The Tucker Family Reunion

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rocket_icon.gif tuck_icon.gif

Scene Title The Tucker Family Reunion
Synopsis It's not as happy as you'd think.
Date March 10, 2009

Tucker's Pawn Shop


It's a fairly ordinary evening at Tucker's Pawn Shop - as ordinary goes on Staten Island. The TV to his right murmurs the cacaphonous sounds, the slap and hiss of skates that is the universal lullabye of a hockey game. Except, it's not quite so soothing when you've got money riding on it like Gilbert Tucker does. He's got one eye on the cell phone he's de-SIM-carding and one eye on the game. He hisses air between his teeth when his side misses a goal.

It's a fairly ordinary evening outside Tucker's Pawn Shop, too. Rumors abound about some new criminal ring intersecing with the Pancratium and company. Somebody is getting the snot beaten out of his nose with a tire iron down the street, there's a homeless man trying to figure out which of the meat pattie packets he found in the dumpster were breached by puke and which were not.

The door rings open, quietly, one note from the bell above the door and a shifting click of the jamb against the frame. The figure that slips in through the interval is lanky, young, a hoodie pulled up over his head of brown curls. A narrow bar of his face shows through, eyes moving over the shelves either timidly or furtively.

Everything about him screams thief.

Tuck is very used to dealing with thieves, especially of the urchin variety. Staten might seem like Pleasure Island for the mainland Pinocchio boys - a place where they won't have to work and are free from the oppression of their parents. Just like in that famous tale, the truth is far more bleak. Boys may not be turned into donkeys, but they are broken down to become workhorses of a dark system.

He only spares a faint glance for the hoodie-clad youth, given his eyes are on the hockey game and there's not much worth stealing out front anyway. "If you're looking to rip off a copy of Wall-E, there, sport, one of your buddies lifted it yesterday." And then there's the sound of buzzing overhead as a surveillance camera zeroes in on the youth.

The point of the boy's nose shows past the rim of his hood, registered in the camera lens as a staticky white triangle past the flat gray of his cloth. He had turned his head toward the man's voice, his body still rotated on-axis to face the accumulation of shelved objects, like a startled fawn zeroing in on the source of that indistinct rustling.

Startled, maybe, but he'd located the source of that warning before Tucker had delivered it. After all, the man's right there. Distracted, certainly, but the thief hadn't been trying to get away with much yet. Just— watching. Passively, quietly, inobtrusively. When his voice comes, it's slightly cracked with nerves: "Who's winning?"

Tuck chews a piece of gum as he keeps an eye on the screen with the hockey game. The one that belongs to the security camera is conveniently located just below it. It's like picture-in-picture, the low tech way. "Boston," says the pawnbroker. "What're you looking for, kid? If it's really important I miiight be persuaded to give you a decent price on it. Try me."

Andrew would've had a classically sarcastic response for that. Something that'd cut, if not deep enough to assuage the pain of two years' separation, then enough to give the old man the faintest intimation, an inkling of what it had been like. This boy isn't Andrew, though. Andrew's the brutally smart, viciously strong, and proportionately fucked up one who looks after the rest of them as a function of taking care of himself.

Rocket's just Rocket. He has Andrew's previous pair of snakers, a hole in his right sleeve and Jack's dying gurgles reverberating in his mind's ear. He wipes his nose with his fingers and mumbles kind of unintelligibly. "M-my dad."

"Your what? Speak up. How d'ya expect to learn anything if all your questions are mumbled into your shirt?" That's an old piece of advice, one given from Gil to his son in response to trouble in trig, once upon a time in a Staten suburb far away in time, if not in space. "Your collar doesn't know the answer, kid."

There was a time when he'd see Rocket everywhere - in the face of every kid, in the slump of their shoulders or a mumbled half-phrase. But his son's frozen in Tuck's memory two years younger than this - with more of a squeak to his voice and less length on his limbs. The hood doesn't help.

Far enough in space. The Rookery is a little ways away from the suburban area that the Tuckers used to keep their kerchief lawn and worldly possessions. Otherwise, Rocket's current emotional disposition makes the distance between them feel like there's more than there is. Gilbert's voice seems to come through the boy's ears distorted, and his ire and phrasing appeal to a part of the child that he's spent too much time trying to shed.

'Shed.' More like tearing a metaphorical cheesegrater down his existential skin. His eyes open and close a few times. He doesn't take his chin out of his collar. "I'm looking for my father," he enunciates, forcing the consonants out with too much exaggeration, too loudly; the vowels crack slightly.

"What does he look like?" says Tuck. It's sad. Like some scene in a cheesy movie or a soap opera. But the white noise of the hockey game and the hoodie that obscures Rocket means all the pieces haven't fallen together. The pawnie tugs the chunk of gum out and jams it down into a nearby ashtray.

Some part of Rocket is getting defensive, despite that there's nobody else here to level accusations and that he thinks himself sort of immune to any that would come from the one man who is. Hackes up underneath the shapeless hang of his hoodie, a frown stooping over the edges of his mouth, a glare making his eyes feel hotter even than the flustered color of his face.

"He looks like you."

It's kind of dumb and kind of petulant, and if Tucker weren't Tucker he wouldn't be this dumb or petulant— nor as passionately inspired. His fingers close around the corner of the rickety old VCR perched on the third shelf. He twists, pulls, sends the old machine careening down, out, smashing into the floor in a carcass of twisted metal, fragmented plastic and surprised wiring. He turns on a heel and stomps — flees, really — out of the door.

You can almost catch the moment of realization in real time across Tuck's face. It's at first confused, then surprised, then completely ecstatic. But then the expression slips back into confusion as the old VCR goes clattering to the ground.

It takes a breath. One. Two.

Then the short-legged pawnie is darting out, slowed by the elaborate latches that secure the counter from the back area. "Hey, HEY!"

If he hadn't been off hard drugs for two years, he'd swear this was another trip. He shoves the door open and goes out into the streets of the Rookery, eyes searching for the shape of the boy. "Rocket!" There's a tight desparation to the man's tone. It's heartsick.

Not over there on the road. Nor over the other end, either. Rocket's over on the other side, the alleyway that splits off around the corner of the pawnshop's building and into unlit darkness, the usual skulking grounds for small predators and tawdry sexual liaisons. In general, Rocket neither qualifies for the former nor partakes in the latter. Tuck's entreaty arrests him mid-flight.

His right foot is in some mixture of slush and motor oil, his left on parched concrete flowered with frost the shape of lichens. He's gone all stiff as if it's colder than it really is, and he hasn't turned around, doesn't say anything, forgets what he was going to do. This is the kind of thing you practice in the bathroom mirror when you have a bathroom to practice in, in your head for the lack.

He can't remember his lines. All that goes through Rocket's head is, determined and dizzily, If he calls me buddy I'm just gonna—

Tuck stops just a few feet out of his store. The wind whips against him and stings his bare arms. His shoulders are hunched, his expression utterly and completly pathetic. There's a deep pleading on his face, an undisguised vulnerability. It's a good thing none of his enemies are watching.

Despite how badly he wants to get close enough to prove this boy is his son, he can't bring himself to chase after him and drag him back.

Because perhaps away from Tuck is the best place for him.

"Kiddo…" it's a question as much as it's a term of endearment. He watches for signs of movement, of retreat or advancement. The ball's in Rocket's court.

Trigonometry had been difficult enough. Rocket makes a funny sort of noise, sort of a wheeze and a discernible proportion whimper, nasal pitch that fades into a wobble like a very oddly-shaped animal balloon had been punctured by a fat needle. He's breathes unsteadily, tries to swallow the dry out of his throat without a great deal of success.

"Uh—" his foot grates on the ground, smearing moisture along a semi-circle. He turns to look over his shoulder. Fails the first time, flinching away out of nothing more painful than uncertainty, before he manages to put his eyes on his old man's figure. His neck ends up corkscrewed uncomfortably, so he spins the rest of his body around, too. "Uh huh?"

"Come…come back, please. I…I thought you were…" his voice hitches. There's a lot about Gilbert Tucker that is bluster, bravado, wisecracks to cover up pain. Repression. Denial. Addiction. All of it seems laid bare as he stands on the stoop, backlit by the glowing neon of the pawn shop. This big man, this hardened criminal, looks ready to break down. "…the house…"

He can't explain. How can you explain that you gave your only child up for dead?

Not easily. Perhaps, best, if not at all. And same goes for the child who abandons his father, however the scales of social responsibility normally balance.

Now Rocket is shaking his head, a little bit a lot of times, like there's a fly trapped between his ears and ricocheting iridescent-winged and fearfully frenetic off the insides of his skull. Bzzzbzzzzz. No, no. No. No, I don't think so. "I was at work," he says, pointlessly, in the tone of protest. The house has nothing to do with it. "I got a job to help, Tuck."

Two years later, it's still a sore point. That Gilbert never figured that out.

"Anyway," he says, with too much emphasis. He looks at the corner of the wall off Tuck's shoulder. "I—I just wanted to check if you were okay. That's all." And two years later, however unfair, it's still a sore point. That the son is the one doing this for his father.

"Rocket…" the strange name is spoken with a great deal of affection. There's relief on his face, mingled with hurt as well. "…kiddo, I've been clean for two years. No booze, nothing other than pot. I swear. Please…just…come inside, for a few minutes? I…won't make you stay." Because clearly, no matter how young, Rocket's doing a better job taking care of himself than he did in the year or so leading up to the bomb. "There's letters for you. From your mom."

What Rocket's been doing with his time since the Bomb is open to question. He appears to have all his limbs attached and his face isn't scalded off, at least not the part that is visible in the narrow gap between the halves of his hood. He walks without difficulty, and any impediment to his speech seems more derived from massive emotional congestion rather than John Logan's knife.

There's more to being well than soundness of limb, however, and he's staring at his father now out of eyes glassy with something that isn't health. "Wh-what's the point?" he asks. "Mom's… Mom's in fucking jail." The swear word doesn't come easily to him, but it's more at home in his voice now than it was when he was fourteen and still cracking into unexpected high notes. "But that's good. That you're clean."

He doesn't say Finally, but there's that twist to Rocket's mouth and he's looking steadfastly at the ground.

"Oh for christ's sake, Rocky. Come here, please. I'm freezing my ass off. Come in side. I'll make you some apple cider." Like long ago winter days after making snowmen and sliding down hills. It's so distant now to feel like a snapshot from someone else's life.

Tuck stands there, arms out to his side, face showing all his unedited emotions. "Please?"

The boy is pulling on his own nose again, either because it's cold or because he's picked up a habit of nervous fidgets during the past two years' processes of survival. Rocket frowns. His expression smooths the next moment.

Frowns again. "F-five minutes," he allows, finally, ceding one step forward, one thin leg dangled outward, forward, bent like a string waving in and out of wind. A stray breeze in the other direction and, it seems, he'll be gone without a backward flutter. But he's following. He is; he's going to come inside.

Tuck tries not to make any sudden movements. It feels a little like luring a feral critter to his hand. He holds open the door and resists the immediate urge to throw his arms around Rocket and sob like a little girl. He'll hold that back - for the moment.

What he does do when the kid is close enough is reach up to tug the hood back. The smile that appears is genuine and extremely warm, painted also with a healthy dose of regret. "Thank you," he murmurs.

Stupidly, stupid, stupidly, Rocket winds up with the backs of his fingers pressed to his left eye. There's a lot of wind, see. Something blew into his retinas. It stung. He has to wipe it out of there before he really gets hurt.

He didn't flinch when his father pulled his hood back, more because he forgot to than because he has allotted the older man some sort of trust or happens to believe in his own emotional or physical invincibility all of a sudden. His eyes jump up and down, between Tuck's face and some indistinct point on the older man's shirt. "Cider," he repeats, as if to verify. That's the plan, right?

"Cider," says Tuck as he shuts the door behind them and latches it closed. He clicks off the glowing neon 'Open' sign. If Rocket's fight or flight instinct is in place, well, the latch won't stop him leaving, it just stops others from coming in.

As they walk towards the back, to the living area surrounded in kipple for trade, Gil lifts a hand to rest on Rocket's shoulder. Then his hand goes up to grip the back of his neck in a moment of fatherly contact. And then, he loses it. Closed doors, two years of pain, of mourning, of beating himself up. It's too much. Unless his son flinches away or physically strikes him, he'll find himself embraced tightly.

"Oh god, kiddo. I've missed you. I'm such a fuck up. Such a fuck up."

It wouldn't have been hard to get away. There's a talent Rocket's developed that his father doesn't know about. More than one, granted, but there's one of particular consequence — one that he almost employs in order to escape the constraining circle of his father's arms, but for some reason, he doesn't. Reasons.

If love were particularly reasonable, he might think about it more, feeling he has to know. As it is, feeling and thinking seem to be tasks too great to coexist in his mind right now. Rocket's vision blurs; there's a graceless whuffle of noise, inhale, and tears drop out of his eyes, needle at the side of his father's neck. His arms end up pushed in underneath Tuck's armpits, fingers grabbing at the back of the man's jacket, an ungainly, pinching, desperate embrace.

"'S okay." That probably isn't true, and in a few moments it'll be less so — but Rocket doesn't know what else to say. He barely manages that.

His is a desperate, clinging hug in return. Like the time Rocket broke his wrist when Tuck wasn't looking. The hug was similar then, though this one's likely to bruise ribs. He blinks back drops of moisture that drop against the lenses of his glasses when he tilts his head forward. He pulls in long, sharp breaths that tense up his entire body.

After a moment, he pulls back long enough to get a good look at his son. His hand lays along the side of his face and then his features scrunch up again. Rocket's pulled close and he mumbles something that sounds like 'so grown up,' though his voice cracks like brittle porcelain.

N-not really, comes the reply, just as muffled and twisted up by snot being gravitationally flushed out one way and a diligent effort on Rocket's part, to suck it back up into his head before it gets on anything or everything and is unequivocally disgusting. The boy is thinking about piracy, a little. The things he's done, the injuries he's accumulated.

The sight of their house standing hollow-eyed and heaped full of broken glass. Rocket's own face looks a little like that right now.

He's older, his jaw-bones lengthened out with the ungainly post-adolescent stretching of his limbs, his features having gained a hint of his parents' stronger, more severe skeletal definition, but his face is still round; more like his grandmother, Dasha's side, with a good deal more innocence, a great deal less joy.

Rocket had intended to say something kind. What comes out instead is, awfully— "How much do you owe Mr. Logan?"

Tuck lets a happy moment linger as he examines his lost boy. He takes in Rocket's features and brushes the hair back from his face. Into his pocket and he produces a packet of tissues. One's tugged out and pressed into the teen's hand.

But that moment isn't to last. The cold shock of reality arcs down his spine and into the ground. His cheeks redden. He knows about the debts. "Less than I used to," he says. "Now that there's no drugs. No booze." So the only monkey left digging its dirty claws into his back is gambling.

He wipes the skin under his eyes, beneath his glasses, then slings an arm around Rocket, squeezes his shoulder and leads him towards the back room. Say one thing for Gilbert Tucker - when he's in his right mind, he's neat and organized. Hidden amongst the piles of hawked merchandise are pictures. They're ones Rocket would recognize. They're him at various stages of life, with various people, somee familiar, some no doubt faded and indistinct with memory.

Probably, Rocket shouldn't be surprised. Mementos are a commonplace thing among post-Bomb inhabitants of Staten Island, fond relics of better times, distinct from the biases of nostalgia because everything is really shitty around here right now.

Really shitty. Rocket has done enough robbing and squatting to know what kinds of things people keep. There are larders to raid and there is money to take, and then there were things he simply walked past, stared at, objects of no marketable value and inscrutable personal worth. His shoulders are huddled up under Tuck's arm. He stares at the pictures.

Some of them have both of them and Dasha in them and the recognizable parts of a home or family restaurants in the background. His first bicycle, all the dark blue speed still glowing in the metal. Middle school graduation; he'd had a tassel to his cap and a few mobsters there for him, in the audience.

"You live here now," Rocket says faintly. That makes sense. The house had been in pieces, but everything was moved. Everything worth—

"Yeah," says Tuck. It sounds more like an exhalation than a word itself. "Couple of rooms upstairs," a beat, then, "One's…got your stuff in it. What I could find anyway." He ruffles his son's hair, then moves to the kettle to boil water for the promised cider. It's a sad, cluttered life for a man who used to wear suits to work. But then, his life has just been variations on a theme. Street rat, gang kid, mobster, fence. It's all pretty much variations on a theme. He's a crook.

"Uh…" he clears his throat. "Y'hungry?" There's difficult questions to ask. Like, 'where have you been staying?' 'How've you been working?' 'Are you clean?' But he can't bring himself to ask any of those. Not yet.

Again, the shake of Rocket's head, denial, immediate, clear as day. No. Not hungry. Either that, or he doesn't want to eat any of his father's food, which would probably be crueller and harder to say. Likely, neither of them want to explore the potential answers why Rocket wouldn't want to owe his old man anything.

Debt is in the Tucker's blood, and he knows enough to be wary of it. His hairs stand up at odd angles and curves, rising off the top of his head. He ends up slouched down over a table, pushing clutter with his elbows to clear himself a small space to use. He tries very hard not to look to hard at things, but he can't help doing a little.

Photos, found objects, some code of organization that makes more internal logic than anything that would appeal to society's consensual reality. "Am I taking you away from the game?" he asks, eventually.

Tuck digs around through a pile of tea, instant coffee and hot chocolate until he finds an unopened box of cider. Sentimental, yes. He rips opent he plastic overwrapper, calloused fingers shaking lightly as he does so. He grabs down a big mug and empties the contents of the packet into it. It's a mug from their old house that has been glued back together.

Arms crossed, the baby Tucker's hands end up one on top of the opposite shoulder and his chin resting in the V where they cross over, nestled down in the creased padding of his sleeves. His eyes follow his father around the cabinets, something showing flat and subtly frightened behind their dark panes in that brief flash before Tuck's turned around, looking at him, saying — shit, and Rocket instantly casts his eyes downward, darting away, retreating in every way he is capable of without actually getting out of his chair."I —

"Kind of." The answer is halting, a little reedier than would be strictly dignified. "I kind of did. I'm doing some stuff for some people." Not the most reassuring terms he could think of, but far better than the detailed truth, surely. "I have food and places to stay and a bunch of friends. I don't hate you."

Blurted, the last part. Sort of slips out, miserably. Rocket doesn't think to reassure his father that he isn't angry.

Tuck carries the mug of cider with its carefully repaired cracks over to the table. He sets it down in front of Rocket, then drops to sit across from him. "How do you know about Logan?" The pimp is pretty high up on his list of Staten Island thugs he doesn't want his son anywhere near.

'Some stuff for some people' can only mean one thing if he's still here. And there's only so many jobs a kid could be doing on Staten Island. It makes his lips crease into a line of worry.

Then the blurt comes and he looks quite genuinely startled. "I…I'm…glad, kiddo. I…" he hesitates. "You have every right to. Hate me, that is."

The worry on Tuck's face elicits a ghost of resentment on Rocket's. He is looking at an odd stain on the wall there, for a little bit, and then he switches over to staring at the cider. After a moment, he peels an arm out of the knot he has his chin pillowed in, and tips a mouthful of beverage into his mouth.

It isn't too hot nor too sweet. It isn't as good as he remembers it, either, but it's redeemed and refreshing, better, more hurtful, because it's real. "Everyone knows about Logan. That cane he's strutting around with now— they say he got it from this pawn shop, so… so I thought it might be you, and if it was you—"

Then you'd be nose-deep in shit, he thinks but doesn't say. He doesn't say anything for awhile, drinking his cider. The pimp is pretty high up on his list of Staten Island thugs he doesn't want his father anywhere near.

Tuck exhales slowly and does his own gazing at a spot off somewhere. "Ngh." He tugs his glasses off his face and drops them on the table. "Don't owe him a lot." Logan. "Enough to make him happy. It's…complicated, kiddo. It's…" he hisses air between his teeth. Things were a lot simpler when he could make Rocket believe he just had a desk job working for Dasha's father. "M'doing okay. Really. Lot better these days. Even better just today." Sappy, yes. But a reuinion with your kid after two years allows for a little sap.

"Don't tell me it's complicated." The second time Rocket blurts out without meaning to, it's inspired by somewhat less saccharine and somewhat more rancor. "You can't talk to me like that anymore, o-okay?" He speaks lower when he says that and it terminates in a stutter, not quite ashamed, but incapable of taking pleasure even in the act of standing up for himself. "You're making me a cup of freaking—" freaking, "cider, and then you're just gonna get ready to let me go again. Don't act like I can't understand what kind of people live here.

"It's hard enough trying to understand you." Somehow, he keeps his voice even. It takes willpower, both metaphorical hands wrapped around the lever, all of his strength and kindness to stop some stupid dam from smashing to pieces. He already broke a VCR, and it's not as if he's fooled himself into thinking there's anything to salvage here. "Okay?"

It's something when a sixteen year old can shame his father. "I don't want you to go anywhere, Rocky. I want you back here with me." Tuck looks his son in the eye. "But I'm not going to make you. You've…whatever you've done to keep yourself all right, you know how to handle yourself." His gaze corners away and he pulls hands thorugh his hair - hair that has hints of silver frosting the edges here and there. Rocket's not the only one who's aged.

When he looks back, lines have appeared on his face. Maybe it's just the light, or a lack of a good-humoured smile. "Who're you working for, Rock?" He's not sure he wants to know, but the question can't go unasked forever. The words are quiet, tenative. He realizes he doesn't really have the right to ask.

There's an uneasy pause at that, the air sucking in and out through the narrow gap between Rocket's lip, objection knotting his brows and some staggered, hopeless verbal fumbling trapping hot air inside his lungs, a multitude of different emotions and defense mechanisms warring for realization. Abruptly, then, he cuts his gaze sharply downward.

"Why do you want to know?" he asks, finally, flatly. "Are you gonna talk to them? Ask them to take care of me?

"Tell 'em you think— you think I can take care of myself b-but that you still want…" His features crease very suddenly, like somebody had mashed their hands together around it to discover he wasn't made of muscle and bone but the crinkly, crunchy fragility of tissue paper, and his face gets stuck like that, bent around so many contrary, miserable lines that it actually hurts. The cider mug sits motionless between his hands and his eyes go slimey and red. For a long moment, Rocket can't even breathe.

"I want you back with me. I want to get you back to school. I want to get a decent house. Maybe get the fuck off Staten." Pipe dreams, but Tuck is good at those. He reaches across the table to set a hand on his son's. "But I lost the right to tell you what to do two years ago." He looks at Rocket for a long moment. Then,

"Come with me. I wanna show you something." He stands and motions to the narrow staircase.

This time, Rocket recoils. Slowly, mind you — he doesn't snatch his hand back so much as it belatedly goes scrabbling, crawling back into his personal space, then hangs to a halt curled against the front of his shirt.

"N-no." When he gets his answer out, it's more of a sigh than actual speech; he inhales through pink-edged nostrils and shakes his head. He isn't crying, thanks. He isn't crying. Not yet. "I d-don't want to." He inhales. Wetly. "I think I'm gonna go. I just wanted to make sure you w-were doing o-okay."

"Rocky…" Tuck can't disguise his hurt or hide his worry. "Jesus, kiddo…" and then, "…if you're gonna run off, promise me you'll come back? I've got some of your things. Upstairs. Pictures. Clothes." Though they won't fit anymore. "Please…at least think about giving your old man another chance?"

He looks around the room, then steps towards a tin box. He lifts it up and a false bottom and pulls out two hundred or so in cash. "At least take this." When he extents his hand, the bills shake ever so slightly.

Whatever Rocket is doing with that splotchy look on his face, it probably isn't thinking. Nevertheless, there's a wobble in his voice, a struggle in the little knots his hands make on the ends of his dangling arms, that indicates that he's trying. Trying so — fucking hard. To do what isn't immediately evident. To keep his composure, to be merciful, to salvage his pride, it's hard to tell what, exactly.

There's a lot of noise where Rocket is.

"N-no. No," he repeats. His curls are sticking to his forehead where a sweat has broken out, pale with something that isn't health. "I d-don't want it." 'It.' Might as well have said anything, for all the money seems to be radiating burning heat toward his recoiling frame. He totters off his chair sideways, his knees weaving uncomfortably in the cramped space between furniture. "Mayb-be later. I just— that's enough. That's enough."

uck lets the hand holding the money drop back. He looks at a loss. His head droops and he stares at his shoes, then slides up to look at his son again. He swallows. "Just…tell me you'll come back, sometime? Please?" His voice shakes on that last word. "I need to know that you're still okay." And then, a whisper, "I don't want to lose you. Again."

But that — doesn't that — that implies that Rocket's come back. Instead of being a passing ship in the night, a ghost about to float on. Either metaphor works. The boy smells faintly of sea salt and is as light on his feet as a thing made of amorphous ectoplasm instead of secondhand footwear and Tuck's biological legacy. He should have expected this, of course. For Tuck to want him back. He had. He hadn't expected Tuck's argument to be articulated on terms this appealing, however. A solid roof, all his old shit, none of Tuck's old bullshit.

It was supposed to be easy to leave. "'Kay." He's balled his hands up and put them in his pockets. He can't look anymore. Some magneto-gravitational force drags his eyes down with enough magnitude to bring his whole head down, chin into the creases of his garment too. He trips backward over a stray panel of VCR and then snags a tilting halt. "I p-promise. You have my word."

Tuck starts to make a half-step towards his son. But he pauses, worried that the kid'll spring away like a deer. "Thanks, kiddo." He allows himself the smallest of smiles.

The fence experiencing the utterly strangest mix of emotions. Elation, fear, regret. It's all mixed up with a beater and splashed over his face. He swallows and stands there, arms hanging at his side, waiting to see what Rocket does next. "I'll…I'm almost always here. I'm…" he digs into his pocket and pulls out a business card. "Here. In case you need to call me."

The hand that Rocket reaches with is as unsteady as the ones that Tuck had used to offer money and cider. The slip of card is grasped between his fingers, pulled free, flipped over and looked at it without the boy actually succeeding in seeing anything that's printed on it. He doesn't know why he took the card; doesn't know what he'd call for. "Okay," he answers, oddly. "If I need…"

The sentence dangles into nowhere, flutters slightly in the nonexistant breeze. The skin of his face is still the wrong color and shape, wrinkled tight and shiny, but he's breathing all right, now that he doesn't have a dozen confessions and broken pieces of news fighting for verbalization. "I'll t-try to get the other kids not to rob you," he says, finally, turning around. A stray bolt skitters away from his tread, and his already whippet-thin shoulders are folded almost in half.

Tuck shrugs. "There's nothing they can reach except DVDs and a few scraps." His lips tighten into what he means to be a smile. "That's…that's not a big deal, sport." He clears his throat. "Be…safe, okay? If you need anything…" And he means that as only a father can. Gilbert Tucker'd give his kid literally anything he asked. How many sixteen year olds can say that? "Take care of yourself, Rocky."

"Three years of my life back, fresh start, whole family," Rocket's voice is oddly steady as he says this, steady as the tap-tap of his feet out of here. He is watching his feet instead of listening to himself speak. "Seems like a pretty freaking tall order." His figure flattens out into a silhouette as he draws beyond the fuzzy radius of the shop's ceiling lights and closer to the glare of the Rookery in through the plateglass facade. The door gives a clink, its note falling flat. The stark shape of Rocket's hand merges briefly into the stoop of his hood, muffling his reply: "You too, Tuck."


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March 10th: Inventory
Previously in this storyline…
Bowling for Muldoon

Next in this storyline…
Inventory

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March 11th: None Are Broken
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