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[personal profile] stbethadettes
As soon as Beth opens the door, she can hear the clink of glasses and the rattle of dishes and the susurrus of a building full of conversation.

Smoothing her green dress a little, she walks up to the maitre d', but before she can say a word, she notices a silver-haired man in a simple white button-down shirt and black slacks sitting at a table just feet away. He raises one hand in greeting.

Her voice gets caught in her throat, and she's a hell of a lot more grateful than she lets on when the maitre d' puts two and two together easily enough and leads her over to the man's table, lingering long enough to hold her seat out for her and tell them their waiter will be with them shortly.

Once in her seat, her forehead wrinkles so intensely it almost hurts and she has to study his face, every inch of it, and she hears herself use a word she hasn't in over fifteen years.

"Hi, daddy."

She might be imagining that he looks paler than she remembers and even a little hazy around the edges, but she knows she's not imagining the small smile on his face. "Beth."

"Where's mom?"

"She... couldn't be here tonight."

"Oh." Her eyes lower for a moment.

"Sorry to disappoint."

Looking up again, she can see that almost unnoticeable gleam of humor in his eyes. "It's okay, dad. I think I can make do."

"You're smoking again."

"Fuck, dad, what are you, some kind of goddamn bloodhound? I've smoked twice in the past two months."

Her mom, ten years her dad's junior and always the parent she was closest to, often said that the silver hair -- which he's had almost as long as Beth can remember -- made him look distinguished, even if she teased him about it sometimes. Looking at him now, she thinks she has to agree.

"It's not good for you." It's what he always said. "Or anybody else."

"Dad, I think that if I'm entitled to one thing these days," she leans forward, arms crossed on the table in front of her, and continues to ignore her menu, "it's smoking whenever I can and want to."

He's quiet for a moment, almost as if he doesn't have it in him to argue with her on that one, and takes a drink of the deep red wine in his glass, which seems almost as hazy around the edges as he does. "It's not your fault things happened the way they did, Elizabeth."

It nearly seems unrelated, but... it's not. Not really, and suddenly she can't quite make herself look at him. "I know."

"Do you?"

She still doesn't look up. "Did mom have to watch you die?"

It's his turn to pause a moment. "We'd met for lunch, but I was on my way back to work when it happened."

It was a Wednesday, she remembers that well, and as glad as she is to know her mom didn't have to watch him start bleeding all over the place and die in front of her, it's still difficult to accept how it must've happened, that he was one of the hundreds of thousands who started dying while they were in vehicles and ended up in pile-ups of cars on the roads because even if they somehow managed to keep control of the vehicle once they started hemorrhaging, it didn't last long.

It takes a blink or two before she can finally make herself meet his eyes again, and she moves on as if he hadn't answered her question at all. She doesn't think very many women out there who are aware of exactly how their fathers died when the plague hit wouldn't have some kind of goddamn daddy issue, no matter how mild.

"You're a grandfather." And before he can say a word, she goes on in a rush. "Her name's Beth. Elizabeth Marie, but a lot of the time we just call her Beth Junior. She's about to be six weeks old and she's absolutely beautiful, even though she looks a lot like her father and I don't think I'll ever see him again." She pauses for a breath. "It's... all kind of a complicated story."

"You remind me a little of your mother."

It surprises her to hear that. She and Charlotte, her mom, both had blonde hair and the same kind of build, but Jack and Charlotte are her adoptive parents. She's never really looked a whole lot like either of them.

"From the moment we first met you at the hospital, you were all hers," he goes on. "She'd been wanting you for so long, and the minute she first got to hold you, she looked at me like I'd managed to gift-wrap the moon and hand it to her. You were hers, adopted or not, and she was determined for you to know that."

That makes her smile slightly. "What about you, dad?"

"Me?" He doesn't seem to have expected that at all. "I loved you when you were a tiny golden-haired infant, and I loved you when you were a willful teenager who kept trying to smoke behind our backs, and I loved you when I died."

She's not sure he ever would've said any of that in life, or at least not specifically to her.

"I'm proudest of you now," he adds in a tone that's a bit confidential, and she's so tempted to reach out and touch his hand or his arm or his shoulder but something about his outline seems so tenuous that she's afraid to lay a finger on him.

"Damn, Jack. Death certainly has mellowed you into a hell of a softie."

He gives her one of his sternest looks at first -- one that rivals any he ever gave her -- but then he laughs. Long and loud and clear, and it's one of the best things she's ever heard.


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January 2009

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