by Amy L. Hull
Written in the femme_fic Spring '09 ficathon for ishie for the Best Prompt Ever: "Running a Himalayan dive bar in the middle of a blizzard with no liquor would be easier than raising another Henry Jones."
Thank you to Seldear and TemperTemper for very quick betas.
The screaming wouldn't stop.
Marion had thought nothing could be louder than a band of drunken Nepali sherpas fighting for the last bottle of whiskey while gale-force winds shrieked up the mountain. At least then, though, she'd had her own stash behind the bar, fifteen feet of snow insulating the rough-hewn walls against some of the mountain's fury, and her reputation standing between her and the forty men. That and the fact that they wouldn't want to get banned from the only source of liquor for a godforsaken four hours' climb.
Here, though, the screaming was constant. She'd changed, cleaned, stroked, offered him her goddamned enormous boob again, rocked, cooed, bounced, baby-talked, screamed back. Hell, she'd even sung--granted, a Nepali drinking song--and, as she'd feared, he'd just cried harder, that scrunched-up little face turning from its constant crimson to a deep purple.
Every inch of her skin felt tight, even where it sagged across her belly. Vibration sang through her arms and chest and her shallow breaths caught in her throat. She swayed side to side--for the baby, not from exhaustion or hunger, she told herself--and swiped at her eyes. She would not cry. Not over him. Not ever again.
She set the squalling, squirming, bundle in the dent in the middle of the mattress, tugged the slightly grey pillows from near the wall to either side as that little face turned blue and fists flailed. Her own hands curled into fists and she stomped one foot and turned away.
It was only four steps to the kitchenette they'd shared for a short time, planning to upgrade once they returned to the States after this lecture. He'd teased her about settling down in a house with a sitting room where she could entertain other professors' wives by drinking their husbands under the table.
But she wasn't thinking about him.
She put water on, slamming the kettle against the one working burner. She woke slumped over the counter with the kettle whistling, and, mind as cottony as her mouth, poured the water over tea then added two fingers of whiskey to the mug before taking a drink from the bottle.
She slammed the bottle down abruptly, jostling the mug. Hot liquid--a waste of perfectly good liquor--splashed onto her finger as she spun around.
It was quiet. She rushed to the baby's side and found him lying in the middle of the bed, head thrown back, arms splayed wide.
"Oh, god, baby, I've killed you!" As her fingers touched the dark fuzz on his head, his lips moved and he started sucking the air. He turned, making a little squeak, and she yanked her hand back and stepped away.
Her arms hung, aching and empty, at her sides. She glanced around the small room with its brown carpet, garish yellow-patterned wallpaper peeling at the edges, and one threadbare overstuffed chair. So much for style.
The second-hand pram was as worn as every part of the tiny apartment where they were still living, as worn as she was feeling.
She laid him in it. He was more a bundle of blankets than a baby, really, and she set off for something that wasn't those dingy yellow-patterned walls.
Her heels clicked on the paving stones, and leaves rustled around her feet. Her best suit coat was tight across her chest, something she never thought she'd see happen, and the skirt was loose at her waist and tight around her hips. "Damn you," she thought for the thirty-seventh time that morning. She wasn't thinking about him, but that didn't mean she couldn't curse him.
Passersby nodded to her, gentlemen tipped their hats, and a few white-haired ladies cooed over the bundle of blankets in the pram.
"He is lovely."
"Mind you don't spoil him by picking him up too often."
"Very handsome, that one."
"Does he sleep through the night yet? You know he'll never sleep through the night if you don't let him cry it out."
Two shops later, the bundle was sharing the pram with the week's groceries, and her lips felt stiff under the carefully-applied lipstick and smile.
The wind caught her hat as she turned a corner. She grabbed for the hat and the pram slipped away, grabbed for the pram and slipped, and she ended up with squalling baby on her lap and the backside of her best suit skirt soaking up muck from damp leaves and the wheels spinning lazily on the pram.
She kicked the handle of the pram and an apple rolled out. "Bloody hell! Something has got to be easy, goddammit!"
"Here, let me help you with that, ma'am."
A hand appeared to go with the deep voice and she looked up. There was a handsome face with eyes shadowed by a hat brim. A black hat brim with pilot's wings above it. Not his face or his hat brim, of course. Just his baby. Screaming in her arms. Again.
The hand had moved and was righting the pram, picking up the runaway groceries, and the body attached to it was not unpleasing. When the man turned again, she reached up and met his hand.
"We've met. Colin Williams."
She held his hand, making sure her ringless fingers were visible to him and standing close.
"It's miss, actually. Indy left a while ago."
"I'm sorry to hear that. It's certainly his loss, especially with such a fine boy in the arms of a beautiful woman."
She tipped her head to the side and smiled her widest smile.
Storm clouds were moving across the sky and a huge drop of water splashed off her cheek and into her eye.
"Henry! Get yourself into this house this very minute!
The little legs seemed to paddle against the grass. He stopped a few feet from her, a scowl on his mud-smeared face.
He tried to cross his arms, but the pudginess of a three-year-old wouldn't quite let him, and she had to suppress a giggle as he tried an indignant huff.
"Told you, dammit. Mutt," he declared, jabbing a finger into his chest.
"You watch your language, young man. I'm the only one in this house who gets to say that. Now, get in the house, Mutt."
The boy beamed. "Okay, mom."
Thunder shook the air and the rain fell heavier and she leaned down and patted his grass-stained bottom. "In the house. Now. And wipe the mud off your feet and take the turtle out of your pocket!"
The house shook as the roar of the concussion blast rattled her eardrums. For a moment she was tied to a stake with him, the howls of unearthly vengeance whirling around them. Then she dropped the bowl where she was beating eggs for cake and ran.
She looked around the grounds frantically, searching for a trail to follow, for smoke in the air, for flames. She listened for screams, for anything, and then ran the direction her instinct said had been the origin of the noise.
As she looked across the meadow toward the pond, she saw shards of wood and a little flash of blondish brown by a patch of blue in the grass and ran, collapsing to her knees by the still figure.
An arm jerked into the air, one finger extended, and she screamed, then swatted his shoulder. "Are you all right? What happened? That scared me half to death! Are you okay?"
She looked where he was pointing, but couldn't see anything other than clouds against a blue sky.
"Look! The birds are coming back. They ran away."
"Well of course they ran away from something like that." Her hands roved down his arms, legs, around his head, rolled him so she could inspect his back. She could feel a knot behind one ear, there were a couple of scratches, and his face and hands were filthy, but she couldn't tell if that was because of whatever had happened or because he was an active boy, never not moving.
Assured that he was uninjured, she grasped his head and made him look at her. "What the hell happened?"
His whole face lit up and his cheeks flushed pink, and his eyes, which were particularly green right then, sparkled with childish glee.
"I was part of the Resistance! I found the German Command HQ, and I managed to infiltrate. That's a great word, isn't it, Mom? I heard it on the radio, then the Ox told me what it was!"
"It's a good word, yes." She tried to look at him, to listen, to be patient, maternal, attentive. But none of those fit her particularly well and she shook him gently. "But what happened? Tell me!"
"Well, after I found their headquarters, I slipped into the supply shed--that's the barn," he nodded, meeting her eyes with a narrowed look of guardedly shared conspiracy, "and searched for artillery. I didn't find any, but I did find a gas can." The grin came back and his still-round cheeks became rounder with his smile.
"Oh, god," Marion breathed, and sat back, glancing at where the old boat shed had been and the shards of wood by the lake's edge.
"Then," he said, his hands drawing pictures in the air as he demonstrated, "I brought it over here and poured it along the path then doused the HQ, tossed in the can, ran for it, and lit the gas. It burned through air, mom, then got there and it blew bUP!!!/b"
"You could have died, Mutt! You can't ever...you..." The lump in her throat seemed to stop the words and she reached out and grabbed her to him, hugging tightly.
He wriggled free, hopped to his feet, stood at attention, and saluted her. "Mission successful, Captain!"
She couldn't help but giggle as she tried to keep a serious face while saluting back. He couldn't be anyone other than who he was, and he wasn't hurt. This time. She'd worry about the other times when they came.
"What's my next mission, Captain?" he asked, still standing stiffly.
"Well, I think there is a plot to poison the General's meals. We're going to have to go undercover."
His eyes lit up and she started weaving a tale. The kid was okay, and Ox had talked about taking down that out building anyway. The cake could wait.
Marion took a deep breath, clenched her teeth, and forced a smile before opening the door. "Good afternoon, Mr. Abernathy."
"That wild, incorrigible son of yours is utterly terrible! Do you know what he's done now?" He was, as always, turned a bit to the side so, even with his hunched back, he could look sideways up at her. The very wrinkles on the man's face twitched and the thin line of his lips did not stop moving even as he waited for her to speak.
"No, but I'm pretty sure you're going to tell me."
"I will do nothing of the sort. I'm going to show you." He grabbed her wrist and pulled.
She whipped her hand out of his grasp and stepped toward him, pushing away the urge to kick him physically off her porch. "Henry Abernathy, don't you dare touch me ever again," she hissed. "And watch how you speak about my son."
The old man cowered away and she stepped closer, sure that her eyes had what Mutt called the "scary, flashy look."
"You're going to have to pay for it. It'll never work." He cringed again as she leaned toward him.
"Then why don't you show me whatever it is and we'll figure that out." She kept her voice low, almost purring in the way that had been so effectively seductive...once upon a time, when men were interested, when men were necessary, when men wanted her rather than her son's head. Damn that man.
She followed as he shuffled down the walk, glancing back every few steps to make sure she was following, then looking quickly away. She wasn't sure which Henry she most wanted to strangle.
In front of the stone cottage five doors down wild flowers waved in the breeze in the style of the partially-kept gardens of the local retired professors. From behind it came the clang of metal banging on metal and a too-young voice.
"Work, goddamn you! Get. Into. Place!"
She cringed at the sharp clang.
"You belong right--" Clang. "OW! There, you sonofabitch. Goddamn bolt--" He looked, and his eyes--those same, green-blue eyes, none of her in them at all--widened and he leapt to his feet, a ball peen hammer falling from his hand and onto his toe. "Mom! OW!"
"Abernathy, you stay out of this! Henry, what the hell do you think you're doing?" Her hands rose to her hips.
"I...I was... I was trying to help."
"By doing what, young man? By ruining the last car I'll ever have? It's in pieces!"
She turned on him, feeling her jaw tighten even as she heard the quaver in his voice, the heartbreak under his anger. "I will deal with this," she said quietly, her voice and the set of her shoulders broaching no argument.
He met her eyes for a split second, then looked away, muttering, "Detroit only just started turning out cars again...never get to buy one now...how will I get..."
"Do you see what you've done?" she demanded.
Mutt looked like a kicked puppy. Surprise still widened his eyes, confusion furrowed his grubby little brow, and misery hung across his face and in his slumped shoulders as he stared at where his battered shoes scuffed at the ground.
"Then look." She gripped his shoulders tightly and turned him to face the old man whose posture, defeat hanging from him, was so similar to her son's. "Just look at him!"
"He looks sad."
"That's because of you and this disaster!" Her palms itched and muscles twitched with the effort of waiting for more information before punishing him as severely and creatively as she could think while she found a way to pay for Mr. Abernathy's car.
"But, Mom, I'm fixing it."
"Dammit, Henry, you are not a mechanic. You're nine years old. You have to stop and think." She shook his shoulders slightly. "Don't you think Mr. Abernathy would take the car to a real mechanic if it needed work rather than want some cocky little kid--"
"But, Mom, he can't afford it!"
Marion closed her eyes and felt herself shrink in size as Mr. Abernathy gasped. "I swear, you're going to be the death of me if I don't kill you first," she said through her teeth. "You can't just--"
"I heard him, Mom!" Those eyes, still wide, were now pleading. "He said the car don't start half the time--"
He scowled, and his upper lip curled, the perfect picture of Jones sarcasm, "The car doesn't start half the time and he needs it to get to the grocery and it's too expensive because money's so tight even with the war over and..." He trailed off, looking at the parts still scattered at his feet. "I can do it, Mom. I know I can. It's just a little thing." He raised his chin, pulled away from her, and walked over to their neighbor, shoulders back, and said, "I'm sorry I didn't ask you first, Mr. Abernathy. I just knew you'd say no and I wanted to help."
"And I still would say no!"
"I'll fix it. I'm almost there." He returned to the tools and parts, going back to work as if that had been permission and a blessing.
She stared. Damn them. Damn them both, the cocksure bastards. She gestured down the path. "Come on, Mr. Abernathy, I'll make you some tea and biscuits." He tried to object but she nudged him by the elbow, quietly saying, "I'll pay for the real repair; you don't need to worry."
"Worry! I'm not worried. I'm angry. Little brat thinks he knows...can't be bothered to heed basic courtesies...pokes his nose in where it's not wanted...needs a real father to tan his hide, that's what he needs..."
If he only knew, Marion thought. If only.
The tea was made--and spiked--and Mr. Abernathy was drinking it, still scowling and muttering aspersions on her son's parentage that she couldn't exactly argue with, when Mutt came barging in with bangs and clatters.
"I did it!"
She narrowed her eyes at him. "Did what exactly?"
"I got all the pieces to go back in!"
She deflated, but stood to escort them all back down the street, and Mutt ran forward and then back to them, covering the distance at least five times, still like the eager puppy he so often was.
He opened the driver's door with a flourish. "Mr. Abernathy, give it a try."
The old man sat down and turned the key. There was a small gasp, then nothing.
Mutt's face filled with terror then he rolled his eyes. "Hold on. I got it. I got it!" He raised the hood, tinkered for a second, kicked the bumper, grabbed the hammer out of the loop on his pants, and hit something, yelling, "Work, you stupid piece of shit!"
"Work!" He reached down into the car's bowels and his hand came back out completely smeared rather than just the slight bit dirty. "Okay, Mr. Abernathy! Try it now."
The engine turned over with a screech then settled in and hummed. Mr. Abernathy, behind the wheel of the last car he would own, gaped.
Mutt slammed the hood down and brushed his hands together, his lips pulling off to the side in a half-smile-smirk and he nodded slowly. He dropped his hammer back into its loop, tucked his thumbs into his pockets, and rocked back on his heels.
Marion rolled her eyes, then steered him by the shoulders back down the path. "See you later, Mr. Abernathy!"
There was silence behind them, then a shout of, "Don't you come near my property again, you!"
The car engine stopped and she and Mutt both whirled to see Mr. Abernathy standing beside the vehicle holding the keys. It hadn't broken down again, thank god. The old man's face quirked slightly and Marion recognized that it was almost a thank you through his pride.
"Go on." She patted Mutt's back. "Get home."
He grinned, then ran, faster than anyone, his chest thrust forward so he looked like he'd fall. She just shook her head. Maybe a boarding school in fall would help his discipline.
His duffle dragged behind him on the stones, and his head hung almost as low.
"I'm really sorry, Mom," he said.
She continued to stalk ahead. "Pick up your bag and carry it before you put holes in it. I'm not buying you another," she snapped.
"What was I sposed to do, Mom?" His voice took on a whine that was annoyingly familiar. "That kid from the other school was cheating! And Frankie is new and small and they were intimidating him!"
She jerked the trunk open and gestured. He tossed the duffle in and his rapier and foil clattered against one another. "Gear too."
He stripped his padding carefully and added it to the pile, never once making eye contact. "They were saying these things...and when Frankie left, two of them followed him, so I went and they were trying to stick his head in a toilet!"
"Get in the car."
"Mom! I couldn't just walk away from that."
"Get. In. The. Car." Her face was hurting from clenching her jaw so tightly. She sat and turned on the engine. Finally his door closed and his gangly and awkward frame was folded into the passenger seat.
"I'm only going to say this once, Mutt, so listen closely. You did exactly what your father would have done. You stuck up for someone else, even with the odds against you. The headmaster of this asinine school seems to think you've brought some kind of shame on them, but he's obviously got his head so far up the ass of the other school--which he seems to want to impress--that he can't see that he's the one with kids like you enrolled and they're bringing their asshole students to fencing matches then sticking up for their asshole behavior."
By this time, her son's eyes were wide and staring directly into hers.
"Your headmaster 'regretted to tell me' that he couldn't have such a 'disruptive influence' at his 'prestigious institution' and I told him that was a good thing since I wouldn't let you come back to a place that treats you like a criminal when you're a hero."
His mouth dropped open. She smiled and her face finally relaxed as she ruffled his darkening hair.
"I'm really proud of you today, Mutt." She depressed the clutch, put the car in gear and pulled away from the school. "And I love you very much."
"I love you too, Mom," he said, and, out of the corner of her eye, she saw him blink rapidly. Then he let out a whoop and reached out the window, holding his middle finger up to the school receding behind them. She laughed and did likewise as they headed for home.
"You've done what??"
"Geez, stop screaming, Mom. I just dropped out."
"Dropped? Out?" She clenched her teeth, advancing toward him with each word. "You dropped bOUT?/b"
"You...you..." She shook with anger, drawing breath and raising a finger.
"I...what?" he said, a taunting tone creeping into his voice despite the schooled, familiar, fake innocence in his eyes and raised brows.
No one else could reduce her to this level of inarticulate fury. Well...one other, but she wasn't thinking about him. Mutt was as infuriating as his father, damn them both. She struggled to organize her thoughts, to find a calm, maternal way to explain why he needed to finish school, to tell him that his father, his stepfather, his surrogate father, his grandfathers all were the kind of scholars he had the capacity to be, so that he could go off on adventures but never have to end up in some tiny village, far from home with nothing, selling himself. Her jaw stiffened again.
"This was the last school in two hundred miles that would TAKE YOU!!"
"I'm going to work on bikes, so it's not that big a deal--"
"Not that big a deal?"
It was the shrug that did it, that Henry Jones shrug, like he didn't know, that little smirk that showed he did. That shrug and that smirk pushed her over the edge. "NOT that big a DEAL? What the hell are you thinking? What do you think you're going to do next? Just run around the world and play or have adventures? How are you going to make a living without a degree--"
"Mom, school's not for everyone. Don't sweat it."
She suppressed the urge to grab his foil from the duffel he'd let slip carelessly off his shoulder onto the floor, and shoved him hard, both hands to his chest over that ridiculous leather jacket, so that he landed in the chair behind him hard enough that it tipped back.
"Goddammit! Go to your room!" she spun and stomped out, slamming the door behind her.
Her head hit something hard and she tried to swallow a whimper with limited success. Last time she'd been tied up with a bag over her head she'd been younger, and her shoulders ached, and every bump the truck hit rattled her teeth and jarred her hips and back and head.
She didn't remember it like this, didn't remember her heart pounding SO hard, or her breath coming so fast she felt light-headed. She didn't remember how dark it was with a bag over her head, or how the mildewed fabric kept getting into her mouth or caught on her nose to make it even harder to breathe. She didn't remember every muscle aching, straining futilely even after she'd told herself to save her strength, didn't remember being this scared since anger had been so much easier and more obvious, and she'd had the youthful confidence of a woman in love.
She supposed she should have expected something like this, going off at nearly fifty to the rainforest, alone, chasing after a crazy adventurer, but one who didn't have the lives of a dozen cats to spare.
The men driving laughed and a chill rippled down her spine. She understood only a word or two until the one that meant there was a chance.
She listened more closely, and though she still understood almost nothing, her best guess was that she was bait--again--for another crazy adventurer, one who would come on a whim and a prayer, likely without backup, but with extra lives to share.
She'd accepted two decades ago that no matter how long she lived, that name would follow her, and, sometimes, bring upheaval but not catastrophe.
The nurse handed her a tiny bundle, and she leaned forward to peer at his squashed nose and splotchy skin. He fussed as she tried to find a place for him to settle into her arms, how to hold this creature no longer pushing against her from inside her body.
"Shhh, baby," she said, touching his lips. Those lips were the exact shape of the first ones she'd ever kissed, the first ones to breathe against her neck, the first ones to tease parts of her no man had seen until she screamed like she'd done for much of the past seventeen hours. It had been the same name she'd screamed, and she'd seen the same disapproving frowns here for her repertoire of swear words that she'd once seen from her place on the arm of her older boyfriend.
She traced the outline of the tiny replica chin with a fingertip. "What am I going to do with you, baby?"
Tiny fingers gripped hers and her heart melted just as it did when he leveled that pouty little boy face at her or kissed her or showed up on her doorstep without warning. He wasn't going to do that this time. She knew somehow. And she wasn't going to think about him; he was only trouble, just like she'd always known.
"Are you trouble, little baby?" she whispered.
"Have you decided on a name?" the nurse asked. "You can't call him 'baby' for the rest of his life."
Marion nodded. "I know I'm going to regret this, but it's Henry. Henry Jones III."