Never An If, Always A When


colette_icon.gif vincent_icon.gif

Scene Title Never An If, Always a When
Synopsis Two days after the attack on Liberty Island, Secretary Lazzaro confronts Officer Demsky.
Date November 10, 2018

The Bunker

Wolfhound’s operations center is a mixture of industrial and minimalist architectural styles. Bare concrete walls rise up to exposed wood rafter ceilings reinforced with old, black-painted steel. The floor are likewise stone, sealed with a slate gray laminate. Personal quarters tend to the same utilitarian style, decorated with the personal flourishes of their individual inhabitants. For the past two days, Colette Demsky has been confined to this space.

The space is a spartan one, with a narrow bed occupying one wall, wrapped in neatly tucked gray blankets and a single pillow. The night stand by the bed has one small single-bulb lamp that sheds a meager 40-watt ambient glow across the room. A wheeled clothing rack on the opposite wall is hung with uniforms and civilian clothes, all neatly organized. Nearby to the door, a tall punching bag sways slightly from recent use. A single plant is set on the floor by the window, a white peace lily in bloom, that would take in sunlight during daytime hours. This evening, though, the glitter of city lights and the Rochester skyline is all the window shows.

Colette stands in front of the window, barefoot and in loose workout clothes, hands wrapped with tape. Sweat heads at bare shoulders, down tattooed arms. Her muted reflection in the glass blurs with the city lights beyond.

Black and grey as the steel and stone that comprises Wolfhound’s aesthetic, a column of vapor plunges in on itself out of nothing at Colette’s turned back, and into the shape of VIncent Lazzaro. It’s silent, as processes go, shadow in shadow until he’s solid enough to shift the current of air through the room.

Knocking would’ve been the courteous thing for him to do.

But he doesn’t look as if he’s feeling especially courteous — black eyes set in deep under the hood of his brow, jawline hard behind the prick of ember at the end of his cigarette. Because he’s also smoking, which is really doubly rude, considering that he knows she’s stuck in here.

She might have “seen” him already. All told there are other applications of her ability more troubling to him in the here and now.

He’s still in a suit — sooty grey as the residual vapor licking off his shoulder. His tie fled him some hours ago. This is not a business meeting.

Vincent can see the tension in Colette’s shoulders and neck when he comes in, can see the nervous energy in her even though she's stationary. The swaying bag, the sweat. The light level in the room rises to something more befitting of a conversation, like an untouched dimmer switch adjusted just-so. Small sigh, tension doesn't unwind. “Vincent,” is softly spoken, and Colette hesitates on turning around.

Whatever anxieties or social niceties determine that conversations should be had face-to-face eventually makes Colette pivot to face Vincent. Her blind stare is cast aside as if meeting his gaze, even though it's a vestigial effort, is too hard. That she's been crying is evident, likely the cause of the absent eye contact. She doesn't say anything else. Nearly does, a few times, but ultimately the parted lips offer nothing but silence.

Silence is a tool. A vice closing in, strategically applied. Vincent lets it settle over the room while he smokes, insulating against the open window and the city lights beyond.

“What you did was wrong.”

Statement of fact, issued as more than a formality between them. He needs her to know, monolithic conviction against whatever justification or defense she’s holding back.

“You killed innocent people. There will be consequences.”

There’s nothing in him to betray any personal investment, past an overwhelming sense of inevitability buried weary in the slope of his shoulders, lazy in the v of his fingers around his cigarette. Disappointment is suspended in impatience — it’s impossible to distinguish one from the other in the tar black of his regard. This was never an ‘if’ conversation. It was always a ‘when.’

Brows furrowed, Colette’s head dips down and the corners of her mouth tighten. She finally, briefly, meets Vincent’s eyes. “Which ones were those?” She asks without an obviously identifiable sarcasm. “Because all I saw were the same people me an’ you both put into the ground a few years ago.” One hand clenches, tense, she bites back her words and presses her lips together tightly.

A sharp breath is drawn in, exhaled through her nose. “They the ones who built whatever the fuck that new Hunter was?” Anger, frustration, she's unable to hide it try and she might. But she breathes in slowly, breathes out slower, opens her hand and closes it again in the same cadence. The breath is uneven, raw. She's favoring her right side, likely an injury. They had found some of her blood at the scene.

“Why’re you the one here?” Colette’s tone softens. She tries to pull the edge back. Features relax, evident regret in her expressive brows over her earlier fire.

“Christopher Paleyo was one,” Vincent volunteers all too easily, in the face of sarcasm, accusation, equivocation, etcetera. “He fought on our side. Married, father of two.” His posture hasn’t changed, smoke spent quick through the curl of his hand when he breathes out, elbow set to the fold of his left arm over his chest. “I could have a file put together for you if you’d like them to haunt your dreams. Personally I think it’s the least consolation you could offer their families.”

Fhlick. He dusts ash onto her nice stone floor, unblinking against the blind cut of her eyes.

Why is he the one here?

He gives the answer to that question more consideration, hardline stare checked down to the twinge at her side — at her hand opening and closing — and back up again.

“Colette,” he starts, and it’s already plain that this isn’t a request: “I need you to stay away from Tasha.”

“No.” Is the immediate answer she offers, in lieu of any further context from Vincent. It's hard to tell what her reaction was to the name, to the identity Vincent offered, because whatever it was got drowned out by her reaction to Tash’s name. “You don't get to make that choice for her, and after all the shit you and I have both been through and seen you sure as shit don't get to make that choice for me.” Colette’s expression screws up, jaw clenches, eyes get glassy.

“I'm not the enemy here. I can't tell if this,” Colette waves a hand up and down, “is Vincent or Secretary Lazzaro talking. Because as much— as— ” Colette strains, eyes shut and mouth closed. She chooses her words carefully. “Why?” She circles back to see where he's coming
from, tries to give him the benefit of the doubt.


Secretary Lazzaro watches her like a tomcat perched in the middle of her room, no change in his regard. In lieu of a tail to flick idle at her displeasure, he has smoke to spindle from the ember of his cigarette, breath pressed in and out at an even 4x4 count. Box breathing.

“You and I fought together in a war,” he acknowledges, at length, “and we won. The war ended. You went to work for Wolfhound as a mercenary. I went to work for the United States Government.”

She’s radiating upset; his expression has hardly changed, haggard in his remove. It’s been a very long couple of days.

“If any of what you’ve reported is true, you’ve made this bigger than any of us. Tasha is not anonymous. Your connection to her is a liability, and so help me god I will put you in a hole and oversee administration of adynomine injections personally if I believe for an instant you’re a danger to my ability to oversee this investigation.”

He takes a step forward, cigarette forgotten in his hand.

“You’re twenty-six years old. Please tell me that you understand.”

Some of that fire dies down, Colette swallows, breathes deeply, flexes her hands open and closed again and offers Vincent a few small nods that she understands. “We’ve been together for going on seven years, she filed my Albany testimony for me as my legal counsel. If someone wanted to target her to get to me, because of me, because of the job I do, because of you…” Colette shakes her head. “It would have already happened.”

She has to take in another breath. Colette’s face is red, eyes still glassy and she's struggling to remember the things Hana has told her about centering and emotions and it's a lot of noise. “My dropping off the face of the earth to her isn't going to protect her. Or your investigation. As much as both’f us want it to.”

“I won't lie to you, Vincent. About her, about this. I fucked up.” Colette looks down at the floor again. “But you can't tell me something wasn't going on there. Hana noticed it, I noticed it. I just— Vincent M’not going to let this start again. Just because Mitchell surrendered and we hung a few people… it doesn't mean we’re safe. But— it doesn't mean I can do what I did.”

Colette closes and opens her hands again, twists a ring on one finger around with her thumb.


Right hand raised, Vincent closes his eyes.

“I’m the Secretary of Homeland Security, Demsky. I cannot have a daughter actively dating a terrorist. And,” he starts to add, “for the record,” less composed, irritation grit back behind his teeth — nearly a grin, “I can’t believe you’re still trying to justify yourself.”

Said in such a way that he absolutely can believe it, considering the source, tension writ stiff up tendon rigged up through the back of his wrist.

“Whatever you’ve uncovered — this goes beyond fucking up, sweetheart.”

Colette’s eyes narrow, the heat comes back to her face. Breathing in deeply, her fingers clench again and her forearms tense. She says nothing. Jaw clenched, Colette looks around the room, teeth working at her lips and jaw from side to side. She takes a step to the side, toward the window at her back, but keeps her face angles toward Vincent.

I know what I did.” Colette states with a quaver to her voice. “I don't know how many of the twenty-something-fucking people I fought through to get out died. I don't know how many of them were on our side or not. But I know what I did. I had a gut feeling that shit was fucking rotten.” Colette’s eyes well up with tears again. “I trusted you.”

Shaking, now, Colette nearly turns to look back at the window, then second-guesses herself and looks back to Vincent and remains clenched. Tasha isn't mentioned, she's already made up her mind. Instead she presses a shaky sigh through her nose, waiting.

Filter set back to his lip, Vincent drags deep against the slant of what she says first, cynicism boot black in the narrow of his eyes and the prickle at his chops. There’s nearly as much silver salted in there these days — not doing cinched crow’s feet or the hard lines between his brows any favors.

“You trust me for a reason.” He goes ahead and brings that back on into the present tense — the drop of her ed far from accidental.

“And you have a right to be angry with me. I’ve fucked up.” Paired fingers touched back to the open turn of his collar bring the blame back in too, the ghost of a scoff short at his own expense. Tomorrow morning he’s going to have to stand in front of the President of the United States and tell him so. “Given another opportunity, I would do things differently.

“But I think you would do it all over again,” he tells her, bleak humor dialed back to 0. “And that thought terrifies me.”

There is goes again, the heat, and Colette slouches like a dry piece of paper once aflame that's been splashed with water. She looks down, away, lifts a hand to scrape a thumb below each of her eyes. Jaw working open and closed but lips clenched she chews through her thoughts. A short, quick sigh and a flick of blind eyes back at Vincent. For a moment her expression is inscrutable, perhaps in that the face can only convey so many emotions at one time.

“How d’you do it?” Colette’s voice is different in the way she addresses Vincent. Less formal, less practiced and clipped in the way she tries to emulate from Hana. An older, looser cadence. “Go from— fuckin’ disassembling people t’wearing a suit an’— an’— filing reports an’— ” Clenching her hands tightly closed, Colette's brows furrow deep lines in her face.

She cuts herself off, momentarily helpless looking in the way she was when there was nothing she could do to help out Tasha back together, except wait and see. It isn't a judging question, isn't sarcastic, it's a small plea from Colette to Vincent. Officer Demsky and Secretary Lazzaro aren't invited.

There’s a glimpse of please don’t call it that that she’s seen in him before, more tired for the circumstances. Smoke in, smoke out, slow to fade around his ears.

Rumpled as he is, he doesn’t look uncomfortable. This is his armor — dotted lines to sign on and clean tailored breaks. Nothing about that has changed in the last seven years. There’s no obvious switch to flip, no shift in his posture.

He’s been here all along.

Otherwise he’d already have told her it’s technically Mister Secretary.

“This is what I fought for.”

Matter-of-fact, he indicates his suit with a broader sweep of his cigarette.

“The means to keep people safe with minimal bloodshed. Civil war is a nightmare scenario. I’ve never wanted to kill anyone.” With a flick and an arch at his brow, he’s quick to acknowledge with a dry edit: “Maybe Heller.”

Closing her eyes by means of habit rather than function, Colette nods in agreement to that last part. She doubts the maybe. She lifts one arm, hand over the fox tattoo on her shoulder that covers a bullet wound. She breathes in, breathes out. “I can give it time,” is a concession Colette in no way felt obligated to offer. “I'm not going to ghost her, but— if I'm not in a ten-by-ten by the end of the week, I'll… explain things to her. Keep my distance for a few months. Give this time to breathe, if it even gets that far.”

Blind eyes open again, and Colette pieces something together. “If… I was going in a cell you wouldn't have told me to stay away from her. I wouldn't have a choice.” She swallows, looks away, nods. Colette breathes in again. “I won't tell her you told me to. That’s the one lie of omission I'm willing t’do.” She furrows her brows, watches Vincent. “For both your sakes. Please don't tell her you ordered me. You know her.”

In spite of the tone of the room, in spite of the situation, Colette’s expression still betrays the tenuous familial threads linking her and Vincent. As angry as she is right now, it's clear it isn't Vincent she's mad at. Coincidentally, they're both mad at the same person.

“I’m going to have the same conversation with her.”

His reassurance comes flat — nearly deadpan, against her fear of Tasha’s resistance. He hoods his brow, jaw slid into a jut, Colette please.

“I’m not going to lie about what’s happened. Literally,” he says literally, “the only difference between you is that I anticipate she’ll actually listen.”

If this was Secretary Lazzaro talking, he’d probably be more polite. Probably. As is, he looks like he’s aged five years in the last five minutes, dread and worry and exhaustion pulling long into the shadows around his face.

“I want you to speak to a therapist.”

There's a nod from Colette at that request, no resentment or anger there, just a long overdue look of resignation. The look on her face is clearly one of agreement, and for all the glimpses Vincent’s received over the year of the parts of her that are unwell, it was only a matter of time before someone recommended it to her. For her own sake.

“I'm not gonna to lie to her about what I did. I’ll just— tell her it’s my idea to… step back for a bit. For her safety. So you don't have to.” Colette’s brows furrow again, there's a slow clench of her hands. “But if you think… if you really think she wants to hear that from you… on top of everything else…” she dithers, slowly shaking her head.

“Try to have some faith,” says Vincent, ember near to the filter, his chin tipped down. Disapproving of her reservations. “I know you love each other, but she’s a Lazzaro.”

She took a bullet to the brainpan. She can probably deal with a little separation anxiety for the purpose of national security.

“You’re to remain here under Major Gitelman’s jurisdiction for the time being.” There’s Secretary Lazzaro, or a shadowy glimpse of him, in a draw back at his shoulders and a steadier tang of steel at the back of his jaw. “I’m going to pass my recommendations on to her. You’ve put both of us in a difficult position.” Heavily understated, in the event she wasn’t aware.

“This is not a guarantee that you won’t be arrested, charged and tried. You should be.”

Exhaling a breath that brings the tension out of her shoulders, Colette nods slowly. “I understand,” is tacit agreement to both of Vincent’s latter assertions. There isn't much left for Colette to say after that, head down and eyes fixed to the floor. She draws her teeth across her bottom lip briefly, looks back up to Vincent and instead reaffirms with the affectation of eye contact and a slow nod that she is, in fact, listening.

It isn’t her place to dismiss him, not now and probably not before either. There's a command that Vincent has, a palpable sense of authority that comes with or without his office. That precarious place of both Secretary and father, and how one relates to the other to Colette. Instead, she waits for him to finish his cigarette, finish his thoughts.

She figures he's heard enough of hers for a lifetime.

The cigarette is finished — glowing coal snuffed ice black with a pop and a sizzle that reflects the decline of the conversation none-too-incidentally. He hangs onto it, rather than flip it down onto the floor with the ashes that have gone before.


He’s glad she understands.

“Try not to get into any more trouble than you already are. You have the rest of your life ahead of you.” He keeps his eyes anchored on her through a step away, one last crude oil warning smudged dark as he goes. “Objectively speaking, it’d be a waste for you to spend it in a prison cell.”

In a squid ink flush of vapor, warning lingering sidelong, he vanishes entirely.

Only when Vincent is gone does Colette finally crumple. Tension gone slack from her body, she folds down into her knees on the floor, slouches into her side, and curls up into a small ball, fingers wound in her dark hair. Shoulders tremble, eyes wrenched shut.

Color and light drains from the room, until she's alone with the distant glitter of city lights, the lingering smell of smoke, and an unending stretch of regrets.

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