If You Show Me How


colette3_icon.gif hana_icon.gif

Scene Title If You Show Me How
Synopsis A lioness and a stray cat are reunited, cutting the shadow of a wolf.
Date November 28, 2011

Bannerman's Castle

The sun has only just slipped behind the horizon, scattered clouds still gleaming lambent golds and oranges, crescent moon lingering in the southern sky. At this hour, most of the island's too-many inhabitants are in the dining hall, either finishing up their meal or just getting started; Hana is not one of them. She's withdrawn to the upper levels of the castle instead, to a place with solid footing and judiciously curtailed ivy, one open to the evening sky and stiff southerly breeze.

Dressed darkly, Hana stands perhaps closer to the roof's crenelations than she should, moving slowly through the steps of an Aikido kata. It's too warm for the jacket she wears; she doesn't care. Doesn't let herself care about anything except the next form, the action necessary to get there, the gravity of her balance and the fluid tension of each motion. She does not think about the incessant digital noise filtering through her head, the mob of people who all need somewhere else to go, the chaos in the city downriver, the losses and invisible scars both new and old.

Hana simply moves.

Colette simply trips.

A heavily bundled shape trips up the stairs leading to the upper levels of the castle. The hiss of a voice in Hana’s periphery isn’t immediately familiar, but there she is at the top of the stairs, on her ass and holding her knee with one hand. It’s been more than a year since Hana had seen the younger Nichols girl, and time has not been kind to her. She’s dangerously thinner than she was last spring.

Fuck,” Colette hisses, not seriously injured other than in her pride. Scattered around where she tripped are a pair of repurposed paint cans with some rocks in them, one of which lays on its side with stones scattered across the floor. There’s also an old spiral-bound notebook with a pen tucked in the binding, and a thermos tipped on its side slowly leaking tea out of its seams.

Motion is interrupted twice over, once by a stumble, once by a pivoting step back. The new arrival is taken in with a glance, evaluated, assessed; then Hana steps forward without ceremony, scooping up the thermos and setting it aside before it can spill forth more tea.

Are you all right patently doesn't need to be asked, and a stumble is not worth chiding, not to this near-stranger who looks in poor shape indeed beneath concealing clothes. Hello is social, welcoming, inapplicable. Hana says none of those things.

She sets herself to collecting scattered rocks instead, plain field stones that look like they belong to the island, gray and dull and waterworn enough to have nothing interesting about them save roundness. Roundness, and weight; the two in her hand clack faintly together as she hefts them, and again as they are deposited one by one into the can whence they came.

And still she says nothing.

“//Josep— //” No. He'd have said something. “Um, I'm— who’s there?” The question is delivered with an embarrassed, frustrated, undertone. She's slow to move, posture stiff and defensive. Pulling her legs beneath herself, Colette steadies herself enough to stand, but there's a wobble to it.

“If— if you're just gonna stand there an’ make fun’f me I— I don't…” have a response for that. Colette’s jaw works side to side, neck muscles tense. Standing as she is, Hana can see the surgical scar at the right side of her throat at her carotid artery. She wants to play strength in this scenario, but she's not armed to. It flushes her face red.

Ah. That detail had not been immediately apparent, but Hana recognizes the confusion; she's seen its like before. She straightens, watches steadily as Colette does the same — albeit having rather farther to go. Now Hana can see the distinctive state of her eyes. "I have," she says, tone even and neutral, "no interest in making fun of you."

Stepping to one side, the sole of her shoe scuffing just faintly on the stone, Hana leans down to pick up three more of the stray pebbles. "Hana," she feels generous enough to supply, before plunking the rocks down with their kin. "We met — a long time ago." Longer than long, and yet less than two years.

In the wake of those words, she continues forward, crossing the few feet that separate them with less than completely silent steps. Two fingertips tap lightly against Colette's left shoulder. "Try not to tense up quite so much," Hana suggests mildly.

“Wire —” Colette hesitates. “Hana.” Embarrassment frustrates her features, knits her brows together with a furrow and makes her fingers curl against her palms. As she relaxes, her face is downcast toward the floor and shoulders slacked in a slouch of defeat. She swallows, audibly, and continues to vacantly stare off into the distance for a moment, crouching down to feel for where her thermos is, then awkwardly sets it back into one of the two rock-filled buckets. Hands paw across the coarse stone floor, find her notebook, and set it in the other bucket.

As she rises to stand again, Colette hefts the buckets up with a considerably noise of effort, though neither can weigh much more than five pounds, judging from the volume. “Sorry,” comes late enough that it’s unclear what for. Sorry for snapping, sorry for tripping, sorry for being up here. It could be any or all three.

Colette doesn’t go far, just enough away from the stairwell that she’s not likely to tumble down it in the opposite direction. She shuffles until she finds the wall nearby to where Hana was practicing, feels for where her foot hit something solid and finds the low-set flat bench — one typically used by sentries at the battlements to watch the perimeter of the island — and settles down on it, a bucket at either side of her on the ground. The thermos comes out, set next to herself on the bench, careful not to accidentally tip it over. Then, the notebook, set next to the thermos.

“Thanks,” Colette thinks to say, though even later than the apology. “For…” she gestures in the general direction of the stairs. Quietly, Colette unbuttons the front of her heavy jacket, slides it off of her shoulders in spite of the fact that she can nearly see her breath, and tosses it to her opposite side on the bench. The flannel shirt she wears beneath has its sleeves rolled up and buttoned near her biceps, revealing matchstick thin arms traced with lines of surgical scars.

With the coat off, Hana can see the muscle mass the girl lost since their last time together. It lines up with what she knew of the Mount Natazhat facility that Colette was pulled out of, that she’d spent months in a state of catatonic torpor in one of the Institute’s ACTS containment devices. That, perhaps, explains why she puts a hand around each bucket, and begins straining to lift them. With improper posture for the makeshift exercise, improper everything to do anything other than put undue strain on her joints and ligaments.

Evidently the opposite of tension is slumping. Like and yet unlike the girl who went in search of boundaries to push so long ago — the same person, clearly, but oriented around a different axis. Understandably so. Hana steps back as Colette gets her things in order, leaning against one of the roof's edging crenelations. The apology is accepted in silence. So too is the girl's gratitude, acknowledged tacitly, the subject allowed to fade away behind them.

Not so with Colette's attempts at lifting the bucket.

"Don't do that." Exasperation now in full force, Hana steps forward and intercepts the bucket on its downswing, firmly removing it from Colette's grip, setting it aside. The other follows promptly; then she hooks a hand the girl's shoulder, mild pressure urging her up. "Come here."

Normally, Hana would illustrate by example; that won't be effective now. Instead, she runs her hand down Colette's arm, heedless of the scars, firm pressure coercing elbow, forearm, and wrist into the palm-up placement she intends. Her other rests on the girl's shoulder. "Pay attention to your alignment— " she says, running her hand back up Colette's forearm with fingers tracing the line of muscle on the back and thumb on the ligament underneath. "— here. If you don't want to layer damage over atrophy, that is," Hana concludes, tone dry.

Hana can feel Colette tense, reflexively, at the touch once she’s up on her feet. Her back straightens, jaw sets and for a moment her weight moves to the balls of her feet like she’s about to run. But clear thought wins the day, memories of someone who had patience with her. She exhales a held breath, some of that tension slipping out with it. She embarrassed, again. Pride wounded by her own actions, though neither of which were Hana’s intent, and that much she begrudgingly surmises through further relaxation.

Wordlessly, and somewhat belatedly, Colette complies with the alignment of her stance. As her arms move, settle into the guided position of Hana’s directive, she nearly speaks. Twice, even. But each time it’s just a movement of briefly parted lips and then silence. Once she’s there, sure of her footing and Hana’s position, Colette turns her head subtly in the older woman’s direction.

“Wh —” No. Colette closes her eyes, shakes her head, picks up a beat later. “How… d’you know, all this?” It’s a simple question with an, ultimately, complicated answer. One she’d never bothered to ask two years ago, when things like that didn’t matter to her. When why and how were luxuries in the haste-driven mind of a teenager. Now, at the very least older if not wiser, Colette asks the questions she should have led off with two years ago.

Patience indeed, as Hana persists through Colette's tension without acknowledgement, neither highlighting nor denying it; she'd let the girl break free if she tried, but Colette doesn't, and so that remains moot. She raises a brow at the girl's second failure to actually speak, but is saved the need to prompt when her face actually turns Hana's way, when words are haltingly voiced.

Hana's lips draw up in a thin, closed smile at the deceptively simple question; she doesn't answer immediately, but spends several beats in putting that long and involved history into order, weighing what could be said against what should. The hand on Colette's arm drops; the one on her shoulder lingers.

"I spent eight years," she says at last, granting a confidence as quiet as the twilight around them, "trying to prove myself to others. Trying to make myself the very best I could be, body and mind and skill." Her gaze goes to the forested hills across the river, without actually seeing them. "Then I — changed jobs," Hana remarks, a wryness to the phrase that implies understatement, the merest fraction of a much larger story being put on offer. "To one that pushed my every physical limit, day in and day out, for months."

"So yes, I learned," she says, returning her attention to Colette; she brings both hands up to the girl's shoulders, subtly nudging them down and back.

"I don't recommend following the same career path," Hana continues, her tone dry enough to border on a subtle shade of amusement. "But it's not necessary, either. The first and most important lesson is simply to pay attention."

The touch to Colette’s shoulders eases her posture a little, though it’s clear she’s over-eager to see where this exercise goes beyond standing correctly. “Might be a bit late, uh, for that,” Colette admits about career-path choices. One brow raises, and she tilts her head as if regarding Hana, though it’s clear it’s more an affectation than anything else. “S’not exactly a lot of options left for people like me.”

After a moment, she turns to look straight ahead. “You… uh, ever help anybody like this before?” It’s too broad a question, and Colette only realize it after it’s spoken. “Like, I mean— somebody hospitalized.” It’s the best way to describe where she’s been and what she’s undergone. “M’so fuckin’… mad. Just— can’t even — ” She tenses again, briefly, and while she says she’s mad, it comes off more as frustrated. Specifically with herself, with shortcomings.

Hana shakes her head, which Colette might recognize mostly from the soft whisper of loose hair brushing across leather. "You're confusing the broad strokes with the details," she remarks, a hint of exasperation resurfacing — a tone that could be directed at several facets of Colette's expressed attitude, or equally all of them at once.

There's a pause, a mutual beat of silence, and then another question hangs on the air. "Somebody else?" Hana answers a beat later, not quite truly an echo. "No. Myself?"

She lets that word hang, too, let the blank fill itself. It isn't exactly much of one.

Stepping slightly to Colette's right, she loosely clasps fingers around the girl's wrist, draws her arm steadily forward to full extension with a slight twist. The motion would be a punch, if not for being in extreme slow motion. "If you pay attention," she says as she holds that arm out, "you can feel how it all fits together and connects. Work with those connections, and you build strength. Work against…" Not so much.

Two other fingers draw a line over Colette's shoulder, along the muscle tension that radiates into her back. "Also remember that you may be thinking about your arms, but they're connected to everything else. You would have felt that all the way back to here, tomorrow."

There’s something in Colette’s expression as she listens, the way her brows set just-so and the subtle movement of her head to angle in directions Hana moves to. She’s attentive, eagerly listening though not certain of what she’s listening for at first. When Hana moves her arm, shows her that old and familiar motion she’d taught two years back, the faintest hint of a smile threatens the corners of her mouth.

“You?” Colette chooses that to latch onto. After a few moments of thought, at least. “You always seem so… put together.” Colette draws her arm back, slowly extends it again, eyes closed for all that matters. It’s as if she’s trying to show that she’s paying attention. The nod she offers is one of understanding, feeling the connection between joint and muscle. “Everybody’s either afraid’f you, or… “ she dithers, teeth toying with her bottom lip momentarily. “I dunno, respectful?”

She repeats the motion again, slowly, with her other arm. “You’re not scary,” Colette offers as if it was needed. “Or, maybe m’just not the person you’re tryin’ t’scare…” is offered after in a mumble.

There's the sometime-student Hana remembers. Although she will probably regret drawing out that aspect of Colette soon enough, too, the one that poked and prodded and nosed where she wasn't wanted. "I spent six weeks comatose," she admits bluntly. "Waking up, my body wasn't what I remembered it — what I knew it — to be. No one takes that well." And never mind the four weeks before that, confined, isolated in more ways than one.

Hana falls quiet as Colette continues, ostensibly watching her echo of the demonstrated lesson. Well, she is watching. Just not only watching. Unlike those before, this silence is weighted, burdened, but the precise texture of that weight remains inscrutable.

"We've met a handful of times, Demsky," is all Hana says, brusque, bristling. "Don't presume you know me."

She steps back, turns away from the bench and the battlement, paces out into the midst of the open area. Stops there, hands at her hips, gaze turned up towards the darkening sky.

Hana's lips draw back, baring the very edge of her teeth in what isn't a smile. "You think I should want to scare you?" she asks, challenges, deflecting from her own disquiet by the time-honored strategy of pricking at another's. "You're just a kid."

“I’m— ” Colette falters, remembers she missed something. Her jaw unsteadies, brows furrow, and for a moment there’s a quake of emotion that slips up her body. She swallows audibly, then exhales a flutter of breath with barely held together conviction. “I’m… twenty.” It’s not as forceful as she’d have liked, not as defensive of her age. She’s forgotten that somewhere between freedom and captivity, she lost her childhood.

“N’you don’t really know me either, I mean— probably.” Brows furrow at that, and Colette purses her lips to the side. “You might’ve lost your chance t’scare me the way you scare the others. You’ve… only ever been nice t’me.” She’d realized it as she said it, and it makes Colette briefly pause her movements. She turns to where she’s almost sure Hana is, then looks down to the ground.

Colette’s quiet for a moment, choosing her words carefully. “How’d… you figure yourself out again?” She’s put aside the posturing, put aside her assertions that she’s all grown up. Having a childhood stolen isn’t the same as maturing. “I’m…” she’s focused on a point a little too far to Hana’s right. “All… messed up…”

Hana listens to Colette without looking back, her own face still turned towards the sky above. The first star — planet, actually — glitters off to one side, just barely peeking through the last fading gasps of daylight. She hardly notices. She's more interested in Colette's defensiveness, or rather, her lack of reflexive, heated protest. In some respects, admitted only in the confidence of her own thoughts, Hana grants she handles that prod better than a certain Israeli would have at the same age.

Colette falls silent, and Hana lets that silence stretch, sensing that she might not be quite done. Too, Hana doesn't care to belabor the points of knowing, of scaring — she's said all that needed saying.

In the end, the girl does continue, a question as expansive as it is open-ended. Hana does not answer promptly, but Colette can hear her weight shift, the subsequent murmur of shoes across stone. She walks to the side, away from the stairs, then loops down along the battlement — a contemplative kind of pacing. It ends with her standing before Colette, a finger under the very edge of the girl's chin. "I never lost myself," she states. "I know what I live for. I know what I will die for. Everything else — come down to it, everything else burns away.

"But I am not most people," Hana concludes, letting her hand fall, exhaling a quiet breath. Her turn to fall quiet then, pensive, contemplative. "You are what you accept yourself to be," she says at last, stepping around Colette to lean her hands against the crenelations, gazing at the dark silhouettes of hills across the water. "If you want to be more than 'messed up', whatever that is? Forget those words. Set sights on the person who you want to be, and live it until it becomes you."

A soft huff. "Almost sounds easy. It wouldn't be."

The finger under Colette’s chin widens her eyes, brings color to her cheeks. She's motionless during that gesture, staring vacantly at what she can only imagine is Hana’s face. When the finger drops, her chin stays raised. She breathes, had been holding it that entire time, then looks toward her feet.

“How d’you… figure out what that is?” Colette’s brows raise in worry. “The— the person you wanna be?” The question is somewhat rhetorical. “I— I thought I knew who I was. I tried to — “ She tenses and swallows audibly, shaking her head. It takes a moment for her to find her footing again.

“My… dad,” Colette starts, and Hana recalls the process of getting Judah Demsky into the Ferrymen. She also recalls his disappearance. “He— he was grabbed. I tried t’rescue hhh… t’help. But he. They— fucking shot him. They shot him in front of me.”

Colette's voice takes on a strangled tone. She doesn't think she's crying — wouldn't want to in front of someone like Hana — but she is. “I— I can't see anymore. It's all,” she swallows louder, gulping breaths as one hand rakes fingers through her shoulder-length hair. “M’coming apart at the fucking seams an’— an’ I feel s-so fucking— weak.” Helpless.

Colette takes the conversation past any answers Hana can easily give, and her words — her admission, confession, confidence — drop into and are swallowed by the surrounding quiet as her pebbles might be by the river. Hana looks out at the stars beginning to dust the eastern sky with their glitter, ignoring the way the breeze tickles hair across her face.

In the end, she turns to face Colette and gives the only response she can — the very same question Hana answered for herself, once upon a time, if slightly changed for circumstances.

"What person would your dad want you to be?"

Not once had Colette considered that. She lifts a hand, wiping thumb and forefingers at her eyes, then knuckles and the side of her palm. She swallows again, louder than before, and nods repeatedly as if Hana’s question was an answer all unto itself. Settling into a crouch, Colette rests one hand over her mouth, closes her eyes, and struggles to hold back her emotions. Jaw unsteadied, fingers trembling, this is the last person she wants to see her like this.

Good’sn,” Colette tries to answer, but it’s slurred with emotion. She steadies herself, swallows down the pain, and exhales, “a good person.” Dark lashes bat away tears, and she looks up in the direction where Hana’s voice had come from. But with brows tense, Hana can see that the answer doesn’t entirely sit well with Colette.

It takes her a little while to vocalize that, to grapple with it herself. “But— ” she struggles with the words. “Good people just get killed.” Her eyes avert, such as they need to, and she wipes her wrist across her face and mumbles a half-spoken apology to Hana. “How the fuck is— anyone s’posed t’be a good person in— in this world?”

Then, in complete sincerity she asks, “How d’you do it?”

Hana waits with the patience of a hunter as Colette struggles with her emotions — a hunter whose shot has struck precisely as intended. When the girl at last gives her answer, however haltingly, Hana drops to a knee, hands resting lightly on the other.

"Have you ever thought," she asks softly, intently, "about just how complex the word good is?"

It's not an answer to the question posed — but it is a prelude. She continues without hurry, musing over the words, giving each statement a beat to sink in before proceeding with the next.

"You could say a good person is saintly, benevolent, nice. You could also say good is being upstanding, responsible, moral. Or perhaps, at the end of the day, good is simply putting others before yourself, in whatever form that takes."

Hana pauses then, tilting her head slightly. "Consider that. What 'good' means for you. What form of good you can be."

She rises again. "People get killed," she says, a hint of bite to the words, bitterness against 'this world' and her place in it. "Good and bad. The good ones just leave bigger holes behind."

Wringing her hands together, Colette rises to stand when she hears Hana doing the same. There’s still uncertainty painted across her face, but it’s not as pained as it once was. She looks down, around, and then offers the faintest of smiles up to Hana. She’d come up here to work out her ailing body, and wound up finding a way to work out her ailing spirit instead. She says nothing, not for a few moments. Colette relishes the patience Hana has, in those long silences between thoughts, the way they can both take the time they need to compose their thoughts. It’s sympathetic.

Ultimately, the thought of putting others before yourself is a clear definition of how Judah Demsky lived his life, until the very end. Hana was right about the holes left by good people, and Colette understands — even if only in part — what it means to her now. After a moment of thoughtfulness, she steps away from the buckets and the same square foot she’d been in most of this time, and moves straight for Hana, throwing her arms around the taller woman’s waist in— a— hug.

“Thank you,” Colette exhales the words, eyes closed and unable to see Hana’s reaction. In the moment, it didn’t matter.

The sky's gone all but fully blue now, and deeper than blue, only a last vestige of waning gold painting the western horizon. Stars wink between scattered clouds, and the thin slice of moon provides just a bit of extra light. Enough light that Hana can distinguish the flicker of Colette's smile, the sense of contemplation in her expression.

She does not expect Colette's sudden surge forward, nor the abrupt closing of arms about her waist — not precisely. The older woman stiffens, her spine rigid; arms held slightly away from her own sides, she emphatically does not return the gesture, nor even so much as a semblance of an encouraging pat. Instead, she looks askance at the top of the girl's head, the kind of narrow-eyed dubiosity a cat might give towards an unfamiliar, suspicious thing suddenly appeared in its space.

Nonetheless, Hana lets the embrace stand for a moment, until her silent, uncomfortable tolerance runs out. Then she firmly detaches the girl, nudging her back onto her own two independent feet. "And now that that's settled," she says, delivery more than a bit acerbic but not truly for reasons associated with the words, "did you actually intend to exercise?"

The fading light hides Colette's red eyes, if only briefly. When she's thrown into the approaching evening, with the sun down and all the pink gone from above, her departed turmoil is replaced with clarity and light. It dawns on her in that moment that she can see Hana’s expression, even if in something like a photo negative. Her lips part, a breath hitched in her throat, and then shock melts to a smile of wonderment.

Around Hana and Colette the twilight lingers in unnatural remainder, ephemeral shades of pink and violet drifting lIke incandescent fog with a curtain of blue-green aurora borealis at its edges. The light, her first light since her rescue, will be more than enough to see by. More than enough to represent the guiding light her would-be mentor offered, even if not knowing the full shape that advice took in Colette’s mind.

Resolutely, Colette squares her narrow shoulders and puts her feet the same width apart as Hana had shifted her to earlier. Chin up, blind eyes seeing as much as they can, she answers in five syllables what it's taken her heart far too long to decode. An answer for herself, and to Hana’s last question.

“If you show me how.”

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