A Hand To Guide You


colette_icon.gif joseph_icon.gif

Scene Title A Hand to Guide You
Synopsis After learning that Wolfhound was moving against a secret Humanis First stronghold, Colette Demsky turns to an old friend for guidance.
Date July 8, 2018

It's been a warm, dry summer overall. The Safe Zone has been thankful for it in the face of food shortages. The abundant sun and intermittent rain has done wonders for the city’s numerous private and public gardens, lending a sense of life and vivacity to an otherwise wounded place. But for every sunny day, there does need to be some rain. There's a balance in all things.

Heavy rain falls down outside the Benchmark Center, accompanied by the peal of distant thunder without lightning to be seen against dark clouds. The cloud cover makes the late afternoon hours feel even later, and through that gloom a single headlight shines against the dark. For all that the rain has dissuaded most people from visiting, at least one person has more important things to worry about than staying dry.

The motorcycle outside is parked at the curb and left in the rain. The driver steps off, pulling her helmet off and shaking out black hair in the rain, then tucks the helmet under one arm and walks up the paved walkway to the front doors. There's something about walking into a recovery center — even when you're not a patient — that raises anxiety.

So do reunions.

The Benchmark Center

//Red Hook

July 12, 2018

4:31 pm

From the second floor window of his shared office, Joseph Sumter could see the motorcyclist’s approach, but only when she neared the doors did the familiarly like up with the unfamiliar. Though her name is spoken in his household thanks to Kaylee, Joseph hadn't seen Colette Demsky since before the war started, in a Ferrymen meeting in the months before Colette disappeared, when she confided that her father had been kidnapped.

It's been seven years since he'd seen her, seven years since they'd spoken to one-another. The odds of her coming here to see him after all this time felt strange, unlikely, and yet…

«Mr. Sumter, there's a Colette Demsky here to see you.» chimes over his desk intercom nevertheless.

In the foyer of the Benchmark Recovery and Counseling Center, several pictures hang on the walls, and the one that catches Colette's blind-white eye long enough to linger is a painting rendered in mostly blue, with bright spots of colour through. An ocean floor, with shards of sunlight, and starfish, and lion fish, and a yellow eel, and drifting kelp. More unusual, compared to the more classic coastal landscapes that also adorn the neutral walls, and something that twinges memory of the dirtier brickwork of the Grand Central Station.

The paint had been flaking at the edges by the time they'd evacuated, all those years ago, but perhaps even now there exists, in the dark, a mural of an underwater menagerie, painted by many hands. Some by Colette herself.

The neat clip of polished shoes ring out on the hard floor of the foyer. Joseph approaches at an angle, an amiable, slow-paced meander that reflects the uncertainty he'd felt at hearing that name — and there's a smile ready, genuine and bright. He's clean cut and hale in a suit of navy blue, a tie striped in the same with grey-silver. There's grey-silver flecked through his hair, too, coming up cool from the temples and the nape of his neck, and softer lines at the corners of his eyes. If he's wearing a crucifix, its hidden beneath his collar.

To look at him, you'd never imagine the path that led him right here, but would not be surprised to know that he was a pastor, once.

"Hey, stranger." It's been long enough — but not so much so that his wander doesn't cease until he is within hugging range.

The composed expression on Colette’s face was an attempt at a mask, a measure taken to try and keep emotion and reason at arm’s length from one-another in this meeting. But at the sound of Joseph’s voice after all this time, after seeing the colors on the walls that bring her back to a childhood long since gone, that makes first cracks, then with an unsteadiness of her jaw breaks entirely.

The clack of her helmet hitting the tile floor from slacked fingers soon joints the tap, tap, tap of bootfalls that close the distance between Colette and Joseph with hasty strides. She collides with him at his chest, and though she looks the part of an adult little had hanged with her height since last they met. Her arms are fast around his waist, one of the few men in her life she trusts that closeness with.

Joseph,” is an emotional squeak in the back of Colette's throat as half a decade and change of should-haves and could-haves become belated reality. She nearly sobs at the contact, shoulders heavily but her voice keeps it quiet

Her helmet, dropped with such quickness, spins idly on its crown against the floor.

A decade ago, Joseph's ideas of family were as unmoving and sturdy as the rigid beams of a country chapel. These days, with his wife and three kids, you could look at the photographs he has posed on his desk and assume that this remains the case, but that would be to disregard the unframed photograph in his desk drawer of a woman of thirty who has his eyes, his grown up daughter of a future that no longer exists. You'd have to forget that he sometimes thinks of Flint Deckard and occasionally includes him in his occasional prayers like a trick playing card slipped into a deck. You'd have to ignore that Colette once called him brother.

Joseph's arms go around her easy, a solid grip to her back with his hands, the strange churn of emotions more ephemeral and complicated than the steady hug he meets her with, but also not as strong.

"Gosh, it's good seein' you," he says, an almost-laugh in his voice that conveys the surprise aspect of this interaction, and only loosens his hug once she starts to back up. "What're you doing here?"

When Colette remembers herself and gently disengages from the hug, her blind eyes level up at him without words. There's almost too much to say to that, and it shows in the speechlessness that follows. She breathes in, unsteadily, and then when she exhales a sigh it comes with a slow shake of her head and a batting of lashes to work away the tears threatening her eyes.

“I'm sorry,” Colette says in as much laughter as Joseph’s voice just had. She wipes tears away from the corners of her eyes with her thumbs, then bends down to pick up her helmet. “I wanted to see you,” seems so insufficient to her, now that she's said it.

Holding the helmet by the chin guard, Colette looks down to the floor and then back up. “I…” She hesitates, and while it seems so like her to, Joseph doesn't realize that the woman she is now isn't the scared teenager she once was. That hesitation and stammering was a thing of the past. But this, here, is so much more then than now.

“I'm sorry,” Colette says with her brows dancing between earnesty and guilt. “I should've come sooner. I…”

"I've taken on a laissez-faire attitude towards the comings and goings of certain people in my life," Joseph says, at a near languid drawl, the kind of which he hasn't really had since his initial few months direct out of Tennessee — an affect, smile crooked, maybe reassuring. He moves to bracket an arm gentle around her shoulders and start leading her off somewhere a little less exposing than the wide open space of the foyer.

The Benchmark has its comfortable spaces, semi-private and half-way public, and room enough to wander if moving in broad circles helps conversation when the smaller offices and examination rooms feel too formal and too small. Rain makes patterns on the glass of the high windows they move by, the light coming in a pleasant, soft grey.

"I kinda have a feelin' you're a formative influence, there," he adds, gently teasing. "But I know people come around eventually when they got reason to."

For all that time has changed Colette, there are ways in which it has only reinforced the young woman she used to be. Reaching up to Joseph’s shoulder, she takes a handful of his jacket and looks up to him with glassy, white eyes. “You're a bastard at makin’ people feel guilty with kindness,” she says with a broad, irrepressible smile.

Those fingers pull away from fabric, and she takes just a step away from Joseph and takes her dark hair back from her face again. As she turns, Joseph catches sight of the deep scar on the right side of her neck, partly covered by an EKG pulse line with a semicolon in it. He's been around long enough to know the semicolon’s symbolism.

“I was afraid t’look for you for a long time,” Colette admits in a hushed tone of voice. “First ‘cause I felt bad about the things I said last time I saw you, then… then because it’d been so long… an’ then because I— I wasn't sure if you were alive or not, an’ if I didn't know the answer t’that I could like… I could keep you here,” her hand comes up to her chest, “and imagine everything was ok.”

Colette’s expression says that everything is, in fact, okay. Smiling softly, she closes her eyes and shakes her head. “I ran into Kaylee a couple months ago an’… I promised a dinner. A family dinner.” Her brows scrunch together, lips pressed together in a thin and struggling line. She seems unsure of that now.


That uplift in tone, positive and encouraging, stalls into a pause as Joseph judges the face that Colette is making. Decides it better to press on, for the moment, as he says, "Three kids and as many dogs kind of make it part obstacle course, part cat herding, all the while takin' place in a monkey house, if the noise is anything to go by." He nudges her with his elbow as they walk. "Reckon they'd behave just for you, though.

"And I coulda looked for you, too," he adds, presently, not entirely in the business of a one sided distribution of guilt. "Kaylee and me, and the kids, we hunkered down for much of the war, and comin' to surface and learning who all fought in it— who all are still fighting it," tips his hand as to what measure of looking he did do, "well. Like I say in group every other day, we all shared somethin', no matter where we were. Trauma, I mean. And trauma comes with shame, with guilt.

"Worst and best part being we're all in it together, even when it don't feel like it."

In spite of the setting and his current career, Joseph is rather sure Colette did not come here for therapy, and tips a small, knowing smile towards her as they go, chin tucked down.

Colette hadn't come here for therapy, not on paper, but her visits with Joseph were usually therapeutic in the years leading up to the war. He has a way about her, a way of managing her anxieties and calming her tempest. Though the woman in front of him is a far cry from the troubled girl in his memories.

“I wanted to see you,” Colette belatedly says as they walk, “because… because I don't know for sure if I'll get another chance to. I'm…” her brows knit together in an all-too-familiar expression of pensive worry. “Wolfhound,” she blinks her stare back up to Joseph from the floor, “we’re going on a mission with the government, military— Humanis First holdouts. The last big… whatever.” There's anger in her voice, anger for Joseph, anger for the past. Anger at her fear.

“If I left, and didn't come back…” Colette’s voice hitches in the back of her throat, briefly, “and— and I didn't see you. If I didn't…” she swallows audibly and shakes her head, raking thin fingers through her hair. “I wanted to say goodbye, just in case. In case I'm not…”

Colette trails off, looking down at the floor and clutching the chin guard of her helmet in a tight grip.

Something about Joseph's affable ease— stills. Crystallises. It's been some time since he's heard mention of Humanis First, not since the trials, with blessed months going by without his mind turning in that direction at all. It's his wife, now, that has her nightmares. Much like Colette has transformed, so has he, and his experiences with trauma closed up as if within a book, a previous volume, getting dusty on the shelf.

Mention unsettles that dust, stirs it to life just a little, and Joseph gives a glance with a shadow behind it to Colette.

But a sideways step into the past doesn't have him lurching off entirely in that direction, refocusing on the present moment — Colette's tremulous voice, her bowed head. Protest within rises, falls, resigned to— heroes doin' what they feel they oughta, and he rests his hands on her shoulders. Should she look up, there's a familiar kind of smile — subtle, forced without being disingenuous, aligned with the slight wrinkles at his eyes. More of them, set in deeper, than when they last talked.

"I'm proud of you," he says, with the intent to impress these words firmly. "I've always been so proud of you, and then what you went and became. I've seen you lay down your life for other people — for me — time and time again, and I just pray there'll come a time when you won't have to. And if this is goodbye, I want you to know that."

As Colette exhales a long-held breath between the time when Joseph started to talk and when he’d said his peace the tension in her shoulders bleeds out into the air. “Thanks,” Colette says in a gentle whisper back to Joseph, reaching out to rest her free hand on his arm at the elbow. She needn’t look up to see his eyes, but she does for the symbolism of it, for the bond it represents between two people in a moment.

“I’m proud of you too,” Colette says back to him. “You… you have an amazing family, you’re helping people live their lives, you’re— ” Her own words choke her up, tears evident in her eyes but blinked back from tracking their way down her cheeks the way rain had. “And…” Colette looks away, but the grip at Joseph’s elbow slips down; not loosened, but intentionally moves to squeeze his hand rather than his arm.

“I need your help,” Colette finally asks, looking back up to Joseph. “Because I want to come back, to you, to everyone.” The illuminated path is the clearer one, she hopes.

Another one of those somewhat inscrutable shadows muddy Joseph's earnest stare, gaze setting down on where Colette's tangled their hands together. Unsure, a line burrowing between his eyebrows as he sures up her grip with his own.

He wants to say 'no', that much might be clear. What isn't might be why, or how much he would mean it. This isn't, after all, just anyone asking him for just any reason. But all the same— "I wanna give it," he says, on help. "If I could give it. If it would, I mean, but these days, I'm not so sure it's…" And he trails off, because he hasn't forgotten why she's here, and where she's going next.

Joseph hesitates, and says, "You said it's the last of 'em?"

“The last that matter,” is Colette’s firm assessment, squeezing Joseph’s hand as adamantly. “We think Mayes is there, the last one responsible for everything that didn't get the rope.” They hung Mitchell, and perhaps that much is irony given what they did to Joseph. But she doesn't need to say that. Justice was served there long enough ago.

“I'm gonna keep our families safe.” Is Colette’s promise, with her dark brows furrowed and lips tight, still looking like a particularly determined alleycat for all that the years and training has made her more leonine. Her eyes are still the ones he saw staring up at him with such concern and such admiration all those years ago…

…and reaches out to take his hand.

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