Burned

by Greenygal



This is the result of my flipping through STARMAN: SINS OF THE FATHER for the couple dozenth time. For those of you who haven't read it--do; it's a cool story helpfully collected in TPB form. But for the moment, just realize that in the space of four issues, our hero is shot, battered, and almost drowned; his brother is killed, his shop is torched, his father hospitalized and then kidnapped, and he ends the storyline with a nasty fight in which he ends up killing one of the bad guys of the piece. It's a bit much for a guy who was just an antiques dealer forty-eight hours ago. So I did this.

***

It's a nice day, that's what Jack is thinking as he sits on the doorstep watching his city. Winter chill is beginning to fade from the air, and he has a lead on some Depression glass he's going to track down after lunch, and life feels like it's beginning to move on.

His head jerks up at the sudden sound of a furious voice, and the scent of smoke, and then relaxes when he realizes it's coming from the Arthurs house. Evan Arthurs' wife left him three months ago, at which point the fact that she'd done all the cooking (which may have had something to do with her leaving) began to be a problem. Jack isn't quite sure why the man doesn't just admit defeat and buy a microwave, as he has proven to be the proverbial cook incapable of boiling water. The fire department has already been called twice; Jack watches the smoke billowing out of Evan's windows and wonders if this will be the third time.

He gets up, intending to see if any help is required, and then stops, because there's something about the smell. Something that has his muscles tensing, and that's just stupid, because this is normal, this is his life, and what the fuck *is* that smell? Something acrid and sweet, what was Evan cooking? Something too complicated, the man never learns, roast something--

And then Jack's gagging, and his hand over his mouth is the only thing keeping breakfast inside of him, and he bangs his leg on the coffee table, it's the one that was shot but he barely notices, and he's made it to the bathroom and

--there's a man pointing a gun at him and saying that it killed his brother--

--they've got his father and he's shivering in the night air, waiting, and fire lances out at him--

--gun's firing and he can hear the crackle of his shop igniting and something in him screams--

--the woman's screaming at him, her voice breaking, because he killed--

--he can feel the scorching heat, his beautiful things in flames all around him and he'll be dead if he stops to cry--

--the blast sears his skin and God it hurts end it end it *now*--

--the man is laughing and Jack grabs his weapon and--

--screaming, he can still hear the screaming--

--his rod hits the man and explodes in flames--

--burning, everything's burning--

--and he can smell dead scorched flesh--

--and there's nothing left of his enemy

but

ash.

Jack lies there, shivering, for a long time after the memories let go. He feels weak and sick and shaky, and really not up to moving. Or thinking. Thinking seems like a bad idea. Lying there not-thinking is much more peaceful.

It's really quite a nice bathroom, even if there's a certain sour scent to it that suggests he missed the toilet when he vomited. The tile is cool underneath him, and the ceiling is painted a restful white. No sky. No stars. No cosmic rod. Maybe he could just stay here for the rest of his life.

Of course, his father would come looking for him eventually, and he has a key. (Jack wonders if he even remembered to shut the front door.) It could be a little embarrassing, Dad finding him here on the bathroom floor. What would he think? Flu? Breakdown? Probably just that Jack had too much to drink.

He wants to have had too much to drink. Wants his being here on the floor to be nothing more than a little too much of a good thing, and not the aftershocks of insanity. Wants to have a brother, and a shop, and a leg that doesn't hurt every time he tries to use it. Wants to not know what it feels to turn another human being into a crispy critter, and to know that part of him wanted it that way.

Jack can feel them, the ghosts of his brother and his brother's killer, perched on his shoulders like some warped angel/devil cartoon. We're your future, they breathe nastily in his ear; this is what Starman's gonna get you. Burn people to death, or die broken in an alley. Kill or be killed, Jackie-boy, which is it gonna be? Or maybe it'll be both, won't that be fun?

He thinks about telling his father that the deal's off, he's not going to do this hero thing. Too hard, too painful, just too fucking *much* for him. Would his father nod sympathetically and say that he understands, he didn't really expect anything else? Or would he look at Jack with cold-eyed contempt and call him a coward?

Jack doesn't, he discovers, like either of those possibilities. He doesn't like the idea of spending the rest of his life in this bathroom, either, nice as it is. He's got glass to buy, for one thing.

And so he gets to his feet. Not because it's what heroes do. Because he doesn't want to live his life just being afraid.

The ghosts are still there, of course, and the memories. Be nice if they'd leave him alone, but he doesn't expect it to happen anytime soon.

Kill or be killed?

Screw you, he tells them. Neither.

They don't believe him. He doesn't know that he believes him, either. But it's going to have to do for the moment. He'll do the Starman thing, because he said he would. But on his own terms. He's always run his own life, and he isn't going to let anything change that. Not even this.

So he's going to go get that Depression glass, and maybe see if that guy with the shirts will cut a deal, and check out a couple possibles for a new shop. And he'll buy candles, as many as he needs, and feed their flames until they're satisfied, till the fire is just fire and doesn't make him shake. He'll do what he has to.

Because he was right the first time, and life does move on.

He hopes.

 

{end}

 





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