Disclaimer: Many of the characters aren't mine (they're borrowed from BVE -- no harm, no foul, no money made). John does belong to me -- you're welcome to borrow, but please ask me first. Eric's past -- including the reason for his leaving the prep school -- mostly belongs to me; the bits that are mine, you're welcome to borrow, but please ask me first. The coffee machine belongs to itself...
This exists just prior to the final scene in Heritage (consider it a scene that didn't make it into the final edit of Heritage) and you may well be a little lost if you haven't read that story.
Many thanks to Gamine for being her usual, wonderful self as I wrote this and helping me when things got sticky. Also muchly thanks to Jonathan and 'Nessa for the beta. *genuflects*
What a week, Eric mused as he puttered around the kitchen, priming the coffee machine. A week ago -- when he'd gotten up on the Friday morning -- he'd been a father of a sixteen-year-old and a nine-year-old. Life had been normal. Or at least, what passed for normal for the Commander-in-chief of a private security force that specialised in the decidedly abnormal... Now, here he was, one-week later, father to a twenty-one year old and a nineteen-year-old (although, as he cocked an ear in the direction of the living room and heard them bickering, he was hard pushed to remember the dramatic ageing). Life was anything but normal -- even by his own standards.
And it's likely to only get worse, he realised.
In an hour or so, he -- along with Kimberly, Wes, Jen and Lucas -- would be breaking the news to the children. The news that, however much they might wish it, they were all stuck with what had been done. And then the fun would begin...
"I know you like to drink coffee that closely resembles motor oil, but really, dad, you're the only one who does."
Eric blinked. He focussed his attention on the coffee machine. Sure enough, the filter was far too full of coffee grounds for anyone to be able to drink it -- even him. Looking over his shoulder, he saw John, looming in the doorway.
For possibly the first time in his life, Eric realised how intimidating he must have been as a young Marine. He was fairly sure that John wasn't trying to look aggressive, but there was just something about his build and the way he was standing that automatically made him look as if he was spoiling for a fight.
The obvious and unforced concern in John's voice was foreign to the pose. Eric knew himself well enough to know that when he'd been nineteen: while he might have occasionally managed to sound concerned, it had always been forced. Gotta stop comparing John to me -- it's gonna drive us both crazy.
"Sorry -- wool gathering," Eric admitted, turning back to the coffee machine. Maybe he could spoon out some of the excess.
"You were doing it again." Certainty and reproach tinged John's voice now.
"I'm not you."
"I never will be you."
John made a noise, something between a gasp and a snort. Eric looked over to see confusion stark on his son's face.
"I mean it," Eric continued, giving up on the coffee machine for the present and turning to face John properly.
Eric sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to call his thought to order. "I see you...I see me at the same age...except you're better than that." What was it Ben had said? 'You have more issues than Oprah'? Ben had that right.
John looked incredulous.
Eric gestured to the table. "Sit -- it's kinda complicated." John sat down. "I guess, I always planned on telling you family history sometime. When you were 'older'." Eric smiled a little bitterly. "Just didn't quite expect it to be so soon."
"Neither did I," John replied quietly.
"No...guess you didn't." Eric pinched the bridge of his nose again. Where to start so that this wouldn't sound so utterly pathetic? "You've met Frank Peterson -- Uncle Frank?"
John nodded slowly. "Yeah."
"I guess the easiest part of this is telling you he's not your uncle."
John's mouth curved upwards. "Gee, and I couldn't work that one out myself?"
Eric snorted faintly. "Don't take up sarcasm. Your sister's bad enough." At that, John outright laughed. Alice could be -- and frequently was -- bitingly sarcastic, something that the premature ageing seemed to have made worse.
"So," said John, "if he's not an uncle, who is he?"
"Your grandfather." Denial ain't just a river...
John stared. "Huh?"
Eric looked down at the floor. "I didn't know him as a kid. Didn't meet him until I was twenty-eight. I...can't blame him for that. Not now that I know the whole story...but I can't call him 'dad', either."
"What happened? He got your mom pregnant and left?" John sounded angry.
"I grew up figuring that -- or worse -- but no, he didn't." Eric forced himself to look up and meet John's angry gaze. "He's in Military Intelligence. Retired now. He was involved in Viet Nam." John just stared back, still obviously angry -- although at whom, Eric didn't like to guess. "Mom was a student at UCLA. He was home on leave. They met, they fell in love. He proposed to her, about a year or so later, just before another batch of leave was up. Six weeks later, he was declared MIA...and mom found out she was pregnant."
Almost in spite of himself, John winced.
"Mom did the only thing she could, and went home to her parents, my grandparents -- not that I ever knew them. They were horrified about their daughter being pregnant out of wedlock and worse, being pregnant by some white GI..."
"Wa...wait...white?" John looked puzzled.
Eric gestured to himself. "I'm biracial. Mom was Chinese."
John made an 'oh' with his mouth and said nothing.
"Anyway. Frank eventually got back and tracked mom down...I don't know the time scale here. From stuff they've both told me, I figure it must have been about June 1974...sure as shit don't remember it. Annie...mom...tried to meet up with Frank -- or Frank tried to meet up with her...not sure. Either way...maybe both...the grandparents intervened. And kept intervening. They didn't want their daughter to ruin her life. Guess they couldn't see they were doing that themselves. She ended up cutting off all ties with them and moving to Silverhills...which I do sorta remember.
"Guess she hoped Frank would be able to follow her and..." Eric trailed off and shrugged. "I don't know what she hoped. I do know it didn't happen, whatever it was. Frank shipped out to Germany and fell foul of someone...guy called Aaron Lemont. Truly screwed up piece of shit." Eric shook his head -- there was an understatement and a half. "Lemont took the grudge out on everyone around Frank, so he -- Frank -- figured that if he didn't try and contact mom...and by extension me, Lemont would never try anything with us." Eric snorted in self-depreciation. "He reckoned against me up and joining the Marines, and worse, being a part of the same unit as Lemont." The memories of Kosovo and of bel Abis' reappearance three years later threatened for a few moments.
"So what happened?" John asked, still looking and sounding angry but also looking confused -- as though he wanted to be angry but didn't know who with.
Eric looked down again. "Mom fell apart." Another understatement. "And I got lost in the mix down. I grew up having nothing that I didn't work for myself; knowing nothing about myself...about my family... I figured -- prolly around about age nine -- that mom couldn't tell me who my father was because she'd been drunk, or high -- or both -- at the time." John made a soft sound, almost a sort of audible wince. "Not a great thing to think about yourself." Was this the day for understatements? Eric sighed and shook his head. "And just when you think life can't get any worse, it usually does. I got accepted into the McGregor scholarship program."
He looked up in time to see John's eyes widen. "How could that have possibly been bad?" he asked, incredulous.
He had a point, Eric knew. The McGregor scholarship program was a Big Deal these days. It had been a new institution to the Silverhills school board at the time Eric had received it and they had still been working the kinks out of it. That had been some of the problem -- but that, Eric could have taken. It had been the other things.
"You've heard the phrase 'fish out of water', right?" John nodded. "Well, I was that fish. I got accepted into the program at the end of my freshman year of high school. For a whole bunch of reasons, I had to repeat the freshman year, which automatically put me out on a limb. Throw in the fact that not only was I from a public school, I was from one of the poorest districts in the state so I was hardly in the same financial bracket as the rest of my class..." Eric trailed off and shook his head. "The first couple of weeks were OK. The whole reason I met Wes was because he was assigned to look after me. We did hit it off pretty good, and I started to think that maybe I could take all the name calling and snide remarks about welfare." Eric smiled bitterly.
"What happened?" John asked.
"Mom walked out on me. Sent me a note." Even twenty years later, knowing why she'd done it, it still hurt like hell. "I'll give her credit, she squared it all with the authorities -- it was all done, I'd be taken care of...all that shit -- but she still left. My one piece of family -- even if she hadn't been much of a family to me -- and she left." Eric sighed. "I figured that if she could do that, then anyone could do that, so rather than give them the chance, I'd live alone. I'd always relied on myself more than everyone else anyway so it wasn't that much of a leap. The only other thing I promised myself was that I would prove the bullies and the rich brats wrong."
"Messed up, huh?" Eric shook his head.
"Did it work?" John asked quietly.
Eric smiled faintly. "If it had, the way I planned it when I was sixteen, we wouldn't be having this conversation." He sighed. "No, it didn't work. Didn't even manage to prove the other kids at Billingsley wrong -- I quit during junior year."
Eric looked up again to see surprise on John's face. "Why?"
"A couple of the daddy's boys had gotten caught cheating, along with a third kid -- who wasn't a McGregor student, but who was on a similar kinda deal. He protested he'd caught the other two stealing the exam papers. The two daddy's boys insisted it was the other way around -- that they were trying to return the exam papers. I don't know the rights and the wrongs of the situation, but because of who the daddy's boys' fathers were -- one was some big-shot industrialist, the other was co-founder of someplace in Silicon Valley -- the two daddy's boys got a metaphorical slapped wrist apiece while the third student was suspended. He lost his scholarship and had to withdraw from the school.
"Two days later, they did a spot check of the lockers and found exam papers planted in mine. I don't know who planted them. Whoever it was goofed big time -- the papers were for advanced math, which I wasn't even taking. You'd think that would have immediately exonerated me." Eric snorted. "Like hell. I interviewed with the principal -- he did actually believe me, as it goes -- who suggested it was probably better if I did leave. Mud sticks and all that stuff. So I did as I was told, packed my stuff and left."
"So no. I don't want you to be like me. I don't want you to ever wonder who you are, or where you've come from, or if there's anyone you're gonna get to know who isn't going to just flat out leave... Don't want you to ever know with certainty that the people around you are lying to you." Eric saw John wince.
Sparing either of them from having to make a further comment, the doorbell rang.
"That'll be Uncle Wes, right?" said John.
Eric smiled faintly. "Sure hope it's not Jehovah's Witnesses or encyclopaedia salesmen."
"I've got it," Kimberly called, hurrying down the stairs as she spoke.
"Probably ought to finish making the coffee," John commented as the front door opened.
"Hey Kim." Wes' voice floated through into the kitchen.
Eric glanced over his shoulder and remembered the mess he'd been making of priming it. "Yeah -- guess I had."
"John?" Alice called.
John sighed. "Guess that's my cue."
Eric turned back to the coffee machine, wondering what he could do about the mess. There was a scrape as John pushed his chair back and stood up.
Eric turned. For a second, he thought John was going to say something more but as their eyes met, John nodded, then he left the room. A moment or two later and Wes, Jen and Kimberly entered.
"Haven't you managed to master the coffee machine yet?" Wes teased.
Eric glanced down and realised the coffee machine wasn't anywhere close to being ready to switch on.
Kimberly joined him at the work surface, her nose wrinkled at the sight of the amount of grounds in the filter. "Who are you making coffee for here, dear -- just you?"
"Guess I've got a lot on my mind," Eric answered.
"Sure has been a crazy week," Jen agreed.
"Here -- let me. You go sit down and we can get this planning session underway," Kimberly advised.
Gratefully, Eric relinquished the machine to Kimberly and sat down at the table. A moment later and Kimberly sat down too, percolator bubbling away merrily.
"How do you do that?" Eric wondered.
"Practice," said Kimberly archly.
"So," said Wes. "What now?"
TO BE CONTINUED IN NEW RECRUITS...