum. Damn that sensitivity. Might as well acknowledge the change. "You gotta learn to relax," he told her. "Just let things happen."

Her mood did not sway. "But you can't be relaxed about everything."

Like the way time continued to slide off his wrist and into one late practice after another. The way each second in the kitchen with Daria was shorter and shorter, or the few seconds Janey was having with Tom was probably switching to a fifteen minute make-out session in the driveway.

Trent backpedaled for Daria. "Yeah," he agreed. He also decided to tacitly acknowledge he was under her critical eye. "Like, I'm relaxed about a lot of stuff, but NOT my career. I take that VERY seriously." He knew about some of the talks Janey and Daria had about him, while under the illusion he slept all day. Trent actually worked hard, but maintained his slacker persona so Jane would never receive the impression for him that he was too involved in his work for her, unlike their parents, who really were too artistically involved to bother with their youngest children. The professional music scene was filled with rejection, even at his suburban level, and he thought it better for Janey if she considered him a slacker than feeling every punch of failure with him.

Trent wanted to offer some insight and contrast of himself to Daria, to warn her for her own sake to relax, to let go of some of her expectations before she made herself ill like her father had, or tortured herself with guilt and ultimately became her mother. She was a writer, and would soon face rejections, too. He liked the Morgendorffers, but he saw how badly Daria needed a standard to live down to -- to know he accepted her for herself, as Daria accepted Trent for himself.

Instead the phone interrupted. Trent received an earful of pissed-off Max. "Damn," he said. No chance to give Daria insight she needed, and three angry guys to handle. "I'll be there," he promised, and beeped off the phone.

Daria stared at him expectantly. So much for a long heart to heart chat. "I have to go. I'm an hour late for a really important audition." As he headed out the door, the delayed oxygen reached his brain, and Trent could see the meter of Daria's admiration for him sink with a ca-chunk.

The audition blew, and Trent accepted full blame. Nick was most pissed off - "I have a kid to support!" while Max delivered one dig after another about Trent's failure. Jesse hurt the most. He said nothing.

On the way home, with Jesse and him alone in the van, Jesse finally spoke.

"Is it that chick?" he asked.

"What chick?"

"The one at the Zen last night - Jane's friend." Jesse was over as often as Daria, and Trent guessed that her sudden relegation to "that chick" meant Jesse sensed a bad vibe rubbing off on Trent.

"Daria? What about her?" Jesse's insights, while not complex, often went straight to the heart of the people he observed. His brains went entirely to his music most of the time, but sometimes he still demonstrated he was more than just hair.

Jesse looked uncertain for a minute, but plowed ahead. "Whenever you've been around her lately, you've been down on yourself."

Because of Trent, the Spiral just blew an audition. A big one. "Shouldn't I be?"

"First time you've ever cared." Trent shifted his eyes to the clock, and felt incredibly tired at the numbers reading 2 am.

Trent managed to rise before noon on Monday -around 9 am. He forgot how bright colors looked in the morning, when the sun angled across the world from the east. With a little ingenuity, a gig writing a jingle for Lackluster Video and the sacrifice of beer and half of his gas money, Trent managed to purchase a midi synthesizer and related computer software. Set him back three hundred bucks. Trent determinedly ignored that he spent the money on a request for thirty seconds of music, and rationalized that he could use the equipment later, uploading music for Mystic Spiral. Janey was duly impressed at his plumbing rendition of "Oh Suzannah!" that he worked on while trying to familiarize himself with the software.

Janey told him the idea behind their project, and he started work, but trashed every attempt. Over the next two weeks, Trent was trying to amend his screw-up with the band by lining up two new auditions and landing an additional gig at the Zen, a couple hours after their usual night at McGrundy's. After almost 70 hours of practice and performance, Mystic Spiral blew all the auditions on their own merits -- Trent managing to appear early, averting any blame. The rift with the band was fixed, and while the failure at the auditions frustrated him, he started to notice that the real talent in the group was Jesse, and he needed to find a way to bring out his skill on that rhythm guitar to the group's advantage.

He saw Daria once during the two weeks, while he was still trying to figure out how to upload music from the keyboard to the computer. He was testing methods with the barking dog sound and had hoped he could ask Daria how to configure everything, but she and Jane left before he could ask her for help. Asking Jane proved no good, since her technical skill applied only to television remotes and microwave operations, and her ability to operate those were close to nil with the advent of Tom.

At the end of the week, Trent heard the clock ticking, clicking, slipping and sliding but he still couldn't upload the damn music. His hidden perfectionist again tripped him on the way to creating the product, and Trent hid behind his cloak of procrastination, disappointed in himself that he could not complete this simple request when he managed to write jingles with less trouble.

On Sunday, Trent prepared to swallow his pride and ask the girls for help. His technical incompetence overrode his need to appear manly and capable of handling technology. Instead, both girls pounced on him giving him no time to brace against their assault.

"Trent, have you got the music yet?" Janey demanded.

Hurt, Trent tried to hide within art-babble. "I'm still conceptualizing,"
he told her.

"30 lousy seconds of music Trent," Jane yelled at him. "What's there to conceptualize?"

Before Trent could answer her, Daria delivered the chilling blow. "Jane's going to fail language arts and it's all your fault!"

Trent felt totally betrayed; even his muse was against him! The notches slid, and his opinion of Daria lowered, lowered, lowered. "You guys are acting weird," he informed them, and beat a path to the door.

"Where are you going?" Jane yelled after him.

"Anywhere but here!" Trent snapped.

After he left the house, Trent walked, and walked, and walked until he arrived at Jesse's house, all the while cursing himself for trading gas money to impress an ungrateful teenybopper who was too good for the whole world and to help his equally unappreciative sister.

Trent pounded on the door to the basement access of the Moreno's house, and Jesse, when he saw him, gestured him inside wordlessly. Both men watched the television for two hours, before Jesse grabbed his keys and with a gesture, informed Trent to follow him to his car. That night they spent in the city, living out their personal desperations while never expending a word between themselves.

By the next evening, Trent resolved his own expectation of some high schooler were far too high. Disappointing Daria was the best thing he could have done for her, but at her place in life, she would not understand -- she still saw two weeks as a Saharan desert stretch that Trent lost in a nap on a daily basis. Asking her for pizza was more than damage control, it was dynamic adjustment.

She consented quickly enough, and Trent guessed her crush was about to crash. "I just wanted to explain to you why I didn't finish on time," he told her.

"Yes?" He could tell Daria wanted him to reinstate her version of hero-worship. He could not meet her eyes, and he could not tell her all of the problem. He needed to end the crush, particularly in the face of the way he felt about her. He hung his head. "I couldn't get the music together."

Trent fixed his eyes on the plate, because he knew under Daria's typical impassivity, the truth might roll from him.

She still clung to expectations. "That's it? That's your explanation?" He wanted to explain all of it, but not now, not now.

Trent finally raised his eyes, and saw that Daria's mask dropped for a moment. The depth he saw in her expression almost undid him, almost undid his resolve. He was tempted to make it up to her, to try to soothe her disappointment and raise her expectations again. His eyes fell on the clock on the wall above the counter, and he decided not to -- there was a time for everything, and time for this rolled before him as an ocean.

"Daria, you know how I think. Creativity can't be controlled by deadlines." Trent wanted to give her thirty seconds of something creative and beautiful, not another advertising jingle.

He saw her still struggling, trying desperately to hang on to that crush, to deny the change and try a new approach. Ultimately, her realism conquered. "I do Trent, I do." As she twisted the knife, she cut the cord of her idol worship. "I guess we have different ideas about what commitment means."

As she spoke, the cosmos unlatched the door to a well within Trent.

Jane appeared, holding hands with Tom. Just in time, releasing Trent from saying more, from steering the course instead of allowing to happen. "I don't care what she says, Trent. I'm never speaking to you again!"

"You just did." Half a smile crept across his Trent's face.

"Oh. Dammit!" she stomped a foot. He could never really screw up with Janey; in the cycle of the younger Lanes they always ended with each other.

"Did he give you an explanation of what happened?" Janey wanted to know.

"From his point of view." Daria was still resetting the bar for him, Trent could see the wheels still turning.

"Rough day on the farm, Daria?" Trent had a feeling Tom just left him out of something that definitely involved him.

He looked to Daria for explanation. "I don't get it."

Daria and Tom exchanged a look that Trent would have to wait to share with Daria. "Inside joke," she explained.

Jane gave Tom a girlfriend expression. "No inside jokes. Uh-uh." She dragged him off.

Time was sliding, and Janey and Daria needed to fix whatever needed fixing with them. "I gotta go," he told Daria. "I'm late."

"Shouldn't you get a watch?" Daria asked him. First time she ever suggested he change. Already.

"I'm always late," he explained to her. "Watches just depress me."

Her look was now one of resignation. "Strangely, that makes sense." Part of Trent smiled, and a paradigm shifted.

As he kissed her cheek and strode away, Trent knew that the universe determined, in the slide of time, that ultimately Daria would change him. He promised to make her work easy; while seconds slid faster than they had, he was still given time to slowly change himself for her while giving her freedom from her old crush to find out who she was, who Trent saw behind her glasses and dark humor. So little time, so much to come.

Author's Note:
I struggled to reduce the melodrama, but I chose to leave some in because my own feeling from watching the episodes in season 3 and 4 is that Trent has major stuff in the works off screen, and that some of it applies to Daria. I believe that this story was pivotal: Daria's crush on Trent was squashed, I agree, but I see traces where Trent's crush, slowly kindling in Season 3, is set alight here. Since I believe Trent is actually a more mature character than we actually see on the show, I think his method of expressing his feelings will come across subtlety and peripherally, since he is at an age where he is much more cognizant of relationship consequences than Jane or Daria. Yes, I am a Trent/Daria shipper, but the way I would like to see the relationship develop will likely never appear on the show. For the record, I am also a Tom/Daria shipper -- I'm pretty skeptical about the whole "one true love" shtick. I think Daria needs a little experience, to give new fodder to her cynicism, and to bring out more of her compassionate side.