Written for Killabeez for the 2007 Sweet Charity auction.
Kurdy broke up two fights before he even got a cup of coffee, and that was all kinds of wrong. That kind of thing made him want to make Marcus take his generalship and shove it where the sun refused to shine. Normally, he liked his job. He was good at it, which surprised no one more than himself. It was a challenge and a chance to change his world for the better; he couldn't think of many things he enjoyed--and needed--more. But then, there were moments where he was faced with the reality of adrenalin-charged troops with no war to fight and nervous civilians who were being crowded out of their own town, moments when he was reminded of just how incredibly stupid people in that situation could be.
"Like too many rats in a maze," he muttered, striding down the street toward Jeremiah's house with a scowl that he hoped was fierce enough to stop anyone from coming to tell him there were more problems. He would have his coffee this morning. They weren't on the absolute brink of war anymore. Nothing was so important that it couldn't wait for coffee.
Gina had left a coffee pot to stay warm on top of the stove. Kurdy probably could have removed paint with the liquid inside, but it sent a shot of pure alertness directly to his brain. He sighed in satisfaction as the world abruptly became a better place. Savoring the bitter flavor, he walked back out onto the front porch and dropped down onto the steps. Stupid recruits aside, it was a beautiful morning. The air was crisp but still enough that it didn't bite. The sky had the kind of crystal blueness that seemed almost unreal, and the sun added a cheery glow that made up for the puddles that still covered major portions of all the roadways. The sounds of a busy community filled the air, thankfully with no concomitant shouts of anger or noises like things breaking. Kurdy really hated those sounds. They meant either he or Jeremiah or both were going to be called on to kick some ass--or worse, mediate--in the very near future.
In general, Kurdy was all for leaving those types of things to Jeremiah. Not so much because Jeremiah was better at handling them; he wasn't. But the odds were good that Jeremiah would get fed up and offer to shoot someone, thus settling the problem before Kurdy ever heard about it. Kurdy just didn't have the heart to give Jeremiah any more grief than he already had to deal with, though. Losing Libby had been hard enough for Jeremiah to cope with. Finding out that she'd been playing him all the time had dealt him a blow that Kurdy wasn't sure he could shake off. The need to find Sims had given him a distraction for a time. Now that Sims was dead and Daniel's Army was headed back east to sort themselves out, Jeremiah had nothing to keep his mind off his personal troubles.
Kurdy was pretty sure the man hadn't slept more than a few hours in the five days since Sims' death. He went for long walks, disappearing for most of the day, and then sat around at night nursing a beer and being morose while Kurdy and Smith talked or read nearby. Trying to talk to Jeremiah got brief answers at best, grunts or total silence at worst.
Remembering how he'd felt after Elizabeth's death, Kurdy was willing to give him all the space he needed for as long as he needed. Kurdy just couldn't help being afraid that he was giving Jeremiah so much space that Jeremiah was going to get lost in it.
The slam of the door behind him shook Kurdy from his thoughts. He glanced back to see Smith coming down the steps to sit beside him. The bruises on Smith's face had faded to an ugly yellow and the cuts had scabbed over. At least he wasn't moving like he'd been run over by a Hummer anymore.
"Morning," Smith said around a yawn.
"Practically noon," Kurdy replied, even though it was midmorning at best. He'd been up long enough to make it feel later than it was, and he had no problem rubbing it in to lazy slug-a-beds who got to sleep in while he was out knocking heads together.
Smith just gave him that look that meant he either had no idea if Kurdy was messing with him, knew Kurdy was messing with him and was giving him a kicked-puppy stare so he'd feel guilty, or was listening to God say things about Kurdy that Kurdy was probably going to hate. The man had fucking "inscrutable" down to an art, and could switch it to cuddly and pitiful in one eyebrow twitch.
"You seen Jeremiah this morning?" Kurdy asked to break the power of the stare.
"He was already gone by the time I got up."
"Figures." Kurdy sighed. "Where the hell is he going every day, anyway?"
It was a rhetorical question, although if anyone would know, Smith would. But if Smith did know, he wasn't saying.
"You think he's talked to his dad lately?" Smith asked instead.
"Not that I know of." Kurdy frowned. "Why?"
Kurdy wasn't sure he believed that. Smith nearly always had a reason for whatever he said and did, even if the reason didn't show up until months later and in a fashion that could be interpreted as accidental if you squinted. Forcing the question would just get him the inscrutable look again, though, so he took a sip of coffee and let the matter slide.
They watched several people walk past, some waving or nodding hello and a few scurrying past like they were waiting for Kurdy to yell at them. He hoped he wouldn't have to find out why.
"I just thought, with finally getting to see his dad and all, he'd want to spend some time with him," Smith said after several minutes.
Kurdy turned to look at him, raising an eyebrow.
"I'm just saying, if it were my dad..."
Kurdy sighed again.
"Yeah, I know. But there's a lot of miles walked down different roads there. It's complicated."
"Isn't everything?" Smith looked up suddenly, squinting at something down the street. "Hey, is someone fighting down there?"
Stars were shining by the time Kurdy made it home again. It was late enough that he wouldn't have been surprised to find everyone asleep, but Jeremiah--of course--was sitting on the sofa in the living room, staring at the arrangement of paintings on the far wall. Or, hell, maybe just at the wall itself. Kurdy doubted he was seeing either one.
"Hey," Kurdy said, dropping heavily into the armchair beside the sofa. He felt like he'd been on his feet all day long. With a groan, he leaned down and untied his shoes. He felt a hundred pounds lighter as he slid his feet out and wriggled his toes. "Damn, that feels good."
Jeremiah gave him a half-hearted smirk but didn't say anything.
"I have broken up," Kurdy said slowly, "five or six fights today, depending on whether you count hitting someone over the head with a loaf of bread as fighting. I have forced a man to relocate an outhouse. I have scared the piss out of one squadron who wanted to play around on road patrol and two guys who thought that Milhaven girls would be more impressed with a man in uniform than they actually were. And then I had to go yell at Erin over the radio to send us more uniforms, not to mention soap and sewer pipes, because we're almost out of one and the other keep busting due to overuse. So there had better be more beer in the kitchen, or I'm fighting you for that one."
Again without a word, Jeremiah held out his mug. Kurdy grabbed it and drained the beer in one long gulp.
"Tastes like piss," he said after careful contemplation.
Kurdy studied the stairs and decided that he could just make it up them. He looked back at Jeremiah, who was staring ahead with red-rimmed eyes.
"You heading to bed soon?" he asked without much optimism.
Jeremiah just shrugged. Kurdy sighed and stood, but he couldn't make himself go upstairs. Not with Jeremiah slumped on the sofa, exhausted past the ability to sleep on his own. Reaching down, Kurdy grabbed Jeremiah's arm and pulled him up, steadying him as he swayed.
"What the fuck?"
The tone of Jeremiah's voice, the flat weariness that didn't even allow for anger, convinced Kurdy that he was right.
"Going to bed. Come on."
Jeremiah followed without arguing, a miracle Kurdy would be grateful for when he wasn't so tired. They passed Jeremiah's room first, but one glance at the clothes and belongings on the floor--Libby's belongings, still scattered from Jeremiah's desperate search to see if she had betrayed him--made Kurdy continue on down the hall to his own room. He shut the door behind them.
Jeremiah was still under his first kiss. He drew back, not pushing, not entirely sure. Then Jeremiah reached up and cupped the back of his neck.
"It's been a while," Jeremiah whispered. His lips were insistent, his tongue pushing in and playing with Kurdy's tongue, teasing at his stud.
"Yeah," Kurdy said when he could catch his breath. Since before Elizabeth had died, but he wasn't going to think about that right now.
No matter how long it had been, everything came back easily: the spot just above Jeremiah's collarbone that made his hips arch forward; the feel of his fingers skimming across Kurdy's chest, pausing to tug at his nipple ring; the way his voice sounded so hoarse as he moaned in pleasure. Kurdy hadn't known how much he missed those things until his heart clenched and his fingers dug into Jeremiah's hips, pulling him close.
"Bed?" Jeremiah suggested in between one kiss and another.
Kurdy pulled him toward it and eased him down, never quite letting go. Jeremiah fisted a hand into his shirt and kept Kurdy with him as he lay back. They had always fit together well. Jeremiah was just enough shorter and narrower than Kurdy that all of their curves and angles matched up. They kissed slowly, hips finding a familiar, lazy rhythm. Kurdy could feel the fire building inside him, but even that had no urgency. They were both too tired to do more than touch. Lips and hands found well-traced paths, and when release came, even that was somehow effortless.
Jeremiah's eyes were already closed as Kurdy rolled onto his side, but Jeremiah was obviously awake enough to make a low sound of protest. Kurdy, nearly asleep himself, threw an arm across Jeremiah's chest. Jeremiah sighed and relaxed, his breath easing into a steady pattern. Except for the softness of the mattress beneath them, it could have been any night on the road. Smiling, Kurdy let himself drift to sleep.
Jeremiah was staring at the ceiling when Kurdy woke up the next morning. He looked a little better, his eyes less sunken and red, but Kurdy still had an uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach before Jeremiah even opened his mouth.
"I've been thinking about hitting the road."
Kurdy was silent even though his instinct was to say no, to demand to know why Jeremiah was running out on him. He'd had his reasons for splitting up their partnership. Good ones. But that split up had negated his right to demand anything from Jeremiah, no matter that those very same instincts were saying that if he let Jeremiah go, he'd never see him again. Either Jeremiah would just keep walking and not come back, or--more likely given the state of mind he was in--do something to piss someone off and get himself killed. Kurdy couldn't even ask if he wanted company. There was an entire army depending on him, and if Jeremiah left, there was Milhaven to look after.
As if reading his mind, Jeremiah continued, "Gina can take care of most of what the town needs until Marcus can send someone else, and you'll be here in case anything comes up that she can't handle. Not to mention there's an army out there to deal with outside trouble."
If the army didn't actually cause the trouble itself, Kurdy thought, remembering the fights he'd broken up the day before. And the conversation he'd had with Smith, which--yeah. Smith always had his reasons.
"You ever think about visiting your dad?" he asked.
Jeremiah finally quit staring at the ceiling.
"I just thought--you've had a hell of a lot happen in the past few weeks. Maybe go see him, get a change of scenery, talk things over with someone who wasn't there. Might help you get things straight in your head."
Might, also, keep him from disappearing completely. If Jeremiah would actually talk to Devon, and if Devon could do anything to ease his son's pain, neither of which were a given. As Kurdy had told Smith, their relationship wasn't exactly a simple one.
He was a little surprised when Jeremiah nodded slowly.
"Yeah. Maybe I will."
Kurdy didn't say anything else for fear of changing his mind. As soon as Jeremiah had disappeared for the day, though, Kurdy got on the radio to Thunder Mountain and got them to patch him through to Valhalla Sector.
"I'm just giving you a head's up," he said when he got Devon on the line. He didn't want to go into details, not with the Mountain and whoever else might be in the comm room at Valhalla Sector listening in. "Jeremiah's headed your way, and he's in pretty bad shape."
The line was silent for a moment, and Kurdy hoped he hadn't made a mistake.
"Marcus told me about Libby," Devon said finally. "I can only imagine--"
"Yeah. Listen, I just didn't want him to get there and have you be too busy to talk to him."
Devon's voice had icicles hanging off the edges.
"He's my son, Kurdy." Then he sighed. "And your friend. Thanks for letting me know."
Jeremiah left the same morning that Kurdy had suggested he visit his dad. He was afraid that he'd change his mind if he gave himself any time to think about it. It wasn't that he didn't want to see his dad. It was just easier to deal with the dad he'd been talking to in his mind all these years than the real deal. So he left early, but he set off on foot. The three days it took to walk to Valhalla Sector from Milhaven would be just long enough, he hoped, to work up his courage. Anyway, it was a beautiful morning. Cool, crisp, with a bright, clear sky and not even enough breeze to make the leaves tremble. They'd been having the same weather since Daniel's Army had headed back east, almost as if the world was holding its breath along with the rest of them. If that were so, then maybe the sunshine and clear skies were a sign that the world was optimistic. Jeremiah didn't believe in signs, but he found himself hoping that this one proved true anyway.
The nice thing about walking was that it was easy to focus on his surroundings and not think. He really didn't want to think. Not about the easy way the knife slid into Sims' body, not about Libby dancing with the children or lying lifeless and cold in his arms. Definitely not about the warm weight of Kurdy's hand splayed across his stomach when he woke up that morning, because out of all the things he wasn't thinking about, that one had felt right. If he thought about it, he'd want more, and he couldn't depend on that at all.
So he didn't think. He watched the birds and counted fir trees and just walked. He did the same thing the next day and the next, until eventually he found himself outside of the massive metal doors that shut Valhalla Sector off from the world. His heart pounded as a soldier let him in to the security station and radioed for Devon.
Then he saw his father's huge grin as Devon walked down the corridor toward him, felt the strength in his hug, and it was like he could breathe again.
"Jeremiah," Devon said as he pulled back. "It's good to see you. How was your trip here?"
"It was good," Jeremiah answered. "How are you?"
"Fine, fine. We're getting closer to having this place ready to be an Alliance base. Come on, I'll show you around."
The tour was surreal. The base was bright and clean; what people were there were obviously busy at important jobs and barely acknowledged Jeremiah and Devon as they walked past. Yet Jeremiah couldn't help but remember the last time he'd walked through these same halls, dressed in HazMat gear and stepping over things that weren't really human bodies anymore. He tried to focus on Devon's explanations of what they were doing to get the base up to speed, but he was pretty sure that his dad noticed his distraction.
"How about we get some supper?" Devon suggested finally. "We don't have a lot, but a few of the people Marcus sent over are excellent cooks. They keep us fed pretty well."
Devon was right. The meal was simple, just stew, bread, and apple pie for dessert, but it tasted wonderful after three days of road rations. Several people, soldiers and civilians alike, joined them. Jeremiah found himself recounting the story of what had happened when the Alliance army had met Daniel's, and all the events leading up to that meeting. The Valhalla Sector contingent had known only the bare bones of what had happened, and they listened to Jeremiah with fascination. It wasn't until Jeremiah was yawning every fifth word that Devon suggested they call it a day.
Jeremiah tumbled into bed in the room that Devon escorted him to and was asleep before his dad even left the room. The next thing he knew, he was starving and had to piss like a racehorse. He stumbled out of the room and managed to find a restroom several doors down the hall. As he was coming back out into the hall, he ran into Devon.
"Hey, sleepy head," Devon said cheerfully. "About ready for some supper?"
"Huh?" Jeremiah asked, which was about the extent of his ability to hold an intelligent conversation. He still felt like his head was under water.
"You slept nearly twenty-four hours. I checked on you a few times, but you were dead to the world. It's almost time for supper again."
Twenty-four hours? Jeremiah shook his head in disbelief as his stomach reminded him that it needed tending.
"Any kind of food sounds good right now."
"What do you say we get something and eat in my room tonight? We haven't really had a chance to catch up, just the two of us."
Jeremiah nodded. It was stupid to be nervous of his own father. Surely they could have a conversation of more than five minutes without anything bad happening, right? And wasn't that why he'd come here, anyway?
Supper that night seemed to be leftover stew with some kind of mashed potato topping. It looked weird, but it tasted good and there was a lot of it, so Jeremiah wasn't complaining. Devon talked about the work he'd been doing on the database; Jeremiah mostly listened and ate.
Then the meal was done, they were both sipping coffee, and Devon fixed Jeremiah with a steely eye that brought back memories of baseballs through windows and chores not done.
"Son," Devon said, and it hurt how good that one word sounded, "I know that I don't exactly have the right to demand that you share anything with me. We've spent too much time apart for that. But a blind man could see that you've got something on your mind that's tearing you up. I just want you to know that I want to hear about it if you want to tell me."
For a moment, Jeremiah couldn't respond. Physically could not talk because his throat was too tight. But he wanted to. He wanted to, and Devon was waiting as patiently as if he had the rest of his life.
"I don't know, Dad," was all Jeremiah could manage when he finally found his voice. He took a deep breath and tried again. "Things have been so screwed up lately. Libby--I loved her. And everywhere I look back in Milhaven, I see the things she touched. It's like they're all reminders of how she played us. Every day, everything I see is a reminder."
Devon nodded. He got up, went over to a dresser by the wall, and pulled a bottle and two glasses out of a drawer.
"When your mother died, I could barely stand to be in the room we had shared." Devon sat down, poured amber liquid into each glass, and pushed one across the tablet to Jeremiah. "I practically lived in the lab for the next year."
"But you wanted to remember her," Jeremiah said, leaning forward. "Didn't you?"
"Oh, yes, of course I did. It just took me some time to sort out the pain and guilt I felt over her dying and the happy memories that I wanted to keep forever."
"I don't even know if any of the happy memories were real."
"I believe they were, son. She wrote me frequently, and her letters were all about you. Not just because she knew I would want to hear, but because that's who she wanted to talk about. I think whatever problems drew her to Daniel's service stemmed from her life here at Valhalla, not from how she felt about you."
Jeremiah wasn't sure if that was comforting or not.
Devon smiled wryly.
"Either way, it hurts like a son of a bitch, doesn't it?"
Maybe it was the whiskey, maybe it was his dad--his dad--cussing, but Jeremiah couldn't help laughing.
"That it does."
He knew for sure it was the whiskey when, several drinks later, he finally said, "I just wish people didn't keep leaving. Everyone leaves, you know?"
He wanted to take it back as soon as it slipped out. Devon's eyes clouded with sadness, and Jeremiah wanted to protest that he hadn't meant Devon specifically, except for the part where he partially had. He obviously needed to quit talking when he was drinking.
"Some of them come back, though," Devon said after several moments of silence. "If they can. The ones that love you, they come back."
Because the whiskey was still working, Jeremiah had enough courage to say, "You came back."
"Yes." Devon nodded, a faint smile hovering at the corners of his mouth. "Yes, I did."
The house was empty without Jeremiah in it. Smith didn't even come close to filling it up. If the world were a just place, Kurdy would never have noticed because he was running his ass off all day training troops and putting out fires--sometimes literally. It was at night that the space Jeremiah should have filled seemed to grow larger than ever. Kurdy kept thinking back to when Jeremiah had set out after Sims. Kurdy had thought for sure that Jeremiah wasn't coming back; the emptiness then had just been bearable because he'd had a war to orchestrate. With no such distractions now, he had ample time to think about Jeremiah not being there.
The thing was, he'd got by for months without Jeremiah. They saw each other from time to time, but Kurdy's grief and anger had built a solid wall between them that Kurdy hadn't wanted to climb. The wall had crumbled bit by bit as Jeremiah sent him a note asking for help and they worked together more and more. It had crashed down completely when he'd seen Jeremiah's grief, so like his own. Now, he didn't want that barrier anymore. He wanted things back the way they used to be, an easy friendship that was very nearly family.
But the days stretched on with no word from Jeremiah, and nothing from Devon beyond news that Jeremiah had reached Valhalla Sector safely. Kurdy didn't know if Jeremiah was going to stay with his father or take off for parts unknown like he'd talked about before leaving Milhaven. He tried to tell himself that it was the not knowing that was killing him, but really, it was the emptiness.
He wasn't in the mood for interruptions when he heard footsteps coming up the porch stairs. He'd made some hot tea and had a collection of twentieth century poets that he was savoring, letting the gentle flow of words fill the hollow inside him. The thought of having to deal with yet another problem, no matter how minor, was almost more than he could handle.
And then Jeremiah walked in, duffel swung over his shoulder, looking more alive than he had since Libby's death. It was like the air in the room became easier to breathe. Kurdy found himself grinning and didn't want to stop.
"Look what the cat dragged in," he said, trying for gruffness and failing completely.
Jeremiah smirked as he dropped into the chair.
"I'm surprised you noticed, having your nose stuck in a book and all."
"Well, you weren't around to entertain me," Kurdy pointed out. "How was your trip?"
Jeremiah was silent for a moment.
"It was good," he said finally. "Talking to my dad--it was good."
"I wasn't sure you were coming back," he admitted.
Jeremiah gave him a strange look, then smiled almost gently.
"But I did," he said. "I came back."