GOD SAVE THE ESTEEM
Ep 31: Achy, Jakey Heart

Trent went downstairs and the demon struck him without warning.

Screaming, he flailed at the shrieking thing, his face cut; he fell to the ground, arms held out, Jane's voice in the background and thundering footsteps, and then the demon laughing.

The demon sure sounded a lot like his sister Penny.

"That's Chiquito. He's very possessive."

It turned out the voice of Penny Lane was coming from Penny Lane. The demon flew away and it turned out to be disguising itself as a parrot. That was when Trent realised:

"Oh yeah, Janey, there were some phone calls I kinda forgot about it. Penny's coming in from Costa Rica-"

"Damn volcano," spat Penny.

"-and Dad's coming back to print his photos of Celtic rock formations, and you're sending calls to my balls, yeah, calls to my – Hmmm. That should've gone on the other hand."

Trent mumbled off to correct his mistake, leaving Jane alone with her older sister. She looked at the woman warily; she hadn't seen her in a long time, and last she'd known Penny had been in Honduras, making crafts with the natives. The last few postcards had been a steady stream of complaints about the job market, the government, the weather, the natives, and gringos who kept going to Central America expecting it to be just like home.

"What's this about a volcano?"

"Goddamn lava took out my craft stand."

"Why were you selling near an active volcano?"

"I didn't know it was active, idiot! Nobody warned me about, all I got was Trekkies gibbering about Vulcans – I can't rely on anyone, I got to remember that, I have to do things on my own!" (Said the woman who'd just come to the family house for free lodgings)

Jane would've snarked if the doorbell hadn't rung. Frowning, she crossed over, opened it, and found her father with a human wet tissue, all snivel and soggy and wails.

"Wind," she said to her brother. "What an unexpected treat." (She got to snark someone)

"Hey Janey!" said her father. "Come on, kid, group hug: Wind needs us right now."

"I'LL NEVER LEARN HOW TO LOVE!" cried Emo Itself made flesh.

Jane started to back away: "Uh, yeah, this seems like a male bonding thing. Don't want to get any estrogen in it!"

"NO WOMEN WANT MEEEEEEEEEE"

She shut the door (then opened again it after her father yelled "I think I left my keys in Connemara!") and headed for her room. There, she could make Edward Munch-style faces and get away with it. It'd been so longsince anyone from the family had come home that she'd begun to forget how fucking annoying they all where.

Thundered roars of "LANE IN MY ASS! YOU'RE A LANE IN MY ASS!" came from Trent's room. She'd need the earplugs again tonight.

Well, as long as no one else comes home at-

And then her mother was on the landing, smiling as she listened to Trent expressing his anger at having the family around. "He's such a talented young man, isn't he?"

"Hey mum," said a surprised Jane. "When did you get in?"

"Oh, a few hours ago. I'd have told you I was here but I didn't want to disrupt your creative flows." Amanda Lane stroked her chin contemplatively. "Jane, did something happen to the fridge? When I last used it, it seemed… different."

"Trent bought a new one."

"Why did he do that?" she asked, genuinely curious.

"I may be wrong, but I think it was so we'd have a clean place to store food instead of a CDC container for weaponised salmonella."

"WHERE'S ALBERT?" screamed Wind from downstairs, having discovered the fridge didn't have the patch of dead mould on the roof.

"Yes, Trent should really have asked the rest of us before he did that," said Amanda, disapproving.

I really hope someone else has a more embarrassing, irritating family than me, thought Jane. I think I'll call Daria later.


"Oh waaa waaa waaa, SHUT UP DILBERT YOU DECIDED TO SELL OUT YOU CAN WHIRL THE REAPWIND RAAAAAAR," opined Jake as he tore the newspaper into pieces and scattered it across the dinner table.

Helen and Quinn cheered. Erin blinked. Daria took advantage of the distraction to pinch some of Quinn's food.

"It's great to have this time together, it'll help my future therapist get himself a summer home," said Daria.

"When I said 'what does everyone think about the paper', I meant the front page story," said Erin.

"Ewwww, reading," spat Quinn. "That's Daria's thing, we don't have to do it."

"What if it's something about being punk?"

Quinn started to give this matter serious thought. Jake was still huffing and puffing and spluttering in the background, and Helen told him "that's it, no more newspaper strips again, you know what it does".

"This happened before?" asked Erin, before answering herself with "of course it did".

"You're learning," said Daria. "Dad decided Jon Arbunkle was a representative of The Man and Garfield was being oppressed."

"What does that make Odie?"

"I think he decided Odie was a hippie."

Jake coughed hard.

"Daria," sighed Helen, "don't make your father sound like an idiot. You know perfectly well he said Odie was a raver."

"That makes all the difference."

"Hey, you know, it's the weirdest thing! I can't feel my arm!"

Daria glanced at her father, saying "what does-" and then stopped as she saw how red he was getting. "Dad?"

He fell face first into his plate.

Everything stopped.

She could hear her mother screaming.

She must have got out of her chair because she was at her father's side; Erin, pale and shaking, had pulled his face out of the food.

His breathing was faint. Chest barely moving. Getting fainter.

She remembered.

"Mum, get him on the floor, chest up." She wasn't sure how loud her voice was. She looked at the other women, Quinn frozen still, her mother hysterical, Erin- "Erin, call 911, tell them it's a heart attack."

What was next he was on the floor now what was next what was

Check breathing.

Agonal breathing now, probably. Okay.

Work out centre of chest. Both hands together, arms straight, push.

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Tilt head back. Pinch nose close, put mouth over his. Breathe twice.

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Two.

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Two.

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She should have asked Erin to watch so she could take over if her arms failed.

How long had it been?

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Two.

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Two.

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She was talking, she could just about notice that.

"if you're just going to lie around the house all day you'll never get anywhere in life, why in my day we had walk a mile both ways if we wanted a nap"

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Two.

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Two.

"everyone's going to say 'look, punk is dead', and then you'll feel bad"

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When had the paramedics come in?

She had to get clear – okay, her mother was pulling her clear. Fine.

Automated external defibrillator. Best chance of survival, an AED and prompt CPR.

Buzzcut had told them it would only work on four people in a hundred. Thirty in a hundred if AED was used in the first five minutes.

Zap.

Nothing.

How long had the ambulance taken?

Zap.

Nothing.

Zap.

Cough. Splutter.

Hand spasm.

"ALIVE HE'S ALIVE"

"Oh Christ." Daria slid to her knees, her arms numb. "Oh Christ. Oh Christ."


HIGHLAND, TEXAS
OCTOBER 30, 1997

The tape starts. The guest bedroom we see is at a funny angle, finally righted with a tired grunt from the operator. The face of Amy Barksdale comes into focus, still sleepy.

"This is Awesomely Amy with a breaking Freaks, Geeks, and Phantasms (yawn)," she tells us. "You've wanted to know what the Morgendorffer household is like after midnight! The government wouldn't let you know! Well, we're going to show you!"

The camera bounces along to a corridor and then within sight of a messy, cheap lounge. It zooms in. We see the figure of Jake Morgendorffer sitting on a second-hand, beer stained couch, gazing intently at a newspaper.

"If B.C.'s a caveman, he can't know about Halloween you lying bastards RARRRRR!" he spits, before tearing that page of the paper up.

Amy gives a half-heard mutter of "try again a different night", then moves the camera as if she's seen something. The new shot is of a toddler, approaching three years old, calmly stepping into the lounge with a book in one hand and a nervous-looking plastic dinosaur in the other (she struggles to hold the book): she looks tired and blinks behind large glasses, and she wears a little green dress that someone lovingly painted an anarchism symbol on.

The camera follows the young Daria as she toddles to the couch and then stops, looking up at Jake reading the remaining paper. She stares for a few seconds, and then quietly sits down on the floor and holds up the book like he does the paper. As she 'reads', we hear something from Amy that may be a chuckle and may be a slight cry.

The camera stays on this scene for four minutes and twenty-three seconds.


The four women waited in the hospital reception until someone finally came, the normally formidable Hellion Wheels now just a frightened woman who looked smaller than Daria remembered. When the doctor arrived, Erin stood up, looked to Helen, and stayed standing.

"While we won't know yet the extent of the damage, he is in a stable condition," the doctor told Erin. "I think he's through the worst of it."

"If… if there is damage, then how do we prevent it happening again?"

"That all depends. I hope you don't mind the question, but is there anything in his diet or lifestyle or his attitude that might have-"

"Do you want the full list?" asked Daria. "If we do it in daily instalments, you should have time to go home at night."

The doctor – everyone – looked stunned. "I-I'm sorry?"

"The heart was probably just rebelling and wants to be understood. We can negotiate with it."

Silence.

Daria got to her feet. "I-I need some air, I'll…"

She staggered to the exit of the hospital and, on leaving, fell back into the wall and closed her eyes. Already, her hands were working independently and reaching for her mobile. She dialled the number on pure instinct, the one she wanted – needed – to have.

"Hello?" Aunt Amy's voice, suspicious and frosty. "I'm at work. Make it qu-"

"Daddy's had a heart attack," she whispered.

Something high-pitched and involuntary – something born of old pain – came over the line. "I, oh god, I'll be, uh, where are you?"

"Cedars of Lawndale, it's… I'm not actually sure exactly. It's the main hospital-"

"I'll be there in I don't know, I'm coming now, I'll-" There was a final keening noise and the line went dead.

Daria opened her eyes and started dialling the next number.


"Did the Rapture happen to us on May 21st 2011 after all… and Heaven just turned out to suck? Paradise Shitty, a Sick, Sad World theological round-table!"

As Jane lay back on her bed and thought this through, an ill wind blew Wind into her room.

"Hey, Jane! How long's the living room TV been broken?"

"About two years, I guess," she said, not making eye contact with him. That would just encourage him.

"Do you mind if I watch a show in here? It's kind of a marital emergency."

"Actually-"

"Thanks."

Jane bit back a million angry replies and just left her room; "Wind" plus "marital" equalled "the crying game", except nobody had a pair. Well, maybe there'd be respite downstairs-

"No, no, Senõr Finance Minister!" came the roar of Penny from, yes, downstairs, as she tried to convince a developing nation to give her money for trying to save them from being exploited by foreign gringos. (I'm in a bad mood, Jane thought to herself)

Her father, she saw, had taken over the upstairs bathroom – a tangle of power cables led into it.

"Hope you don't mind, honey, but I'll take me a long time to upload and format all these photos, and in case I had to go it just seemed smarter to-"

He had more to say but Jane left partway through. Trent was still playing loud and angry songs – "BUTTERFLIES SUCK AND GOT ME IN A RUT!" – so there'd be no help there. All she needed now was for her mum to tell her how everyone being an obnoxious, space-hogging jerk would sort itself on its own and give the speech about how, if you hold a butterfly in your hands, it will die-

Jane's phone ran and for a brief, terrified second, she thought oh god she's CALLING TO TELL ME ABOUT THE BUTTERFLIES before she saw it was Daria.

"Amiga, you just saved me from killing a whole load of peo-"

Everything stopped mattering in that second.

"Oh. Oh, Daria, I'm so sorry.

"Sure. Don't even have to ask. TRENT!"


The instant Jane had reached her, Daria had hugged her tightly and that scared Jane more than the phone call had. She never showed that much need for intimacy in public.

Trent had gone into the hospital, white as a ghost and god, that was not a simile Jane wanted to think right now.

Daria wasn't crying. That was something she could hold onto. If Daria had been crying… Well, it wasn't that bad (don't think "yet" don't).

"You're missing a really good Sick Sad now," she said.

"I'll torrent it," Daria said. "The sweet thrill of piracy will make it even better."

"That's what they said about Somalia."

"I should've thought of that line." Her voice was weaker there, shaky.

"Daria, it's okay-"

"I should have thought of that. Why didn't I think of that?"

Jane could hear footsteps behind her; she turned her head slightly and caught sight of Tom. His eyes caught hers, an unspoken 'do I come in here?' in them. She nodded.

Tom hadn't look his usual at-ease self when he'd arrived, none of his usual sense of innate confidence and smugness. He looked smaller without it, just a teenager in thrift clothes. But when Jane nodded, he closed his eyes for a second and when he opened them he was more in control, calmer.

Pretending to be, anyway.

"Daria, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry-"

"So it was youbehind the heart attack? You evil bastard." There was no mirth in that voice. "Don't think you're getting a birthday present this year."

His mask of control froze for a moment, and then he said: "I only planned to do an angina attack but then I thought 'go big or go home'."

"And if you get obese enough, you can do both."

Daria eased away from Jane and hugged Tom. His control held.

"Man, what do I get if someone dies?"

"Don't make me spoil the surprise."

"I may have heard wrong, but someone told me that the insides of hospitals are warm and have vending machines," said Jane, trying hard to keep her voice light.

"You'll believe anything, Lane. But there'll certainly be potential infections. Let's have a look."


Amy Barksdale arrived later, shaking and snivelling and when she was a metre away from Helen she burst into tears.

"D-D-Daria called and it was just like and I thought and and aaaaaaa gaaaaawwwdddd-"

The two women embraced and Helen began to cry too – suddenly, as if she felt she now had permission. Quinn barely noticed, staring into space with Trent's jacket around her. Trent himself was faring little better. Erin was pacing, tense and biting her lip.

"Our upper lips are as stiff as wet cardboard," said Daria.

"You called Aunt Amy?" Jane asked cautiously. After everything Daria had said about their fight at the wedding, she'd never expected…

"Yeah, she-" Daria fell quiet, her face losing its blank state and becoming desperate.

"You thought misery loves company?" said Tom quickly.

Daria returned to blank. "It's a party in my tear ducts and everyone's invited."

Amy's cries sounded worse than Helen's, and that was starting to worry Jane. "Um, so apparently your aunt was married to Jake all along?"

"Granddad Barksdale died when Mum was my age," said Daria. "Guess what of. Go on, guess."

I actually wish she was crying. I am a horrible friend."I figure he either cried to death or had a heart attack."

"Mmm. Trust me on this, never play Tori Amos' Winter in front of Aunt Amy."

Jane almost laughed. It wasn't funny, not at all damn funny, but it sounded like Daria had intended to make a joke – until she noticed the tightening around Daria's mouth, how she stopped looking over at her aunt.

Why did I make that stupid comment about killing people, why, WHY-

The doctor had come out and had a word with Erin. Daria's cousin nodded and then gestured for the teenagers to come over to the others, and gestured again for Helen and Amy to pay attention.

"The doctor just said that Uncle Jake's conscious but asleep, and he won't be awake until tomorrow. They don't really have room for everyone to stay the night but, um, I can and-"

"I'll stay," whispered Helen. "You can go on home."

"It's no trouble."

"Amy, could you… could you take the girls home?" On instinct, she raised a hand to silence Quinn and Daria; neither had made a sound. "Your father would want you to not worry and to get some sleep-"

"He'd probably scream a lot about how we have to carry on after he dies," said Daria.

Amy laughed, a desperate, half-crying laugh. "Yeah, yeah, that sounds just like him, oh dear…"

"Please," said Helen.

"Okay." Daria turned to Quinn. "Okay, sis?"

The terror of Lawndale gave a tiny nod.

On impulse, Jane said: "You know, our house is in a state right now, can Trent and I-"

Helen nodded.

"And I'm just too far away from home and don't fancy driving back," said Tom.

Helen asked Quinn if she wanted anyone to stay the night. Quinn's response was a whispered "dunno".

That ended that.


Amy was leading Daria and Quinn, hand in hand, to her car. Tom breathed out as he watched them go.

"I honestly didn't think I could have lasted another five minutes with… Jesus. Just… Jesus."

"You're staying the night too?" Jane asked him. "What about Fielding tomorrow?"

"What about it?"


Jake lay in the hospital bed, shrunken and hooked up to that beeping machine Helen couldn't remember the name of. He was actually snoring. She almost laughed.

"He'll be okay, Aunt Helen," said Erin. "He's a tough guy."

"Yeah." She stayed quiet for a while, just looking at her husband, before she asked: "His phone. They left on his bedside with his other things. Could you… I'm sorry to ask, but could you contact his family and tell them?"


Before they went to their respective cars, Tom asked Jane: "What is Winter? I didn't get the joke."

"Daria wasn't joking."

"What is it?"

"Winter is…" Jane swallowed hard. Jake will be fine, he'll be fine-"Winter is a song about a father's love for his daughter and vice versa, and there's a line… a line about he won't always-"

She stopped speaking.

Tom turned away. "Come on. Let's get to Daria's before the night's over."


Jane, at Daria's quiet insistence, was sleeping with Quinn that night. Tom lay on the floor of Daria's room, spare blanket around him and spare pillow below, staring into the dark and waiting for a sign that she'd fallen asleep.

Half an hour in, she said: "I don't believe in Heaven."

"He's not going to-"

"Maybe not this time, but. I know Aunt Amy believes in things. I wish… forget it. Good night."

It was a while before Tom got to sleep.


Jake woke up at 8.36 AM, and when he saw where he was he groaned "aww crap".


When Amy brought the girls in, Jake was sitting up in his bed and discussing things with an increasingly disturbed doctor.

"…and there's seven nights this year that I can't remember that clearly, but I'm pretty sure from the evidence that I got really drunk and headbanged a lot, and in two cases I got into a fight but I know one of those was just for fun. (Nobody's come forward for the second, so your guess is as good as mine.) There'd be more but work piled up, y'know?"

"And you've been doing this for approaching thirty years."

"Yeah!" said Jake happily. "Punk's never gonna d-" He remembered where he was and his whole demeanour fell. "Umm."

"I'll… I'll have to discuss this with the rest of my department," said Dr Draver, a beaten man. "Whatever we decide, it'll include a lot of exercise. Moshing doesn't count as exercise."

Jake didn't reply to the departing doctor. When he caught sight of Amy, Daria, and Quinn, he looked worried for a split second and then smiled. Quinn ran over to grab him in a hug.

"Oh, hey kiddos! And, er, Amy, didn't you… er.."

"That was months ago, I'm living in the now," she replied, her joviality forced.

"I'm going to become a doctor, Daddy!" squeaked Quinn.

"Dr Quinn, medicine moron," mumbled Daria to herself (Amy gave her a brief, concerned look).

"That's great, Quinn! Avenge my d-Erm."

"It's nice to know that the experience hasn't changed you," said Daria.


At Helen's request, Amy had taken Daria and Quinn away for lunch; that meant they wouldn't be around when she (with Erin by her side) had to discuss things in Dr Draver's office. She didn't know what he was going to say. She might need time to compose herself and plan how to explain it to them.

"We understand that your husband's father has a weak heart?"

"Yes."

"But we have no record for your husband having his own heart examined."

"We never thought about it." (Jake had in the first hour after Mad Dog's first heart attack, going into hysterics at the thought he'd be next – then he thought about something else. They'd both forgotten after that. A mistake.)

"I have to be honest; the amount of stress his heart has gone through is immense. It was weaker than the average even before that. He's informed us about his routine and diet, and I'd insist he change both if he wants to put off another attack. However, and I'm sorry but I have to ask, is there anything else that-"

"He gets angry," she said. "Veryangry, and suddenly. He's had that problem for as long as I know him. He didn't have the happiest childhood."

"Has he ever sought out therapy, or…?"

"We did once, at college. It didn't work out. After that, we… we got busy."

She felt worse with every sentence she said. Laid out like this, here and now, she could see that she'd fucked up. She'd been fucking up for thirty years.


Amy had recounted the time Sick, Sad World had been sued by the Mormon Church, but when Quinn went to the bathroom Amy let her levity drop.

"I heard the 'medicine moron' joke," she said.

Daria closed her eyes.

"When Daddy died, I didn't want to talk to anyone unless it was through my camera. I wanted to take it to the funeral, but Mum wouldn't allow it. Putting something between you and the pain so you don't have to focus on it."

"I know it's not healthy."

"I know what you're doing and I know why you need to. 'Healthy' doesn't come into things."

"You're not very good at this," said Daria, smiling slightly.

"Hey, I'm the official fuck-up of the family, sprat. You're with the wrong woman if you want something useful." She paused, then said: "Has Quinn called any of her friends yet?"

"No. I think she's scared they'll feel sorry for her."


Trent woke up earlier than planned, thanks to the noise of that bloody fucking Christ-damned parrot. His mind still foggy, he lurched through the house and thought he was dreaming when his father said "Trent, would mind being the flirtatious girl at the check-out counter?".

"Uhhh… I think I missed a context or something."

"We're trying to help Wind work through his emotional problems," said Vincent Lane, "and your mother and I find role-playing is a super way to do that. I'm going to be Katie, and then Wind and I will hit each other with foam bats."

"I'll try anything that will help," sniffled Wind.

Trent's mind caught up with a minute ago. "Flirtatious girl at the check-out counter?"

"Your brother had a bit of an accident."

"I'm busy," said Trent, colder than he intended to.

He went into the kitchen in time to hear his mother talking about getting "Trent's tent out of the attic" (he'd spent six months camping in the backyard to see if anyone would notice and invite him back in; his parents had just left him alone to 'do what he wanted' and Janie inviting him didn't count).

"Trent! Courtney and Adrian are coming for a visit! Isn't that great?"

"Does Summer know?"

His mother thought about that. "She should, shouldn't she?"

"Well, she's kind of their mother," he said flatly.

She hadn't asked him why Jane hadn't come home last night. He didn't feel like telling her.


Grandma Ruth would be stopping at the Morgendorffer house when she arrived in Lawndale, so she could meet up with them and be shown to the hospital. To Daria's surprise, she'd heard Aunt Eve was coming with her – she'd rarely seen her even before Cousin Finn's wedding, where her dad had been deliberately trying to nuke out bridges with that side of the family.

The two women were both dressed demurely and properly, but that was the only similarity: Grandma Ruth showed her age, while Aunt Eve looked younger than fifty at first glance. At second glance, the unwrinkled skin was due to makeup and her chestnut brown hair was a dye job and her eyes looked as tired as her mother's. At second glance, Daria thought, they looked the same after all.

Amy and Erin had left the hospital to look after the newcomers, but Amy had Ruth and Eve looking wary. They'd clearly met her before. Ruth turned her focus on her granddaughters instead, her smile slightly fixed when she looked at them.

"Daria and Quinn! You haven't changed a bit!"

"Actually, I've had a number of bionic limbs installed," said Daria.

"As long as you don't get a tattoo-" started Ruth before she looked at Quinn again and then just stopped.

"I'm studying to be a heart doctor now," said Quinn. "Then the next time Daddy collapses, I can save him."

"Oh Quinn, girls as pretty as you don't need to become doctors."

Quinn's eyes narrowed. "What does that mean?"

"Is Jake doing okay?" asked Eve, her voice naturally quiet.

"They're thinking about releasing him tomorrow night, which is either because they're sure he's doing okay or because of insurance reasons," said Amy. "I'll be nice and assume the former. He is awake and seems fine except for all the freak outs about his upcoming death, but for Jake that is fine."

"He's still… high strung then."

"It's quite endearing after a while," said Erin. Daria knew for a fact that Erin didn't find it endearing.

"I suppose." Eve sounded neutral, the voice of someone who was agreeing because someone else thought something.

The conversation fumbled and died. Erin was the only one that either family knew how to talk to. The whole thing was just uncomfortable, being stuck in a room with aliens you feel you should know but who simply were other. Eventually Amy suggested they head to the hospital and that gave everyone an excuse to break away.


When Ruth and Eve reached Jake, they found a scrawny, scruffy hooligan with an arm (consoling?) around him.

"The doctors gave him a diet and exercise plan and told him he can't keep staying up late rocking," said the stranger. "It's a bummer."

"And this medication tastes like ASS!"

"And that." He slouched off and held a hand out; Eve shook it to avoid a scene. "I'm Trent, Jake's my band's consultant. He's a cool guy."

The women gave polite 'hellos' and waited for him to leave before Ruth said: "You've still not moved into proper consulting? Oh, I'm sorry! That was rude, I mean, ah, conventional?"

"Ha! I won't wear a suit until I'm dead oh GOD I'll be wearing a suit soon oh-" Jake took a deep breath and held it for a few seconds. "Morgendorffer Consulting's doing fine, Ma."

"But you could be doing even better! I don't mean to tell you how to run your affairs but when I… Anyway, how's my little Jakey doing?"

"Medication tastes like ass," he muttered. "And those bedpans feel weird."

"You can't leave the bed? But I thought-"

"I can but if I don't have to…" He turned to Eve, a little unsure. "Uh, hey sis. How's… things?"

"Finn's a reservist in an NFL team and expecting his first born, and John's about to graduate. Ryan has been promoted to a new flight route." There was a pause before she realised he was waiting for her to talk about herself as well. "Nothing new at home. Oh, some of the other pilot's wives have formed a bridge club."

"Ryan's not coming down here, is he?"

"I asked but he said it would be really inconvenient for him to take the time off w-"

"THANK FUCK!" bellowed Jake, punching the air.

"Jake!" said a shocked Ruth. "That's your brother-in-law!"

"It's okay," said Eve quickly. "He has just…"

"It is?" Jake was confused. "I know I think 'Captain I've-got-a-metal-penis Steele' is a twat but aren't you supposed to like him?"

"Oh Jake," his mother sighed. "Can we not be normal just this once? Your father hasn't carried on like this after his attack."

Jake looked away. "How much longer does he…?"

Silence.

"We don't know," said Eve, her voice breaking slightly. "It won't be long though. He can't… he can't even make it down here."

More silence, Jake's face unreadable.


Erin dialled the number and waited.

"Um, hi Dad. No reason, I just… I love you, Dad."


That night, Monique answered her door to find Jane and Trent. With suitcases.

"We're not picky, the manger will be fine," said Jane.

"What's happened?"

"Our family turned up," said Trent.

"Oh. Sure, stay as long as you need. I'm surprised you're here too, Jane."

She shrugged. "Daria's… her house is… You know."

Monique smiled sadly; Jake was her band's consultant too. "Yeah, I know."


Jake was going to come home the next day, after school – Daria and Quinn had been sent back there, Quinn under protest, since their father was out of the worst of it. Daria was actually glad to be back in school, it was a little sign of normality. (From what she could see, Quinn hadn't told her gang what was going on)

Jane had asked how the visit from Ruth and Aunt Eve was going.

"We're all too polite to openly acknowledge that we're strangers. How's your own family visit?"

"Me and Trent moved out, and after that the visit went pretty well."

Daria felt guilty. "I shouldn't complain, should I? They're strange but they care."

"Yeah, what sort of family is that?" muttered Jane darkly. "I used to think that this was benign neglect and it wasn't that big a deal, I was doing fine and other family's I saw were a different breed of fuck-up anyway, and then I saw yours and – I get jealous sometimes, Daria."

"You can have my grandfather. We're not using him."

Jane raised an eyebrow. "He's not contacted you?"

"Dad doesn't know I know, but I know for a fact that he keeps his father from contacting us. I see my Dad daily and now I can see what his sister and mother have turned out like. I don't want my grandfather to contact us."


When Daria came home, she could overhear her Grandma Ruth playing the "here comes the airplane" game from her father's bedroom ("LIKE ASS, I TELL YOU! LIKE ASS!"). She decided to give that a wide berth and stuck to downstairs, where Amy, Helen, and Eve were trying desperately to have a conversation. (Quinn, to Daria's shock, was reading a book)

"Sick, Sad World seems an… odd career," said Eve, someone who obviously picked their words carefully. "What does your husband think?"

"They tended to think it was cool," said Amy. "But they had all sorts of other flaws to make up for it!"

"You've been divorced?"

The tone of that question was a bit too shocked. The conversation died until Helen noticed Daria and yelled "DARIA! How was school?".

"It was school," said Daria.

"Ask a silly question," smirked Amy.

"Your mother asked a question-" began Eve, before Helen waved a dismissive hand and said "Daria's right, her school sucks balls".

"On this we are in agreement," said Daria. "Let's be honest, this is not a less horrible topic than divorce. At least in divorce, you get to leave."

"I'll drink to that!" said Amy, raising her drink – "HERE HERE!" roared Helen, raising her own. Eve just looked aghast, but raised her drink anyway because the others were doing it.

Daria noticed that. Mad Dog had a lot to answer for.


Trent sneaked into the Lane house to fetch some more of his stuff – the kitchen was getting messier, Wind was still sobbing, and Chiquito was being chased around by Adrian and Courtney. He was glad to see the feathery bastard getting harassed but not so glad to see Summer was there ("GET AWAY FROM THAT ANIMAL, YOU BRATS!"). Still, he was just going in and out. What they got up to didn't matter.

They didn't really matter.


Jake tapped his fingers on his bed, trying to think of anything but… Anything but.

Mum had gone downstairs, where everyone else was. Nobody would be checking on him for a few minutes. If he triednot to yell, nobody would come in. It was the best chance he'd get.

Gotta do it, Snake.

He took his phone and dialled his father.

"Jake?"

He forced himself to say "Dad".

"What is this about?"

"I wanted to talk to you. I might not get the chance again before… well."

The old man laughed. "You've had a month to visit and now you call? Jesus, boy, make a decision and stick to it."

Don't yell."I changed my mind, dad. I thought-"

"You get hurt and then all that 'I'm not talking to you', 'you'll never see your grandchildren' tough guy talk goes out the window, you want your little boo-boo kissed, you want absolution! I tried so – damn – HARD to stop you being a coward, to get you to stand up, and-"

"You're still never going to see your grandchildren again."

"…what?"

"You had your chance with them and you fucked it up."

"This was the reason you called? You phone me up just to-"

"No! You're my dad, I wanted-"

"When have you everknown what you wanted-"

"GOD DAMN IT CAN'T YOU EVER LET US BE A FAMILY? All I ever got from you was disapproval and insults and being told to toughen up but only in ways you wanted, and I had to watch you running Mum's life and giving her no approval either, and EVE! I could say the fucking Holocaust was a good idea and she'd agree with me because that's what she learnt a woman does, that's why every time we ever visited my sister I had to see her married to that- GAAAA, you know what it's LIKE knowing your firstborn is on the way and realising you have NO FUCKING CLUE what a father DOES or what a family is? I spent six damn years terrified I was doing it wrong and the only reason I know I'm not is because I found out how you and that bitch Edie were making Daria feel that something was wrong with her!

"I called because – oh fuck it, it doesn't matter!"

He ended the call and hurled the phone at the wall like he wanted to kill it.

It was a while before he stopped crying.


The women had gone as silent as the dead when they'd overheard Jake. By the end of it, Ruth had stood up and walked – if she'd been younger she'd have run – out of the house, not looking at anyone. Eve watched her go, almost stood up to follow, and sat back down again, looking at the kitchen table as if the pattern held a deep secret.

Helen looked to Daria, who stood ramrod straight and pale skinned. Amy touched her sister's hand, pointed upwards: 'go'. The punk gratefully headed upstairs to handle Jake, Amy moved in closer to Daria; all done in two seconds. Quinn had looked concerned but was going back to her book, so no immediate crisis. (A quick glance showed Erin was moving closer to Eve)

"Hey sprat. You want to-"

Daria nodded.

Amy led her niece into the back garden, out of sight and hearing of everyone else, and carefully drew her into a hug and waited for her to speak. (Please not the deluge of sarcasm this time, not again…)

"I didn't know," said Daria softly. "All that time when I was a child, he'd thought… I didn't know."

Amy stayed quiet. Every so often, Daria had complained about her parents to her. The usual angst most of the time, just blowing off steam, but sometimes the glimmer of actual discontent. She hadn't asked – and nobody had told her – what had happened with Daria's grandmother over the last few months, but from what she remembered from before the wedd- before, she'd bet the discontent had come up. The feeling that her parents were doing everything wrong and were too blind to see.

And now this. She knew Daria. She knew there'd be guilt. She didn't want to put Daria on the spot about it.

"My dad never told me how he'd felt," said Amy. "Nobody who'd known ever told me when he, y'know. I like to think he'd never felt doubt and that he knew he was a great dad, but if I'm honest he must have been afraid at least sometimes. Having to make a person? When so many people fuck it up? Yeah, he must have. But you don't know this when you're a kid, nobody tells you. You're not meantto know."

"He really didn't know what he was doing. I wasn't whining after all, I had ESP all along."

Damn it. "Daria, your parents aren't going to blame you for thinking what every teenager does."

"When they were teenagers, they were rightto think it. It turns out I just didn't know what-"

"Sprat, come on now. I love Jake but if I started to list his flaws we'd be here all night. He's not perfect and there's nothing wrong with you because you've noticed this before."

Daria snorted. "It's alright to insult people after all? Can you tell my teachers this?"

"I'm not a miracle worker, Jim."

"I'm… I'm glad you came back, Aunt Amy."

"You're family."


Jake cried Helen's arms; she held onto him tightly, hoping this could help, that she could somethingto help.

It was five minutes before he was finished. Another minute before he spoke.

"Everyone heard that, didn't they?"

"I'm afraid so."

"Awwww crap. Did Mum-"

"Yeah."

Jake sighed. "I should try and find her. But after that, I don't think she's going to want to… well, damn it, I'll try." Pause. "Eve?"

"I caught a glimpse of Erin talking to her."

He smiled. "That's good. Erin's been there too. She can help. That's what families are supposed to do, right?

Helen thought back to her own family, after her father had died. "Supposed to, yes."


"What I find helps," said Erin, "is getting so drunk I forget I'm related to anyone. Do you have any particular preference?"

"Whatever you're having," said Eve.

She took two cans of the nearest drink from the fridge and handed one to the tired woman. Eve took it but didn't drink.

"Nobody thought much of my fiancé either," Erin said, making an opening. "Nobody ever said it to my face but they thought I was being stupid to marry him. Now, in my case they were right, but I know what it's like to be the one everyone's quietly pitying and laughing about."

"I have three kids and Chloe is still at home," she whispered. "They need a father."

"That's why?"

"I vowed 'til death do us part' and enough people get divorced as it is." The voice was snapping but it didn't sound like Erin was the one she wanted to convince. "My parents understand this. Nobody else ever acts like they do."

Oh god, Daria would have a field day with that."I guess they must be proud that both their children have been married for so l-"

Eve laughed. "That's not quite how they see Helen. To be perfectly honest, I never really go on with her." She shrugged. "But Jake seems happy."

Nobody asked whether he thought shewas happy, but both of them heard it. Her silence was answer enough.

"Why are you talking to me?"

"We're family. Sort of. I guess." Erin held up her arms, the universal 'beats me' gesture. "Well, I'd like to try and be."

"I don't think Ryan would approve of you," but Eve was smiling slightly when she said it.


Jake and Helen found Ruth and brought her back to the house, but she refused to say anything about why she'd left or what she'd overheard.

While they were gone, Daria heard Quinn snarl in anger: "This book is pissing me off! Use smaller words, you asshole!"

She walked into Quinn's room: "Dr Seuss strikes again?" she asked, and then she saw the book that had been flung aside.

Thrombocytopenic Complications After Stent Placement Post-Coronary Artery Angioplasty.

Quinn seriously wanted to learn to be a doctor. And she couldn't. Daria suspected that her sister was brighter than she allowed herself to be but not bright enough for that, and not with her grades in such a mess. Quinn should know this – normally, she would know this. But under the circumstances-

"I'll help you find an easier book," said Daria, trying to swallow the lump in her throat.


Trent and Jane sneaked into the house the next day, wanting to see if it was safe to come back. They quickly established both Penny had left (the lack of parrot screeches made it obvious), and Jane quickly found out from little Courtney why: Summer had turned up, and a single day together was enough to get rid of her. From the sound of arguing, either Wind or Summer was about to drive Summer/Wind off next.

"If Mum doesn't leave soon, me and Adrian are gonna run away back home," said the girl solemnly. "I wish you and Uncle Trent had been here."

"Wedon't," said Jane. She was about to leave, when she abruptly said: "If it's okay with Trent's girlfriend, you want to stay somewhere that isn't here? Because she lives somewhere that isn't here! (And I guess if Summer's fine too, whatever)."

Both Courtney and Adrian made it very clear they'd love to – and probably wouldn't ask their mother first – and Jane and Trent headed back to Monique's. On the way, Trent looked at her with his eyebrow raised.

"A conscience is a terrible thing," she explained. "Besides, all I know about what a family does is from this one guy who taught me that you look out for the tykes, because nobody else will."

"Huh. Who was that?"

"Someone you know very well, Trent."

"Oh. Yeah, Nicky was always responsible like that with his son."

Jane hid a grin. "Aha, yeah."


The following day, Daria and Jane's walk home from school was interrupted by a running Jake Morgendorffer. Well, a half-dead, limping, gasping-for-breath Jake Morgendorffer.

"Exercise… bites…" he gasped.

"I have this crazy idea, but it might go easier without the black leather and heavy boots," said Jane.

"But then I'd look stupid!" said the man with a green Mohawk drooping from sweat.

When the girls had gone their separate ways and the Morgendorffers were heading up to the front door, Jake suddenly turned to his daughter and said: "Um, yesterday, when I… er… talked to-"

"They heard you back in Highland, Dad."

"Aw crap."

Daria was surprised to find herself hugging him. She stayed like that for a second and then quickly separated.

"Uh, let's pretend I didn't do that. You've done an okay job, Dad." For someone whose family wasn't, you've taught me a lot about what a family is.

"Thanks, kiddo!" His face took in a conspiring look. "It's the funniest thing, but at the hospital they said someone gave me CPR and-"

Daria looked away. "Um. You're not going to hug me, are you?"

"I'm proud of you, Daria."

There was a long, embarrassed pause before the girl muttered out "Um, so, er, Grandma and Aunt Eve are going home soon I guess? Not that I'm changing the subject or anything. Nope."

"Probably tomorrow. I was thinking that we should do something, y'know, family-ish before they go, but I mentioned The Zon to your grandma and-"

"Dad, I think you should leave this one with me. And I'm going to leave it with Tom, and he'll leave it with his parents and they'll know somewhere."

The two of them went in together.


Trent was showing Adrian and Courtney how to play the opening chord to Come As You Are – and from what Monique remembered, they were learning it faster than Trenthad when he'd started. She shook her head at the sight and turned to Jane.

"How did he learn that?"

"Sheet music."

"No, I mean…" She gestured at the children.

"Oh, that. I dunno how people like him learn what a family does, but I'll tell ya, I'm damn glad they do because if he hadn't, then…" Jane shook her head. "If I had a glass of something, I'd do something cheesy like raise it and say 'to the family men'. We dodged a bullet there."


HIGHLAND, TEXAS.
NOVEMBER 1, 1997

The video starts abruptly, like the camerawoman had been surprised by something. The beleathered and pierced man is carefully holding both a small girl and a book; the girl is tired but trying to concentrate in that fierce way only a three year old can do, and she holds up a green plastic dinosaur so it can 'read' too.

"Tyrannosaurus Rex was the biggest predator in the-" The punk narrows his eyes. "The Cre-tacky-oh-us-"

"The Cree-tay-shus Period," says the girl in a low, raspy voice. "It means Chalk Period in Latin."

"Oh!Thanks, kiddo!"

The girl gives a little smile.

"-the Cretaceous Period, and its name means King of the Tyrant Lizards…."

THE END

AUTHOR'S NOTES: During the original serialisation, this fic was first called "Lanes In The Butt" so nobody would see the heart attack coming – the proper name was edited in afterwards. Sadly, that can't be done with the collected version!

The CPR is, as of 2011, the current recommended procedure. You can also just do chest compressions without stopping if you can't do/don't want to do the breaths, but the 30-2-30-2 model worked better for the fic. (Daria should know CPR because she was shown how to do it in Beavis and Butt-head's "Water Safety" episode) Agonal breathing is the remaining air escaping from your lungs: it's shallow and not got a rhythm.

Originally, BC was in the present (a punk version of "HOW CAN HE CELEBRATE ASHG WEDNESDAY?" from Lane Miserables) and Dilbert in the past, but Roland 'Jim' Lowery pointed out that BC had become less religious by 2011. After swapping the gags around, I realised I'd have to change Jake's issue with BC too since Lent isn't in October…

Amy's dad issues come from Brian Taylor's Moving Pictures, and he came up with the Winter idea; "Captain Steele" is borrowed from the Slacktivist blog's skewering of the Left Behind books, except I accidentally called him "Ryan Steele" after the VR Troopers guy.

Nothing's going to date this fic more than the reference to the "THERE'LL BE A RAPTURE IN MAY 2011 oh whoops" guy, will it?

MEANWHILE, SIDEWAYS IN TIME…

"Girls, I just want you to know your mother and I realize it's not easy moving to a whole new town - especially for you, Daria, right?"

The scrawny figure - all piercings and tight leather under a long, badge-covered green trenchcoat, her hair a mess with shaved areas and black spikes – gave a death glare through her huge, nerdy glasses.

"All my fucking stuff gets taken here whatever Iwant and I follow on if I want to have some clean knickers. That's pretty easy."

Jake gave a weak laugh. "I'm just saying you don't make friends as easily as... uh, some people."

Daria looked at Quinn. Quinn "eep!"ed and slid further down in the car seat.

"The point is," carried on Jake with desperation, "the first day at a new school is bound to be difficult-"

She'd turned on her iPod partway through his speech and was now headbanging & growling out "drinking beer in the – hot sun! I FOUGHT THE LAW AND – I WON!!"

The car pulled up outside the school, and everyone turned to look as Quinn exited.

"Hi! You're cool. What's your name?"

"Quinn Morgendorffer."

"Cool n-" Sandi stared in horror as the Anti-Fashion emerged from the car. "Ker-winn, what is that?"

"She's in witness protection and we have to pretend she's my sister," Quinn said quickly.

Sandi blocked Daria and said, eyes narrowed, "I can't even buh-gin to start explaining what is wrong with your look, but geez, what is with those glasses, they just clash.Get contacts or-"

Daria headbutted Sandi and she went down with a broken nose.

"I BLEW GEORGE AND HARVEY'S BRAINS OUT WITH MY – SIX GUN!" declared Daria as she headed off.