Jake Coolice huddled on the floor of his bedroom at Amnesty Lodge, his honey-blonde hair damp and matted against his scalp. His breaths were coming slower now—ragged and pained, but easing from the panicked staccato of minutes before. He was shaking, whether from residual fear, pain, or the lingering cold of the shower he’d abandoned in the midst of the panic attack, he didn’t know. His chest was bare—he could feel the raised bumps of scars against the fabric of his jeans as he pulled his knees up to his chin, that perpetual reminder of his otherness.
His coat lay tattered and muddy on the floor of the bathroom, its bright neon shades dulled by night and rusty specks of blood. He didn’t look at it. His mind was kept carefully, utterly blank, turned from that evening’s events.
There was a tap on his door, scattering his concentration. He stifled his ragged breaths, willing the hot tears that dripped from his eyes not to betray him to the knocker. He couldn’t bear a pitying Barclay, or a chat with “Mama,” that rugged woman he knew next to nothing about. They’d only met mere months ago, after all.
“Jake, it’s Dani. Are you in there?”
Dani. He relaxed slightly. Dani was safer. Dani was home.
He managed a “come in,” his voice soft and shaky. She entered. Her brown eyes widened as she took in the scene—the dirty clothes, the spots of dried blood, the dripping boy hunched against the wood-paneled wall.
A cut on his cheek caught her attention, and she knelt by his side to examine it. He winced, jerking his head away from the touch. She withdrew.
He couldn’t bring himself to speak. The answer seemed too big to voice out loud, and too humiliating. It stung like the scratch on his face, ached like the bruises he knew were beginning to form across his body.
“Should I get Mama?”
Jake shook his head deliberately, eyes to the floor.
‘Hey.” She slid to the ground beside him, laying a hand on his shoulder. “Let me help you.”
He could hear the gentle hoot of an owl outside his window, the gurgling of the hot springs. Somewhere in the far-off distance, a siren whined away into the night. He swallowed, his throat dry. When he spoke, his voice was barely loud enough to hear above the evening’s symphony.
“I was trying to make friends. Like Mama said we should, to—to integrate. I don’t know anyone here, so it seemed like the right thing to do to try talking to some people, but I guess I chose the wrong crowd, or didn’t pass enough, or… Dani, they called me names, and they bea—they hit—” His voice caught.
Jake barely noticed as Dani pulled away, returning moments later with a bandage and a glass of water, which she clasped his fingers around carefully.
He gulped a sip of the cool drink before plowing forward.“They didn’t even know about Sylvain, but they… Dani, they treated me like I was alien anyway. I wasn’t even human to them. I don’t know how I’m supposed to do this. How are we supposed to stay here if we can’t do it as ourselves?”
“Shh, it’s okay.” She wrapped his drenched body in a hug, ignoring the droplets that soaked her sweater as she did so. He clutched tight to her familiar form, and cried wordlessly onto her shoulder as she held him.
Jake had always been good at making friends. And as much as it hurt to lose all of them when they’d been forced from Sylvain, he had known there would be more here. He’d been so sure of it, as he approached those people with a smile. Just be yourself. And he was himself: bright, outgoing, open. Too open. Too naive.
“I want to go back, Dani. It’s—everything is worse here, and they hate me, and I want to go home.”
“I know, I know.” Her tone was reassuring, her fingers tracing soothing circles along his back. His shivering subsided slightly at the touch. “But we can’t. We broke the rules, and now we have to stay here. We can’t go back.”
“This wouldn’t have happened at home.”
“Jake…” She pulled back, locking eyes with him. “This is our home. Maybe it doesn’t feel like it yet, but this is our haven, this is where we’re going to stay. Mama will take care of us.”
“I don’t know her. I don’t trust her.”
“We don’t know her yet… She’s doing a lot for us, keeping us safe. You’ll see, it’ll get better.”
The disbelief must have been evident in his face, because she smiled sadly and gave his hand a squeeze.
“We're family. It’ll be okay.”
And in that moment, it was all he needed to hear. He leaned his head against her shoulder.
They sat in a calm quiet for some time, two lone Sylphs resting against the dark oak wall of Amnesty Lodge. The bubbling of the springs outside carried Jake’s mind back to Sylvain, back to his no-longer home. Days in his seal form spent splashing in water, sliding down snowbanks, basking in sun. Finally, as if reading his mind, Dani’s low voice broke the silence.
“Hey, maybe this weekend we can check out the mountain slopes they’ve got here. It’ll be like old times… Although you might have to trade in those flippers for a board.”
Jake nodded mutely.
“Who knows, you might meet some people there with a common interest. Better people. I know this planet has them.”
“I guess.” His shivering had subsided fully, the lingering panic giving way to exhaustion; a deep tiredness washing over the aches of his body. He allowed Dani to help him to his feet, and stood motionless as she tousled his blonde hair with a towel, handing him an oversized t-shirt to put on before she tucked him into bed like he was a sleepy kid of five. If it were any other occasion, he would’ve grumbled at her babying him. As it was, the sensation of warmth and unquestionable protection it gave was a welcome relief from the darkness.
She left briefly, returning with a blanket and pillow which she spread on the floor beside his bed. And as he drifted off towards the sweet oblivion of sleep, he felt her presence by his side. That night, Jake dreamt not of hulking figures with fists and cutting words, but of idyllic mountain slopes, snowboards and skis, and friends—no, family—with whom he felt understood.