Junkyard Dogs: II.II
It had been a hard conversation, most of it conducted back in the machine shop, and in the end Winslow had realized that there was no way Jay would bend on this. He was going to get out; if he couldn't change the equation, and couldn't live with it, then he had no choice but to remove as much of himself as he could from it.
"You'll at least go and watch him test out this theory," Winslow had finally said, in resignation.
Jay had nodded, willing to hang on and dig his fingernails into the cliff edge he felt like he was slipping off of, at least long enough to make sure that the lad got to show off all those smarts and all that talent, maybe even to people who could give him a real chance to use it all. Despite the bad choices that could have destroyed it.
It was chilly out, a good wind blowing, but the sun was shining and there was no rain in the forecast. Jay didn't get in the thick of it; Cait was there, and he spent a few moments looking at her from a distance, comparing, contrasting. There were more than a few people around, too; Starfleet engineers, who were awed about the field generators, University officials who were doubtless claiming the kid as their student, some journalists who probably wrote for the technical journals. A good sized gathering.
The lad looked nervous, but not in quite the same way as he once was. Jay had taken the chance to talk to him early in the morning, when it was still quiet -- gave him the tip of holding his hands behind his back to keep from fidgeting. He was doing that now, except when he got on a roll, then he started gesturing like usual.
"Quite a lot of work, for a boy that age," the man said, and Jay glanced over to see the small, gray-haired fellow standing next to him.
"Aye. Took most o' the year, and a lot o' puttin' his nose to the grindstone." Jay looked back down at the field, where things were starting to get organized for the presentation.
"It should be interesting to see what happens." A pause. "Your son, I assume?"
Jay hesitated for only a moment with a side-long glance, then nodded, squinting into the sunlight with a half-smile. "Aye, he's my son. Dinna get to raise him, but... half o' me, down there."
It felt strangely good to say that.
"Hm." The man nodded himself. "I imagine you're proud."
That made the man chuckle, then he patted Jay on the back and started down the hill. "As you should be. And now, I am going to go see if your son either makes my theory, or breaks it."
Jay laughed, albeit quietly. And stayed back while Alejandro Perera went to go see his theory in practice.
When it was all said and done, Perera's theory was disproven. The next several hours, of course, were spent while the scientist picked the brain of the engineer, and several Starfleet recruiters tried to get a word in edgewise.
Jay didn't get involved with any of it, stayed back at a distance. But even despite the fact that he kept mostly inconspicuous, he knew that Montgomery knew he was there. And, though he didn't really look forward to what would come next, he knew that Cait had spotted him too.
And while her son... their
son... was busy telling everyone how he had done it, how he had disproven the Perera Field Theory, she broke off and came up. One part looking reproachful, one part looking guilty. All Cait. He didn't feel any old fires burning for her, more just a sort of pity that she hadn't really had it in her to get to know the child she was half responsible for either.
"I dinna expect..." she started, then trailed off, looking anywhere but at him.
"He doesna know," Jay replied, without bothering with any preambles. "I dinna plan on tellin' him, either."
She looked relieved, and he felt a spike of bitterness at that expression. "It's for the best, aye."
"No," Jay said, tipping his head up a little. "It never was. But lemme tell ye somethin', Caitlyn... he's a good lad. And I'm hopin' those Starfleet recruiters take that idea I put in his head, and talk him into it." She gave him an angry, slightly hurt look, but Jay couldn't really find it in him to forgive her, anymore than he could forgive himself.
"Jay..." she started, rubbing her forehead.
"'Cause eventually he's gonna find he's got a bit o' junkyard dog in him, even if he doesna know from where, an' he's gonna decide on makin' his own path." Jay nodded, tossing one last glance down at the field. Then he turned around, walking away as he finished, "And that's when he'll stop payin' for our bad decisions."
She didn't try to follow. And he didn't look back.
"Figured I'd pick up my engineer's mate certificate again," Jay explained, three weeks later. Cold and raining, as usual. And he was just boxing up the last of his things -- the sign outside already had been changed. No McMillan, now it was just Winslow Salvage. "Head back to Deneva, see maybe if I can make it up to chief on a dyna-carrier. Good, honest work, and I liked it."
Montgomery nodded, hands behind his back as he watched. Jay thought maybe that would become his new favorite pose. "I put in my paperwork for Starfleet. Been hearin' about it from Mum ever since, and the rest of 'em along with her."
"Aye, well... just remember what I told ye, right? Dinna let 'em tell ye what to do with yer life."
The lad nodded again, studying the desk-top thoughtfully.
Jay set the box on it, after a good look around to make sure he wasn't missing anything. "Winslow's got ye scheduled around yer classes. If ye need more time for coursework, dinna forget to tell him."
Hard as saying goodbye was, Jay was fairly sure that the hardest part was over. He didn't know why, so much -- why that there was some sad, but honest peace now that he was on his way back out of the kid's life. Not because he was leaving it, but maybe just because he was leaving it with the mindset of a father, even if it was knowledge the lad didn't have.
He chuckled to himself, pulling the penlight he'd gotten out of his pocket and offering it over. "Here, ye'll likely need this at some point."
The lad took it, frowning a bit in surprise. Turned it on, testing it out, then both of his eyebrows went up in appreciation -- it was a high end little light, strong enough to do most work, in the cramped or sometimes dark places engineers had to go. "I, uh..."
The kid didn't, despite looking like he wanted to, turning it back off and reading the text etched on the side. He raised an eyebrow, looking back up at Jay with an amused half-smile. "Junkyard Dog?"
"A reminder. Ye know, in case ye make it to bein' a famous engineer, ye'll remember yer humble beginnings."
At the 'famous' part, the lad made a face. But he held onto the penlight regardless.
"All right, I have to go. Agent's comin' to pick up my bungalow keys, and I have to drop this box off on the Horizon Star
," Jay said, pulling his coat on, and taking one more moment to regard his son.
If there was a moment where it really did hurt, it was when the lad looked sorry that Jay was going. Not like he would if he knew the truth, if Jay had spent the past sixteen and a half years raising him. But a sort of sorrow regardless. It was a fairly grown-up look, stoic and well-controlled, more of a look at the man he would be in a short while, that Jay would likely never get to know.
And if there was a moment that made Jay feel grateful for even this time, it was when the kid gave him an awkward hug, impulsive and uncertain, one more look at the child he'd been before.
He held on back, just for a moment. "Keep yer head up, son," he said, past the emotion that made his throat tight. And then he let go, heading out the door.
Montgomery Scott never knew just how much Jay McMillan had said, when he said that.
But a few years later, Jay was hanging a picture sent by Winslow of a snappy looking Starfleet cadet, in black dress uniform just after his Basic Training graduation, over his bunk on the dyna-carrier he was the Assistant Chief Engineer on, cruising the Denevan oceans.
And never failed to smile, even if it was sometimes sadly, that the young man looking back had his chin tipped up in pride.