He jumped when Heero spoke. The kid dropped off a box of canned soup by Howard's feet and waited expectantly for an answer. Howard prepared a nonchalant one, but it got intimidated by that look on Yuy's face and refused to come out. The truth was similarly reluctant to emerge. He glanced apprehensively toward the front of the store before bending his attention far too studiously to the art of stacking cans. "Just... brace yourself, kid," he muttered.
Heero did, flinching reflexively before looking around to spot the imminent danger. He didn't see anything out of the ordinary. His lips parted to quietly demand an explanation from Howard, but he saw that the storekeeper's attention was fixed on the overhead mirrors. A customer was approaching Duo at the register. After a brief flicker of his glance to evaluate his options, Heero decided action was a better course than speech. He began drifting smoothly toward the front of the store.
Duo was proceeding through his well-practiced customer service routine. "Hey, you're new around here, huh? Find everything okay?"
The woman blinked at him, clutching a box of cereal tightly with both hands.
Apparently this was going to be one of those strange days, Duo thought. Heero had been the last intractable customer he could remember running into, though admittedly, everything sort of paled in comparison to Heero. His recall past the big, fuzzy glow that Heero cast on everything was sometimes equally fuzzy. But if he could deal with Heero, surely he could manage to coax this lady into some level of comfort. He smiled to put her at ease. "Ready to check out?"
She was not put at ease, not in the slightest. Using her box of cereal as a shield, she gathered her strength and spoke. "Duo? Duo Maxwell?"
It was Duo's turn to blink. "Uh. Yeah. Yep, that's me." He pointed with confused cheer at the name tag stuck to his shirt. Most of the regulars around here already knew his name, but he still liked to wear it when he was officially on duty. He'd been so proud when Howard had given him one, oh so long ago, and he'd gotten just as melty inside when they'd given one to Heero just a few months ago. "Something I can help you with?"
"I'm..." She froze and tried to remember the way she had rehearsed it. This wasn't how things were supposed to go at all. The young man in front of her wasn't supposed to be congenial and kind and patient. He shouldn't have had the same shape of forehead as his father, and he certainly wasn't supposed to have a hint of his father's dimple. He was supposed to be a horrid child, ungrateful and crude, terrible in a way that could allow a father to abandon him without regret. She reminded herself that she didn't know the whole story, swallowed, and started again. "I'm very sorry to tell you this, but..."
Duo looked uncertainly over her shoulder at Heero, who was hovering behind a display rack, pretending to tidy it up. Heero just looked back with a concerned look on his face. So much for getting someone to convince him that something dire wasn't about to happen. Where the heck was Howie? One of the benefits of being gay was supposed to be not having to deal with women. Howie was far better at it than he was. He settled for waiting with what he hoped was an open expression on his face.
Unable to take it anymore, Elizabeth dropped her gaze to the cereal box, took another breath and settled herself. "I'm very sorry to tell you this, but... Jake. Jake Maxwell. Your father. He passed away last month." After finally getting that out, she felt she had the courage to look up and meet the young man's eyes.
He stared back at her, his smile slowly fading. There was a heavy silence between them for a few seconds before he blinked and spoke with steady, too steady words. "I'm sorry, but who are you?"
She shifted uncomfortably. She hadn't been expecting a non-reaction, and it left her uneasy. "My name... my name is Elizabeth. Elizabeth Maxwell. I was your father's second wife."
"Stop calling him that." His smile was still barely there, but it was hardly pleasant. Maybe it could have been, and the tone of his voice could have convinced her, too, maybe, if the eyes above them hadn't gone so hard. "That man was not my father."
"I understand that... there was some history between the two of you."
Duo laughed sharply, incredulously. "'History'? 'History'? Yeah, sure, whatever, lady. You can call it 'history' if you want."
She bulled on forward. "All the same, I thought you would like to know."
"Yeah, okay, sure. You can think what you like. And now your job is done, so you can be on your way."
Something in her snapped. "Don't you even care? Jake is dead. Your father is dead!"
"My 'father' has been dead to me for a long time. Frankly, I wish it was an even longer time than that. And you, lady, are probably better off without him."
"How dare you--"
"I'm not in the habit of kicking customers out, but hey, if you're not here to buy something, then you're not a customer. So feel free to get out."
It took her too long to move, so Duo took action instead. Fingers on autopilot, he locked the register, left his post, and stalked out the door.
Heero's eyes quickly found Howard in the mirrors overhead. Confident that the man would deal with getting rid of this woman, he followed Duo out of the market. He jogged a little to catch up, and then the two of them marched in silence all the way back to his place. Duo just stood in the middle of the small studio apartment while Heero locked up behind them. Unsure of what was the right thing to do in this situation, Heero went with his gut and simply pulled Duo into a firm hug.
It took a minute, but eventually Duo's arms crept up to return the embrace, and it was another minute before he spoke. "God, Heero. All these years... All these years, I always thought I wouldn't feel anything when the bastard died. I never thought... I never thought I'd be right."
"I always figured, you know? Like, I'd say that, but when he died, I'd suddenly be sad, or angry, or... or... or something. Like how you always see in the movies or in stories. God, I don't know why I'd want my life to be an afterschool special, anyway. But no. No, I really don't..."
"Maybe... you're still in shock?"
"...No. I mean... yeah, I'm angry right now, but only because the son of a bitch couldn't just leave well enough alone. Couldn't just die and leave the rest of us in peace. No, he had to be such a bastard that even after he dies, he sends his wife in to try to torture us some more. What the hell? Who does that? How much of a bastard does a guy have to be to do that? Yeah, I'm pissed about that, but I'm not pissed that the guy was such a fucking lame 'father'."
"Kind of sounds like it to me," Heero ventured tentatively.
"Yeah, huh? Ha. The guy's my 'father' only in so far as it was his dick fucking the woman that spawned me. That's it. I stopped taking it personally a while ago that those two were such loser parents. Some people just aren't cut out for it. That I got stuck with two glorious examples of that is just plain bad cosmic luck."
Heero pressed his lips to Duo's shoulder. Maybe Duo wasn't feeling any regret or anything, but he was still obviously agitated. "They've... left a mark on you, Duo."
"Yeah. Yeah, I know." He sighed. "But I've gotten way past the point of wishing I hadn't been born. Even passed out of my phase of being glad I'd been born, just to spite them. Now I'm just glad I was born because now... because I got Howie... and now I've got you. Those two are history. Just..." He paused for a laugh. "Ha, I guess that lady was right. Guess there is 'history' between us, after all."
It seemed they would be here for a while. Heero tugged them over to the futon sofa and got them settled, Duo curled up against his side. Again unsure of what to say, he decided to just stroke his fingers against Duo's arm and wait it out.
After a couple of minutes, Duo had a few more things in his head sorted out and shared them. "No, I am pissed at him. But only because of the last time I saw him. God, what was that...? Like, four years ago? Just ran into him all of a sudden, me and Howie... And the guy just couldn't leave well enough alone... He had no right to lay into Howie like that. No right at all. He couldn't just pretend he was my dad all of a sudden, like he had some sort of claim on me. Yeah, that pissed me off alright. But other than that..." He made a sound of disgust. "Yeah, okay, fine. Yeah, I'm glad the guy's officially out of my life, or at least, he would be if he'd just sent a telegram or something. Could have just read it and tossed it out with the rest of the junk mail. What the fuck is up with sending your wife in to deliver one last kick to the nuts? How fucked up is that? But I mean, other than that, it's not like I'm happy the idiot's dead or something." There was a short silence, and then he sighed. "I still sound angry, don't I?"
Heero tightened his embrace for a moment. "It's okay to be angry, Duo."
"Don't pull that tone of voice on me, man." He had a continuation of his diatribe ready to go on the tip of his tongue before he thought better of it and pulled himself up short. He found Heero's free hand and entwined their fingers in apology. "Sorry. I'm not angry at you. Just..."
"It's okay not to be angry, too, Duo."
Duo stayed silent for a minute. "I guess I'm more angry than not. Which is good, I guess, since I walked all the way over here feeling like a big dick because I didn't feel anything."
Heero shifted uncomfortably before speaking up. "I... didn't feel anything. When I found out that my father was dead."
Duo winced. "I didn't mean--"
"That was different," Heero interrupted, shrugging slightly. "I just found out on paper, anyway. I didn't have anyone hand-delivering the news. And he left us alone most of the time anyway, when my parents were still together. I don't have nearly as much 'history' as you do."
"Yeah... Okay, I guess maybe I was just lying to myself when I thought I wasn't feeling anything. But it's not like a 'big' kind of angry. Yeah, he left his mark on me... I'll admit that. So I can't in all honesty say that he doesn't mean anything at all to me. Nothing good, but still something, I guess. But... my life next week's gonna be the same as it was last week. Life goes on. Same as it did when I had such a loser dad. Same as it will with a dead loser dad."
last modified : 4/6/2008 02:22:28 PST