Not Kitten Around


cooper_icon.gif ellenc_icon.gif emily_icon.gif raquelle_icon.gif squeaks_icon.gif

Scene Title Not Kitten Around
Synopsis At an impromptu adoption drive to home kittens brought by the Cambria Salon, those manning the drive endure a probe by a stranger regarding the war. Their collective reaction proves that when it comes to their right to privacy and being treated with respect, the Safe Zone is…
Date April 28, 2019


A single glossy black marble encased in a shield of barely sheer amber, the sun hitting at just the right angle to provide a faint glow. A perfect blend of sunshine and shadow. A second marble comes into view, just as glossy and haloed as the first, both warping and beginning to narrow ever so slightly, a circle evolving into a oval gateway into a enigmatic soul.

Such a soul encased in the tiny, fuzzy, sleek black framework of adorable lifts and limbs, wailing with the phantom cry of the perpetually dissatisfied reverberates with an intensity that defies all the laws of physics for such a small form. Another cry, from the core of its very being. Deprived for so long from its prize. A beautiful feather hanging from a string above always out of reach. Like Tantalus seeking but a sip of water for all eternity, such is the plight of this creature. And yet it reaches, and leaps, determined.

Alas and behold the great tormentor, a young girl, long of limb and tall of stature yet young of heart. She knows not what she does. Her large face with its startling blue eyes hovers above, occasionally blocking the sun as she dangles the feather from the string. Toying with the golden eyed champion who again cries out again, leaping once more for the feather only to have it drawn back out of reach.

And then, a sign from the gods. Silken golden threads hanging down like a curtain around him as the girl leans back over. A gift from the sun gods. Another look up towards the dangling feather and finally, it knows what to do. The threads are used to pull the golden eyed creature further up and up, as he climbs beyond his original prize and ascends to the position of dominance. The nonsensical cries and exclamations from his foe, are music to his ears as he sinks his still tiny claws dig further into his new perch. From here he surveys his new kingdom. His other brothers and sisters seek their own destinations on various other surfaces around, or in the arms of captors.

As Raquelle watches his youngest daughter struggle with a tiny black kitten who has taken it upon himself to use her long blond hair to climb up to her head, he just smirks gently and shakes his head. Dressed for the weather and the occasion, the hairdresser moves around setting down various eating utensils and spreads out tablecloths and what not, preparing for this Safe Zone picnic/kitten adoption drive. Simple and soft dark purple long sleeved t-shirt, black jeans, black and purple scarf, black leather jacket and sparkly purple doc martins, his hair is swept back and well coiffed.

It is a relatively pleasant afternoon, and he glances over to the various picnic foods on the picnic table and shrugs a shoulder.

“Nnnnnnnnnngggggg!” Even in her frustration, Diana Cambria doesn’t call out for help, determined to wrangle the kitten she will not be allowed to keep. Today, they will find all of these 5 kittens they found a home. A hand move up to at least make sure the kitten does not fall off her head and a pawed with tiny claws swipes at it. She wears a brown leather jacket with a red sweater dress and a pair of brown leggings, dark brown boots on her feet and she hmphs.

"Here," a voice from beside Diana says. Feminine, direct and assertive, but not unkind in the offer to help. "I'll grab him for you."

Besides, Emily's more than happy to have an excuse to lay hands on any of the adorable kittens prowling in the grassy area, hardly grown into their limbs. It's all she can do to keep herself from making tiny, keening noises at their antics — best to make herself useful and hide how disarmed she is by their cuteness.

Her normally icy blue eyes are melting regardless as she gently pulls the kit from the younger girl's head, carefully parting strands from paws. She's dressed in a mint green half-sleeve with a low bustline, made up for by a higher-necked undershirt with a soft peach mesh of lace that modestly covers her, and also peeks from the bottom of her shirt. Jeans and floral-print flats make up the rest of her outfit, worn with only a patterned silver ring on her right hand for ornamentation.

"There," Emily reports gently as she frees the last of Diana's hair. "That ought to be better."

“What?!?” Comes an exclamation at least ten feet away. “You didn’t say anything about cats!” Cooper looks horrified at the idea that these felines where there. The man wasn’t a fan, that was sure. “Dude. Not cool.” Wearing a thick leather-linned flannel, a t-shirt declaring him ‘The Donut King’ peeks out from under it. Thomas is dressed to relax and enjoy his day.

A woman about Emily’s age, elbows past Thomas, carrying a container of potato salad. The woman dressed in jeans with ripped knees a thick maroon sweater with a white long sleeve under it. “Chill dad. He totally did,” she chides the agent. “God you’re getting so senile. Besides, you don’t have to touch them.” Anyone who has walked past his desk around have seen a picture of this exact person on his desk, Emily Cooper… in the only truly clean spot.

Ellen offers Raquelle a bright smile, practically tip-toeing over in her combat boots to offer her dad’s best friend a kiss on the cheek, “Hello, Uncle Raq.” There is a glance around and the container in her hands is offered over. “Is B.J. around? I brought her potato salad as promised.”

“There are kittens!”

It’s a familiar voice that isn’t exactly shrill with excitement. But it’s close. And that excitement is all too familiar to at least one of those gathered and dealing with the little fuzzballs.

Squeaks’ head of red hair and bright blue eyes can be spied on the opposite side of the path to where Raquelle and his girls have set up their adoption drive. It’s where she’s stopped after discovering the sign and the actual reality of kittens that are for adopting. She just might even very much have permission to return home with a kitten. But probably not all of them. “Hi,” is offered to her friends-family-coworker types as an afterthought, and only once she’s started actually walking toward them.

There are indeed kittens, about 7 of them, ranging from pitch black, to fluffy and white. Raquelle just quirks an eyebrow at Cooper and drawls. “Oh yes the hell I did tell you there was kittens. And if even I can overcome my natural aversion to pus-” The hairdresser is cut off thankfully by the arrival of Ellen, and he leans down a bit to return to cheek kiss with an air kiss of his own. “You tell him baby, and hello to you darling.” He quickly accepts the container and looks around. “She’ll be here in a bit. I told her you might be coming and all of a sudden she ‘had to get ready’’.”

Meanwhile, over yonder Diana looks up as Emily is helping her and the tall blond pre-teen just offers her a bright smile after the assist, reaching out to gently rub a fingertip over the now confused yet still as determined looking kitten’s head. She pauses, biting her bottom lip before raising her hands to sign ‘Thank you.’ And she hesitantly continues to sign. “He is the cutest thing ever.” With another small smile and a giggle.

Raquelle raises a hand to waggle fingers to Squeaks. “Wellcome welcome to our Picnic for Pussies.” A pause. “Name to still be determined, but we’ve got cats, we’ve got potato salad, we’ve got food!”

"He's very determined," Emily agrees aloud, looking down at the scrawny kit who is fierce and fiesty and has one little white-colored toe. Her heart breaks a little at the thought of putting him down. She looks up as more arrive, taking interest in the various faces, but not enough to become unrooted from the spot she finds herself in. And belatedly, she blinks out a double-take, looking back to Diana. One hand lifts away from doling out affection on the kitten to touch high on her cheek by her ear with the side of her index finger, tapping again by her chin with an inquisitive expression: Are you deaf?

The young woman looks a bit downtrodden at the absence of Raq’s eldest, but it is short lived as her phone goes off. One look at the screen and Ellen brightens. “It’s Spazz!” she half squeals brightly at the two men who raised her, as if they would know who that is. Fingers flash over the keyboard as she paces away, unaware of a black and white kitten following her and batting laces.

The look Cooper sends at her back is thrilled…. not

“You know…” Cooper starts blandly, side stepping another stumbling bundle of fluff. “I should have guessed it was cats when you called it that…About a bad of a name as Kitten Canoodle. Or Frisking Felines.”

There is a sigh and a small shake of his head at Raq, before that easy going and goofy smile of his returns. “The Bo-man around?” Cooper takes a cautious look around before moving to give his best friend a hug. You’d think he was joking… He’s not and he likes breathing. “Hey, Raq-Baby. I swear. Each time I see you, the bar is upped for any woman that comes along.” A ham-handed compliment for his bestie. “This is clearly why I am still single.”

Cooper was still single cause of his life choices really and the idea of dating… kinda freaked him out. So he hid behind compliments… “I mean… what woman would invite me to a Parade of Pus—”


While she simply didn’t want him to say it, Cooper realizes two of the SESA interns were there.. “Oh… hey, there Squeaks…. Emily,” that last name comes out a touch flatter than he means too.

It’s impossible not to take notice of the gathering assembled amidst the burgeoning spring greenery. For many of the passersby, the sight is a pleasant reminder that the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel is much closer than the Safe Zone’s surroundings — many of them still under repair — might sometimes suggest. The leaves are opening in the trees, flowers releasing their fragrance into the balmy April air, and the sound of children’s laughter fills the park like birdsong.

A good time to be alive.


Cooper, who is well-trained in such matters, notices the man before anyone else, but it isn’t long before Emily, Squeaks and the others are also clued into his presence. He doesn’t try to hide it, probably because he isn’t the sort who looks like he has something to hide: he’s trim and compact, with narrow shoulders and a perfectly ordinary frame dressed in a drab coat and slacks that look like they might be one or two sizes too large. Maybe he’s lost weight in the past few months. Maybe he just doesn’t know how to dress himself as well as some New Yorkers (the kind who prioritize their wardrobe over their bank account).

He wears his dark hair cropped short beneath an unremarkable wool cap, but reaches up to rub the back of his neck beneath its fringe as he stands awkwardly at the edge of the picnic, unsure how to proceed.

“Those kittens?” he tries in a voice that wants to be loud but isn’t.

“Hi Cooper and Auncle Raquelle.”

It’s a better greeting than what Squeaks offered before, although it’s pretty distracted at first since she’s watching Emily and Diana tangle with a very adventurous kitten. When the older of the two starts signing, though, she looks up at the grown-ups to give them a proper wave.

It lasts all of a half second, because since she’s close enough to the kittens to really see them now, that claims her attention again. Wiggling, scritching fingers are offered to the little fluffs, and it’s only after she’s started scritching a swirly-stripy beastie’s ears that she looks up at the two grown-ups she knows.

There’s a question there, in that look, but it’s interrupted by an unfamiliar presence with an even more unfamiliar voice. Squeaks’ head turns to set a serious eyeballing on the stranger, while gathering the kitten that’s taken an interest in her fingers into her arms.

Diana is quick to hold up her hands and emphatically sign ‘no’ and shrug her shoulder a bit self-consciously as she looks down a bit and toes the ground. There is a pause as the leggy girl whose baby face is holding on to faint pieces of baby fat desperately. And then she finally signs, “I can hear.” And points over to Raquelle. “That’s my dad.” Is signed again before she catches sight of Cooper and Ellen and gives a happy bounce and a giggle. Waving emphatically from where she is.

Meanwhile, Raquelle is throwing back his head, laughing and rolling his eyes as he wraps an arm around Cooper. “Oooh flattery will not get you out of this, Honey bunches of DILF bod.” He snickers and lands a *MWAH* on the side of Cooper’s head before shaking his own. “I do however, spoil ya don’t I?” He looks innocently at Ellen, eyes wide before he stage whispers to finish Cooper’s cut off statement, “-ssies.” And then winks.

His own gaze sweeps the area though, he did notice the question about Bolivar. “I’m engaged to a goddamn ninja, you know this. But he knows about the adoption thing. Somebody dropped a box of kittens off at the Salon and I’m like…bisssh, what am I going to do with this? I already have dogs and teenagers, so nope. That is why we bein’ allll charitable today!”

The stranger though, does catch Raquelle’s attention even as Cooper is greeting the others. To Squeaks, “Hey Squeakerbelle. See anybody who catches your eye?” He nods towards the kittens before glancing between Cooper and Emily. “Play nice ya’ll. We have company.”

He lifts a hand to wave to the stranger. “Last time I checked, they still were. But I hear after they get about six months, anything can happen. Might end up with a llama, a lion, or a chinchilla. Evolution’s a bitch man. C’mon, have a look. I’ll make you up a plate.” Because, food helps everything.”

"Oh," Emily says aloud in response to Diana's explanation. After a beat of uncertainty, she smiles reassuringly. "All right. If you want to keep signing, that's okay. I can speak and understand ASL okay enough." She'd gone out of her way previously to make sure Brynn didn't feel excluded in conversations, even gone as far as taking ASL as her language elective down at the college. "I'm Emily," she introduces herself. She makes an accompanying sign for her name, drawing her thumb from her stomach to sternum, then pulling her hand away from herself and tucking her thumb to make the sign for the letter e.

She hadn't chosen it. Her ASL professor did. She was just stuck with being that now. It was like being assigned a name at birth all over again.

Her hands have to resume the full-time job of handling the squirmy kitten, but she asks with a lift of her brow, "You're Raquelle's daughter?" with a note of surprise. 'Baby D', he'd called her in passing. "It's good to—!" The comment is cut off by the excitement happening around Ellen and Cooper, her head turning. She levels an unenthused look in the agent's direction, addressing him with an equally flat, "Cooper" for greeting before Raquelle tells them both off.

When the skinny man approaches, her 'best behavior' face is still firmly in place, and she regards him with an aloof interest. "Yes," she confirms again about the kittens, in case Raquelle's answer had been overwhelming in any way. She doesn't let go of the black one in her hands, curling it to her chest so it can crawl up her shoulder before being pried free and set back down against her torso. "They're up for adoption," Emily adds helpfully.

“Even finish my sentences,” Cooper states affectionately, though anything else is reduced to a hiss of pain and a lifting of his leg. Attached by four dagger tipped legs is a particularly feisty feline; tail whipping about. The agent looks less than amused. A bit of hopping on one leg and he manages to extract the claws.

“You sure you don’t want one, Raq? They seem… cute.” Cooper stares at the kitten trapped in the curl of his hand. Tiny ears flick back and it sinks claws and teeth in his hand. To his credit, Thomas doesn’t toss it. Lip press tight against the pain brought about by tiny teeth. “You should name this one Daisy.” It was a spotted ginger, too.

The stranger is a nice distraction, so Cooper offers the man a smile; underneath it he is scrutinizing everything about this person. It was a natural state for anyone in law enforcement to be suspicious… it is part of what keeps them alive. The wiggling ginger in his grip is pulled close so he can try and scratch the furry head. “Rescued kittens even.” He offers helpfully and pleasantly. “Abandoned and looking for loving fur-ever homes.”

The stranger scrunches his nose at Cooper’s use of the word fur-ever like it’s offensive to him on some sort of obscure, personal level, but apparently not so offensive that he’s going to point it out. He doesn’t even seem cognizant of the fact he’s making a face.

He draws his coat a little tighter around himself.

“Th— anks,” he tells Raquelle, and although he still sounds very uncertain — of the situation, his involvement in it, and these bizarrely friendly people — he’s shuffling over to accept the invitation. His accent is difficult to place.

It’s not American. But that’s true of many of the people who call the Safe Zone their home.

“Yes,” Squeaks answers simply to Raquelle. She still has the marble-patterned kitten secured against her chest, and the wee beastie seems quite alright with it. Unlike his siblings, he’s more interested in exploring and jabs a teeny wet nose around her chin and the neck of her hoodie and even into her ear.

As the stranger starts getting closer to the gathering, she scuttles closer to the grown-ups she knows. Which in the case is Cooper, since Raquelle is dealing directly with the unnamed man.

While the kitten wiggles free of her hands and starts perching on her shoulder, Squeaks casts a look over to Emily in silent question. It’s not uncommon, even now, for her to hold people she doesn’t know in suspicion, or to take cues from the older teens.

Diana is busy bustling over with Emily towards Cooper and Ellen and throwing herself at the older girl when she’s within range, to give her an excited hug before pulling back to enthusiastically sign at Diana. “Ellen, this is Emily, Emily this is Ellen.” She smiles brightly before eyeing Cooper’s Kitten Distress and the Stranger with a tilt of his head as she notes the underlying tension in the air.

Raquelle rolls his eyes and gives a small shake of his head. “Sorry, I already have too much hair to clean up on a daily.” He watches the other man get bit. “Looks like you got another fan.”

His attention however, does drift back to the Stranger as Cooper and Emily offer up their proverbial ‘amens’ of information about their purpose here today. Granted Cooper’s pun just makes him blink and his lips twist in an effort to bite back a snicker. A clearing of his throat and he’s sashaying closer to a picnic table to start doing what he said, fixing a plate. Potato salad, something greenish and leafy, some type of bread, piece of chicken. He glances back at the stranger and then adds another piece of chicken. “No need to thank me sugar.” He offers the plate and then nods back towards the kittens and the people.

“We’re alll friends here.” Ignore the cat that is batting at the laces of his boots. Bat bat bat….pounce on his foot. He is not looking down.

All friends here, some exceptions included. Emily glances sidelong at Cooper again.

What? They were coworkers.

She tries to keep Diana out of the corner of her eye as she's introduced by proxy to Ellen, but her attention is mostly on the stranger. "Haven't seen them bite anyone," she points out, more as a suggestion that he could try picking one up than to make idle conversation. Emily gives it only a moment, shifting the kitten in her hands back to pry it off her shoulder again and hold it a little more firmly. "Do you live nearby?" is definitely more along the lines of smalltalk, though.

The mention of none of the kittens biting gets an incredulous look from Cooper, as he extracts tiny claws from his fingers, while being a chew toy to the teeny… now named in his head… Daisy.

“Hey!” Ellen offers brightly to Emily. A hand is offered to the other girl, with a jingle of metallic bracelets. “Ellen Cooper.” Her smile echos her fathers. “I love the outfit by the way.” The way that Emily looked at her dad doesn’t go unnoticed, either. “And clearly you know my dad,” that is said in equal part affectionate and flat. “Don’t worry. He has that effect on just about everyone,” she says with a roll of her eyes.

Thomas gives his daughter a flat look and hands the kitten to Ellen, “Here… “ It wiggles a bit more and settles when his little girl starts loving on it. Go figure… Squeaks gets a glance as she moves closer to Cooper, before he too is watching the man warily, while scratching gently between the ears of the kitten on the girls shoulder.

While he’s suspicious of the stranger… well, of any really… Cooper lets Raquelle be Raquelle. Though that chicken looks really good. His stomach gives a soft growl… Okay, really good. “You want some food, Squeaks?”.

The stranger looks down at the plate, as suspicious of Raquelle’s kindness as Cooper and Squeaks are of him.

He can feel it. There’s some stiffness in his shoulders and arms as he takes the plate from Raquelle in one hand, using the other to flatten the potato salad with the back of his flimsy little fork.

Emily’s question has him looking back up. Also: for an appropriate place to sit.

“Bay Ridge?” he answers, but the tail of his statement hikes up like he isn’t entirely sure. He hears how weird that sounds after the words have left his mouth, and pinches his lips together in guarded embarrassment.

“A hotel, actually,” he clarifies, then. “It’s, uh, historic. I think? Pre-war. Err. The first one.” A beat. “No: second. Pre-World War Two is what I mean. Not— not the one you just had. Architecture. I’m talking about architecture.”

He’s bad at this, so he shovels a forkful of potato salad into his mouth before he makes things worse.

“A hotel?” Squeaks might be suspicious of the stranger, but she’s also a touch curious. A hotel with architecture from before the war, but not the one that just happened. Her nose scrunches up as she wonders about that, and tries to picture in her mind anywhere that might fit that description. Something old obviously, but that’s like almost every single building in the Safe Zone.

A look darts up at Cooper in a delayed reaction to the question. “Not yet.” Squeaks, eyeballs the strange man a second longer, then slinks over to Emily and the other girls.

Food is plentiful for those who desire it, and Raquelle’s eyes are filled with kindness but it doesn’t mean he isn’t on guard, it's just a more arms open type of guard. Force of his personality. He idly stretches his arms up over his head and nods slowly. “Well, darling. Are you alone in this old as hell Hotel with lovely architecture? Or are there others there with you?” He asks curiously, even as he passes the container of potato salad to whoever needs it next.

The hairdresser does have to bend down to pick up a black and grey furrball, taking a deep breath and removing it from his boot with a soft tsk. Then he turns around to find someone to hand it off to.

What a weird little man. Emily thinks to herself, brushing her hand over the top of the kitten's head. It mewls again, but she's more focused on the words the stranger is saying, brow furrowing slightly as she peers at him. "What brings you to New York?" she asks lightly before her attention goes to Ellen, expression smoothing over.

"Hi," she greets quietly, compared to the clear voice she'd used to address the stranger. She looks down to consult what she's wearing quickly. "Oh… Thanks. I'm Emily— Nice to meet you, and see that Cooper doesn't screw everything up." She chuckles faintly at what's clearly a joke, however flatly said… and phrased. Still, she's not a fan of his organizational skills, or his retaliation prank attempts.

Even though his attention seems on the food, it is only partially… So at the comment from Emily, Cooper’s head comes up. Teeth sunk into a piece of fried… “Hey!” He says around it, muffled. Cooper sounds hurt.

The talk about the hotel the guy is living in, pulls the Agent’s attention, the bite finished and swallowed he can’t help but ask, “You into architecture, huh? Amazing how much we still have, but also sad how much history was lost too in Civil War.”

There is a small covered chuckle from his daughter, a sleepy kitten in Ellen’s arms. “You’ll learn he’s not all bad… just takes getting used too. When it comes down to it, he’ll have your back when it counts.” The girl gives Emily a wink, before asking Raquelle. “Need any help with anything?”

“Just me,” the stranger confides in Raquelle. “I mean. Not just me, obviously. It’s a hotel. So.” So, his eyes seem to say. You know. There are other people present.

Ultimately, he opts to remain on his feet, shifting his weight from side to side in an attempt to work off some of his nervous energy. It sort of works. On the subject of what brings him to what’s left of New York: “I just wanted to see it for myself, I guess.”

He reaches up to wipe an errant smudge of potato salad away from the corner of his mouth. “In person. Books, pictures, television— the media only tells you so much. Different to touch it, smell it, breathe it.” A small snuff as he nibbles the salad off the back of his hand. “Took a walk down to the Memorial Wall yesterday. I was hoping to have a look at the Brick House Museum, too, but there’s a line out the door…”

“Hi,” Squeaks offers to the other girls once she's close enough to insert herself into their collective. Ellen and Diana are even given a shy wave, once she's moved the kitten to her shoulders. The curious little thing had slipped partway down her arm on the way over. A side-eyed look snags on the stranger again, but further away she decides is okay.

There is a small pause as Raquelle processes the ‘just me’ and continues with his clarification and he ahhs softly. “Now are these ‘other people present’ that everybody can see, orrr…?” He winks and laughs softly. “I’m jokin’ darling.” Arms fold over his chest as he bobs his head along what he says.

“There’s alot of history to see. It would do us all to make sure we go to pay a visit to the sites from time to time.” He replies gently before quirking an eyebrow and turning to Squeaks and Emily, Ellen and Diana and then back to Cooper and then he looks down at the kittens and shrugs. “They allow pets at the hotel?” He asks of their guest.

Emily glances sidelong at Raquelle as he more or less offers the stranger to take one of the kittens. More consciously than subconsciously, she adjusts the lay of the squirmy kitten, curling it against her. It remains disgruntled, but stops fighting as much, squinty at the world around it as it settles into the teenager's warmth. She takes a sidelong look next at those who are closer to her own age before quickly moving on, next shifting her attention to the accented stranger.

"So you're interested in the war," Emily points out politely, as if it were not obvious. She's not sure how she feels about the realisation her hometown (her home country, even) and its struggles are one man's tourist trip, but she'll face that discomfort later. She bites off her first instinct to pass a sharp comment about his interests, possibly due to the presence of cute kittens. Doubly possibly due to the presence of Raquelle Cambria.

"You should make an effort to see places aside from the war-torn, too," she suggests instead, not unkind even if it's not done gently. "Places like Red Hook Market. Places where people have come together to rebuild. There's more here than just what was lost and the memory of it." Her gaze flits away from the stranger only after, shifting to Raquelle and even to Cooper for additional suggestions on places the man should take time to see.

“Come on, Emily…” Cooper comments blandly, moving back with a plate and a mouthful of chicken. “The war was kinda a big deal. I’d rather people see the shit evo — “ Stopping himself, her throws an apologetic look at the others, “ — the expressive went through to throw off the chains.” As someone who had witnessed it all first hand and been in the middle of it… “It was pretty insane and amazing watching them. I mean, I know the line might be out the door, but the Brick house is worth it. All the people they helped and all those that sacrificed their lives to help others… Very humbling.”

Then Cooper shrugs the next moment and concedes also that, “She’s right, there is a lot to see that shows what’s being built from the ashes, but seeing how we even got here is important. People have this issue with learning from the past tho…. Soooo… whatever.” A bit heavy for the normally goofy man, but then… you are not always the same after all that.

Ellen is the first to notice her father’s mood shift and offers the other girls an apologetic look. “Dad! Hey!” She sweeps her way over to her dad and steals a drumstick from his plate, rather lightening quick. “Quit hogging all the good pieces will you?”

It’s a simple thing, but enough to snap Cooper out of his darker thoughts. “Hey!” He gives his daughter a hurt look, much like a dog who has had a treat snatched away.

The stranger has so many questions. Questions like:

Which kitten sheds the least?

How do I get to the Red Hook Market?

Wait, you fought in the war?

He freezes up. This is what decision paralysis looks like, apparently: A blank stare, a far-off expression. It takes him a few moments to snap himself out of it, but when he does, it’s Cooper who has his full attention.

“When you say you were in the middle of the war,” he starts, choosing his words very c a r e f u l l y, “do you mean you participated it in, or…?” A beat. Then: “I mean. I’d like to sit down and have a conversation with you if you did. Ehm. Not that I wouldn’t want to talk to you if you didn’t. It’s just— I mean.”

Ugh. Social interactions are difficult.

“What I mean is,” he tries again, “I would very much be interested in learning more about what happened from somebody who fought on the front lines. Somebody who might have known somebody else with a recognizable name. It’s for a project I’m working on.”

Sticking herself with the other girls was the best idea. Even if Ellen runs off to steal food, which strangely makes Squeaks giggle, she’s still near enough those her own age to let her curiosity wander. And it does wander, suspicious eyeballing and all directed at the stranger, intense attention paid to the whole conversation about history and the war.

“What kind of project?” The idea of a project — one of any sort — actually piques the redhead’s curiosity enough to speak up directly. Of course she looks slightly distracted because she’s cuddling her chosen kitten. It’s maybe definitely going home with her. “You look too old to be doing school reports.”

The hairdresser has been being quiet, quickly fixing a plate for people who haven’t gotten one yet, an eyebrow raising to Emily as she comments on the stranger’s curiosity and his approach to it all.

Raquelle also watches Cooper's reaction to it all, moving forward to gently place a hand on his shoulder and squeezing firmly. Quiet support and understanding. He does however narrow his eyes slightly as he looks back to the stranger. His jaw setting and a glance back toward Cooper and the girls and then back to the stranger. Diana sees that spark of papa bear in his eyes and just takes her plate as she walks a few feet away.

Finally, he does speak. “Whoa whoa whoa whoa…hold up, wait a minute, back the fuck up, rewind, hit the breaks.” He holds up his hands in a ‘time-out’ motion.. “If my platonic boo over here wanted to relive and retell his story…he would’ve written a book or contributed to those museums you go and visit.”

He points a finger at the man. “You wanna know about the war? Okay. Let me tell you about the war baby boy. It sucked.” He shrugs a shoulder, keeping his tones even but clear.

“It's not a story that needs to be told, it's a song that people are still singing, living, humming and feeling to this day. And the moment, the moment everybody who used to know the lyrics forgets them? A new song will be sung. You want a project? Tell the story about how we survived and tell the story about how we’re not out of the woods yet. Do a goddamn project on what it means to be a decent human being in this world and what can be done to help others learn the same.”

He exhales softly. “Now eat your fucking chicken and play with these cats.” A long pause. “And come by my salon some time because damn you need a facial and a manicure…”

At first, the look Emily shoots Cooper is a challenge to keep talking, after he calls her out. After he first corrects himself, and then keeps talking, the harshness to her gaze eases, her brow lifting gradually in surprise. She withholds any commentary of her own, looking very briefly to Ellen as she comes back. He'll have your back when it counts, she said. He sure fucking did.

It takes a long moment for her attention to cycle back to the stranger, around the time he tries to start over with his explanation. About the time he says he's looking for someone with a recognizable name is when all the softness vanishes from her expression, and not even the kitten curled against her can reclaim it. She gets as far as drawing in a breath to excuse herself from the situation as quickly as possible, but then Raquelle is lifting his hands.

She's seen that look on him once before, and she thinks it's a lucky thing Richard hadn't been in the room when it was turned on the last time. Because for a half a moment, she pities the ignorant tourist who's directly in its line of fire.

"'quelle," Emily murmurs, trying to keep it from sounding remotely confrontational. Just trying to insist she thinks his point's been made. Casting a distancing look in the direction of the stranger, she makes it clear, "Anyone with a halfway recognizable name just wants to be left the hell alone to live their life." Present company included. "What kind of project trumps that?" she asks, not without disapproval in her tone.

The agent stops mid-grab — which was an attempted to get back what was his — at something the stranger says. Thomas’ focus comes right around to him. In fact, stranger can see the confusion in Cooper’s eyes as well as the sudden return of suspicion. “Uh.. me?” Did he say that outloud?

Of course, Raquelle goes on that rant and it leaves Thomas blinking at his friend. It is his turn to touch the other man’s arm. “It’s okay. Really. I don’t mind. We might want to forget, but the world’s starting to catch up to where we are. If we can help them avoid as much tragedy by letting word spread of some of what happened… ” The world in his mind was behind the curve. His attention shifts to the stranger again, the man coming under heavy scrutiny, despite a smile. He gives Raq’s hand on his shoulder a pat. He’ll be okay.

Taking a deep breath, Cooper looks at the chicken on his plate and then hands it to his daughter, who goes to join Diana. “I wasn’t like on the frontlines, frontlines. Not like them. I.. I spent the war on the road mostly.” which had its own dangers and horrors. IEDs were a thing he never expected in his home country. His jaw clenching slightly against memories, before he breaks out into that goofy smile again. “Someone had to run supplies for the resistance and do some smuggling to protect those who couldn’t fight.” How many kids had he snuck over the borders?

It is obvious that Thomas doesn’t talk about it much to his daughter, because she is staring at him as he continues. “Someone like me” non-expressive “could get into enemy territory without so much as a blink. Smuggled out supplies from sympathetic allies on the other side. Traveled the country from one battlefield to the next.” He shrugs a bit. “But no… I wasn’t one of them and those I do know?” The heroes, the ones that bleed and died. Which might explain why Cooper never testified himself, he didn’t see himself as a war hero or someone who had much to give. “Emily is right, they probably just want to live their lives.” Not that he could really speak for them.

Cooper did not, in fact, say that out loud. The part about being in the middle of the war. There’s a silence. The uncomfortable kind, for a multitude of reasons. Fortunately, there are enough that the stranger can choose any one he likes to hide behind.

Unfortunately, he’s so paralyzed by his own indecision that his response is simply: “Ehm.

That’s it. Ehm. On all fronts.

Then: “I should go.” He sets his half-finished plate aside in what he hopes comes off as a more deliberate gesture. At least it telegraphs his intention to leave, to excuse himself from this conversation before it becomes any more awkward than it already is.

And it was fairly awkward to begin with. He thinks he can hear someone slow clapping, but it’s just his blood pounding in his ears.

“I have to go now,” he finishes. “Good bye.”

Her attention had been focused on the man — projects are interesting, and things to be investigated whether it’s invited or not — but when Raquelle starts calling the stranger out for being nosy, Squeaks’ eyes dart to him. She might not even be the target of the lecture, and the hairdresser’s tone isn’t necessarily even an angry one, but she slinks a few steps further away. Now the other girls are easily between her and everyone else. A well-practiced side eye is directed at the grown-ups, but a half-turned shoulder gives her the look of paying more attention to the kitten she’s claimed.

Raquelle glances over to Cooper to see how he’s doing before glancing back towards the girls and then over to the stranger and he just bows his head in acknowledgement and he just tsks softly. There’s a deep breath taken before he offers softly to the man before he leaves. “Hey.” He starts out carefully. “Don’t be a stranger. The more you get to know a place, the more it willingly gives you the stories that are worth telling.” He lifts a hand to waggle his fingers before turning back to his girls, and his friend…and all that freakin’ kittens.

Emily is skeptical on all fronts as to this man's intentions and the reason why he suddenly has to bail, but she's not going to go out of her way to chase after him. Bye, weirdo. Have a nice life. She turns her attention down instead to the bundle of cuteness and simmering anger clutched around her arm, stroking the back of the kitten's head with her other hand. It's as good a time as any to segue away from the heavier topics of the war.

"So I wasn't expecting this to happen, but I kind of love this one and I want to just bring it home and hope my roommate isn't allergic." Emily explains to everyone and no one, because it's really herself she's having the conversation with. She does glance up to Raquelle for his input. And then to Squeaks for hers.

Partly because she trusts their judgement over others', and mostly because she can guess what answer they'll give.

Cooper can only stare after the retreating back of the mysterious guy. It isn’t till the guy has retreated some that the agent suddenly blurts, “What even just happened?” He asks everyone and no one, glancing at Raquelle next to him. He waves it off, “Know what? I don’t think I want to know.”

The man’s mood has been skewed enough that Cooper turns towards the picnic table and declares, “If anyone needs me, I’ll be seeing how much damage I can do to the fried chicken.” Greasy food always helps. He doesn’t sit on the benches, but up on the table itself, out of the way of tiny claws and for the moment people.

“Then you should,” Squeaks answers matter-of-factly. The kittens all need homes. “I think that one likes you too.” She looks up from the one she's claimed — it's definitely coming home with her — and to Emily and the kit she's got. “I bet your roommate will like the kitten also. Because it's a kitten, and kittens are primal. So are cats, so you win no matter what. And if your roommate doesn't, then they should move out.”

Raquelle just nods slowly to both Emily and Squeaks, glancing over to watch Cooper make battle plans related to food. He just takes a deep breath, exhaling through a soft chuckle. "I think that is a marvelous idea. One down, 4 more to go. If your roommate has an issue, you tell them they can come see me. I'll be waiting at the shop with a satchel of catnip and a 'kiss my ass' smile."

Diana looks over, holding up a kitten and making 'can I please' eyes to which her father simply replies. "You can visit it wherever it ends up." And then with a wink he begins to make his rounds again. There are kittens to adopt.

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