[FICATHON] Unmasked, for [livejournal.com profile] gehayi

Sep. 3rd, 2012 04:43 pm
[identity profile] angevin2.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] thisengland
Title: Unmasked
Author: [livejournal.com profile] gileonnen
Play: Richard II/1 Henry IV
Recipient: [livejournal.com profile] gehayi
Characters / Pairings: Falstaff, Hal, Poins, Francis, Mistress Quickly, Richard II, Henry IV
Warnings: Profanity, drunkenness, fat-shaming language, mentions of the Vietnam War, alternate universe/alternate reality with superheroes
Rating: T
Summary: Falstaff wants to be a superhero. Hal isn't so sure that's a good idea.

"Spandex," he says, and the clerk just gives him the smuggest raised eyebrow and quirks his lips like he thinks this is a big fucking joke.

"I'm sorry, sir, but we don't carry support or slimming garments in this store," the clerk replies.

Damn him. "I want an athletic bodysuit," says Jack, pointing up athletic in case it's not clear that he, Jack Falstaff, is in a sporting goods store because he wants some goddamn sporting goods. "The kind runners wear. I saw it on the Olympics, they've got this ... what is it, seamless microfiber ..."

"I'm sorry, sir," repeats the clerk (nametag "Francis"), like he's been trained to make completely insincere apologies to excuse himself acting like an asshole, "but I don't know of a brand that would make that kind of running gear in your size. Not even in spandex or lycra. I know for certain we don't carry it in this store."

"Well, then I'll just have to give my money to a different store," Jack snaps. "I served in the army, you know; I'm a veteran, and I don't have to take this kind of abuse from a kid just out of high school. I'll report you to your supervisor for discrimination against a decorated soldier and here's the kicker, son. Here's the kicker. After I leave this store, I'll be recognized as what I am: a hero. After you leave the store, when you're flipping burgers at some downmarket McDonald's knockoff--"

"Security, there's a drunk man causing a little trouble at the athletic garments counter," Francis says coolly into his headset. "Could you come and help him out? Be gentle with him; I think he's a little confused about where he is."

It is, even Jack has to admit, a pretty smooth move for an asshole.

He reminds the security team about his service in Vietnam once or twice while he's being ushered out the door, but frankly his heart's not in it. He never got to deliver his kicker, and that weighs on him until he's out on the concrete again.

After you leave the store, he would've said, people will recognize you for just what you are: a washed-up, sorry excuse for a man whose best years are already behind him.

* * *

The news crews didn't arrive until after the Moment of Truth--that was what they dubbed it, after the fact. The Moment of Truth, capital letters and all, three-second musical introduction from the audio stock archives. They didn't have a clip of the actual moment, because unless you're Spider-Man, news doesn't work like that, but Percy down at CNN convinced the Bull to stage an unmasking anyway, because he knew viewers like a good narrative moment like that.

Damn near everyone in the world has seen that three seconds of video, where the Bull takes hold of the Monarch's mask and drags it up over chin and nose and soft-falling hair. The main YouTube video has over six million hits, and there are other mirrors that have over a million each; the CNN Tweet has been retweeted God knows how many times. Uncle York's New York Times published a startlingly clear freeze-frame on the front page, the Monarch's eyes reading exhaustion and betrayal as the Bull's rough hand unsettles his red-gold hair.

To this day, Hal's father can't look at that picture. Hasn't looked at it once.

MOMENT OF TRUTH, read the headline; the subhead read, more sedately, Billionaire Richard Plantagenet unmasked as "the Monarch". It doesn't even bother listing the Monarch's crimes until the fifth paragraph; anyone who read the paper would remember what he'd done. Or what he was alleged to have done, which is near enough to the same thing. By then, the Monarch and the Bull had torn up their fair share of real estate in their battle to hold the city, and if people forgot about the nuclear scare after a while and forgot about the secret moon base (as much as anyone can ever forget a secret moon base), the construction crews stayed.

So it's fair enough to say it was a relief, when the Bull pulled back that mask. It was the kind of narrative people liked to see in their papers, where both the hero and the villain were pretty clear and easy to parse. Hell, maybe they'd even made the Monarch believe he was the villain, before they shut him away in a cell painted matte so that he couldn't manipulate the reflections.

The newsreels balance Richard Plantagenet's disheveled face with the unfeeling cowl of the Bull, the horns emblazoned on his chest for all to see. It's poetic, in its own way; it's the kind of thing only Percy and Uncle York could've cooked up between them. Destroy the man laid bare for your scorn, but trust the man who hides his face. Elegant. Unobjectionable. Hal's making a killing on the stock market, investing quietly in spandex and lycra manufacturers (and up-and-coming fitness chains) as the costume industry booms.

Everyone wants to be the man in the cowl, now. Everyone wants to be the good guy.

But in Hal's opinion, they shouldn't have called it a moment of truth, capital letters or none, and not only because that "moment" was worked-over as they come.

Because the "truth" people saw was one that everyone who wore the cowl or the mask worked hard to conceal--that, behind the mask, there was a man who could be broken. That to break the mask, you really only had to break the man.

* * *

Hal doesn't actually like Jack much, and he's guaranteed never to pay his tab at the bar, but it's fun sometimes to listen to the bullshit he manages to pull together in his own defense. The Vietnam card--that's an old staple, and one that Hal knows to be about eight parts lie to one part truth. Jack flew a desk in the war, worked in recruitment and sold impressionable kids on the dream of glorious service and funding for college. "If it weren't for me," he says sententiously, when he's feeling hounded, "we wouldn't have had an army."

Ned figures he had a racket forging draft cards, but no one's been able to prove it. That was a long time ago, and half the people who might've slipped him a little money are probably dead by now. The other half know better than to rat him out.

"--and then that asshole had the nerve to tell me that they didn't carry my size. Well, I say, as it happens I'm a heavyweight lifter, and if you don't find me something stretchy this goddamn minute I'll shove a barbell up your--"

"Should've ordered it through the Internet," says Ned, which is his answer to more or less everything. "Plenty of plus-size specialty sites out there. Discreet--only problem is, you have to give 'em your address so they can ship, and then collections can come knocking." He takes a long slug of his beer, toasting Jack with the dregs. "You can get around that most of the time by asking them to deliver to a vacant house, but you've pretty much got to have an address picked out."

"How dare you imply that I'm involved in credit card fraud." There's no rising intonation; there's no bite to it. They know damn well Falstaff is involved in credit card fraud, and that's only when he can't weasel out of paying a bill any other way.

"What do you want to be a hero for, anyway?" Hal asks. "It doesn't seem like your kind of thing. Flying around the city, shooting laser beams out of your hands, saving the poor and tearing down the wicked ... I mean, even leaving aside the spandex thing, that doesn't sound like you."

"I'll have you know, I want to serve my country," says Jack piously, which means they're not getting an answer out of him tonight. "Here's a better question. Why don't you want to be a hero?"

Hal laughs, light and easy. "Oh, don't get me wrong, I'd like some of it. I bet heroes can snap their fingers and be drowning in pussy. Snap twice for ass."

"There's a 'but,'" presses Jack.

"Well, old man, that's what asses are."

"But Hal here has never worked a day in his life. It'll be hard enough working enough for one man; he's too much of a slacker to work for two," says Ned, signaling Mrs. Quickly over for another beer. He's gone from IPA to stout, which means he's just drunk enough to be pretentious about his drinks.

Hal steals his drink and takes a sip. It's bitter, but the point is to show that he can, so he doesn't much mind the taste. "Ned's got it in one. I've got enough trouble leading one life. Two is more than I can handle."

"Sometimes," says Jack, half-lidding his eyes and lowering his voice to this sort of Dirty Harry rasp the way he does when he's trying to dispense wisdom, "when a man's life gets to be too much, there's nothing to do but find another."

Hal nods sagely. "And that's why you've got six different driver's licenses and a magenta spandex suit."

Jack turns away on his stool, which means Hal's officially being Shunned, but he doesn't much mind. The nights when Jack turns the questions back on him are the worst, because Hal's never sure if that means he's fishing or if that means he knows.

If he wanted, he could punch a fist-sized hole through the countertop. If he wanted, he could take fat Jack Falstaff in one hand and sling him clear through the bay of windows that opens on the tenements across the street--probably send him flying through the wall of the first-floor apartments, too. His father's done it before. Easy as throwing a baseball, for a Lancaster boy. Wind-up and release.

"So if I hypothetically wanted a magenta bodysuit," says Ned, to break the tension.

"For your sister?" Mistress Quickly asks. "How is the girl, anyway?"

"For me," says Ned, flexing his noodle bicep like that's going to do anything but make the skin twitch.

"The Pride parade's not until July," says Mistress Quickly calmly, and the conversation turns to other things.

* * *

Jack has a medal from Vietnam and a POW/MIA flag on his wall, just in case creditors or empathetic young women come knocking; the medal is not, strictly speaking, registered to him, but it is in his possession, which is near enough to the same thing. Distinguished service, reads the piece of paper that came with it. Exceptional valor.

And sometimes, when he's drawn all of the blinds and set a few hotdogs to microwaving, when the room smells of old sweat and cooking meat, he takes his medal out and tries to imagine what he did to earn it. What kind of man could've earned it.

Whatever man that was, whoever this man was who'd saved his comrades under heavy fire, he'd pawned off his medal when times got rough.

Jack had pawned a lot of things in his day. It's a kind of kinship. I could've been this man, he thinks. Or he could've been me. Poor bastard.

He pins the medal to his shirt, right over his heart, and fires up the internet while he's letting his dinner cool. The wireless connection he's used to poaching has recently gone secure, but there's another one with "Password" for a password, so he logs on and keys in a few search words. Men's XXXL athletic gear. There's an empty apartment just across the hall, so it won't be hard to keep an eye on deliveries.

You'll actually have to save people if you want the hero thing to stick, says a voice in the back of his head that sounds an awful lot like Hal's. You can't just put on a suit and wear it around and expect people to love you.

But the people hadn't really loved the Monarch, either, after a while. Love isn't what it's cracked up to be, when it comes down to it. The Monarch gets unmasked on CNN; some poor schmuck named Mowbray has to sell off his medal at a pawn shop. People love the mask and the medal, and they leave Richard Plantagenet and Thomas Mowbray to rot.

Add to cart, says the little button beside the XXXL bodysuit. It's attractive, in its way. Clearly designed to be flattering to a bigger man's figure.

He punches in a card number--at least nominally his--and checks out.

No one ever needs to see it but him. He can imagine adulation far better than any he's likely to get.

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