It had been three months, three long, agonizing months of Hatred and his dad spoiling his brother and making him clean up the attic, months of no one to hang out with but Dermott, months of eating alone because Dad was showing Dean something he'd never in a million years understand, three months of the loneliest and most confusing time of his life, and now, Brock had the nerve to sit in his chair and eat his cereal like he hadn't abandoned him in a family full of dumb nerds.
But all he could think about was that Brock had come back, he hadn't left, and everything was going to be okay. Finally…everything was going to be ok because Brock was back, and without thinking he ran and he enveloped Brock in a huge hug.
Brock, meanwhile, stepped back to get a better look at him. He'd had gotten taller, and maybe a little more filled out than he remembered. His eyes were the same bright blue, but they looked just a tiny bit older. When he noticed his old beat-up jacket hanging over Hank's shoulders, he felt a bit of what he imagined to be fatherly pride come up, but he quickly managed to stifle it down. Close one, though. "Hair's gotten longer. Need to get it cut."
"Nah." Hank replied, as he fingered his hair back and gesturing at Brock's hair. "I like it this way." They stood facing each other, silent, until Hank's bottom lip wavered a bit too much, and Brock took pity on the little guy and swept him up in a bone-crushing hug.
"Why did you leave me?" Hank whispered, smelling an odd combination of blood and aftershave and never feeling more at home.
At first Brock did not answer. And then he held him closer. Very softly, he said, "Hank, I'll never leave you."
He wasn't going to cry. He wasn't going to cry. He wasn't going to cry, damn it.
"I'm sorry." Hank apologized through his tears. "I'm sorry, but I just missed you so much-"
"Me too, kiddo." He awkwardly patted his back. "Me too." It was quiet for a while, except from the sound of Hank's breath gasping between sobs. It was quiet, until Hank noticed he was hugging a man covered in another man. Well, most of another man, anyway. He leaned back to get a better look.
"Holy hell, is that blood?" he asked, a little disgusted but a hell of a lot more excited.
"Hank, you're gonna wake up your brother-"
"Sorry, but: Oh man, how many people did you kill? Did you tear their limbs off, and beat them with it?"
"Look, uh, can we talk about this when we're not hugging? And when, uh…you've got pants on?"
Dean voice rang from down the hallway. "Hank, SHUT UP."
"YOU SHUT UP!"
"Shoulda just bought the damn cereal." Brock muttered to himself.
The voice got closer. "Hank, it is 1 in the morning- Holy hell, is that Brock? Oh my gosh, is he covered in blood?"
Brock sighed. "Hey, Dean."
"Dean, he tore a guys arm off and beat him with it!"
Dean winced. "Charming."
"Hank, Dean, if I come down there and one of you isn't decapitated, so help me-"
"Dad! Dad, Brock is here!" Hank broadcasted up the stairs.
"What? Hank, what did I say about touching Daddy's diet pills-"
"No, dad, seriously: he's right here!"
"What happened? Did Hank get into your stash again, Doc?" They could hear from below.
"Hatred, go back to bed- and good god, put your pants back on, you're not in the priesthood, for Pete's sake!" Dr. Venture made his way downstairs, and when he saw Brock there was maybe about three seconds of admiration until he noticed his attire.
"Oh, for the love of- is that blood?"
"Well, look at the time," Brock checked his arm, which was totally weird because he wasn't even wearing a watch. "Time to go, goodnight boys."
"And all over my clean linoleum floor- for heaven's sake Brock, you ever hear of a floor mat? Maybe try wiping your feet next time, how did you even get across the carpet-" His eyes widened, and he walked quickly toward the main entrance. "Brock, if there is even one drop of blood-"
"Hank, what's Brock doing here?" Dean asked, confused.
"No idea, but isn't it great?" Hank exclaimed, staring at his hero in awe as the argument escalated.
"Yeah," Dean half-heartedly agreed, "It's….great, but what about-"
"One iota of plasma, Brock-"
"Doc, would you relax? I came in through the window-" Brock answered the scientist.
"If I could interject-" Dean started to say.
"Oh, so now there's shards of broken glass all over my floor?"
"I opened it from the outside."
"You opened it. From the outside.."
"Well, with my fist, yeah-"
"And you just sit right down and eat my cereal while a veritable pit of glass lies waiting-"
"Oh for god sake- Fine, I'll clean it up, just stop talking-"
"You don't get to tell me to shut up in my house Brock Sampson, if you get blood on my linoleum, glass on my floor, and a busted up window, you overgrown-"
"Guys! Hey!" Dean yelled. "Would you quit arguing for five seconds and explain what Brock is doing here?"
They stood quietly. "Dean, take Hank and go to bed." Venture demanded.
"Now." he insisted loudly.
"But you're staying right?" Hank pleaded. "When I wake up, you'll still be there, huh?"
Brock didn't answer right away. "Hank…"
"I don't believe it," Hank breathed. "I don't believe this."
"You said…you said you'd never leave. And now…now, you're just gonna go? Just like that?" Hank shook his head, and backed away. "You lied."
"Hank, c'mon, be reasonable."
"You lied to me." he repeated,
"I mean what I said, Hank-"
"Liar!" And he stormed upstairs, Dean hesitating, and then running up after him.
"Hank! Hank, come back!" He turned to Rusty, exasperated. "Real helpful."
"What did you say to him?" Rusty ignored him. "I'm not dealing with what you started, Brock."
"Nothing, look, I gotta go," He collected his things and made his way out. "Thanks for the cereal."
He raised his eyebrow. "No mind wipe?"
"They'll just think it's a dream, it's not worth it."
"No," Venture agreed, staring up at the stairs. "It's not."
"Hank? Can I come in?"
Hank rolled his swollen red eyes. Great. Hatred.
"What's the problem?" Hatred said as he ventured in.
"Leave me alone. I'm awake, you got no reason to come in here."
"Ignoring that," Hatred huffed. "What's got you so riled up, anyway?"
"Leave me alone, I said!"
Hatred looked around. "Where's your brother? He's good at the touchy-feely stuff."
"In the bathroom. Probably half-dressed. Go bother him."
"Once again, ignoring that," he deadpanned.
Hank had had enough. "Look, I already have a father, I don't need some Michael Jackson wannabe trying to be one, okay?"
Hatred winced. "Too soon."
"Just go," Hank mumbled into his pillow. "I don't want to talk about it."
"Is it your dad?" Hatred asked. Hank didn't answer, and he took it for a yes.
"Look, Hank," Hatred sat down on the bed next to him, looking as tired as Hank felt. "There's something you should know. Something someone should have told you a long time ago, something someone should have told your father a long time ago."
"You're a good kid, Hank. You're a great kid. You just happen to have a lousy dad. Now, instead of letting it get you down, take that energy and make something good. Not for your dad." He clapped a hand on Hank's shoulder. "For you."
Hank felt a little better. Okay, so maybe Hatred was lame, and kind of a sucky bodyguard, and maybe he did get him and Dean drunk on wine coolers one night and did really weird things, but he was the only one who'd at least bothered to check up on them the next morning and make them pancakes. Pancakes shaped like dinosaurs. With chocolate chips. That had to count for something, right?
"If you ever want to talk, let me know, ok?" Hatred assured.
"Okay," Hank said hesitantly. "We can do that. Just don't get all Roman Polanski on me. I got enough problems as it is."
"I'm going to let that slide because you've had a rough night," he declared. Reaching over, he pulled the blanket over Hank in a somewhat clumsy but endearing manner.
"Night, Hatred." Hank mumbled, feigning sleep. He waited until the door closed, and grabbed the house phone from under his pillow. He'd had enough of his father for one night, and he wasn't about to stick around for another lecture.
'Figures,' Hank thought. 'The only adult around here I can depend on is an ex child molester.'
"Dude," Hank whispered into the phone, when someone finally picked up. "Can you come pick me up?"
"What, are you serious? It's like two in the morning; call me tomorrow," Dermott said, his groggy voice bearing the slightest hint of annoyance. "Dermott needs his beauty sleep."
"Dermott needs to get his fat butt over here and pick me up, like, yesterday." He sat down on hid bed, mind racing. "I'm serious man, you have no idea the crap that just went down."
"Geez, you wanna maybe chew your food first?" He watched Dermott shove half a taco in his mouth in less than a few seconds. Dermott at least had the decency to swallow before he responded.
"Whatever." he said, taking another huge bite. "Itsh not as'h if we're on a 'ate."
"Like you could get one, cripes, you've got sour cream on your pants..is that sour cream? Aw man, what is that, is that-"
"Shut up, dickweed."
"I mean look at you, it's like you walked into a refrigerator-"
"I said, shut up, Hank-"
"I'm just saying-"
Dermott slammed the burrito out the window. "Well, don't ok?" He jammed the key into the ignition, trying unsuccessfully to turn the car on. "I know I'm a cow, alright?"
He was starting to get annoyed. "I didn't say you were, jeez, quit acting like such a-"
"A what?" Dermott prodded, his voice at a dangerously low level.
"Uh…" Hank racked his brain, and then remembered what he'd heard his uncle call his dad, one time when they'd had an argument.
"Umm…A fag." he declared. "You're acting like a fag."
Dermott turned to Hank, and then back at the road. His face looked shocked, and then confused, and then furious and then very calm. Slowly, he pulled the car over. Dermott, for a very long time, said nothing. And then, he got out of the car, slammed the door, and walked away.
"Dermott!" Hank called out, rushing out of the car himself. "Whoa, dude, chill!"
Without warning, Dermott had thrown Hank's helmet fast and hard, crack! Through the window of a nearby warehouse, cracking a window and sending tiny shards everywhere. The force and the resulting sound froze Hank where he stood. He'd never seen Dermott this angry before. Hell, he'd never seen Dermott angry before period.
"Jesus Christ!" he exploded, throwing an angry, furious look at Hank. "Why are you so goddamn stupid-"
"I'm stupid?" Hank retorted, frustrated and annoyed with his best friend's behavior. "This coming from a guy who shoves a lighter up his ass to stop aliens from probing him?"
"Oh, one time-"
"You're the idiot! You're the useless jerk who keeps hanging around me, like some homeless mutt, some dirty stray nobody wanted! If I'm so stupid, then why don't you just leave me alone?"
Dermott chuckled humorlessly. "If you don't know by now, you're dumber than I thought."
Hank's temper boiled, and he was suddenly reminded of every moment when Dean had figured the mystery out first, when Dean had been praised for his latest invention that didn't even work right, and worst of all, every moment, every second when his father had looked at him with nothing but shame and resentment, and Hank knew, he knew, that deep, deep down he was stupid and his own father hated him for it.
"I may be stupid," Hank whispered, venom in his every word. "But at least I have a father."
Dermott said nothing. Then he walked right up to Hank.
"I would rather, " Dermott said, very calmly, "Have no dad at all, then a shitty self-absorbed dick of a human being who can't even appreciate how good a person you are, Hank." He stepped back, shaking his head. "As good of a person I thought you were."
He walked off, shoulders hunched, and Hank never felt so bad in his life. He'd finally made a friend, a best friend, on his own, and now he'd lost one. And it was all his fault.
"Alright Doc," Hatred said, closing the door silently to the boy's bedroom door. "The boys are in bed, safe and sound. Another day, another blood-free, clone-free incident."
He stretched, briefly showing a few red letters and a beer belly through a ratty, sweat-stained undershirt.
"Hank hates me, you know." said Dr. Venture said relatively calmly.
Caught off-guard, Hatred responded rather quickly. "He doesn't hate you, Doc…he's just…going through some stuff right now…he's at that age, you know?"
"Oh please," Rusty argued. "Do you know what he called me today?"
"Turd Burgler?" guessed Hatred, half-focused on folding clean laundry.
"Wait, how did you-"
"He called me it when I caught him trying to file the bars on the time-out room with a plastic knife," he admitted. "Not the worst thing I've ever been called, granted, but when it's from a sobbing nineteen year old, it hits you in the 'ole heart right here." he gestured.
Rusty sighed and took off his glasses. "What am I going to do…?" he grumbled, rubbing the bridge of his nose. "I've tried everything: fear, intimidation, threats: nothing works. And now that that Brock's come by, it's going to be even worse. If you think he doesn't listen to us now, just you wait and see. Next thing we know, he's gonna be sporting a pompadour and hitting up jukeboxes."
Hatred raised an eyebrow. "Doubtful."
"Sometimes, I stand over their beds at night with a pillow trying to work up the willpower to suffocate them to death."
"Ah." said Hatred, "That might be cause for alarm."
"Well, what do you expect? Dean's fine, better than I was at his age, but Hank? He's a huge pain in my ass. I mean how did someone from my genes, my family background end up so, so-"
"Innocent?" Hatred suggested.
Dr. Venture sat down, exhausted. "Innocent is a good word for it, yes."
"Dermott? Dude, I need a ride, home! Dermott!"
It was getting darker, and Dermott still had not left the abandoned warehouse. If Hank didn't get in bed before the butt crack of dawn, he was dead meat.
"Dermott? This isn't funny, man: I saw P-3, I know what happens!" He called out. "Dermott!"
"Christ, just shut up! I'm right here, geez." A sudden noise made him turn. Dermott was leaning against a metal column, holding the warehouse up. He didn't look angry anymore, just sad and hurt, and somehow that was worse.
"What was that about?" Hank asked, referring to Dermott's blowout. "That came out of nowhere!"
"I know," he admitted. "Sorry, I just lost my temper."
"Okay," Hank paused. "It's ok."
"No, it's not. Hank-" Dermott started, and then paused. "Never mind."
"No, tell me, what?"
"Hank." Dermott said, refusing to look at him. He very slowly held Hank's hand firmly but somehow softly as well. He rubbed the back of Hank's hand, slowly, and Hank was unexpectedly reminded of something he didn't quite remember, a memory he'd long forgotten, of a woman holding his hand, cooing, whispering sweet, sweet things, Who's a good boy, who's my brave little adventurer, whose my little Henry Venture-
It was only the back of his hand, and it was only Dermott stroking it, but he was close enough to smell the conditioner in Dermott's hair, and even though they weren't looking at each other, Hank could feel something there, wavering between them. He just didn't know what it was. Then something distracted him.
There was only one sole light in the warehouse, flickering on, then off, then on, then off then on again…the place was empty, abandoned, and completely absent…the odd thing, Hank thought, that at the very center of the floor was a medium size puddle of a black, oily substance. Normally, Hank wouldn't think twice. Normally, Hank would disregard it and turn his attention to his really strange-acting friend. He would have done so, normally, if at the exact same moment the pool caught the corner of his eye, the oil hadn't formed a hand, and waved at them.
"Dermott." Hank whispered. "Please tell you saw that."
He turned to Dermott. His face had grown very pale. "Yeah, uh…" He swallowed nervously. "I was kind of hoping you'd tell me I didn't."
"Hank, lets get out of here." Dermott grabbed unto Hank and walked slowly backwards out the door. "C'mon, now."
"What?" Hank raised an eyebrow, pointing out the now growing black goop. "This is like, the coolest thing that's happened to us all summer! What if it's the goop from Spiderman? Dermott-" Hank grabbed his shoulders, looking him dead in the eye.
"Dermott. Spiderman." He turned and crept closer to the dark mess. "I wonder what it is."
"Hank." Dermott interrupted, fiercer than Hank could ever remember. "I stuck by you when those butterfly freaks invaded your house. I was there when your dad went nuts and became responsible for all those dead kids at his fucking day camp. I was even standing, by your side, killing with clone copies of you with you, while literally hundreds of dead bodies lied on your lawn." At this he pulled Hank close, urgency dripping from his lips.
"I'm up for pretty much any goddamn thing you and I could go through, but I got a bad feeling about this, and around you, my bad feelings always turn worse." He grabbed Hank's hand firmly, and whispered harshly. "I mean it. Let's go."
Hank tried to shake Dermott's hand off, but Dermott was bigger, stronger, and more determined. Annoyed at Dermott's behavior, he shoved him with his free hand. "Dude, what's your problem? What the hell are you talking about?"
"You know that feeling you get, when you're about to sneeze, but you don't?" Dermott explained, exasperated and eyeing the dark pool from the corner of his eyes. "Every time shit's about to go down, I get that feeling."
Hank rolled his eyes. "Where were you when I was being molested by some old gross dude? Twice?"
Dermott stared in shock.
"Ok, one? What? And two?" He stared Hank in the eyes, and it was the first time Hank had ever seen that desperation, that deep rooted primal instinct to run, far, far, away from the danger, and Hank was overcome with the sinking sensation that if Dermott, who believed he was absolutely invincible was this scared. then something was very, very wrong.
"Two? Hank. Let's go. We'll get your dad. Or Brock. Or somebody, but we gotta get out of here. Please." Hank looked back. The blob did nothing. It just lay over the cement as if someone had poured it there, and it did not move. Somehow, this made it worse.
"Okay." Hank agreed shakily. "Okay, let's go."
"What was that?" Dr. Venture lifted his head, and looked in the direction from where the sound came from.
"I didn't hear anything." Hatred lied.
"The hell you didn't." Venture went back to his book, disinterested. "Go find out what it was."
"You gonna be okay here?" asked Hatred, concerned. "You look a little pale."
"You look a little fat!" Her shook his head. "I'm sorry; it's the stress talking."
"I can imagine." Hatred sympathized, thinking of poor Hank, probably crying softly to himself.
"Can you?" Venture sighed. "Those were stained glass windows; it'll cost me a fortune to replace them."
Hatred stared. "Seriously?"
"Of course I'm serious! They were imported! Now go away. I've got to get up early tomorrow, the Mayor's 'concerned' about the radiation of the machines on ground. As if anybody even goes by this dump."
"Yeah." Hatred stood up. "I'm gonna sleep this conversation away."
"Don't slam the-" The door loudly shut.
"Door." Venture finished, annoyed.
Dermott walked Hank to his window. "Should we get them?"
"I don't know, my dad's been kind of weird lately.." he admitted. "Maybe tomorrow."
"Okay, that's cool." He stood outside the window, shifting from one foot to the next. It looked like he didn't want to leave.
"Is everything ok, man?"
Dermott looked up, shocked, as if he'd forgotten Hank was there. "Yeah, no, nothing." he stuttered. Then he paused. "No, not nothing. Hank?" He leaned into the window,
"You ever been kissed?"
"Well yeah, sure, a bunch of times."
"Really?" He asked. He sounded kind of disappointed. Weird.
"Yeah, but only by a bunch of old dudes."
"You mentioned." he snapped.
"Well, I guess it's ok…it's not like they were my first kiss or anything."
"Who was it?" Dermott demanded to know, and then shrugged nonchalantly. "I mean, whatever. I bet she was ugly or something."
"Oh, he's not that bad-" Hank slapped a hand over his mouth.
"A dude?" Dermott chuckled. "Oh, you gotta tell me about this.
"It's not that big a deal!"
"It's a huge deal." He stated, half-joking. "Fess up. Who was it?"
Hank mumbled something.
"Didn't quite catch that."
He sighed. "It was Dean, okay?"
Dermott let his weight fall against the window. "Say what now?"
"Look, it was a long, long time ago, and we had to sleep in the same bed because Dean's was broken…we got to talking about weird stuff, and I said something about never being kissed and Dean said something about practicing…will you stop looking at me like that? It's seriously not that big a deal!"
"This is some Flowers in the Attic bullshit." Dermott turned to the door. "I'm going home."
"Hey, wait! Are you mad or something?"
Dermott hesitated. "Mad's not that right word. Just. Confused."
"Well, I kind of thought you'd be mackin' it with all kinds of babes, since you're kind of famous and rich and good-looking and shit, not slumming it up with The Wonder Twin."
"What's that supposed to- wait," Hank paused, looking up at Dermott in surprise. "You think I'm good-looking?" Dermott shook his head, amused.
"You really should talk about this shit more, bro: this whole 'no talking with the outside world' really screwed with your head."
Hank made a displease sound. "Please. If you think I'm telling your big mouth anything, you're so wrong. Remember last time? I got grounded for two weeks and I had to scrub the engine fuel out of the shag."
"Hey, you're the one who said it was inflammable, how was I supposed to know it'd catch on fire?"
"I thought it meant 'unflammable', like the opposite of- anyway, shut up, cause after this I'm never telling you anything ever again!" he declared.
Dermott smiled, shaking his head. "Whatever, man. I'm just saying, I'm way cheaper than any therapist you're gonna need in, oh, five years when you're married and you have to explain to your wife why you can't get it up unless she wears a sweater vest."
Hank slumped on the windowsill. "Is it really that weird?"
"A little, yeah." Dermott admitted.
"Is it cause it was a boy?" Hank whispered. "Is that why it's so weird?"
"It's weird cause it was your bro, bro. But, no, look don't worry about it," Dermott gave a comforting smile. "You can't be weird for buying a one-way ticket on the dude train."
Hank paused. "You sure?"
"Take it from me," Dermott grinned, showing all his teeth. "I'm practically the conductor."
"Night, Hank." And with that he was gone.
"Um…I'm the only one here."
"BEHOLD! MY NEW INVENTION!"
"…That's a pipe cleaner."
"SILENCE! YOU ANGER THE PUDDLE!"
"THE PUDDLE OF MUD!"
"What, like the band?"
"SILENCE, I SAY! THE PUDDLE IS VERY SENSITIVE! IT KNOWS ALL! IT SEES ALL! IT-"
"It's gone, that's what the fuck it is."
"WHAT? WHO DARES CROSS THE CRIMINAL MASTERMIND ?? WHO DARES-"
"Jesus, will you calm the fuck down, for once? Inside voice, Inside voice-"
"I am sorry, apprentice. But I did so love that puddle. That puddle of mud."
"Look, I saw the damn thing, and that was not mud."
"…….it might have contained semen."
"AND EMBRYOS!! I WAS MAKING A BABY!"
"You're making me sick- wait, where did you get embryos?"
"SILENCE! YOU KNOW NOTHING!!"
"I know that the fucking healthcare bill better pass, because I am quitting this job. SO. HARD."
"IF WE DO NOT RETRIEVE SAID PUDDLE, APPRENTICE, HORRIBLE THINGS SHALL OCCUR. HORRIBLE, ACTION-PACKED, BLOODY, HORRIBLE HORRIBLE THINGS."
"Oh please, that's what you said when you lost the ShamWow."
"IN THE WRONG HANDS IT COULD PROVE TO BE FATAL-"
"In any hands, Jesus, did you really put your semen in that thing? For god sakes, what is wrong with you?"
"Ah. Point taken."
"APPRENTICE!! SCURRY THE SEVEN WORLDS! YOU MUST FIND THIS MYSTICAL MAGICAL SUBSTANCE AND RETRIEVE IT BEFORE IT BECOMES SENTIENT!!"
"If I get hepatitis from this thing, I swear-"
"GO! SCOUR THE DIMENSIONS! AND DON'T RETURN UNTIL IT IS SAFELY IN OUR GRASP! GO!!"
He stepped into the portal. "God, I hate this job."
And then he was gone.
"GOOD LUCK APPRENTICE!! GOOD LUCK ON YOUR WONDROUS- Oh look, there's my semen. Huh. Wonder what I put into the puddle. Of mud. Damn, that's a good band."
To be continued….