A LEGO facsimile of John's SkyCrest loomed over his living room. The tower, built not quite to scale, touched the ceiling, and John had begun to add the smaller out-rigger towers the previous week.
He took a step back from his creation, careful to avoid the line of paper taped to the floor, labeled “Trench” in bright blue hi-lighter.
“It's not going to work, John.” Alice's voice boomed from the apartment's speaker system and echoed off of the central tower.
John bent and rummaged through a bin of beige bricks; the one he needed had been there just a moment before.
John stood and applied a brick to one of the looping buttresses that connected an outrigger to the main structure. “And I'm saying just do it.”
Alice sighed, the speakers reproducing it as a rush of static. “You're really not helping the situation, you know that? I've tried telling them that the balcony isn't feasible, but they won't listen. You just going along with it makes it harder.”
Another brick went onto the building. “I'm not concerned with feasibility. It's what the client wants, so I'm giving it to them. The plans reflect what they've asked for.”
“It'll only take a day or two to make the changes, to get the balcony working, and then I'll go over it with them, explaining why it won't work.”
“You're—you're not getting it.” John bent under the buttress and clipped a brick to the bottom.
“What am I not getting?”
“What the client wants, the client gets. They want a building designed, they get it. Whether it works in the real world or not isn't our problem. Just give them their fantasy building.”
Alice didn't respond for several long moments. “You have to face reality, John. You can't just make up what you think is real and hope the rest of the world goes along with it.”
One of the buttresses was beginning to sag more than usual; John grabbed it and squeezed the bricks closer together. “Fine, whatever. Change the balcony. I'm sure the client will love the project delay.”
“Screw it; I have more important things to do on a weekend then listen to you be an asshole.” There were three rapid beeps, then the call disconnected.
John bent down and rummaged for a brick.
“What was that all about?”
Bricks scattered as John started. He looked over his shoulder and saw Rachel, dressed in flannel pants and a tee-shirt, standing in the doorway to the living room.
“Just some stuff at work. The client has a design in mind that isn't holding up to physics test, but refuses to budge on aesthetics. I'm saying leave it as-is and let the contractors get through to him.
Rachel nodded and walked over to the sofa; she groaned as she sunk into it. “God, I love this couch.”
“Oh, hey, your dad called.”
“Yeah.” John reached down and began gathering the scattered LEGOs. “He'll be home in about an hour. He wants to talk then.”
“What time is it now?”
“Shit, I was out for a long time.”
John nodded, half distracted, as he noticed one of the outriggers drooping.
Rachel gestured the television to life and began watching a mindless cartoon about anthropomorphic rats and chickens rooming together in the big city. John continued to build.
"Hey, I can I talk with you about something?" Rachel asked during a commercial break.
"Sure." John dropped into a chair across from Rachel. "What can I do you for?"
"What I did... You know, the riot." Rachel folded her legs and stared blankly at the TV. “I wasn't sorry I did it, you know? Last night, after I got Tisha and me arrested, I still thought I did the right thing. I was trying to change the world, I was doing something. Now it just... seems stupid.”
"Is there a question in that?"
"Dad thinks it was stupid. Was it?"
“You want the truth?”
“Yeah, it totally was stupid."
"I'm not saying kids like you can't change the world, but kids like you usually don't know when to pick your battles. Fight for what you believe in, but don't go rushing in head-on.”
John clenched his teeth. He wanted to keep the Defenders at arms' length. They were polluting his reality, and he hated how conversation always seemed to come back to them. “Edgar didn't know what he was up against. I'm sure if he had, he would have made a different choice.”
“So what should I do now?”
John shrugged. "Live your life. Forget about politics, forget about trying to make a difference. Excuse the cliché, but life is precious; you never know when you're going to drop into a coma for a decade. And above all else..." He smiled. "Wait for your dad to get home and let him handle it."
Rachel flashed him a sardonic grin, then returned her attention to the TV.
An hour later Reggie stumbled in, his scrubs rumpled and his eyes haunted. "Fucking junkies... why do they always bleed so much?" He dropped onto the couch next to Rachel.
John crawled out from under an outrigger and waved at his brother. "You want food?"
John brought him a sandwich. Reggie ate in silence, watching TV with his daughter. When the episode ended, he gestured the TV off, and cleared his throat.
"Okay so... I called your mom today. She isn't exactly thrilled with your actions as of late, but she thinks--and I agree--that it would be best for everybody if you took the rest of the semester off and moved out to California."
"What?" Rachel's eyes bulged as she sat up straighter. "For how long?"
"At least until the first of the year. Possibly longer."
She looked as if she were about to argue: she was leaning forward, eyes narrowed, mouth open. Then she saw John. He nodded, and she closed her mouth and sat back. "Okay."
Reggie looked over at her. "Really? Wow, I'm impressed. Thank you for handling this like an adult."
John returned to his tower and smiled. He was proud of Rachel for picking her battles, but more than that, he was proud of himself for actually giving out good advice.
"Now, um..." Reggie swallowed and stared into his lap. "Aside from thinking about the big issues, and keeping you away from all the stuff going on here, there is one other reason we want you somewhere a little safer. Your friend, Raoul?"
Rachel stiffened. Reggie looked sidelong at her, watched as she turned towards him. "I'm afraid that... he, uh, he was pretty injured already." He sighed. "Damn it, the doctors always do this part. Honey, I'm sorry, but he passed away early this morning."
Silence stretched between them. Rachel seemed to deflate, her posture relaxing as she sank in on herself. Tears were welling now, and she coughed, sneezed. "Oh, my God," she mumbled. “I killed him." She began to cry, her voice raising into a wail. "I killed him, it's all my fault, I killed him, killed him...”
Reggie lunged sideways, grabbed his daughter, held her in his arms. She convulsed as she gave into fitful sobs.
John stepped around his tower and made eye contact with Reggie. He looked so tired, so scared. John nodded. No words were said, but he knew that now it was his turn to take care of a brother.