A/N: Hey, guys. My schedule is pretty crazy right now, and I'm sure yours is too. Here's an extra-long chapter to make it all better. Once again, I really appreciate all the feedback and an EXTREMELY big hug to my co-writer Zeshaika.
Luke felt something nudge him in the side, opening his eyes to find the blurry form of the Snob looking down at him. Snob seemed to be in a good-mood; the shit-eating grin that usually only showed up when he was talking about himself or his work was on full display.
"Wakey wakey," he said in a surprisingly happy tone. Luke nodded reluctantly, sitting up in bed and rubbing at his face. He hadn't slept a bit. He couldn't. Not after Linkara's story. For the first time, he thought he knew how Spoony felt.
Snob, meanwhile, was paying him no attention at all. He had parked himself right in front of the mirror and was furiously running a comb through his hair. Just like always… and yet, not at all. There was none of the usual reluctance on Snob's face, none of the boredom and irritation that usually resided there. Instead, he looked almost excited, and was humming under his breath.
Luke raised an eyebrow. "Are you okay?"
"Perfect," Snob responded. Then, as an afterthought: "As always."
Luke checked his wristwatch, eyes nearly popping out of his head. What the hell…?
"Snob," he tried to say over a yawn. "It's six o'clock."
"It's Saturday. We get to sleep in until nine, don't we?"
"Oh no," Snob replied loftily. "Not this Saturday. Don't you know what day it is?"
Luke blinked. "Saturday. We went over this."
Snob rolled his eyes at him. "Are you naturally stupid? Or do you just work reeeeeally hard at it?"
"It's a gift," Luke managed to say. He was getting better at not taking the guys' jibes to heart, and was surprised to hear himself say, "You would know, anyway."
Snob sniffed. "Oh, ow. For your own information, it's Other Saturday." At Luke's blank look, he explained. "As in, 'every other Saturday.' Visitor Day."
Luke blinked. "Visitor Day?"
Snob nodded, the wide smile returning to his face. "Visitor Day."
There was a short silence, during which Snob seemed to find another miniscule flaw in his appearance. Luke blinked his eyes hard, reminding himself to get coffee as soon as possible. "Why are we up so early?" he asked eventually.
"Got to look good for the missus," Snob replied simply. It took a long moment for this to sink in, but once it did Luke felt like he'd been smacked between the eyes.
Snob's smile shrunk a fraction. "No. Well… not anymore."
Luke winced. This was clearly a sensitive subject. "Ex-wife?"
Snob shrugged. "Sort of."
"What's a 'sort of' ex-wife?"
The smile was gone again. "We're… still friends."
Snob snapped, "None of your fucking business." Luke said nothing else, trying to busy himself by getting dressed. Snob cleared his throat. "I don't know what we are, alright?"
Luke nodded. "Can I ask why you left her?"
Snob didn't look at him. "She left me." A pained look flashed across his face for a split second, replaced by a familiar look of pretension. "Didn't recognize genius in front of her. Not my fault." He repeated it quietly, almost to himself.
"Not my fault."
Luke tried to change the subject. "Why didn't anyone tell me about Visitor-"
"Fine. Why didn't anyone tell me about Other Saturday?"
Snob shot him a malicious smile. "Probably because no one's coming to visit you."
Luke watched his leg bounce up and down, reminded of an incident only a few days ago. He was feeling unwanted then too. The only difference was that now, he had some company in his exile.
Todd sat a mere foot to his left, reclined against the couch cushions. They were the only two to not have visitors, and Luke felt another wave of loneliness wash over him. Todd hadn't said a word since Luke sat down, and it had been almost thirty minutes.
Around the rest of the room, the patients were scattered out in small groups. Their visitors, visitor badges on their chests, sat with them. The mood was uncomfortable- like at a funeral, when you're trying to think of something positive to say.
The Critic (thankfully, still himself) was at a table with a slightly older man, their faces and voices similar enough to make them brothers. There wasn't much being said between the two of them, but Luke felt his gaze continually drawn to the Other Guy's face. It was drawn tightly, and he didn't seem willing to look away from his brother. Almost like he was willing him to stay the way he was, willing him to stay as his brother and not… something else.
Spoony and his brother, on the other hand, were the loudest things in the room. They were laughing and joking with each other, and had introduced themselves to the other groups. Luke had liked Miles- he seemed like the other side of the coin to his brother, calm and reasonably collected. A large cardboard box of video games lay open on the table in front of them, and Spoony was rooting through it like a kid on Christmas.
He wasn't the only one with a present; Linkara was deep in a pile of comic books, sorting them carefully. His visitor, a curly-haired woman, had brought them with her, calmly replacing them with the old ones Linkara gave her. Luke wasn't sure if they were friends or dating, but she'd offer Linkara a smile whenever she could tear his gaze from his books.
Angry Joe was the calmest he'd been in ages; a little too calm, perhaps, as Luke noticed the glazed contentedness of anti-psychotics in his eyes. He was taking no chances today, and as such his movements were slow, his speech slightly slurred. Angry Joe wasn't angry; he wasn't much of anything. The small group that had come to visit him seemed upset over it, especially the woman sitting near him and keeping a possessive hand on his arm.
All of the groups had one thing in common; awkward smiles were being exchanged, along with fleeting hugs and insincere assurances that someone 'looked good' or 'seemed better.' It was fake, all of it. Luke felt sick, but did his best to smile back at the only person giving him any attention.
Sure enough, Snob had dragged him over to meet 'the missus' as soon as she arrived. Luke was stunned. Jillian (or should he call her Mrs… Snob?) was gorgeous, and acted completely normal towards him when they shook hands. They had sat down quickly after, but every now and then Snob would offer Luke a small wave. Almost like he was trying to prove that he actually had a visitor.
Snob was currently in the middle of a long winded speech, but as he talked JewWario came over to drag him away to take his meds. To Luke's surprise, Jillian waited until Snob was out of the room before standing up and quickly walking over to Luke's couch.
She stood in front of him, arms crossed. "Okay. Bullshit aside, how is Brad doing?" Luke blinked at her in shock, and she rolled her eyes. "You're his roomie, right? How is he?"
"Snob's name is Brad?"
"I am so sick of all of it," Jillian was saying. "All the false reassurances. Oh, he's doing so well. He asked someone how they were today. Spare me. So, come on," she urged him. "How is he doing?"
Luke felt a tremor of nerves in his stomach. "I… don't know. I'm not a doctor…"
Jillian gave him a hard look. "Okay. That's fair. But can you answer questions? Yes and No? Can you do that for me, at least?"
"Good. Is he eating?"
"Is he sleeping?"
"Is he making friends?"
Jillian nodded. "No. Is he being an asshole?" Luke hesitated again. Jillian's expression became a mixture of depression and irritation. "He's not better at all, is he?" Luke said nothing, but he didn't need to.
"Hey," Snob interrupted, coming up behind them. "You take your meds?" Luke nodded, hoping Snob couldn't see his blush. "Good. Come on," he told Jillian, dragging her away despite the look of desperation she gave Luke. "I just hit the second act, right?"
As they left, Snob turned back around and offered the other man on the couch a despairing look. "Oh, for fuck's sake. Luke, wake Todd up, will you? Just because he's the fucking Doctors' pet doesn't mean he's entitled to a fucking naptime."
"Leave him alone," Jillian said, but Snob ignored her.
"Wake him up. Not our fault he hasn't got anyone."
They were gone, but Luke didn't pay them any more attention. Wake him up? He gave Todd a hesitant shove on the upper arm. "Uh… Todd?" Todd didn't move. Luke tried again. "Todd. Are you asleep?"
Suddenly, Todd jerked upwards, almost falling off the couch. He took a second to recover, offering Luke a sideways glance. "Oh… sorry."
"Did you fall asleep?"
"No." Luke raised an eyebrow at him. "Yes."
Luke felt himself smile. "How late were you up playing?"
Todd shrugged. "I don't know. I would've kept going, but they made me pack up when the sun started to rise."
Luke whistled. "Wow. I mean… that's dedication."
Todd didn't respond. Luke followed where he guessed his eyes were looking, and noticed the Chick. Ignoring the two girls in front of her, her eyes were fixed on Todd. The musician shrunk in his seat.
"Hey," Luke said before he could stop himself. "You do realize that any other guy in your shoes would be crapping his pants out of excitement, right?"
Todd smirked. "I guess."
"Why aren't you, then?"
Todd shrugged again, and Luke was suddenly struck with how annoying it must be when he did that all the time. After a moment, Todd said, "I guess because I know she's wrong."
"About what? Liking you?"
Todd nodded. "Plus… there's this girl."
Luke was shocked. "Is everyone in here dating someone?"
"We're not dating. Her name is Allison. She worked with my band. I asked her out, she said no. Happy?"
Luke didn't respond. Where had all that come from? Todd still wasn't looking at him. Luke tried again. "Are you sad you don't have a visitor?"
Todd shook his head, standing up to leave. "I don't want one."
Luke didn't know what he meant, but as he looked back to the other patients he felt his stomach turn over.
Critic, terrified of what his brother would see.
Spoony, only able to see his brother from within barred windows.
Linkara, separated from his loved ones in a prison of his own making.
Joe, too afraid of himself to show who he was.
Chick, alienating herself mentally and physically.
And Snob, too full of himself to let anyone else in.
Luke's eyes settled once again Jillian. She was watching Snob talk without getting a single word in, knuckles white from gripping the edge of the table.
Luke realized, Todd was right.
He didn't want a visitor either.
Sometime later Luke found himself scribbling in the notebook that the Doctors had given him, when an observation came across his mind: time here flowed differently in here than it did outside of the hospital.
Here, time seemed to fluctuate between being too fast in comparison to the outside world and moving far too slowly. There were times that the young, curly haired man would feel as if things that had happened within the ward had taken hours or days, when in actuality only minutes had passed. Other times, it felt as if no time had passed at all between the days and hours.
Perhaps, he thought, it had something to do with the long hours between activities and therapy sessions. Or maybe it had something to do with the fact that this place seemed to shut down after dinner.
Those long stretches of time were like slow, painful torture to Luke. For what felt like hours, Luke would just drift about the ward, occasionally stopping off at the game room or his room, drowning in his own thoughts. Perhaps, the little reasonable voice in his head argued, he should be using those long hours to actually improve himself by getting more comfortable interacting with the other patients here, instead of letting them initiate conversations.
Of course, just as that little voice had convinced him to venture out of his shell, two more nagging voices would start to speak, shoving him right back into his hiding place.
What's the point of talking to anyone around here? that little voice of anxiety would ask him. After the whole Art Class incident with Linkara, everyone's waiting for you to screw up again.
Shut up, will you? Luke replied to himself, I doing so well before you decided to let that little thought slip into my head. Besides, everyone knows that it was an accident. Hell, we both apologized to each other, even though I didn't have to.
Yeah, he's got a point there, the voice (or maybe it was a second voice—he was having a hard time keeping track at this point) piped up. Leave him alone, Mister NegativePants. He's doing just fine.
But, what if making friends ends up being worse for you than being alone? The first voice was back, and sounding despicably reasonable. Think about it for a second: What are you going to do when, and if, either you or they ever get released from here? It's going to be hell keeping in touch with them regularly. And, even if they don't leave before you do, Visitor Days are few and far between. So, where's all this going to leave you? Alone again, back at square one.
Well, YOU'RE just a bucket of giggles, aren't you? The second voice sniped in Luke's defense.
Bite me, Pollyanna.
You first, Broody McBrooderson.
Luke shook his head more furiously, sending his brown curls swaying in every direction. He felt his stomach start to drop. What the hell was that? Was he hearing voices now? A terrifying vision of he and Critic wearing matching robes and ascots flashed in his mind for a second before it scurried away.
Without thinking, his eyes traveled back down to the open red notebook in his lap. The lined pages were full of his messy handwriting, detailing every interaction with the other patients; a feat that, Luke had to admit, he was pretty proud of.
He bit his lip, scribbling down: If it weren't for the fact that both voices in my head were my own, I'd almost be tempted to give them names. Of course, this is a terrible idea, and I already feel like I'm crazy enough.
"Hey, do you have a minute?" A voice spoke from beside him, causing the curly-haired young man to jump in his seat with a frightened yelp, practically diving over the arm of the couch.
At first, Luke didn't recognize the owner of the voice. He was a young man roughly the same age as Luke himself, with sandy blonde hair, wearing a plastic badge clipped onto his shirt. His voice, the other man noted, was also much different than anyone else in the ward, in that his words were noticeably flavored with a British accent.
The blonde raised an eyebrow. "Bit jumpy, are we?" he asked, half-joking.
Now that Luke was able to breathe a bit, he tried to remember where he'd seen this young man before. He couldn't have been any of his roommate Mark's friends. He'd met most of Mark's friends at some point while they'd lived together, and he was pretty sure that none of them were British, or had ever said anything about working at a hospital.
"Sorry," he realized the other man was saying. "Didn't mean to scare you. I haven't been able to find you for a while. Where do you disappear off to all the time?"
Luke raised an eyebrow, hurriedly shutting his notebook. "You're looking for me?"
The man gave him a short nod. "Of course. You're the last one I have left to get."
Luke wasn't sure he'd heard right. "The… what?"
The man smirked and held up a clipboard. "The last patient. I need your interview."
Like a light switching on in his head, he remembered where he'd recognized him from. Snob had said that the kid was a student who went by the nickname of Film Head, or something like that.
"Now," the blonde was saying. "Let's get started. Tell me about your mother."
Luke snorted. "Who are you, Freud? What are you talking about?"
The man scowled. "Look, I didn't write these questions. I just need your profile for my thesis, okay? Now, what are you here for?"
Luke's smile slipped off his face. "Oh. Social Anxiety."
The intern simply stared at him. "And?"
"What do you mean, 'and'?"
"Come on, you know. Social Anxiety and… what? Schizophrenia? DID? Bipolar?"
Luke shook his head. "That's it."
The man seemed stunned. "Jesus, man. That's a mild disorder!"
Luke felt his cheeks flush, but not from embarrassment- from anger. "Sorry my mental disorder isn't cool enough for you."
"That's alright," the man sighed, scratching down a few notes. "But… Social Anxiety? Have you seen the people here? This ward is crawling with entirely unique patients. Dissociative Identity. Bibliomania. Narcissism. Body Dysmorphia. Alcoholic Hallucinosis."
Luke felt his eyes widen. "What was that last one?"
"What do you want to be called?" The man was ignoring him.
"What do you mean?"
The intern rolled his eyes. "Your nickname. What's your nickname? I mean, I assume you've got one. Everyone here likes their anonymity, don't they?"
Luke blinked. "I don't have one. I'm Luke Mochrie."
To his surprise, the blonde looked disappointed. "Seriously? Well. That's… fun."
Luke felt himself get angry. "Sorry, I don't have a cute nickname. What's yours? Spotted Dick?"
The blonde grimaced. "Real name's Mathew. But, everyone here sort of gave me the name 'Film Brain'."
Luke snorted. "What is that supposed to mean?"
Film Brain smirked, "I'm minoring in Film Studies over at the university, with a major in Psychology. Trying to write a psychological thriller. Hence…" He gestured around him.
Luke, despite himself, felt his anger calm. "You're in Film Studies?"
Film Brain nodded. "Yeah." He paused. "How old are you?"
"Are you out of school?"
"Yeah. Since last summer."
"Where'd you go?"
"UCLA. Film Production Major."
Film Brain blinked. "Woah." He paused. "What are you doing in Chicago?"
Luke shrugged. "Staying with a friend. Getting away for a bit."
"From your parents?" Film Brain was writing again, but Luke tried to ignore him.
"Nah, they're in Canada."
"Then what are you getting away from?"
Luke didn't answer, and thankfully Film Brain seemed to realize he'd hit a nerve. "Sorry. Uh… so. Film Production. You like movies?"
At this, Luke managed to crack a truly confident smile- perhaps his first since being admitted here. If there was one thing that Luke knew that he could talk about confidently, it was films.
Even during his worst bouts of anxiety, sitting in a dark movie theatre (or in some cases, a darkened living room), was one of the few things that could calm him down. It didn't matter if there were other people there, or if they hated or like the film- as long as they were watching the movie and not him, he was comfortable.
"Yeah," he replied, as Film Brain took a seat beside him.
"Me too," the other man replied, "Seems everyone in here does, really."
"Kind of makes you wonder," Luke smirked, "if it's just an amazing coincidence, or if the doctors intentionally decided to lock all the geeks together. Like, they looked at our records and were like 'Yep; that guy looks like a total dork- how much you want to bet that he could quote every line from Monty Python or Airplane at the drop of a hat? Better throw him in there with the others.'"
"They probably thought the same thing during the internship interviews" Film Brain laughed, running his fingers through his hair, "Though, I'm pretty sure anyone else who's watched One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest wouldn't willingly want to volunteer at a mental hospital. Doesn't matter how good Jack Nicholson was in that movie."
"Hey," Luke said, "after that movie, I don't think anyone would want to be a patient at a mental hospital, either. I was afraid that it was going to just like that movie when I got here; dreary and depressing, with a bunch of Nurse Ratched-types running the place. Wouldn't have been surprised if someone around here ended up getting a lobotomy."
"Nah," Film Brain replied, "They usually move you to the other ward once you get a lobotomy." Luke paled, his eyes widening in horror. In response, Film Brain only laughed. "I'm kidding," the British man insisted.
"Well, either way," Luke said, relieved, "The whole thing makes you wonder why we haven't started up sort of a Film Club for Crazies around here yet. It'd probably give us something to do during the evenings."
At this the blond-haired man grew quiet, stroking his chin as he leaned back into the couch. Once more, Luke felt his cheeks grow hot as he felt his stomach sink again. Great, he thought, he'd said something wrong again, hadn't he? Was it the fact that he'd called them 'crazies'? Or was it the complaint about the lack of evening activities?
"Oh god," Luke groaned, sinking into the chair with a sigh, "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that…."
"What?" Film Brain asked, looking up. "No, I was just thinking that you had a point."
"What do you mean?" Luke asked, arching a skeptical eyebrow, much like he'd seen Snob do on many occasions.
Something sparkled in Film Brain's blue eyes, making Luke just a bit worried. It was the exact same light that he'd seen whenever Mark had some harebrained scheme in his mind that he'd inevitably drag him into. It was the same mischievous glint that Mark had when he'd dragged him to that dance club with those two girls- what were their names again? It'd been so long ago, he couldn't remember.
"About starting a Film Club," Film Brain explained, "Or at the very least a movie night. I think it's a pretty good idea. We should really let the others know."
Without warning, Film Brain leapt up from the couch, grabbing Luke by the wrist as he dragged the surprised young man across the room. Before he was even able to comprehend that, he'd found himself standing in front of both JewWario and MarzGurl. Coincidentally, the two nurses were not alone, as that they were currently talking to Doctors Block and Tease.
"Hi there," JewWario said, as he saw the two, "What's up?"
"Not much," Film Brain replied, with a grin. "Luke just had a really good idea that he was telling me about."
Luke glared at the blonde-haired man as all eyes fell upon him, waiting for him to speak. Why had he even opened his mouth? Film Brain had to be out of his mind if he had taken that joke even half way seriously. It was a stupid idea. And, once they heard it, they'd probably agree.
"I-I was just thinking," Luke stuttered, his words almost an incomprehensible tangle as he spoke quickly, "That we could probably set up a weekly movie night or something. You know, since a lot of us in the ward really like watching and talking about movies... and it'd give us something to do during the evening. Not that I'm saying that we don't have stuff to do..."
The two nurses exchanged glances with the two doctors, as if looking for some sort of approval. Doctor Tease was the first to give any response, as she nodded enthusiastically.
"I don't see why not," Doctor Block replied cheerfully, "We're always looking for new group activities to do around here."
"Besides," Doctor Tease yawned, "We need something to break up the monotony of evenings. Seriously, I've been tempted to load one of the with coffee just to keep myself awake around here."
MarzGurl and JewWario tried to stifle a giggle as Doctor Block rolled her eyes, muttering something about 'responsible use of hospital supplies' and warning her companion of the 'ice-cream truck' incident.
"Whatever," Doctor Tease replied, brushing off her colleague's frustrated stares, "Since it seems we're all in agreement here, we'll just need a night that we could have it, and let everyone else know about it."
"How about Wednesday?" JewWario suggested, "I'm planning on working a double shift that day. I could hang around for a while and help keep an eye on things."
"Sounds fine to me," Doctor Block replied, writing something down on a piece of paper, "So, Wednesday, then."
Soon the doctors and the nurses returned to their conversation, leaving Luke and Film Brain alone, and the latter aiming a glare at the former.
"What'd you put me on the spot like that for?" Luke asked.
"Don't worry," Film Brain grinned, "You'll thank me for it later."
Wednesday night had come far too soon for Luke's liking. What was worse was, once word had gotten out about it, it seemed everyone had their own suggestions for what should be the featured film of the night.
Spoony had immediately listed off a handful of action films and fantasy movies of which Luke had probably only ever heard of at least three of them. Chick, on the other hand, seemed to want to watch Disney films but had abjectly refused the mere idea of watching The Little Mermaid when MarzGurl had suggested it.
Todd hadn't suggested anything, insisting that nobody would like his ideas about watching a musical, while Snob began suggesting several films that he claimed to have written and directed, but everyone, being somewhat familiar with Snob's genre of expertise, assumed were probably not appropriate.
Eventually it was Linkara that made the suggestion that they all ended up agreeing on: Spiderman.
Although, perhaps 'agreed' was too strong of a word for one to use in that situation. While everyone may have disagreed over whether or not they thought it was a good film or not, they could at least agree that it had probably been long enough since they'd last seen it that it'd probably be kind of fun to watch again.
So, by the time Wednesday night rolled around everyone gathered in the Game Room, it being the only room in the ward with a television hooked up to a DVD player, and began to watch the movie.
At first, the darkened room was silent, save for the sounds of the film as the opening credits rolled across the screen. Immediately, the knot of nervousness began to clench around Luke's stomach again.
However, this did not last very long, for almost the second that any dialogue started, a few groans echoed through the audience.
"Wow," Chick said, "I didn't remember the dialogue sucking this bad."
That was when Todd and Snob stepped in.
"Now, everyone," Snob said, mimicking a tough director voice, "I've got sandpaper and cardboard here. I want half of you to study the cardboard and try to emulate that, while the other half of you study the sandpaper."
"But sir," Todd whined, pitching his voice a little higher, "I was thinking of channeling the personality of motor oil!"
"No," Snob replied, "We already blew our budget on the awkward CGI effects for the web-swinging scenes! We can't afford motor oil."
The rest of the group burst into laughter, and Luke looked around himself in amazement. Even Todd was chuckling, rubbing the back of his neck.
"Hey," Spoony said, "Say what you will about the CGI, I'm actually glad that they decided to go with organic web-shooters. Might not be accurate to the comics, but it does make sense."
"Too bad they didn't give him a giant robot like they did in the 70s." JewWario said, causing more than a few of them to blink in confusion. "What?" JewWario replied, "There was this Japanese television series that Marvel and Toei made back in the late 70s. It was weird."
And so, the movie continued, as more jokes and barbs toward the film were made. Impersonations were done, and more than once someone had to hold up a hand to pause while they recovered from a laughing fit. And, for the first time, Luke felt at peace. He couldn't help but smile as he gazed around the room.
Spoony and Linkara were side by side, and for once the latter had no book in sight. Spoony, meanwhile, looked the most alert that Luke had ever seen him. Snob was whispering trivia and movie jargon to an interested Film Brain. Even Angry Joe was smiling away.
Chick had snuggled up next to Todd. But, for once, it seemed more like a couple that enjoyed each other's company, rather than any attempt at Chick being obsessive. Her eyes weren't even fixed on him, and were instead watching the screen. Todd, likewise, cracked a small contented smile, as his other arm draped over the back of the couch behind her. It was a start.
Thinking back on it, Luke wished that he had paid attention to the only other patient in the room. Perhaps then, it would have been easier to have stopped what followed shortly after the movie's ending.
The warm, comfortable feeling that had been churning within Luke had spread through the air, causing a buzz of chatter to float over the air as everyone stretched, turned on the lights, and shared their final thoughts over the ending credits.
"Eh," MarzGurl shrugged, "It wasn't all that awful. But, I still hold that the 90s cartoon was the best adaptation of Spiderman. I'd say that it even did a better job than the comics did some time."
"Noted," Linkara conceded. "Wrong, but noted."
"The movie needed more of that wrestler guy," Spoony commented, "I mean, he was the best thing in the movie, and he was only in there for five minutes! C'mon, they didn't even hire him back for the sequels!"
"Maybe," Film Brain said, "But, Dafoe was chewing so much scenery as Green Goblin that if they kept the wrestler in there too, there wouldn't be any scenery left for unessecary-CGI Spiderman to swing on!"
"Hey!" Todd countered, "The CGI was completely necessary! You think that the rigging for the Spiderman Broadway Musical was dangerous? Imagine that, but like a hundred feet over New York City."
"Oh come on," Joe scoffed, "CGI is never necessary. It's just awkward and annoying. Right Snob?"
"Agreed." Snob replied, "But, let's be honest. The movie would have been much better if I had been the one who directed it."
"Really?" Luke arched an eyebrow "As much as I shudder to think of what your exploitation adaptation of Spiderman would include, I can't say that I'm not slightly intrigued as well."
"As long as you don't go changing up Spiderman's mask," Todd said, "Then I'm okay." They turned to look at him, surprised.
"And why would I do that?" Snob asked, more out of curiosity than anything else.
"Because," Todd explained, "Being able to show your face is always taken as a sign of confidence, while it's the cowardly guy who always wears the mask. Here, they don't always do that—Spiderman is confident because he wears the mask."
"But what about the Green Goblin?" Linkara argued, "He wore a mask, and he wasn't heroic at all."
"Helmet," Todd scoffed. "That's totally different."
It could have turned into a spirited debate, if not for what happened next.
"Ha!" a deep voice barked from the corner of the room, "The Green Goblin was weak! He didn't go nearly far enough to destroy his nemesis."
The cold, dead silence that fell over the room was almost tangible. Critic had slipped into another alternate personality again. But, unlike with any of his other personas, there was something different about this one. The Critic didn't look any different, and yet it was like he was an entirely different person. He sat cross-legged on the floor, back ruler-straight, glaring up at all of them. He'd removed his hat and glasses, and his eyes were narrowed to slits.
In the few days that Luke had been in the ward, he had learned enough to know that if the others were freaked out, then it was probably best to barricade himself in a concrete bunker thirty feet underground. No one was moving; no one was even breathing. There was only one person it could be.
Without a word, MarzGurl darted out the door. Part of Luke wanted to go with her, just to get away from what he was positive was not going to be a pleasant experience. JewWario seemed perfectly calm, but Luke could see a tic beginning in his temple. "Everyone stay calm," he murmured, standing up slowly.
"If the Green Goblin were as strong as an villain as the Mighty General Zod," 'Zod' continued, "Then he would have known that to really damage your opponent is not to kill off your nemesis' loved ones, but to destroy their minds."
"Oh, you mean like you did when fighting Superman?" Linkara snarked, "Oh wait, that's right; as I recall, that was exactly what you didn't do!"
Despite the fact that Luke wished that Linkara would just shut up, before any of them got seriously hurt, he couldn't help but admire his guts. Of course, it was the same sort of admiration that one has for crocodile and alligator hunters, in that secretly one wonders how stupid they have to be to do something that obviously dangerous.
"Listen, you little twit," Zod replied hotly, his booming voice echoing off the walls. He stood up smoothly, crossing his arms behind his back. "The only reason that I did not mentally manipulate the allies of the Son of Jor-El, is because there was nothing about that Negative Zone of personality that he called a girlfriend worth targeting."
Zod's eyes were as piercing as a hawk's as they flicked between Linkara and the others. An uncomfortable shiver ran down Luke's spine, making him again wish he was invisible, as a cold humorless smirk twitched in the corners of the madman's mouth. Something dark was brewing behind that smirk, he knew, and whatever it was there was nothing he could do to stop it.
"Linkara," JewWario warned, "Just stay back, please. Let's not make this worse."
"You would do well to stand aside," Zod said, "And you would all do even more well to kneel before me."
"Screw that," another voice snapped from somewhere nearby, "The only way that I'm going to be doing any kneeling is if I need to tie my shoelaces, alright?"
Everyone blinked as Todd stepped forward. Of all the people that Luke had expected to stand up to a dictator like Zod, the masked man was probably the last person to do it.
Zod's fists clenched as his jaw set. He looked as if he could obliterate Todd on the spot with his heat vision (if he actually had it). But, Todd didn't seem to be aware of this. Or if he was, he was didn't care. "Kneel!" Zod demanded, "Kneel before Zod, you pathetic wretch!"
"Your plan is stupid!" Todd said, "If you really were super-powerful, you'd be about as threatening as a used tissue!"
"Oh," Zod scoffed, "I'm sorry; but have you ever tried to completely obliterate an arch-nemesis? Everyone here who's ever tried to obliterate their arch nemesis, raise your hand."
Of course, nobody raised their hand. Except Spoony, who sheepishly lowered it after Linkara and JewWario both glared at him with looks that clearly indicated that this was not the time to be joking.
"C'mon Zod," Chick said, "Just leave Todd alone, okay?"
"Oh," Zod laughed, "And I suppose that you're going to be the one to stop me? The same woman who fell so far into a bottle, she couldn't climb back out?"
Chick's fists clenched. "You don't know what you're talking about. You're pathetic."
Zod smirked coldly. "This coming from the girl who was left at the altar."
Chick looked as if someone had just stabbed her with a knife. She stood, rigid and unmoving as her eyes widened. A small, strangled gasp escaped her lips as Zod continued to grin, knowing that he had found the right crack in her defenses.
"And you want to know why?" Zod continued, "It's because you know that you were never worth it."
"T-that's not true," Chick replied, her voice shaking. She turned to look at the man behind her. "Todd…"
Zod laughed. "You foolish humans with your concepts of 'love'. On planet Krypton, we do not have a need for confusing emotions like love! Unless that love and respect came from our elders. And even then, it was a very cold and harsh love, built from respect and fear."
From the corner of the room, Linkara had let out a cough that sounded very similar to "bull crap", but it was ignored as Zod kept his sights on Chick.
"Hah!" Zod laughed, "Your precious masked hero doesn't love you! Nobody here does. They barely even tolerate your pathetic existence!"
Tears started to form in the corners of the pigtailed girl's eyes as she desperately looked back at Todd, hoping for some small hint that Zod perhaps was lying. However, Todd only stood motionless, his face unreadable, but obviously torn between admitting to Chick that her behavior made him just a little uncomfortable, and defending her from Zod's unnecessary attack.
Meanwhile, JewWario cautiously held his hands out as he approached Critic's alien alternate personality. "Hey now," he said as calmly as he could, "There's no need to be getting personal, General. I, for one, welcome out new Kryptonian overlord. In fact, I'd like for us to sit down so I can ask you a few questions."
Zod, however, did not even look at the yellow-hatted man as he shoved him roughly aside, knocking him hard against the floor.
"Nice try," Zod replied, "But, I'm far too clever for your human mind tricks. If you wish to challenge me in combat, then I suggest you be less subtle about it."
"Believe me," JewWario said as Snob and Luke helped pick him up, wincing as they saw the dark bruise forming on the nurse's cheek, "I don't want to fight you, Critic."
"You seem to have me confused for someone else," Zod said. "I am General Zod."
"No," JewWario said, "Your name is Doug. Everyone calls you Critic here, because that's what you used to love doing- watching and talking about movies!"
Zod blinked, his eyes glazing over just slightly. Spurred on, JewWario continued.
"Yeah," JewWario continued, "You used to love talking about how remakes were the worst things ever. And about how you were baffled by the fact there were two animated Titanic movies. You remember that, right?"
The Kryptonian alter ego scowled, lashing out at the yellow hatted man, grabbing him by the collar of his shirt and throwing him to the ground again. However, before he could move further, MarzGurl had returned with a syringe of clear liquid in hand, as she sped across the room toward Zod.
However, Zod was not willing to be sedated easily as he fought against MarzGurl. Shaking his head, JewWario stood again, sneaking up behind Zod as he carefully restrained him. Giving the restrained man a sad, sympathetic look, the female nurse plunged the syringe into his neck. As the liquid drained, Zod's eyes became unfocused, as he slumped forward, his breathing slowed.
"Is everyone alright?" the purple haired nurse asked as her colleague carried the unconscious man out of the room, "Nobody was hurt, were they?"
"JewWario got a bit scraped up," Angry Joe said, "But, nobody got seriously hurt."
The rest of the crowd began to file slowly and quietly out of the room. Luke paused, the last out the door. Chick was standing stark-still in the same place she'd been before. Her eyes were focused on the ground. Before he could chicken out, he called to her.
"Chick? Are you okay?"
Chick blinked, looking up at him. Her eyes seemed far away.
"…I'm okay." Chick replied, in a voice that was too quiet and almost robotic.
Luke nodded, but kept speaking. "Chick, I wanted you to know…"
She looked up at him, expectantly. Hopefully. What could he say?
It wasn't your fault.
Chick's eyes seemed to dim. "Yeah?"
He tried. He really did. But, in the end, he lost his nerve.
Chick's eyes dropped again, and she shuffled past him, out of the game room.
Luke hung his head.
He was woken up less than two hours later by a frenzied MarzGurl. "Luke, get up. Into the cafeteria. Now."
"What? Why?' Though, he realized later, he already knew.
"Chick is gone."