Title: Higher Math Rating: PG Spoilers: The Mountain, Plague, and Wheel of Fortune Summary: JJ does the math.

Note: This is future fic, set about eight years from now. JJ is fourteen. Armageddon has not yet happened.

Disclaimer: Please don't sue me, 'cos I don't have any money.

Thanks to Jeanne over at ImmortalStand for the beta and the encouragement. She's a top notch artist and a great writer herself. Thanks, Jeanne!

Higher Math by Sylvia

His mother's house was creaking softly to itself, whispering tales of old wood and brick and too many Maine winters. The sounds were comforting, and brought back memories of his childhood when he had made up stories to explain the house's murmurings, of ghosts and phantom footsteps, but it hadn't been real. In the back of his mind, John Smith knew that it was just the wind, and creaking boards, and the house settling a bit. Even as a boy, he'd had a practical mind that looked for logical explanations for things. The natural world was fascinating to him, which was probably why he'd gone into teaching in the first place. High school science had been a perfect job for him, coupling his love of knowledge with his love of his students. Pity about the wreck.

The six-year long sleep and the repercussions of his head trauma had made teaching an impossibility, not just because of the visions, but because of the notoriety which had accompanied them. So, as with the rest of the ragged remainders of his former life, Johnny Smith had given it up. Despite this, though, his love of teaching remained, as did the rest of his life, however tattered and painful.

A fiancée, now another man's wife. A son, now another man's child. A dead mother and an uncertain future full of fire and screams. And the visions. The damned visions.

Life was like walking through a field of land mines. His hands never strayed any more. One in his pocket, the other on his cane. No shaking hands, no casual touches. Johnny knew so much from casual touches that it made him dizzy sometimes. He hated knowing what was coming up, or being dragged into death or despair by brushing against a stranger.

Only yesterday, he'd learned far more than he wanted to know about the checkout girl's home life. Her father was molesting her, and her mother was a drunk. The girl was working to earn enough money to get out of town and go to New York. It was all Johnny could do to keep a straight face, to not let on what he knew, and she still looked uncomfortable when their skin touched. She had known, somehow, that he knew something. The people of Cleaves Mills knew Johnny now and went out of their way to avoid touching him, and he was glad of it. The checkout girl had smiled awkwardly, apologized, and handed him his change, laced with a smattering of visions from the former owners of the coins. It was tiring.

None of which explained why he was sitting in his kitchen, books strewn over the breakfast table, helping his son, Walt's son, with his math homework. 'I'm out of my mind,' he thought, trying hard to keep from brushing against the boy. The last thing either of them needed in their tentative relationship was the added baggage of vision-obtained knowledge. JJ was fourteen, now, and looking more like Smith every day. It was hard, sitting there next to his son, and knowing that the boy would be going to another home this evening. Still, it was something Johnny had learned to accept a long time ago. He'd had to.

It had grown easier, over the years. Sarah had done everything she could to make John a part of his son's life, short of openly telling the boy the truth about his parentage. She and John had agreed, almost from the first, that Walt was the boy's father. JJ could never know, not as a child. It would be too confusing for him.

Privately, Johnny thought that his presence in the boy's life was confusing enough. From Sarah's past had come this strange man with a cane and the ability to know things no one else could. He'd been "that man" to JJ, and then "Mr. Smith" and finally "Uncle Johnny." JJ had taken some ribbing in school for his friendship with the town psychic, but he'd taken it in stride. From the time the boy was six, he'd known John and believed in his abilities without question. It was simply the way things were, just like the ever-present limp and the fact that you didn't touch Uncle Johnny unless you absolutely had to.

One such touch had given John the information about the school situation, the teasing, but he'd not said a word to Sarah or Walt. JJ was a smart kid, and was working through it on his own. Johnny was proud of his son.

"Okay. Next set." John pushed the calculator back, having checked the boy's math and found it to be satisfactory. Eighth grade, and the kid was already learning trigonometry. He had a head for numbers that was totally missing in both his mother and father and John wondered where he got it from. "You're pretty good at this stuff."

JJ grinned, his blue eyes sparkling in the late afternoon light, and pushed the ragged mop of blond hair from his brow. It was straight, unlike John's, which tended to curl, and fine like Sarah's. "It's easy," the boy said, and bent to the paper again, pencil flying.

This left John time to think, which was rarely a good thing. Armageddon was still on the horizon. It was more distant than it had seemed in 2002, when a chance meeting with Greg Stillson had given him a vision of Washington D.C in flames, but it was still looming. Stillson had enjoyed an unremarkable career in the Senate, and won a second term by a landslide. He was becoming entrenched in the Washington scene, gaining power and influence, and was starting to make noises about the Presidency.

John had backed off, realizing his stalking behavior would only bring him further problems, and let time make a myth of John Smith, psychic. Hopefully, Stillson had forgotten about him. John needed to be invisible, under the radar, and he needed a plan. Short of shooting the man, he had no idea what to do, even with eight years of desperate thought to chew upon.

"Uncle John, can I ask you a question?" JJ's changing voice brought him back from unpleasant reveries.

"Sure. If it has to do with trig, though, you already know more than I do." He smiled at the kid and added, "Shoot."

Squirming a little in the hard chair, the boy looked out the window into the yard, then at the calendar on the wall. "What.do you remember what year you were in the wreck?"

The question caught him off guard. It was out of left field and it blindsided him. "Um.yes. Year, month, and day. Why?"

"It was 1995, right? The year before I was born. In September." Trig was forgotten. The pencil went still, but JJ's eyes were roaming, flicking away from Johnny whenever they got close.

"Yeah. That's right. September fifth, 1995. Why do you ask?"

"I was born in May, 1996." The pencil was moving again, tapping erratically on the open textbook, and Johnny was starting to get a sinking feeling. He was tempted to reach out to stop that pencil, to see if he could see what would happen next, but he quelled the impulse. He'd find out in due course.

"What are you getting at, JJ?"

The blue eyes met his again, and John could see himself in their shade, in the arch of the boy's nose, the cut of his cheekbones. He saw Vera Smith in the bow of JJ's upper lip, and his own huge hands, the hands that John had despaired of ever growing into as a boy, clasping each other to still their erratic motion.

"Mom didn't meet dad until December. I remember, they were bein' sappy one time, she called him the best Christmas present she'd ever gotten."

And there was that other shoe. Damn, it was loud.

John had known this day would come, but he found himself completely unprepared. He had no lie handy, and he wasn't sure a lie was what the boy needed anyway. For certain, it was not what John Smith needed, and part of him was yelling for joy that finally, finally he would claim his son.

The other part, the practical one, was telling him that nothing could change. "Walt is your father, in every way that matters," John heard himself saying, and the words were bitter in his mouth. "Think of me as a sperm donor." They sounded bitter coming out, too, and suddenly the room was too small and too big all at once. Leaning heavily on his cane, the cane that had become more necessary over the years despite Bruce's best efforts, John rose from the table and walked to the window. "Sorry. We didn't mean for you to find out for a few years yet."

He was expecting accusations, maybe tears. What he received was a warm hand in his, unafraid as so few were, and the heat of the tall boy's lanky frame at his side. "It was the math," JJ said softly. "I just got to thinkin' and the dates didn't add up. I don't know why I didn't realize it before. That must have been really hard for you, waking up like that and losing everything, and then having to see mom and me every day."

Sudden, unexpected tears seared his eyes and blurred John's vision. He turned his face away. "Yeah," he said. "It was."

The hand squeezed, and his world

shifted

tilted

And he was looking out of JJ's eyes at the still man in the hospital bed, the one Mom said had saved his life, and wondered why the man would make himself sick like that..

And he was looking out of JJ's eyes as he walked through the woods, a man with a gun before and behind, and Mom is so scared and Daddy's gone somewhere and Mr. Smith looks scared and mad and I need to pee. The bridge, the rotten boards, and the man with the gun has sweaty hands but Mr. Smith went first and he won't let me fall, no matter what and..

And he was looking out of JJ's eyes at birthday parties and soccer games and science fairs at Uncle Johnny, standing next to Dad and Mom, looking on with such pride and his quiet little grin that it made JJ feel like he had two Dads and he was the luckiest kid in the world and.

the world

tilted

back

.to the sunny kitchen, and the child's hand over his, and the child looking up at him with the same expression of pride and sadness and the smile he'd felt stretching his own face now and again. "JJ. John Junior. I should have realized it a long time ago."

Johnny covered the big hand with his own, and then wiped his eyes. "I don't know how that got started, but your dad even picked it up, which made it official." He limped back to the chair and sat heavily, feeling every one of his years. "So, what now? Do we tell your mother you know?"

JJ nodded. "Yeah, I'll let her off the hook. I'll tell dad, too. Walt, I mean." He looked uncomfortable, now, saying the name rather than the title.

"Dad," Johnny said firmly. "Walt is your dad in a way I could never be. It would hurt him if you stop calling him that. I'm Uncle Johnny, or just John if you like. Please don't change that." After a moment, the boy nodded, conceding the point. "Thank you."

This would change the whole dynamic of Johnny's insane little family. Whether for the better or worse remained to be seen, but John wasn't going to go looking for a vision to find out. He missed being surprised by the future. Part of his life had been given back to him, today, and he felt something inside healing, just a little.

The fatigue he felt at facing the uncertain future was lifted by the weight of his son's hand, and Johnny knew he had to find a way through. For his son, for his town, and for himself. Failure had never been an option, but now John Smith felt like he had something to fight for again. His son was counting on him.

The End