A/N: So I'm thinking this is set sometime amidst Jane's Addition (the episode in which Tom first comes into the picture, and daria and Jane are working on the multimedia project for mr. O'neil's class), though of course there will be canon bending liberties taken, because that's what fan fiction is all about... And I suppose I'm pretending the episode "Pierce Me" isn't quite so far in the past...don't make fun of me for the "funky doodle"...it was really the name of the store, I swear.
How the hell did this happen? mused Daria, experiencing a strange emotional medley of awkward confusion, isolation and disdain. Under the cover of shadows in the dimmed room, she surveyed the teenagers around her, as they engaged in their popularity games, pranks, power plays, and general inane conversation...no matter what high school, state, or for that matter, country, teenagers are the same the world over. And this was just like high school, only worse. Oh, so much worse.
The only familiarity of the evening's festivities was the loud blare of Mystic Spiral's latest, pumping through the stacked speakers and shaking the walls. In a way she was grateful for that one, oh so very loud, security. Perhaps she'd been abandoned, but at least the band was in sight on stage. Not for the first, nor the last time of the night, Daria thought, Jane, I'm going to kill you.
It all started with an invitation, of which to Daria's credit, she'd attempted to evade. Well...in the beginning, anyways. Jane's enthusiastic "Tom invited me to a party across town, want to come with?" didn't exactly inspire Daria to dance in a fit of glee. As one can well imagine, her reply came frigid as artic ice, a most decided and determined, "No way in hell."
Jane's new relationship with this young Tom rankled Daria, even frightened her, in a way. She could feel her best friend pulling away from her, little by little, seduced by the clutches of someone exciting and new. Though Daria rarely received an invitation to accompany Jane to pizza, movies, watch Sick Sad World, or any other forms of mischief they had once shared so contentedly, the idea of playing third wheel at a party still ranked less than enticing.
Jane well knew that only one thing had a snowball's chance in said hell, of convincing her. Stalwart as Daria stood in her antisocial convictions, there was a certain musician for whom Daria was known to do the most outlandish things. The most cutting sarcasm could be reduced to a plain yeah in his presence, and her usually bored façade had once burned fiery red with a nervous rash for fear of making a fool of herself in front of him. She had even allowed a man named Axl to poke a hole in her body at this crush's suggestion. Jane Lane had learned to never underestimate the lengths Daria would bound for her brother, and so it was not without calculation she'd hailed, "Hey, Trent!" as he walked in the kitchen.
"Hey guys. You talking about the party?"
Before Daria could express her true feelings on the matter, Jane quickly answered "You mean the party you and Spiral have a gig at this weekend? Why yes, yes we were."
Raising a sharply arched eyebrow at Jane's duplicitous tone, the corner of Trent's mouth ticked with a smirk. "So are you guys coming? I know I could use the moral support, at a high school party. But a gig's a gig, right Daria?"
As his attention turned to her, Daria swallowed, hard. "Ah...yes, yes it is." Jane noticed, but deflected the rays of death her best friend beamed her way with a scarlet smile. "I guess we're in."
"Cool," said Trent, smirk widening to a true smile. "You guys can ride with us, if you want. You might not be in the best shape to drive, come end of the evening."
Daria's eyes widened to a full bloom of nervous surprise. Before she could express her reservations, Jane said, "Thanks Trent. I think we'll take you up on that."
Ah, but finagling Daria into going was not the end. Indeed, it was only the beginning. Though it was not complete pretense under which Jane dragged Daria to Dega street, for Jane too wanted something new to wear, Daria knew her parochial school skirt and green jacket were being threatened with displacement. "I don't want to dress up, Jane. In fact, I don't dress up. Period."
Jane whisked aside the protest easily with a wave of her hand, sending it to fly into oblivion. The poor thing never stood a chance. "We don't have to dress up" insisted Jane. "We should just dress differently. Come on, aside from us, I don't think there will even be any Lawndale students there. Who will know? Even, consider it a disguise...It'll be fun."
With a narrowing of eyes, Daria sighed. Resignation? Acquiescence? Perhaps. But maybe, just maybe, it was a well masked curiosity. "Maybe." she defended. "If I see something I like."
It was staring into the window display of the Funky Doodle clothing store, that just that unexpected phenomenon occurred. Not but a month ago, she and Trent had stood in that very same place, on a mission to find Jane a birthday present. That same black dress he'd casually pointed at, saying You'd look good in that, inspiring a tingle of excitement in her tummy and a rosy blush on her cheeks, still hung in the window. Though she tried to hide her interest, Jane honed in like a missile, mercilessly accurate. "You like that, don't you, Morgandorffer. Come on, try it on." Giving no time for protest, Jane grabbed her arm, dragging her into the store.
And so her fate was sealed. Daria found herself dressing for the party at Jane's house. She consoled herself that Trent rarely remembered anything, much less a dress he saw in a window more than a month ago...she should be in the clear.
When the girls walked out to the Tank to pile in with the rest of the equipment, Trent's eyes visibly widened at the sight approaching him. Though Jane wasn't much of one to flaunt the goods genetics had given her, it was always impossible to miss the fact that she was a pretty girl. Blood red lipstick doesn't let one shrink quietly into the background, and three ear piercings testify to at least a little awareness of self-image. So the sight of her in a crimson red off the shoulder top, black pinstripe pants, and boots didn't necessarily seem so out of left field.
However, Daria's unexpected ensemble most decidedly did make him feel like something had hit him in the head from out of nowhere. It wasn't that the black dress was revealing...it covered everything, from only a few inch hem above the knee, to a neckline that didn't scoop invasively low, and three-quarter length sleeves. It simply made it utterly impossible to miss the fact that Daria actually had a figure uncannily similar to Quinn's, a fact that the loose green jacket and baggy black skirt usually concealed to perfection. Black vertical-striped hose came up past her knee, and a hint of lace peeked out from the top band here and there as she walked. Only the boots remained from her usual ensemble, yet in context even those seemed strikingly new.
"Hey guys," said Jane, watching them load up the heavy equipment.
"Hey Janey," greeted Trent. With a half-cocked smile, he turned to Daria. "I told you you'd look hot in that."
Daria thanked Jehovah, Allah, Buddha, Rama, and any other deity that would care to lend an ear for the cover of darkness. A blush with a vengeance burned from her cheeks to her ears, and she hoped she didn't glow in the dark. "Erm...thanks, Trent." Not only could she hardly believe he remembered the garment, but the fact that the adjective had transformed from good to hot certainly did not escape her burning cheeks, or the butterflies wreaking havoc in her stomach.
Huddled on the crate in the back of the tank, sandwiched in by band equipment and two other members of Mystic Spiral, Jane whispered conspiratorially to her best friend, "I was not aware you had a history with this dress, Morgandorffer."
"Um...can't argue with good taste?" Daria whispered back, effectively mortified.
A sly smile spread on Jane's painted lips. "Certainly not."
At the present moment, Daria found herself sitting on the couch, watching the crowd. She crossed her legs and huddled into the corner, hoping to remain unnoticed. Jane had left to get drinks, yet another element of the current situation Daria didn't exactly feel comfortable with, though based on the extended duration of her absence, Daria began to suspect her friend had found Tom. Had found Tom, and perhaps accidentally fell into the laundry closet with him...
"Hey, amiga!" startled Daria out of her brown study. How anyone could withdraw into themselves in this rowdy crowd and loud music was beyond Jane, but Daria proved capable of many wonders.
"Hey." Jane plopped down on the couch, and handed Daria a red plastic cup. "What's this?" Daria asked suspiciously, peering inside. The contents were red and smelled of a sugar content that could render a horse comatose.
"They call it Jungle Juice." Jane took a hearty sip, fearless, it seemed. "Try some."
"Does it have alcohol in it?" Daria still regarded the drink warily, as though something unpleasant could burst forth from the juicy depths and latch with hungry teeth upon her nose at any moment.
"Oh, probably, though it can't be much. Live a little, the guys are here to take care of us."
Though Jane undoubtedly referred to the band, Daria couldn't help but think That's what I'm afraid of. Two of which stood across the room, and had been looking in her direction for quite some time. Though perhaps this was mostly a Fielding party, they were a rare few who seemed to embody the prep aesthetic. Khakis, collared shirts under t-shirts, and picture perfect hair-parts. "I think those guys are checking us out," whispered Jane, with something of a wicked smile. It was a sign for caution, Daria had learned. "Let's go talk to them."
"But you just brought me this lovely humming bird juice. I couldn't possibly imbibe and insult at the same time."
Jane grabbed Daria's hand, pulling her up. "No need to mix business and pleasure. Just come with, I'll do the talking."
"But aren't you meeting Tom here?"
"Yeah, but they don't know that. Besides, Daria, these aren't your run of the mill Lawndale gentlemen. They're Fielding Prep Academy's finest...maybe you can strike up a conversation about Nietzsche or something."
Reluctantly, Daria allowed herself to be dragged. It seemed to be a theme for the night, why stop at just showing up? She absently listened to Jane chat up the boys, her gaze drifting from them, to around the room, up to the stage where Trent sang into the microphone. "So what's your name?" asked one of the boys, interrupting her detached foray into her own mind once again. If she truly wanted it to be a first line of defense, she needed to work on not being interrupted so easily.
"Daria," she answered, unenthused.
"I'm Gary, this is Robert."
"Nice to meet you." By the looks in their eyes, they sensed her social nicety was less than sincere. Their eyes met, questioning, evaluating. True, these were no complacent cattle of the Lawndale lot, but perhaps a higher farm animal of Fielding. There was something sharp to Gary's blue gaze that sparked a twinge of interest in Daria, even as it inspired her all too familiar voice of caution. But caution of what? Human contact? Why did it have to be so difficult for her to connect with people? To exchange pleasant banter, to fill a silence with light words of companionship? Always, she had been this way. An outcast. A social dunce.
Even whilst she asked herself, annoyed with herself, she knew the answer: because she was a thinker. Daria could not pass a single moment without evaluating her situation, and the people around her. She could not fill the silence with casual banter, because much more perplexing matters were always on her mind. And she could not fill the silence with what was on her mind, because she did not care to be judged by those who inevitably would not or could not understand her. Yet, who could ever understand her, if she never bolstered the courage to open up?
A paradox, Daria? Oh, entirely, but a cross she bore almost willingly.
Before the conversation could reach new heights of awkward, a set of arms wrapped around Jane's waist, and an all-too-familiar head appeared upon her shoulder. "Hey, babe," said Jane, greeting Tom with a wet smooch.
"I see you've met Robert and Gary."
"Can I get you a drink?"
Draining the last of her cup, Jane agreed, "Yes."
And like smoke, the couple disappeared into the crowd, migrating towards the makeshift bar. Funny, thought Daria sadly, how it's possible to be in such a crowd of people and feel so very alone. Almost to herself, she sighed, "Insanity in individuals is something rare - but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule."
Gary raised a blond eyebrow, something close to surprise written across his features. "Nietzsche, eh? Are you sure you go to public school?" he asked, with a note in his voice just close enough to condescension to raise Daria's hackles.
"I've been in independent study since kindergarten."
On reflex, Daria's eyes narrowed. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Gary shrugged unapologetically, ice blue eyes boring into her. "I just know your type, is all. You're an artsy snob, smart, and convinced you're infinitely better than those around you. You dress in black to put up a wall, keep people at a distance, and whine about your deep-seated inner angst, just to hide the fact that you're such a loser, and so very alone."
Daria could not have been more surprised, had Gary reached out and backhanded her across the face. However, like a true champ, she kept up her stoic façade, even if it felt as though something small had broken inside once again. "How can I resist isolation, when evidence repeatedly proves people are inevitably not worth my time?"
She did not savor the victory of shock or anger written across Gary's face, ducking away into the crowd, and escaping out a side door to the cool darkness outside. Once the door slid closed, one could barely hear the bedlam from within. Resignedly, Daria walked down a cobbled path, taking a seat on a bench overlooking a landscaped pond in the backyard. A stand of woods stretched out behind the house, dark and tall, outlined in silver moonlight.
Absently, she sipped from the half full red cup she clasped in one hand. She couldn't taste the alcohol, but it was undoubtedly present. It couldn't just be her dress keeping her that warm. Even still, she continued to nip, until the cup was empty and a warm, heavy feeling had settled over her limbs, and a fog spread before her eyes and through her head. So this is drunk? she questioned. No, it couldn't be. Perhaps buzzed. Though in a way she felt more relaxed, her altercation with Gary still loomed fresh in her mind. It preoccupied her to a point where she did not notice the thrum of Spiral's speakers had ceased from within the house, nor did she register the sound of the sliding glass door opening and closing. "Are you ok, Daria?" asked a familiar voice to the side of her.
Daria did not look up at Trent, continuing to study the reflections of moonlight on the man-made body of water before her. That could certainly prove disastrous...what if he noticed the annoying dampness that plagued her eyes, that had not quite built up enough volume to drip down? "Do you think I'm a snob, Trent?" she asked quietly. The question rolled off of her lips alarmingly easily. Was this ease the result of the alcohol too? Or was Trent simply the friend she trusted most, at that moment?
"Is that what that jerk told you?" he inquired back, taking a seat beside her on the bench.
"You heard that?"
"No, but I saw it. Vantage point from the stage, and all."
"Well, essentially, he called me a snobby brainy coward who hides behind a wall of black clothing to keep people away, whilst I contemplate my sorry little life alone. Had I been more composed, I would have informed him my usual armor is actually drab green."
A ghost of a smile played over Trent's lips as Daria stole a glance over. He too seemed to be entranced by the quicksilver waters. "We all have armor, Daria," he said, and much to her surprise, drew a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket. The source of that deep chest cough suddenly became apparent. "Yours is just thicker than most. It doesn't make you a snob."
"And what about a coward?"
Trent lit up, inhaling deeply, and expelling the gray fumes through his nose. Enough time passed that Daria felt certain he did not intend to answer her question, when finally he said point blank, "Maybe you're a bit of a coward." Daria flinched inwardly. Did she deserve that? Perhaps, if it was the truth. Well, it's the truth, isn't it, Morgandorffer? "But," continued Trent. "You're also one of the bravest girls I know."
Daria started, turning to look at Trent. "What?"
A warm smile curled Trent's lips, and he took another drag. "Maybe you hide from people, Daria, but then again, the world hasn't given you much of a reason not to. Most people are vicious, stupid, self absorbed, predatory... But you're past that. There are big questions afoot, that you are brave enough to consider. You have the courage to see past the materialism and popularity games that dominate the average highschooler's thoughts, to dare look at a bigger picture. I admire that about you."
Trent stretched out a hand, offering the cigarette to a seemingly shell shocked Daria. Had he really just paid her the grandest compliment of her short lifetime? "Want to try? It's more fun while you're drinking."
Eyebrows raised, Daria took the slender roll of tobacco from between his fingers. "What do I do?"
"Just inhale. Gasp, like someone surprised you." Well, she would have no trouble doing that, at that moment. She only vaguely dwelled upon the thought that Trent's mouth had just been upon the exact same place of the cigarette she placed between her lips, before doing as instructed. The surprise of the burn of the smoke in her chest caused her to cough a little, even while she rode the high of the nicotine in her system.
"You know," she said, handing back the cig, "This isn't the best habit for an aspiring vocalist. It may give the image of a rebel slapping death in the face, but the tobacco corporations are laughing all the way to the bank."
Trent laughed, and covered his cough with a fist. "See what I mean? You see through it all. If I'd had your insight at your age, I wouldn't have this problem," he chuckled, taking another drag.
They sat in silence, appreciating the still of the night, the sound of the breeze rustling the leaves. "But you know, Daria," said Trent, continuing on their earlier thread, "If you block everyone out forever, then you're going to miss some really cool people along the way. People who might change your life. The way you see things. The way you live. If you don't give people a chance, then you'll never get to see what they're hiding behind their own masks. We're all so afraid, of each other."
"As well we should be. Because even when you've let someone in, and you think you mean something to them, they ditch you for someone new and more interesting. Who just happens to have a penis." Usually even mentioning such a word in front of Trent would set Daria a blushin', but the alcohol had lowered her inhibitions just enough to actually feel comfortable with him. Great thought Daria. If I ever hope to really interact with the opposite sex, it turns out I just have to become a lush.
"I guess you're referring to Jane and Tom," said Trent, suppressing a chuckle. Perhaps the way she worded it was cuttingly funny as usual, but Trent knew the sarcasm masked a much more serious problem. He knew Daria was hurting, deep down. Maybe he knew even better than she did.
"Janey still loves you, Daria," he assured her. "She just wants...a different kind of companionship, right now. Unless you swing that way, I don't think you can scratch her itch." Daria's eyes went wide at the suggestion, causing Trent's small smile to widen.
"You don't think Tom's...scratching her itch, do you?"
Trent held up his hands in a gesture of surrender. "Whoa, Daria. She's my sister. Don't want to think about it."
"I know...sorry. It's just..." Daria released a heavy sigh. "Tom seems like a good guy, I guess. Of course I want Jane to be happy. But along with the resentment of being left alone, I also can't help but worry about her too." In a spot on imitation of Ms. Barch, she screeched, "You men are always only thinking about one thing!"
Laughing, Daria slouched against the bench, turning to look at Trent. Amusement glittered in his dark eyes. "That may be true," he admitted shamelessly. "But we're better at multitasking than we get credit for. Where Tom is of course interested in Jane in a more...intimate way, I'm sure he also respects her for her mind, and artistic abilities. It is possible, you know," he chided, the corner of his mouth pulled back in a mischievous smile that made Daria's heart ache, even if just a little.
"Oh is it?" she taunted back, crossing her arms and legs.
Had Daria been anyone else, Trent would have sworn she flashed the lace tops of her stockings just to torment him. Monique would have. Just about any girl with any idea of how very attractive male eyes found her, would have. Valiantly, he kept eyes to her face. "Of course it is. For instance, I'm sitting here with you, having what may be the most interesting conversation of my year. I totally respect you, but I'm also very aware of...well, you. It's not degrading or anything. I'm not looking at you as a pretty object, something I would like to own, or use for a night and throw away. It's like a compliment. Appreciating the whole package, and all."
A small smile played over Daria's lips, even as she blushed a little. "True, it doesn't have to be degrading. It's...nice, to be appreciated." Not to mention unsettling. Daria had yet to become accustomed to her physical side being considered as formidable as her mental. "But you have to admit, some males will feign an appreciation for a girl's mind and personality to get at the physical benefits of a relationship."
"Sure, some will. Girls do it too. I'm in a band, Daria. I know."
Daria laughed, and Trent found the sound brought a smile to his lips. Their eyes met, and something like a jolt of electricity coursed through his spinal column, starting at the base and fanning throughout his limbs, all the way to his fingertips. It was the kind of moment that had she been anyone else, he probably would have reached out, slid fingers along her jaw and drawn her into a kiss. But she wasn't just anyone. She was Daria.
Trent knew that Daria was discovering new things about herself, this very night. Perhaps her mind had matured decades past her peers, but there were still areas that fell to gray for her. Particularly, any type of social interaction. Frankly, he was amazed she would speak so candidly with him that night, and suspected the Jungle Juice must be aiding in the breach of carefully constructed walls.
She was so afraid of people judging her, hurting her, even as she loathed them. After assuring her that men can respect a woman for her mental merits without dwelling on the sexual, kissing her probably wasn't the best idea. She would analyze it over and over in her head. She would probably conclude he'd only just begun to notice her after she donned that breathtaking black dress, and she might conclude he'd lied to her. Used her. She'd never trust him again. The thought churned a sick feeling, deep in the pit of his stomach.
A long, lonesome sound interrupted their thoughts, floating down from the tops of the trees. It was as chilling as it was awesome, and Daria found goosebumps marching across her arms as she looked up into the dark forms of the high branches. She could not see the owl, but evidence testified to it's presence nearby. She could count the times on one hand in her suburban life, when her ears had been graced by the call of such a royal creature of the woods.
"I wish we could see it," sighed Trent, also scanning the trees, longing for a glimpse of the nocturnal predator. "Something about that sound, hits me so deep inside." He too sported fresh gooseflesh across thin arms.
"Owls have been viewed in a variety of different ways, in cultures world wide," mused Daria. "They have been considered harbingers of death, bad luck, and the vehicle for demons. But they have also been known as symbols of wisdom, and prosperity. They were the companions of goddesses. Lakshmi. Athena. But perhaps none described the owl's relation to man's psyche better than Thoreau in Walden. He basically said that the call of the owl reflects something so utterly primal in the forest, that the animal nature within we repress and ignore cannot help but ache in response to it. The unsatisfied thoughts which all have."
Perhaps it was the alcohol loosening her tongue, or perhaps it was simply that Daria perceived through the corner of her eye she commanded Trent's attention, but she happily rambled on with her analysis, eyes turned up to the stars. "We are now an animal so pathetic, so mal-adapted to survive in nature, to our own fault, that we have created a whole new artificial world, for our own convenience. The fear of the owl expresses man's fear of himself, and his internal longing to be closer to the animal he once was. Man fears nature, and the inevitability of death so greatly, that we chose to feign immortality. To age is a sin. We outright deny our very nature, and it takes artists to rediscover this primal vein. It takes people like us to see through the smokescreen modern man has created for himself, and pull forth something beautiful, something true. Musicians, painters, writers...and the owl, all remind us of our fears, our hopes, and our illusions."
Daria did indeed command all of Trent's attention. He studied the woman beside him, carefully absorbing every detail. She was rather owlish herself, in those large round glasses. The wind wisped between them, stirring her soft brown hair as she gazed up at the night sky, lips curled in that heart wrenchingly beautiful mona-lisa smile. Someday soon, she would grow into herself. And then everyone would see what he was seeing, at that very moment.
"What?" she dared ask softly, suddenly quite conscious of his stare fixated upon her.
"About how beautiful you are. Once you get out of high school, away from all the fuckers trying to take away your greatness for their own selfish agendas, you're going to fly higher than the rest of us can even see. They'll still be stuck here in Lawndale, with a steady job and three bratty kids, sitting on their fat asses watching mindless television...but not you, Daria. Not you."
Daria's eyebrows raised with surprise. "Um...thanks, Trent."
At that moment the screen door slid open, and Jesse stuck his head out. "Hey man. It's time for the second set."
Trent pushed to his feet. "You coming?"
In response, Daria shook her head. "I'm going to stay here a little longer. Commune with the owls."
"Alright." Ducking down, Trent pressed a gentle peck to her cheek. "See you soon, Daria."
Reveling in the warm and fuzzy feeling spreading through her tummy, Daria watched Trent retreat on that long-legged gait. What just happened? Something good, or at least, something new, she thought. She just hoped she could remember it all, come morning.