Welcome to the Suburbs. Population: Odd.

Monkey Kitty
Posts: 724
Joined: Thu Oct 29, 2020 7:31 pm

Re: Welcome to the Suburbs. Population: Odd.

Post by Monkey Kitty »

Imiel, Marshal Knox, and Jameson Bryant

Imiel assumed he would be one of the first S.H.I.E.L.D. would finish with. He knew nothing, and since he had only been on Earth for a few months, it was reasonable to expect that he would know nothing.

As it turned out, though, the zealous S.H.I.E.L.D. agent wasn't planning to interrogate him about the stuff of Arthurian legend. He had something else entirely in mind. The questions started immediately, and were rapid fire. Imiel quickly started losing track of everything he'd been asked.

"...And have you ever been to New Skrullos, Mr. Collins?"

"No."

"Any connections to New Skrullos?"

"Not that I'm aware of."

"Who invited you to come to Earth?"

"Talos."

"He invited you personally? Why?"

"No. It was a mass communication I was looped in on later. Your people asked me that before. Isn't that in my file already...?"

"Do you have sympathy for Skrull revolutionary causes?"

"I don't support terrorism."

He hadn't actually answered that question, and they both knew it. The agent typed something into his laptop; Imiel couldn't see the screen.

"Have you ever been to Moscow, Mr. Collins?"

"No..."


***


It didn’t take long before gossip was buzzing about Mr. Stalwart’s indiscretion. Within the time it took them to locate Imiel and his daughters after their initial regrouping, even Marshal started hearing the various rumors... Marshal, who basically only used his phone to take pictures of Fievel and avoid Ginny, and had no interest whatsoever in celebrity gossip, superhero or otherwise.

"Mr. Stalwart did it with a fat chick!" one passing S.H.I.E.L.D lackey whispered to another, who giggled. Marshal rolled his eyes.

The story was also getting airtime on a TV in a lounge nearby; Marshal switched it off, but not before catching an unwanted glimpse.

People were shocked - perhaps a bit melodramatically so - by the superhero’s conduct. Rumors flew about the nature of his tryst, and about how toxic he must be in general, the face he showed to the world a mere facade. How could he be called a hero, when he would take advantage of the affections of a lovesick admirer for his own physical gratification?

Some fans clung doggedly to his defense. Was his sin really that bad? He was only human, after all. One very loyal but easily dismissed soul argued hopelessly across social media that the superhero had merely been saving the woman’s life by giving her emergency CPR. Most, of course, took a more pragmatic approach that even Mr. Stalwart was a man with physical needs, and no one had been truly harmed in their satisfaction.

Whether or not there had been harm in their encounter, though, harm was going to be done now. Cruel words and mud were going to be slung.

And of course, it was not the handsome superhero who took the worst of it. Insults and jokes about his female companion began to flood the internet. She was mocked relentlessly, called names, insulted for her appearance, criticized for her weight. The reality of a human being now seemed thoroughly lost behind the target the gossip painted on her with the gross invasion of her privacy.

Marshal saw Jameson standing by another large TV screen near the front security desk, watching the news about himself silently scroll by, his face set in an expression of anger, horror, and… fear? The latter surprised Marshal; he didn’t recall ever seeing Jameson afraid of anything, either in his public-facing capacity as a superhero or during their army days.

Even as Marshal told himself that he had enough of his own problems without getting mixed up in Mr. Stalwart’s, he couldn’t help feeling bad for the guy.

Especially because Jameson had just rescued him from Ginny’s clutches.

And especially because this was almost certainly Ginny’s retaliation for that act of kindness. The timing couldn’t possibly be a coincidence, and Marshal himself had cause to know that Ginny monitored the hidden cameras in her patients’ bedrooms. At least all she’d caught Jameson doing was having sex…

“Hey, Jameson… uh… I mean Mr. Stalwart.” Marshal approached hesitantly, unsure if they were being army buddies right now or if he was supposed to be deferring to the superhero persona, somehow splitting the difference by being as awkward as possible from both angles, but determined to say something comforting. He owed Jameson that much, surely. “Don’t worry. This is gonna blow over. The lady was a consenting adult. People have short attention spans. This won’t be a big deal to them for long. Pretty soon you’ll be back to the Boy Scout you always were in their eyes. No long-term damage to your squeaky clean reputation.”

“Yeah. You’re right. Thanks, Marshal.” Jameson was being carefully courteous as always, but he seemed… distant. Only half listening, the other half of his brain occupied somewhere else, chewing on some other problem.

So the reputational damage wasn’t the thing Jameson feared after all. Huh. What else was there?

He thought back to their time in the army. Jameson hadn't been a womanizer. Quite the opposite; he'd been shy with girls, even though it would have been easy for him, looking like he did. When the other soldiers discussed their various prospects for flings, Jameson had usually just kept silent, with nothing to chime in. So... what had changed now? Just the status he had gained as not merely an army man but a superhero? Or...?

Marshal took a wild guess and made a stab in the dark. “She isn’t going to stop loving you,” he said.

Jameson drew in his breath, sharply and shakily. A muscle in his jaw tensed. He blinked rapidly a few times.

So that was it after all? That actually… was what Jameson feared? Marshal had expected to be wrong. Interesting. Very interesting indeed.

“Hey,” Marshal said gently, giving Jameson a pat on the shoulder. “She isn’t. No way. If she can handle the whole superhero thing - if she’s okay with being your secret - she isn’t gonna dump you over this. It wasn’t your fault. She’ll be able to see that. Just talk to her about it. Tell her you’re sorry. She’ll understand.”

Marshal was pretty confident what he was saying was true. Jameson didn’t seem responsible for any aspect of what had happened. It was pretty clear in that horribly invasive bedroom shot that Jameson had been no more aware of the camera than the woman was - he hadn’t been filming her without her knowledge. Nor did he appear to have had any involvement with the image being released, if his reaction was any indication. No, to Marshal it was plain what had happened - Ginny had gone after Jameson, and this woman was unfortunate collateral damage. Surely someone who loved Jameson wouldn’t take the whole thing out on him.

“Thanks, Marshal,” Jameson said again - but this time, Marshal was confident he had the superhero’s full attention and the words were sincere. “I appreciate it. I really do.”

Jameson smiled, putting on a brave face. Somehow the smile made Marshal feel even worse for the guy. Jameson had to be thinking the same thing Marshal was - that even if he patched up his relationship, he wouldn’t be truly safe. Did Jameson even have anywhere to go where S.H.I.E.L.D. wouldn’t have its eyes on him?

“Uh, so. Do you need a place to stay for a little while?” Marshal heard himself asking. “They gave me this giant house in the suburbs. It’s way more space than I need. You could always hang out there till you get this figured out. There aren’t any cameras - not anymore, at least, thanks to my friend Cait. I’d let you have all the privacy you need. I don’t care who you have over. Your lady, or whoever else - it’s fine.”

Hope flickered in Jameson’s eyes for a moment, but then he shook his head. “I can’t, Marshal. That’s really nice of you, but it’s way too much to ask…”

“It’s not,” Marshal insisted. “Honestly, the house gets pretty… empty… sometimes. I was thinking of getting a roommate anyway.” That idea actually hadn’t crossed Marshal’s mind as a serious option until just now, but now that he thought about it, it sounded… well, it sounded really nice. “Think about it. If you want. You’d be kind of doing me a favor too. Not having to be alone in the quiet. You know how it is. Or maybe you don’t know, but…”

“Yeah. I do know, Marshal. Okay. I’ll take you up on it. Thank you.”


***


Imiel was tired. It had been a long day. The girls were exhausted and grumpy, well past ready for a nap - or maybe bedtime? He’d completely lost track of time. He just wanted to go home, and… take a break from wearing this human face. His skin itched. It was just in his head, he knew - it was part of the weariness. But he was weary. So weary of hiding his true face. He needed some time alone with his daughters - the mishap with Charis aside, that was the only place he could be who he truly was. S.H.I.E.L.D. had made that abundantly clear - humans would never be truly comfortable with Skrulls.

Well, the agent was finally releasing him, at least. Perhaps Imiel had finally convinced him - at least for today - that he wasn't a traitor? That was some measure of cold comfort. He crossed paths with Marshal and Jameson (and Cait, who he was not immediately aware of) as he was finally being dismissed from the interrogation room.

"Hey!" Marshal called out, waving... and just barely avoiding yelling the man's real name. To Jameson, he added, "That's him."

"Oh, and Mr. Collins?" the agent asked in a fake-casual tone that was clearly anything but casual. "If you do hear of any rumors from the Skrull community we should know about, you'll let us know, right?" It was not a request; it was an order the agent assumed would be followed. Without waiting for a response, the agent closed the door and disappeared behind it.

“You’re a Skrull!” Jameson said.

“Yes,” Imiel said, suppressing a sigh. He really wasn’t in the mood for a debate at the moment about whether his species had a right to exist. “Yes, I am a Skrull.”

Jameson took a step closer, put his hands on Imiel’s shoulders, and touched his own forehead to Imiel’s.

“Um.” Imiel was puzzled, and rather taken aback.

Jameson stepped back again, embarrassed. “Oh. Sorry. I thought that was a Skrull greeting.”

“Well, yes, it is, but…”

“Mr. Fury said there are a million Skrulls on this planet.”

“Yes.” This time, Imiel didn’t quite manage to suppress the sigh.

“Mr. Fury doesn’t think humans can coexist with that many Skrulls.”

“Of course he doesn’t…”

“But with all due respect to Mr. Fury, I think he’s wrong. I think we can learn. I’m ready to coexist. That’s why I’m trying to learn a little bit about Skrull culture. I don’t know any Skrulls - or at least I don’t think I do? Who knows, I guess? But anyway, I don’t have anyone I can ask. So I was just looking stuff up online. There’s not much there, though, so I had to kind of piece it together–”

Imiel interrupted this increasingly awkward and pained explanation by taking Jameson by the shoulders and repeating the forehead touch. Jameson seemed startled at first, but then Imiel felt the superhero’s hands lock on his elbows.

“It is a Skrull greeting,” Imiel explained as they faced each other again. “But not really for strangers. For friends.”

“Sorry…”

Imiel waved off the apology. “I don’t think you really count as a stranger anymore. Not if you care that much about wanting to get along with Skrulls. It’s a rare person who would bother with any of that. Surely that puts you in the category of friend.”


***


Once they had Imiel and his daughters, it didn't take Marshal long to relocate Rhiannon and her children. He figured some brief introductions were in order, since Cait was currently too... rodent... to introduce her family herself.

"So, this is Jameson. Uh, also known as Mr. Stalwart..."

"Just Jameson is fine," he interjected quickly.

"Jameson, this is Rhiannon, Charis, and Ewan. Okay. Everyone ready to go home?" Marshal didn't anticipate any objections.
Monkey Kitty
Posts: 724
Joined: Thu Oct 29, 2020 7:31 pm

Re: Welcome to the Suburbs. Population: Odd.

Post by Monkey Kitty »

Transcript of Therapy Session: Doctor Virginia Thornton and Patient Marshal Knox
Six Months Earlier


VT: You've skipped your last three therapy appointments, Marshal.

MK: Sorry.

VT: I can only assume you have a good reason? Because you realize attending therapy is a condition of your release. That hasn't slipped your mind, has it? Would being back in a cell for awhile refresh your memory?

MK: No. No, that's not necessary. Sorry, Doc. I've been busy.

VT: Oh? Busy? Doing what, exactly?

MK: I... uh...

VT: Yes?

MK: The truth is I was kind of... uh... uncomfortable. With some of what happened last time.

VT: You? You were uncomfortable?

MK: Yeah.

VT: Oh. I didn't realize you had gotten your medical degree. When did that happen?

MK: Doctor Thornton...

VT: I just find it interesting that Mr. High School Diploma thinks he knows better than a medical doctor of psychiatry about how his treatment should proceed. By all means. Tell me what new course of treatment you wish to pursue, if mine has been so inadequate.

MK: Never mind.

VT: Perhaps someone else is more helpful to you? Your mother... oh, wait, she abandoned you. You don't even know where she is. The army, maybe? Oops, no, I don't think they're going to be very welcoming anymore, with you being a traitor to your country and all. I'm sure HYDRA would be willing to take you back...

MK: No! Please don't say that. I'm never going back to them.

VT: So who exactly is willing to help you other than me? Lots of people lining up for the task?

[Silence.]

VT: I see. I didn't think so. Well?

MK: Well what?

VT: I believe you owe me an apology?

MK: Uh. Sorry, Dr. Thornton.

VT: I accept your apology. So how have you been, Marshal?

MK: Uh. Okay, I guess.

VT: Really? You've been 'okay'? Interesting.

MK: Yeah. Uh. Is that bad?

VT: I'm just a little surprised you would say that. Do you really think you should be 'okay'?

MK: I don't understand.

VT: Don't bullshit me, Marshal.

MK: No, I... I really don't know what you mean, Doc.

VT: Well, let me see. [Dr. Thornton opens the patient's file.] I can't imagine what you would have to be not 'okay' about. Hm. You are, in fact, a murderer, aren't you?

MK: Yeah.

VT: Always strictly enemy combatants?

[Silence.]

MK: Do we have to talk about this again?

VT: Answer me, Marshal. Were your victims always strictly enemy combatants?

MK: Not always. No.

VT: And were they always clean kills?

MK: Not... not always.

VT: That seems to be an understatement. [Dr. Thornton continues flipping through the file.] You actually have rather a penchant for torture, it seems.

MK: I... I didn't want to.

VT: You didn't want to.

MK: No. I never wanted to. HYDRA put those words in my head. They forced me to.

VT: Are you denying responsibility for your actions, Marshal?

MK: No. Of course not. I was responsible.

VT: Who was responsible?

MK: Me.

VT: Good. Taking accountability for your actions is important. You keep having difficulty with that, no matter how hard we work.

MK: Sorry, Doc.

VT: So what are you doing with your time, Marshal? Other than being 'okay'?

MK: I don't know.

VT: You don't know? Seriously, Marshal? You're going to claim you 'don't know' what you do with your time? What do you do all day?

MK: I... uh... drink. Sometimes. I guess I drink a lot.

VT: Why do you drink?

MK: It helps. Dulls the pain. Helps me forget. Helps me sleep.

VT: Ah. So you think you deserve for the pain to be dulled?

MK: I don't understand.

VT: Come on, Marshal. It's simple. Did you give your victims the luxury of avoiding pain?

[Silence.]

VT: Did you?

MK: [softly] No.

VT: Then why should you give yourself that indulgence?

MK: I... I guess I don't know how else to live with myself.

VT: Really? Because you seem to be living with yourself just fine.

MK: What do you mean?

VT: Well, you're still here, aren't you? You claim your past is so impossible to live with. But you're clearly still alive.

MK: I guess.

VT: You... 'guess'? You are demonstrably among the living.

MK: Yeah, I am.

VT: So what's all this complaining about? How hard you have it? Do you think you're special, Marshal?

MK: No.

VT: Please, enlighten me. What makes you any different than all the other HYDRA trash?

MK: [quietly] Nothing.

VT: I barely heard that. Speak up.

MK: NOTHING.

VT: Marshal, calm down. You're getting out of control. Do I need to dose you with a sedative again?

MK: No. No, please. I'm fine. I'm calm. I swear. I'm fine.

VT: You're... fine.

MK: Yeah.

VT: All the blood on your hands, and you're 'fine.' That's reprehensible.

MK: I didn't mean it that way. This conversation... it's just confusing, okay?

VT: Are you HYDRA's man, Marshal?

MK: No.

VT: Are you sure?

MK: I'm sure. I... I never wanted to be.

VT: Really? So you never followed HYDRA orders?

MK: Yes, I followed their orders--

VT: A 'Hail HYDRA' has never passed your lips?

MK: Yes, but I didn't mean it. I didn't believe it. I couldn't help it. I couldn't stop them.

VT: Who is to blame for your weakness?

MK: Me.

VT: Who is responsible for what you did?

MK: Me.

VT: So you still want to atone?

MK: Yeah.

VT: Really? You aren't convincing me.

MK: Yes. I really want to atone. I want that more than anything.

VT: Then get in the machine, and stop being so difficult and argumentative. I can't help you if you keep fighting me every step of the way.

MK: Yes, Dr. Thornton...

[Tape shuts off]
Quaxo9
Posts: 1154
Joined: Fri Oct 30, 2020 2:33 pm

Re: Welcome to the Suburbs. Population: Odd.

Post by Quaxo9 »

Rhiannon McIvor

Her outward calm was well-studied. Hours upon hours of classes, drills and tests performed upon her as member of the noble class had instilled in her the ability to hold herself tall and so very, very still. It unnerved the orderlies who stepped around her while she waited. Voices hushed as they approached, conversations resuming as they left.

She was accustomed to it. And right now, she needed it. The relative privacy afforded by the fear of others. Because she could still feel them. Feel him. Rhiannon hadn't needed Marshal to go off in search of Imiel, Annie and Mia. She knew precisely where they were. The connection would fade with time, but for now her residual signature lingered on each member of the family next door.

And his first thought had been to save her children.

Her own children, so silent now. What must they think of her. Unable to protect them when the barrier came down and the ceiling with it. And they were...changed.

Her heart seemed permanently lodged in her throat. The steel rod of her spine prepared for the next crisis. Still, she stepped forward with assurance, head held high. Home. Or at the very least, their new home, awaited and Rhys felt its approach with a mix of relief and trepidation. Her body ached to throw off the stifling demands of confidence but shuddered to return to where they'd been abducted - abducted twice. One more battle to fight.

But first - getting out of here. She found her pace quickening as she felt Imiel and the girls drawing near. A barely audible sigh of relief when she saw them, then a return to her stately glide. She caught Imiel's eye and a smile somehow formed on her lips. A safe harbour. Even in his own storm.

Rhys reluctantly turned her attention to the man at Marshal's side as polite society demanded. Her head bowed slightly in acknowledgement before she spoke. Her voice was little above a whisper, which surprised her, but she did not restart her sentence. Her words maintained the volume and perfect pacing.

"A pleasure to meet you, Jameson."

"You should be nicer to him. He's bffs with your boyfriend now." Cait's voice echoed in her mind and against her better judgment, she allowed her gaze to shift to Marshal's collar where her sister the rodent still sat. "You need to read up on Skrulls." The seriousness of her sister's tone was the only reason she did not completely lose her composure.

"Do you also live in our community?" Rhys began walking as she asked her question, clearly indicating that she was more than ready to go 'home'.
Monkey Kitty
Posts: 724
Joined: Thu Oct 29, 2020 7:31 pm

Re: Welcome to the Suburbs. Population: Odd.

Post by Monkey Kitty »

Jameson Bryant, Imiel, Marshal Knox, and Maureen Finnegan

"I will be,” Jameson replied. “I had some… difficulties with the living situation S.H.I.E.L.D. provided, so Marshal has kindly offered to let me stay with him for awhile.”

There was no flicker of recognition on Rhiannon's face; apparently she was the one person in the building who hadn't heard the gossip yet, and Jameson wasn’t inclined to enlighten her.

Nor was he inclined to stay and converse for longer than courtesy required. Not tonight, anyway. He had somewhere important to be. Once everyone was safely seen to their respective homes, Jameson took his leave.

Imiel - who, as it happened, also hadn't caught the news, busy as he'd been being interrogated - watched the handsome, athletic superhero interact with Rhiannon, and felt a pang.

He wasn't jealous, of course. He had no cause to be; he had no entitlement to her, and she and the superhero were behaving as nothing more than polite strangers. But Imiel was perhaps a little… envious.

Sure, he was a shapeshifter, wearing the face and body he'd been assigned. (Though the physique was as close to his natural one as possible, to be less taxing, so there was only so much he could blame on S.H.I.E.L.D.) It briefly crossed his mind to add on the appearance of just a little extra muscle himself - what was the harm in that? - but he told himself how silly that was. Some random alien wasn't going to impress a queen, no matter how he tweaked his appearance.

When they were back in their own neighborhood, he told Rhiannon good night. “I hope you can get some rest, after all that. Maybe… the girls and I can come see you and the kids tomorrow? If you don't mind, of course…”

Then he went home and - with a sigh of relief - finally let the mask of his false human face and form slip away.


***


The dog rescue was closed when Jameson arrived - as he intended - but he knew she would still be there. Maureen was hauling bags of food out of the back of the van when he showed up.

“Can I help?” he asked. She nodded, and he hefted the remaining bags onto his shoulders and walked inside with her.

Jameson wasn’t wearing his uniform. He was just wearing jeans and a t-shirt like a regular person - as he always did when he visited the rescue, ever since that first photo op. She’d seen how much he enjoyed the dogs when they were posing for the cameras, and had invited him back after hours if he wanted to help walk them without being recognized. He’d taken her up on that. He’d come by a few times a week to help out - as much as his schedule permitted - and they’d talked. Then one day, he’d gotten up the nerve to ask her for coffee, and she’d said yes. After that, well… things went how these things went, when two people discover how much chemistry they have together.

“I’m sorry,” he said once they were inside and he’d glanced around to make sure they were alone. “I’m so sorry, Maureen. I had no idea this was going to happen. I would never have…”

“I know.” She stood on tiptoe to kiss him. “Thank you for the apology, but you weren’t responsible for any of this.”

“I can try to fix it. I’ll do whatever you want me to. If you want me to make a statement, I will. I’ll tell the press everything, if that’s what you say to do. I’m just… a little worried about unintended consequences of that.”

“Yeah, I thought about that too. I think it might be best to hold off for now. They’ll stop when we’re not interesting anymore. And if you make a statement…”

Jameson nodded. “Then we become interesting again. Yeah. It might be best to let it blow over. But I’m so, so sorry…”

“Jameson. It’s not your fault. It’s okay. We can handle this.”

He nodded. She was right, of course. She was strong. She could weather the storm. But she shouldn’t have to. It was all so incredibly unfair.

“You still…?” His question hung unspoken in the air.

“Of course I do,” she said. She wrapped her arms around him, and he hugged her back fiercely, as always modulating his physical strength to make sure he didn’t cause her pain.

“I’m moving to a new place,” Jameson said. “Not with S.H.I.E.L.D. It’s with a roommate, actually. A guy I knew in the army. Do you want to come over tonight? You could meet him. We could make a late dinner. Or maybe… maybe you don’t want to, after…?”

She smiled. “Yes, I’ll come over once I get the kennels cleaned. Give me an hour.”

He smiled back. “How ‘bout I help with the kennels, and we call it half an hour?”


***


Maureen had indeed come over and been introduced to Marshal, along with two bottle baby puppies she’d brought from the rescue. As always, Marshal was a sucker for cute animals - and he found he liked Maureen, too. She was pleasant, warm, and friendly. It was easy to see what Jameson saw in her. And for Jameson's part, he seemed a lot more relaxed when she was around.

A little while later, as he passed by, Marshal saw Jameson and Maureen in the kitchen, cooking dinner. He smiled, and hurried up so he wouldn’t disturb them–

“Hey, Marshal! The food is almost ready! Come eat.”

Marshal reddened. “That’s okay, Jameson. You don’t have to do this. I don’t want to intrude.”

“You aren’t intruding. Come sit down.”

There was absolutely no way he was going to be the unwanted third wheel for their meal. But when Marshal glanced into the kitchen to explain that… he saw that there were three places set at the table.

Three places.

They had planned on him joining them.

Marshal felt a lump in his throat. He shook it off, and took his seat at the table. It felt almost like having a family.


***


After they’d cleared up the meal and loaded the dishwasher, Marshal said tentatively to Jameson, “So, you know Ginny too.”

“Yep. She was my therapist for awhile. Unfortunately.”

“But she doesn't push you around.”

“Nope. Not anymore.”

“You think maybe… you could help me get out from under her thumb too?”

“Of course. I’ve got you. I’ll take care of it.”


***


The phone rang a few times. Jameson expected to leave a message, late as it was. But then, “Hi, this is Ginny.”

“Dr. Thornton, it’s Jameson Bryant.”

“Oh, Mr. Stalwart! Looking to schedule an appointment? I know your current situation is rather… difficult. Looking for someone to talk to?”

“No,” Jameson replied shortly. “I’m calling on behalf of Marshal Knox. He is no longer in need of your services and will not be returning. I’m just letting you know.”

“And he was too - what? - afraid to talk to me himself? Well, he doesn’t have that option. Attending therapy is one of the terms of his release.”

“He’ll be attending therapy with another doctor. She’s happy to verify to S.H.I.E.L.D. that he’s keeping up with his appointments.”

“I’m afraid that won’t suffice. Just going to therapy isn’t the only condition of him remaining a free man. He isn’t entirely on his own recognizance. Someone has to be responsible for him. And not those nosy neighbors - someone S.H.I.E.L.D. can trust.”

“Fine. I’ll take responsibility for him.”

“Ah. I see how it is now. You’re in the market for a degenerate HYDRA killer of your very own, hm? Very clever. Point Marshal at a problem, let him do your dirty work, and the superhero keeps his own hands clean.”

“Dr. Thornton, with all due respect - you were my therapist for a year. How do you still not know the first thing about me? No. That’s not it at all. I will never ask Marshal to do anything I wouldn’t be willing to do myself. Ever.”

“That’s really hard to believe. What else exactly do you want him for?”

“No longer your concern, Doctor. I’ll follow up with S.H.I.E.L.D. to make sure we dot our I’s and cross our T’s.”

“If you say so, Jameson. So, are you ready to negotiate now?”

“Negotiate? No. This isn’t a negotiation. You don’t have anything I want or need.”

“Oh, I’m pretty sure I do. You won’t get very far with Marshal without his activation phrase.”

“Activation phrase? What are you talking about?”

“His HYDRA programming. You say a series of control words, and he’s completely powerless to disobey you. I know the activation phrase. I’d be willing to give it to you - for a price, and I don’t mean money. So what’ll it be, Mr. Stalwart? Let’s negotiate. Offer me something I want.”

“Goodbye, Dr. Thornton.”

He disconnected the call.

Jameson had not, even for a moment, considered accepting her offer. It was wrong to seize that level of control over his friend; even if he never chose to exercise it, he shouldn’t have had it in the first place. But he was worried. Whether or not he let Ginny tell him the passphrase, she still knew it - and who else did too? This was a door any existing remnants of HYDRA could use to let themselves back into Marshal’s brain. Jameson did not have the first clue what to do about that… but he knew of someone who might.
Monkey Kitty
Posts: 724
Joined: Thu Oct 29, 2020 7:31 pm

Re: Welcome to the Suburbs. Population: Odd.

Post by Monkey Kitty »

Jameson Bryant and Marshal Knox

The puppy feeding alarm went off at 2AM. Maureen rolled over groggily, but Jameson squeezed her shoulder and said, “I’ve got this one.” He pulled on a t-shirt and a pair of sweatpants over his boxers, then scooped up the puppies and carried them to the kitchen to make up their formula.

To his surprise, Marshal was sitting at the table already, an unopened beer in front of him, staring off into space.

“Hey, uh… everything okay, buddy?” Jameson asked as he pulled the formula can out of the fridge and started mixing up the bottles.

Marshal startled - he apparently hadn’t noticed Jameson until the other man spoke - but said, “Sure. Just a bad dream. Couldn’t get back to sleep.”

“Wanna talk about it?”

“Nah, not worth keeping you up. You need your rest.”

Jameson indicated the puppies, and said, “I’m gonna be up for awhile anyway. Wanna feed one? And you can tell me about the dream.”

Marshal nodded hesitantly and took a puppy. Jameson handed him a bottle and demonstrated the technique. At first, they sat in silence, and Jameson figured the subject was closed. But then Marshal said, “You know about the stuff with me and HYDRA, right?”

Jameson nodded. “I do.”

“Well, the dream was about one of my targets. An ambassador and his family.” And then Marshal described the fate of that family - what he had done - in excruciating, unrelenting detail. He kept his eyes on the superhero the whole time, waiting to see at what point Jameson would recoil. Jameson never did.

When he was done, Jameson said quietly, “I’m sorry that happened to them. And to you.”

“To me?” Marshal was incredulous. “I’m the one that did it to them. I tortured them. I killed them.”

“But not willingly,” Jameson pointed out gently. “You were under HYDRA’s control. You were forced. Forcing a kind-hearted man like you to do something like that… well, that’s torture too.”

Tears suddenly started to well in Marshal’s eyes, and he rapidly started blinking them away. He couldn’t cry in front of a superhero, couldn’t cry in front of a superhero, couldn’t–

“Marshal, you realize you were a victim of HYDRA, don’t you?” Jameson asked, in that same comforting tone. “You don’t think you were a perpetrator, right? You weren’t. They hurt you. They forced you to do things that hurt you. You were their victim too.”

Couldn’t cry in front of a superhero… couldn’t help himself. Tears started pouring down Marshal’s face. He couldn’t stop them. He was ashamed. But Jameson had shifted the puppy and now had his arm wrapped around Marshal’s shoulder.

“All I wanted was to atone,” Marshal gasped through his tears. “But I can’t. I can’t. It’s supposed to feel different, but it doesn’t, because I’m still that person…”

Jameson shook his head. “I don’t think that’s why, Marshal. I think you don’t feel like you can atone because there’s nothing to atone for. There’s no debt to settle. You’re never going to be able to pay for things that weren’t ever your fault in the first place.”

Marshal’s moral compass was now swinging wildly askew. Ginny had always said he was to blame, and forced him to tell her over and over that he was responsible. That it was all his fault. Now Jameson was saying the opposite. Was Marshal just hearing what he wanted to, trying to let himself off the hook like Ginny always said he was? But Ginny was cruel. Marshal knew she was cruel. And Jameson was thoroughly, unshakably good. Could Jameson be right after all?

They sat in silence for awhile. Marshal absently stroked the puppy in his arms. Jameson kept an arm around him. The beer lay forgotten on the table.

“I think I can sleep now,” Marshal finally said.

Jameson did his best not to disturb Maureen getting back into bed, but she asked sleepily, “Everything go okay?”

“Yeah. The puppies are fine. Fed and back in their bed. But Marshal was having a rough time.”

“He’s okay now?”

“I think he will be.”


***


When Marshal wandered out of his bedroom in the morning, Jameson and Maureen were eating breakfast. Marshal didn't usually eat in the morning - he wasn't usually awake - but apparently it was the thing to do, so he poured himself a bowl of cereal.

“Good morning, Marshal,” Jameson said cheerfully. “Hey - I noticed you didn't drink last night.” Although he tactfully didn't mention it, he had also noticed how much alcohol was in the fridge - and how little food.

Marshal reddened and scrunched his shoulders. He couldn’t help wincing as the comment brought to mind how Ginny had reacted when he had tentatively broached the subject of cutting back on his alcohol use. He heard her words coming out of his own mouth. “Yeah. Well. A few hours of sobriety. Most people manage that every day.”

“Okay, but most people aren't fighting the battles you're fighting. You did good, Marshal. I'm proud of you.”

Marshal scrutinized Jameson for a moment, but there was no hint of sarcasm. The superhero seemed utterly sincere. Marshal didn't say anything, but a pleased smile appeared on his face as he stared down at his cereal.
Monkey Kitty
Posts: 724
Joined: Thu Oct 29, 2020 7:31 pm

Re: Welcome to the Suburbs. Population: Odd.

Post by Monkey Kitty »

Marshal Knox and Dr. Ginny Thornton

Jameson and Maureen had left for the day - him to take care of some sort of urgent business for the good of humanity and/or S.H.I.E.L.D., and her to the dog rescue - and Marshal decided that since he was up and around, he might as well do something productive with his morning. For the sake of being a good roommate, he did some vacuuming. Then he put on a yoga DVD Maureen had left in the living room and tried out some exercises. Downward Dog made his back feel amazing. He was pulling himself up into a slightly wobbly Tree Pose when he heard the front door open.

"Jameson? You're back early..."

It wasn't Jameson. Marshal was shocked and alarmed to find himself face to face with Ginny Thornton. Belatedly, he realized he should have changed the locks.

Ginny's face was pale with anger, her mouth in an even line. "Your friend messed up, Marshal. He messed up big time. And it's your fault - just like everything else. Mr. Stalwart is going to need to learn his place. And you're going to teach it to him for me. We're going to make him regret that he ever dared to reach out a hand to you."

Marshal drew himself up to his full height. He was taller than Ginny, but somehow never felt like it. "No. I'm done taking orders from you. I'm not going to mess with Jameson for you. You need to leave."

Ginny laughed. It wasn't a happy laugh; it was cold and threatening. "Oh, Marshal. You stupid man. You still think you can stand up to me. You still think you can tell me no. But you don't have any choice. I can control you, remember? I can take over your mind, and make you do anything I want. Anything. So here's what you're going to do for me today. You're going to wait for Jameson's whore to come back. Then you're going to spend the next couple of hours torturing her. Up close and personal. Everything we both know you're capable of. Every skill you've practiced over the years. Then you're going to slit her throat, and leave whatever's left of her in Mr. Stalwart's bed. Then he'll learn what happens when someone crosses me... and what happens if someone is enough of an idiot to ever trust you."

"No! No, I'm not going to..."

"You don't have a choice. Careworn. Oil. Eighty."

"No, please, Dr. Thornton. Don't make me do this--"

"Transept. Five."

"Doc, please!"

"Marginalia. Anticipated--"


***


Cait's phone buzzed with a text from Marshal. This was unusual; he rarely used his phone.

i messed up, i'm in trouble, jameson is going to hate me, please help


***


The front door of Marshal's house was standing open.

Dr. Virginia Thornton lay dead on the floor of the living room. The scene was completely bloodless. The doctor's head was at an impossible angle, the neck cleanly broken, her death virtually instantaneous.

A yoga DVD still played at low volume in the background, unwatched.

Marshal was huddled in the corner, as far away from the body as possible.

He looked up to see Cait, and realized how badly he had miscalculated. He was still imagining her as an adult woman. Not a twelve-year-old. He couldn't believe he had dragged a kid into his problems. Just like his mother had spent his whole childhood dragging him into hers. This wasn't something Cait should have been forced to see.

"I didn't want to do it," Marshal said, his voice soft and pleading. "I didn't want to kill her. But she was going to make me hurt Maureen. Maureen is a good person. She's nice to me. She doesn't deserve this. I didn't want to kill the doc, I swear, but I didn't know how else to make her stop..."
Quaxo9
Posts: 1154
Joined: Fri Oct 30, 2020 2:33 pm

Re: Welcome to the Suburbs. Population: Odd.

Post by Quaxo9 »

Rhiannon McIvor

Rhiannon had paused before the house, staring at the door. She told herself that the force pushing her away was all in her head. That nothing could push her away if she didn't wish it. She had turned when Imiel spoke and had smiled and nodded while saying a soft 'Yes, please do.' It was only then that she noticed Ewan and Charis both stood at the end of the walk, staring at the house, the same hesitation. Her sister scampered between her feet and up the sidewalk. The rat looked back at them from the front step, appeared to shrug, then climbed up the door and entered through the mail slot.

Well, that made one of them.

"Hey, can I borrow some clothes? I like that stripey shirt of yours." Cait's voice echoed in their heads, despite that she was obviously addressing Charis.

"No way! Get out of my room! You'll get it all rat-smelly! Gross." the girl was yelling as she ran up and inside, leaving her mother and brother still at the end of the sidewalk. Rhiannon watched her gallop up the stairs through the wide-open door.

"I do not smell. Humans are way more disgusting than rats.

"That's enough. I don't have the humour for this" Rhiannon spoke authoritatively as she stepped inside, Ewan slipping inside behind her, and firmly closed the door. Whether that was to tell SHIELD to mind their business or to convince herself that she would stay inside, she wasn't sure.

Cait McIvor

She really was exhausted. Even if not having clothes wasn't a problem, she couldn't have changed back into human form back at SHIELD Headquarters. Kids were supposed to have boundless energy or some such shit. Realizing she was grumpy somehow made things worse. As soon as they were back to the house, she ran for the entrance. Cait paused at the door, realizing the others weren't with her. She had smelled Rhiannon's increased anxiety the closer they'd come to the community, but hadn't quite figured out why until now.

Her sister - and her children - were afraid of the house. Cait was very nearly annoyed with them for such a thing, but remembered that for those who were willing to believe they dwelt in safety, the loss of that would be frightening. She herself had never been under that impression. Danger was always at their heels - every hour, every minute, of every day for all of their lives. Sighing to herself, she did her best to break the tension and headed inside to a warm bed.

~~~~~~

The sun somehow shone directly into her eyes and Cait raised a lip in a silent snarl as she raised her hand to shield her face from the offending ray. She was curled up half under a soft blanket that had been draped across the end of the bed for show. Human again. That was odd, but she was willing to accept it. She stretched and her hand bumped a hard object. Glancing over her arm with some suspicion, she found a cell phone next to a neatly stacked set of clothes - a striped shirt on top of the pile. Charis.

Her mind was quiet. Either everyone was asleep or they were learning to shield their thoughts from the family chat as it were. It was nice, but she wasn't going to allow herself to think too hard about...anything. Not while she could be overheard. There were a lot of things she wanted to suss out, but she couldn't do that when it would only make Rhiannon worry. Or make the kids feel guilty.

She pulled on the gitch, pants and shirt, forgoing the socks. Old habits had a way of creeping in after an experience. So much of her mind was tasked with dealing with the bits of lives she'd just absorbed that it was difficult to keep track of herself. The buzz of the phone on the bed was a welcome distraction. Cait saw Marshal's name and was briefly thankful that SHIELD gave her a personal tracking device.

Then she read the message.

Cait stood in the open door of Marshal's house, breathing deeply. She'd leapt over the banister and plunged headlong into the street, running barefoot down the asphalt in a direct line to his house. Her eyes registered the scene and she stepped inside, closing the door behind her. Cait walked past Ginny Thornton's body and crouched in front of Marshal.

"Hey. Look at me. I know you didn't want to." She had wanted to, but that was because she was not the person Marshal believed her to be.

"It's going to be okay. Jameson isn't going to hate you. I think we need to call him because he can help."

At least she hoped she had read him right. If nothing else, she figured he owed Marshal for giving him a place out of Ginny's reach for a night. Sure Jameson would help. Her eyes brushed over the woman on the floor, then travelled around the room, looking for additional evidence. A camera she might have missed, even. Cait spotted a business card tacked to the fridge. A lawyer. Yeah, that would probably be a good idea too... She returned her attention to Marshal.

"I want to hear about what happened. If you want to wait for Jameson to come, that's okay too."

Cait sat on the floor, as close to Marshal as he would allow. Her left hand offered a comforting pat while her right hand started flipping through the contacts on her new phone, hoping Mr. Stalwart's number was there.
Monkey Kitty
Posts: 724
Joined: Thu Oct 29, 2020 7:31 pm

Re: Welcome to the Suburbs. Population: Odd.

Post by Monkey Kitty »

Marshal Knox

It was easier, having Cait there. So much calmer. Her voice, her presence, the warmth of her sitting close to him, her hand patting his arm. He felt like he could breathe again. Like he could focus. Like he could make a plan.

"Thank you, Cait. Thank you for being here. You always... every time... thank you."

He took a few more breaths. Breathe in. Breathe out.

"Yes, you can call Jameson."

Marshal knew he was going to prison. As the panic had subsided - as his reason and logic returned - he could see no way around that. He had murdered a civilian. Not just any civilian, but a S.H.I.E.L.D. psychiatrist, seemingly respected and loved by all.

It was the first time Marshal had ever made the conscious choice to kill someone. Sure, he'd been in the army; he'd been in firefights. But that was different. It was quick and chaotic, them firing at you and you firing back at them, both trying to survive and win the day. No personal malice involved. All the other crimes - all the blood on his hands - that had been forced on him by HYDRA. He remembered every moment of it, but he'd had no choice. He'd been a helpless passenger in his own body. Today he had no such excuse. He'd decided to kill Ginny, and he'd done it. She hadn't even been armed. He'd made a choice, and he knew he had to pay for it.

That was okay. He could own his choice and accept the price. After all, who did the world need more? Maureen Finnegan, or Marshal Knox? It was a no-brainer.

Marshal handed Cait his phone. The superhero had saved his number in it - under 'Jameson,' not 'Mr. Stalwart.'

He had a pretty good idea what would happen when Jameson got there. Superheroes were supposed to fight evil. What was evil, if not killing an unarmed woman and leaving her body there on the carpet? Jameson would have to do the right thing, and Marshal would accept that. Wouldn't resist.

He did not, however, wait for Jameson to come to begin his story. Cait had asked, and she deserved an answer. Once Jameson arrived, things might... start happening very quickly. Marshal might not get another chance to say what had happened, and he owed Cait that much. He knew he owed her a hell of a lot more than that, but right now, an explanation was all he had to give.

"After we got home last night, Jameson invited Maureen over. That's his girlfriend. The lady from the dog rescue. And... you know... from the news. We ate a meal together. They wanted me to eat with them. I didn't drink last night. I felt good. I thought things were good. I was..."

He gestured to the yoga DVD that had now run its course and returned to a menu screen with soothing music.

"But then she - then Ginny - she came in. She still has a key. She came in and said she was going to punish Jameson. Teach him not to cross her. Not to... not to trust me. She said she was going to make me torture Maureen. Make me slit her throat and leave her in Jameson's bed. Then the doc started saying... you know, what you heard her saying before. My control words. I begged her to stop. Not to make me do it. She wouldn't stop, so I..."

He shook his head helplessly. "I thought about trying to knock her out. But it was too big of a risk. It's harder to knock someone out than kill them. You know that, right? You have to hold back, use just enough force but not too much. If she managed to get the words out. If she came back later when I wasn't prepared. I couldn't... I just couldn't take that risk. I couldn't let her use me to hurt Maureen."

Marshal buried his head in his hands, unable to meet Cait's eyes. "I had a nightmare last night. About some bad shit I did. Jameson was awake too, and we talked about it. He said I was a victim of HYDRA. Not a perpetrator. He said none of it was my fault. He said all those things... and then I barely made it six hours without murdering someone. How is he supposed to take that, besides that he was wrong about me? I don't expect understanding. I don't expect forgiveness. Just please take care of Fievel, okay?"
Monkey Kitty
Posts: 724
Joined: Thu Oct 29, 2020 7:31 pm

Re: Welcome to the Suburbs. Population: Odd.

Post by Monkey Kitty »

Orla Knox
The South of France


Orla Knox was flipping absently through the day's mail when, to her surprise, she saw a letter from her son. The letter had been originally postmarked six months ago, but had somehow made it to her now after being forwarded through the five addresses in three countries her extended vacation had taken her to in the meantime. She slit open the envelope with a fingernail and pulled out several sheets of Marshal's cramped handwriting on notebook paper.


Dear Mom,

I'm really sorry about what happened last time you saw me. I just wanted to let you know I'm doing a lot better, working really hard on getting my life together, so I hoped that maybe we could...



She tossed the letter in the trash, and reminded herself to tell the post office in no uncertain terms that she didn't want any forwarded mail.


***


The Past

When she'd first heard Marshal had been rescued by S.H.I.E.L.D., Orla had been elated. Not because he was alive, rather than Killed In Action as she'd originally been informed, but because he was a super soldier now. She had tossed the idea around in her brain, thinking the words over and over. A super soldier.

No longer the clingy, demanding little boy he'd been in childhood, or the generic army grunt he'd been later, doing his duty but never quite distinguishing himself.

A super soldier.

A true knight. Finally.

Orla had imagined what he would look like. His noble bearing, confident poise, intelligent eyes, the aura of strength he would project. Finally, he would be the son she had always wanted. It was too late for revenge - Marshal's father had succumbed to a heart attack, the most mundane of deaths, while Marshal was in enemy captivity - but at least she would have the satisfaction of knowing her own boy had come out on top after all, in spite of being the illegitimate son. Finally Marshal would make her proud, and she would be happy.

She'd gone to visit him at the detention facility, a bright smile on her face, her heart nearly bursting with hopes and dreams...

Then she'd seen him.

Marshal had been seated at a table in a grey jumpsuit and wrist and ankle shackles. He was flanked by a security guard and a woman in a power suit - Orla assumed that was one of his therapists. Orla had been prepared for this.

But then she had looked at him. Really looked. Marshal's posture was slouched, and he stared down at the table, barely looking up to make eye contact as she entered. His skin was sallow and patched with the yellow and purple of healing bruises. His chin was a mess of stubble. There were dark circles under his eyes. He looked exhausted. Depressed. Defeated.

Marshal was no knight. Now, she had finally seen clearly that he never would be.

"Mom...?"

"You're... you're broken!" Orla had gasped.

"I know, Mom, but I'm gonna get better, I promise..."

"You're useless to me." Orla shook her head in anger and disbelief.

"Mom, I'm sorry, I..."

All of Orla's attention had suddenly focused on the fresh scar by Marshal's mouth. It made him look like he was wearing a perpetual sneer. The result was uncannily like his father's expressions.

"I need to go," Orla announced abruptly. "Guard? I'm leaving."

"Mom, please..."

She had refused to look at him again.

As she left, she'd heard the therapist in the power suit say perkily to Marshal, "You know, no one will ever love you until you learn to love yourself."

Orla couldn't quite make out Marshal's response, but it was brief and toneless, devoid of hope.

She'd kept walking. It was time for a vacation, she had decided on a whim. After all the stress she'd been under, she surely deserved one. Italy, maybe, or...?


***


Back in the Present

Later that day, Orla was knitting and watching the news when a bit of celebrity gossip flashed across the screen. She didn't normally pay attention to the superhero scene - with the exception of the one she had cause to follow closely. And it was, in fact, Mr. Stalwart who was the subject of the current drama.

Orla practically growled at the image of the smarmy blond do-gooder... and then felt an immediate surge of new, white-hot anger as the news anchor relayed the superhero's sex scandal rather gleefully.

That poor woman, Orla thought. Taken advantage of by a cruel, vicious man. The apple hadn't fallen far from the tree with Artie Bryant and his precious son Jameson... the precious legitimate son, born to his wife.

Artie had been dead for years. Orla's revenge had been foiled by the ravages of time... or so she thought. It seemed she had a new target now.

She hastily fished Marshal's letter - and more importantly, the envelope with his return address - out of the trash.
Quaxo9
Posts: 1154
Joined: Fri Oct 30, 2020 2:33 pm

Re: Welcome to the Suburbs. Population: Odd.

Post by Quaxo9 »

Cait McIvor

She'd taken his phone and sent a quick text message to Jameson.

<Marshal needs help. Get here before SHIELD does.>

Message sent, she turned her full attention to the man beside her. She smiled and nodded when he talked about his evening. Having Jameson move in sounded like what Marshal had really needed - a supportive friend who could help make the house a little less lonely.

Cait sat very still when Marshal described what had happened with Ginny. She had to because she wanted to get up and tell him that the good doctor had not been unarmed. That she'd threatened him with a deadly weapon. That Ginny did seem to enjoy torture - and for that and so many more sins she really did deserve to have her life cut short.

But none of that would help right now.

"Of course I will take care of Fievel. But Marshal? I know that this feels so bad right now, but you really did save someone's life today. Please don't forget that."
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