Not Good At Being Vulnerable


emily_icon.gif joe_icon.gif

Scene Title Not Good At Being Vulnerable
Synopsis On the heels of witnessing a shoplifting attempt at Red Hook Market, Emily and Joe have a hard conversation with each other.
Date August 11, 2019

Red Hook Market

The Sunday farmers’ market at Red Hook Market is the best time of week to buy fresh goods. It’s common sense, but it’s also an Emily Epstein proclamation, so it must double-count for something. She wanders the stalls that are set up with a recycled plastic-fabric tote hooked around one forearm — because even after a devastating war, everybody’s still got to save the planet and all by eliminating plastic bags — and stops to look over some decently-sized heads of broccoli. Her interest is piqued now.

“Hey, Joe,” she calls over her shoulder. Emily is well-aware that Joe may be less interested in shopping than she is, but she does it anyway. “Come check these out.”

Besides, it’s been a while since they’ve hung out together.

Joe has his backpack on his shoulders. Not the big army surplus one, the regular old school backpack, the ratty one he carries to college classes. But he's also got stuff to trade, as well as money to buy depending on what the vendor wants. And Joe isn't much for shopping unless he needs something. But food shopping is not regular shopping. Joe can always eat. Like always. So shopping for food just helps to fuel that. Plus Lance is already whining about Joe eating all the food. The fact that it's half true is besides the point. He also acquires a lot of food too. Joe wanders over from bartering for a huge red onion that he's busy tucking into his sack after making the trade. "Ooooo broccoli. I love broccoli. I mean not as much as peanut butter. Peanut butter will always be my one true love. But Broccoli is good too. Smothered in cheese on a baked potato. Or steamed up with some garlic and oil. Or…" And Joe goes on about broccoli dishes he can make. You know, like Bubba from Forest Gump. "Emleeee do you like broccoli? I could make us something with broccoli back at the l… new place." He almost said Lighthouse. Almost. New Lighthouse or Lighthouse tends to be what Joe calls the place.

"Lanthorn," Emily echoes rather than address the topic of the very many thongs broccoli could be. She remembers the name being mentioned, remembers it being a source of pride for Brynn. "And… yeah, I guess I can grab a few." She tries not to wince internally at the price she assumes is coming, but she grabs several heads instead of one. Gotta make sure there's enough for everyone. "My treat," she insists before an argument can be made to pay for it.

She looks back at Joe with a small, if wearied smile. "You still going through tubs and tubs of that stuff?" Emily asks. Surely she must be talking about peanut butter.

"Yeah. That one. Brynn likes it. I keep forgetting it." Joe's features scrunch up a little bit in thought there. "I should… probably work on remembering it before I forget in front of Brynn." His head wobbles up and down a couple of times. He steps forwards though and pays his fair share of the broccoli, or he'll pick up extra. Either way he plans to use some. "Nah uh. Lance works with you too. I know you guys don't make a ton there. I'll pay my fair share." He offers a quick smile, but his head does bobble up and down.

"Love it. Easy snack. Has protein and carbs so keeps me going. I literally have a jar in my backpack at all times. And a spoon. It's not my fault. I'm addicted. Used to love the stuff growing up, but in Canada we had a hard time getting any. Missed it. Now I eat tons of it. Lance says I'm going to give myself a heart attack or something." Joe's shoulders lift in a slight shrug before he ooooo's out loud as he spots some potatoes at someone's stand.

He darts through the nearby people and bellies up to the stall and starts to haggle with the lady manning the stand. Going for an exchange rather than a purchase. "So how have you been Em? It's been awhile since you stormed off on me." He flashes her a quick grin. Since like… half their meetings end with her storming off and him grinning and waving as she does. "We haven't just hung out in a long time. How are things at work?"

Joe darting off, even if he's looking over his shoulder and talking back to Emily, is a touch hard for her to keep up with. She doesn't have the boldness he does with weaving in between others. "Y-yeah," she says at first, more to fill the dead air than anything else. She returns his grin with a quick, small smile of her own.

She seems more comfortable in her skin than she used to be, for all her continued awkwardness and sharp edges. She's trying to round them out. Like sea glass, tossed by the waves, she's slowly being kneaded into a less jagged version of herself.

"Work's okay. Not too many weird things happening lately. They're working on inland fire hazard assessments," she says mockingly, holding up her hands and waving them idly while she talks. "Cross-departmental shit. Guess there's stuff out there in the ruins that can blow up and be a danger to people— shocker, that. But aside from that, it's been mostly quiet. Cooper's not been in the office as much lately. I blame it on that." Emily looks off down the rows of people, noting the hodgepodge of different people who had come out to push their goods. There was even a stand of Amish goods down the way.

"Hey, by the way—" she asks abruptly, looking back to Joe with an arched brow. "That coffee you guys got me for my birthday last year. Any idea where to get some more from? I keep trying to tell Teo how good it was, but I think only the real thing could do it justice."

That's okay. Joe has no problem weaving between people. Nor holding open a passage to his friend can follow him through. Because Joe has… never really had to worry about making other people mad. He genuinely cares for people. But he's also never truly had to worry about making people mad. Pain is not a familiar sensation to Jojo. And so no fear of it. No reason to avoid the circumstances that might lead to it for other people. But that also comes with a level of confidence that tends to defuse situations before they become situations.

When Emily gets caught up Joe has procured two treats. Mexican sweet bread, one of which is handed off to Emily as he bites into the other one, chewing steadily as he listens to the updates on work. "Oh there definitely is. Tell them if they find any doors marked with red circles with a red X through them then there's potential hazardous stuff there. Where I smelled gas leaks or found dangerous stuff I marked doors and walls. Some unexploded ordnance that I didn't wanna test my skin against. There's what looks like a tank shell sitting in the front room of a house in Brooklyn. I can mark it on a map for you if you want. At least I think I can. Not sure what a tank shell would be doing in there. But I didn't want to screw with it. You have to climb into the house through the third story window. You'll see why if you go out there." Joe flashes Emily one of his big grins. "Cooper? Dunno who that is. Sounds like I'd like them though if they're the source of the crazy in the office."

"Coffee? Uhhh yeah. I can get you some more. Not something you can just go buy. Gotta know the right people. I'll get you some." Joe winks at Emily as he finishes negotiating for some potatoes. He hands over a few bills as well as some salvage and then starts dropping potatoes into his bag with his other goods. "You look good though Ems. Like… life is treating you better. Like you're a little less… angry at the world." Joe's smile this time is an easier one, smaller and lopsided but more earnest. "That's good." Joe zips his bag up so they can move on to the next stand, nomming on more of the sweet bread. “Who’s Teo?” He asks in a curious tone after a few moments.

Emily pauses with a tear of the bread halfway to her mouth when Joe shares what he found, what he did in the ruins. She shouldn't be surprised, — or worried, necessarily — but she is anyway. She lets out a quiet 'huh', shaking her head and turning to look further down the for they're in. "I'll pass it along, see if that information helps." she promises. She's gotten less averse to bringing up the extracurricular activities of her friends since bringing the journal forward during the Amber Alert canvassing. At least, not when it could help.

She'd not be mentioning the coffee adventures for sure. Emily glances over at Joe with a touch of nerve for whatever is involved in getting black market coffee. "It's really not a big deal, don't worry about it," she insists hastily, looking down at her bag and fishing for the list inside it, somewhere. After an awkward beat passes when Joe asks about Teo, she answers, "He's my roommate." Internally, she cringes that this information hasn't come up before.

She's lifting her head to explain more when there's a scuffle back in the direction they just came from, feet tearing across pavement. Turning, she sees a crate fall over at the stall the Amish had been set up yet. A scruffy man in a dark hoodie darts past Emily and Joe both, beating a path through the crowd much more easily than they both had. He has a quilt clutched under one arm while he runs.

"Hey!" an angry voice calls out after him. A second black-dressed figure shoots off after him, her eyes narrowed in single-minded determination. The blonde of her tightly-secured hair wisps as she runs past the teens, in hot pursuit of the thief. She stops on a dime, weight lurching, and begins running at an angle through the stalls. "Get back here!!"

Emily's eyes widen and she belatedly turns her attention back to Joe with a slow blink. Oh no. She has a feeling she's about to be abandoned.

Joe is a scavenger. Emily knows this right? Lance was too. Still is sometimes? When Joe can drag him out beyond the safezone wall of course. All of the kids go out into the ruins and scavenge for stuff. Electronics. Batteries. Books. Clothes. All manner of stuff they find and bring back and trade. "Well, when you wander around the ruins as much as I do looking for stuff you find a lot of weirdness. I mean heck Squeakers found a tank underground. Which pretty much takes the cake for weird finds. I mean Squeaks and I did find a plane in Queens. But that's not as good as a tank underground. And we did find the Fear Monger too. Still not sure if anyone has dealt with him. Should probably alert people to where he's at. You're SESA now. Want a location on some sort of mind hopping psychopath that kills you with your worst fears?"

"Oh no. You asked for coffee. I'm gonna getcha coffee. Shouldn't take too long honestly. Can probably just go grab some. If there's some available. I'll let you know." He flashes Emily a grin and another wink. "Your roommate?" A slow Joe brow goes rising up at that statement. "I thought your roommate was a girl? Did you change roommates? See this is why we need to hang out more often. You're so busy with work and Devon still? See I don't even know if you're still with Devon. So busy with other things we haven't had time to catch up." There's a wide grin from the young man before he turns his head when he hears the scuffle. "Watch my bag." He murmurs as he slides it off his shoulders to rest on the ground at Emily's feet.

Joe takes a step forwards towards where the line of pursuit will pass, acting as if he didn't realize that there were people beelining right for him. He does two things when the first person reaches him. He pretends to have been hit by the running person, while whispering to them. "East exit." Then he stumbles and careens into… the second pursuer, doing a very good job of looking like he's lost his balance. Because he has. He quite specifically threw himself off balance. Since you know, not worried about the fall he can take that hit. So he tries his best to stumble and then fall into the pursuer.

Emily might be wrong, but is she wrong? She gives Joe a look when he sets the bag at her feet, already bending over to pick it up so it doesn’t get kicked aside. “Joe, be careful,” she says, because she always does.

Regardless of the uselessness of it, it makes her feel better.

The woman who Joe careens into is thrown off her gait, but quickly rerights her balance, looking back at him with a narrowing of dark eyes. Seeing he’s more than just bumped into her, she sets coarse hands on Joe’s shoulders, shoving the shorter, younger man away from her with a single brusque motion. “Move.”


Kara Prince is not a woman to be trifled with, and the man taking off with the handmade, possibly triple-digit hours quilt is a man who she is not intending to let get away. Not now. Not today. Not at all. Once she’s clear, she gets back on path trying to catch up with the darkly-dressed man. At least the colorful patchwork of the quilt makes him easy to track. She sucks in a breath only to give the man the last warning he’ll get from her.

“Drop the blanket!”

It is safe to say the thief does not drop the quilt, and does not seem to change his course —

until suddenly he is, grabbing the back of a truck parked in the middle of the market yard and heading for the less-monitored exit Joe specified. If the sheer amount of sprinting involved is weighing at all on him, he keeps it to himself. No, the scruffy thief has no outward sign of nerve at all.

He swings out of the way of a mother and her daughter just barely, feet scrabbling but keeping forward momentum. The exit is in sight now.

Joe finds himself held upright by a set of hands and he blinks with wide eyes, looking up into Kara's eyes. Cuz she's taller than him, by several inches. "Sorry lady. He just came tearing past. Didn't see him. You should probably get after him before he gets away." Joe steps back, not causing any more of a scene than he already has. But in a chase like that even a few seconds is often enough to make all the difference.

So he steps back waving the blonde woman onwards, one hand waving at her as she speeds off after the man with the quilt. Joe steps back a couple more paces to stand next to Emily. "Pretty sure anyone willing to steal a blanket in the middle of this heat? Is in dire need of it." He remarks to her as he picks his backpack back up. "Gonna see how much the quilt would be though. See if I can't cover it so there's no hard feelings all around. Really hope she doesn't catch him though. He's in for some hurt if she does." Joe winces a bit and shakes his head before turning back to Emily.

"Soooo wanna go down to the Amish stand and see just how much that think is going to take out of my money? Probably all of it and then some. But hey." Joe's shoulders shrug a little bit, then fall back down again as he settles his backpack back onto them, at least for the moment. "So. Devon? You guys still a thing? Or is that over now in favor of this Teo guy? Roommate or boyfriend?" Joe asks with another of his big patented Jojo grins on his face. And meanders in the direction of the Amish stand he does.

"That lady was serious business back there. She runs like military though. Don't think I've seen her around before. Wonder why ex military lady is hanging around the Amish stand." Joe's features scrunch up in thought as the stream of thought exits his mouth. "You know what I haven't had in awhile? Pie. We should make a pie. You want pie? We have some flour at the house so I can make pastry crust. Just need some fruit."

Emily is skeptical of Joe’s interpretation of events, and his tendency to see the best in everyone. “I really think that’s being overly optimistic,” she doesn’t hesitate in telling him. Her brow arches as she turns to fall into step beside him. “You sure that a bunch of Menonites or Amish don’t make easy marks just because they’re pacifists?”

She looks over her shoulder just in time to see the ex-military woman dart out the gate after the thief, sounds of commotion coming from outside now, too. “I mean, if you want to try and make up for someone else’s dumbass mistake,” because she too has the feeling that guy is in for it, “go for it, but aren’t you worried they’ll think you’re like … a friend of his or something?” Giving away all his money is something Emily barely believes he’s going to do, and she walks extra-slow as if encouraging him to spend his time and energy elsewhere. Because she just doesn’t understand. Similarly, she doesn’t understand why her roommate has to be her boyfriend.

But hey, she doesn’t swat out at him over it. “Teo’s my roommate,” she tells him, extra crisp in the delivery of it. “I moved closer to campus since it’s also closer to the internship. It just … made sense. Teo’s subletting to me, technically. I found the ad on Craigslist and I just sort of — went for it.” Emily is looking off now, lest her judgement be called into question on this one. “Anyway… Devon and I are still together. Yes. Just because we didn’t really hang out for a month doesn’t mean we broke up, Joe.”

Stepping heavily, she tilts her head in his direction pointedly. “I mean, we haven’t hung out for a while and we’re still friends,” she remarks knowingly. “Same thing.”

Joe isn't skeptical of Joe's version of events. Joe is perfectly confident in his version of events. "Did that lady look pacifist to you? Either they got a whole lot more militant or they hired security. Either way? Not passive. At all." He offers glancing in the direction of the foot chase. Or at least the direction the chaser and her target went. "Though you aren't wrong that being a pacifist makes you a target. People are assholes like that."

He turns an incredulous look on Emily, his features scrunching up into one of amusement. "Why would someone who is his friend come over and implicate themselves by offering to help pay for what he took?" His head shakes as he steps over towards the stand. "Teo. Is. My. Roommate." He repeats back in even crisper tones, trying to match his voice to Emily's as he does it. He breaks down into a grin and then laughter afterwards though.

"Hey. How much was the blanket that guy stole?" He asks as he gets near the stand. "I'd like to help make up for it's loss if you'll allow it." He offers the people at the stand one of his big smiles before glancing to Emily. "You found a roommate on Craig's list. That's… well I mean at least you have commando friends that would uhhhh handle someone that hurt you." He winks at her as he tries to talk to the people at the stand.

"Haven't hung out for a month? Uhhh that is not the same thing Ems. We're friends. That's boyfriend girlfriend stuff. Like… someone you can spend a month apart from and not think it's a big deal is proooobably not your forever person. If that's your sort of bag. Might not be. If that's the case then power to you." He holds up to two thumbs to her. "But if you are looking for a forever person then that doesn't bode well. Just you know… let him down easy. He's a good guy. He does dumb things sure but that's kind of our purview." Now about that blanket. He turns back to regard the people at the stand with grin back in place.

Emily’s pace slows even further the longer that Joe keeps talking, her gaze going unfocused. She just stares at him. The amount of judgement is staggering, both received and given. The Amish man had looked up from his conversation when Joe first approached, and both him and the younger man next to him watch as Joe carries on with his side conversation that happens, to them, spontaneously.

There’s a little bit of confusion as he looks between them both, trying to sort out what exactly is happening. Joe is trying to cover their loss? But then openly talking about the girl having threatening friends who could help? Is this is a veiled message about hiring protection?? Any such thoughts to that effect are further skewed into an uncertain state when Joe continues on with relationship advice immediately after trying to engage them.

The man rubs at the side of his neck as he tries to make sense of it all.

Emily finally recovers. She’d disappeared into her head, imagining throttling Joe with both hands. Even if it wouldn’t hurt him, it might make her feel better. But it would cause alarm to the people around them. So she opts instead for giving him a rough shove with one palm of her hand, a sharpness in her expression as she looks up at him. “How would you know, anyway, what the difference is, Joe? I don’t see you out there with a girlfriend or anything.” There’s a tension that’s built up in her jaw, back teeth clenched. “Why don’t you mind your own business?

Joe sees the confusion from the guys behind the counter and he lets out a quick laugh. "You're good my dude. I can carry on both conversations promise. I talk enough for like three people. Maybe four. We're good. So what's up with the blanket? How much would it cost? I'd like to help if I can. Any weirdness is my conversation with her, nothing to do with the blanket questions. Totally separate. Promise." He grins wide and waits for the man to respond with something about price on the blanket.

The shove earns Emily a quick grin, though it falters at the comment about Joe not being out there with a significant other and has his shoulders shrugging half heartedly. "Not many people can handle my level of weird Ems. My day to day life, my past. There's a pretty limited pool of people out there that could handle dating me." There's a… sadness in that. A loneliness. Sure he has his family. Whom he loves, and he has friends too. Lots of friends really. But that's not the same. But as quick as that pang of pain and loneliness is there it's gone, covered over by his normal boisterous self.

"Your business is so much more interesting than mine. Also I thought we were catching up. Pretty sure your dating life would have been part of the catching up eventually." He offers her a smile, but it fades quickly enough and he tips his head to her, acknowledging that he might have overstepped a bit. "Just a sec." He returns his attention to the guy behind the table. "So yeah. Blanket? Price? Stuff and things? Trying to help?"

He turns back to Emily then and sighs softly. "Humor is my coping mechanism." He admits after a few moments of silence. "Humor and ribbing people. It's how I've always coped. I grew up amongst a LOT of other kids. All of us had seen horrible awful things. All of us had lost our parents. We… found ways to cope. And with a crowd of kids that big a lot of it tended to be good natured ribbing of each other. Sometimes it went beyond good natured but it was never meant to be hurtful. And that went for a lot of us. Not all. But a lot. I'm sorry if sometimes I seem… insensitive. I'm not meaning to be. Half the time I'm not even sure how to process my own emotions. Let alone other people's." He'll reach out if he's allowed and settle a hand gingerly on her forearm. Squeakers style. "I'm sorry."

At first, Emily’s arm jerks away, the hurt in her expression being revealed like cloud cover dispersing over sights previously unseen. She holds Joe’s gaze for a long moment, guarded throughout his explanation, but it ebbs finally. Her eyes soften before they close, and her arm falls again. The gesture is free to be received.

But then she jumps, hearing the smack of a dense object against the wooden table they stand before. Her eyes open and she looks up in surprise to see the tall ex-military woman returned, thunking the blanket back on the table where it had been before. It looks no worse for wear.

“It’s not needed,” she says gruffly, apparently having heard Joe on her way back over. It’s not like he’s exactly hard to miss, with the way his voice carries. The blanket replaced, Kara gives a short look in the direction of the Amish man who murmurs a thank you and is met with a curt nod for it. Then, she steps back behind him and the younger man with him again, arms crossing as she leans against the tailgate of the old Chevy parked behind their stall. The Amish man clears his throat. “Anything I can get for you?” he asks. There’s honey, mixed produce, wooden handmade materials. The quilt.

Emily shifts her weight uncomfortably, ignoring the woman and the stallkeepers both. “Thanks for the apology,” she mutters, her gaze downcast. One hand comes to brush her hair back from her face, threading a lock of hair behind her ears while she waits to see if they’re buying or moving on.

"Please. Some honey. And do you have any wooden kitchen utensils? All we've got is those garbage plastic ones that break every two weeks. Need something that'll last us." Joe looks to the blonde chaser. "You're fast. Where'd you serve?" He asks in a curious tone, though the former boisterousness is subdued now. He's not exactly melancholy but a lot of the pep in his step is no longer there.

His head turns to look back to Emily. The touch to her arm is a momentary thing. He's trying to be better about invading people's space. He's growing. Sorta. "Thank you." Joe offers back to Emily, though what he's thanking her for isn't entirely apparent. Maybe not storming off and giving him the chance to talk it out with her? His hand tucks into his pocket, pulling his wallet free. "I can trade or buy." He remarks to the people at the stand. Joe offers in the same subdued tone of voice. "And uhhh how much is the blanket?"

The items are gathered up, a wooden stirring spoon held up and displayed before being set down in the pile of items about to be transferred. Promises are made if he has an order, they can make and bring something back special for Joe in the coming weeks. Kara watches the exchange, aloof, but not indifferent. “Afghanistan,” she eventually inserts, not wanting to appear unconversational about it all. She stays back, her attention on the situation as a whole rather than any one thing happening within it. She stays alert.

Emily draws her arms into a fold before her, adjusting the lay of the tote bag on her arm. She doesn’t say much at the moment, but stays close by Joe’s side. She’s not leaving him. A look is cast over the goods that are gathered up, a wary eye for how expensive it’s all coming out to be. “Let me get the spoon thing,” she insists.

A hand on the quilted blanket like he’s protecting it, (given the last time he was asked that question, someone immediately took off with it) the Amish man humbly answers, “Three-twenty five.” Kara does focus on something in particular now. The Amish man. Her eyes narrow, but she says nothing.

It’s lower than the last time he’d given the price.

"Afghanistan. Bet that seems like several life times ago at this point huh?" Joe remarks in an easy tone, offering her a quick smile before he starts pulling out money to pay for the items. And he would request more than just the mixing spoon. He's looking for a slotted spoon, as well as a spatula, and a ladle. A whole kitchen set basically.

"You sure?" Joe asks, glancing over to Emily. He looks back to the table at the reply on the blanket. There's a soft oof from him at the price. He bites the inside of his cheek, chewing on it a little bit as he ponders that. "I can't do it at the moment. When's the next time you guys are coming back here? If the blanket is still up for sale then I'll have the money." He'll save up for it. He starts handing over money now though for the goods he's purchased, and if Emily really does want to cover the spoon he'll let her.

Once everything is bought and carefully packed away in his backpack Joe looks up to those behind the table. "Take care of yourselves. Be safe. Not everyone here is so desperate but there are definitely lots of folks that are." He offers them a quick lopsided smile before he shoulders his bag and steps away with Emily. "So my bag is full. How are you looking? Time to head out? Or is there anything else you were looking for?" Joe's bubbliness doesn't bounce back like it normally does, settling into a relaxed and less vibrant mood. "Pretty sure Mister Han will have pot stickers again if you want some?" Joe is always eating.

Kara has no response for how long ago Afghanistan feels. Perhaps the silence is enough of a response on its own. She does, though, speak for the two men when the question comes around to when they’re coming back. “Providence sends people up here weekly. Not always the same. But there’s someone out here almost every week.” Her head lifts just a touch to acknowledge Joe. The Amish man nods once. “Usually… once every two months or so.” he explains his own situation.

Looking off just slightly, one of Kara’s brows kick up as she ventures, “Might not be every week, coming up. Winter. Gas.” She looks back, hand lifting in farewell. “Get it before someone else does.”

Emily covers the cost of the spoon, because that’s the least she can do. She steps back and away after that, quiet until she’s sure Joe’s finished. Then she smiles, tucking her wallet back inside the tote hanging off her arm. “I’m— good, I think,” she self-assesses when he asks his question. Looking once over the rows, she shakes her head. Yeah, that’s it, she thinks. “I’ve spent enough money for today, let’s head back to your place and get dinner started or something.” See everyone, if everyone was around. Or some of them, if all of them weren’t.

It’d be nice.

Seeing that Joe’s mood isn’t the way that it normally is brings her to dart a glance his direction, and after they head out of the marketplace she hooks her free arm around his at the elbow. It’s not quite a hug, but she lays a hand on his bicep and ruffles his sleeve affectionately. “I haven’t been sleeping well,” she confesses, looking straight ahead. “I’ve been dreaming of Squeaks.”

There’s another beat before she admits, “… because someone is rifling through my head when I’m asleep.” It doesn’t sound like a negative thing, though, for all her non-specificity behind it. “They’re looking through my memories. They’re trying to find her.” She keeps her arm looped around Joe’s while she walks, like he’s anchoring her down while she’s wading tentatively back into the territory of things she definitely doesn’t talk about to anyone ever. Her mouth becomes a line, lips pursed, and her gaze drops to her feet for a moment before she looks back up.

She’s learned recently that walking and talking is a good way to have conversations like these. The ones where she normally would run away.

“If they find her,” Emily says. “They’re going to put me through to her. Like a phone call. So she knows we’re looking, and so hopefully she can tell us where she is.”

Her hand tightens around his arm, gaze unfocusing. It’s a big if. There’s a lot of hope riding on it, though.

"Well, thank you for your service ma'am." Joe offers with a quick smile for Kara, his head dipping in an acknowledging nod. "Well if I don't get it and someone else buys it then good for them. And yeah, gas can be a problem. Not sure where you guys are at but I have some contacts you could reach out to to set something up with." Joe will linger a moment to see what they say, but when Emily is ready to leave and they're all paid up he'll leave with her.

When she loops an arm around his like that he blinks and turns slowly, a surprised look spread across the young man's features. He doesn't comment on it though, for once keeping his mouth shut and just offering her a quick smile as they walk along. "Someone in your dreams?" He asks, a note of immediate alarm in his voice, though it settles when she continues and tells him that they're looking to find Squeakers.

"Oh. So you've been talking to them. Okay. Well finding Squeaks is good. I wish I had… even an inkling of where to look. I spent days after I found out she was missing roaming through the sewers trying to find her. Went everywhere I knew she'd been. But there's… a LOT of city out there to search. And that's if she's even in or near the city anymore. I don't think the slavers would be stupid enough to try to take her from within the Safe Zone. But you never know."

Joe's worry is deep. He's scared for Squeaks. But if they don't find her… he'll push on. They've lost friends… no family. They've lost family before. And they probably will again. They've lost family, lived through government raids, lived through superpowered battles, fled from place to place surviving more and more battles. Before fleeing for their lives again, out of the country. They soldier on. It's what they do. And no matter how much Squeaks' death might crush Joe, he'd carry on. He'd just carry one more hole in his heart with him.

His steps are slow and measured, meant to get them away from the market and the hustle and bustle, but he's not hurrying them either, at all. "I hope they find her. I hope someone does." He murmurs in a whispery tone, his eyes closing for a few seconds before their walking forces him to watch where he's going.

"Honest truth time? This isn't on a level with the Dream Hunter or anything, but personal anyway." Joe's shoulders bob upwards in a quick shrug. "I don't know if I like girls. Or boys. I'm not sure what I like. Because I've never reeeeally found myself all that attracted to anyone. Not enough to want to date them. And definitely not enough to subject them to my life. So… there's that." He's being honest, though he's also trying to help shift the conversation away from the heavier subjects, knowing that's typically uncomfortable territory for his friend. “That’s why you don’t see me on dates and stuff.” Joe murmurs, he’s the uncomfortable one now.

Emily nods when Joe shares everywhere he's looked for the missing piece of their knotted group. She sees his worry and matches it, squeezes his arm reassuringly while they walk. They'll find her, she's certain. For just a moment she thinks he's actually run out of things to say, but he surprises her yet again.

Her head lifts when he starts, blinking at first. Honest truth time? She thought Joe was an endless stream of that. But no— this was different. She's careful to mind her reaction to it, not slipping her arm from his. Maybe she's his anchor for the moment.

"It's not a competition," she promises him. "Your shit is just as important. And… to tell you the truth, most of the time, I don't bring up stuff with me for the same reason. It just… it either doesn't feel relevant or like anybody understands."

Emily glances sidelong at Joe, gently saying, "So it might surprise you." That she knows how that feels, she's saying. "Or maybe it doesn't." She has to admit with a small laugh. Joe saw through her pretty well sometimes, better than she did at points. "I never really talked about Devon at first because… I didn't know what I felt about him. Some days I still don't. I've never liked anyone before, not like that. He just kept at it, though, kept on liking me anyway. Kept being patient, kept thinking I was worth it. Kept apologizing, for every mistake he'd make. And even then… it still took six months and the last mission he'd head out on for him to try and bridge that gap and ask me out."

She shifts uncomfortably, keeps their slow and steady pace. "I hadn't ever thought about anyone like that before, and never really thought I would, after everything I'd been through in my life. I resigned myself to that maybe it wasn't for me."

"We deserve better, though, Joe. You and I both went through different shit, but we survived it. We came out on the other side and deserve the best life possible. That includes getting what normal people get to do, even if we do it in our own weird way. Even if it means you don't know who you like." Gaze softening, she nudges him. "Just please don't do what I did and wait for someone to jackhammer their way through to you. Because I think what happened to me is rare, and the more likely case is you have to be willing to be a little vulnerable and try new things to find what works for you." Emily looks forward again. "Even if it sucks, even if you all you do for a while is learn what you don't like."

She hesitates for a moment, but goes on to say, "And I think part of that comes from learning to be more careful with yourself and who you show to people. You might be invulnerable on the outside, Joe, but you're prone to foibles like the rest of us dumb mortals, too." A faint laugh escapes her. "And you should be a little more careful with your heart. Only tell people about half the shit you do once… once they've earned it. Because your past doesn't have to be you," Emily says, looking back his way. "You get to be you. And you can't move forward if you let it use you by letting everyone know about it."

Honest truth time. Sure Joe talks a lot. And he very very rarely lies. But there's a difference between not lying and telling everything. He tells a lot, which is why it surprises people like it did just now, that he has more to say. "Most people don't understand. The regular folks? That are just trying to survive? Sure they've been through hardships. But not like us. Especially not like the ferry folks and the ferry kids. We lived through… so much in a few short years. More than most people should have to in their lives honestly. And it weighs on us. We all deal with it in our own way. Mine is… well… mine is obvious." He talks. There are rarely quiet moments around him. Humor and chatter is how he deals with it. How he keeps the oppressive silences away. Silence is bad, silence is pregnant with the threat of the unknown.

Joe takes in a deep breath, holding it in, letting it out slowly, then in a rush as his head tilts. "Everyone has important stuff going on. Everyone has crap in their lives. It's why I don't bring mine up much. It's safer to talk about the past, reminisce and laugh about the things that happened. Easier than talking about the present."

"It doesn't. Surprise me that is. I could tell. But you were entirely too closed off when we first met you. S'why I poked and prodded until you opened up at least a little. And now you have a bunch of friends. Worth it?" He asks with a sly little tilt to his lips as he glances over. "And yeah, that's pretty much how I feel. I've never found myself interested in anyone like that. So not really sure where I stand on it all. Part of why I take so much interest in my friend's romantic lives. My complete lack thereof."

"Yeah… I'm… not so good at being vulnerable." Has Emily ever had such prolonged contact with Joe? Not likely. She may very well begin to notice that his skin feels different. It doesn't have the thickness of animal hide, but it has that same lack of pliability. It shifts and moves and everything, but it's resistant to it. Like the living armor that it is. "I honestly just need… purpose. I feel lost. Like I'm not part of anything. Scout and the NYPD wouldn't take me. Didn't get a SESA invite. Not that… SESA would really be the best fit for me. But still. Something. I need… something. This working odd jobs just isn't cutting it. I need to do something that challenges and tests me. Not just… yeah."

Joe lets out a soft sigh and looks over. "I don't like to whine. I try not to. I'm alive and I shouldn't be, and that should be enough. But it… isn't. I thought about seeing if Wolfhound will take me on. I know they're… kind of on the descent now that most of the war criminals have been brought in. But maybe they'll continue to function awhile, and Mister Avi will take me. I think. I heard he's the head honcho now." Joe looks over with a small smile. "I am careful with my heart. In fact you're the only person in this city I've told this too. Including my siblings. But I trust you Ems. Not that I don’t trust my siblings. I trust them with my life. It just… it’s different. Opening up to them."

When Joe gives her that sly glance, her brow arches. “Joe, if it weren’t for you, I’d … I still wouldn’t know half the people I do, I don’t think,” Emily states openly. There’s an edge of thought as she supposes, “I might be happier, too — in the ignorance is bliss sort of way. You guys exhaust me, you know. Absolutely drive me up a wall. Make me worry, make me laugh, make me wonder what the hell I’m getting myself into every time I want to talk.” Her mouth quirks to one side. There’s no ‘but’ that follows.

It’s worth it, and it hurts. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable leads to conflicting feelings like that.

“It is different,” she insists. “But you’re different, too. We’re not all just … frozen in time. And I know it feels like that sometimes because we’re too young to have been through everything we have, so we’re not old enough to be getting into half the shit that we want to. I’m—” And she almost stops walking, brow furrowing, but she shakes her head and keep going. “I don’t know what I’m trying to say, but I think I’m just … trying to tell you it can suck, like really bad, but it’s okay to open up, too.” Glancing furtively back at him, she stresses gently, “Even if it’s not to your siblings. Talking to people helps put things into perspective. I’m… ‘ve…”

Her jaw moves without sound for a moment as she struggles to find the right phrasing without putting herself in a potentially uncomfortable position. “There’s counselors at the place Lynette and Mateo Ruiz run, Joe,” is how she decides to cagily avoid and address it all at once.

That’s when she realizes, though, that he’s declared he trusts her. Her loop around his arm loosens, a fragment more space between them as she shies away from that weight, finding herself not worthy of it. But rather than run from it, she timidly accepts it, even if she looks like she’s holding a priceless, fragile antique and her hands are covered in oil. Emily closes her eyes hard and then opens them again, unable to find a way to address that. “… If you wanted a re-introduction, to make your case to him—” to him “I could probably get that arranged. I can’t guarantee they’ll give you any other answer than any of those other organizations might, but maybe at Wolfhound there’s things you could do on the side to help. Or maybe if nothing else … he might have advice none of the others were able to give.”

Pace slowing, Emily takes a moment to look at Joe more carefully as she weighs his reaction to that, hoping that it’ll help her in making a firm decision one way or the other.

"I know. Knowing people hurts. But it's also good. It brings happiness but it also brings pain. No matter how much my memories of the ones we've lost hurt, I'd never wish I hadn't met them. I can't imagine not remembering Mala or Denisa. No matter how much it still makes me cry to think about them. There a lot of good memories too. Mala had super strength when people around her were happy. And she'd throw me around the house. Scared the crap out of the adults. It was great." He breathes in again, holding back tears at the memories. A few moments later though they're gone, not the memories but the tears he was holding back, and his breathing comes steady and even once more.

"Don't really have anyone to talk to about it all. All the former ferry folks we know that took care of us want us to just be normal and stay out of the dangerous stuff. The ones that don't know what we went through just look at us like kids." Joe pauses as he walks with her, his chest swelling and then relaxing. "I haven't been a kid in a very long time." It's a sad sort of statement, a bit of longing in his voice. But those years can't be recaptured, all he can do is go forwards.

"I've got the training and experience to help people. And that's what I want to do. Going to school is fine as long as it serves a purpose. But it's not a goal. It's a stepping stone to get somewhere else. I'm not dumb, but I don't have it in me to be an engineer or any sort of science fairy. And I can't be that guy who owns the sandwich shop that you really really don't want to rob. I'm… meant for more. We all are. It's not an ego thing or a pride thing. We were given gifts. We should be doing something worthy of them. And no I'm not talking about being a… caped crusader type super hero. That's.. dumb. But something."

The next part is whispered, softly, but it's loud enough that Emily can probably hear. "Otherwise why was I spared?"

"Nah it's okay. I know Mister Avi. You don't need to pull on Devon connections for that. I mean knowing people is great, and I know people that can vouch for me. Like Colette. Pretty sure she'd vouch for me. Cuz she knows I'm gonna get up to trouble one way or the other. She's never tried to keep us out of stuff." It's been a bit since Joe spoke to Colette, not realizing that she's SCOUT. Which will probably only bum him out even more that he didn't get in.

"Thank you for the offer though." Joe turns an honest smile on Emily. It's a big one, but there's something more… easy to it, relaxed than his normal big grins. "I mean…" Joe's cheeks puff out a little bit. "I dunno. I don't like leveraging people like that. Like yeah we've gotten help with lots of stuff cuz of the people we know so I guess it's not that different but…" His face scrunches up as he confuses his damn self.

Emily only looks a little crestfallen when she realizes her attempt at suggesting Joe go speak with a professional about his experiences went over his head. She’ll try again. Some other time. For now, she was the person he trusted to tell, and she was going to treat that with a reverence she treated few things with.

Even if her brow knits in concern at him murmuring what it is that plagues him. She almost tries to pick up the topic but decides to think on a proper response there a while longer, giving him a small smile when he grins her way.

“I’ll do it,” she decides abruptly, leaving no room for him to decide whether or not he wants to take the offer. Emily slides her arm free so they can walk more side by side than before, her pace picking back up to something brisk. More normal, always moving with purpose. “I’ll reach out to him and set up time so you can talk. Like I said, maybe it’s not much but … something good could come of it. You know?”

It didn't go over Joe's head, he at least looked thoughtful at the idea. But he didn't respond vocally. That's something that needs mulling over, thinking about. A quick response would not have been correct, so he takes his time to ponder it. "Thank you Em. For being our friend, and not keeping yourself closed off. You're too good of people to hide away from the world." Joe's steps speed up when Emily's do, looking a bit confused at the sudden change of pace and distance. He was enjoying the easy walk. But something shifted and he's not quite sure what.

"It could. Even if it's another no it's something. A try. An attempt. I mean I suppose I could always go be my own Rambo on Staten and try to clean up the island. But as capable as I am… I don't think I'd get very far against all those guys out there. I can take bullets and knives and fists all day sure. But… if I get dogpiled well… I'm not super strong. I can throw stuff that most people's bodies would restrict for fear of hurting themselves. But that gives me only a slight advantage against heavy numbers." Joe puffs out his cheeks a bit. Most people would probably assume it's idle musing. Going out and going guerilla on slavers and criminals.

“Okay. Even if he says no it would be really cool to go see Mister Avi. And Auntie Stork. I haven’t seen Huruma yet since I’ve been back in the city. Cuz they were out in Rochester. Now some of them are here so… should go by and see them.”

Emily gives a small smile, even if it might be forced. She nods and keeps pace.

Her thoughts are swimming too much to do aught else.

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