Two, Jack, Canton, Ohio, Present
Jack’s entire body felt heavy, and heavier still every day. It wasn’t the weight gain, though he hadn’t been able to make himself go to the gym or even run laps around the property. It was the force of a world he wasn’t sure he was a part of anymore, slowly grinding him into a boneless paste. Joey had barely left the hospital since they got back from Israel, but Jack could hardly summon the energy to even be sad. He had fought fascists before, even lost to them, on occasion, but it was the first time he felt alone with that loss, alone with his grief, with his pain.
He was thankful Rose wasn’t home. It was worse, when she was here, because then he had to hide it. It wasn’t right, to pawn his suffering off on her- a suffering, he knew, she couldn’t help him out from under, a burden she couldn’t help shoulder. It would just make her miserable, too, and she was already dealing with losing their son.
Joey and Jack didn’t always see eye to eye. There were times past Jack couldn’t help but feel his son was embarrassing him, not with who he was, but the way he lived his life. Jack knew, now, that he was wrong, that Joey’s wild years had all been a pursuit of something stolen from him in his youth, or perhaps even trying to fill a hole he was born with. But he loved his son, and if he was honest with himself- which, he wasn’t, always- watching him waste away was weighing on him, too.
He couldn’t burden, Joey, either. The boy had been through enough; he’d seen enough before the end of WWII for a lifetime.
The sounds of the news only occasionally broke into Jack’s reverie; he kept the sound low, absorbing the carousel of horrorshow imagery mostly through osmosis. He was an old, old man, and sometimes… sometimes he wondered if he was just waiting to die, waiting for this world or God or at least his old bones to finally release him. But after the experiment that gave him his strength, his durability, and yes, his longevity, he wasn’t sure if it ever would.
Through exposure to him, his wife and Joey had both lived longer, healthier lives than most could hope for; Joey’s HIV lingered decades longer than his counterparts, before finally overtaking his immune system- long enough that anti-retrovirals gave him still more time. Just, not much more.
Jack sighed. He wanted to cry; he wished he could. If he were crying, grieving, anything would have been better than just sitting in his recliner, waiting either for the world to end or for him to, it would have felt like something. Like he was doing something with his life.
His phone rang, and his heart skipped a beat. Maybe this was something he could do, some problem he could solve, or even some sick kid he could hug and tell he hoped she got better. He unlocked it, and saw it was his wife, and tried not to be disappointed. “Jack,” she said, her voice fluttery, “they’re taking Joe off the machines.”
“God,” Jack said, his voice rattling hollowly in his chest. He wasn’t ready for this. No parent should have to bury their children, but… Joey still should have had so much more time. “I’ll be right there,” he said, uncertain he could move himself from his chair with anything approaching the urgency in his voice.
“No, Jack, he isn’t dying. They say his insurance has been cancelled. They’re forcing us to leave the VA.” Jack’s phone splintered into dozens of tiny shards, as his grip tightened into a fist. He didn’t remember even standing, but he was already moving towards the door. Finally, he had a mission, a distraction, a wrong to right, a place to put his anger, his frustration and his woe- and God help the bastards who got in his way.