When I Grow Up


devon2_icon.gif francois_icon.gif

Scene Title When I Grow Up
Synopsis Devon takes a step outside the den.
Date August 3, 2019

The Bastion

“I mean, I know I'll have to talk to Avi anyway.” Eventually. It isn't as though Devon doesn't trust the commander, it's just that Francois is easier to talk to. And right now he needs someone level-headed.

So says the half-hopeful look from where he stands in the doorway of the older man’s office.

He's dressed for duty, since technically he's on duty. Though he's been seen flying a desk more often than he has been in the training hall. And the work he's done has been more centered on what happened to him and less on whatever the NYPD has been up to.

Dev takes a hand through his hair in a show of nervous habit. “Just… it's something I've been thinking about and…” He drops his hand, one eye half squinting. “I just want to… I don't know. Figure it out first?”

"Come in."

The office, here in New York, is a more comfortable kind of location than the one Francois has back in Rochester. Raw brick walls and wood rather than polished concrete and steel. The vertical blinds do their part in blocking some of the sun coming in as intently as it is at this hour and angle, and Francois shifts aside some of the papers he'd been studying before Devon's appearance.

Financials, orders, contracts. All the things he'd promised would start occupying his time have manifested to bore him to death. It has never been easier to distract him with literally anything else. "You seem nervous," Francois notes, bluntly, but not weighted with anything besides curiousity.

“Nervous?” He's be lying if he denied it. So instead Devon steps into the office and pushes ahead with his purpose.

“I've… been considering a change. In jobs.” Not careers, but jobs. He lets that statement simmer for a moment, helping himself to a seat across from Francois. He looks at the papers on the desk, not to see what's on them but for something inconsequential to look at while he continues.

“I want to stay on with Wolfhound. It's just… maybe time to get out of combat before…” Before he froze or worse when they needed him to act. Dev lifts his eyes from the desk and paperwork, focusing on Francois.

There's not too much else to look at, for Devon to distract himself with, avoid eye contact. A light blinks from the seam of a closed laptop, idling. A ring of moisture where a glass of water was placed. One personal effect, huddled next to a cup of pens: a framed picture angled just beyond Devon's easy line of sight. There's a blank space on the wall where a picture used to hang and hasn't been replaced. The whole room, in a state of pause.

Francois' expression doesn't read as surprised by this tentative declaration. Maybe a hint of relief, if conflicted. At least there isn't a resignation in the young man's hands, or mind.

"Before?" he prompts. He can imagine what Devon is hinting at, but he's determined not to let him shy off from it. He eases forward in his chair, arms set against the edge of his desk, hands folding together — not letting his attention wander, but Francois' focus is receptive rather than pressured. "Anyone else, I would guess the end of that sentence to be, 'before I get seriously injured or killed'." The joke is: Devon has proven courageous to the point of insanity.

So it can't be that.

The irony, also, is that Devon has also been both seriously injured and killed. But it isn't that. That much may be clear by the vague confusion that flashes through his expression. “Before…” He takes a breath, searching for the reasons he'd prefer didn't exist.

“I don't want to become a liability.” He may have already been one. The reckless actions he'd taken in the past may have helped win battles or turned the tide on a mission from possible failure to likely success. But now…

“I'm… having trouble. I don't…” Another breath interrupts, and Devon leans back slightly. His hands press together palm to palm, fingers rest against his lips. “I can't be in the field and… freeze up. Not when people are relying on me.”

It had been something of a relief, when Epstein had made the call to restructure. The worst had already happened, being the young man sitting in front of Francois and what he had gone through, which doesn't mean the worst can't happen again, and again, and Amarok had been a volatile formula of personalities. So when Devon says 'liability', it's where Francois' thoughts go, just briefly.

His eyes flick down to what Devon's hands are doing. Noting the small things.

Francois lets a little thoughtful silence play out between them, and asks, "Is that what you want?" With just a subtle emphasis on that final word.

“I think so.”

As Devon voices his answer, as much of an answer as it is, he lowers his hands from his face. He leans forward somewhat, elbows resting on thighs and hands clasped together. Nervous movements are noticeable throughout, the way the thumb of one hand worries against the knuckle of the other. Or forefingers tapping together.

He's unaware of it, his eyes staring at a space just to Francois’ side.

“I don't…” Devon interrupts himself with a sigh and makes himself look at Francois. “I know I want to stay with the Hounds. I just… I need a break from being in a combat role.”

At this repeated affirmation, of wanting to stay, Francois says, "Of course," as if to reassure as much as Devon might be attempting to reassure. He nods, too, at this last part, but doesn't verbalise agreement or make any offers just yet.

After a moment, he says, "You should be kind to yourself. A break can be that, to take care of yourself. It can also be a punishment." He does not think Devon unique in this — he thinks every Woflhound, particularly the younger batch, have this mindset, this balking against their own weaknesses. Young soldiers, who haven't had to reforge themselves quite as much.

There's a lift of his eyebrows, there. Is he wrong?

He isn't wrong, which is why Devon shakes his head. “It's not punishment,” he admits. Quietly. Like it's something better explained over hushed voices. Like if someone overheard it could be the end of his career.

“It's… been on my mind for a while.” Not to mention the various conversations he's already had, though this is the first with any of the Hounds. “Since that first assignment. In the training hall. Simulations. It's like that… edge is gone. I… I freeze up. I can't think, can't process anything. And it's not even the what-ifs.”

Tipping his head slightly, Devon looks up at Francois, seeking understanding from the older man. One soldier to another.

It's there. Rueful, sympathetic, and measured, too, like Francois is thinking through the things he says instead of offering whatever word of encouragement immediately springs to mind. He nods his understanding, and leans back into his chair.

"You know," he says, "most people think that we are conditioned, in the face of violence, with a fight or flight response only. Hard-wired survival instinct that goes one of two ways. Our training allows us to utilise these instincts to make combat decisions, or override them as necessary. But it is not just these two things. In the face of danger, to ourselves or to our teammates, a danger that we immediately perceive as so overwhelming that neither fight nor flight would be sufficient enough to respond to it, we freeze. That is the third hard-wired instinct. We stop processing because our minds are preventing us from doing so, in an attempt to protect itself."

Francois turns out a hand. "It is normal. Human. I want, perhaps, for you to imagine that there is nothing missing in you, no edge that is gone. But perhaps instead you have a greater understanding of danger, now, and that is not such a bad thing. It is a matter of retraining. Perhaps some counselling. And time, of course. Avi and I can find other tasks for you to do, until you are ready."

Devon's head dips, reminiscent of his adolescence when weighty subjects would drag his head between his shoulders. It's a heavy topic, and while there's some comfort in those words it's more like a balm to a burn.

The burden remains, blanketed by simple truths and an alternative perception.

“Easier said than done,” he admits to himself, but loud enough that Francois could easily hear the words. Hands separate and scrub at his face. The action requires him to sit up properly, allows him to look at Francois when his hands lower again.

“Do you think I'll be able to get back?” Devon doesn't include what I lost, but it's implied. “There’re other fields… options. Some might benefit both me as… me, but also my role in Wolfhound. And the company itself.” This is something he definitely seems to have given a lot of thought to.

There is a slight eyebrow raise at this first part, a subtle shrug. Francois was not promising it'd be easy.

He starts to speak, to say what's on his mind and provide opinion, but catches some glimmer of intent in Devon's words, and stops himself. His folded hands fan their fingers. "Please," he says. Inviting Devon to share. "I would hear them."

“Going back to school.”

Devon hangs his response out for Francois to mull over. His own thoughts draw back from it, a stomach flipping sensation now that it's said aloud and as an option rather than private speculation. He swallows, looks just aside from the older man.

“Balancing classes at the college, while continuing…” He half motions toward the doorway. “It's just a thought, when Emily and I were talking about things. It sounded like a good idea. Especially if I was assigned to a support role or…”

Or turns into a shrug. Dev follows it with a head shake. “Sorry, it's probably not possible. Just an idea we came up with.”

Some months ago, when the NYPD contract had come up, Teodoro had — rather skeptically — asked Francois if law enforcement was really what he'd signed up to do when he had joined Wolfhound. The truth was, non, not exactly, but the contract stood for more than just that. Eventually, everyone on Wolfhound would have to become something that fit better in the society they'd been fighting for. Eventually, the young adults who had joined the war as children, would need something else. Police was but one path.

So he almost smiles, a little, at Devon's immediate proposal, hands working out some phantom strain in his knuckles as he considers the young man opposite. "It does sound like a good idea," Francois says. "I see no reason you should not. You were, what, still a teenager, when the war was beginning?"

Even he had been an adult, especially by the standards of his time, when his country was invaded. Nothing thrives, in war time, nothing grows.

"What would you study?"

“Yeah, I turned eighteen a few months after the war started.” Dev’s gaze circles back, sliding across the desk then lifting to Francois. “I joined a few months later. I was sixteen when I first got involved in… exposing the corruption?” It was something to that effect. “Part of Endgame.” That's tacked on to hopefully more accurately explain things.

“I'd already done a few semesters, before things got really restrictive…” It takes him a couple of seconds to draw back from the reminiscing and focus on the question.

What would he study?

At first, Dev’s brows knit to a point that he looks puzzled. He's not even certain what Brooklyn College offers presently. “I think… that would depend on Wolfhound,” he cautiously settles on. “Computer sciences, natural sciences, mathematics. There's plenty I think I'd like studying.”

"I would have been a doctor," Francois offers, after wondering a little on Devon's hesitations, his looping in of Wolfhound priority, "if not for the war, or— even, ironically, my ability to heal people. I tried it out a little, several years ago, and I'm not sure it fits anymore if it ever did. I thought it might have a certain poetry to it, or better yet, be of use to the Ferrymen. Or even Endgame."

And it was, until it wasn't.

He gestures again. "You will outlive Wolfhound, whatever you do. As my personal advice to you?" Which, he imagines, is not wholly why Devon came to him so much as something in a more official capacity, but he gives it anyway. "I think you should pursue whatever you think could picture doing after we are finished. You do not have to make yourself otherwise useful to us to stay." Maybe Epstein will have other opinions, but—

Francois would bet money on not. "But we can have that conversation, if you aren't sure."

“I was in a theatre program.” The nostalgia of it brings a brief grin to Devon's face. “I think that ship has sailed though. As much as our world could use actors, I think… I know I'm better suited for other things.”

The humor he'd found fades almost as quickly as it manifested when Francois goes on. The idea that he might outlive Wolfhound never occurred to him. That it's possible is almost troubling. And he knows the older man is right.

“That doesn't entirely change my suggestions,” he points out. “The world is still going to need chemists and engineers and computer nerds.” Among other things. It's definitely a thing for Devon to think about all the same.

"Bien," Francois says to this. He is not literally Wolfhound's dad, or one of two dads, and so if there is some kind of paternal instinct to delve deeper into Devon's academic interests, it is gently set aside in favour of being, instead, one of two Wolfhound commanders. "I'll recommend your shift in role and studies to Epstein, along with my advisement that you continue field training for as long as you are Wolfhound. Whatever this thing is, that has hindered you, it can't be allowed to go unchecked."

Because god knows, even if Devon were to remove himself from the field entirely, trouble tends to find them. The next time he picks up a gun, he should be prepared. "I won't require that you seek counselling services," for someone who has not been to therapy, Francois sure does recommend it a lot, "but I recommend you find someone you trust to talk through your experiences, someone who knows what to say to it. It can be me," seems right to offer, "or I can find someone, if you like. But it is not to be underestimated.

"Was there anything else you wished to discuss?"

The switch in presence is adopted smoothly, for all that Devon has been feeling the strain of reintegrating himself back into the soldier’s lifestyle. When Francois makes the subtle switch from confidant to commander with the recommendations, the young man presents himself a little cleaner. He straightens, nods in quick acceptance of the plan going forward.

It covers the anxiety that crawls from his stomach up his spine.

“Thank you.” For the offer of someone to talk to. He knows he needs it. “I've… I might. At least ask some questions. At the hospital. But…” Dev nods a wordless agreement, mentally adds Francois to the list of people he could go to. “Thanks. No, that's it really. For now.”

It's later that Francois might weigh up the ethics of the situation — of child soldiers grown into adults, and of trauma, and of the empty place where a war used to be. That perhaps he should not feel relief that Devon did not show up at his office with a letter of resignation in his hands, and whether he would have talked him out of it had he done so.

But then again, the worst has already happened.

"Alright," says Francois, and tips his head in a sign of friendly dismissal, no new smiles but the lines at his eyes imply one all the same. Off you go.

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