It starts with a simple question.
"Mom? Why did Dad leave?"
Yeah, it starts with a simple question, asked by your 6 year old daughter, who's sitting at the table with a bowl of strawberry ice cream placed in front of her. You on the other hand have bent down to empty the dishwasher, but when the soft words reach your ears, your hands still and you turn around to face her. She's looking at you packed with the kind of innocence only someone so young can possess and for a moment your mind hits pause - it's her eyes. They're exact copies of her father's in every sense of the phrase and sometimes, like now, it extracts a sigh from your parted lips.
Why did he leave? Funny. You've been wondering the same for the past 6 years.
Only, whereas she has no clue, you do.
"It's complicated, hon. Eat your ice cream," you say, trying to smile and turn back to your chore before she can detect the hint of sadness in your eyes. To your huge annoyance she's a master when it comes to picking up things like that - subtle hints, shelled emotions - and you know from experience she won't let go until her curiosity is satisfied and right now, you can't handle that. Truthfully, you can never handle it, unless she's curious about unicorns and flowers or nice stuff like that. When she's curious about babies and male anatomy, that's when you usually feel you're on thin ice and about to fall through.
It's complicated, all right. And it's ugly and stupid and definitely something you would rather keep buried in the past, hidden. She doesn't need to know. She's too young to know. She's too innocent to know.
But the truth is... it's not that. She's his daughter and that's the only reason she doesn't need to know.
How can you tell your daughter it was a mistake, but the kind you'd do all over again if you had to choose? How can you look you into those beautiful eyes and tell her that you know he left because he doesn't believe in the same things you do?
In fact, his ideal world would be the exact opposite of yours.
"Elise has a dad," she points out matter-of-factly while eating a spoonful.
Your hand shakes ever so slightly when you reach for the final plate, pull it out and place it on the shelf in line with your eyes and then, turn around. How can it be that something so small can find a way to drain your energy in only a matter of seconds? On second thought, look who's talking. Before the Cure you could do it too, couldn't you? For the millionth time you're grateful for the fact she didn't inherit your mutation... she got his.
You found out a few months ago when the curtains suddenly caught fire.
"Yeah, I know she does," you say, blinking, because that's the only thing you can say. You've always known this topic would be brought up eventually but you always thought she'd be older and that you could sit down with her and talk it through, woman to woman. It's not the time.
Then again, it never will be if you have your way. If there's any way you can protect her from the things he did then that's what you're gonna do. Fine, you're not stupid, you know that eventually she'll have to face your past and his. Eventually she'll suffer for the things you've done, but not yet.
"He hasn't left," she says then as stubbornly as always, and you bring your hand up to massage the side of your very tensed neck. You close your eyes for a second and sigh - again - and then, slowly force your eyes open.
What could you possibly say to that?
"Shelby, honestly, eat your ice cream," you repeat tiredly, leaning against the counter behind your back, "Bobby is gonna be here any minute now."
She makes a face, shoulders collapsing. Then, "Do I have to go?"
"Yes," you reply and this time the smile on your lips isn't forced. She loves spending time with Bobby and Jubilee and their kids whenever it's possible, but like a true little girl, this Friday she's decided to be difficult. You'd guess it's because she's not satisfied by your answers and she's punishing you.
Just like her father.
"He doesn't like Dad," Shelby continues, completely oblivious to the painful thoughts raging within your soul, "He hates Dad."
You snort. That's the understatement of the year, but again, not something she needs to know.
"No, that's not true," you lie - whoever said lying to your kids to protect them isn't smart was obviously someone with no children, "He doesn't hate Dad. They just never really got along," you explain and stop to think, "Kinda like you and that Jessie girl, you know? You're constantly getting into fights at school, which by the way, has to stop."
This time it's Shelby looking pensive. So pensive, in fact, that she ends up scratching an itch next to her nose with the spoon and leaving a trail of ice cream in its wake, but before you have time to mention it, she throws another question into the air - "Do I look like him?" she asks and your heart skips a beat while your fingers wrap around the counter's edge to keep you from faltering.
Oh gods. "Yes," you breathe in, "honey, you do." Breathe out. And again. If your voice actually worked right now, you'd tell her she's got his eyes and the hair color, and the damned attitude and the gift that always meant the most to him.
She tilts her head the way her father always did and narrows her eyes. One doesn't have to be a genius to know there's another question trying to find its way out of her head.
"Bobby was talking with Jubilee one day and he said that Dad's 'a stupid fuck'," she rambles on, completely innocent and you gasp for air, no words coming out.
"What does that mean?" She prompts at the same time as you finally manage to shriek, horrified, "Shelby!"
"Bobby said it first!" She hurries to her own defense, a discontent frown wrinkling her features and you make a mental note to bitchslap that stupid assface to hell and back.
"Yeah, well," you speak, but through gritted teeth - you might sound much calmer now, but it's not how you're feeling inside, "what have I told you about repeating that kind of stupid stuff?"
She rolls her eyes, knowing the answer, but refusing to voice it, "But what does it mean?"
What indeed... violence, pain, wrath. You gape, though obviously, it's not her fault your friends are idiots. "It means I'll kick his sorry little ass when he gets here," you hiss, "Now eat!"
Probably realizing the sudden change in your mood isn't a good sign, she gives with a shrug and returns to her ice cream.
There's a long pause, during which you simply stand there, gripping the counter and staring at your daughter, trying to will your strength back.
Finally the silence is broken, though, and you can almost guess the next question before it slips through the pink lips.
"Mom?" She whispers, glancing up and your heart breaks, "Does he know about me?"
It starts with a simple question. You can see him in front of you, fingers raking through the blond curls and hear his words in your ears as loudly as he was there, next to you.
So, you're telling me, he snorts inside your head, that just because I fucked you - once - you're knocked up?
And you can hear yourself saying, well, yeah, haven't you read the books? It only takes one time.
Then it's his voice again, angry and frustrated, there's no way out of this. I'm not leaving the Brotherhood for... and I'm guessing-
Your voice, sharp and cold, no. I'm not leaving my people. Not for a one night stand that never meant anything.
A moment later you hear him clear his throat, stating rather than asking, so you're getting rid of it.
Don't worry, John, your voice bites, I'll take care of it.
And you did. You took care of it. Been taking care of it for 6 beautiful years and you wouldn't trade it for the world.
Stupid fuck, indeed.
It takes some time to swallow the heavy lump inside your throat and gather up enough courage to look at her without giving away the pain you're feeling.