Title: Balance

Author: tarotgal

Series: Strokes, set after the New Year’s Eve 2005 story

Rating: PG, if that

Summary: Ducky finds a place of balance among the different parts of his life.

Bunny: #2, #4

Notes: Written in about two hours. This makes a slight reference to the Valentine’s Day Fragment/Moving On but the two can be read in either order, technically. This one really tried to fit the original horoscope, but is slightly different. I think it's close enough, though. Original Horoscope- Taurus (April 20 - May 20) for Sunday, February 12 -Valentine's Day is coming, and you're trying to concentrate on planning a special day for your sweetheart. Your family needs you now, however, so you'll have to divide your time equally. The full Moon will help, however, by exposing something a family member has been too proud or too fearful to mention. Do what you can to help, and remember: The harder you work to solve this, the faster you'll be able to get back to business -- romance!





            Ducky stood in the entryway, bending at the knees and slumping down so that he could catch himself in the mirror. He ran his hand through his hair repeatedly, trying to get it to behave. But no matter how good it looked, his eyes focused on his eyes of his reflection. There was no fooling himself about how tired he looked.


            A shrill voice rang out to him, with quick words in Chinese, and he saw his eyes roll. He turned and quickly walked over, grabbing a paper bag from the counter. It was folded neatly and stapled closed with a tag listing the order and address. “English, Mother,” Ducky reminded her.


            His mother had made a resolution to practice her English more, but had not kept it up for long. Especially when she was ordering people around in the restaurant, Mandarin was far easier to manage. Of course, there were also times, like these, when all the short woman had to do to strike fear in his heart was to stare straight at him through those thick glasses. Replying to her in English, Ducky nodded to the paper bag. “I will take it now. And, no, I will not sneeze on it.”


            “Go fast. No tickets,” she instructed.


            He nodded. “I will not speed. I promise,” he said, rubbing at his nose but hoping he looked honest enough to convince his mother.


            Despite the stigma of working in the food services industry while ill, Ducky had been required to work straight through lunch. Luckily, this was the last delivery for the day and he was off during the dinner shift. It was rare that his family let him skip working during the dinner rush, but today was a special occasion. Ducky simply withheld the fact that he had a date today for Valentine’s Day. His family thought he was just going to go home and sleep off his cold.


            Slipping into the driver’s seat, Ducky sighed deeply. He set the bag down on the passenger seat in the special holder and reached for the tissue box he kept in the armrest holder of his Civic. “HEH-Nghh!” He sneezed to himself, eyes squeezed shut tightly, face tense. He fiddled with the tissue in his hands as he sneezed again. “ehhh-INGhh! Ngihh!” He blew his nose with several wet honks and tossed the tissue into the back towards the trash bag he kept there. As a delivery man and student, he practically lived in his car and he managed to fill up one whole trash bag a week on average. With a sigh and a consoling look at himself in the mirror on the visor, Ducky started the car.


            Mercifully, the address was only a few minutes away. He blew his nose once more and used a dab of no-water soap from a bottle he kept in the same armrest compartment. Five minutes later and seventy-eight cents for a tip later, Ducky made his final trip of the day to his family’s Chinese restaurant.


            When he got there, he found Jin sitting at the front desk, where his mother usually was at this time of day, taking reservations and advanced orders for dinner.


            His view of her was slightly obscured by the large counter ornaments his parents enjoyed. One side of the counter house a fat, laughing Buddha and a squatting frog was on the other side. Ducky fished around in his pocket and pulled out a penny. With a steady hand, he carefully set the penny onto the small chain of pennies which started in the frog’s open mouth. He felt a sneeze coming on just as he placed the penny, but managed to get it balanced there before pulling back. His head snapped forward. “hehh-Nngg! Ingihh!


            He scrubbed at his nose as he looked over the counter. Jin sat there, twirling a bit of her long, black hair around her index finger and holding a manga in the other hand.


            Ducky rolled his eyes again. “I don’t know why you bother reading that Japanese stuff,” he said. He rounded the counter and deposited the money from the delivery in the cash register, then pulled out the whole drawer to count it. As soon as he got through that, he’d be scot-free for the rest of the day. And, more importantly, free for Scott later in the day.


            Jin shrugged, not taking her eyes off the graphic novel. “Prolly the same reason you drive a Honda, my dear.”


            Rubbing his nose, Ducky smiled. “Reliability and good mileage?”


            She smiled and nodded back. “Speaking of which, do you think you could move your books here? I need more room for the reservation logs.”


            “Sure.” He reached under and pulled out two notebooks and a fat calculus textbook, stacking them beneath the drawer he was carrying. There was room in his locker in the back. But as Ducky made his way towards the back office, Jin reached out and took hold of his arm. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”


            Naïvely, he pushed open the door anyway. Half of his family stood just a little ways away but it sounded like more than ten people, with the way they were yelling. In fact, it sounded like thirty or more. It was such a combination of loud voices that it took Ducky a few moments to figure out what they were talking about. But he heard the word “Nirvana” and had a feeling they weren’t speaking about the band. When he heard the word “tongzhi” screamed angrily, by his mother of course, Ducky understood at once what they were talking about.


            Ducky felt himself go warm and something like terror fluttered in his stomach. He quickly flattened himself up against the wall of the hallway leading to the room they were all in, out of sight but still within hearing range. Though, at this point, he had a feeling the whole state was within hearing range of this din.


            He listened closely, straining to hear his name spoken. Ducky felt another sneeze coming on and swore to himself over it. With his free hand he pinched his nose. His eyes closed and his breath caught. “ihh-hihhhh-EH-Nxxgtt!” Sniffling madly and searching around in his only accessible pocket for a tissue, Ducky hoped he hadn’t been heard. The worst thing that could happen when his family was this angry with him was to be discovered. It was bad enough that he’d been discovered in the first place.




            Ducky opened his eyes to see his cousin, Sheng, heading down the hall to him. Dread and panic rushed through him and his flight instinct was kicking in, though he wasn’t sure how far he’d be able to get. Hopefully the airport. But he supposed if he made it halfway across the world that still wouldn’t be far enough. So he raised a hand hesitantly and waved.


            “Did you hear?” he asked, grinning. Ducky was frozen, unable to say anything. He held his breath, and the only thing that seemed to be moving was the tickle in his nose, but it was far enough back, thankfully, because his arms seemed to have ceased functioning. “About Aunt Chyou.”


            Ducky blinked, completely confused now. “What?”


            Sheng laughed. “I get to tell you about it! Excellent!” He lowered his voice to a discrete whisper to match the content of his information, though he needn’t have done so, considering all the yelling. “The family’s dirty little secret finally gets out, no pun intended.” He punched Ducky in the arm with another laugh. “Turns out someone found out about her Valentine’s Day plans and…” He mimed drumming, leading up to the big reveal. “She’s gay! She’s a lesbian!”


            Ducky’s eyes grew wide. They hadn’t been talking about him after all. They hadn’t discovered about him. But… oh, poor Aunt Chyou. And he couldn’t even risk calling her to empathize. “Our Mothers are all going crazy about it. Hey, aren’t you…?”


            “What?” The terror was back.


            “Sick,” Sheng replied. “I heard you were sick. What are you doing here? You should be at home, Bing. I’d offer to give you a ride, but I want to stick around and find out how this turns out.”


            Ducky nodded and sighed deeply to himself. Hoping his relief wasn’t showing through on his face or in his voice, “I will be all right.” He sniffed and rubbed a finger at his nose. “It’s just a little cold. Hehh-hehh-Inxxxt!


            A fresh scream rose up from the other room, drawing their attention at once, naturally. “Sounded like Aunt Feng swooning. I gotta get back.”  Ducky knew he should really go as well, to see how they were doing and offer his support. He had always been incredibly careful not to give even a small hint away about his sexuality, but he wasn’t sure if he’d be as successful during a discussion about it in his family, especially when he already felt a bit tired and worn out. Perhaps it was better just to avoid it completely until his family’s anger had died down a little bit. Otherwise he might end up saying something he’d forever regret. And he’d worked far too hard at hiding that part of him to give it up now.


            “Thanks… for the information.” He waved as Sheng jogged back down the hallway. Then he sighed, partly with relief and partly with frustration. He stashed his books and notes in his locker, which was unnaturally bare apart from the books, a jacket, and a girly calendar his brother had given him for Christmas. There was also a small mirror hanging on the door, and he stared at himself again in it.


            It seemed very wrong, somehow, to be heading out to a gay club after such a close call. It seemed like tempting the fates. It seemed like he should really stay with his family at a time like this.


            “hihhh-Enggtt! Hehh-Inghhh!” He rubbed at his nose some more, sniffling. And he really should be in bed. His head felt heavy and ached whenever he sneezed or talked or breathed, which was obviously constantly. He put his hand to his forehead and the ache backed away a little, thankfully.


            So he grabbed his jacket, locked his locker up, and slid down them to the floor to count the drawer. It came out perfectly, right to the last penny, and he locked the contents up in the safe before heading back out to slide it into the cash register with the standard amount of change in coins and small denomination bills.


            “Are they still yelling?” Jin asked him as he headed out. Ducky nodded. “God help them, they’re so dramatic.”


            Ducky nodded again. “I’ll see you later, Jin.”


            It wasn’t until he was in his car, with the doors closed and locked, then he allowed his emotions to overflow. He welled up and his nose ran and he went through about half of the small tissue box right then and there, before even putting his keys in the ignition, and it wasn’t because of his cold.


            When his eyes were dry enough to drive, he headed to his apartment for a bite to eat and to change for the evening. He resisted the urge to pull on sweats and curl up on his couch beneath a quilt. Instead, he put on jeans and a red turtleneck. Even without the holiday, he’d always looked good in Red. And, today, it matched his nose a bit. He ran his hand through his hair yet again and stared at himself in the mirror for the umpteenth time that day.


            Everything in him told him he was not supposed to feel the way he felt or think what he thought. He knew his family would probably disown him if they found out, and his family meant the whole world to him. But he had another family he cared about, as well. With a deep breath and his pockets loaded with tissues, he headed to Strokes.


            Once he was inside, and the beat of the music had gripped him, he barely thought about how wrong it all was. While his family was always in him somewhere, his life was about balancing things out and this was the time to focus on his love life… and the way the man’s hands felt on his torso as they danced together. The way the man scooted his chair so it was closer to Ducky’s as they sat and had drinks and food. The way the man looked at him when they talked. The way the man always blessed him when he sneezed and didn’t mind not kissing on the first date because of Ducky’s cold.


            “And how are my two little lovebirds doing? Hitting it off, I see.”


            Ducky looked up to see Sweetie, beaming. Sweetie had gone to some lengths to set them up, and even longer lengths to convince Ducky to finally go through with it. But, before he could thank Sweetie, “hihh-Inxxt! ehhh-Inghh!


            “Bless you,” said his date and Sweetie at the very same time. His date, Scott, scooted closer.


            “That’s not from the cigarettes, I take it?” Sweetie asked. Ducky looked confused. “Never mind,” Sweetie said, waving off the comment. “Are you sick, Baby?”


            “He’s sick,” Scott answered. “But he says he doesn’t want to go home.”


            Ducky laughed. “You’ve no idea how much it took to get me here. Sniff! Sniff! I want to enjoy it a little longer. Ihh… Ihngh! Even if I am I little tired and a little sick.”


            Scott leaned closer, his knees bumping Ducky’s legs. “Maybe I could take you home?”


            Ducky shook his head. That’s all he needed, someone seeing a man walk him into his apartment. Everyone in the building knew his family. His landlady played Mahjong with his grandmother, for God’s sake.


            Scott kept trying. “How about I bring you to my place, then? Pull out the futon? Put on a good movie? Make you some chicken soup? I’m a great cook.”


            Sweetie jumped in. “That’s true. He is. He’s a chef at that Italian place over on 34th street.”


            Ducky thought for a moment, then nodded in agreement. “Okay. But it’d better be good. My family owns a Chinese restaurant, you know.” Usually he tried to stay silent when he came to talking about his family in this side of his life. But, this time, it felt natural to him.


            “Really?” Scott asked, sounding so genuinely interested that Sweetie took that as his cue to disappear again. “Tell me, do they serve real Chinese food or is it all that Americanized… ah… stuff?” he finished tactfully.


            “Americanized crap you mean?” Ducky chuckled. “We have a few of those dishes, but it’s true blue traditional Chinese food.”


            “I knew I liked you, Ducky,” Scott said, looking rather dreamy. He stood and scooted Ducky’s chair out for him. “My mom always said the fastest way to a man’s heart was through his stomach.”


            Ducky stood and stretched, smiling. “Funny,” he said, feeling slightly surprised by how much he liked it when Scott wrapped an arm around his waist to guide him to the coat check room on their way out. “My mother says the same thing.”