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The Right Kind of Support

Posted on Wed Dec 20th, 2023 @ 22:27 by Liana Zhao & Claire Cavendish
Edited on on Sun Feb 4th, 2024 @ 12:35

Chapter: Winter's Crest Festival
Location: Claire's Office, Avalon Institute
Timeline: Sunday, 6th December (Morning)
2177 words - 4.4 OF Standard Post Measure

"Knock, knock."

As was an obligatory part of the entire gesture, a head peeked around the slight crack in the headmistress' doorway with just enough intrusion to count as uninvited. It was a pedant's point to make, however, since the offender took no further liberties and waited patiently behind her wooden boundary for permission to enter. It had been a long day's travel, mostly because Liana had insisted on driving up all the way from Manchester, but the counsellor didn't seem too worse for wear. Her features shifted quickly from mildly quizzical to the warmth of welcome recognition and she straightened, moving no further forward into the room but squeezing more of herself into the gap whilst she waited. "Just popping up to let you know we're here, Jess is still unpacking the car."

"Liana!" Claire bound up from behind her desk and motioned for her to come into the room and then embraced the woman before she was well and properly inside. "That time already?" She looked over at the grandfather clock on the far wall, wondering where the time had gone and having the tiniest bit of paranoia that whatever Ji-an had done during the attack had put the clock out of whack. She double checked with the watch on her wrist and saw that it was perfectly in sync. "Come in, come in, welcome, how was your trip? Not too much trouble from the weather, I hope."

"December's a wonderful time to be driving through the Scottish countryside, I only aged several years and accumulated just a handful of grey hairs." Having stepped back to hold her friend at the elbows, Liana moved swiftly from the distracting temptation of an hour-long conversation about the weather to properly scrutinise the headmistress. There was an element of professional zeal to the silent interrogation but, for the most part, the counsellor was simply concerned on a personal level. The pair of them had experienced enough to try the patience over the years but they'd mostly avoided endangering a swathe of underage mutants in the process. "How are you holding up?"

Claire stepped away at that question, knowing those eyes, knowing how well they could pierce through her brave face. "I'm doing well." She said with her back turned to the woman, "Besides, you're not here for me. Would you like a cup of tea?"

"Oh, you stop that. I'm here for you first and foremost." Liana allowed herself to be redirected, however, knowledgeable enough to understand that backing Claire into a corner never yielded the results you wanted. Moving to take a seat, she exhaled a somewhat exaggerated sigh of relief and pressed both hands to her chest. "You know the way to my heart, though, I won't say no."

"You still take your tea like a barbarian, I take it?" It was odd how much resistance she felt to pouring the milk into the cup first. Claire had always felt like she shook all of her aristocratic upbringing and then something like this came along and all of her cultural heritage immediately bubbled up. "I'm hoping with the festival we can start to build some understanding with the local community and then have word of mouth do the rest."

The amiable savage, taking perhaps a little too much time over stirring her tea once it arrived as if to emphasise its existence, folded one leg over the other and sat back into her seat. "Rebuild," Liana reminded her friend. "It's not as if you hadn't made some progress already."

Claire wasn't so sure lately that this had truly been the case. It seemed like it fell apart so quickly and easily as a result of the incendiary narrative that the conservative government was pushing. The people around the country were eating it up and in a sense they had been lucky that all of this was happening after the elections had already been over, it might've been a lot more lopsided if it hadn't been. "Let's hope some of them remember that. I'm just glad to have you around again, the kids can really use your insights."

"I'm looking forward to seeing them all again, and meeting your new intake." A gentle sip of tea saw the counsellor then rest her cup against the arm of her seat to savour the company over the brew. "Any livewires?" In Liana's experience, almost all young mutants qualified in one way or the other, outside the small portion who were completely withdrawn and insular and in possession of powers that allowed them to remain that way. Some, however, always managed to stand out.

"There's been quite a few new ones. Shauna is still here." It was the first name popping up when asked about live wires. There were others of course. "We have two that seem to be up to no good in tandem. The students have taken to calling them Sirens." Claire shook her head a bit at that. Luckily they'd been able to bring it back to more innocent fair, but left to their own devices on the streets they would fleece anyone for all they were worth, she could know, that's where she'd found them. "I have a charge that could probably use some extra attention. I'll make sure their records are in your office."

"I have Jess with me this time so we should be able to cover some ground quickly. I left her rearranging our office, something about a proper flow of energies." Liana laughed. "I think she's just trying to steal the window view personally." Dark eyes considered the headmistress for a moment in contemplative silence, which very often tended to suggest that Liana was piecing together her words with all the care and intent of a world-class carpenter. The woman could talk to anyone, at any length, if given half the chance, but she did also wield words as reality checks for a living. "You look tired, Claire. When was the last time you got away for a break?"

"I went to the Netherlands over the summer." Claire declared a bit too quickly. She'd only been to the harbour district in Rotterdam, and then only for a day or two. "There'll be some time to rest after the festival, over the Christmas break. Which reminds me, will you be sticking around for the Christmas dinner or are you visiting family?" A clear indication that even over the holidays there would be plenty for her to do at the Institute.

"My mother is currently in Korea, she's been there for the past three months and the inevitable phone call will be plenty. I've told Dad I'll get over to see him in the new year, I thought you'd probably appreciate an extra hand, especially if some of the staff have family to catch up with." Given recent events, strengthening existing connections was vital to the reestablishment of security and, even if some of the adults had intended to remain to help make things festive for the permanent lodgers, Liana would strongly argue that anyone with someone significant to catch up with really need to make the time this Christmas. If nothing else, it would give her time to wear down the head mistress in regards to her own stress release.

"I'll make sure Valjean knows to set an extra plate." Claire carefully sipped her tea. "Do you think there's a mutant out there that knows how to make the perfect cup of tea for anyone?" Another sip as she sat back in the seat, it was pretty amazing how good a proper cuppa could taste, especially in the right company. "I bet they're British."

Liana laughed easily. "Whereas my father is wont to despair at the lack of useful mutation when it comes to the English knowing how to brew a decent beer. Swings and roundabouts," she observed warmly. "Though if more powers were so immediately practical, we might have less of a fight on our hands." The counsellor regarded her friend for a moment. "How is Oliver doing?" Advice over the phone had been the best Liana could offer at the time, though she was glad to have arrived in time for adequate follow-up.

"He seems to be holding up well. Spends a lot of time in the greenhouses." Claire felt like there was fine balance between offering support and being overprotective. "There's the occasional nightmare, still. Startles when you call his name when he's unaware. More than he should at least." She shook her head a bit, there wasn't really much she could offer him in regards to that. "I think, as well, the whole Halloween thing has some of the kids rattled. It's difficult to feel safe when someone with ill intent can so easily breach the walls into the Institute." It was something she herself had been struggling with at least. Then again her contacts, through Warden, had provided some private security, which was nice to have, even if it was against her general life philosophy. The motto she had mentioned to Kaylee came to mind again. And it left a bad taste in her mouth.

"There will be an adjustment period," Liana agreed. "Though we can't discredit how many of them already know how dangerous the world can be for them." It was a heart-breaking reality but the counsellor had worked with young mutants who had been through unfathomable hardships, too often at the hands of people who should have been protecting them. "Ultimately, in both situations, the adults here prevailed. Your notes said that some of them also got involved?"

"Some of the kids? Yeah. I've tried to shield them from these outside forces but it's become increasingly clear to me that, like it or not, we'll have to allow for them to be trained in self defence." Claire took in a deep breath at that. It was something that weight heavily on her conscious. She didn't want to build an army, but she also didn't want to leave them defenceless whether they stuck around inside of these walls or if they returned back out into the wide world. "I'm trying to find a proper person to take that on. Could probably use your help in vetting their psychological make-up."

"Don't you already have a friend with enough military training to assist?" Though the point itself wasn't without merit, there would have been something to the accusation that Liana simply used it as an excuse to tease her friend. Their shared history had provided more than enough opportunities for the counsellor to meet Warden, had worked with the man and his unit several times herself. Claire's tenacity for believing him worth every risk he presented was endearing.

"All my other options are otherwise occupied, unfortunately." Claire quickly countered, not wanting to dwell too much on Warden and his associates, or the fact that he had left her in charge of a young high profile mutant, or the fact that he'd been out of touch for slightly longer than she was comfortable with. "You know how it is in his line of work. We're looking into less active duty members. Or perchance some individuals with a similar skill set but not so much of the trauma."

It was a valid enough point to keep Liana from pressing on, though it hadn't really been her intention to tease too much. The pair of them had a habit with wayward lost souls, it had become something of a bonding point over the years even if Liana could think of a dozen things she would have preferred to have in common with her friend first. "Fling me any applications and I'll take a look," she promised.

"Thank you, Li. It's amazing to have you back here." Claire had finished her tea and it felt like their conversation was finding it's natural ending. "Your desk will be packed with documents before the week's end." She got up from the seat and offered her long time friend a warm embrace. One that she lingered on for slightly longer, finding some comfort herself in the embrace and closeness to another human being. "Thank you." She spoke in soft tones, keeping emotions from bubbling over too much. There was just so much unspoken connection and history between the two that sometimes all she needed and wanted was to hold on to that tightly. A singular moment of safety, kinship, and warmth in a cold and mistrusting world.

Smiling fondly at the tickle of aubergine hair against her nose, Liana gave her friend's shoulder a comforting rub and navigated the moment as the first step towards unravelling Claire's self-imposed sense of obligation and guilt. "We can weather this storm," she assured, "I just need you to be honest with me." Stepping back, the counsellor held the other woman between outstretched arms, a hand on either shoulder, and fixed her with a patented look, familiar mostly because Claire herself had mastered it first. "You can't save the world on your own, Claire Cavendish. Doctor's orders."


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