ch 1: Lacking Explanation
warnings: Tristan/Duke, one sided for now. Mild cursing and parental units being 'nads.
notes: Greatest thanks and praises to Psyienna the wonder beta.
The words weren't there yet. He wasn't sure he wanted them to be. Both of them were staring at him with almost grim expectancy, but Tristan just couldn't force the words past his lips. Why was it so damned easy to speak them in his head? He was caught in some strange, reversed hurricane. The frantic, useless beating of his heart at the very center of him provided an odd counter to the stony silence that had settled about his face and limbs.
"Mom, Dad..." He ducked his head and caught his lower lip between his teeth. Not yet. The words were ready to burst out of him, but he couldn't quite pierce the boil holding them back.
Caring parents continued to look upon him with uneasy concern. "What is it?" his mother asked in a light tone that was forced and artificial. "Whatever it is, honey, we're here for you." The affection was still there. She leaned forward and placed a comforting hand on his knee.
Tristan stared down at that hand. She had short fingers and painted nails, each trimmed to a neat crescent and colored a muted shade of plum. He didn't want to look up into her eyes yet. So he reached down and squeezed her hand for a brief moment before pulling himself away and out of reach. The words at last tumbled out of his mouth in a deliberate blurt.
"I think I'm gay."
If his parents stared at him, Tristan didn't know. Hands that looked like spilled mocha against his skin dug relentless furrows into denim pants. The stony silence had settled about them as well. Maybe they were waiting for the punch line. Tristan stared down at his shoes.
"Are you sure?" his father asked.
Tristan wanted to devour his voice and choke on it. "Yeah."
His mother made a soft noise and he could hear a rustle of cloth as his father stood and loomed over him. "Just what have you been doing to make you so sure?" he demanded.
"Nothing." The word was clipped and short. His hunched shoulders stiffened and his hands clenched tighter on his knees. "I haven't been doing anything."
"What have you been doing?" his father repeated. "You wouldn't be 'thinking,' if you weren't doing something."
Tristan glared off to the side. "I haven't been doing anything. Or anyone, if that's what you're thinking," he spat. The stony silence crumbled and he trembled with what might have been fear or anger. He didn't know.
Hazel eyes squeezed shut and shame flared crimson across Tristan's face as he remembered. He and Duke were always fighting, always scuffling, never quite in malice, but never quite in fun, either. He remembered that he had yanked Duke by the shirt collar to snap some forgotten challenge in his face. Then... the snarl on his lips had smoothed to an uncertain line and all of a sudden he could feel the heated whispers of Duke's breath. He remembered his vision growing dark as his eyes slid shut. Before that darkness, however, green eyes had gone wide as Tristan tilted his head forward to taste those startled puffs of air between them.
"Look at me. Damn it, look at me!" A rough hand grabbed Tristan's chin and forced his gaze upward. "I don't want you to get smart with me!" his father growled. "God only knows what you're doing these days and now I find out you might come home with AIDS or something one day. I was worried to death about your sister through high school and now you!"
Now Tristan twisted from his father's grip and surged to his feet to stare him in the eye. "I'm not Annie! I haven't been doing anything," he protested again, voice rising from tight, knotted syllables to a shout, "and I only told you because I don't know what in the hell to do any more!" His hands curled into frustrated fists at his sides. "I don't know what I'm feeling, I don't know what I'm thinking, and I don't know why I'm so concerned over an asshole that punched me when I kissed him! I don't know anything anymore!"
A sudden sharp cuff to the side of his head made his ears ring. His mother cried "Don't!" and his father commanded, "Never raise your voice to me again, son."
All three were captured in a still life portrait for a moment. Tristan stared in shocked silence, his gaze twisted to the side from the force of his father's blow. His father's hand was raised in the air, trying to decide whether to strike once again or to force his stubborn boy to look at him once more. His mother seized that hand with both of her own, trying to stop something that could hurt both of the men she loved.
The moment passed and shattered and Tristan ran to the door. He refused to hear either of them. The door was slammed shut behind him only to be flung open an instant later by his parents. The only sounds he allowed himself to hear were the slap of his sneakers against the sidewalk and the huffs of his breath as he ran.
He fled, dashing along the sidewalk, darting between cars both parked and moving, plunging into the street ahead. Tristan had to keep moving. His surroundings faded to a blur. Hot breath caught in his lungs and scoured them dry. He didn't know what he was running from. Himself? His parents? Or was he running from the simple shame of being beguiled by a smirking grin and sly green eyes?
It didn't matter.
A squalling horn bore down on him and he spun around to be blinded by headlights that burned away all else in existence. Tires shrieked and his palms slapped down on the hood of a car that halted only quivering inches from his kneecaps. The door was flung open.
"Goddamn it, boy!" his father screamed. "Get in the car! Now!"
"Why?" Tristan challenged, proud of his steady voice.
"Because I refuse to yell at you in the middle of the damned street. Now get in the car!"
"But it's okay to yell at me back at home?" he called back.
His father stepped into the glare of the headlights, silhouetted dark against the light for a moment. He reached out and snatched at this son's arm. Tristan jerked away. "Get in the car," he said in a flat tone. "Now. Get in the car and we'll go home and discuss this like adults."
"Like we were doing before I ran out?" Tristan questioned again. The skin on the back of his neck prickled and he wanted nothing more than to undo the past fifteen minutes. Punishing himself alone over something of such complex simplicity was better than this.
"I'm not going to repeat myself again. Get in."
He wavered for a moment between dutiful obedience and defiant rebellion. Where could this go, in all honesty? He could keep running to nowhere or remain and quarrel without meaning with his father. Or he could go home. He walked to the car and opened the passenger side door.
The engine rumbled with discontent as he rode back down the street with his father. "You know better than that, boy," his father said at last. "You know better than to raise your voice to me."
"You wouldn't listen," Tristan said. He was tired. The quiet tremors of confession and the sudden panic of escape had burned him down to unfeeling ashes.
His father gazed steadily at the street ahead. "What was I supposed to do? You tell me. What was I supposed to do when you tell me something like that?" Tristan had no answer. His father yanked at the gearshift and the car sputtered into park in front of their house. The engine expired with a twist of the key. "Inside."
Tristan walked ahead of his father. The door opened even as he reached for the doorknob and his mother crushed him in a hug. "What were you thinking?" she demanded after pressing a hard kiss against Tristan's forehead. She shoved him away at arm's length and stared at him in confusion. "What were you thinking running out like that?"
Before Tristan could answer, his mother pointed an accusing finger at her husband. "You need to calm down! Accusing him won't solve anything." Tristan's eyes widened in surprise before his mother turned to him. "And you! You need to quit yelling at your father!" She raised a hand before either could protest. "This... we all need to calm down while we talk about this. Let's go inside."
Tristan followed his parents without protest. They walked into the house and the door shut behind him with a dull 'snik.' A familiar quiet shrouded the three as they settled back into the very same seats they occupied moments earlier.
Sweat beaded Tristan's forehead. Back to scene one, actors resuming their places, they all waited for the cue to begin again. His father rose to his feet and walked back and forth behind the couch. His feet tramped out a sullen beat and he kept running his hand through thinning hair.
It was almost a relief when his father spoke. "Care to tell us when you decided you might be gay?" he said in a brittle voice. "Have you and those weird little friends of yours been 'experimenting'? That Joseph kid always has been a bad influence on you. Is he the one who put you up to this?"
"That's enough," his mother said in a soft tone. She looked at her son with solemn eyes. "Your father did ask a good question earlier. Are you sure?" She leaned forward and clasped her hands on her lap. "I'm not pushing you to say something you don't mean," she said before Tristan could protest. "It's just that, well, sometimes people go through phases. And sometimes boys do look at other boys. It doesn't mean anything, just natural curiosity." Her voice was filled with ill disguised hope. "So is that it? You've been looking and worried it might actually mean something?"
"Hold on!" his father barked before any answer could be offered. "Quit offering the boy an out! You heard him yourself. He's upset because some boy had the good sense to clock him when he tried something queer!"
"It wasn't like that!" Tristan protested. "I didn't kiss him! Not like that. We were fighting over something stupid and it just happened, okay?" His eyes flicked back and forth between both parents. Liquid panic settled in his chest and his heart beat weakly against it. "It just happened and now I have to think about a lot of other things that 'just happened' that are starting to make more sense than they should."
"Like what?" his mother asked.
He couldn't answer. Memories that had rushed in countless crystal processions through his mind muddied and mired in his mouth. There were so many little things; an unexpected joke shared, a simple hello, or a comfortable silence. Tristan couldn't put into words what he was just now beginning to define. "I don't know."
"I'll be damned if you don't know. You started this," his father said and pointed a rough finger. "You said you had something important to tell us. You've dropped your little bombshell, now be a man and deal with the fallout."
His mother's voice rose in argument. "Quit! He trusted us! He came to us for help and you keep mocking him!"
"No son of mine is going to grow up to be some sort of fruit! I won't stand for it. The boy knows better!"
"That's the point! He came to us for help! He knows something is wrong and he wants help!"
"Stop it!" Tristan yelled over them. "I get it now!" He stumbled out of the chair. "You think I'm sick and you think I'm a pervert," he said, pointing at each of them in turn. His hands were slick with sweat and he blotted them against his jeans. "You don't have to keep talking. I get it now."
"Don't. Please. Just don't." He turned his back to them and started from the room. "I'm going upstairs. You can argue whether I need to see a shrink or be stoned all you want. I'll come out of my room when the fucking world makes sense again."
His father made a frustrated noise under his breath. "Don't think you'll be running away again. Now get back down here!"
Tristan was already halfway up the steps. "I think I like running away a bit better right now." He felt the banister shudder under his hand. It was old like so many other things in the house. The posts rattled whenever anyone pushed too hard against it. Someone could get hurt. His father was always meaning to fix that. Tristan turned around at the top of the steps and saw his father standing at the bottom.
"Get back down here. Now." A quiet threat hung in the air.
"Why?" Tristan asked with reckless apathy. He was pushing his way into dangerous territory. His father was not a violent man as a norm, but very proud. Tristan looked down the stairs and failed to care about the consequences of provoking that pride. "I'm tired of being yelled at."
He walked down the hallway. His father failed to follow. The door to his room was opened and closed behind him. Tristan pressed his back against the door. The room disappeared from view as he sank to his knees and buried his face. No one tried to enter his room, no angry voices pounded at the door. Maybe they would leave him alone for now.
A strangled noise caught in his throat and he swallowed hard against it. "That didn't go too well," he muttered. "What was I expecting, anyway?" It could have been worse, it could have been so much worse, he wanted to remind himself. It was a very poor solace. Still. He hadn't been beaten and he hadn't been thrown out of the house. And that smack upside the head? That was just because he was yelling at the old man. It wasn't because of something he might or might not be. Yeah.
He rose to his feet and shuffled towards his bed. He sank down on the mattress and held his head in his hands. Why? Why, why, why? Why all of this over some stupid prick like Duke? Some asshole that almost swished when he walked, played with dice, and looked like a girl? And looked at him, looked at Tristan. Someone that looked at him as though he were there rather than part of the scenery. Someone that used to, at least.