1st : My apologies! I was trying to get the last of this Chapter down, and wondering how much was too much to stuff in one Chapter, when another plot bunny for another fandom assaulted me, and I found that the second story would not leave me alone. That, RL (of course), and I am a very slow typist.
2nd : Again, many of the situations and incidents that I am speaking of are true...the characters of Frank, Jimmie and Maggie are much like people I have known personally (Frank is an amalgam of several of my parents' Italian-American friends...most of them named Frank!). The 2nd A/N at the end of this Chapter will show what really happened to some of the POWs in Japanese hands.
3rd : The tone of this Chapter changes wildly – from the characters being merry indeed, to deepest anger and sorrow. It stands as one piece because life is usually like that. There are mentions of torture here, and unfortunately, that's the part I'm not making up. If I've done my job correctly, emotions will swing. You've been warned.
4th : Many thanks to random4ever, loyal reviewer, ChristainGateFan, beta extraordinaire (and a review to boot), Gene and his beta-ing, Wolfie for cheering me on, and foreheadwoman, parrotingswan and geniecat2, for favoriting/alerting – hope this was worth the wait.
5th : The remaining canon characters belong to Stan Lee & Co., and this tale is completely for fun and not for profit.
Chapter 9 – Fancy That
Meanwhile, back at the ranch...
Maggie Andolini was a grammar school teacher, a licensed practical nurse, a farmer, a wife and a mother. But of all the things that she was, that she had been...none of them was a fool.
So when Frank sent her and the girls away, she went with Plan B, like any good general.
"More than one way to skin a cat," she explained as they sipped soda from bottles and snacked from the cold cellar supplies, as they settled themselves comfortably in the laundry room. "We can hear every word they say from down here, and since you say your brother," Maggie directs a fond nod in Raven's direction, "won't go into peoples' heads unprovoked, if he doesn't know we're here, Frank and the rest won't have a clue."
So they listened and learned, and even without the photographs, they heard and understood the uncanny resemblance between uncle and nephew.
And then Frank's voice, rising through the heating vents: "... I was in love from da moment I laid eyes on 'im...".
The younger women snapped their heads to their elder as if they'd been on rubber bands. Maggie, closed her eyes and immediately pressed her index finger to her lips in quiet warning, and the girls waited until the gents adjourned to the kitchen before letting out a double gasp, ready to pounce with questions. A stern look silenced them before they could get started; this time, her left hand raised compelled obedience. Maggie sighed: "About time."
"What?" chimed the young pair. "What do you mean?"
"Yes, dears...about time. You see, I've known the gist about Fancy for over 20 years now. I've just been waiting for him to admit it to himself. He's never talked about the war, to me or anyone, but he still has nightmares (only when he's rundown or sick nowadays, but still). He wrote me daily letters while he was at Fort Dix and even after he was stationed in Hawaii, before he shipped out to the Philippines. He never had anything to hide, but it was always, 'Fancy this' or 'Fancy that'. Then, when they said he was missing in action, they said his officer was with him. But from the day Frank came home, it was easy to see that he wasn't the same happy-go-lucky guy I married. There was this haunted look in his eyes, no matter how glad he was to see me. Joey didn't know what happened, he wasn't a prisoner, but he told me that the Nips broke him. And that's all he would say; that, and 'don't take his box away'."
Again, both girls exclaimed: "Box?"
"Box. This big black lacquer box. Never got a good look at it, don't know what was inside. I just know that for the first month he was home, he never had that box out of his arms. Wouldn't put it down to eat, to do things around the house, to hold his sons, not even to kiss me. For all I know, he slept with it, since his leg was still in a bad way and he was sleeping in the den so as not to jostle it. Finally, his father (who stayed with us until he died), had this long talk in Italian: all I caught was 'you're worse than an old woman, than your Aunt Carmela'. So he stopped walking around with the box, and I never saw it again."
Before any of the women could continue their conversation, they hear echoing down the vent shaft:
"So Erik, when you gonna make an honest woman outta my nephew?"
It was Jimmie who pulled together a meal: vegetable soup that his mother had simmering and sandwiches featuring fresh homemade bread and local cheese, along with the meats.
Since one did not speak of 'business' at the table, Frank decided to change the subject – radically.
"So Erik, when you gonna make an honest woman outta my nephew?"
The reactions are immediate: a spit-take from Jimmie to make Groucho Marx proud; Erik, choking on a mouthful of sandwich and soda, both knowing that the humans would be the death of him and thinking that he hasn't had this much liquid in his lungs since Miami Bay; and Charles, pounding on Erik's back, huffing indignantly: "Really Uncle! Why oh why does everyone insist that I must be the lass in this relationship? By George, I've had more women than the lot of you together, yet you all keep acting as if I were some adorable cuddle bunny or perhaps a puppy! I ask you, do I look adorable?" The culmination on his mounting ire is to glare around the table…and pout.
Luckily, the laughter from above stairs drowns out the laughter from below.
The food break finished, the men resume their places in the den, but this time Frank is stretched out, sitting against the headboard, aching leg raised on a wedged cushion, while Charles is curled into Frank's left side, and Erik sits at the foot of bed closest to his love, and Jimmie reverse straddles the desk chair, as close to his former captives as he dares.
Erik is quiet; as straight forward and honest as he is, Frank mightily confuses all of Erik's deeply held beliefs. For one, human soldiers (even former soldiers) should see mutants like him as weapons: dangerous weapons. And act accordingly. Yet Frank, clearly no fool, understands their potential for destruction but accepts them completely, without reservation. He treats them as long-lost family; he is even proud of Charles' abilities, seeing mutant powers as gifts. For another, humans, especially human males, should see his love for Charles as a sin, an abomination. And act accordingly. Instead, Frank completely accepts it, to the point where he can joke about it. And not in a bad way. And it seems that Frank and he have a great deal in common that way: neither of them had ever loved a man before, and no other man was/is attractive to them.
But Erik's musing was cut short by the sound of a clearing throat; Jimmie began to stutter: "Umm, Pop? Er, um, I, um, jeeze, I "
"Spit it out facheem, spit it out."
"Didja ever do 'im? Does Ma know? She doesn't act like she hates you."
Frank sighs and casts a bleary eye on his youngest son: "Nah, she don't know...and no, I didn't do 'im. Not 'cause I didn't want to do 'im. After a long while, we both kinda sorta figured it out for ourselves, you know? Sose when we did, figure it out, I mean, I wanted, he wanted, we wanted, sumptin', but we weren't sure what we wanted, we didn't know what to do. An' den again, it wasn't like we could do sumptin'. We were too sick, too tired, no privacy. And if we got caught, dey'd take us away. We'd lose each udder, unless dey'd kill us, or just one outright. Make us suffer. Worse."
"But the Geneva Convention? I know the Nazis treated the prisoners of war well. So long as you didn't try to escape,.." Erik asserts, but is interrupted by Frank.
"Son, raggazzo, yes da KRAUTS took some decent care...da JAPS didn't. Dey said we were vermin, we surrendered, so we had no honor. Dey didn't believe in da Convention, so dey could ignore it. And den Tojo told all his people, kill all prisoners if da Americans get tru. Erik," and Frank stares the metalbender down, saying slowly and deliberately, "dey treated us like Jews." Frank's words left a ringing silence in the air. A moment more to allow the meaning to truly sink in, and he pushed both his body and his point forward. The faded blue denim button down comes off; so does his undershirt and then, his pants (as Charles sides over to give him room). He keeps a set of dog tags, a set of odd brown wool tags on either end of braided strings, and his underwear on.
They can all see it now. Frank's body looks like a badly done cross-stitch project: scars, calcium deposits from poorly healed wounds, dozens of white lines that can only be made by canes or rods striking flesh, and worst of all, a large divot where his right calf should be, and every sign that the leg had been broken and miss-set, causing the leg itself to shorten by nearly an inch. "Kinda looks like you two, don't it?" Frank says softly, boring a hole into Erik's soul. "Believe me when I tell you, I know what it was like, I know what you've been tru. 'Cause I been tru it too. Only ting dey didn't do was do me or Fancy. Only ting I'm missing is da numbers," points to the middle of his left arm, "but I got dis little souvenir instead. Dis mark's" showing an ugly purple welt, like a polio shot gone wrong, "where dey shot me an' Fancy up wid some 'medicine' dey called it. 'Medicine' my ass! We was helpless for hours from da pain. It was just to see if it would kill us, fast or slow an' how much it would hurt. When you were hurt or sick in camp, you never ever went to see da Jap 'doctor'. You went to see our guy, Pierce his name was, and even if he had nuttin' to treat you wid, it was better dan what dat Jap torturer had ready for you."
"Oh my God, Pop, why didn't you tell us? You never said a word, you" but the rest of Jimmie's words were cut off by the slicing motion of Frank's right hand and a deadly rumble:
"Would it have stopped you from doing Charles if I did?"
It is now Charles' turn to cut the conversation off at the pass as he swiftly rises to his feet, whirling to face the veteran: "Frankie, look at me. Look. At. Me. I tell you truly, it wasn't his fault; trust me on this! Have I ever, ahem, 'steered you wrong'?" he quizzes in his poshest accent yet.
"Never, my (pause), never."
"Then get dressed and let us get on with the tale. Where were we? Ah yes, Oahu and the training."
"Yeah, yeah, okay...but one more ting first?" An intense psychic conversation between Frank and Charles follows, which makes Erik more and more uneasy. There's something different, something off – the way Charles is looking, the way he's standing...a certain set to his shoulders that's new. Like he's at parade rest. And Charles' presence in his mind is both less and more; less power, if you will, and more 'Charles-ness' holding him, telling him everything is fine without words. Erik spares a glance at Jimmie, and sees that he too has realized that something odd is going on.
The conversation ends, and Frank, dressed, sits back down, while Charles rummages in the footlocker, and carefully brings out a beautiful black lacquered box with a set of dog tags, which he lays in Frank's hands.
"Charles, go make us tea. I'll wait for da rest for when you get back in."
As Charles scurries off to do as bid, the old soldier sighs: "Dis is da hard part. Boys, com'ere." Erik and Jimmie scoot closer. He shows them the box, clutching it securely in his rough hands.
Roughly the size of a shoe box, it has a painting (white paint only) of a mountain, and beneath Japanese characters running up and down, two small notations and a name with a date: "Francis Xavier Calvert – 6. 8. 1945".
"Dis...is Fancy." And tough cheerful Frank begins to sob.
A/N: Here comes the history:
Frank's entire speech to Erik is documented truth: While the Geneva Conventions (there were 3 in place at the time) detailed the treatment and duties of various persons in time of war (the 3rd Convention was specifically created to codify the humane treatment of prisoners of war) the nations of the world had to agree to them, like any other treaty; however, while Japan signed the 3rd Convention, it never ratified it. So it was never binding, and thus they were free to ignore it. The Allied prisoners and the civilian populations under the Japanese Imperial Army were treated in ways you wouldn't treat an ant, never-mind anything higher up the food chain. And yes, the camp doctors very often played mad scientist, and 'mercy killings' where sick prisoners were given lethal injections were documented. See Laura Hillenbrand's biography of Louis Zamperini, "Unbroken" pages 186-7 and page 208. Erik's confusion about POW treatment is understandable, as the American Veterans' Administration put the percentage death rate of Americans held by Germany and Italy at 1%, while the official death rate was 37% for Americans held by the Japanese. Unbroken, page 315. But I don't know the names of any POWs who were doctors, so I did a shout out to a favorite old TV series. And yes, I'll tell you all about the box in the next Chapter.