He’s sitting on one of the stone railings on the back of the Capitol, looking out as the sun sets at the far end of the Mall. The sounds of celebration are back behind me, but a green glass bottle of something distilled is sitting by his side.
* * *
My relationship with Rusty has never been what you might think it was.
He joined our family as a bodyguard for me. AEGIS was concerned that, were I kidnapped or otherwise threatened, the great Byron Quill might have been compromised.
That he and Dad would hook up was – yeah, life, and love, is evidently pretty weird. I come by it honestly.
I’m not quite sure what AEGIS ever thought of the whole thing. It was an open secret in the supers world, though – not public knowledge (the Daily Mail notwithstanding), but people who should know did know, and they didn’t chat with the tabloids. I never had a problem with it because I grew up with it. And they were Old School enough that, even when we were in countries that considered gay stuff evil, they flew under the radar.
Those countries. Fuck 'em.
Rusty and I never had a parent-kid kind of relationship. There was never any question about who was “Dad.” Closest I can come to it (from TV, movies, that kind of thing) is a combo of live-in uncle and personal tutor. Rusty was my bodyguard, after all – and, to give him credit, I never saw any case when he compromised whose body he was guarding. But he was never a father – he was –
– a coach, I guess.
Hard drinking, darkly cynical, blunt, unforgiving of slack, and (as I had reason to know) a stone cold and quite effective killer when necessary. I learned a hella from him on stuff I didn’t want to actually know about, but that was critical to my survival. So maybe you’d say he was proactively a bodyguard, if nothing else.
Dad set policy in the household. Strategy. Where we were going. What we were doing. What our goals were. What Amir and I should be learning next.
Rusty was the tactician, the enabler, the chancellor, the chief of staff. The button man, in mob terms.
Rusty liked me, I always thought. He had – affection toward me. He’d protect me, even beyond his duty, sure.
But he loved Dad.
I’ve dreaded this talk since I walked out of the Keynome chamber.
* * *
“So,” I start. What can I say? “Sounds like Ghost Girl --”
“Hard call on your dad.”
Did I mention “blunt”?
“Yeah.” I feel a surge of anger. But – “Yeah.”
“You look like hell, kid.”
“Yeah.” Nothing that a handful of extra-strength Tylenol, and a cure for certain death won’t help. “Yeah. Long day.”
I look at him.
“Kid, I’m not a super-scientist, but I do work in intelligence. I can put two and two together. And – I’ve been on the listening end of a lot of your dad’s … ventings.”
“Your dad didn’t intend to get caught in another dimension, kid. He knew he was rushing things, but he knew this whole thing with the Vyortovians was coming, and wanted you --”
“He wanted me away from Alycia!”
Rusty looks old in this half-light. I’ve never seen that before. It’s unexpectedly disturbing. “Kid, I love your dad. I’m not going to defend everything he did, or why. I’m not even going to say that I agreed with all of it. But I decided a long time ago that I wasn’t going to be your parent, and Byron was. I expressed my opinion, your dad made the decision and implemented it.”
“You could have --”
“No, I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. Not my call.”
He pauses. “Me and Spenser, kid. I’ve got regrets in my life. That one ranks up there, but it’s not the Top 5.”
“Thanks.” I can’t keep the bitterness out of that, too.
“Suck it up, kid. You’ve had your revenge.”
I look out over the twilight skyline of the semi-ruins of Federal City. “It wasn’t meant to be revenge.”
“Of course it was, kid. Don’t apoligize for that. You thought your dad did you wrong. You found a way to deal with it. Own it.”
“And – what I did --?”
“I’m not going to defend that, either. I should probably deck you, but – well, I’m not that bad of a bodyguard.” He takes a long drag from the bottle. “And you nailed Chin, too, so maybe you deserve a medal.”
“I’d have put a bullet between his slanty little eyes, kid. You showed mercy. Hope you won’t regret it.”
“I suspect I’m going to regret everything about today.”
“Now you sound like your dad.”
I stare at him.
“Your dad was paid the big bucks to be the Authority. The Guy who Knows Everything. The oracle who proclaims shit and is always right.” He snorts, takes another drink. “Byron’s a man full of regrets. Most of which he’ll never admit to anyone else. Hell, most of which he’ll never admit to himself.”
I’m quiet for a moment. “If that’s the truth --”
“Kid, don’t second-guess what you did. You made the call. It’s done. Regrets eat a man up inside. Make him make mistakes to atone or fix things. Do what you think is right, then move on. Learn your lessons, but don’t use what you’ve learned to decide a more ignorant you was a son of a bitch who should be punished. That way leads to a very unhappy life.” Softer. “Believe me.”
I draw a deep breath. Let it out.
“Hit?” he asks, holding the bottle out to me. He’s never offered me alcohol. I briefly, stupidily wonder what the legal age is in Federal City, then take the bottle, take a swig. Spit it out in a spray.
Rusty chuckles, not meanly. “Every culture, no matter how primative, has distilled spirits. Doesn’t mean it’s good stuff. The fact you don’t like it – that’s probably a good thing, kid.”
There’s a long silence that I’m not sure how to break. At length I say, “I want to help this world. Figure out how to use the Foundation’s resources, that kind of thing. Maybe the UN --”
“Do it because you think it’s worth it, kid. Not because you think you should, or because you feel guilty about it.”
I take a long breath. Then another. Then a series.
After a minute or two, I take another sip of the bottle. It’s bad, but not that bad. I hand it back to Rusty.
“Thanks kid.” He looks at me. “I quit.”
“Bodyguard. You’re on your own.” He gives as big a smile as I’ve ever seen – not large, and I’m not sure it reaches his eyes, but it’s getting kind of dark. “I think you’ve been doing a pretty good job of it the past couple of years. And you’ve got some friends that seem halfway competent.”
“Thanks. Um – and thanks. I --”
He snorts. “Right. You’d be dead without me. I’ll hold that to my heart on the cold, cold nights.”
That gets a laugh from me, something I hadn’t expected. I also hadn’t expected a sense of peace, talking with him. “Watch after Dad, Rusty.”
“Always have. Always will. He’ll be okay. Maybe a big challenge is just what he needs to get him on to bigger and better things.”
I start to move away. Stop. Walk back to him. Hold out my hand.
He looks at it. Nods. Takes it and gives it a shake, with his usual bone-crusher grip.
I try to give as good as I get. I fail, but that’s the way that’s always worked.
As I walk away a second time, I hear him call out. “Hey, Jason.”
I stop, turn slowly.
He holds up the bottle. “Not a kid any more. Make me proud.”
I smile. Give him a thumbs up. And go back to try and enjoy the victory party.
author: *** Dave H.