Man's Best Friend, Part II


brian_icon.gif colette_icon.gif doyle_icon.gif hailey_icon.gif joe_icon.gif juniper_icon.gif lance_icon.gif lucy_icon.gif mala_icon.gif

Scene Title Man's Best Friend, Part II
Synopsis A gruesome discovery made at the Lighthouse on Staten Island brings the Ferry and its associates together in a small but significant way.
Date March 22, 2010

Staten Island: Inside the Lighthouse

Normal evenings in the Lighthouse come with food, games, laughter. Today— there's none of that. A tiny blonde girl sits near the burning fireplace, chews on her lower lip, visibly glancing toward the door at any sound. Chandra, the orange cat that usually lives upstairs, has sauntered down to crawl into her lap, tail flicking back and forth. The cat almost seems trying to comfort her— or maybe she's asking the cat to. Nearby, a dark haired boy, even younger sits in silence. Absolute silence, in fact. As one of the only sets of blood siblings in the group, Lance and Hailey have little in common, but they share the same eyes— bright blue. Things were not always so difficult this day…

A few hours ago they were playing in the snow in the backyard, enjoying the weather as only children can. Using snow drifts to build large forts, they launched snowballs at each other— laughed. It all seemed like one of the happier days. Wrapped up in scarves and gloves, all they had to worry about was the fun being stopped with the occassional bursts of tears, when a stray snowball happened to really hurt.

But now— now they look worriedly at the adults, and toward the windows. Because they know something is wrong.

Children always know.

One of the smallest kids, a curly haired Indian girl, seems to be affected the most. She moves along weakly, almost as if she's having trouble walking at all, a hand against the wall as she makes her way to the window. "Santa— where is Denisa?" she asks, looking toward the large bald man who'd once been talked into being Santa for them. Even without his beard, or the hat, or the outfit— it seems at least one still knows him as that. Even if he'd said he wasn't Santa.

Juniper, one of the oldest of the kids, just a little younger than Colette, stands with her arms crossed, a frown on her face. "Is anyone going to tell us what happened?" she finally asks, a stubborn look forming as she shifts eyes from Brians. All the children here have been through a lot. Lost their parents, their families— brothers, sisters— They were there when a very bad man split into shadow forms and went after them. They were there when the Monster attacked.

But that doesn't mean they can easily handle the truth— that one of their sisters is dead.

"I don't know, Mala…" It isn't a complete lie, given that Doyle really has no idea what happened - specifically - although he can make some educated guesses, none of which are good. The puppeteer had finally, reluctantly called Melissa since she'd asked him to, and gotten word that something bad had happened here - which dragged him out of his personal penances and self-pity, because the kids were in danger. Whatever it was, it must have been bad to set off this sort of alert.

Eric intercepts the girl on her way to the window, hand sliding down to her shoulder to offer support and try to urge her back to a sofa or a bean-bag chair, his head shaking slowly as he tries to look confident and upbeat for the children. "I'm sure they'll let us know what happened later - let's just try and not worry about it for now, alright? Maybe we can dig out a game or something."

For being one of the adults— perhaps despite herself— Colette isn't handling what happened well. She should be trying to be strong for the kids, but having been here most of the day when everything happened has taken a heavy toll on the young woman. Sitting at the kitchen table in clear view of the living room, Colette's hands are wound up into her hair, head slouched forward and laptop left open but unused at her side. There's several things wrong with today, and that this isn't how she wanted her reunion with Eric to go is the smallest part of it all.

"We— " Colette's voice cracks, rolling her lower lip between her teeth as green eyes stare wide at the tabletop, then slowly track towards that girl just a few years her junior. It makes Colette hesitate, seeing her there, makes her realize just how absurd it is that she's in any way responsible for the health and well being of someone who's almost one of her peers. "We should— wait for Gillian to get back, June."

June. She's always shortened Juniper's name, always been close to the eldest girl. It wasn't that long ago that Colette lived here as one of the wayward youths taken care of by Brian Fulk, it wasn't that long ago they both used to sneak out in the middle of the night to go down to the shore and stand in the water barefoot and just talk. Now it seems like just a year of maturity and a seeming lifetime of additional trauma has driven that wedge of "adult" and "child" between them both.

But Colette's not alone here, in having difficulty helping lift moods. For all of the gray fur on his muzzle, no amount of nudging or whimpering can seem to make Eric Doyle truly smile. That weary old ex-police hound presses his snout against the puppeteer's leg in a gesture of pet me it will make everything better, dark ears folded back and eyes expressively showing concern for those around him. He may be old, but with that comes greater empathy towards humans with dogs like him.

"Why?" Juniper asks in a demanding way, perhaps disliking still being lumped among 'the kids' when someone not much older than her is lumped among the adults. Arms uncross, red hair falls into her face as she looks back at the kids. If it weren't for tiny Lucy suddenly shaking and sobbing, and Joe putting a hand around her, she might have begun to demand more loudly. There's a moment's pause, before she steps through into the kitchen and lowers her voice into a whispering question, "Do you know what happened?"

It may not be quiet enough, cause Hailey hugs up against the orange cat, buring her face in fur. The animals are one thing she's always been attuned to.

With his motioning, Mala pulls her hand around his sleeve and moves to sit down, feeling a little safer with the big man present than she did a moment ago. "Everyone's so upset— I don't like it when everyone's upset," she says quietly, looking from one child to the next. The ones that are still glancing toward the windows, the doors— and up the stairs. Where's the ninja when they need it? "What kind of game do you like to play? Denisa likes Mouse Trap…"

It probably doesn't help any that Doyle doesn't seem to be able to look directly at Colette, either, and he's actually spoken to her as little as possible; the few looks he's given her painting a glimpse of raw pain and guilt behind his eyes. She's still a child enough - and a friend enough - that the fact that he hurt her bothers him deeply, and that's not something that often happens, given Eric's skewed moral compass.

As the old dog rubs against his side, he reaches down to give him a thump on the shoulder, ruffling the hound's fur before looking around at the faces of the children - trying to smile, but their upset faces and the general pallor hanging over the room doesn't help. "Okay… let's play Mouse Trap. That's the one with all the little plastic traps and stuff, right? Maybe I can dig up some of my puppets later, too, I think there's still some in the closet…"

He's doing his best to distract the kids, but maybe he's not in a very good state to do it either.

As he hunkers down with the kids, he reaches over to wrap an arm around Mala's shoulder, briefly pulling her in against his side in a squeeze of a hug before letting go, looking around. Now, where were the games…

In the hallway, the sound of footsteps pacing back and forth on the hardwood is audible above those that creak upstairs in the dorms and the soft susurrus of voices coming from the living area. Neither Colette nor Doyle can hear what Brian is saying, his tone is too clipped, too quiet, too terse with stubborn refusal, but he's been on the phone with someone for close to an hour now and the conversation has shown no signs of abating.

A fist slams into the plaster wall and rattles the dishes and flatware in the kitchen cupboards and drawers. From where Doyle is sitting, he may glimpse the younger man rear back, hissing into the receiver and cradling bloodied knuckles to his chest. He disappears down the hall a moment later, and a slamming door reverberates through the ground floor.

How often does Brian Fulk lose his temper?

Tensed from the sound of Brian hitting something, Colette's reaction to that show of aggression is far more palpable ever since she discovered the Beast's Rose in the basement. Green eyes haven't met Juniper's since she's talked, and only now finally drift up from the table as the teen is approaching. Running her tongue over her lips, Colette rises up from the chair, pushing back the seat with her legs before rubbing a hand over her brow and quietly moving across the floor from the kitchen to where Juniper stands in the doorway. Reaching out to lay a hand on her shoulder, Colette squeezes gently and struggles to keep that emotionally overwrought look on her face in check. The gesture is pretty simple to convey the intention of, give me a moment.

Socked feet scuff quietly as she makes her way from the doorway to the puppeteer's side, first stopping by Jupiter, crouching at the old dog's side and wrapping her arms around him, curling fingers in the thick fur at the side of his neck and getting up to het feet afterward, dipping down only to place a kiss on the top of his black furred brow, darker than all the rest of him. She looks over to Joe, brows furrowed and head tipped into a nod.

"Joe, why— don't you take Lucy upstairs, look around for a good game. The rest of you can go up with Joe, okay? Get the game set up, then— " Green eyes move to Doyle, "— then me, and Eric and June will join you guys in a little bit." Green eyes divert over to Juniper, brows furrowed and chin tilted down. June's the only one old enough to understand what's going on, and when Colette was her age, she'd want to know. It's not the best logic, but right now sitting on this is going to turn Colette inside-out.

The sound of Brian furious had sent some shockwaves through the kids. Joe just sits up straight and looks, the most stoic of all the kids, his arm around the tiny girl's shoulders as she shakes and cries. The outburst did not help with that, and there's a few more sounds from the stairs. There are more kids up there, after all, and they heard the slamming of the door— luckily, for Colette's plan, they stay upstairs. Perhaps deciding it's safer.

Of all the kids that would speak up and say that the games are usually played downstairs, Denisa's not there to stubbornly stand up and make soft demands with a big smile on her face. She always wanted to do something. The more she was told no, the more she asked about it. It'd gotten her into the Ferry meeting that none of the other kids were allowed to… And now…

There's a hole in the room.

"I like your puppets— they're still upstairs," Mala says quietly, leaning into the hug with a small shaking sound to her voice. A shaking that has nothing to do with the cold. She may be ignoring the request, or trying to, until Lance hops down from his seat next to the fireplace and walks over. The silence that surrounds him keeps his steps silent, even when his mouth moves, they can't hear him. Not until he reaches up and shakes Mala's shoulder, then Doyle can hear him, and Mala as well, but no one else.

"I'll take care of her," he says, voice steady and firm. Him and Joe are two of the youngest— and they're trying to step up— be the men of the house. It's what Brian would have wanted.

Joe leads Lucy up, with just a simple nod in response, and Lance makes sure the others get upstairs, even as Hailey hugs the cat close to her chest, long legs and tail hanging. It can't be comfortable, but the cat must not mind too terribly much. Hailey is half the reason he's as fat as he is.

When the blonde with the orange steps the final step up, the older redhead looks around, from Colette to the adult. "Is it that guy who stopped by a week ago? The one that tossed Gillian and that stupid guy with the lamp around?"

"Okay." Doyle seems about to let the pair leave, hesitating a moment before reaching out to gather Mala and Lance both up in a bear-hug, murmuring quietly to them, "It'll be all right, kids. It'll be all right…" Then he pushes himself up to his feet, watching the children heading towards the stairs with an almost desperate expression for a few moments - only if they look back, he smiles wanly, wiggling a hand, "I'll be up in a few minutes…"

Then he turns away, leaving Colette to answer the question as he heads to the kitchen - or stalks, almost - perhaps to get some answers.

A wooden door two inches thick separates Doyle from the room Brian has sequestered himself in when he arrives at the end of the hall. "I don't care what you've got to do to make it happen," he's saying. "I want a coroner out here first thing in the morning and a grief counselor for my kids. Let me talk to Zarek."

If he's heard the heavy sound of Doyle's approaching footsteps, he has yet to acknowledge them or move back toward the door. Inside, the puppeteer can very clearly hear him pulling aside some drapes, their rungs rattling on the curtain rod hung above them. Doyle has visited the Lighthouse enough times to know that this room looks out over the backyard and the scraggily beech and birch trees in the copse beyond it. "Zarek, I said. Tell him it's an emergency."

"Eri— " Colette's words come out as a croak when Doyle moves thorugh the kitchen and down a hall, and the young girl's shoulders slack as she exhales a sigh, one hand coming up to rake through her bangs, palm smoothing across her face and brows furrowed. Moving over to the sofa, Colette slowly slouches down with a creak of the old springs, head laying back and eyes up towards the ceiling. She can't remember the last time she was this upset when she was here, probably just after the attack all those months ago.

"Come over n'sit, June…" Colette says quietly, motioning to the space on the sofa beside herself, before slouching forward and resting her arms on her knees. There's silence, as her green eyes alight to the younger girl, sniffling not just from the fact that she feels horrible but that she has something of a head cold.

"When you were up in your room earlier…" Colette's voice is hushed, trying not to be overheard by what she knows are eavesdropping on the stairs, "I was— down here working on something," she nods to the laptop, then looks back down to the spot of floor between her feet. "I heard— the scream outside. Ran out, and— that's probably when Brian showed up and kept you down here." Brows furrowed, Colette looks up to Juniper with tears in her eyes, jaw trembling.

"They— said it was an animal. I— Eileen says there was tracks, like— like a wolf or something in the snow. I dunno, I just— I didn't look." She couldn't. "She's getting some people together, gonna' go see if they can track down what happened. I— I don't know who did it, June. I'm— " her voice hitches in the back of her throat, jaw giving a tremble again and eyes fall shut just a second too late to catch the tears that dribble heavily down her cheeks. "I'm so sorry." Like everyone who was here, she blames herself for not being out there and not preventing what happened.

A coroner. It's what Doyle assumed, but to hear it said out loud slices an icicle through his heart, stopping near the edge of the room as he watches the other man - he doesn't know the duplicator very well, having just met him a few times when helping with the kids, but he takes care of the orphanage, which makes him alright in Eric's book.

"Brian." A quiet word from the big man, "You're scaring the kids. I know you're— know you're upset, but…"

Good thing she'd sat down first. The snowball fight had been fairly long, and Juniper had retired early after a snowball in the face. A shower, a change of clothes— and apparently someone — not just someone but one of them

"An animal," she repeats quietly, shoulders slumping as she leans into the couch, red hair falling into her freckled face. She's not crying so much as looking dejected. It's not what she expected. "I thought maybe… someone got sick. There's that virus going around. It's supposed to take people's abilities too. Denisa told us about it, from the meeting we weren't allowed to be at."

And that she'd gotten to go to. Viruses. Vaccines. All kinds of stuff. She doesn't try to say it barely made any sense, all jumbled and out of order, like she'd suddenly remember something and toss it in, all out of place.

There's a bit of silence as she bites down on her lip, looking up toward the stairs as if making sure no one's peaking down. "Denisa— she's gone?" Like their parents. Like so many others. That's when the tears start to appear, and she quickly mops them away. Suddenly the room smells salty, like the sea— or like the tears she's trying to hold back. Or cover up.

Brian holds up his hand, imploring Doyle for silence. The reception out here on Staten Island, especially with the weather as it's been, isn't the best; the voice on the other end of the line is interrupted by sporadic hisses and pops of cellular static, and the fingers clutching the mobile to his ear instinctively tighten as though pressing it harder against his skull might allow him to better hear what his contact with the Linderman Group is saying.

All right, he mouths without making a sound except for the pucker of his lips as they move around it. The drapes fall back into place, preventing Doyle from getting a good look at what's on the other side of the glass except for a shimmer of baby blue tarp spotted with blood fluttering in the breeze several hundred meters away.

All there is in answer to Juniper's question in the living room is Colette's slow nod, one thin arm coming out carefully to wind around the younger girl's shoulders and draw her in to a hug, that other arm joining soon after. Colette tilts her chin up, brings Juniper's head down gently to her shoulder, and then rests her mouth atop the younger girl's head, if only to steady that emotional quaver of her jaw. She draws in a sniffling breath, tears welling up in her eyes again at the scent of the sea-salt air stinging at her nose. Small arms squeeze tightly around the redhead's shoulders, nose pressing against her hair and fingers curling in the soft fabric of her sweater.

"It'll be okay…" Colette whispers against the redhead's hair, trying to be the strong one here, because she's the oldest. It's rare for Colette to be able to play big sister to anyone, rare for her to be the one they can look up to or take advice from; in a way it's frightening to have that responsibility, but in other ways it's refreshing to be able to help someone get through something like this, the way she wishes someone had been there for her so many times at this age.

The acknowledgement is enough for Doyle, and as he catches sight of that brief, fluttering tarp daubed with blood he feels a tight clench in his chest — the apple of his throat rising and falling in a hard swallow as he turns away, leaving the other man to his discussion with the Lighthouse's dubious patrons.

A few moments later, the puppeteer emerges from the hallway and back into the main room, looking over at the embracing pair and starting to say something, one hand lifting towards them… and then he falls, as does his attempt at speech, looking away to give them some privacy as he glances to the window again with a blank expression.

With the arms around her, Juniper finally lets go of the tears, leaning in and crying against Colette. There'd been moments where she'd hated her younger unrelated siblings— she'd tried to run away from the house once, even, to get away from everything, to drown in the past that she'd lost. Her mom's apple pie. One of the smells she could never forget, that the little blue vials brought back in full detail.

But now… "I really didn't mean it…" she says quietly, closing her eyes into the slightly older girl's shoulder. That salty-sea smell continues to spread naturally into the area, like someone'd just plugged in an air freshener.

Green eyes peer over the top of Juniper's head towards Eric's broad silhouette by the door, there's a noisy swallow from Colette, and the dark haired teen leans back and away from Juniper, moving one hand away from the redhead's shoulder, palm smoothing over her cheek, using one thumb and forefinger to brush beneath her eyes. Colette manages a smile, but it's clear from it that it's a wearily emotional one, tinged by the strong sniffle she gives and the reddened puffiness of her eyes. A pale hand slides fingers thorugh red hair at the side of Juniper's head, tucks a few locks behind her ear, and then looks up and over her again to Eric.

"I can go upstairs and keep the kids company, if— if you wanna' go outside and see if you can help Raith and the others with— with what's happening. But— I— I wanna' talk to you eventually. So— so no disappearin' or I'll have Jupiter track you down." A noisy sound of swallowing comes from Colette, only moments before a large black snout comes jabbing at her stomach, and Jupiter is thriating his big block head into Colette's lap, as if to say come on just one pet it will make everything better see I love you, and literal puppy-dog eyes almost perfectly convey that expression.

Colette huffs out a half-hearted laugh, but her smile is somewhat more earnest as she reaches down to curl fingers in the brown fur at the sides of Jupiter's neck, looking over to Juniper. "D'you wanna' go upstairs and help me keep the kids company?" There's the differential, asking if Juniper would like to help with the kids. There comes a time in every adolescent's life when they finally get the option to step up, stop becoming a kid and start learning to be an adult, and someone who can be depended on rather than depends on.

Of course, Eric can't avoid her forever. As she talks to him, he looks back over to her - and then there's that flicker of guilt once more, one thick hand raising up to rub at the side of his neck self-consciously. "No. I'm pretty sure that Raith and… all them can do that sort've thing better than me. The kids are probably— I mean, they're probably pretty freaked out up there, we shouldn't leave them alone for too long, you know?"

He manages a weak smile, his gaze a little hopeful in a manner that isn't too different from that of a kicked puppy dog hoping to be petted himself. "We can dig out a game, or I can… break out the puppets maybe."

Go upstairs and help with the kids. The red headed young woman pulls back and wipes at her eyes, trying to take away the tears, but her cheeks are still reddened by them. The stinging salty smell starts to lessen, replaced by something less evasive, the smell of fresh laundry. It's a weird scent to default to, but— at least it won't bother the dog's nose anymore.

"I think you should go upstairs with us," Juniper says, trying to smile a bit, even if the smiles don't want to come. It's hard to smile right now… "Mala would like having you around— she loves the puppets."

Santa and puppet man. If he is nothing else to the young kids here, he's at least that. One place where he never has to worry about having been a criminal. Because they never look at him like he was.

Here, everyone that wants to be family simply is. Because everyone here has holes in their life to fill. And they just got another one.

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