Backroom, Argos Gymnasium
February 10th, 3:33 P.M.
February 10th, 3:33 P.M.
A small part of him had hoped the quick shower would’ve helped him come up with some way of even trying to broach this particular topic. A smaller, but louder part of him wished he’d climbed out the damned window and made a run for it.
But all the same, there sat Mal, now all squeaky clean and not smelling like ass, cross-legged in his computer chair in his little storage-room turned (surprisingly tidy) home. Staring straight down at the bloody ground, that metahuman brain of his running about a million miles per second trying to figure a way out of just what he’d gotten himself into.
But there he sat, unmoving.
Uncomfortable, yes. But unmoving.
”So, uhh… yeah.” Mal finally (failed to) start, clearing his throat. ”Just, err… I’m not exactly sure where to start…”
”Well, with things like this, it’s usually best to start at the beginning, right?” said Karen, smirking.
Mal raised a brow at her for that, but said nothing. Simply settling on fixing the girl with a cold glare for a few seconds before nodding along.
”...Alright, fine. You’d need the context anyway.”
Shutting his eyes (a useless gesture for the boy, but a natural impulse all the same) and leaning back in his chair to mull over the words in his head for a few seconds, Mal finally got started.
”Well, to start, if we’re going from the beginning, I should probably tell you that I’ve never actually met my real parents.” The boy stated neutrally, finding a spot on the ceiling to focus in on for this little bout of storytime. ”My Dad, or the guy who became my Dad, actually found my still soggy, newborn ass out in a dumpster behind a biker bar and across the road from a Denny’s in the middle of a blizzard seventeen years ago.”
Just the tiniest hint of a grin formed on Mal’s face at the mention of his old man, but he continued nonetheless.
”He was a good guy, Jack Talhaiarn; homeless, old, freezing his balls off… but the first thing he does when he finds a naked newborn baby, screaming in a pile of trash, is decide that he’s not gonna let him die.” Mal explained, that little smile of his growing wider. ”You’d’ve liked him, I think. A weird blend of Marine and teddy-bear, he was; Strong, tough... built like a fucking tank, in fact. But always calm, controlled… understanding... and more kind and giving than a man who lived in a fucking alley really ought to be.”
Karen smiled at this. Memories of some of the kinder individuals she had met in The Wedge pushed their way to the surface. They were odd ones, truthfully, given the hellhole that they lived in. But then, she had always been told that she was a strange one as well. Maybe, for some people, being forced to endure terrible situations just made them want to soar ever higher.
”He sounds like a pretty awesome guy to have for a dad,” she said. Certainly better than her own had been.
Mal grinned in a nostalgic way as he continued to stare up at the ceiling.
”That he was... Not to say he was all soft, mind you; when I screwed up, he wasn’t above a little cuff up the back the head and an old-fashioned military talking to. When he was teaching me how to read, or fight or generally do anything goddamn useful, he made sure I actually learned, whether I wanted to or not. And I’ll admit, there were a few times where I was being a little shit and wanted to do anything but.” The scarred teen reminisced, a a slight chuckle escaping his throat. ”But he always had my back- I never doubted that for a second- and any time I was actually in trouble, it was my Old Man I could always turn to to save the day.”
Another little silence followed that, as Mal found himself in his own head with a weirdly (for him) kiddish grin now downright splitting his face as he sat there, still staring up at the ceiling.
”Of course, he had some help along the way raising my little hooligan ass, there were the Mikhailovich boys… didn’t speak a lick of English between ‘em ‘cept what they needed to insult eachother, but could MacGuyver damn near anything from nothing. My Aunt Lin who could make a feast outta whatever you could grab out of a trash-can, a few others...”
The rambling teen paused again, eyes flicking back toward fully one half of his current ‘family’ in the midst of all this rambling about his last.
”I learned a lot growing up as a kid who technically didn’t exist in the eyes of the government... Hell, I was speaking at least five languages, by the time I was four. Kind of a necessity growing up as I did… but it was a good life- rough at times mind you- but good.”
Karen had listened quietly at his described his early life with his father. Given that he had arguably had it even worse than she had in The Wedge, it felt a little silly for her to be jealous over their relationship. Especially since common sense would dictate that their time together did not last…
She wasn’t about to rush him to that point, however—better to let him enjoy his happy walk down memory lane for as long as it would last.
”Four languages is a lot for anyone to know,” she noted. ”Especially when you’re that young.”
”Yeah… well, ya absorb a lot when you’re young and surrounded by it constantly. Or maybe I was just a bright kid, even before my brain got kicked into high-gear, I dunno…” Mal agreed with a little laugh and a smile… that grew just a little bit rueful as it wound down, slowly being supplanted by a particularly grim expression. ”But I’m talking yer ear off ‘bout crap that doesn’t really matter anymore. I should get back on topic.”
The boy shuffled in his seat, clearly uncomfortable about this next bit. But continued all the same… but only after a long pause and averting his eyes away again.
”The night before I turned eleven, me and the rest of the alley kids were all sitting around the fire listening to my dad playing Cash on an old guitar we found a while back and MacGuyver’d back into working order. The Slav Twins were screaming at eachother, while working on something in their corner, Lin was cooking up something while humming along with whatever my dad was playing, I had my ol’ dog ‘Fleabag’ in my lap and Lin’s daughter-- who I remember having a pretty massive crush on-- huddled up next ta me for warmth. All in all, a happy night in the mind of Lil’ Boy Me.”
He had to pause again.
Now came the hard part.
”I remember… Fleabag suddenly got really antsy. And suddenly everyone got real quiet… Mal continued, clearly struggling a bit to speak as his hand unconsciously drifted it’s way towards the burns on his shoulder. ”I remember turning around and seeing this… thing that sort of looked like a person shambling towards us. Some guy who’d been so badly burned, his skin was still bubbling, even as it was falling off in chunks at his feet.”
Malcolm leaned back in his chair again, swallowing hard.
”And then he showed up… this huge guy in a mask who looked at that other guy, then at the rest of us... and started giggling.” The boy told, possibly not aware of the absolute, vice-like grip his free hand had on his knee as he spoke, an unreadable but unpleasant look forming on his face as he seemed to be trying to bore a hole in the wall off to the side of them by his glare alone. ”And then he levelled his flamethrower at us.”
That glare slowly turned it’s way towards Karen, not relenting in the slightest.
”I can’t remember much of what happened after that--I think I hit my head on the ground when my dad snatched me up when he saw the flames coming--But what I do remember is all the screaming, the smell and waking up under what was left of my Dad and anyone I’d ever cared about the next morning.”
A little shiver of something went up Mal’s spine as he leaned forward finally, seemingly drilling a hole into Karen’s eyes with his own as he did so.
”...Does that answer your question?”
Karen returned his stare for only the briefest of moments before pulling him out of the chair and into the tightest embrace she had yet to give him—which was really saying something for a notorious cuddlebug like herself. Rocking in place for what must have been at least a minute of silence, she slowly released him. There wasn’t really anything she could say that would be an adequate response to everything she had just been told.
The only thing she could think to do was tell him about her own experiences.
”...Nothing so horrible ever happened to anyone I knew personally. The closest for me was that boy, Timothy, or those people eight months ago, she explained, trying not to focus on either of them too deeply at the moment. ”I was spared from seeing my mother’s death first hand, but I heard the gunshots that killed her from our home while she was on her way back from the Bodega Aurrera—this was just after they bought out Walmart.”
She stared up at the ceiling, trying to clear her head for the next part. Talking about her mom’s death was one thing; she could handle that. She had made peace with it. Not so much everything that came after it.
”I...took it pretty hard at the time, but my papa… he took it far worse; he took it out on me,” said Karen, closing her eyes. That was probably a mistake, as the darkness was soon filled with flashes of his oncoming fists, raining blows down upon her. Of his drunken spit flying every direction, his eyes wild and unfocussed.
She shook her head. ”It...was only when he was drunk, of course. Otherwise he just mostly ignored me, unless he wanted food. That continued for two years, and I remember...I used to have nightmares about him becoming so angry that he...didn’t stop. That he just kept on going until I was finally dead.”
”Thankfully, it never came to that...thanks in part to Zoey.”
By the point Karen’s arms had ripped him out of his chair, whatever spark of anger he had in him had quickly begun to wane.
By the time she began rocking in place, shivering and recalling her own youth, it had vanished entirely.
So, without preamble or ceremony or any flowery language you’d find on any myriad soap opera… Mal slowly, silently wrapped his arms around the girl and pulled her into an embrace of his own. Not quite as tight, but warm and—for someone like Malcolm, especially—genuine.
For a moment, he said nothing. Just sat there calmly stroking the back of his sister’s hair and holding her… until finally-
”Well…” He began, a dark little note of humour in his voice ”We’re just a pair of poster-children for childhood trauma, ain’t we?”
Karen smiled at this, nodding slowly. ”I suppose that’s why we’ve managed to get along so well all these years. Though I never knew what exactly you had gone through, I could always tell you had been through something really traumatic.”
With a little snort Mal finally released her… well, mostly- still keeping his hands on her shoulders as he spoke, something resembling a sad attempt of a grin snaking it’s way onto his face.
He couldn’t help it, it was like second nature to him to kick his own thoughts down and put on a brave face when he saw the girl like this.
”Now, now… stop that. We’re gonna be here all day, at this rate.” Mal stated with a little upward twitch at the corner of his lips ”...And I can’t exactly fix your spine if we’re both in here bawling our eyes out, now can I?”
Karen chuckled at this, easing back onto the bed she had been sitting on. Swinging her legs over it to present her back to her little brother, she rolled her neck from side-to-side. ”Alright, fine...but no promises on me not crying anyway if you’re too rough on my back.”
A laugh followed that statement.
”To be perfectly honest Karen… this is probably going to really suck for the first half-hour.”