Welcome to the New Normal

New Ground

Denny and Jason mend their fences and break new ground

A Denny McCloud Story
A Jason Duncan Story

Jason had been busy cleaning up his space, his work, and his life, since the encounter with the Angel. He’d reached out to Alexander, Miriam and Deirdre, with mixed results and of course, with Cassie things had been more complicated. His home had not been the asylum he wanted. He just didn’t feel ready to deal with Tyler. He had enough going on now getting his own life in order, trying to tackle that one was too much. And with Denny. Well, as best as he could tell she was navigating around him. Not avoiding, not confronting, and not shirking her duties, but almost fading into the background or behind a wall of professional responsibility. He was actually impressed that a woman as young as she could manage it. He could tell that the changes in him over the last month had hit her hard. He was the one who organized the team in the first place, who hired her to give her an excuse to be there as Denny, and not Artisan. He wanted to give her a sense of security, and rather than force her to choose sides and throw herself into the ring, he let her continue her work to keep things normal. He noted, with some pleasure, that each finished task, a pile of client folders completed and reviewed for her to enter into the database, a barrel of trash hauled out from the living areas he trashed during his.. vacation, her eyes sparkled slightly and her lips curled ever so slightly in approval. When he established at the least the probability that he would not swing back in the boorish brute, he could approach her about the events of the last month.

And so it was Saturday. He asked her to come in early so that they could repair some of the cosmetic damage he’d done to the garden. His hands and sleeveless t-shirt were already dirty with dirt and grime as he hand stirred the large bucket of wet concrete with a piece of iron reinforcement. Even his great strength strained at the effort, but it felt good to be doing honest work. He heard the door alarm chine quietly acknowledging her bio-signature, before it opened up revealing the college girl.

“There’s a pair of cover-alls next to the lobby door. They might be a little big, but should fit over your clothes.” He called out loudly enough to carry across the large atrium.

Saturday, 07 Aug 2027
Power Analysis, Inc
06:30 A.M.

“Sure,” Denny said, blinking down at what she wore—her rattiest tee and jeans. A pair of leather work gloves stuck out of her pocket and work boots protected her feet. She donned the coveralls without argument, however. It would net her nothing but strife and it was something she wanted to keep out of her relationship with Jason at the moment.

Yeah, right. And what relationship is that, anyway? She remembered the way he’d startled when she’d hugged him the day he helped her move in. Was that shy side of him back? Or was the dou—well, the side of him she didn’t much like just better at hiding himself? Just stay polite and keep your eyes open. Now get over there and help him with the garden, you.

After all, she might find the answers to her questions by actually interacting with him like normal person. Like everybody else in the world did it. She zipped up and joined him on the gravel.

“What’s first up? You need me to make up a mold for that concrete?” Form was the proper term for it, but she didn’t think it mattered to anyone but her what word she used.

“Let’s do this without powers today…” he started, then looking at his arms..“as much as we can.” He picked up a pick and used it to point to a stretch of the original concrete slab that he must’ve cracked while in Brute form, since he doubted he could do it in this form without a weapon. “I am thinking we just take this all out. Then lay some of those river rocks in a decorative pattern.” He gestured to the small pile at the edge of slab. “Cement them in, and fill in the remaining space with soil, plant some bamboo or maybe sugar cane. What do you think?” He kept his attention on the job at hand.

“Sounds good to me,” Denny pulled on her gloves and looked around. “Got a shovel?” She figured it would take some clearing out and shaping the earth where the rocks would go, digging a shallow trench for the concrete to be poured into before they set the river rocks in it. She eyed the garden with a judicious eye. “You know, if we got rope or a hose to lay out the boundary, we could fiddle with it til it made the shape we liked. We could use it as a guide before we actually got to shoveling it out. What do you think?” she asked, echoing his question without thinking.

“Sounds good..” Jason grinning donned his work glasses. Then he pointed to the tools and hefted the pick to begin breaking up the concrete slab. By the time he’d smashed enough of the concrete to begin clearing it, Denny was there with the wheel barrel, the hose, and a shovel. He started picking up the bigger pieces and dumping them in the wheel barrel. “Looks like I made a pretty big mess of things huh?”

You got that right. Denny bit back the thought that zipped through her, instantly knowing it was uncharitable and unfair. She’d been doing a lot of that lately. Instead, she gathered the smaller chunks of concrete and dumped them in the wheelbarrow, enjoying the push and pull of her muscles on the task. Clunk! went a large piece and she blew out a breath. “Well, I don’t think it’s irreparable. Sometimes you gotta tear things up a little before you make them better. I think you’ve got the right idea about this though. There was too much heavy stuff in the way before.”

Did he get what I was trying to say? She hoped so. She didn’t quite feel up to talking openly about how she felt yet. She remembered how he’d startled on her when she hugged him, that day he helped her move in. She hadn’t meant anything complicated by hugging him. It was just an exuberant expression of gratitude for his help. As much as she wanted to dispense with the relative formality she’d maintained over the last few weeks, she didn’t dare. She didn’t want to ruin the delicate balance they’d achieved.

Jason continued to work, pulling big pieces of concrete, making a couple runs with the rubble out back, as he returned, Denny was still trying to get all the smaller pits out. “Just leave those Denny. We’re just going to pour concrete over it.. we can’t obsess about every little thing. We’ll just have to smooth it out.” He picked up the roll of garden hose and spooled out a little handing the end to Denny. “So. How do you want this to look?”

Denny took the end offered and walked to the edge of the garden to plant the hose. As she laid it in a gentle curve on the ground she thought on what Jason had said and recognized the double meaning he’d given in return for hers. The reciprocity warmed her inside and gave her the courage to continue in kind.

He’s a psychiatrist. He’ll catch what I say and don’t say. And maybe, maybe he wouldn’t misunderstand what he heard and didn’t hear.

“Okay, not to obsess is good. I could go for that,” she began, restraining herself from fiddling with the hose too much as she continued laying it down. “I’m hoping for an organic progression from beginning to end, you know? We don’t want to force it or anything, just a gentle course from Point A to Point B. Just like it would have happened naturally.”

Jason watched her lay the hose. They both knew they were speaking about more than landscaping. But somehow it made it both easier, more difficult. But that very difficulty, the constraint, like the syllabic form of a haiku, being forced to think about what he said helped keep him focused.

“Denny, I am glad you are here to help me with all this. It’s new for me, and it is going to be difficult. I know I am going to make mistakes, but… if we can pick up after ourselves, well, that is something.”

Denny paused in her work to look at him, then looked at the garden. “It’s new for me too. I’ve never attempted anything this … this big before,” she said carefully. “And it’s important to do it right because the impressions you’ll get are the lasting ones. Because walking through that door is like getting another chance and you don’t want to start off with the wrong attitude.” She tipped her chin at the lobby, its glass walls enclosing the garden on two sides, and bent over to pull a smallish rock out of the dirt. “And well, I know we’ll make mistakes. Up close, Mother Nature makes mistakes. Tree bark is rough, river banks are crooked, water won’t run smooth.” Clang! went the rock in the empty barrow. “But you know what? You pull back from the trees and the rough water and you’ll see it’s all part of the grand design, the big picture, and the mistakes aren’t mistakes after all. It’s just that their part in the pattern is too subtle to see it up close. So … you know, you just take it in stride. Take it on faith that everything will work out. I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a picture of Earth from space that wasn’t freakin’ beautiful, you know? Imperfections and all.”

She paused and closed the distance between them.

“People aren’t perfect. Not like, perfect without flaws. But we’re part of the big picture, right? And that makes us perfectly where we are, where we gotta be. Who we gotta be.” Slowly, hoping not to scare him, wondering if she wasn’t just going to ruin it but taking what she just said to heart, Denny slipped her arms around Jason and hugged him. “So, you know. It’s okay.”

She hoped so. Really hoped so. She hated keeping the distance between them. It wasn’t natural for her. It just felt … wrong. Like a river straining against its banks, like a rock roughing up waters that wanted to run smooth.

Jason accepted the hug and returned it warmly. “I have some familiarity with being disappointed by adu.. older people in my life. You probably know my history, that my father killed my mother and himself. I was about your age when it happened, but for months I felt like a little kid wearing an adult halloween costume: the police investigations, the funerals, the will and probate. The whole time, I just wanted to curl up in someone’s lap. I wish I could say, I got over it, but that remains to be seen. It probably doesn’t help that I am wearing a mask professional, if you know what I mean.” He smiled faintly despite it all. “I know you counted on me to be a point of stability in this whole crazy chaotic new world. And I failed you. I don’t know that I will be much better in the future. But with your help, I’ll try. So… there it is.”

The admission his father had killed his mother made Denny’s head shoot up to look at him, her eyes wide.

“I’m sorry. No, I didn’t know. Oh my God, Jason.” The rest of his words sank in past her shock and Denny switched gears. “And it’s okay. The others told me what you did at the last minute. You know, to keep Cassie from killing in cold blood. That tells me everything I really need to know. It’s good, we’re good and I’ll watch your back if you’ll watch mine.”

It was, really. Her fears of who she was dealing with had evaporated when the team told her what she’d missed as she flew the injured man to the hospital. All that had remained was the awkwardness, the uncertainty of how to go forward. That’s done with, thank goodness.

Jason took a moment. He wasn’t as confident about his decision to save the Angel as the others. It was as much an instinct as a decision, but maybe that was the point. “I’d like to think some good will come of this. It has forced me to look at myself and my life. For one thing, I have to accept that ‘the brute’ was me, is me. And I have to take ownership of that, for good and bad. It is risky, and scary.” Jason suddenly remembered something. “Oh that reminds me. I’ve decided to change my ‘code name’. I’d like to move away from ‘Bruteforce.’ The focus was on the wrong part. I am thinking about ‘Quotient.’ That which remains, after division. I mean. I can divide myself, my ego,, my id, my rational and irrational. But, from now on, I want to focus on that part of me that remains the same. Not the differences.”

“Well, I’d say Quotient works on all those levels. So that’s good.” Denny stepped back. No point in stretching out a hug that was over. Too awkward. And she didn’t want to make Jason uncomfortable. “And we all have things we need to own. I have to admit I might have killed a guy on the boat job. We didn’t really stick around to see if he was going to make it, did we? And I’m not proud of it. It makes me feel a little sick, actually. I didn’t mean to burn him alive like that. It hadn’t happened before. This time it did though and it’s one of the reasons why I don’t have Rosie come in all hellsablazin’ anymore.”

If truth be told, she still heard that man’s screams when she allowed herself to think about the incident at all. She shook her head and shrugged it off.

“Like I said, nobody’s perfect and maybe we aren’t supposed to be. I misjudged the situation on the boat and I hurt someone really bad because of it. I didn’t mean to, I don’t want to, and I’m taking steps not to. I have to focus on that.”

Jason listened. His remembered that day well. It was the day he decided to take all that Pantheon. And of course, that is where his memories pretty much ended. He felt he’d failed to lead the team. To anticipate things like that and to avoid think like that. “I think we need to spend more time training, practicing. No one gave us an instruction manual for our powers, so we are bound to make mistakes. Honestly, given what we can do, I am pretty impressed how little damage we’ve done.” He smiled staying positive." You know the comic books right? Well do any of them practice, plan, or do they always know what to do, how to warn each other before an attack, things like that?"

“Like Professor Xavier’s School and the X-Men? You damn betcha they do.” Denny couldn’t help herself: she literally jumped up and down and raised her fists in victory. In one instant she went from all serious adult to all enthusiastic girl. “Dude, I’m so glad you brought it up, cuz really, I didn’t think anyone would take the idea seriously if I brought it up. Actually, I did, some time back and no one really picked it up and went anywhere with it. Til now, that is,” she added quickly, realizing how she might have sounded just now.

She bounded over to another rock and pulled it from the streambed and dumped it in the barrow, talking a mile a minute.

“We’ll need to get the Xorn to hollow out something in the bedrock way way down, you know? To contain our fire and whatnot. And we’ll need to make it really big down there so Alex can fly and I can get my dragon and pegasus in. And we’ll need to learn tactics and tag-teaming and thinking outside the box cuz we can’t afford to get predictable ….” And Denny went on like this for some time. It was like a dam bursting, as idea after idea poured out of her. Jason added his own input whenever she stopped for breath or had to use it to move something heavy. It was several hours before they left the garden, hot and sweaty from the work and fired up by their ideas, but they left it with new ground laid for a new future. One they could face together.

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