The Hard Way


danko_icon.gif joseph_icon.gif

Scene Title The Hard Way
Synopsis Because you're never too old (or too late) to learn.
Date September 22, 2009

New Jersey: 7411 Tranquility Lane

Five minutes ago, 5'11" of Marine that had been standing guard inside the door of Joseph's new bedroom touched absently at his ear, scratched his balls and stepped out.

At the pastor's back, late afternoon light now filters through salmon and orange curtains and closed blinds with with stifling warmth in the absence of the marine's slow breathing and musty musk. Showers are in short supply out here. Sallow light too muddy to really qualify as yellow touches mute at motes of dust drifting lazy over a pinkish bedspread (replete with ruffled skirts) and stuffed animals that goggle with dead button eyes and smile threadbare smiles. Bears and giraffes and pigs and dolphins. There are books, too. A children's bible shored up next to a copy of Twilight. A few teen magazines probably stolen from an older sibling. The dust isn't yet so thick that the stories and headlines aren't easily read at a distance, though Joseph's had time to go over each at least a thousand times already — every scrap of reading material too far out of reach for a page turn to be anything more than a pipe dream.

There's no air conditioning, and no electricity. When it's dark outside, it's dark in here, and it's almost a relief when a compact man in all black shoulders in through the door with enough curt force to send a ripple of cooler air swinging into the bedroom beyond, leather jacket haggard as ever, a white bucket swinging heavy at his right side.

Then the smell hits.

Oppressive, oily and thick, the stink of human rot is unmistakeable even for those who've never had the pleasure of smelling it before. It fills the nostrils, floods them, roots into the sinuses and gums itself up into the brain to roll after guts and gag reflexes and probably everything else in between too.

Joseph's head lifts from where he'd bowed it, a crick in his neck shimmering in protest at the sudden movement, but he can't help it. Curiousity, wariness, nothing that reinvents the wheel greets Danko in a shifting look that bounces from his eyes, down to the bucket, then over his shoulder—

Cool air breezes in, and carries with it the smell of decay. Joseph turns his head, coughs once, twice, retches enough for sudden tension to jam steel rods through his limbs and back, for colour to flush from his face. He hasn't eaten today, or the evening before— a choice rather than any effort made to starve him. The walls that put around him are constant, neither constricting or expanding to accommodate his behaviour. No real punishment save for casual swats back into line, and in necessary turn, no reward. So he's stopped eating.

Which turned out to be a good decision, for now, and roiling nausea passes without incident. Joseph rests his back against the back of the chair, relaxes into it, and breathes out a sigh. Shallow breathing. Maybe that's how the Marines stand it too. Speaking of which— he silently eyes the one that's walked into the room.

"Afternoon, Pastor."

Danko's not a fan of the stench himself — a flimsy argument in favor of his humanity. Unless, of course, he's faking the way his nostrils flare off to the side and his brows twitch down after a sling of the bucket to a sloppy rest at Joseph's feet. In any case, the ophidian pallor to his eyes doesn't waver from Sumter's face once the bucket's down and the contents have stopped their slippery rock and slosh, scraping cold and close even when the rest of him turns sideways enough to rake in the grate of an identical wooden chair to sit in. Across the bucket from Joseph.

If there was any question of exactly what manner of life the dread bucket contains, the briefest of glances should provide easy confirmation. A child-sized arm is almost entirely intact atop a mess of less easily discernible viscera, muscle lax and ragged about a splinter of white bone protruding where a shoulder should go. The skin is bruised and burned dark, flesh and fingers swollen damp with rot. There are loops of intestine. Something that looks like it might have been a lung — sieves of tatty skin hanging with a dejected sort've looseness over pink bones and the rice-like seethe of little white maggots displaced in the course of being dragged up the stairs. Long as the shadows are getting in here, there's no mistaking what's in the bucket.

"We found the little girl," says Danko. His voice is quiet — there's really no need to enunciate at such close quarters — and the louder he speaks the more he has to breathe in besides.

"Well," he pauses long enough for a smirk to slant black at the corner of his mouth and into the tip of grey brows, "we found most of her."

As much as his legs are strapped in to the chair, Joseph strains them against their bonds anyway as the bucket is set down. He looks, of course he looks, and instantly flits a glance away when the awful mess inside starts to resemble pieces of human, insides automatically clenching as if he'd been punched.

"Are— "

That was a mistake, opening his mouth, and he corrects it with a click of teeth. Sweat is quick to dot along his brow, and then is only before he makes the connection. Danko gets the same avoidance as the bucket does, Joseph's eyes focused square on blank wall. His nails dig hard into his palms, enough to cut, especially by now. He blinks several times, and his voice comes thickly when he asks; "What happened to her?"

How does someone end up in pieces? Less than pieces. It doesn't take wisdom, not to look down at the bucket again, just heartfelt instinct to not lose it completely.

"We put mines down around the compound as a secondary precaution to keep out…raiders. Investigators. Anyone who might've heard or seen something and been stupid enough to come sniffing." Companionable in his slouch, Danko can't quite keep a blanch out've his already pale face when he gets a little too brash about sliding his arm up to hook 'round the corner of the chair back behind him. "I confess, it never crossed my mind they'd work just as well at keeping people in."

There's a little silence there, filled only by the respective rasps of their breathing and the damp, granule sift of larvae sloughing over rot long since set loose of rigor mortis's grip.

"We didn't find anything that looked like dog. You might be one for two."

Despite the foulness of the air, Joseph takes a deeper breath, his mouth twisting in what— could be interpreted as a smile at first, but isn't. It's a small and definite subtle sort of crumbling of defense, tears gathering warm at the corners of his eyes, and arms twisting restlessly in where they're held when the instinct to wipe his face winks in and out of sight. Then—

"Don't." The word is snapped, harshly, swinging his dark, watery gaze around to meet Danko's with more confidence than is there. "It ain't my fault. You— you people think you can punish us for tryin' to fight back by— by blaming us for what you— "

Bravado skitters apart pretty readily, words stammering into nothing as he takes another shuddery breath. Too tired and worn and hungry— which admittedly is his own fault, actually. The chair rocks a little as Joseph rests his weight back against it, stares at a different spot on the wall, considering he doesn't have the bashful spot between his feet to eye when he bows his head. The shining mess of parts and entrails goes as ignored as possible, still.

Oh no. There's something wet and suspiciously glittery at the corners of Joseph's eyes. Danko's attention catches after the glisten like a hatchet's first cleave into unsuspecting skull bone, cold edge stuck solid and sharp into soft moisture and feverish warmth. "You need a minute?" is inevitably a rhetorical question. His brows lift but the rest of him doesn't so much as fidgit, polite inquiry written out cruel around ophidian composure and unfeeling eyes.

"Won't be long, now, and you'll be out've here. Up with your god and your little girl and your feathery wings." Breathed off the fork of anyone else's tongue, this might sound like reassurance, but condescension is too deeply interred in the hoarse of his voice and a line etched in austere between his brows while he stares and stares and doesn't blink ahead of the offset slant of his shoulders. Odds are he'd give most of the stuffed animals in here a pretty good run for their money.

"Nearly there. But I thought I'd offer, if you feel like you're in need of a temporary reprieve — " Then, finally, he's moving again, this time to feel around absently within the dreary confines of his jacket.

A sigh eases out of his throat as if it came attached with razors, scouring along his vocal chords to give it sound. Joseph needs a few minutes, actually, but he can hear rhetoric when it's spoken and doesn't beg some time off the other man to get it together. It's hard to look unflinching into the stone cold stare - even Flint's former preternatural demon eyed glow doesn't really have the same effect as complete lack of sympathy in the face of human suffering.

It's scarier than the promises about Joseph's inevitable death, in some ways. He shies back some into his chair, disgust and an irrational brand of shame making him tremble. "Don't want anything from you," he grits out, quietly. Which is lie. There are plenty of things he wants from Danko, like mercy and explanation and repenting and maybe blood.

"Sure about that?" He knows it's in there somewhere, brows easing down into a distracted 'now where did I put my wallet' knit that doesn't quite lay off once he's managed to grasp what he's after. "Seems to me that you could use a little time and distance. You aren't eating. Aren't sleeping. It isn't healthy."

It isn't healthy, Joseph. :( Plastic cap sprung neat from needletip with a blunt flick of his thumbnail (it scatters off into the gut bucket), Danko measures out the mililitered length of a syringe that glows an eery, otherworldly blue within the loose, shadowed cage of his fingers once he's drawn it out. What little natural light still exists is fading fast, giving ghastly blue free range to touch harsh at skullish brow and colorless eyes. "Nobody else'll know. Daniel, at the door — he'll just assume you finally got tired."

And then, of course, there's that. Recognition smooths the tense angles of Joseph's brow as black eyes to rival the button gaze of all the teddy bears within the room focus on that unnatural source of glowing blue. Even if and when the bucket is taken away, the stench of rotting flesh is going to linger on and on and the half-second glimpse is imprinted into memory like a branding. Danko isn't wrong.

"Outta the goodness of your heart." Cynicism is bitter enough not to raise that into a question, his hands becoming a tangle of fingers together behind his back, the tips of them seeking out the band of gold, twisting it around. Joseph draws in a breath through his nose, then with a nod towards the other man he points out, voice mild, "You'll know."

Something that looks a whole lot like tempered surprise etches into subtle crow's feet at that reply. He'll know. But nothing about Him knowing.

Interest in that vein put on hold long enough for the syringe to turn its way carefully over into a more manageable position in his hand, thumb to plunger and needle end lanced carefully through trigger and middle finger, he's matter-of-fact again in a turn of dim light and darker shadow. "How long have you cared what I think?"

The question gets a weighty, guilty silence. Joseph swallows dryly, wondering if he has an answer— and when it turns out he does, he gives a breath of a despairing chuckle. "Since I worked out there's nothin' I could do to change what you think," he says, his voice coming out at a tremor, though without any stutter stop-starting. "Should be a reason for me not to care, right? I'm not good at learnin' the hard way."

He swallows, again, then tilts his head a little. His voice is still taut, still breathing high in his chest. "Or I'm not interested in givin' you the satisfaction, though I figure— you're gonna get it soon enough, aren't you?"

"One way or the other," confessed with a cant of cynical brows that's too distinct to miss even in the brown out haze of dusk on its way to dying out through ill-advised curtains, Danko unwinds his gimpy arm carefully from its laze over the chair back and pushes to his feet, needle and all.

"I think you've already learned a few things since you've been here. Maybe more than you know." Up, around the bucket with an unintentional bump of boot to plastic that makes for unhappy maggots on Emile's way to circling Joseph's back. The lambent syringe's blue airbrushing follows his progress and reverses subtle highlighting from front to rear, touching cold at the backs of ears and glossing up dull against greasy hair. He might've mentioned there wasn't actually an option to begin with, but at this point it seems a little superfluous. "That's important, for a teacher."

Joseph's body shifts with a start of tension as Danko's boot nudges the bucket, heart skipping. He can imagine it, the spill of remains and maggots, the sound it might make, the smell bled anew into the air— he clamps his jaw tightly, and veers even sharper from the concept that it used to be Billy Jean Cambria. There will be time for that concept later.

Later. However much later is left. Maybe not weeks anymore, maybe not even days, but hours. And the hours are plenty long. Long enough for it to mean anything when he learns, apparently, and this sentiment gets a cynical sounding funneling of air through nose and mouth.

"It is," he agrees, a twitch of a glance over his shoulder— fading blue flares out his periphery— and then stays still.

The touch of Danko's left hand bracing itself across Joseph's jaw line is cool and oddly soft. Worse for the delicate care he takes, maybe, in tilting the younger man's head and neck into optimum position without the coarse guard of gloves to score and rake.

He's not bad with the needle, either. In and out with less pain than there could be, Refrain dose delivered with such precision that it almost seems off that he doesn't have a little wad of cotton and bandaid to dab after it. Instead, there's a whisper of smoky breath at his ear, only a shade warmer than the stifling lack of circulation that hangs heavy and still around the ripe stink of death.

"If you two hadn't screwed around, it would have been quick for her. Her father would have had a body to bury. You wouldn't have to think about the teeth marks on these bones or the fact that we couldn't find the rest of her. Or your dog."

A pat at that same cheek trails off into a trace over shoulder, and Danko paces to let himself out, a few remnant drops of blue fluid wasted onto the floor as he goes.

The bucket stays.

Predictably, tears sting at Joseph's eyes like smoke got in them at honest words— or as honest as things get around here— almost as harshly as the needle bit his neck. There's no time to string together denial, not out loud and not in his head, before Danko is walking away, hands empty save for a spent needle. "Wait, no— " is as articulate as it gets, bleated at Danko's back, panic gripping the pastor around the same time the drug is coursing hot through his veins and making his head swim.

Head tipping forward, heavy on his neck, bliss eases that clench of anxiety in his chest, and the mess inside the bucket, becoming less and less distinct in the fading light— not quickly enough— is blinked at and summarily disregarded in favour memory lane. It will be quite a crash afterwards, waking up in stifling air, thick shadows and the stench of rot— but he can worry about that later.

A soft, relieved groan is the last thing to be heard before the door is closed again.

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