The Strange Redemption of Thaddeus Thawne: part six
Joseph Wilson? Thad has never heard of this man.
Wally West says, “I met him once. He seemed nice, but I don’t ‘know him’ know him.”
Helen says, “I’ve never heard of him. He’s a metahuman?”
“He took the name Jericho,” Raven offers.
Thad doesn't know of any “Jericho” either, but it seems that everyone else at least has heard of him.
Helen says, “Oh, the one with the whiskers?”
Raven smiles slightly. “Yes.”
Is he some kind of shapeshifter? A catlike alien?
“I know of him from the Titans, I think. He seemed like a good person. Didn’t he go into retirement before Young Justice, though?”
“No,” Raven answers. “Joseph is simply less… public… as Jericho, now.”
“Robin mentioned him once when he was lecturing Young Justice,” Bart Allen puts in. “He said ‘Nightwing’s teammate Jericho could easily kill most heroes, but he chooses to take a supporting role!’”
Well that’s alarming. What powers does this “Jericho” have? Thad thinks of asking, but everyone else already seems to know, and he doesn't feel like interrupting. Most of his rapidly-dwindling energy is going towards not running away and hiding.
He’s still shaky from Raven’s inspection of his soul. He was taken somehow inside Raven, into a vast and horrifying landscape, something like the speed force but full of pillars of bones and desiccated flesh—what is she?—and Raven was standing in front of him. She said “run”, and he tried but he couldn’t slow time even though the lightning was all around him and crackling in his hair. Then… it was ridiculously gentle; she just put her hand on his cheek, and lightning filled his eyes like electric tears, and they both felt it, an ache in Thad’s chest like a hole, a void in the place where speedsters have lightning rods. Raven said “Your wounds are deep, but they can heal in time.” And then he was abruptly back in the dining room with everyone looking at him and— and—
He wants to go nurse his wounds, but he needs information.
Oh. Thad just missed another chunk of time. It seems that no one noticed his lapse, though—except Iris Allen, who’s looking at him with a strange expression, like… worry? Thad hastily breaks eye contact. He supposes a speedster who loses track of his own mind is pretty worrying.
Wally West is saying, “Nightwing trusts him as much as Nightwing can trust anyone.”
“Let’s ask Batman,” Jay Garrick says. “He must have files. I’ll be back—” and he’s gone.
“But regardless of who he lives with, how are we going to get Thad into college?” Linda Park asks. “That takes paperwork. He’ll need a legal identity, a high school record—”
Wally West says, “We can tap into Justice League resources for that. I’m sure they’ll help get Thad settled. But what about his age?”
Everyone is looking at him. The Thawnes used to make him run simulations of situations like this as a punishment.
Stop. Breathe. Control. The Thawnes lied about the Allens. The Allens won’t hurt him. Not with Max vouching for him.
Belatedly, Thad snaps, “What about my age?”
“People usually don’t go to college until they’re eighteen,” Max says.
“I’m over six hundred years old in terms of experience.”
“Yes, and a maximum of sixteen to judge by your face,” Max says dryly.
“So say I’m a prodigy.”
Joan Garrick chuckles. “Yes, but we’ll need records of high school education to prove that. Do you think even Batman could fake something so complex?”
Helen says, “We don’t need public high school records. Homeschooling is legal now.”
There’s a short silence. Joan Garrick says, “Perfect.”
Linda Park crows, “Finally, someone in the family is going to college!”
Max says “Wally, call on Joseph, please, and ask him what he thinks,” and Wally West says “Raven, what’s his address?” and Helen muses, “What about sports? I feel like we should say you did sports. Can homeschoolers do that?” Linda Park says, “I loved college. If you ever want to talk about your classes or anything, I’d love to hear about it, or help if I can,” and Wally West is rocketing back into the kitchen saying “He’s not at home, what’s his phone number? Oh, wait a minute, I’ll try some other places—” and Helen is exclaiming “The ACT! Thad will need to take the ACT!” “Or the SAT, I took the SAT—” Jay is back— “Jay, what did Batman say?” “When do the exams open?” “I found him, but he’s busy right now, he can’t talk until a bit later—”
It’s too much.
Thad crosses the room in quick jerky steps, ignoring everyone but Max, and touches Max’s arm. Max leans toward him, meeting Thad’s eyes.
Thad asks, “May I leave?”
“Yes. Get some sleep, if you can.”
“Promise you won’t let them decide anything.”
“I promise. Go.”
As Thad leaves, he hears Bart Allen call, “I’m sorry I scared you!”
Thad keeps walking. He goes to the bedroom, climbs onto the bed, and crawls under the quilt. Huddles into it, breathes warmth into his little bubble and feels his body heat up the mattress.
It’s dark. Thad likes the dark. It’s comforting, like the blue quilt he stole from the hall closet. Like the ceiling of the Watchtower when the lights were turned off. Like… Max’s shoes, the worn-out black running sneakers. Like Helen’s hair, the black part of it. Shadows. The colors of the Inertia suit, the pine-forest green and the purple so deep it seems darker than black. Thad likes those colors… and the inside of the nutrient womb was dark, too… warm, inky liquid that turned purple when light shone through it. He remembers what it felt like to float in it upside down with his head and wrists and waist and ankles firmly enclosed in the VR equipment, a good secure feeling. He feels like he’s upside down now.
Thad hears Max and Helen’s voices outside the door. He wakes up a little. Max is saying he’s asleep. He is almost asleep. His body feels… heavy.
Max is saying, “Thank you for the ride, Helen. I don’t mind that Thad doesn't want to run, but it does make me wish I had a car.”
Helen says, “Actually, I have an idea. I’ve been thinking about Thad. I think he needs more affection.”
“I’m trying, Helen. I am not a naturally effusive person. Have you heard how often I say ‘I love you’ nowadays?”
Interesting. Thad wakes up a little more.
“You’re doing great, I just have an idea,” Helen responds. “I need to get groceries. How about I say I’m kicking you out of my car, and you carry Thad home?”
Carry him home? In his arms? Thad is definitely awake now.
“I don’t know if that’s a good idea. He’s had an emotionally taxing day already.”
“Yes, but maybe he’s so tuckered out that he won’t be so prickly.”
Prickly! That’s how she thinks of him? Prickly, like a hedgehog or a cactus? Thad has a crazy urge to laugh. He resists, but he’s unable to completely repress the shaking of his stomach; he fails to smooth his face out of its grin. No! No! He’ll ruin his chance to pretend to be asleep!
“I think he’s having a nightmare. Helen—”
“Just ask him. If he says no, we can take the car.”
Thad gives a huge sigh, shaky with laughter, and rolls over like he’s going back to sleep. The door clicks open.
“Thad, kiddo,” Max calls softly.
The tenderness of it knocks the laughter out of Thad.
He wishes he didn’t have to pretend to be asleep for Max to feel safe approaching him. He wishes Max still assumed Thad had the capability to love him with a love like a beacon. The Thawnes took that from him. They ruined him. He hates them, hates them, hates them, hates them.
“Thad,” Max calls again. “We’re going home now.”
Thad grumbles wordlessly.
Footsteps. Max’s hand brushes his shoulder. Thad concentrates on breathing evenly. The hand rests on his shoulder. It’s heavy and warm.
“Helen has a stop to make, kiddo. It would be nice of us to let her take the car… but we’d have to go home on foot.”
“I don’t wanna run.”
“That’s fine. May I carry you?”
Max’s arms slide slowly under him, one under his back and one under his knees, and lift him up, blanket and all. Cold air comes into the blanket. Thad shivers and curls up, trying to get his toes away from the cold. Max holds him tighter, pressing him into his chest. Max is bigger than Thad remembers him, healthier, broader, sturdier.
Max’s chest vibrates under Thad’s cheekbone. He’s speaking. He’s saying, “I’m going to start running now.”
Thad nods. He feels Max start vibrating, getting ready to phase them through the walls, and the word “Wait!” rises in his throat, but Max is springing forward already, and Thad squeezes his eyes shut—he doesn't want to see the lightning he doesn't want to see it he doesn't want to see it—and then they’re running, and Thad feels the steady rhythm of Max’s legs, feels Max’s strong arms holding Thad close to his chest, and smells Max’s aftershave, a musky woodsy smell, and he’s okay.
“We’re home,” Max says. “Thad? Are you awake?”
What Thad is is a stupid overtired ball of emotions. He moves to unwrap the blanket, and Max quickly sets him down. He blinks against the sunlight. They’re in Max’s house, in the entryway, and it’s early afternoon. It feels like it should be night.
“It feels like it should be night,” Thad observes. His voice is sleep-scratchy.
“So go take a nap.”
Thad goes and takes a nap.
They have a late lunch, just Thad and Max, leftover lasagna and steamed broccoli. Max lets him stay blessedly quiet for a while, then says: “I thought about telling you what we talked about after you left, but I thought you might be more comfortable reading a letter.”
Thad laughs a bit, hoarsely. He’s still got morning-voice. It seems like that never goes away, nowadays. He nods.
“Alright then. I’ll bring it to you later.”
Thad keeps eating. When he looks up, Max is watching him with a pensive expression.
“What?” Thad asks before he thinks.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”
Max looks down at his plate with an uncharacteristic hesitancy. It really changed that much for him, then, to learn that Thad has no lightning rod? Yes, of course. Thad lacks an ability to love that’s fundamental to most speedsters. Of course Max is disturbed.
Thad doesn’t want to hear Max say it. But after a moment, Max meets his eyes again.
“I’m so proud of you,” he says, and his voice is gravelly and sincere.
Now it’s Thad who looks down to his plate.
“I know your accomplishments are none of my doing, but I’m proud of you. You stood up for yourself. You did so well.”
Thad swallows hard.
After a moment, Max speaks again.
“And I’m sorry you had to do that. All of that. I should have delayed the meeting. I should have said no when Wally brought Raven in.”
Thad says dully, “A solution had to be found.”
“Still, it shouldn’t have been like that. There was no reason for everyone to know the… exact details. I should have intervened before Raven acted; I knew she’s not good at recognizing privacy. I’m sorry.”
Thad shrugs. He feels queasy. He’s so tired of all these emotions. He just wants it all to stop.
“Thad,” Max says gently.
Thad interrupts, “Don’t. Not right now.”
“All right. We’ll leave discussion for tomorrow.”
Thad picks up his fork and can’t bring himself to take a bite.
"Would like to take your plate to your room? Just for today?”
Thad stands up to leave. There’s silence behind him.
“G’bye,” he says, to fill the silence.
Max responds, “I love you, too.”
Thad will never understand Max.
To be continued...
next (link to be added next Thursday)