This was meant to be a one-shot, but what the heck?
They're sitting around the lunch table, hanging out like they always do after. They don't have much in common, but there's something about being in the company of the last resistance that draws them together. They get it; the sense of disbelief, the fear of being taken over, the desperate fight not to lose that saw him shoot a teacher in the head. They get it.
But he doesn't, not entirely. He's the only one who hasn't had Marybeth stick her fingers in his head and, as much as he's thankful she didn't, sometimes he feels like he missed the bus.
They've all changed. Casey has grown so much, handling fame and infamy with surprising grace. He's always had it in him, Zeke knows. He's seen him slink into the bathroom many times, bleeding from wounds inflicted by the football team, but he never looked defeated. He's heard him mouth off to them time and again, despite the dire consequences. Kid had fight. The invasion was just the catalyst he needed to realise it himself and kick into gear.
And look at him now. He's on the cover of the Times. He can make life miserable for those jocks, what with the things his all-seeing camera must have captured. He once took Zeke into his bedroom and showed him the boxes and boxes and boxes of photos he's taken and he's still amazed at how intimate some of them are. There's one of him, amongst others, leaning against his car and staring into the kindergarten on open day. The sun is behind him and it creates a sort of halo around him, drawing attention to his haunted eyes; his shadowed figure contrasts beautifully with the well-lit, joyous children running around in the background. He never noticed Casey's presence, much less realised that he was being photographed.
It's that ability of his that led him to notice that something was off before anyone else, and it's still there now in the way he expertly deflects prying questions from journos and the like. Nevertheless, the Casey Connor he used to see hide in the bathroom stalls is long gone.
Zeke never gave much thought to Delilah before. Sure, she's easy on the eyes and he had considered her a potential conquest several times, but being in the harsh, unrelenting glare of the limelight like she was and still is wouldn't have been good for business. Their paths never crossed much but he recognises something of a kindred spirit within her. She was jaded before Marybeth; making the school revolve around her was just her way of dealing with it, just like causing anarchy and making money he doesn't need is his. They do it because they can; it's one of the few things in their screwed up lives that they can control.
She loves the attention, of course. She's not stupid to divulge her dreams and crushes and petty secrets to interviewers, but drops hints to potential employers about her passion for running the school newspaper and gushes how exposing Mr. Tate's drinking problem was her way of putting right the education system that fails the students who need it the most. She'll go far.
She's also with Casey now. He thought at first that it was a part of her scheme, hooking up with the new alpha male of Herrington High, but he's seen the way she looks at him sometimes; her hard eyes soften with fondness, and her lips curve slightly in a genuine smile. She's learnt to open her heart again.
He's lost in thought when he catches Casey staring at him, like a puzzle he's trying to crack. He laughs inside, wanting to tell the kid not to bother; he's had 18 years and he can't fucking figure out what makes him tick more than he can grow wings and fly.
Then Stan calls Stokely something puke-inducing, which prompts Delilah to make her gagging face, which sets Casey off into giggles; it makes him smile.
Stokely's transformation is, frankly, shocking. Today she's dressed in a robin's egg blue dress with a pastel pink cardigan; where on fuck she dug these atrocities from he doesn't know, seeing how she's spent most of living memory in nothing but black. Gone also is the prickly exterior; science fiction is suddenly in vogue again, and with Stan on her arm, nobody can accuse her of being a lesbian. It's like everything that made her an outsider suddenly evaporated.
She's still witty and sharp and prone to swear, but her edges have softened somewhat. She's not an outcast anymore and she's not afraid of having people laugh at her for her quirks anymore. They don't, obviously, but even if they did, it wouldn't matter anymore. Saving the world is a trump card to pretty much anything.
Stan has probably changed the least; then again, he never knew Stan very well before this. He was and still is a stand-up guy, if a bit thick. Having escaped jock-dom, his foray into academia is facing obstacles, but Casey and Stokely are more than happy to help out and barring any unexpected setbacks, he looks set to graduate with average marks. His father is unhappy about it, as is the coach, but their objections don't deter the former quarterback.
The point is that everyone has changed. It's as if having the little buggers in their head flipped a switch and showed them exactly where they were going wrong, and once they gained control again, they fixed themselves. He tried, he really did. Joined the football team, lugged himself to school everyday on time, flirted with Ms. Burke, stopped all the illegal stuff…by the end of the first week, he was smoking two packs a day. He tried telling himself that it would take time and that he'd eventually come to an epiphany through it all. He soldiered on in the hope that one day he would come to like it, because he's changed.
The football was the first to go. The rest of the team are as dumb as bricks, he's never suffered fools gladly and he can't see why this has to change just because he had a hand in saving them from aliens. Team games are stupid anyway, because the team is only as strong as its weakest link, and boy did they have weak links. All that charging into one another seems to have inflicted permanent brain damage on the jocks. Once he admitted to himself that he wasn't enjoying it one bit, it became very easy to see the laundry list of issues; the staggering volume of bodily contact, the shrieking coach, the hours. So he quit.
It didn't take long for the pins to fall after that. The effort of waking up on time every morning proved too much after a Wednesday night movie marathon, so he didn't. Homework? Well, he did try. Handed in every single one of Ms. Burke's essays, done to the best of his efforts even though not one challenged him the way proper education was supposed to. Then one day she asks for a paper on the sexual orientation of the Bard and something inside him snaps. All those beautiful plays and poems he wrote, all those insights into human nature, and the only thing people are interested in is who he was boning. So he didn't. It was an act of protest, see? Then one paper led to another and he's back where he started.
Once Zeke stopped with the homework and football and whatnot, it didn't take long for boredom to set in, so when one of his old friends called with an invitation to an all-nighter at his place, he went. When he came back to his place, it was with a girl on either arm, a half-full bottle of Dom in his car and rolls of weed in his back pocket. Because of all the press attention, it was unwise to peddle the leftover stuff like he used to and he wasn't about to go find some junkies to sell it off to like some low-life dealer; in short, it was a challenge.
Some days and 20 packs of camomile tea later, Zeke is suddenly the go-to guy for herbal remedies. His cover is good; his mother has contacts with a pharmaceutical company specialising in naturopathy (true) which is out of town (true) and he's merely acting as a go-between for students not blessed with the freedom he is (somewhat less true). The fact that he's doing the exact same thing he used to hits him when he describes the tea as his "own secret recipe" to Madge the sophomore.
So yeah, he's the same guy, alien invasion or no. It sucks to be so screwed up that even something on a fuck-the-solar-system scale can't change you one bit, and Zeke wonders if anything ever will. Some nights he lies curled up in the couch, lights on, wondering why he should bother going on when it's obvious what his life will be like ten, twenty years down the line. When Casey and Del are high-flyers, living in a New York penthouse and Stan and Stokes get a place in the suburbs with a raft of kids, he'll still be here in this house that his mother just gave him because she couldn't bear to be in it with him, just as broken as he is today.
"Hey, Zeke." Del's voice snaps him out of his reverie. "You comin?"
Casey rolls his eyes. "Told you he wasn't listening. There's a Tim Burton marathon on tonight and we're going to Stan's place to watch it."
"Cool. Count me in."
Well, at least he won't be alone tonight. Before, his nights were spent mostly in the lab, tinkering with shit and talking to Oscar. Now, hell, he's had to get a friggin' calendar to pencil in various play-dates with this bunch. The reconstruction of his lab has been going woefully slow, what with the constant interruptions and all. Before, no one from school ever saw the inside of his place. Precious few people even knew where he lived, but now…he can't show up on their doorstep and whisk them off to SoCal for the summer without warning, apparently, but they think nothing of just barging in whenever. Casey's set up a little darkroom for himself in the attic. Stan invites himself over to bitch when he's argued with Stokely. And Del. She's here so often that he keeps a bag of carrot sticks and yogurt in the fridge, because little miss prissy won't eat chips and whinges better than anyone he knows. One of these days they're going to demand a sleep-over, Zeke's sure of it. He's also sure he'll say yes.
C'mon guys, a review would be nice.