Familiar Paths


devon_icon.gif jaiden_icon.gif

Scene Title Familiar Paths
Synopsis No matter how familiar you are with loss, it's never an easy thing.
Date May 24, 2018

Mortlock Residence, NYC Safe Zone

It’s an early night. The housekeepers were given a little bit of a reprieve with Devon around. He might be an interruption to the daily routine, but he’s been entertaining the girls when they get home from school or daycare or wherever the daytime hours require them to be. This evening it was a mess of a bubble bath. With soap-crayons for drawing on the shower tiles and more suds than anyone has a right to. It was all an amazing adventure orchestrated by the young man come to help out for a few days.

Bedtime brought the girls a story. But not the kind found in a book. Dev improvised on the spot a tale of two princesses who went on a fantastic journey together. They met a giant and rode huge cats like horses. There was treasure and magic and good guys and bad guys. There was even cake! And a promise to tell them the next chapter the following evening, if they gave no problems and went to sleep.

A night light was left on for them, the door left cracked open, and Devon finally retreated.

His feet are light on the stairs, quiet and careful as he finds his way through the less familiar house. He wends his way down a hallway and then on to the living room for some downtime. He detours through the kitchen to grab a plate of leftover supper and a bottle of water, as those are supplies to go along with the downtime he seeks.

Jaiden has been present, but almost hands off, with all the preparations required in being a single parent. Ever since Remi’s death, plans had been made on top of plans; plans for funerals, for inheritance, for trusts in the Girls’ names that become theirs when they’re eighteen, all spelled out in perfect Lawyer-ese a little after the war ended. It was undertaken because Jaiden was the one they both thought would die first, but now, here, it’s kind of ironic that he’s the one planning the funeral.

The living room is quiet, the ticking of the big clock in the corner measuring out the hours in slow, easy sweeps of large brass hands. The dining room table - off the living room - is covered in documents required for things that most people never thought they’d have to deal with, and a corner of the living room has been overtaken with green, growing plants given by various friends and businesses, one large one from Raytech, all expressing their condolences.

Jaiden sits quietly in his big chair in the living room, rocking himself with little motions of his good left leg, his feet bare, staring out into the room at nothing, the lamp next to the chair the only light, the rest coming from the curtained bay windows in the far wall. His attention turns to movement in the kitchen, the big man pushing himself upright as he sees Devon’s movement through the door between it and the dining room. Finally on his feet after a set hours, Jaiden limps his way to the kitchen, peering in at the raiding going on in the refrigerator.

“Hey there, Son.” Jaiden says softly. “You okay?”

“I’m good.” Not okay or fine. Good. Either that’s a new one, or he really is good. Devon straightens with a plate of some leftover fried chicken. The sides are left for later snacking. Being home — well, Jai’s home, because his last home was Minnesota — means delicious foods. Living in the Bunker just doesn’t compare to home cooked food. “Girls should be sleeping, or at least quiet for now.”

He nods toward the living room, half asking after bringing food into the space. He’s going to do it anyway, but it’s still better to ask first. “How’re you holding out,” Dev asks as he takes up a seat on the floor, his back against the front of a chair. His plate is balanced on his knees, but he doesn’t dig into the food just yet. “I mean. I’m sure you’re sick of people asking. But really. I’ve only got a few days right now, I don’t want to leave you near mental explosion.”

“Good.” Jaiden nods. “They're taking it well. Victoria will remember her, but Lisette….I don't know.” The silent question is answered, Jaiden nodding and stepping aside and heading back into the living room behind the younger man, retaking his seat with a sigh, rubbing his right knee as he relaxes or, at least, tries to.

“I'm doing as well as can be expected, I guess.” Jaiden closes his eyes, resting his head on the back of the chair. “I mean…Remi and I were friends for a long time, got married, had a daughter….”. He rubs a thumb over his closed eye, tucking the tears away that come pretty much at the drop of a hat. “Thanks for coming and visiting. It means a lot.”

“Lisette will remember her because you and Victoria will remember her.” Of that, Devon sounds sure. Memories are more than just how a person looks or the things they have. They’re pictures and stories of remember when…’s that are usually shared in the wee hours after a bad dream or during supper. They’re laughter and crying and a certain meal.

“There’s probably better people than me to hang out with the girls. But I don’t think many others would understand it from their side.” At least, not many who would admit it or take the time to relate to a couple of very young children. Devon did, having been in their place when his biological parents died over a decade ago, then again when Elisabeth, who had filled the void and became Mom to him, died in 2011. Those events were shared with the girls, in the quiet hours of that first night he was there, barely more than a stranger to them, told in the simple ways for children to understand. It was a foundation for them to find trust for him, so they could know without a doubt that Dev would understand without them needing to say anything.

The chicken is picked at. He’s hungry, but he’ll get to it eventually. “I’m sorry I can’t stay longer this trip.” Devon looks aside, crooked grin a little sad. “Once I’m back from this exercise and we’ve done debriefing, I’ll come back for another week or two. Have you called Pops for anything? He’d be able to help with anything. Even just taking over if you need a break.”

“I wouldn’t trust anyone more with the girls, Devon.” Jaiden leans forward, his heavy hand resting on Devon’s shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze. “Lisette is enamored with you, and Victoria is already planning out the wedding. So watch out.” Devon may have noticed little crepe paper flowers and veils have been appearing, now and again, as well as stories about being rescued by a prince from a tower. Standard fairytale stuff, but tinged with the French Ballet that she had been practicing for a few months now. Because she wanted to, not because her mother did. And Devon’s words may not be practiced, but he’s been there. He knows what the girls are going through and knows what’s to come. Christmas is going to be tough, as is the first day of school. Thousands of firsts in this year for both girls that Remi is going to miss.

Jaiden leans back in his chair. “You came, Devon, and that’s enough. You were thinking of the family, even in the middle of planning for this mission you’re going on.” He knows better than to pry on where he’s going or why - it’s often something that comes out in the news once Devon’s back home safe, and with Remi gone, Jaiden doesn’t need someone else to worry about. “I haven’t called Jared yet, no. I’ve been mainly keeping to myself, working on not crying at the drop of a hat. Someone, long ago, told me that grief was like standing waist-deep in an ocean. At first, you’re battered. The waves push you around, but after a while you get used to them. The waves seem smaller. There are still big ones, and you can see them coming, but the day-to-day pitfalls don’t happen nearly as much.”

“I’d just like to get Remi home, to Kabetogama, to the family cemetery.” He finally says. “Her autopsy should have been over by now. So they found drugs or evidence of foul play. SESA knows something and they aren’t telling me.” Stupid Journalist instincts. He doesn’t know what it is, but he’s bracing for that to come out in the next few days.

Those flowers had indeed been noticed. Devon rolls his eyes, but it’s in good humor. “Yeah, you missed a heck of a tea party. We had all the kings and princesses around, and there was dancing.” And he played right along with them. “Tomorrow we’re going to write letters to Remi and let the sparks carry them to her.” It’s something he’s done every year for Elisabeth, and it’s another small thing to share with the girls.

“I don’t know that grief is like being battered in an ocean.” He considers the analogy, but he shrugs on it. “In some ways I can agree. I felt like drowning when my bio-parents died. But when we lost Liz…” Devon stops there, deciding against opening that wound. There’s enough heartache for the older man with Remi being taken too soon. “Grief’s whatever we make of it. It’s personalized and it never really goes away. We just adapt and grow, because that’s what they would want. Remi’d cut you up one side and down the other for sitting here crying all the time.”

Instead of responding to theories of SESA, because he has his reservations about them also, Devon grins suddenly. “I got to tell you. Not long after Remi first moved in to the house we all shared before the war?” He looks up at Jaiden, practically chuckling at the memory. “She was moping so hard and I tried to find a way to connect with her. Oh man, she wasn’t having it, flipped her lid like I’ve never seen any woman do and locked me out of the house!” And he’s laughing about it, now.

“If there's one thing you could say about Remi, it's that she's genuinely passionate about a lot of things. She's also stubborn - as you discovered when you tried to connect with her when she wasn’t ready.” Devon actually has Jaiden smiling a little at the memory, through the few tears, wiping them away with a chuckle. “And I trust you'll be honorable with Victoria on your upcoming wedding day? I hear Wonder Woman, Dora the Explorer, and Queen Elisabeth are all going to be there. It'll be the talk of the town for years to come.”

He trails off to silence, his eyes closing. “It's hard, Devon. You know it, but….it's hard. If it was just me, I could surround myself with work, cut off for a while and heal, and then I'm okay, but now it's harder because I have the girls. I can't retreat. I have to stand here and be strong, for them, because if I don't, what kind of father would I be? Leaving them isn't something I'd ever consider.”

“I'm going to lean on you a little, when you're around, if I can, Devon. My parents are elderly, Remi’s father died a few years back and her mother isn't taking this well at all. “. That's not surprising. “My support network is flimsy at best, so…” he sighs. “I'm going to need help, Devon.”

Jaiden never asks for help.

“I feel like I should expect a trap every time I agree to one of their games,” Devon chuckles as he speaks of the girls and their expectations. “I’m glad for all of the acting I did as a kid, or I’d be absolutely lost. Lisette insisted I wear this flower-print hat and four-inch wide plastic pearl necklace.” His amusement never ends for his little sisters, but he shakes his head anyway. “I’m in so much trouble. Worse, when I go back to work.” But he’ll make it up to them.

The mood shifts sober again and Dev just sits and listens as Jaiden speaks. Since, sometimes it’s best to just be an ear. “You did it for me,” he points out quietly, one corner of his mouth quirking up a little as he says it. He almost never talks about Liz’s absence, he’s struggled with it since being told. But it’s valid again, and a simple reminder that Jai has the strength to carry those two little girls through this time. “It’ll be difficult, they’re younger. Victoria’s going to think she resents you at times, and act on it.” He speaks with experience of growing up without a parent — or both, in his case.

“Just keep doing what you do, Jai.” Dev pauses to tear into one of those pieces of chicken he took from the fridge. He copes by never letting the weight of things linger for too long. “You never abandoned me. You had the chance, but you didn’t. And I know you won’t abandon Victoria and Lisette. Don’t ever hesitate to call me up. Yeah, cell reception here is crap, but soon as I get it consider me on the first flight I can get onto. I’ll help in whatever way I can.”

“When you and I…..when we were together, I really never thought that I was helping raise you. I mean, you were practically grown as it was when you wandered into my life, but here it is, I did, just a little. Got some practice with you and did a pretty okay job, I’d say.” Jaiden looks over at Devon after a second of silence. “When did you get so damned smart?” It’s a little teasing there - a good sign from Jaiden that things are starting to get a little better, all things considered.

“I’ll do you one better - I’ll write. Like with paper.” he lifts a hand. “I have a reason. I know you - you’re sentimental, and that’s one of the things I love the most out of you. You’ll keep those letters and, one day, Victoria and Lisette will sit down with their uncle Devon and find out what they had been doing in those days when Mommy went away.”

Jaiden looks to the fireplace, stacked with wood, unburnt, shaking his head. “I’ll heal. I’ll get by. For their sakes, I’ve got to.”

“I had some good teachers.” Devon pushes a shoulder up and tears off another bite of cold leftover chicken. “And when I got wrapped up in all that mess that it took a war to figure out, I was still such a kid. I had no clue. I tried, going around in business suits and ties, making professional contacts and playing at spy games like I knew what I was doing. But it all worked out.”

Labeling him as sentimental gets a smirk and a roll of eyes. Devon would never file himself under that description, but he doesn’t contradict it either. “Sounds like a good idea. The girls’ll love it. You’re handy, maybe build a box for each of them, too, start picking out pictures of Remi that’re their favorites.”

“You will.” Heal, that is. There’s no time to sit and wallow. Dev fills in the space with a quick affirmation when Jaiden goes to the fireplace. “If I knew what to tell you to make it easier, Jai, I would. Just like when Liz left.”

When Liz was taken during that incursion in the darkness of an Alaskan winter, Jaiden thought that there would be no coming back from that. He was numb, retreating into himself for months until the darkness of war snapped him out of it. Stories needed to be told and wrongs needed to be righted, and he wasn’t the sort to sit back and let others do it for him. It took a war to drag him out of his funk the last time, and now, with the girls, he doesn’t have that option anymore. He can’t abandon them. He just can’t. And he won’t.

He’s their father, and Remi wouldn’t forgive him for that.

“I know that if you knew what words you could say to fix this, you’d say them in a second. It’s just that words don’t help right now. I’ve gone through this once before, with Liz. Now I get to go through it again with Remi. At least this time I’ve got an idea of what’s coming and how to do things instead of just stumbling through life for several weeks, caught up in grief.” His left leg starts his recliner rocking, the big man letting out a breath. “I just hope the girls don’t forget her, or resent her for leaving them alone. God knows she didn’t do it on purpose.”

While he knows what those girls will face growing up without one of their parents, his own experiences giving him a unique view, Devon leaves that off the table for now. There will be time later to give insight into the minds of grieving kids. Tonight, he’s here to let Jaiden feel his way through the all-too familiar road of loss and grief. It’s a rough and rocky one that they’re both too familiar with, and the least he can do is be an ear that understands, and a distracting force for the girls, for a couple of days. He leaves the older man to his thoughts, letting the silence settle in a comfortable way.

Sometimes saying nothing at all is the best support.

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