The sound of his name from outside made Howard turn toward the door, just in time to see Duo waving while jogging off in the direction of campus. In his wake, he left his boyfriend watching his back for a few seconds with a soft, pensive look on his face. When Heero turned to march through the front door of the market, his expression quickly turned to a look of determination that made the storeowner wilt a little inside.
Howard pasted on a weak smile to counter it and greeted him. "Hey. Where's the kid off to in such a hurry?"
Unimpressed, Heero slid into place next to the older man and pinned him with an intense stare. "He has to drop something off," he started, finishing his opening explanation carelessly before addressing the concerns that had been brewing in his head since yesterday, when this whole mess had started. "Did you know that was going to happen?"
No pussy-footing around then, eh? Howard girded his loins and faced the protective hackles of his kid's boyfriend, though he was more tired than confident. He hadn't exactly had a restful night himself, even knowing that the kid was in good hands. "I knew who she was. She started coming by the store a couple of weeks ago. Always acting kind of weird. Like you saw, there in the beginning. I caught a peek of her ID once. Didn't know exactly who she was at first, but she was a Maxwell, and she was acting weird. Something had to be up."
"You don't keep in touch with that side of the family, right?" The question was less demanding than his first had been, now that Howard had proven he would cooperate.
Howard snorted. "They're no family of mine, nor Duo's. I keep in touch with our side of the family, once in a while, just because... well. They're family. Hate 'em or love 'em, they're family." He dropped his eyes briefly. "But I'm not like Duo. He, well, you know his story. Me, I was just the black sheep of my generation. I went my own way, but I didn't step on anyone's toes too hard doing it, and no one stepped on mine. Good thing, too, else I wouldn't have been home during the holidays and the whatnot, when Eleanor'd bring her kid and her no-good husband with her. Good thing, or I'd have never gotten Duo."
"Good thing," Heero echoed softly. "Do you keep in touch with his mother at all?"
"Nah, I think we're all happy with our paths not crossing much at all." He shrugged. "Hear things through the grapevine, once in a while."
"Pass any of that on to Duo?"
"He knows I know a thing or two, and he's free to ask, but you know he never will. And I'm not gonna try to force-feed any of it, either. She hasn't been up to anything that'd make him feel any better about her."
A faint wrinkle creased Heero's forehead. "Has she been doing anything that would make him feel worse?"
"Nah, nothing like that. Got married, got divorced. Off 'finding herself' now, or some such nonsense. Nothing too stupid. That time we ran into Jake, though, a few years back..." He shook his head in remembrance. Most of the insults had been flung his direction, but Duo had been infinitely more pissed off. It'd taken a week for Duo to shake off his sour mood. "I noticed the ring back on his finger. Figured he'd suckered in another young lady. Then this Elizabeth started coming around. Always while you guys were at class. Seemed like she was having trouble making a move on her own, so I went ahead and asked her who she was, point blank. Said she was here to see Duo. Here to tell him about Jake."
"Do you know how he died?"
Howard laughed, startled. "You know, all this, and no, I don't have a blasted clue. Don't really care. Well, no, that's not true. I sort of hope he was hit by a beer truck or something, and not killed while saving a puppy, but that's as far as that goes."
Heero added his own reluctant chuckle. "You and Duo are very similar in some ways." When Howard raised his eyebrow, Heero just shook his head and moved on. "So after you found out who she was... you thought she should have her say to Duo?"
Howard's amusement faded. "I thought about it, you know. I did think about it. And I know Duo doesn't care, or doesn't think he cares... but he's a big boy now. I don't make these kinds of decisions for him anymore. He resents that, even if he would have made the same decision himself."
"True enough." Heero remained silent for a few seconds before he smiled slightly to relieve the concern on Howard's face. "Don't worry. I agree with your decision, for what it's worth. Maybe I would have warned Duo first, though."
"Come on, you know the kid. He'd have never agreed to talk to her."
"I didn't say I'd give him a lot of advance warning," Heero answered mildly. "Just some."
Howard liked the way this kid thought. "Even if he did agree, he would have made up his mind before ever seeing her."
"That's not too different from what happened anyway."
He winced minutely. "So, uh... how did the kid take it, anyway? He's holding up okay?"
Heero sighed. "He's holding up. It's hard to tell what's going on inside that head of his. He's not really interested in talking about it, except to insist that he isn't bothered by it."
"Don't push him too hard. You know how he gets."
"I know." He smiled ruefully. "I know. He has to work through this himself. He's probably going to take the long way around, and drive the rest of us crazy while he does it, but he'll be okay in the end."
Of that, Howard had no doubt. Duo was a fighter. He always made it through. Unfortunately, sometimes that meant he even fought with himself, and there wasn't much a guy could do for him. "Hey... Unnecessary question, maybe, but... you'll stick with him, right?"
"Of course." Heero looked at him with a raised eyebrow. "You sure you're not dying or anything, Howard?"
He laughed, remembering that awkward conversation. "Yeah, I'm sure. I'm not going anywhere, either. I was just... worried, that's all. Worried he'd be mad at me." He paused uncomfortably. "Did you... did you tell him? That I knew?"
"No. I didn't know for sure that you knew, but even if I did, I still wouldn't have told him. I'll leave that up to you to decide if you want him to know or not. But if I were you, if I were going to tell him, I'd wait a little while. Let things settle down a little more before you hand him more shit to deal with."
"Great," Howard muttered. "You really think he'll be pissed at me?"
"Pissed? Maybe not. But you didn't exactly let him decide, you know. You let her on through. That effectively decided it for him. And she didn't give him a choice, either. She just went on and said what she came here to say." Heero fell silent for a moment, mulling over the possibilities. "Duo's smart. He knows you don't always get the luxury of a choice. And I'll make sure he remembers that. But don't expect him not to be pissy at life in general for a while."
"The kid's depressingly good at that."
"Don't be silly. It's part of his charm."
last modified : 6/8/2008 01:53:43 PST