You're Supposed to Tie That
by Jessie

Summary: A young Harper learns to hate formal wear.

Rating: R (for violence, death, and some language)

Disclaimer: Andromeda belongs to far more talented (and wealthy) individuals than I. Please don't sue.

Author's Note: Odd title- I know. But I just re-watched "All Great Neptune's Oceans" (for reasons I still can't discern) and one line in particular caught my attention. That line is, obviously, the one that I've used for the title, which Rommie says to Harper as he does just about anything with his tie except actually put it around his neck and tie it. Going back over that scene at the beginning of this episode, I noticed that Harper never actually puts on his tie. He just holds it in his hands, even while at the dinner. Watch his face as Rommie is talking, and he looks down at his hands and the tie he's holding. This is where the idea for this story came from.

I hope you all enjoy it, despite the subject matter. Feedback is always appreciated and is guaranteed to make me write even more fanfic even faster.

***

He wasn't going to the dinner. And there was nothing any of them could do about it.

Of course, this was only his opinion. If he had bothered to ask Kate, instead of stalking out of the room at the first sign of a raised voice, he would have been told an entirely different story. Would have been told something along the lines of 'you're going whether you like it or not, and that's final.'

Instead, the room sung with the silence that followed his leaving, and with Kate's own misdirected rage.

It wasn't uncommon for their ideas on how things should work to differ. What *was* common was the fact that neither paid any attention to this, resulting in more than one easily avoidable fight.

Luckily, there was always Daniel to smooth things out.

At only six years old, he knew how to end an argument better than his father knew how to start one. This wasn't something that was generally discussed, however. It was the unspoken consensus in the household that Kieren and his frequent bouts with rage and alcohol were to be off limits as far as conversations were concerned.

Kate wanted to resent her youngest son for being the only tie between herself and her oldest. But Daniel, it seemed, had a way with his mother that put all thoughts of bitterness aside. He would smile up at her in that half-hazard way of six-year-old boys, tell her exactly how to deal with the world, and wrap his skinny arms tightly around her waist, as if never wanting to let go. As if terrified at the prospect of losing her.

She only wished that she could be that close to Seamus.

"It'll be best if ya just come, ya know." The little boy folded his arms over the bedspread and rested his chin against them.

The top of the slightly elevated mattress easily reached the height of his neck, and this was often the subject of worry for the other family members. Malnutrition was common where they lived, but Daniel was much smaller than even a lack of food could account for.

The boy watched his older brother move about the room.

"Best for who?" Seamus questioned bitterly, though with a strained softness to his voice. He never liked the way his brother reacted to yelling, and was careful only to do so when it was absolutely necessary.

Daniel continued to follow the other boy with his eyes, never bothering to wipe away the blond hair that hid them. It was in obvious need of a cut, but that was something that could wait, unlike most other things that his family dealt with.

"For every one." The boy responded automatically. There was almost an accent to his voice, though no one could define or explain its origins and so usually tried to ignore it. The lilt was so slight, they often wondered if, perhaps, it was genetic. Like birds knowing where to migrate, he had a sense of how to speak like his forefathers who had immigrated from overseas.

Every time the subject was brought up, however, Seamus tried to explain that it was unlikely, if not impossible that this was the case. That it really wasn't anything like birds flying south for the winter or fish knowing where to lay their eggs.

But his mother liked to believe in the idea regardless. And it had become one more excuse to argue.

"You mean, 'for every one but me.'" Seamus easily threw back the words with the same malice he always used in situations like this one, and he wondered, briefly, when the first time a 'situation like this one' had actually taken place.

It seemed like it had always been this way. Mother and first-born-son hiding away at separate ends of the small house, only speaking- and with harsh voices- to Daniel.

But there must have been a time when this wasn't so. Daniel had only been born six years ago. Had only learned to speak four years ago. And before that?

Before that, Seamus had only been nine. And his father had been around more often. And Chelsea was still alive.

Now he was fifteen. And things couldn't possibly be more different.

"I don't mean that." Daniel spoke simply, as though reading the sentence from one of his picture books. Seamus stood still for a moment and waited for his brother to explain to him exactly what he *did* mean. "If you come, then momma won't be upset."

"And why should I care?" Seamus shot back, still not moving. As if waiting for Daniel to say or do that thing that would be the climax of the scene.

His brother seemed to shrug a little and tilt his head to the side, allowing even more hair to fall into his eyes. "'Cause ya do."

There was a long pause between them as Seamus briefly closed his eyes and tried not to remember moments from that time before Daniel. That time when things seemed so much easier.

Would it have been wrong to purposefully forget those years? Or was it like every other thing in Seamus' life that he ran from? There was only guilt if he paused long enough for it to catch up.

*

He had been eight years old when his mother had told him that he would soon have a little brother. Or, at least, he hoped it would be a brother. Chelsea, though proving to be more of a boy than even he could often be, was still his little sister, and didn't quite fit the image of some one to horse around with.

The same day that this news had been given to him, his father's sister had announced her engagement.

After three years of mourning her first husband's death, she had finally met some one. It seemed that the right amount of time had passed for her to be able to move on, yet it was still a bit of a surprise to every one. No one had really expected her to recover from the tragedy, let alone remarry. Yet, there it was. This man- Richard- had managed his way into the family. And even her two sons- Seamus' cousins- were excited about the idea, convinced that they would finally have, not only a father, but their mother back as well.

So they were going to throw a party. Which was rare enough on its own, but this was also to be a formal affair. Dinner, and dancing, and clothing that would light up the night as though the people attending were no longer the poor and hungry of some forgotten planet. And they would be able to imagine, for a moment, that life was good.

Seamus, however, hated the way his suit felt. The way it was just a bit too long in the sleeves because it had once belonged to his cousins, who were both bigger than he was. The way the tie would not cooperate with his small hands.

"You won't get very far that way." The soft voice had come from behind him as he had thrown the tie to the floor in frustration. He turned his head around to face the doorway and his mother standing in it, looking almost heavenly in the pearl-colored evening gown her own mother had given her.

"It's broken." The young Seamus spoke defensively and watched his mother smile a little before walking towards him.

"Why is it," she asked as she knelt down in front of him, lifted the tie from the ground, and began tying it for him, "that if something's hard for you to do, it must be broken?" He stared up at her as she continued tying, taking her eyes away from her hands only once to glance at him and offer the boy a half-smile which he mimicked.

"You can't do everything, you know." Her hands paused for a moment, then straightened the knot.

He nodded carefully in reply, though, really, his young mind was telling him that at least if it was broken there was a chance to fix it. He didn't want to face the idea that there were some things that were simply out of his ability.

"There." She whispered the word, though there was no need to, and leaned back slightly to inspect her work.

He blushed a bit under the scrutiny, and she smiled broadly. Lovingly.

Seamus would remember his mother most fondly this way. Though, if he took the time to think about it, all of those first eight years held much the same sort of vision of her. Kind. Beautiful. Wise.

It was strange, sometimes, the relationship they shared. He was very much her child, yet he felt that he was the one who had to protect her from the world. Felt as though, somewhere along the lines, their roles had reversed.

He figured, later on, that it was his father who had sparked this odd character development. Even though Kieren had quit drinking after Chelsea's birth- a fact that did not escape Seamus and was constantly used as evidence in his own mind that his father had always loved his sister more than him- he was still a naturally aggressive man. Quick to anger and quick to violence. Perhaps a product of the constant misery he, himself, had suffered as a child, when the Magog were said to have taken a more active interest in Earth then they now did.

Whatever the reason, his children and wife knew enough to avoid him after long days, keep their mouths shut when he was talking, and to conceal bruises and other wounds with that same silence.

Kieren wasn't always exceptionally violent though. He learned to restrain himself. Was careful around company. And when his sister started visiting more often, it was as though he were a changed man.

That night was the engagement party. An event, which every one knew should have never taken, place, what with the lack of resources and constant fear of another Nietzschean or Magog attack. But once the music started playing and the food was served, things seemed strangely joyous. It was felt, for the first time, that perhaps this constant fear and lack of provisions should have made them use any excuse to celebrate. Should have made them treasure their short time together, instead of ignoring it.

His mother laughed and danced with his father. His cousins slipped ice cubes down the backs of girls they liked. And Chelsea- who was only six- looked, on the dance floor, more like her mother than ever, despite the blond hair that both she and her brother had inherited from their father. And Seamus had to marvel at this, and realize, suddenly, that he cared about her more than he had thought. That he even loved her.

He felt, for the first time, that same strong urge to protect her as he did for his mother.

Kate watched him with a smile as he danced with his younger sister, and then asked his aunt and future uncle-in-law, with the charm that only an eight-year-old could offer, if he could cut in.

It was so hard to picture that night now. As if it were from another lifetime. As if it were a memory that he was only borrowing from some one else in an unsuccessful attempt to pretend that his life had been better than it was.

A few months later he had turned nine. And everything had seemed to change all at once.

There were no more thoughts of celebrating. Of cherishing that which they had. They learned to fear it instead. Forever waiting for the day that it would be taken away from them.

So much happened in that one little year. It seemed impossible that, by the time he was ten, it was all over. His cousins: dead. Among the many infested by Magog in an unexpected attack, and then put to death by their own families for the safety of every one else.

If not for Richard they most likely would have been burying his aunt as well.

Chelsea. In pigtails and patched overalls, running around with him through the summer months. Running away from thoughts of death and loss. Somehow she managed to always keep up with him and his friends. No matter how fast they ran, she was always right behind them.

And then- one day- she wasn't.

When Simon found her body in the Creek, Seamus was the first one there, wishing, forever afterwards, that he hadn't been.

It was only the birthmark on her right shoulder blade that identified her as his sister. Even her hair was changed, no longer the color of straw, but, rather, a sickening pale pink from where the water had washed the blood through it.

His father took up drinking again. He was, thankfully, away from home more often as a result. But whenever he did enter that house, it was no secret that those who were unfortunate enough to be there at the same time would not escape his fist.

And, in the middle of this, Daniel was born.

*

Seamus stared at his younger brother and didn't know what to say. Words and emotions echoed through his head, and he wanted to deny every one of them. To tell Daniel that he didn't care whether Kate was upset or not. That he had long ago stopped caring about his mother.

But it wasn't true.

It often seemed that he didn't care at all, but under the act he knew that, somewhere inside of him, he still felt the need to protect her. To make everything all right in the world for her, and to once again be that smiling eight-year-old whom she had seemed to adore so much.

"I don't." He lied, his brother not believing a word of it. "I don't care."

Daniel sighed a little and tried, one last time, to reconcile the situation. "If you come, than I won't have to be all by myself."

This was, of course, what finally made his brother's expression soften, though he tried to hide it.

Seamus moved to the bed and sat down, releasing a held breath and glancing at the young face to his left. His anger was slowly dissolving yet he struggled to hold onto it.

"You won't be by yourself. Mom'll be with you. And . . . Richard." He had wanted to say 'dad,' but didn't think a reminder of his father's attendance would be very comforting. So he mentioned his uncle-in-law instead, a man whose presence had become more stable over the years as he had, in a small sense, taken the place of both their aunt and their father.

Daniel made a bit of a face, as if to suggest that he could care less who else was there as long as Seamus came along.

"I'm not going." The older boy reiterated.

"I'll be fun." Daniel tried.

"No, it won't." Seamus turned his head to the side and faced the little boy, feeling himself give in.

"Please come." The pleading tone he used was just shy of annoying, though more desperate than anything.

Seamus closed his eyes momentarily, then sighed as though the world was falling apart for the hundredth time that day. "I hate getting dressed up."

Daniel just stared at him. "I know."

*

Kate glared at her youngest son with part disbelief and part lingering frustration.

Whatever bitterness she felt, however, did not last long in his presence. She took him in her arms, clinging to him in that same desperate way that he often clung to her, and wondered at his ability to relate to people. To unite them.

Listening, quietly, to the overbearing noises her husband created as he came through the front door into the next room, she closed her eyes in an expression nearly identical to the one her other son had become so familiar with.

She, like him, made several unsuccessful attempts in the following moments to erase the memories of an easier life.

*

The dinner that night was the first celebratory event any member of the family would attend since the engagement party those few years ago. Even the wedding, shortly after the party, required no fa├žade of elegance. The two had signed papers at a partly demolished court house, then returned home to glasses clinking together in toast, a summer breeze against their faces, and the children playing in the weathered street in front of the house.

It was the last time they would all be together- even if it was only a fading memory by the following week.

Things had changed since then. And now the only reason any of them would consider going out, let alone in formal wear, was as a favor to a very old friend. A friend who just wanted, as they all did, to forget their fears and to celebrate his son's miraculous achievement of finding a job off world.

Not a one of them who would be there that night didn't envy the boy.

Seamus slipped on his overcoat, adjusting the sleeves as best he could. Still too long. But this time the suit had once belonged to his father. The one from his childhood was finally too small, and had been given to Daniel, though more than just the sleeves were too big for the boy.

Running a hand through his forever tangled hair, he frowned in contempt for the situation he was now faced with.

He did not want to be going to this dinner.

As if the clothing wasn't bad enough- as if the eyes of what was left of his family and friends on him all night was not enough to make him wish he were anyone but himself- the celebration itself had to be in honor of an achievement that he would never even come close to reaching.

Yes, he resented that he was being made to dress up and attend the function with his family- but, more than anything, he resented the fact that he wouldn't be the one leaving Earth.

Seamus glanced at his reflection in the small mirror, quickly surveying the way the jacket hung on his shoulders and was obviously too large for him, before glancing away from the offensive image.

If it had been a few years earlier, he would have asked his mother to take in the sleeves for him. Though, even now, he knew her answer would be the same as it was then. Would be that he would grow into it, and that she had better things to do than waste time on his vanity.

He shrugged the thought away and reached for his tie.

"It's not broken, is it?" Seamus glared at his mother out of the corner of his eye as his hands frustratedly attempted to make his tie look somewhat decent.

"It's fine." He replied shortly, though it was anything but.

She cracked a bit of a smile that was almost, but not quite, the smirk he believed she had given.

"Do you want some help?" He ignored her offer, preferring, instead, to struggle with it himself.

He continued to glare at her as his fingers roughly pulled at the tie, nearly strangling himself until, fed up, he tore it from his neck.

He couldn't handle this right now. Couldn't even begin to make this feel all right when life itself refused to be anything close to what he wanted and needed it to be.

How could the world be so unfair as to send at him every tragedy that it had to offer, then be so bold as to send yet another obstacle his way? Fuck the tie. It wasn't about the tie. It was about hoping that enough had finally been enough, only to discover that it hadn't been. That the universe still liked to torment him with things like misunderstood clothing and unrelenting mothers.

"I'll go without it." His words were clear, though his teeth were clenched.

Kate frowned immediately, sensing the coming fight.

"No you won't." She wore the same pearl-colored dress that she had worn on that night years ago, though her body language was entirely different. She was stiff. Serious. Braced for the impact of whatever hateful words he might throw at her.

"I'm going without it, or I won't go." His jaw remained tight; his teeth gritted.

There was a tense silence between the two as they stared at each other angrily. It was a position that they often found themselves in, but could never seem to learn from. Always the same thing. Always a fight over the trivial, meaningless things. The hair styles. The misplaced keys. The suit jackets and ties.

Seamus couldn't remember exactly when the falling out with his mother had occurred. He assumed that it had happened somewhere in the year when everything else had gone wrong. But, whenever he felt brave enough to recall that time period, he'd find nothing blatantly wrong with their relationship.

Perhaps it was his sudden realization that he could not protect her from everything that tore them apart. Perhaps it was Chelsea's absence, and with it, the knowledge that Kate could die too- and then where would he be? Again hurt. Again alone.

Or, perhaps, it was simply that they had both changed so much in such a short time. And neither had been able to reach a new understanding with the other when it was all over.

"Go without it then." Her voice broke the quiet with a stern fury that could have easily just been an act to hide the pain she really felt. Neither knew for sure.

His expression remained adamant, not a single feature daring to move out of its carefully defined place. It was the same face he wore through every argument.

He walked past her, out of the room, and purposefully avoided her gaze.

His mother, however, had no intention of watching him stalk out of the room in the same way he always did. Always running from things.

She couldn't have watched him even if she'd wanted to. Her eyes would not follow his figure, and, instead, seemed only capable of falling down to the floor, and the tie, which lay in a crumpled heap.

*

The dinner was unbearable for Seamus, who was reminded, at every turn, that some one *else* had found a way to leave Earth. Some one other than him.

His mother was silent all night. His father drank more than usual. Daniel, swamped by clothing nearly twice his size, quietly complained of feeling ill, and wouldn't touch his food.

At home, there was nothing between Seamus and his father's fist save the chance that Kieren would pass out. Daniel was spared from these circumstances though. Richard had, while glancing at his brother-in-law warily, insisted that both the boys stay with him for the night.

Seamus had, however, declined. Over and over again until the issue was dropped.

In the back of his mind he wondered if he was purposefully setting himself up for the fight to come. If he was intentionally seeking out violence, almost as a form of punishment for not being the one to make it off world.

Whatever his intention, it hardly mattered to his father.

*

They weren't very good friends to begin with. And that fact wasn't inclined to change, no matter how long or short a time span had passed. But he was sixteen, and so was she, so she said that it was all right that they fool around.

He wasn't going to complain. Even if he did often grow sick of the sound of her voice, and the way she regarded him as somehow less than she.

It was obvious that he would do anything to escape reality.

He only wondered why it'd taken him so long to realize that this way was as good as any and ten times more fun.

Perhaps he would have come to the realization sooner had it not been for his first chosen method of escape. It had been easy to lose himself in the cornucopia of non-sanctioned drugs that passed through the hands of nearly every adolescent on the street and elsewhere. But it had been an expensive release. And the people in the business were more like his father than he would have preferred.

Fooling around with Megan Kennedy seemed the perfect substitute.

Going clean, he needed something to occupy his thoughts when he wasn't studying or taking apart his neighbors' kitchen appliances and then putting them back together again before any one noticed. When Megan presented him the opportunity, he took it, no questions asked, and figured she was simply looking for the same solace that he was.

A year later she would be taken hostage by a group of drifters who would ask for food and currency in exchange for her safety and eventual release. Not quite able to grasp the idea that there simply wasn't enough to meet their demands- or even to share amongst the community- they would shoot her in the back of the head, and Seamus would finally understand his father. Nothing killed memories better than alcohol.

But right now he was sixteen. And Megan still liked to tease him by running her hand along his thigh when no one was looking. And the dilapidated apartment building down the street still made the perfect hiding place.

Daniel had not grown at all that year.

But he still managed to follow his brother to that apartment building without getting lost. And he was still able to run away from Seamus upon being caught. Still able to cry out, defensively, that he had only wanted to help- to make sure his brother was all right. Yet, after all of these supposed accomplishments, he could not quite manage to run away with the same effectiveness when faced with a man more worthy of his fear.

Seamus heard the small scream seconds before reaching the foot of the hill.

If only he hadn't raised his voice to the boy.

The Nietzschean hardly glanced at the young man approaching him. The young man who didn't seem to realize that a genetically superior race was something to flee from, not attack. If he had done more than glance, he would have wondered why the weakling was racing towards him instead of away. Would have been clueless as to why an obviously malnourished and deficient boy was glaring at him as though killing were an attractive and possible option.

Instead, the large man turned away from the view of the shoddy buildings and battered houses, and made his way back to his transport vessel. He had no more time for games. Earth was becoming boring, and increasingly less profitable.

Seamus wanted to follow the Nietzschean, knowing he would be killed if he did. He didn't care. He wanted to die. Wanted anything but to be the last child left to his parents who had always deserved so much better than him. Deserved Daniel. Deserved Chelsea. Not him.

The boy on the ground before him, however, stopped him in his tracks, and prevented him from chasing after what could have been his easiest and most effective method of escape yet.

The child lay on the ground as though he belonged there, his blond hair spread out around his head and in his open eyes. This boy, who could have been easily disregarded, managed to stand out anyway, as much so in death as in life, with the bright red of his open wounds. The odd angle of his head when compared to the rest of his body. And his mouth, which still looked poised to cry out for help.

*

There had been no funeral for Chelsea. His father had simply dug a grave next to his cousins', placed her body into it, and filled the hole again, standing there, alone, afterwards for what must have been hours.

Kate had wanted to have some sort of service. A gathering of friends and family. Anything. But she knew better than to press her husband, and, though she could have withstood his blows, she feared for her unborn child.

The unborn child who, now, was about to be buried alongside his sister.

Seamus smoothed the collar of his suit jacket, and cleared his throat mutely. Somehow he knew that this would be the last time he would ever wear this suit. Perhaps even the last time he would ever put on formal wear. Daniel would have tried to talk him out of this decision, and convince him that there would always be another occasion. That these last three weren't meant to be the end.

But that was the point. Daniel wasn't there anymore to do that.

He grasped the tie in his right hand and held it firmly, trying to remember what the strategy had been for facing this next obstacle. But he couldn't. Instead, his thoughts turned on him, just as they always did, with memories of Daniel's open eyes. His blond hair and tiny figure.

Seamus shook his head- a habit that had become more and more common with every new memory that he wished to forget- and positioned the tie around his neck, hoping that this time would be different. That he'd suddenly get it right, because this time it was for Daniel.

It seemed, however, that certain things- ties and sunrises and the four walls around him- were not so dramatically changed by recent events as he was.

Upset with the world, himself, and whatever kind of god had allowed such tragedies as those he had experienced in his short life to happen, he forcefully through the tie to the ground in a scene reminiscent of the one he had created all those years ago.

Only now he was older. Somewhat wiser. And the act of throwing down the accessory was no longer some childish gesture of frustration. This time it was a lifetime of unspent rage and sadness trying to escape in the only way available in that moment.

"Still won't work?" Seamus turned his head towards his mother's hesitant voice with a sudden conviction that sent chills down his own spine.

He swallowed.

"It's broken."

He wanted to cry, but held his breath instead.

"Do you want me to . . ." She couldn't finish the question, too terrified of what the answer might be. But he looked at her with a pleading glint in his eyes, as though all he ever wanted from life was to be back in that night when he was eight years old. To stay in the moment forever.

She tried to smile a little, but gave up half way through and walked, slowly, to meet her only living son.

"Why is it," she asked as she knelt down in front of him, lifted the tie from the ground, and stood back up so that she was level with him before beginning to tie it, "that if something's hard for you to do, it must be broken?"

He said nothing as he watched her hands move delicately at his throat in some mysterious pattern that, for all the machines he would know inside and out, he would never understand.

He missed the image of her in the evening gown. Missed the vision of her from when she was young, with two small and fairly healthy children at her side, and another one on the way.

The woman who stood in front of him now was older. Paler. And wore black like he had never known it could be worn. She seemed thinner than he remembered. Too thin. From months of sacrificing much of her own meals to Daniel in the hopes that he would grow into a more normal size for his age.

He recalled that she had done the same thing with him when he was very young and his size had been a touch smaller than what was to be expected from their meager diet. He had stopped this early on, though, by refusing to eat any food unless she was eating as well.

Even at three years old- at four and five- he felt he had to take care of her.

His mother sniffled, and he suddenly realized that she was crying.

Well, as much as he had ever seen her cry. Which was not at all. She had always been as stubborn and well masked as he. But now a single tear fell down her cheek, and her eyes became red with every other tear that threatened to do the same.

She finished with the tie, and patted it down against his chest, then looked up from it to meet his eyes.

"You can't do everything, you know." She smoothed back his disorderly hair with her hand, though it had little effect.

They stared at each other for a long moment.

Neither wanted to move, each trying to come to terms with the fact that their peacemaker had been taken away from them, and so, now, they would have to find their own peace. Even if they didn't know how. Even if the only place that they could think to start from was this scene from eight years ago.

"I know." He finally whispered back to her, so softly that they both wondered if it had been real.

She let another tear fall. And then he embraced her as he had never done before. Wrapped his arms around her and clung to the worn fabric she wore with that same desperation that her youngest had once held.

It was as though the most frightening thing in the entire universe was yet to come. Was losing her. It was as though he was trying to make up for all of the lost loved ones that should have never been lost and that he blamed himself for. Because who else was there?

He clung to her and tried to give her back her first born son, as well as her second. As well as the little girl who should have been keeping her father company through all the years that he wasn't drinking. All the years that would have gone on peacefully had it not been for him.

Neither made a sound or a movement. The silence in the room reminded them of everything else that they had been silent about in their lives. The deaths. The abuse. The wounded egos.

For once, however, he wasn't running.

He held onto her even more tightly, feeling secure in her arms. In this one, ill-timed moment, she was his anchor. And even if he'd wanted to, she would not have let him drift away from this.

He clung to her desperately just as she clung to him, both wishing for time to stand still. Wishing for the chance at dressing up again.


The End.