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A Winter's Nocturne, part 3

Posted on Mon Jan 1st, 2024 @ 0:02 by Liana Zhao & Alastair Temple
Edited on on Sun Feb 4th, 2024 @ 12:40

Chapter: Winter's Crest Festival
Location: Recital Room, Guest Wing
Timeline: Wednesday, 9th December (Evening)
2800 words - 5.6 OF Standard Post Measure


Al meanwhile seemed to simply be having a blast. His play was sloppy for sure, mistakes here and there, but he seemed, unlike her, to be wholly unbothered by them. Such was the difference between a metal musician used to playing clubs and rock temples, and a former child prodigy who once intended to play grand concert halls as first violin. The perfectionism that characterised her practice method was simply alien to Alastair, who seemed to operate more on a 'good enough' principle, and who wasn't striving for perfection - especially if unattainable in the short time span that they had - but who instead found enjoyment simply in doing hat he did. Still, as their repeated playthroughs of Storm, from Vivaldi's Summer went on, his play became tighter and less messy as well.


Some time later, having arrived at a mutually-agreed point of enough for tonight, Liana sat comfortably in the front row tending to the treatment of her bow before she set it away for the night. The rehearsal itself had gone well enough, though she'd eventually had to retreat to her room for a second time to grab the music and a stand, and a pencil to scribble herself homework notes. If she was lucky, she wouldn't be up half the night striving for a standard that just wasn't possible given the deadline. The exciting part was, the unexpected pairing of the instruments was just as tantalizing as it had been the first time.

"So," she spoke up to ask a question that had occurred to her previously but only now reemerged as a point of interest, "where is your favourite place to perform?" Her year's venture around Europe had taken her to many venues that stood out, though at the time the loss of any potential to feature on their stages personally had been a little too fresh for her to linger long. She was interested to hear about his touring experiences though, particularly now that she'd had more of a taste of what he brought to his performances.

"I've always enjoyed playing in The Underground, in London. Or the Noorderligt, in Tilburg, the Netherlands," Al replied readily, he didn't truly need to think about the answer here. Some places just had better memories attached to them than others, and for two years since the fateful accident that ended his band, memories were all he had. But new, and very fond, memories were made here, today,. Not of their chosen piece though, by now he was slowly getting sick of playing Storm, already noted he had considerably less patience than his practice partner. But he saw the upcoming performance as her being in the spotlight, as her moment to shine, a better musician than he was - at least in the matter of skill on their chosen instrument. And he would be happy just to support and enable that.

A slow nod indicated some basic understanding, though of the pair, Liana could only profess to have heard of The Underground and even then it was just a name to her. Tucking her violin away safely, she set the case down on the ground and stretched back in the chair, one leg folded over the other. Given the lateness of the hour, and how long she had forced him to practise, a sense of propriety might have suggested now was a good time to excuse herself for bed but the brunette lingered, still preoccupied by the topic, if not the company with it. "Have you ever been back?" This was a gentle question, and bordered on what Liana might have deemed to be prying but given Alastair's willingness to be open thus far, she wanted at least to show him that she wasn't going to shy away from letting him continue to speak about his loss if he wanted.

"No," he replied quietly. For a moment he considered how much to elaborate on the answer, knowing she was likely slipping back into her counselor role, but she seemed honest in asking, honest in caring. As such he figured it might do him some good just - talking about it. "I'm - ... afraid it might be too painful. I have good memories of those places and don't want to damage that. Those memories are of times with Bob and Sylvain, of playing there - and I'm afraid going there now would just - "He trailed off, not finishing the thought, his words quiet.

"Tarnish things," Liana finished for him. Her gentle nod was of understanding more than agreement, and whether or not she was drawing on professional skills to navigate the topic, she remained content enough to sit in the silence of the admission for a moment before speaking. "It isn't nearly the same but I felt similarly about certain places once my parents divorced." This piece of information, whilst somewhat implied by her references to both parents being in separate places, was still novel. "When I was twelve," she added for clarity. "There were places we would go together that I resisted visiting for a long while after that wasn't possible anymore. If I'm honest," she added, "there are still a few I haven't been back to."

Though it might not have been evident to Alastair, this simple recount broke every one of Liana's normal rules about engaging with people's grief. Inserting oneself, even as an attempt at empathy, was a shift in focus that wasn't warranted and, as a counsellor, her role was not to monopolise another person's narrative with her own. Her willingness now to sit in vulnerability with him was the strongest case Liana could build for this not being a therapist's attempt but such things required more explanation than the moment really called for. She smiled at him, sad in her own way. "Will you tell me about them?"

While for some her addition might have come across as 'making it bout her', he appreciated the insight. It meant to him that she understood. That she could speak from a similar experience. It was comforting - a sorrow shared was a sorrow halved, after all. And although the exact proportions of sorrow remained in question, it felt nice to be understood.

To her question though, he smiled softly, seemingly being reminded of the good times. "Robert and Sylvain were the creative ones in the band. I mean, I did some refining of guitar parts and I wrote my own solos, but everything that made us us, came from them. Robert was the extrovert. The joker. The workaholic. Always writing, and when he wasn't composing he was cracking jokes, making us laugh. And groan. He loved his stupid puns."

"Sylvain was - ... the more quiet and reserved type. Never said anything unless it was worth the time an effort to say it. He was the poet of the band. Probably as much responsible for our success as Bob was," Al explained, leaning back in his chair and stretching his arms out for a moment, stifling a yawn. "I think he was struggling a bit with depression, so Robert and I always made sure to include him in whatever we were doing, and just - Sylvain was just one of us, you know? And me, just being the glue that held the band together, Robert always said. A calming influence on him, and the one who brought Sylvain out of his - wherever it is that people go to hide from the world. You'd think I'd have a good word for it after those two years," he gave a sad chuckle, shaking his head a bit.

"They sound like good people." An affirmation, simplistic but enough along with her soft huff of laughter at his retelling to convey sincerity. Amidst her new friend's palpable grief, Liana found herself nursing a vague sense of loss of her own, regret for the talent and passion lost and a slightly selfish consideration for never having got to meet them. It felt a little odd to mourn that, they were strangers but for the fleeting glimpses gifted by a man who, until a week ago, was just as enigmatic. Liana neatly pushed the thought aside, not willing to indulge her own emotional pendulum right now when its equilibrium was so overcome by chaos she hadn't found adequate definition for yet.

"And so do you, Alastair." The lack of his surname in the sentiment took out all evidence of teasing and left only a genuine compliment. "I'm glad you see some of your worth through their eyes. You have a habit, I've noticed, of dismissing yourself." This was a little pointed, marked by a raised eyebrow that sought to playfully chastise.

"Well, you know enough about me by now not to be surprised by that," he answered, low key regretting his words after speaking them. He knew she was right, but it was also so ingrained in his personality that he wouldn't know how to work at not being like that. "Sorry, I - " Yeah, now what to say? It was frustrating to him. She was being so kind, after they had so much fun, why was it so difficult all of a sudden to just - converse with her? She was right, he did have a habit of dismissing himself. And an inability to take criticism, even perceived, when it was not even meant as such. Maybe he was just tired.

Very tired.

"Sorry. I should probably go to bed, get some rest," he managed with a tired smile, rising to his feet and offering her a hand up as well.

Keen eyes watched him for a moment, and with her attention focused on the nuances of his expression, there was every risk that Liana would once again fail to notice the gesture she had already proven to be quite oblivious to. Something about his response had been a reaction to her observation and, though the counsellor was immediately sorry to have caused discomfort, she was also astute enough to know that sometimes you found out the most important details of a person by watching them flounder outside their comfort zone. At the very least, she filed away the moment for future reference, and having resolved not to draw more attention to it, seemed to falter for a moment as she realised how close his hand was.

And hesitated.

Accepting kindness shouldn't have needed any thought. Translating kindness as something else was also a folly and yet, as her mind raced through certain checks that seemed imperative before she consented to the physical contact, Liana felt herself succumb to a moment of rare self-consciousness. Connected, it seemed more likely he would notice her flush of colour, which interrupted her internal thermometer enough to impact the temperature of her hands. Usually, though again she had no adequate explanation of it, they would have been starting to chill again now that their music weaving had stopped. She doubted very much that they were cold now, however, and found herself concentrating with what was probably a ridiculous amount of extra caution to ensure they weren't warm enough to be uncomfortable before reaching up to slip her slender fingers into his. "That makes two of us."

If he had noticed her hesitance, or rather caution, he didn't show. Instead the musician's fingers took hers and in all gentleness held on to them as she stood, then, leaning in he brought her hand up and placed a soft kiss on the back of it. "I had a lot of fun today, Liana. Thank you," he offered in that warm, rumbling baritone of his, the sincerity of his words evident in the warmth of his smile. "I look forward to more of it, if you would be amenable."

Of all the ridiculous things to be preoccupied by, it was the tickle of facial hair against her skin. As a physical feature, it was easily one of Alastair's most prominent, but it had taken this exact moment for it to occur to Liana that she'd never had any experience with it beyond the days'-old stubble of temporary laziness. The gallant gesture provoked a soft laugh, but its capacity for sensory overload left her somewhat grateful that she had two instrument cases and a music stand to collect as a distraction. Developing a sudden difficulty with spontaneous combustion would be regrettable.

"Same time tomorrow night?" Having excused herself to collect what remained on the stage, Liana's eventual response matched his sentiment with an escalation of boldness. She stood, both cases in hand and the stand tucked beneath an arm, in patient wait for a reply, though the gleam of playfulness in her eye suggested he would have to have a very good excuse to decline.

To be fair, Al wasn't sure what kind of reaction he'd expected, but he'd settle for a soft laugh and what he perceived to be a general sense of approval. "That sounds good," he nodded, gathering his own things. He had his hands full with his amp, pedal, cables and guitar, though not too full to offer to carry her music stand for her. At the very least, he reasoned, this would help him confirm which room was hers - though he'd suspected it was the one nearby with the exotic writing on it. He'd have to ask her what it said, some time. Probably some variation on 'live, laugh, love' or similar.

Mild protest hadn't thwarted him and, having been raised to accept certain cultural expectations around manners, Liana simply accepted the assistance by leading the way to the door and holding it open. On the balance of things, it seemed a fair trade. "After you, Mr. Temple." Having somewhat recovered her wits, the quirk of a playful eyebrow seemed to anticipate his retort.

"Miss Zhao," A bow of the head and an amused expression as he did, indeed, lead the way. He remembered the way, though he had to halt for a moment to consider, at a branch off point - this being the first time he was in this part of the castle. Still, it wasn't far to go and once he'd reached the door with the writing he paused. "This is you, I assume?"

"A little strange and gloomy to be out here in the guest wing on my own, I suppose." She and Jess had been offered rooms much closer to the rest of the faculty, which the younger counsellor had been sensible enough to accept. It would likely be warmer but nostalgia was a potent force and Liana didn't mind being somewhat isolated. Turning to stand in front of the door, Liana lowered one of the cases to the ground to free up a hand and hesitated a moment before offering to take the stand from him. It was a far more awkward exchange than she'd intended, exacerbated by yet another pause as the pair of them scrambled to determine what came next.

Liana smiled. Under the circumstances, it seemed the best choice.

"Thank you," she started earnestly. "For your honesty, and for sharing your music with me. I...may be on the way to inflaming my mother's outrage but this has been..." Her brow flickered as she searched for the right word. "Reinvigorating."

"That's - ... well, one way of describing it," Al smiled, feeling a little awkward as well. Awkward, but - ... well, invigorated was an appropriate term to use, actually. He felt a way he couldn't remember feeling for a long, long time. The music teacher handed her the stand back, though it was less elgant than he aimed for, considering the rest of the stuff he was carrying. "Uhm - so ... Thank you. For a lovely time," Awkward beat. "Goodnight, Liana. See you tomorrow."

"Goodnight, Alastair."

It took a little longer than felt strictly comfortable for her to close the door. Dangling from the handle, the door decoration swung in pendulum, a wave of parting farewell loud enough to stir the dead.

At the very least, stuck out here on her own, nobody could creep up on her.

Another brief, awkward moment's hesitation before Al went on his way back to his own room, arms full of music equipment. He resolved then and there to at least get her a quality tube amp and speaker cabinet, some gold-plated cables and a fun effects pedal or two. Would save him a lot of lugging of comparatively heavy equipment up and down long hallways and stairs.

Or so he reasoned.

It couldn't be because he'd fallen head over heels for her and just wanted to give her nice things, right?

... right?


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