Disclaimer: Based on characters and concepts owned by others. Written for fun, not for profit.
Warnings: This is a companion vignette to my story "Rain on the Just." The events of this story will probably only make sense if you have read the previous one first.
Author's Notes: Originally, a version of this little fic was supposed to have been an epilogue to "Rain on the Just." However, in the end, I really preferred leaving that story as it was written. This one seemed to stand well enough on its own. And although I do not have any plans for a sequel to "Rain" at this time, I like that this little ficlet hints at a possibility of what might follow. I hope it is enjoyed!
Thank you, as always, to raywing for the beta!
A post-Rain on the Just vignette
"Mr. Lowry? Mr. Lowry, if you would please focus."
Owen sniffed and turned away from the grated window. Coming here was always both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, these private visiting rooms were among the only areas in the Metro City Prison for the Criminally Gifted that actually had any windows at all - with the exception of the administrative block. It was nice to see actual daylight more often than the hour he spent in the recreation yard each day.
On the other hand, however, coming here usually meant he was meeting with his caseworker. The woman had been to see him on three previous occasions already, each time asking the same, repetitive questions in that raspy voice that suggested she smoked about a dozen packs a day. Just listening to her made Owen's teeth tingle, but she had mentioned that there was a possibility of an early release for him following these evaluations, so he continued to agree to them.
Owen readjusted himself so he faced her fully, making a grudging effort to cooperate. Though his body still slipped into a slight slouch on his chair. His downcast eyes wandered over the front of his gaudy, orange jumpsuit and he occasionally picked a pilled piece of lint off the starched fabric.
He heard the woman across from him clear her throat. It was a craggy sound, like there was gravel lining the walls of her larynx. The noise pulled him out of his slouch and Owen hunched forward to lean his arms on the small table between them instead. He looked up at her with a sullen kind of obedience.
She stared back at him over the horned-rims of her cat-eye glasses, and Owen could tell that she seemed annoyed. She sighed heavily and used the Styrofoam coffee cup in front of her to stub out what was probably her third cigarette. "Can we continue, Mr. Lowry?" she asked disinterestedly. "If you're just going to sit there and be surly, I have better things to do with my time."
Owen scooched forward on his chair and straightened up a bit more. She had been brusque like that ever since her first visit. If the powers-that-be were expecting to rehabilitate him for an early release, weren't they supposed to send someone compassionate? Calming? Therapeutic? Soft-spoken, at least?
No, instead they sent a woman whose voice vibrated like a harsh snore. That, alone, was setting him on edge.
But, Owen figured, if he wanted to get out of here, he'd have to behave. After what the judge had said at his sentencing, he hadn't thought it would ever be possible. However, this woman seemed to think there was a way around the two-to-three life sentences to which Owen had been remanded. Some sort of legal loophole, he guessed.
Owen risked a glance back at the honeycomb pattern on the fortified window, then returned his gaze to her.
"Aren't you supposed to not smoke in here?" he asked, noting the rather prominent sign on the wall.
She gave a muffled scoff as she simultaneously pressed a new cigarette between her thin lips. "Please, kid," she droned. "Like you have a problem with fire."
But she did not light the cigarette this time. She removed it from her mouth and simply held it casually between her first two fingers. A garish tattoo of bright pink lipstick circled the bottom of the filter.
"Okay," she announced dryly as she sifted through the papers in front of her. "Case file of Owen Lowry, a.k.a. The Beetle-Bomber, currently incarcerated at the Metro City Prison for the Criminally gifted-"
Owen mumbled something under his breath and she stopped.
"You're going to have to speak up, honey," she said with a hint of impatience.
"It's Fire Bug," he replied, a little louder this time. Then his voice slipped a few notches into a halfhearted mumble. "They keep getting it wrong."
The woman looked back at him for a moment. Then she burst into a short, loud bark of a laugh. She pointed at him with the two fingers that still pinched the unlit cigarette between them. "Sorry, kid," she said, her brassy cackle still coloring her already-raspy voice. "It's a clever name and all, but I hate to tell you: if 'Beetle-Bomber' is what the media and the city at-large are calling you, that's who you are."
Owen sank involuntarily down in his seat again, and his caseworker raised her eyebrow at him. She tucked a strand of bright, badly-dyed hair back up into the rather severe beehive updo on her head. "Or," she mused, "perhaps that's simply who you were. That, Mr. Lowry, is the point of my visits." She laid some of her paperwork back on the table in front of her and lowered her voice. "As I previously mentioned, it may be possible to secure your early release if certain conditions are met regarding your current state of mind."
Owen straightened his spine again and sat upright in his chair.
"And since we were on the subject of names," the woman began as she replaced the cigarette back between her lips, mumbling her words around it. She still didn't light it, however. "What does the name 'Megamind' do for you?" She raised a very thin eyebrow at Owen again.
Owen grimaced slightly, then shrugged his shoulders. "What do you want me to say?" he muttered. "Am I angry that Mr. Mind stopped seeing things the same way I did? Do I feel betrayed by him?" He shrugged again as his eyes focused on a small imperfection in the fabric of his jumpsuit. "I don't know."
Owen could hear a pen scratching some notes across one of the papers. It was followed by the rhythmic, drumming clicks of fire-red nails upon the surface of the table. "You took a shot at him," he heard the raspy voice point out.
Owen nodded and looked up to see that the woman had removed the unlit cigarette from her mouth again.
"That must have meant you wanted to see him hurt," she suggested with a small toss of her head. "Destroyed, even?"
Owen tugged unnecessarily at the cuffs of his sleeves. "I was always on his side." He sniffed. "I just wanted him to be on mine."
The caseworker leaned one arm against the table, eyeing him sideways through the flared outer rim of her glasses. "And I take it you were furious when he didn't."
Owen fidgeted before he replied. "Yeah."
"You must have wanted to hurt him the way he had hurt you."
"I don't know. I guess."
She placed her chin on the dome of her laced fingers and leaned even further against the table. "Maybe you wanted a little revenge," she concluded quietly. "Maybe you still do."
Owen narrowed his eyes and looked across the table again. She was still leaning toward him, her thin, painted lips curved into a small, shrewd smile. Owen glanced back and forth for a moment suspiciously.
"Jeez," he said, reflexively lowering his voice to match hers. "Aren't you supposed to be trying to convince me not to have thoughts like that?"
At that, she flopped backward against the chair and laughed again. This time she laughed longer, and it trailed off into a craggy sort of cough at the end. "Sweetie," she said amusedly as she threw one leg over the other and arched her back against the folding chair in which she sat. The short skirt she was wearing rode up even more inappropriately in the process. "Do I look like some kind of a therapist to you?"
Owen had to admit that she didn't. He shook his head in confusion. "So you're - what?" He shrugged. "A social worker, or something?"
The woman snorted. "I never said I was a social worker either," she droned, tracing figures in the air with the unlit cigarette between her fingers. "I said I was your caseworker."
Owen's eyes narrowed again. Hostility was beginning to creep up on him. "Then what's the point of all this?" he said angrily. "If you're not really evaluating me for release, then-"
"You've gotta learn to keep your tone down, kiddo," she interrupted with a sharp hint of warning. "Especially in here. This may be a private room, but your voice kinda carries." She shifted on her chair and toyed with the visitor's badge affixed to the front of her blouse.
"And you are being evaluated," she affirmed with a shrug. "But, I don't work for the city, babe. I represent more of a-" She smiled. "-private organization that's taken an interest in your case. And your mental stability - or instability, as it is - is not really our concern. Frankly, neither is your rehabilitation."
She leaned forward against the table again, jutting her chest out a little more than was comfortable for Owen. He glanced away.
"What concerns us, honey, is the fact that you are in a rare position to say that you have rather close, personal ties to our city's . . . hero." She punctuated that with a snort, as though she had found her own words amusing. Then she sat back again and uncrossed her legs. "I'm also to understand that you've been inside his lair on numerous occasions."
Owen eyed her suspiciously.
"That gives you a fair amount of currency in some circles," she continued, stacking her papers into a small pile. "The problem is, kid, you're a wild card. On one hand you seem to have a real axe to grind with our city's blue defender; on the other you still seem to have a weird sort of respect for him." She stood, papers in hand, and gave Owen an amused sneer. "I mean, 'Mr. Mind '?" She rolled her eyes. "Really?"
She walked to the door to the private visiting room and rang the buzzer to call the guard.
"But-" Owen called after her. His mind was reeling. He quickly lowered his voice again. "You said-?"
"Yeah, yeah, your . . . release," she replied. "Let's just say the jury's still out on that, sweetie-pie. We have one or two other cases to consider - some of whom are also in this prison. And I have a few . . . colleagues . . . I'd need to confer with first. But if they agree-" She smiled archly, the skin beside her eyes crinkling. "-we'd make the necessary arrangements."
Owen's brain was a whirl of confusion. He didn't know what to think. In fact, he suddenly wasn't aware of anything at all until he heard her voice again from beside the door. The first thing he noticed were his own clenched fists on the tabletop, then he glanced back up at her again.
"Listen, toots," she said, "can I give you a word of advice?"
Owen just blinked at her dumbfoundedly.
She offered him another sly smile then pressed her unlit cigarette back between her lips. With a snap of her fingers, a spark ignited. Then, out of the friction, a tiny, pink fire burst to flaming life. It clung to the very tip of her finger, flickering like a cherry-colored gaslight.
Owen stared at it, entranced. His eyes widened.
She smiled around the cigarette in her lips and raised her finger to it. The edges of the paper curled back against the flame as the tip began to smolder and glow. She released a puff of smoke with another furtive smile and, a moment before the guard arrived to unlock the door, she snuffed the flame out with a quick flick of her wrist.
"When it comes to playing with fire, kid," she advised softly, "leave it to the pros."
She stepped over the threshold with another stealthy grin, and Owen was left to merely stare after her as the door closed between them.