Slowly Moving in the Direction of Forwards
Author: Haiku Kitten
Fandom: Legion of Super-Heroes, Reboot
Character: Brainiac 5 (Querl Dox)
Pairing: Pre – Brainy/Lyle
Slowly Moving in the Direction of Forwards
What's so amazing
That it keeps us stargazing?
And what do they think
We might see?
Someday we'll find it,
The Rainbow Connection,
The lovers, the dreamers, and me
-The Rainbow Connection
It's not the pain of being electrocuted that hurts the most. Volts and volts running through his body, enough to make his knees buckle, enough to make him fall to the floor, clutching his head, but that's not what hurts.
How could she, he wonders? It's bad enough that she was never there, bad enough that he wasn't good enough to be her son. She'll never know how hard he worked to live up to her legacy, thinking that somehow she'd hear about his accomplishments and she'd be proud of him and she'd come back. He'd been so stupid to think that – such a dumb little boy. But she'd come back after all.
She'd come back just to do this to him – to try her very best to fry his brain, the one thing about himself he's proud of. She couldn't just shoot him or poison him or something, no, she had to try and take his mind from him first. And she is going to kill him now, she is, he knows this, and he's so scared that he can't possibly begin to think straight, he's in too much pain to register anything around him except the harsh cold of the floor he's collapsed on.
Suddenly, the volts stop. He's too disoriented to understand why, and his body is still shaking, almost convulsing, from the electricity that's been forced through it. Maybe someone stepped in and saved him. Maybe his mother just changed her mind. What does it matter, anyway?
He distantly notes that he's crying, his face pressed miserably against the floor, and the tears just pour like someone turned on a water faucet. And a moment ago, he didn't want to die. He was so scared of dying. But now he just wants it to be over.
Someone presses a gentle hand to his cheek, maybe whispers something to him, but his mind is buzzing too much to make out the words. He pushes back against the hand weakly, because he can't move, can barely talk.
"Mother," he whispers; barely audible, even to himself.
He pushes people away. That's nothing new. He did that before, didn't he? And he can pretend this time that something's always been wrong with him that these damned implants on his head have been fixing. He can pretend that the implants are broken and that's why. But that's not what the implants do, he knows. They serve another function. They keep him mind under control but they can't fix his problems. All they do is give him a little nudge.
Damn Andromeda for dying, he thinks bitterly as he lies in his hospital bed, and damn her for not really being dead at all. And everybody else who's not here, like that stupid boy who's supposed to be his friend and isn't, and damn all the ones who are here pretending that they care.
It's a painful recovery process. After the first couple of days, he forces himself out of bed on shaky feet when no one's looking, only to fall to his knees with the room spinning, and he vomits violently on the hospital tiles. Someone, a nurse, comes and helps him back to bed and scolds him for getting out of it.
His body aches for days, despite the pain medication, and it's so hard to think through the haze. But he doesn't want to just lie in this bed doing nothing but waiting. What he wants is to get back to his lab so he can drown himself in his work and forget, please, forget.
The doctors aren't sure if the brain damage is permanent. Loss of motor skills, they say, and it might not ever get better. All he can do is lie in bed. That might be all he ever does. And suddenly, that makes him so angry that he screams, grabbing the bed rails and shaking them with all of the insubstantial strength in his body. It's not enough, he's not strong enough to cause the damage he wants to, so he screams again and he starts to cry, ferocious and gut wrenching sobs that bounce off the walls.
The sedative is almost a relief. Falling into dreamless sleep is a little like what he imagines dying must be like.
Mr. Brande comes to see him and he's the only person who seems real. The old man's hands gently pet his face, smoothing the corners of his eyes, and the touch doesn't hurt. But he gets a sick feeling in his gut because even with Mr. Brande, he's terrified, worried that the affection could turn any moment and hurt him again.
"She's at Takron Galtos," Mr. Brande explains when he asks. "She's getting help, lad; the best help we can provide for her. It doesn't excuse what she did to you but I want you to understand that she's ill. As far as anyone can tell, she truly cannot feel emotions. All very complicated stuff, you see, and we know so little about how Coluan brains really operate."
Panic grips him. "Am I… Am I like that?" he whispers, afraid of the answer. "She's my mother. Am I going to be like that? Am I going to go crazy?"
"No, lad; not if I have anything to say about it," Mr. Brande says, still softly petting his face. "You're a wonderful person, Querl. I have always been so very proud of you. Right now, I know it all seems… hopeless, maybe, and frightening. But you've always been a survivor."
"What if I never walk again?" he asks, and he tries not to start crying again, damn those water faucet tears. "I can't, I… I don't want to leave the Legion…"
Mr. Brande just smiles sadly. "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it. It's okay to be upset. You can cry if you need to."
Grife, he's cried too much lately, and he doesn't want to, but the tears overwhelm him. He hates it so much, hates to feel vulnerable and childish, and hates to be lying in this bed with his useless legs curled to his chest. He hates hospitals, and people, and this stupid gown he has to wear, and the IV in his arm, and everyone who's not here, and everyone who is here except for Mr. Brande, he could never hate Mr. Brande.
"I don't know what to do," he wails softly while he sobs into his pillow and the tears blur his vision. "I'm so scared. I just keep thinking it would have been better if I'd died but I didn't want to die, sprock, I just wanted her to care about me."
Brande stays with him until he's finished crying. He falls asleep, exhausted, and when he wakes again, the man is gone.
He misses Lyle. Does his friend even know what happened? Lyle's on an important mission, right, that's what Spark said, and he'd be here if he could be. But Lyle doesn't like him all that much anymore – does he? Didn't he say as much? Didn't he?
The wheelchair is awful and he despises it with every fiber of his being. When the nurse first brings it in, he won't even look at it. It sits in the corner for days, doing nothing, and he's doing nothing too, even though he wants to be up and about, but he won't use that stupid sprocking chair, no, he won't.
But then he gives up that fight too and the nurse helps him into the chair. He can't do it himself because he's still too disoriented and the casts on his arms and legs meant to help him control his limbs are heavy and difficult to move in.
The nurse makes small talk as she pushes his chair through the gardens. It's so sunny outside but he feels a sense of disconnect from the sunshine, like it's not quite where it used to be, before. The nurse asks him if he has a sweetheart. Stupid question, he thinks, and he tells her that he hates everyone, so he couldn't get a sweetheart if he wanted to. It's true. It's so true.
There's a letter waiting for him when the nurse takes him back to his room. His fingers shake as he opens it – paper in a paper envelope, who does that anymore? – and inside the envelope he finds a card. It has flowers on the front; someone probably thought it would be funny to send him a dumb card like this.
I hope you're feeling better. We can talk when I get back.
He swears loudly and throws the card on the floor and buries his face in his hands. All this time, he didn't hear anything, not a message or anything, and that's all Lyle says to him? But they were supposed to be friends, and weren't friends supposed to be there for each other?
Not fair, not fair, it's not fair and it's not good enough. He won't forgive Lyle for this. Never, he'll never forgive him.
The nurse tries to calm him down, wrapping her arms around him kindly, and he cries into her shoulder.
"I don't want to be alone," he sobs pathetically. "Stupid, stupid guy! Why isn't he here?"
"You're not alone," the nurse tries to reassure him. "Oh, honey, you're not alone. There are so many people worried about you. They come and visit you, don't they?" She pets his hair and rocks him as he cries.
"But they don't mean it," he insists. "They all hate me. Everyone hates me. Even Lyle does, he doesn't like me, because no one likes me. I… Oh, sprock, I don't want… I don't want people to hate me. I never wanted… I just… I…"
He doesn't want to be like his mother. He doesn't want to lose every person who could possibly be a friend to him. Everything is so much worse when he's alone because all he can do is think, and he can't even do that right anymore. He's supposed to be so smart but he can't think of how to deal with this situation, he's so stupid.
The doctor smiles and says that he's improving. He can think a little clearer now, doesn't cry so much, maybe he's kind of numb but at least he's healing. Now he can operate the wheelchair himself and the doctor says that he should make a full recovery.
Spark and Livewire come for him, say they're taking him home, and he's not surprised that they take him back to Legion HQ. This place is home as much as anywhere has ever been – well, more so, really. At least he cares about this place and the people in it, even though he's pretty sure that most of them don't give a sprock about him.
He tries not to be his old, obnoxious self. It's not so hard, and he feels more in control now. Maybe because it's a choice this time; he can be nicer because he wants to, not because of a nudge from the stupid implants. Be nice, they'd made him think, you should be nice. Now he can think it by himself.
The Legionnaires have a few projects for him to look into but it's mostly busy work. Sometimes he finds he can throw himself into the projects, really focus on them with renewed vigor, but that fades back into a dull ache in his chest after a while and he really doesn't care about the pointless, keep-Brainy-distracted work.
One day, he hefts himself out of his chair, grips his lab counter, and tries to stand by himself. He wobbles for a minute, then steadies, and for a minute he thinks that he's done it, and then he topples again and crashes to the floor.
Stupid, he thinks again. The doctor said not to. He did it anyway. He knew better.
He stays there in the floor, too ashamed and disgusted with himself to bother trying to get back up, until finally he knows that he's been there for about an hour and probably if he stays there hoping someone will come and help him, he'll be there for several more hours. He slowly pulls himself back into his chair.
Dr. Ryk'rr is an intelligent woman. She regards him shrewdly from behind her glasses, much like Dr. Gym'll but kinder and gentler. "What makes you really angry right now?" she asks him, like it isn't obvious.
"Everything," he tells her sullenly.
"Narrow it down," she prompts him. "Tell me what is worst."
He thinks about his mother, that's got to be the worst, and he says, "My own mother tried to murder me." But his heart's not in it.
"You're angry about that?" the doctor asks. "You have every right to be angry about that. Are you?"
"No," he mumbles reluctantly. "Just… disappointed."
She nods encouragingly. "We'll talk about that later on. Tell me something that makes you angry. What about the brain damage?"
He shakes his head. It doesn't make him mad. Part of him thinks he probably deserved it, after all, because he wasn't good enough. He couldn't save her from herself. He was such a disappointment to her.
And nothing he thinks about is really why he's mad, except there's something he's mad about, and then it comes to him like a light bulb turning on.
"Lyle's not here."
"You want him to be here?" the doctor asks. "He's on an away mission, isn't he?"
"Yes." He shrugs his shoulders. "I know it's not fair to be mad at him. It's just that for a while, I thought maybe he was my friend."
"You have lots of friends, Querl." She smiles at him reassuringly. "I've talked to several of them about you. They're worried that you've been unresponsive lately. They want to know what they can do to help, but they're all worried about pushing you to open up to them."
He doesn't believe her. Maybe the others have said that stuff, but they didn't really mean it. None of them like him and maybe they feel sorry for him right now, since his own mother tried to murder him and all, but that didn't mean they were his friends. No one had ever even tried to be his friend, except Lyle. But he'd screwed that up, he'd pushed Lyle away, and now Lyle didn't want anything to do with him.
"None of them cared before this happened," he tells Dr. Ryk'rr. "Now it's just pity. Poor, stupid Brainiac 5, doesn't have any friends, his own mother hates him so much she'd rather he was dead – that's not really caring. That's obeying societal norms that dictate one should feel bad for those less fortunate. Lyle was different."
There was something between him and Lyle. Maybe they both just respected each other's intellect in a galaxy full of morons. Maybe, but it was more than that. They had a spark. Being with Lyle was fun, in a kind of low key, easygoing way.
"When we were trapped in the 21st century, I missed him." He isn't sure why he is even telling her this. Probably, he just needs to get it off his chest. "I tried so hard to get home. No one cared. Every time I screwed up, laid it all on the line for them and had my plans fall through, all they could do was blame me for it. I guess I thought when we got home, maybe things would be better."
"They weren't?" Dr. Ryk'rr questions gently.
He shakes his head miserably. "It was worse. Lyle, he… he stopped talking to me. Andromeda became a nun. No one else ever wanted anything to do with me. I… I wanted to know how to relate to them, to try and make friends. The anomaly – I think that's how it works. It knows what you wish you could change about yourself. So it gave me this."
He touches the metal disks on his forehead. "I was Brainiac 5.1. I was what everyone wanted me to be. I guess it kind of helped. Gates was my friend for a while. But now that the upgrade isn't… controlling my thoughts – it feels like everything I did and said was all fake. Gates doesn't want to be friends with me now. He hates everything about me that… makes me who I am."
"You've got a lot to say, Querl. Can I make a suggestion? Start writing all of this down. Keep track of everything you're thinking about. Sometimes it helps to just get it out of your system."
Write stuff down in a journal? It seems so… high school. But he'll give it a try, and maybe it will help. Anything he can get right now is better than being alone with his thoughts.
"Doctor, I… I've been having thoughts lately that I… I'm worried about." He doesn't really want to tell her, or anyone else. But he isn't sure he can handle it on his own. "I've been thinking about killing myself."
The doctor's eyes grow wide. "Querl, why didn't you come to me immediately?" she questions, obviously concerned. "Well… It's normal, after what you've been through. But that doesn't make it any less dangerous. I'm going to give you a prescription for antidepressants and we'll see if we can get it under control. In the future, always let me know. It's alright to ask for help. Okay?"
"Okay," he whispers. "I'll try."
It's not until he's stranded on the other side of the universe that he realizes nothing has gotten better at all. He has no access to the medication Dr. Ryk'rr had him taking and he can't possibly pull through for his teammates this time around. What's he supposed to build to get them home, and out of what? There's nothing but junk and more junk. He cobbles the junk together, just to look like he's doing something, if nothing else.
Saturn Girl doesn't know what's in his mind; she stopped nosing around before she got to him. If she could see the inside of his head right now, he knows she'd try to help, or maybe just cry about it like crying ever fixes a damn thing. But she doesn't know. And he doesn't tell her.
Seeing Monstress die almost pushes him over the edge. He didn't sign up for this. He didn't sign up at all. How the hell did he get drafted into this nonsense? How did anyone even know who he is? Mr. Brande couldn't have been the one to suggest it, because Mr. Brande knows him too well.
He's crying, gripping Kid Quantum's shoulders too hard, trying to talk sense to her when he can barely make sense of the moment himself. The horrifying image plays itself over and over in his head. He wants to vomit, curl in on himself and hide away from all of it, but then Jasmine is hugging him.
In that moment, he realizes something. All of them might die in these next moments, it's true, but if they survive then something has been forged between them. They are all comrades like they've never been before. He loves these people he is fighting with. He loved Monstress too, and part of him loved Element Lad. Part of him had always admired those two for being so kind and so sweet despite the crummy hand that life had dealt them.
He's not alone. Never again, he'll never feel alone. Now he has friends, and he'll always have them. If they make it out of this, if they live past thirty, they'll always be together. They will go to each other's weddings, raise each other's children, and never be alone.
And if he'd given in and just killed himself like he'd thought about, he would never have come to this realization. Maybe that's important and maybe it's not, but he's glad. He's glad he was here to help his fellow Legionnaires through all this, and he's glad they've been here for him.
When he sees Lyle again, he vows he's going to fix that rift that somehow grew between them. And maybe when the right moment comes along, he'll show Lyle how he feels.