The Curse of Leadership


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Scene Title The Curse of Leadership
Synopsis Bad news brings with it grief and the burden of responsibility for Ferry members in the future.
Date August 13, 2011

In Dreams

Outside, the rain pouring from the sky seems the perfect accompaniment to the turbulent little storm inside the infirmary. The usual quiet has been interrupted by the loud shrieks — both of anger and pain — of one very unhappy child.

One eye already blackening, that is not the injury that has brought the little girl in for medical attention. Instead, it is the wrist that bends at a sick, wrong angle, broken when Noa Gitelman leaped from atop a dining room table to attack the older boy she had been fighting with.

He wasn't supposed to have moved out of the way, resulting in a collision with the very hard ground.

After renewed squeals of pain from the bone being set that lasted for far too long for anyone's like, the tears have stopped for now as large dark eyes watch those taking care of her. Noa sniffles now and then, and her shoulders rise and fall with a sob as she watches Delia suspiciously, as if the redheaded nurse will deliberately hurt her again.

"Can I still train with Mr. Waith?" the little girl asks, turning big eyes up to Benji.

As witness to the event and human gurney to the wounded child, Monica's stuck around to help and to see how bad it is. And when the screaming started, well, she just didn't feel right, leaving Delia alone in the trenches. So, when Noa calms down enough to speak, it's Monica who lets out a little chuckle.

"We'll see. You've got to learn to use your training for good and not for evil," she says with a hint of a crooked smile, tapping the girl on her knee while Delia works. "Who wants to tell us what that was all about, huh?" Her hands move to her hips, apparently assuming if she's okay to worry about training, she's okay to answer a few questions, too. But, at least she's not unkind about it.

A gangly teen— only barely— and about as out of the way of the professionals as he is likely to get, Benji doesn't have to try too hard to smile at Noa when the young girl looks to him. Long arms wrapped about his torso, clothed in the generically worn, re-cycled, repatched garments of the Ferry generation, he flicks his pale gaze towards Monica when she has an answer ready — much more confident about standing here and looking helpful and worried and fetching the items the two women might need to set Noa's wrist, than offering anything more than that.

At the next question that comes, Benji only shrugs, chin tucking in. He isn't the one who gets into scraps.

Not that kind, anyway.

"Miss Monica's right Noa," Delia says as she turns around, pulling two hard candies from her pocket; one for the little girl and one for her teenage son. Sweets are a rare thing for the residents of the castle but the infirmary has a small stock for occasions such as these. The wails of the child certainly deserve something, given that she stopped so quickly after the ugly job was done. "But— you can tell Juniper that I think you really should get some lessons of some kind. You have a little temper on you, don't you?" The now empty hand reaches up to ruffle the dark hair on the child's head.

Like mother like daughter, maybe. Delia never knew the little girl's biological parent, only whispers in the halls and reports of her activities.

In her other pocket is a black magic marker, pulled out only when the nurse is satisfied that the dyed plaster strips have set. A treat for the little girl, at least from Delia's perspective, a few piece of chalk ground into the mix to give it a light pink hue. "Here," she says gently, taking the cap off the marker and signing her name on the cast. The i is made into a daisy with a flower for the dot. "Maybe Benji can sign next, hmm? You'll have the prettiest arm in the castle, for a little while."

With time, people change. In the old days in Bannerman Castle, Jensen Raith never had many issues with making his presence known when he entered a room. In the now of Bannerman Castle, sometimes he slips in and out of rooms and no one notices. Not too bad for a man pushing sixty five.

It's the moments that he does make himself known that usually indicate something important is happening, or at least something interesting. And when he pushes open the door that takes him into the infirmary, where everyone has gathered 'round little Noa Gitelman, he doesn't bother to keep his entrance a secret. Even if he did, the worn out, tired and distant expression on his face would do him no favors in trying to convince anyone that nothing important or at least interesting had happened. "Terrible weather," he says, before briefly taking a quick survey of the situation in front of him as he approaches the group. "What happened?"

Noa's face screws up in the dramatic petulant way small children have to express their disapproval. "I don't have a bad temper! Geoff started it," she insists to Monica, as she watches Delia sign her cast, then unwrapping with clumsy fingers the candy the redhead offered her to pop into her mouth.

"Draw me a picture, Benji!" she demands of the quiet teen before her dark eyes are drawn to the door by Raith's presence.

"Mister Waith!" is greeted with a smile and a wave, despite the tears glittering and the telltale signs of childhood war. "I bwoke my wist." R's are hard, especially with a mouth full of butterscotch disc.

"How old do they have to be before we teach them to make their hits count, if they're gonna be hitting?" Monica joking asks of Delia, complete with stagewhisper. But when she turns to the girl, she cups her cheek for a moment, gently. "We're all together in this, honey. You've got to find a way to settle these things that doesn't leave you with broken bones. This wasn't fun, right?"

When she makes her demand of Benji, Monica casts a warm smile in his direction, encouraging. But, if she had words in mind, they're lost as she watches Raith enter. Instead, she straightens up, an eyebrow lifting. "Well, our girl here had a little accident. What's going on?" The latter is more than a mere greeting, although to could be taken as such to the casual listener.

A sound of consent is the non-word answer Benji gives, taking the pen off his mother and moving to hover the inked tip over the plaster. He pauses before he can touch it down, a glance sent towards Raith with a sharp sort of concern and interest in an alert once over. But then he is back to his task, to draw a picture as requested rather than simply spell his name. "What's your favourite animal?" he asks the girl. Hopefully it's a snake or something, or a starfish, more of a consumer of pictures and writing than one who creates it for themself. Chances are, she will ask for a dragon or something.

But he'll do his best, as he listens.

Delia's smile freezes on her face when she sees Raith, "Oh.." There's a slight pause as she glances down to Noa. "The little firecracker, here, decided that she's joining the leagues of professional wrestling someday. She's practicing her tackles from the dining room table." She doesn't know what the flying move is called. The nurse was never a big fan of man-ballet. "I'm sure it's a good strategy but… she missed."

When Delia's chin lifts, her eyebrows do as well, giving her a somewhat curious expression. "A visit to the infirmary is a little— " weird "— out of the ordinary. Is Dad okay?"

Good news never follows on the heels of Raith dragging out an explanation. He doesn't launch into one right away, but instead seeks out a chair to take a seat in. Once he's done that, he begins his usual routine of withdrawing a short cigar from one of his pockets before biting the tip off one end and spitting the bit of tobacco leaf onto the floor and replacing the cigar in his mouth. Then, he fishes out a box of matches (always wood), extracts one and strikes it, finally lighting up. He takes his time with each step, and the more time he takes, the worse it usually is.

One slow drag, and one slow exhalation of smoke, even though he shouldn't be smoking in here. But that's what it takes before he ready to finally speak, sparing nobody:

"Eileen's dead. So's Gabriel."

Noa's brows are furrowed as she tries to think for something for Benji to draw. There are animals she's seen in picture books that she can't remember the name of, and she's not about to look foolish by mispronouncing something in front of all these Big People. She's opening her mouth to speak, not much more than a "Li-" getting out before Raith's voice makes her stop.

Many four-year-olds wouldn't know the true meaning of 'dead,' but the children on Bannerman know too well. Her mouth moves silently into an 'o,' the rest of her statue-still, only her wide dark eyes darting to each face in the room.

It makes Monica frown, how long the man takes getting the news. Give a mind plenty of time to start making guesses. But she also knows better than to hurry him. She can be patient.

When the news drops, her first instinct goes to the kids, and her hands come to rest gently on Noa's shoulders. Comforting, perhaps. Or maybe she wishes they lived in a world where kids didn't have to know what death means so early. "How did it happen?" She keeps calm in her voice, and keeps herself from launching a list of How, Why, Where, When, Who questions at him. She might have shown a little more upset if not for the little one sitting here, but teaching them to be strong is part of what she does.

That's Benji's cue to not even pretend to be giving the adults privacy.

"No!" is surprisingly sharp objection from the generally well-mannered, quiet boy, visible protest in the line drawn between his eyebrows, pen neglected in his hand and focus now square on Raith. Falters, then, dipping his eye contact away — he has his argument, like how Gabriel can't die, and that Eileen is— well— she's always been alive, no reason to start being dead now, and other such logic. Instead, he shuts his mouth and darts a look to Delia, as if to check a cue on how to even respond, eyes bright and expectant.

Hands go immediately to each side of Benji's head, cupping his ears to shield him from the news. Only a little too late. Delia stands behind him stunned, her breath is completely gone like someone punched her in the gut. In a way, Raith just did. Monica's question sounds as though she's speaking through water, burbled and nonsensical until the nurse wades through the fog in her mind. Deeming it unimportant for the time being, compared to the outburst from Benji, her fingers slip through his hair until they land on his shoulders and he's dragged into a tight hug in front of her. Like a body shield only the woman is practically engulfing him from behind. Just in case he's about to vanish.


Her only word because Benji already said the other one. Cracked at the end, which makes it seem like a question. It sort of is.

"Astor's fine." Fine. Right. "Relatively speaking. He's alive. They surprised them at home." Raith pauses for a brief moment before continuing, "Killed Eileen, took Astor. Gabe and I went to get him back," and then pausing again to take another drag from his cigar. More than a way to break to organize his thoughts, it's a way to break to keep himself under control. "He didn't make it. He took those bastards with him, but he didn't make it."

The abrupt stop, more time filled with a drag from his cigar with no more words following it is to say, 'And here we are. Nothing else to tell.' It could be worse. Maybe not much worse, but it could be worse.

The yell from Benji makes Noa flinch; the fear and pain in the others makes her scowl, and she slips off the cot she was perched on to go bury her face against his leg, wrapping small arms around his waist — one in pink plaster.

To be protected or to comfort him, it's hard to tell.

"Will they come for us too?" says the small voice, muffled against fabric.

Monica lets out a breath at Benji's shout, and a sympathetic look goes his way. And really, she might just tear up a little when Noa heads over to him.

As Raith explains, a hand lifts and moves to cover her mouth with fingertips as she shakes her head a bit. "Damnit," is a roughly whispered expression, and she turns to start pacing. Sometimes, she's just got to move. "They can try. They won't get you," she says in Noa's direction, which is… sort of comforting. She is confident in their ability to keep the children safe, or confident enough to make the statement believable.

Very still when he is drawn to a hug and latched onto, near unresponsive, Benji listens carefully, a hint of stubbornness in the set of his jaw even as he turns at a mid-point in Raith's recounting to lean into Delia. He is breathing shallow and high in his chest, hands coming to clutch at Delia's shirt and a tremor running through his bones. Lots of people die. This is the closest it's hit to home, though, and there is a part of him that feels he should be asking after Astor, offering to go and see him, taking care of him as much as he can just as he did whenever visiting the noble house of Gray and Ruskin.

It never happens, the tightness in his chest bundling up selfishness as well as everything else, the idea of comforting someone else who needs it more near offensive to his senses. Enough, even, that he withdraws from Delia then, clear out of the circle of Noa's arms as well, something he'd never be so rude or mean to do in other circumstances.

Quick and a little blindly, he makes for the door, trying not to run or anything, to shoulder on by Raith, head down.

The Cole's Notes version of the story of how Delia's sister (in all ways but blood) died, has her gripping the boy in her arms tighter, until he pulls away. Her only support missing now, the nurse visibly sags, deflated. Like a little teddy bear, the girl is enough of a security blanket for the rest. Fingers slinking through Noa's hair to fill the void that Benji left, Delia looks toward the door. She wants to rush after him but she doesn't.

"Benji— " his name is called out sharply, like a command. His mother doesn't have the heart to follow through with anything stern but doesn't have the strength to be a little more lenient either. "— stay inside please. I don't wa— J-just stay inside."

Closing her eyes, she doesn't say anything for a moment after that. Like Raith with his cigars, she needs time to organize her thoughts too. Only she doesn't smoke, she does like the smell though, so she breathes in deeply. Her third exhale heralds the arrival of her full attention once again. Turning to look at Raith, she swallows audibly and tries to keep her voice level. "We have room for him, I want him to live with us."

Raith's attention falls first on Noa, and then trails after Benji as he makes his exit. The only chase that the old man gives him is a puff of smoke once he's out of arm's reach. There are some things that people just have to work through on their own. But then, there are things that people have to be pushed into by others. "I don't know how they found them, but I've got a few guesses" Raith says and he turns his attention back to the group, directing it very specifically to Delia, "In the meantime, we don't get a break. There's an empty Council seat now, and it needs to be filled immediately. Astor can wait. We can't."

Readjusting the grip broken by Benji onto Delia when the younger Ryans pushes his way out of the room, Noa looks sadly after the boy, then returns her focus to Raith. "They're dead like my mama Hana?" she asks solemnly, her dark eyes seeming to grow bigger with the welling of tears. The words "mama Hana" seem to blend into one, mamahana, no doubt what she thinks the woman's name is.

Monica watches Benji leave, too, frowning gently. It's not in disapproval, but general unhappiness. But she looks back to the others shortly, catching Raith's pointed look to the nurse. Her pacing stops for a moment and she leans back against a wall. "I agree. We'll sort out the boy's situation soon enough, but when this spreads, we're going to need to already be back in top form. No floundering."

It's bad for morale.

The sharp evocation of his name stops Benji in his tracks, and though he doesn't turn around completely — twitches a look over a shoulder that is more flinch than acknowledgment. But the silent nod is certainly confirmation that he'll do as requested — where one is allowed to walk and move isn't something you argue with, he's been brought up to know, even if this is less about some imminent threat and more about the clutching hug he'd just escaped.

He's gone, then, as quietly as he ever arrives or leaves.

A confused glance between Raith and Monica accompanies the shake of Delia's head. Upper lip curled in a small effort not to burst into tears, especially now that Benji is gone, she lowers her eyes to the floor and lifts a shoulder. "Who could take her place? What about— what about Nicole or my dad?" Then her features smooth as the meaning of the pointed look sinks in. "Me?" She raises her hand from Noa's hair to point at her own sternum and makes the feeble attempt to not panic at the face of such a huge responsibility.

"I don't know the first thing about being a council member…" The feeble excuse ekes from the redhead's lips at approximately the same time she finally releases Noa. "What if I make a mistake? What if.. " more people die. "Isn't there anyone else?"

"You think she knew the first thing about being a council member?" Raith asks. Anything he had planned to say next is interrupted not by another drag from his cigar, but by a short fit of wet-sounding coughs. A very short fit, no more than a couple seconds lost. "And what if you make a mistake? You'll learn from it and do better. She was going to need a replacement eventually. She would've picked you herself, and don't worry about figuring out why. Worry about getting things in order. We all have to look strong from here forward." Ultimately, that's the curse that leadership suffers. Being strong, no matter what.

"That means you too," the old man says to Noa, of all people, "But I already know you're strong. You've got a broken bone, and it's not slowing you down, so you're strong. Will you keep being strong? I'll smile if you do, you know."

Released from Delia, Noa's eyes dart from Delia's to Raith's faces as if watching a tennis-ball match, but when she's addressed directly, she flashes a smile full of baby teeth and scurries across the floor to Raith.

"I will be strwong! And I can still hit with my other hand, see?" Noa curls fingers of the "good hand" into a somewhat open fist, then straightens the arm toward him, slowly enough to make sure he puts up his own paw of a hand to block it. They're not really sparring, after all, and he's kind of old — even a four-year-old can understand as much.

She watches his face earnestly to make sure he makes good on his end of the deal.

"My Nana used to say, you learn more from failure than from success. Don't worry, Delia. You're not alone, you know. The rest of the council will help." Monica steps over to put a hand on the red head's shoulder, and while she does smile, there's that bittersweet layer to it, which dims some of the encouragement there.

"And personally, I think you'll be better than you think you will."

Eying the door, it's plain to see that the redhead is considering bolting. Perhaps to consult with her son on the best course of action, he just might not appreciate his grieving time being interrupted. She starts when Monica's hand lands on her and turns to stare at the other woman for a moment. Of course, Raith has made his point about looking strong but before the news breaks to the rest of the Ferry, Delia has a few minutes to be as weak as she wishes.

"I— " She stops herself and tucks both of her hands into her pockets. There's a few more candies in there and Noa receives the pleasure of one more while Delia unwraps a strawberry flavored one and pops it into her mouth. It clicks against her teeth when she rolls it around in her mouth nervously. "Okay." The acceptance is resigned, a silent hope that they might find someone better.

Although Raith is still a very capable fighter despite his age, he plays along. He raises his hand to block Noa's punch, slow though it came. And he keeps his end of the bargain with a lopsided smirk, likely the closest thing to a smile the girl has ever seen him wear. It'll pass. Candy prove to be a timely intervention, giving him another chance to shift focus back onto the group as a whole, and Delia in particular. "If no one else is bruised," he begins, standing up from his seat and starts towards the exit, "I vote we shuffle out of here. We have plenty of work to do, and not a lot of time to do it."

With or without them, the world keeps turning, and the future keeps getting closer. It falls to Delia to keep everyone hopeful, and falls to everyone to keep her hopeful as they all work towards a better tomorrow, no matter what tries to set them back, no matter how hopeless everything seems, no matter how pointless it may become.

The curse of leadership spares no one.

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