Better Late Than


devon2_icon.gif emily4_icon.gif

Scene Title Better Late Than
Synopsis Never at all.
Date February 15, 2020

Laudani-Epstein Townhome, Sheepshead Bay

Abruptly, Emily becomes aware of the blanket she's drawn around her shoulders. Its weight has been a comfort to her, but suddenly she feels the bumps of the handmade object, runs her fingers down along the edge of it. The purples and periwinkle and white draws her eye as her hand tugs it tighter around herself, and then looking back up, what's playing on the screen in the living room is a mystery to her. She realizes she's got no idea how long it's been since she stopped paying attention to the television. Gaze still partly unfocused, she leans forward to reach for her phone, picking it up and scrolling.

The date dawns on her, and she pauses.

She knew in some sense, because she had to, because she went to work yesterday— because Cesar's birthday was the 14th. But things didn't click in just the right way, and when she'd finished wearing her socially-acceptable face for the day and come home, she'd slipped into this again.

Her chest aches from an invisible pressure as she lifts the phone again, tapping away at a message in spite of it. The blue of her eyes flits over the screen, fixing typos as they fumble from her fingers. She hits send as soon as it's composed, expressionless.

2/15/2020 2:13 pm
would you want to do something for valentine's day?

Better late than never, she hopes.

On his desk, in his quarters within the Bastion, Devon’s phone buzzes with a notification. It draws him out of deeper thoughts, eyes coming back from some great distance to focus on the screen that dims by the time he finds it. The fingers of one hand sweep his eyes to erase the strain and stress while the other pulls the cell to him and thumbs on the display.

A small smile forms at the message, just one corner of his mouth ticking upward. He'd tried calling the day before, left a simple hey, thinking of you today voicemail. It wasn't much different from other messages he'd left either by voice or text, and intentionally no reminder of the day, no pressure to do anything.

He sits back in his chair, leaning to look at the clock beside his bunk before he begins his reply.

2/15/2020 2:15 pm
of course
2/15/2020 2:16 pm
you have anything in mind you want to do? or just hang out somewhere?

Dev sets his phone down after pressing send, then pushes back from his desk to stand. He drags his hands through his hair, makes a face over the length, then kicks around for his shoes.

2/15/2020 2:18 pm
can we do something nice?

Whatever nice meant, even she wasn't sure. Emily frowns at the message as it forwards itself onward, too late to recall it. She lifts one hand to pull the shroud of the blanket around her while her phone balances in her other palm while she waits for a reply.

With one shoe in hand, the other stamped into, Devon reaches for his phone when it buzzes again. Something nice? His brows raise in askance and he casts around the room as though an answer might manifest in thin air.

No such luck.

2/15/2020 2:20 pm
yeah, definitely
2/15/2020 2:20 pm
I'll pick you up in an hour?

Not that he has any solid plan or how nice Emily is imagining. Maybe that authentic place in Yamagato.

Nice manifests itself in dark colors when Emily steps out onto the porch an hour later, pulling the front door to her townhome shut behind her. It's dark leggings with white polka-dots, feet shrouded in black Minnetonka-styled flats. Nice is the night-colored skirt she wears with its navy sheen. Nice is the lace-cuffed long-sleeve shirt with lace patterned at its color— though it, too, is black. Her creme-colored peacoat is shrugged on immediately once she steps into the cold, unable to hold off for the intervening moments between indoors and inside the car. She steps quickly and light down the front steps regardless, rushing to climb into the passenger seat and seal out the cold.

She lets out a shuddering breath from the chill as her feet shuffle against the floorboard, only turning to observe Devon now that she's barely a foot from him. Unsmiling, she offers up a faint, "Hey."

It's clear she hopes he has a better idea of what to do from here as she asks, "Where we headed?"

In all of the Safe Zone, nothing had jumped out at Devon by the time he'd changed into a dark blue sweater layered over a button down shirt and slacks. He drew a blank when he left the Bastion and no ideas came during the drive over.

But as Emily steps out the front door, something begins to take shape.

The small, brief smile that Devon offers hides his concern and ache over Emily’s pain when she first climbs into the car. There's little he can do, nothing he hasn't already done, to be supportive and comforting. He's no stranger to loss and grief, but it doesn't stop him from wishing he could do more. He reaches once she's settled in her seat and buckled, and for a moment cups the side of her face, a thumb brushing lightly over her cheek.

“Somewhere nice,” he answers. He turns, hand falling away to shift the car into drive. Dev glances over as he eases away from the house and into the street, brows knitting slightly. “You're beautiful, you know.”

Emily tilts her head to the side, brushing a stray bang behind her ear to pile it back with her loosely-done bun. "Well, I hope so, otherwise all this effort was for nothing." She shifts a glance to Devon to study him and see if there's any clueing into his thoughts on where they're headed.

At least we're headed someplace, at all, though. she thinks to herself, finding some relief in that. He didn't seem upset at all about the shift in date, either.

"You doing okay lately?" she asks offhandedly, trying to make it sound light— casual.

“Yeah. Mostly.” Dev keeps his reply conversational, without the super boring details relating to how many cases of blue pens they still have in the supply closet. The path he takes isn't a straight shot to anywhere — not that driving through the Safe Zone is necessarily a direct route anyway — but he even drives by the normal streets that would take them to any number of places.

“Missing you, though,” he continues after a few moments. A glance ticks over, concern flickering through again. “How about you?”

"Coming to grips with things," is the most open way Emily's addressed the topic since Avi broke the news to her. Her gaze has wandered forward again, and she keeps her eyes on the road without letting any one thing snare her attention. "I finally… I don't know— decided to get my head out of my ass. I cried a lot the last couple of days. And now…"

For a moment, she doesn't know what to say, but her shoulders gradually lift in an approximation of a shrug. Her words come equally slowly. "Now I guess we see what happens next." The exhale that follows is slow and measured, the act of it placing one more thin layer between herself and the person she was two days ago— yesterday— or even a few hours ago.

“Yeah,” Devon breathes. That's how grieving works, in no particular order, without rhyme or reason. “Just take it one day at a time, and your process isn't going to match anyone’s.” He's said as much before, but everyone can use a gentle reminder now and again. He glances over to gauge Emily's openness before adding, “I know you're strong and capable, but don't let anyone give you shit over mourning. It takes as long as it takes.”

The car turns, heading more noticeably toward one of the checkpoints in and out of the city. Dev looks over again, brows faintly knitted, but an attempted smile forming. “I'm really glad you wanted to go out. It's good. Fresh air, change of scenery.”

Something in what he says touches her, bringing a smile to lift the corner of her mouth just momentarily. "Thanks," Emily murmurs, her hand reaching for his across the armrest. If driving means he can't lace his fingers with hers, then she'll at least wrap her arm around his.

Her eyes flicker to the road, finally paying attention when she thinks she sees something familiar on the roads they travel, despite the encroaching dark. "Yeah…" she agrees faintly, still trying to figure out where they're headed. "I decided hiding for the rest of forever probably wasn't the best idea… and…" Slowly, her head turns back to him, an inquisitive eyebrow arched. "Okay, where are we going, Dev?"

“Somewhere nice,” Devon replies. He drops a hand from the wheel to hold Emily’s hand instead. The route they take isn't toward Rochester, it's northerly but more eastern instead of west. Trees fill in where buildings once stood, scraggly things that have yet to show signs of reawakening. Spring hasn't quite reached these parts. “Just enjoy the ride, we’ll be there soon.” He gives her hand a squeeze of assurance, unwilling to spoil the surprise just yet.

It takes almost an hour to turn off what was once a highway onto something a little more rustic. Still paved, but it's easily a county road and one that's probably seen more farm traffic than travelers in recent months. Older buildings stand to either side of the road, weathered and separated by wide, empty lots. Some are still obviously in use; smoke can be seen rising from several chimneys, the orange glow of lanterns fill a few windows.

After another fifteen or so minutes of driving, Devon finally pulls the car to a stop. The building he's chosen is sturdy, if in need of paint. The window glass is clean and the sweet sounds of Patsy Cline can be heard within. “I hear this is the best place for a home-cooked meal this side of Kansas,” he explains as he unbuckles. “It's a simple, wholesome atmosphere.”

Devon's hand in Emily's is something to focus on, to keep her calm while waiting the drive out of town. She contemplates several more times pressing to know just where they're going, but resigns herself before long to just accept that eventually there will be a destination.

She's just dozed off when the car stops, the shift into park bringing her posture to right. She blinks once, twice, scanning out the window while Devon explains. It takes her a moment, brow furrowing before her expression softens entirely.

It might not be nice in the sense she'd been thinking, but it's free of the trappings that any place they've been before might have. It's free of connotation and from bad memory. That's a type of nice that money can't buy.

"First time for you too?" she asks as she steps from the car, bundled against the nighttime chill.

“I've passed by a few times, asked around to see what anyone knew. One of the few relics that the war missed.” Or it's been rebuilt and he's just unaware. Joining Emily, Devon looks at the door to the establishment, then takes her hand again. He tilts his head as an invitation for them to go inside before actually stepping to the entrance.

During the interlude outside, the music has changed from Patsy Cline to Kenny Rogers, like an eclectic mixtape of homespun ballads. The sorts their grandparents would have listened to while going on about simpler times. It's warm inside, without being stuffy, and the smells of home cooking fill the air. In the daylight, there's probably a sense of country kitchen to the decor, but in the evening it's cozy and intimate. Even if it lacks the trappings of a finer restaurant.

Dev looks around, half expecting a hostess station although many places have transitioned to a seat-yourself model. He looks at Emily, brows raised slightly, when a motherly faced type waves at them from the back in invitation to pick a table.

Emily laces her fingers with Devon's before they head in, her other arm hooking around the crook of his elbow as they venture forward together into the unfamiliar space. The comforting atmosphere, like anything good, seems to good to be true. When Devon turns to her for direction, it takes her a moment to nod meekly in the direction of a window booth.

There's menus sandwiched between a condiment tray and the wall, so she pulls one for each of them, sitting opposite Devon in a hesitant silence. She pulls the menu closer to her with only her fingertips, hand barely curled around the top of the table. It's quiet here, and that's nice. It's not overflowing with people, the pseudoprivacy afforded by that a blessing in disguise.

"I haven't asked you in a while," she realizes, speaking softly. "Did you ever give any more thought to going back to school?"

Devon pulls the menu in front of him closer, but his attention is on Emily. He offers a small smile when she looks his way. It's a brief reprieve from the faint tightness of worry that he's tried to keep masked.

The question draws his brows upward. It had been a long time since they'd talked about school. “Yeah,” he answers, sounding a little surprised. So much had happened between then and now. “Yeah, I talked to Francois about it. He was supportive, but… he also wants me to stay… with Wolfhound.” He knows that's a touchy subject, so he holds up a hand to stave off arguments. That's not why they're here.

“We actually talked about cross training me into something less combat oriented.” Still not why they're here, nor is it answering Emily's question.

“I didn't apply in time to get in this semester.” Dev reaches across the table to take Em’s hands. The contact is wanted as much as it's offered, a way to give comfort and hopefully keep her from pulling away. “But I should be able to start in the summer. Just need to make sure I have tuition in order.”

When a waitress comes up with a pot of coffee, Emily nods her acquiescence to a cup being poured for both her and Devon. She keeps her silence until the woman's moved on, promising to come back for their order in a bit. His hand across the table elicits a lift of her own, arm stretching out so she can slide her hand over his, thumb curling around his knuckles.

She seems surprised by his answer, but not in an unpleasant way. She struggles for a moment with that— with a thing not being inherently awful, and lets the corners of her mouth upturn for just a moment. "You're serious?" she asks, unable to keep from hope entering her tone. "That'd be amazing." Her hand squeezes his encouragingly. "The campus is really pretty in summer, too. I think you'll like it out there."

It's a nothing— it's silly. Small. He's been to the campus before; he knows what it looks like. But it's conversation, at least. "Summer and fall enrollment kicks off next month," she tells him, her cadence fluttering. "So if you hurry now, they might be able to approve you by then. And then we can figure out what classes you take. Maybe we could pick one up together." She doesn't smile, but it looks unmistakably like that'd be something she'd like. "I try to take at least one in the summer."

A grin turns the corners of Devon's mouth up as he follows Emily's reaction. Her enthusiasm is what he'd hoped for, the conversation an added bonus.

“Oh, I've been accepted.” The grin becomes a full smile and he leans forward slightly. “And I'd like that.” Finding a class they could take together. “We can look at the course offerings, I have a few written down that my advisor suggested I start off with. But I think I can deviate from their plan a little.” His smile wanes, but he still looks happy and anxious to start.

Emily's eyes light up even more to hear Devon's already laid down the necessary groundwork on his own. "Dev," she breathes out happily. "You really have been thinking about this. I'm so glad. You don't even… you don't even know."

Tears sting the corners of her eyes unexpectedly, and she catches them the moment it happens, her brow furrowing. She releases his hand only to place it down on the table to brace herself as she scoots out of the booth so she can sit next to him on his side instead.

"I'm sure we'll find a place we can overlap. If not, we'll make one." She's confident of this. "I'm only just now starting to look at more specialized courses… making the decisions that'll shape the rest of my career." Her eyes half-lid, shoulders settling at the thought of what's looming ahead for her. Instead of focusing on that, she turns to regard Devon out of the corner of her eye. "Do you know what you want to major in yet? Did you select one?"

Surprise at the move earns a raised brow look as Devon slides over to make space for Emily. “Yeah, I mean I don't plan on soldiering forever. Wolfhound… if not for the contract with the police department, we'd probably be facing disbanding or something.” He looks aside for a moment, it's not something he's ready to consider. “With the group restructuring and everything, I realized I need to restructure myself.”

It makes sense in his mind, but he's not sure it makes sense to Emily. He scratches the side of his neck.

“I… haven't zeroed in on anything specific.” Dev’s brows raise slightly and he half grins. Those recently graduated from high school seem to know better what they want to study, and here he is without a solid clue himself. “Probably something in science, mathematics. Something that'll give me options for later. Brooklyn College offers an independent studies masters program.”

The way he tries to explain it must make close enough to sense, because Emily smiles at his response. Her mouth barely tugs at the corners, but it's visible in her eyes. "To tell you the truth, I still don't know for me either. I really gave Law a hard consideration there for a minute, but… I don't know, the longer I've been working with SESA, the more I start to consider if I don't want to do something with them long term after all."

"I know I fought it for a long time, and I didn't think I had a strong interest in it… but the stuff they do matters. It's broad and got its interesting facets for all the downtime at the office just messing around and making bets about favorite cake flavors, and… it can be heavy, at times," The light in her eyes dims for a moment at that, lips pursing. How heavy it is weighs on her just as much as the issues in her personal life "—but it's for a good cause. It's… to help people."

"Make sure no one else gets hurt." she murmurs after.

Devon nods slowly as Emily speaks of her own experiences and thoughts. He understands. Answering the call to helping people is a bit like merging onto a varied and multi-directional, ten-lane highway. The options are overwhelming and seemingly endless. He smiles slightly with his understanding.

“Have you thought about maybe becoming a lawyer? SESA is…” He pauses, taking a moment to think of how he'd describe the organization. “Like FRONTLINE, but without the armor or combat readiness and significantly better negotiating skills. Being a lawyer, though. There aren't many who are specialized in expressive rights, or even the difficulties we've faced that are exclusive to us.”

For a beat, his brows knit again. “I bet you could talk to Pops — Jared — about it. That's essentially his thing.”

Emily mulls that one over, and in the interim the waitress comes back over with her open charm. The young woman in the booth fakes a thin smile for politeness' sake, glancing down at the menu. "Could I, um… get the silver dollar pancakes with eggs? Chocolate chips on the pancakes? Scrambled? Add bacon?"

Breakfast for dinner was nice in its own way.

The waitress tells her about the significant upcharge for the bacon, but Emily shakes her head to wave it off, telling her it's fine. Then after Devon's placed his order, she turns back to him.

"I could probably swing it…" she admits carefully, slow without sharing her reason for it at first. She waits until the waitress is a good distance away. "But a profession built around arguing a passionate, well-informed case for every challenge you're thrown? What if my ability got out, Dev? Say I made it far, and then that happened. What if it got all my cases thrown out?" Her brow twinges into a near furrow before she looks away, trying not to let that thought eat at her. She had enough on her mind without letting herself sink back down into that old thought-habit.

Breakfast for dinner sounds worlds better than the burger plate that Devon had been leaning toward, and he follows Emily's lead. But for him it's, “French toast, with eggs over medium. Bacon too, please.” He grins a closed-mouth thanks when the server promises their food will be out soon.

His attention turns to Emily when she begins speaking again. The arguments against are reasonable, and he understands her fears. Having an ability that can sway someone without consent or even realizing it's happening is a massive responsibility.

“It's still a new thing,” Devon reminds her gently. He touches Em’s shoulder with one hand, the other touches her cheek to turn her face back to him. “What you can do is pretty amazing and a little frightening. But once you've learned to control it?” His brows raise, showing enthusiasm for the unspoken possibilities. “It doesn't hurt to talk to Jared, and there's more to law than just representing someone in court.”

Emily tries to smile, tries to ignore the tightness in her chest. It's amazing, and a little frightening was an accurate summary of her ability as well as her own thoughts toward it. It's still hard to meet Devon's eyes, but she does it for moments at a time, more often than not merely looking in his general direction. "I feel like no matter what I end up doing, it's a risk I run. If I go into law… or politics… or become an analyst with SESA," Because fieldwork almost certainly didn't suit her, "it could jeopardize any line of work I go into at that point."

She sighs out, "Except non-personal work. Stuff with computers, analysis… I don't know— forensics or something…" Emily shakes her head to herself as she looks back up.

"I don't really know if I'm ever going to grow into my ability, though, Dev. I'm scared of it. I'm scared of me. I'm scared of the shit I say when I get angry." Her hand lifts to take his in an attempt to keep him from getting her to look back directly at him again, her gaze somewhere past his shoulder. "It takes 'you can't take what you say back' to a new extreme, and between both my parents, I inherited the ability to say some really fucked up shit sometimes." She glances back at him again for only a moment before shaking her head again. "I don't know."

“It's a risk all of us run, Em.” Devon’s brows go from imploringly raised to worriedly knit. He knows his ability differs, in that he manipulates objects rather than people’s minds. It was barely ten years ago when his own ability would have had him imprisoned, or worse, under the Petrelli regime. “It could jeopardize any path you take, and at the same time it might not.”

He doesn't force her to keep her face turned to him. He takes the hand that finds his and threads his fingers with hers.

For a moment he's quiet. The sour turn of the evening isn't what he'd expected. The hurt and uncertainty he can see weighing on Emily makes him ache more deeply than anything he's experienced. Dev turns slightly, enough to better face her even though she's chosen to look past him. The hand on her shoulder moves, hesitates, then brushes a thin lock of hair behind her ear.

“I wish I could take your fears and throw them into a volcano,” he says quietly, partially to himself. His hand lowers, he looks slightly aside but remains facing her. “And help you to understand that I love you even with all the things you think are faults. That regardless of everything, I'll be there to support and cheer you on.”

Emily doesn't say anything to that save for to tighten the lace of their fingers. For a lack of knowing how to reply, all she does is begin to lean his direction, shoulder touching shoulder. Her head goes next, laying down on the perch his shoulder makes for her.

Her eyes drift shut. "I love that you believe in me." she murmurs finally, brushing her thumb over the back of his hand. "I don't know what you see in me, but it must be something. Must be worth all this while. I dunno if you know how much I appreciate that. I'm not sure I've ever said it."

Finally lifting her head again, completely unminding of how leaning against him might've shifted the set of her hair, she opens her eyes to look at him. Her hand entwined in his raises the both of them up just a hair before she squeezes her grip. "I love you, Devon."

"I'm sorry I'm shit at showing it. And I can't promise it's not going to get worse from here. But I'm glad you show up and you try, even when I'm… like this. Even when I shut down, when I shut everybody and everything out."

"I love you," Emily repeats softly, like perhaps that message might have been lost otherwise. She leans forward to press a gentle kiss to his lips.

As if in sync with Emily’s subconscious thoughts, Dev draws an arm around her shoulders when she leans into him. His eyes angle so he can continue watching her, patient as she navigates to the words she wants to say. He places a light kiss to the top of her head when she begins speaking, and a small, gentle smile curls one corner of his mouth upward when Emily meets his gaze.

“I know,” Devon murmurs, as he tips his head to catch and linger over the kiss. He's slow to let it end, but when he does he rests his forehead lightly against Emily’s, his nose brushing against hers. “You don't ever need to apologize for yourself,” he gently reminds her. “Not to me. I love you, that includes when you're falling apart and trying to push everyone and everything away. I love you.”

Emily's features twinge in a dubious expression, and then she lifts a hand to snare his nose between two knuckles. It's teasing, but she's also serious. "You don't have to love me when I'm being toxic as shit, Devon. Don't excuse my shitty behavior, and don't paper it over as acceptable." Her head shakes once. "You deserve better than that. I'm… trying to be better than that."

"It's okay to point out when I'm not doing a great job, though." she's sure to insist, sinking down into her seat. With a brief smile, she assures she can take the criticism.

"Grief does things, I know. But… I'm not always grieving."

“Just because you've got a shitty attitude over something doesn't mean you're toxic or that I shouldn't love you in spite of it.” If Dev’s been given permission to point out those shortcomings, he's going to test those waters. He smiles to take away any sting. Criticism should be constructive, not destructive. “It just means you're airing your shit in a way that works. It's when you turn it on me without cause, make it a personal attack, that it becomes toxic.”

He nudges Emily lightly, hip to hip, then gives her hand a squeeze. “Besides, I'll call you on it. Especially if you start taking your issues out on me.” Dev grins, kisses her cheek.

Well. The peck to her cheek further disarms any immediate argument that she might have, looking off with a settled sort of mild. Perhaps it's not an argument she'll win tonight— and at any rate, the waitress is circling back around with warmed plates that appear to be theirs. Feigning disgruntledness, she nudges him back roughly with her shoulder before sliding back to the other side of the booth. "All right, I'm gonna hold you to that."

Emily settles down heavier than she otherwise might on a nice night out, more casual in that behavior. There's less concern given toward her appearance.

It might be because she's too emotionally tired to give a shit, but it's also because she feels comfortable enough to be doing so. She gives him a fleeting ghost of a smile before pulling her silverware toward herself, unraveling it from the napkin. "And I'm paying." she declares daringly.

The waitress is given only a flicker of a look, enough to confirm her presence and delivery of their food. Devon’s attention stays with Emily when she swaps seats again, joined still by that small grin.

He glances down at the plate in front of him. The food looks and smells good. His eyes tick up to Emily again, a smile replacing his grin. Hopefully she likes the food. The laid back atmosphere certainly seemed the best choice, it's nice without being nice. One corner of Devon’s mouth tugs up higher than the other, amusement at her claim to the check weaving a silent laugh into his smile. He unwraps his own silverware with a small shake of his head, cuts into a slice of French toast.


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