Title: Calculate the Damage
Authors: Seana Renay and Naina (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Rating: PG for this part, NC-17 for the whole shebang.
Spoilers: Hard Core Logo, although this is an AU.
Distribution: Ten Buck Fucks and Bindlestitch. Otherwise, ask us first.
Disclaimer: Not ours. Bruce's. Noel's. Callum's and Hugh's. And some other people's.
Feedback: You betcha.
Notes: The authors wish to thank Creatch, Steph, Corey, Karl, and of course, each other.
Summary: A lifespan.
Billy's eating a late lunch on the balcony, reading the Vancouver Sun. An unfamiliar green Honda pulls up outside the townhouse, and a young man, about college age, gets out. He looks around, then hesitantly enters the hallway three stories below where Billy sits. A minute later, the intercom goes off inside the apartment.
"Um, hi. I'm Josh Gailit. Is Joe Mulgrew in?"
Billy's silent for a moment.
"Sir? Mr. Boisy?"
"No, he's not in. Ah - come on up. It's 3C, top of the stairs. I'll buzz you in."
Billy opens the door to find the young man coming up the stairs. He's Billy's height, but from the width of his shoulders he'll be broader when he gets older; this close, he looks about 18. Short, straight black hair, freckles and blue eyes. Cute in a wide-eyed way that makes Billy feel old and dirty for noticing. His hands are white and smooth. Billy always looks at hands, looks for calluses, maybe he's checking for competition or something. The thought makes him laugh, and it takes him a moment to realize that standing in a doorway and staring and laughing at someone might be construed as rude.
"Ah, sorry about that. Come in," he says, waving the boy inside. The place is messy but if this kid knows who he is at all he should expect nothing less. "So--" He shouldn't ask this, he should say something first, he should tell him. But this kid Josh obviously has no idea about Joe and Billy's pretty sure he won't get the real truth out of him once he does. "So you're looking for Joe."
"Yes, sir," the kid says, nodding quickly, nervous and polite. Billy nods toward the couch and the kid smiles, says "thank you" and sits down, back ramrod straight.
Billy sits in the chair facing him and leans forward, elbows on his knees. He smiles back at Josh and uses his 'Maybe it's none of my business but come on, you know you want to tell me' voice. "Can I ask why?"
Josh sighs like he's been dreading that question. "Uh, well. To tell you the truth, sir--"
"Billy." He laughs, can't help it. "No one's ever called me 'sir' in my life."
Josh smiles an obviously forced smile. He's uncomfortable here, maybe even a little scared. "All right, then," he says but Billy knows it's not all right at all and he'll be 'sir' again before they even get to the point here. Billy wonders what's got this kid so shaken. He's always had a way of putting people at ease, but then again that might have been because Billy was usually at ease himself. He wonders if he's lost his charm over these past few years.
"So . . . " Billy prods, reminding Josh that a question had been asked. "How come you're looking for Joe?"
Josh colors faintly and his gaze drops to his hands. "Well, to tell you the truth, s—
Billy... " He shrugs and looks up at Billy with a wry grin. "I really don't know."
"You don't know what you're doing here?"
"No, not exactly." Josh shrugs again, holds up the piece of paper he's got clutched in his hand. "My parents told me to come here, said I should talk to this guy Joe Mulgrew. I don't know much about him, except they like his – well, your – music."
"You mean Hard Core Logo? Or Jenifur?"
Josh nods now, more relaxed. "Ah, Hard Core Logo. Mom knew your real names, said she knew you guys way back. I don't know, she wrote this down," he hands the paper to Billy, who sees his own Vancouver address on it, no phone number.
"What's your mom's name?"
"Susannah, she would have been Susannah Boyle then. I think she was into your band in the early eighties mostly. She met Dad at a show, actually." Josh grins, laughs a little. When Billy gives him a questioning look, he adds, "I just think it's funny that my parents met at a punk show and I don't even like punk. No offense."
Billy just grins back. "None taken. Susannah…yeah, I remember her, a little bit. Tall redhead, right?" Josh nods again.
"She went to a lot of shows about twenty years ago. Around here, mostly."
"Not Canadian, though. From…" Billy's forehead wrinkles as he tries to remember. Josh smiles.
"Tacoma. South of Seattle. We've been there the last several years, my grandmum was sick."
"How did your mom find m – us?"
Josh looks back at the paper with the address on it. "She looked in the phone book and couldn't find a listing for Joe under Mulgrew or Dick." He smiles. "But she found your name and address, and said if you were around, you'd probably know where to find him. Then I saw his name with yours on the mailbox and buzzer outside." Josh shrugs, gestures around the apartment. So here he is.
Billy's still for several moments. Josh notices, straightens a little.
"Will he be back this afternoon? Joe, I mean."
Billy's breath catches in his throat, and he swallows, trying to figure out a way to break the news. This is not a good time to be evasive, he knows that. He twists his hands together, running his right fingers over the logo ring on his left hand. This is a new nervous habit for him, but a reassuring one. This ring comforts him, he had it resized for his ring finger…after…
"Joe died. Four years ago." He doesn't even look up at Josh when he speaks, but he senses the boy's shock.
"Oh. I-I'm sorry." Josh stammers. When Billy glances at him, he thinks the kid looks like he's been stunned with a tazer or something. His mother sent him all the way here to talk to someone who's been silent for years. Billy almost reaches out to put a hand on the kid's shoulder.
"It's okay. It wasn't a big punk accident or anything." He's trying to lighten the mood a little, but Josh just looks at him as if he's unhinged. Billy gives up and shrugs. "He had cancer."
"Oh." Josh says again, and Billy knows that the conversation is over. He goes over to the cluttered desk by the bedroom door and rummages for a notepad and pen. "Hey, why don't you give me your mom's number and I'll see what she wanted, okay? Maybe I can help you, since Joe can't."
Wide blue eyes stare up at him. Billy wants to smack himself, he can't believe it took him this long to figure out why this kid, Josh Gailit, keeps sending off little niggles in his brain. Taller and skinnier, yeah, but he's a dead ringer for Joe when he was that age. Is he Joe's? Josh takes the pad and pen numbly, and writes down a number and a couple of names. He's got to ask one thing.
"How old are you, anyway?"
The boy hands him back the pad. "Eighteen, just turned July 28th." Billy nods, looks at the paper, which has a Vancouver number and the names Susannah and Dennis Gailit on it. "Those are my parents. They should be around this evening if you want to try then." Josh stands, pats his pockets for his car keys, and moves toward the door.
"I'm sorry about Joe, really." He says awkwardly. Billy shrugs.
"It's okay. I'm sorry you had to come out here just to find that out."
Billy goes back out to the balcony after Josh turns away, clunking down the stairs. He leans on the railing, the cool cast iron digging into his forearms, and watches Josh get into the green Honda. When it speeds off out of sight, he still looks down at the street, not thinking, really, just watching people go about their business.
It's a little after four, now, still a couple hours until he can call the Gailits. Billy cleans up the remainders of his meal, straightens things a little, then heads downstairs to the first floor of the building.
Good old fashioned grunge is tumbling out of the speakers when he comes in the back entrance of the store, but the manager, Tony, turns it down a little when he sees him.
"Hey boss man. Need to see the delivery receipts?" Billy nods, catches the sheaf of paper Tony tosses him across the counter, then goes into the cramped little office in the back. Paperwork: always a good, mindless way to waste a couple hours. He doesn't snap to again until he hears Tony over the speakers instead of Nirvana:
"Attention Hard Core Music customers. The time is now half past seven and we'll be closing in half an hour. Don't make us kick your ass out of here. Thank you kindly."
God, it'd been what, 5 years Tony had been saying that, and Billy still wasn't sure if he was serious. Even days when long-awaited albums had come out, they hadn't had a problem with customers staying late. Could have been because Joe had usually hung out by the counter during the last half hour, staring insolently at each and every person who made him wait longer for his evening nookie.
Billy smiles, neatly filing the papers he'd worked on, then goes out to the store proper to help Tony and Elana start closing up.
At 8.30 sharp, he dials the number Josh gave him, settling uneasily at the kitchen table. Realises with a start that he never asked Josh not to tell his parents about Joe. A woman answers, and greetings are enthusiastically exchanged for a few minutes.
"So…I sent Josh to see Joe today. Is that all right? Did you meet him?" Susannah sounds a little unsure suddenly.
"You, uh, haven't seen Josh this evening?"
A pause. "No, he hasn't been around. I don't think – Dennis, has Josh been in at all?" Billy can hear a man's tone making negative sounds near Susannah, and she confirms it a second later. "We haven't seen him, no. Why?"
"Suze…" The old nickname slips out, and Billy rubs his forehead wearily. "Joe died four years ago." He hears her say something, or maybe she just gasps, but he keeps talking. "He had cancer, only the local papers mentioned it. Josh told me you've been in the states, so it's not surprising you didn't know." This isn’t entirely true; there had been a few tiny blurbs in the music industry magazines, because of Joe's connection to Billy.
"God." Susannah draws a deep breath. "That's…well…not something I really expected."
"No one did, Suze. Not even me. Thought we'd both have rock n' roll deaths, you know?" Billy tries to smile at himself, but can't.
"Bill." Her voice is different now, clearer. "You figured it out."
Figured what - ? Billy blinks for a second, wondering if he was frozen in time and missed a vital part of this conversation. Oh. Josh. "He is Joe's?"
"Yes. I was only with Joe once, but I was pregnant when I met Dennis. He's always known Josh wasn't his."
Somehow, the thing that sticks out in Billy’s mind isn't that Joe has a kid, or that she'd never told them, but "You only slept with Joe once? Why?"
It's been a long time since he heard Susannah laugh like that. "He was pretty damn good, huh?" She giggles, and now Billy feels a grin split his face. "No, it wasn't that, God no. It was just…" A sigh, then, "I knew a lot of the girls then, and most of us who did sleep with him, fuck him, whatever you want to call it - only did it once, and all for the same reason. Joe was yours, Billy. None of us could ever change that, and we knew it. A couple of the girls kept after him anyway, but he never let it last long."
"I, uh. I think I noticed that, then." He knew how stupid he'd been. Two decades ago, nearly. This information doesn't change a damn thing about him, about them. Why would it? More proof of Joe's devotion, that's really all it is.
"It was hard to miss, most of the time." Billy wishes she didn't sound so apologetic. Susannah clears her throat, and Billy can hear her husband saying something to her in the background. He waits while they converse, idly rifling through a new issue of a music industry magazine. He's got a feeling he knows what they want to ask him, decides to make it a little easier on them.
"Suze? I can talk to Josh for you, you know. Tell him some stories about the good old days, what Joe was like in his youth, that kind of shit."
The murmuring on the other end stops abruptly, and Billy grins to himself. Right on target. Susannah draws a deep breath. "Bill. We don't want to presume anything here, but there's only so much we can tell him."
"I know. I'm just a fount of information here." This comes out with a trace of bitterness around the edges, and he's not sure why. He doesn't think he's being used, he shouldn't really feel that way, right? After all, he was the person closest to Joe for the majority of his life. Of all people, he's probably the best choice of anyone to tell Josh what his biological father was like.
"Thank you, Billy, for offering. We weren't sure how to ask." Susannah's voice comes back over the wire, tinged with regret. She pauses, then, "What will you tell him?"
"What should I tell him?" Billy mutters, hopping up to pace across the room. "Really. It's not going to matter to him, you know. Or it will, but Dennis is still going to be his father, whether they're biologically related or not."
"Well, you could tell him what Joe was like at his age. That would be a good start."
Billy sighs, runs his free hand through his hair. Joe at eighteen. He'd been nineteen. God, they'd already had six years of history behind them by then.
"Okay. You send Josh back to me…I don't know, have him call me and we'll set it up. I'll tell him what Joe was like as a teenager raising hell."
End of part one.