Disclaimer: Daria and associated characters are owned by MTV. This is fan fiction written for entertainment only. No money or other negotiable currency or goods have been exchanged.
This is the thirtieth John Lane story
A Test of Honor
At his drawing table in the Lawndale Lowdown workroom, John swiftly moved a broad-nib pen to ink a pencil drawing. Sensing someone looking over his shoulder, he turned and saw Daria, waiting patiently.
She asked, "Are you just about ready to leave?"
He looked at the wall clock and said, "Oops, yeah, give me a second to clean up and I'll be with you."
He quickly rinsed the pen, dried it and capped the wash bottle. John picked up his backpack and said, "Let's go."
Finishing things herself, Jodie said, "Bye. I'll lock up."
Daria and John nodded and, holding hands, left the room. After a stop at their lockers, John said, "I'll meet you at the car; I need to run by the locker room to pick up my gym clothes…they're getting a little ripe."
Daria said, "Why'd you leave them there instead of here?"
"I didn't want my regular locker to stink."
"Uh-huh. They're going in the trunk."
"No argument there."
At a jog, he crossed campus to the gymnasium while Daria continued to the car. Near the building, he noted that football practice was winding down on the adjacent practice field and the track team was heading in from the stadium. He thought, I better hurry up; some of the jocks still think I'm a traitor for turning down that letter in track last year.
John pushed through the side door of the gym and made a turn to pass by Coach Gibson's office. Beyond, he entered the locker room and was grateful that it was empty. He stooped to reach his small, box-like gym locker and dialed the combination quickly. While closing the locker after retrieving his gym bag, he heard footsteps entering the room.
Kevin, scratching his neck, looked up from a sheaf of paper and said, "Oh, hey John. What are you doing here?"
"Grabbing my gym clothes before they grow legs and run off on their own."
"How would they grow legs?"
John shook his head. "I'm taking them home to be washed."
"Oh, why didn't you just say so?"
"Being a smartass, I guess."
Hesitant, Kevin asked, "You're like, smart in other places too, right?"
If I see Rod Serling, I'm running. "Um…what do you mean, Kevin?"
"You've been hanging out with Daria and you've picked up some brain smarts too, right?"
"You could look at it that way, I think," John said, still utterly confused about what Kevin was doing.
Kevin looked back down at the paper in his hand. Curious, John also looked and then exclaimed, "Holy crap! That looks like Mr. DeMartino's next test."
"Yeah. Uh…Brit's been onto me again to ask your advice."
"Kevin, a stolen test is not a good gift for Brittany."
"It's not for her. I need a good grade so I don't get probated any more."
"Yeah." Kevin held up the test. "But…it feels like putting that balloon stuff in a football."
"Come on, you know. The stuff they put in balloons."
"Ah, helium." Finally understanding, John said, "Kevin, it feels like cheating…because it is cheating."
"I guess you're right. Maybe I should let coach take care of it, like he said."
"Kevin, that's also cheating."
Defensive, Kevin said, "Coach wouldn't cheat."
"Kevin, what would you say if a scorekeeper gave the other team points for a touchdown they didn't make?"
"A bye is the same thing. You're getting points you didn't make."
"But…but, I don't want to be a cheater," Kevin stammered. "Cheaters ain't cool."
"I'll throw it away!" Kevin said, excited, but it cooled as he asked, "But what about the copies?"
"You made copies?"
"Um, yeah. For the rest of the team."
"You need to give it to Mr. DeMartino so that he knows to make a new test."
"No! He'll do that eye thing. It really creeps me out."
On impulse, John grasped the page. "Here, I'll do it. I promise I won't say where I got it."
"Yes, Kevin. I promise."
John stuffed the test into his gym bag. "I better get going."
Kevin wrinkled his nose. "Me, too!"
John took the shortest path to Mr. DeMartino's classroom, figuring that the less time he had the test, the less risk there was of a misunderstanding. After a knock, he opened the door and was glad to see the history teacher at his desk. He opened the bag and withdrew the test. "Mr. DeMartino, I have something you need to see."
Mr. DeMartino's nose twitched and his eyes blinked before he said, "Mr. Lane, I'm sure Ms. Barch would be more interested in the road kill in that bag than I am."
"Sorry about the smell," John said as he hurriedly closed the bag before laying the test on the desk. "No, you need to see this."
The teacher gripped the desk in anger and one eye flared open wide. "Where did you get that?!"
John took a deep breath. "I talked somebody out of using it to cheat. There are other copies of the test out there. You're gonna need to make up a new test."
"Mr. Lane, I'll ask you again. Where did you get this from?"
"Mr. DeMartino, I gave my word that I wouldn't tell. I don't want them punished for doing the right thing."
The teacher stood and leaned over the desk. "The right thing would be for the guilty party to come forward and not to cowardly use you as a messenger!"
Weak, John said, "That would be best. But, I gave my word."
"Why are you protecting a cheater?"
The classroom door swung open and Ms. Li strode into the room. "Protecting a what?"
Mr. DeMartino grabbed the test and thrust it into the principal's face. "Someone broke into my cabinet and stole a test. Mr. Lane will not divulge the name of the guilty party."
Ms. Li coolly looked over the test and then turned her attention to John. "What do you have to say for yourself, young man?"
"I talked someone out of using it to cheat and promised not to tell who they were when I turned the test in and told Mr. DeMartino that there were more copies around. The person had the chance to cheat and didn't. I think that should count for something."
She slowly folded the test in half and said, "Mr. Lane. You should be commended for your actions. I consider the matter closed. I'm sure that you're running late, so you can be on your way."
He said, "Yes, Ms. Li," and made a fast exit.
Ms. Li then said to Mr. DeMartino, "I suggest that you prepare a new test…and in the future, make sure you keep them more secure."
"Perhaps," he suggested, "You could investigate who had copies of the keys to both the room and the filing cabinet."
Starting to exit, Ms. Li said, "I don't think that's necessary, you just need to make sure that the locks you are provided are actually used."
Sitting in the driver's seat with the door open, Daria said, "What did you have to do, beat your gym clothes into submission?"
He opened the trunk and tossed the gym bag inside. "No, but I just had one of the most surreal experiences of my life."
"Coming from a Lane, this ought to be good."
John closed the trunk and got into the passenger seat. "It all started with Kevin."
Daria looked sidelong at him while starting the car. "Why am I not surprised?"
"Actually, I think you will be."
Reclining on John's bed with a history book open, Daria said, "Ms. Li must be covering her ass. That's the only reason she'd let you off like that."
Seated next to her, he said, "Or covering for whoever stole the test."
"Like Nixon protecting his plumbers."
"That sounds wrong on so many levels."
"And now you're part of the cover-up."
John rested one hand on Daria's shoulder. "I boxed myself in pretty good, didn't I?"
She reached up to hold that hand. "Yeah, but I'll have to go with Machiavelli: 'the ends justify the means.' You talked Kevin out of cheating and derailed the plan. At Lawndale High, we have to take the small victories when we can get them."
Comforted by Daria's soft touch, John leaned over to kiss her cheek. "Only you could make Machiavelli romantic."
She returned the kiss. "Only you would think that."
After a knock on the door, Helen stuck her head in the door after John and Daria separated. "Why didn't you tell me you were expecting company?"
Daria looked at John. "We were?"
Kevin looked over Helen's shoulder. "Hey John, hey Daria. I'm here to study for Mr. D's test, since I can't do my other…uh…studying."
I should've known this was going to turn around and bite me, John thought before whispering to Daria, "I'm really going to owe you for this."
"Yes, you are," she whispered in reply.
"Have fun, kids," Helen said and stepped out of the room to go back downstairs.
John forced a smile and said, "We've already started; just grab a seat and join in."
Kevin asked, "Wouldn't that be crowded and, um, kinda freaky?"
Daria sighed and pointed to a chair next to John's easel. "Pull it over and sit down."
Kevin grinned in relief. "Ohh, gotcha" he replied before bringing the chair over. He then sat down with an expectant look on his face.
"Kevin…" Daria asked, "where's your history book?"
"In my locker."
John passed his book to Kevin. "Here, use mine. Daria and I can share."
Daria pointed to a paragraph in the book. "We were just about to start on the Teapot Dome scandal. What can you remember about it?"
Kevin squinted and tried hard to think. "Teapot Dome…teapot…um, is that one of those arena football stadiums?"
"No football," John said. "Politics, bribery and oil."
"Football history would be more interesting. Why do we have to learn this old stuff?"
Daria said, "So we don't repeat it." She paused and appeared to mentally smack her forehead. "Okay, so our government hasn't learned it. That doesn't excuse you."
Brittany peered down Glen Oaks Drive and saw Kevin's jeep in the Morgendorffers' driveway, beside the old blue sedan of Daria and John. "So he is there. What is he doing? If he's after Daria or Quinn again….ooooh!"
Brittany whipped her car into the driveway and barely stopped behind Kevin's before hitting it. The blonde teen gripped the steering wheel for several seconds and calmed herself. "Daria wouldn't do that and I heard that Quinn was at the mall. What's he up to?"
Inside, Jake looked over at the door from watching TV and said, "Who could that be?"
Helen placed a legal brief back onto the pile on the coffee table and said, "I hope Quinn hasn't double-booked again and it's some boy expecting a date. Jake, could you please get the door?"
"But honey, my show was just getting…oh, there's a commercial on. I'll get it."
Jake was perplexed at the sight of Brittany at the door. Before he could say anything, she asked, "Is my Kevin here?"
"I'm sorry, nobody named Kevin lives here."
"But his jeep is outside."
The conversation caught Helen's attention and she joined her husband. "Kevin is upstairs studying with Daria and John. You're Brittany, right?"
"Wright? No, I'm Brittany Taylor," the teen answered.
"Of course," Helen said. "Follow me, please."
As soon as his wife and Brittany were heading up the stairs, Jake rushed back to the sofa. "Ha, just in time."
At the top of the stairs, Helen explained, "They're in John's room, right there."
"Thank you," Brittany chirped.
Helen said, "You're welcome. Since there's such a crowd, I think I'll try to come up with some snacks for you kids."
She continued downstairs and when she reached the end of the kitchen counter, Helen stopped to say, "It's so nice seeing them finally reaching out to their fellow students."
Brittany looked in the door and her mouth dropped open in surprise. Her boyfriend was seated in a chair, reading a book while Daria and John sat next to each other on a bed, sharing a book. She hesitantly said, "Kevvie, are you studying?"
He turned in complete surprise. "Brit?"
Daria said, "Brittany, what are you doing here?"
The cheerleader replied, "Looking for Kevin. Angie said she saw his jeep parked out front. Is he really studying?"
"Our little secret is out," John said. Seeing Kevin's flash of panic, John added, "Yes, we're studying."
Brittany spun a lock of hair around her finger. "Can I study, too?"
"You didn't happen to bring a history book, did you?" Daria asked.
"Then you'll have to share with Kevin."
John crawled off of the bed. "I'll get the chair from your room, Daria."
Kevin said, "Brittany can sit on my lap."
Daria quickly said, "I don't think we need that kind of distraction."
"Gee, Quinn, why didn't you tell us that there was some kind of get-together at your house," Sandi asked after parking next to Brittany's car.
In the back seat, Stacy said, "It looks like Kevin and Brittany are here."
"And isn't that your brother and sister's car?" said Tiffany, also from the back seat.
Quinn turned and tried to answer each friend in turn. "Nobody told me about a get-together, yes, that's Kevin's car and Brittany's car, and no, John is not my brother."
"Oh, yeah," Tiffany agreed. "That would be icky if he was."
"Kevin and Brittany are two of the most popular juniors at school and you don't know why they're at your house? Quinn, we must have a talk about proper scheduling and record keeping," Sandi admonished.
Quinn said, "They have classes together; it might be for some project. You really can't expect me to keep a schedule of my sister's school projects, can you?"
"I suppose not. Let's just hope that's the case."
Helen was nearing the stairs and carrying a tray of cheese and crackers when the Fashion Club entered. She said, "Oh my, what a busy night. I'm afraid I'll have to find something more for you girls."
"That's okay, Mom," Quinn said. "We had dinner a little while ago and we're not hungry."
"Okay, girls. Now, Daria and John and their friends are studying tonight, so please try to be quiet."
Quinn ushered her friends past Helen and up the stairs. "We will, Mom."
When the new arrivals reached the top of the stairs, they heard Brittany say, "So lots of people lost all their money, so they didn't have any to spend and that made more people lose their money and they got really depressed."
Daria said, "Close enough, Brittany. I'm sure many people were very depressed during the Great Depression."
Sandi carefully looked through the open door and then pushed the others down the hall to Quinn's room. "I don't know what your weird sister and her boyfriend did to Kevin and Brittany, but it's scaring me."
Quinn entered the bathroom and saw her sister, weary-eyed, staring into the mirror as if in shock. "Gee, Daria. I know you don't worry about your looks, but even you have to admit that isn't good."
Distant, Daria said, "You try to get Kevin and Brittany up to speed for one of Mr. DeMartino's history tests and see how you look afterward."
"Why would you want to do that?"
"It's a long story."
"When you say it like that, I know that I don't want to know."
"Thank you for understanding, Quinn."
Teasing, Quinn said, "You know that having Kevin and Brittany here will give your popularity a nice bump up."
"I doubt if anyone is watching our house and taking notes."
"No, but Sandi, Stacy or Tiffany will say something."
It was Daria's turn to ask, "Why would they do that?"
"It's not news; it's at best, gossip."
"Duh, same thing."
"I'd have thought that they'd have something better on their minds to talk about."
Quinn shook her head in disbelief. "Quarterback and head cheerleader visit popular outcasts…people want to know what's going on."
"Popular outcasts? That's an oxymoron. You can't be both."
"Daria, you and John do your own thing and act like outcasts, but everyone knows who you are and a lot of them look up to you. You hang around with Jodie and Mack, two of the most popular kids in school, and now Kevin and Brittany stop by to visit. You're popular."
The older sister rubbed her eyes and stepped away from the bathroom. "I need to get some sleep; you're starting to make sense."
Seated in Mr. DeMartino's class, John said to Daria, "Is it me, or are most of the football players looking at us?"
"It's not just you, and it's not just the football team," she said. "The gossip mill has already spread word that Kevin and Brittany were at our place last night."
"How do you know?"
"Quinn filled me in earlier. I think she enjoyed it."
After the bell rang, Mr. DeMartino stepped around his desk, holding a pile of papers. "Good morning, students. I hope you studied last night."
John had to hold back a cringe at the positive noises coming from most of the football players.
Mr. DeMartino faintly laughed and said, "Good, because I was up half the night writing this new test."
The football players fell silent and looked at each other nervously.
"I wouldn't want to think my efforts were for naught," the teacher said as he started handing out the exams.
John glanced over his shoulder to see the sour expressions on the football players faces. We're going to get blamed for this, I just know it.
After school, Mack, frustrated, slipped into the newspaper workroom. "Boy, a bunch of the juniors on the team were in a bad mood today. Coach Gibson had several of them run extra laps after some late hits on Kevin."
Jodie said, "I noticed that a bunch of them were unhappy after the history test."
"Maybe they're not getting the bye they expected," Mack speculated.
John tentatively asked, "How do you think you did on the test, Mack?"
"Okay," he said. "Probably a good 'B'."
Jodie said, "Daria, I heard that Kevin and Brittany were studying with you last night. That's kind of a surprise."
Daria said, "Well, it wasn't necessarily planned, it just sort of happened."
"I ran into Kevin after school and he…thought I invited him over to study," John said. "We couldn't really turn him away, and when Brittany showed up looking for him, she joined us."
"You have my sympathy," Jodie said. "I know how painful studying with them can be."
Mack sat on the desk beside Jodie and mused, "I wonder if Mr. DeMartino's comment about being up half the night making a new test had anything to do with it. Maybe they stole the test and he found out."
"That would make a good column, if it was true. What do you think, Daria?" Jodie asked.
"Um…I guess so."
"That's the kind of corruption you get riled up about."
"Yeah, but getting information I can use will be very difficult. I'm not exactly part of the in-crowd with the football team."
Jodie rubbed her chin. "True, but I'm sure you could get information out of Kevin."
I can't let Daria cover for me, John thought. "Jodie…Kevin had a test and I talked him into giving it up and letting me return it. I promised not to tell Mr. DeMartino where I got it. I think that's where he got the idea he could come over to study."
"Did he take the test?" Jodie inquired.
"I don't know. I didn't ask, but Ms. Li closed the case real fast and sent me away with a thank you for turning it in. I bet she knows."
Jodie sighed. "That leaves us in a fine fix."
"Yeah," John agreed.
Daria said, "Welcome to the wonderful world of ethical conundrums."
Returning the graded tests the next day, Mr. DeMartino said, "We had an unusual grade distribution on this test," as he handed Daria her paper with a 100 marked on top.
To John, the teacher returned an 87 and said, "Some of you scored like I'd expect..."
Mr. DeMartino returned several more tests in silence before giving Brittany hers, with a grade of 70, followed by Kevin's 62. "...While others scored better than expected. Keep it up, Kevin. You're now off of academic probation."
He completed handing out the test and returned to his desk, with several papers still in his hands. One of the football players said, "Um, Mr. DeMartino, we didn't get our papers back."
He grinned back like a predator facing its crippled prey. "Some of you managed to score considerably less than my rather low expectations. I found the number of tests that scored an 11 to be very interesting, especially considering that all of them had the exact, same answers for every question. Answers that exactly matched the test that was stolen from my office!"
The football players looked at each other nervously before Mr. DeMartino said, "Just as intriguing, all of those tests belong to the football team, with the exception of Mr. MacKenzie and…" The teacher clearly had to work past his surprise to continue, "Mr. Thompson."
All of the football players focused on Kevin and their eyes burned with anger.
Kevin ran at a full sprint down the corridor, occasionally looking over his shoulder in concern. Reaching his destination, he almost slipped while trying to slow himself enough to open the workroom door. He burst in, slammed the door shut and leaned back against it. "You've gotta help me!"
Daria, John, Jodie and a couple other Lowdown staffers looked up at the frazzled quarterback.
Daria said, "Excuse me?"
Kevin blurted, "They're after me!"
John asked, "Who?" as he went to the door.
Kevin stepped into the room and backed away from the entrance. "The team."
John opened the door and took a quick look down the corridor. Still in their practice uniforms, half a dozen angry football players were marching toward the workroom. John closed the door and said, "The angry villagers are almost here, but it looks like they left their torches and pitchforks at home."
"Kevin, what is going on?" Jodie asked.
"They're mad at me about the history test! Coach can't get them a bye because they were caught cheating."
Daria said, "I'm sure the operative word there is 'caught'."
Still flustered, Kevin said, "I didn't know it was this dangerous to be a brain!"
"Get out here, Kevin!" somebody shouted in the hallway, followed by an unsynchronized chorus of the same thing."
"Tell them I'm not here!"
Jodie said, "Kevin, they know you're here."
Kevin turned to John. "You got me into this; you need to get me out."
The young Lane sighed and said, "You were already on the path to honesty; that's why you asked for my advice. But, I'll see what we can do."
"Hey, the window!"
John shook his head. "Barred shut. Ms. Li's security."
Resigned to helping, Daria said, "Let me try." She opened the door and said, "Can I help you?"
The players all took a small step back from the petite young woman. After a couple seconds of silence, she said, "Well?"
One of the players said, "We want Kevin." Other players threw in, "Yeah!"
"Any particular reason?"
The players recovered and menacingly moved forward. "He set up us up."
"Oh, you mean because he didn't cheat and you did?" Daria said, holding her place.
Inside, John asked Kevin, "Did you warn them that your copy of the test had been returned?"
"Um…no. I, uh…thought you didn't want me to say anything."
John covered his face with one hand. "We agreed not to say anything about you and the test."
"Hey!" one of the players shouted, "Everyone says Kevin was at this Darla chick's house last night. I bet she has something to do with it!"
"Yeah!" the others loudly agreed and shook their fists.
Trying to defuse the players' rising tempers, Daria said, "John and I reluctantly helped him and Brittany study."
"Yeah, and how did he know to study with you?" another player yelled. "He got the test from…"
"What's all this noise?" Ms. Li barked from behind the football players, causing them to stop their slow advance on Daria.
Everyone turned to face the principal, who stood with her arms folded. She waited for several seconds before saying, "Well?"
One of the players said, "We all flunked Mr. DeMartino's test, but Kevin passed!"
Ms. Li said, "I'm aware of the grade situation in that class. Mr. MacKenzie also passed the test. Are you going to be looking for him next?"
Another player said, "Mack always passes; that doesn't count. But Kevin never passes."
"Oh, well…"Ms. Li's eyes darted around as she quickly thought to come up with an answer. She motioned to Kevin and John before saying, "Come out here and close the door."
John and Kevin shuffled out, keeping a wary eye on the football players.
Looking directly at Daria, and then past her at John, Ms. Li said, "Ms. Morgendorffer and Mr. Lane tutored Mr. Thompson and Ms. Taylor. I'd say that their improved scores on this test show the success of my 'Peer Tutoring' program." She sternly looked at the players. "Perhaps you young men could benefit from such a program. Maybe I should tie your athletic eligibility to staying in it."
The players looked at each other in panic. Before they had a chance to try to bring their thoughts together, Ms. Li said, "I'm sure Coach Gibson is waiting for you. Go back to practice."
Knowing that they'd been put in their place, the football players muttered, "Yes, ma'am," and as a group, made almost as fast of an exit as they had made an entrance.
Daria raised an eyebrow. "Peer Tutoring?"
"Yes, Ms. Morgendorffer. Although, I think it may need more visibility. Such as, tutoring on campus at Lawndale High."
Dreading where the principal was going, John said, "Ms. Li, Daria and I are already busy every afternoon with the school paper."
Ms. Li's smile made John's skin crawl. She said, "And Mr. Thompson and Ms. Taylor have practice every afternoon, also. Therefore, we'll have to find time during the day, such as during your Physical Education class."
Daria lifted her other eyebrow. "Oh?"
"I'm sure Ms. Morris would agree that it would be a better way for you to contribute to the athletic honor and glory of Lawndale High than what you are doing now. Besides, it would be another high quality extracurricular activity that I'm positive will be well-received with your college applications, and by your mother."
After stepping past Daria, Ms. Li said, "The same applies to you, Mr. Lane. It only makes sense for you to continue your efforts to help Mr. Thompson. I'm sure you know what I mean."
John nodded. "Yes, I do."
"Excellent." Ms. Li finally acknowledged Kevin. "Mr. Thompson, I hope you recognize the importance of these sessions to your continued eligibility. We wouldn't want your talent hindered by a little thing like poor grades."
He said, "Um, no Ms. Li. I mean, yes…uh…I mean…okay. I think."
Ms. Li said, "Good. Now, you should also get back to practice. I'll explain everything to Coach Gibson later."
"Yes, Ms. Li," he said, glad for the chance to escape. Once into the hallway, his exit was faster than the other football players.
"You two can resume what you were doing," Ms. Li said. As she started walking back to the main office, she added, "I so enjoy seeing my students rise to meet new challenges."
Once the office door closed behind her, the façade of control dropped from Ms. Li's face. "That was too close. I need to keep those two busy so that they don't pry so much."
Arms crossed over her chest, Daria was seated on her bed, glancing down at Zachary purring on her lap. "Recruiting the cat won't help."
On the bed behind her, John said, "He's here by his own choice. You know cats can't be recruited."
"It still won't help," Daria defiantly said.
John gingerly placed his hands on her shoulders. "I'm sorry that once again, no good deed goes unpunished. But at least you're getting out of gym class."
"We both know that was a crass bribe."
"How do you think I feel about being blackmailed?"
She twisted her head to look at him. "Okay, it sucks for both of us."
John slid his hands down along Daria's arms. "Isn't it a little victory that Kevin decided not to cheat?"
"Yes, but we still don't know who stole the test. After today's incident, Ms. Li has made sure that the football players will keep their mouths shut."
"It did score points with Helen."
"That was an efficient use of effort. Mom will provide a carrot and stick to keep us in the program."
John moved his arms around Daria to hug her. "This is the last thing I have left to offer."
Daria leaned back against him and allowed her head to rest on John's shoulder. She softly said, "That helps. You may continue."
"For how long?"
Daria closed her eyes. "Until I say you're done."
Thanks to Kristen Bealer, Ipswichfan and Mr. Orange for beta reading.