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(Fire) Birds of a Feather

Posted on Thu Feb 29th, 2024 @ 16:50 by Jonathan Monroe & Liana Zhao

Chapter: Winter's Crest Festival
Location: Avalon Institute: Grounds
Timeline: 11pm, Thursday 10th December
2025 words - 4.1 OF Standard Post Measure

The evening air was cold; given the Scottish climate, that wasn't unusual. It also settling into the winter months, that was also a significant factor. A lack of clouds in the sky meant that there would probably be a ground frost at the very least tomorrow morning. It was very much one of those evenings where one's breath was clearly visible; for Jonathan moreso than others. But he liked that; being naturally and literally warm-blooded, there were times where he wondered if steam came off his entire body, not just his breath.

"The Seated Queen," he said aloud, for the benefit of the woman quietly approaching. He pointed to a vaguely 'W'-shaped set of stars. "Cassiopeia."

It was testament to the whimsy of genetic mutation that, despite having an elemental connection in common, Jonathan's daily reality differed significantly to Liana's when it came to adjustment to the climate. As much as she was clearly able to combat the chill quite effectively if she chose transformation, that lacked considerable practicality and presented enough risk that she rarely employed it as a means of maintaining decent body heat. She'd always felt the cold but, though she'd been far enough away from the recent surge to experience only a mild disruption, something about the Scottish winter was permeating much deeper than she remembered. Wrapped in a winter's coat, complete with scarf and hat jammed down onto her head, her gloved hands were lodged deep into her pockets as she picked her way carefully across the damp lawn. Normally she would have picked a better time and place but the English teacher, for reasons she could perhaps guess at, was decidedly elusive these days.

"Half her luck," she joked quietly, pulling up to stand beside him in an effort to pick out what he was trying to show her. "Though I would ask her where she finds the time to sit, perhaps I'm missing something."

"In Greek mythology she tended to be quite vain. I'm guessing she'll have insisted," he answered with a vague smile. Now that she was closer he directed his finger to the sky again to show her. "There. One of the advantages of being out here in the countryside is that you get to see the stars much more clearly. Less light from civilization."

"Less of a lot of things, including civilization," Liana quipped, though her fondness for Avalon and its surrounds was self-evident enough from previous visits for it not to be a legitimate criticism. Peering up at the night sky, the unseasonal lack of cloud cover leaving her spoilt for choice regarding where to focus her attention, the brunette suppressed a shiver and squeezed her hands into balled fists inside her pockets to increase blood-flow. "But you're right, you won't find a sky like this in London or Manchester." Between the pair of cities, both were divided in terms of where she'd spent most of her time over the past few years.

"It's nice - being away from the crowds. I prefer it." He glanced at her, his faint smile returning as he held out his own hand in a fist of his own that radiated a little heat. Liana was one of the few people whom he felt comfortable doing that with; he figured someone that turned into a flaming bird was less likely to be easily burned, even if that wasn't entirely the case. "Here. Warm yourself up."

The gesture provoked a genuine laugh and the playfulness of narrowed eyes. "Show-off." One hand drawn from her pocket could have taken care of itself, if rendering itself in flames could be considered a justifiable response to the cold, but she pressed the backs of her gloved fingers against his fist for a few seconds before switching hands and then offering a final pat before both disappeared back into her coat again. Given she had no doubt he had some anticipation for why she'd gone out of her way to track him down, Liana couldn't help but view the demonstration as a quiet protest against impending concern. That still didn't mean she wanted him to feel compelled to push his control to its limits.

"Claire says you've been spending more and more time 'away from crowds'." In certain situations, with certain people, Liana was prone to not beating around the bush. John could wax lyrical with metaphors all night if she allowed it and, to some degree, that might still have done him some good. It wouldn't be quite as useful as lending the ear of someone who knew first-hand his current paranoia.

He glanced at her face, a knowing smile playing on his lips. "Is that the technical expression?" he teased, then looked back up at that glorious black sky with all of the twinkling stars so high above. His eyes made patterns, drawing out a few more. He stood a little closer, pointing upwards for her. "Orion. And there is Ursa Major - the Big Dipper." He drew out the shape a little before letting his arm fall to his side. "Sometimes being on your own means not having to talk about your feelings to anyone but yourself."

“The eye--it cannot choose but see;
We cannot bid the ear be still;
Our bodies feel, where'er they be,
Against or with our will.”

Though by no means armed with as much Wordsworth as the English teacher, Liana had clung to a few quotes that seemed best suited to her work. It was offered now, not as advice or any kind of rebuttal, but a simple acknowledgement of the inescapable. Being alone was helpful, until it wasn't. Tracking the outline he'd drawn, she considered the weariness in his tone and curated her next words carefully.

"I left the couch inside, so no therapy session for now. Just a friend, letting another friend know that she knows. And that previous offers still stand."

Jonathan's sigh deepened momentarily, his eyes casting downward instead of up towards the stars. "That would involve leaving here...heading to the other side of the world..." His brow furrowed at the thought of abandoning Claire and spending months in China with Liana's family. "I have responsibilities here. And, to be honest, those responsibilities feel like they're the best thing for me some days. Helping those kids learn and grow, getting the benefits of a decent education in the way I never really managed - it's fulfilling."

"It was never meant to be an overriding priority, I mention it only to remind you that, despite recent events, things are not beyond redemption." The pyromancer's tone remained gentle. "Or outside your control. You have options, they haven't disappeared." Drawing her shoulders up in protest against a wisp of midnight breeze, Liana added, "We can always have another try at me teaching you some of the meditations." For a peaceable man who enjoyed his own company, Jon struggled more than any Liana had met with clearing his head of clutter. At the very least, the pair of them had a better idea of what constituted a suitable location for any future attempts; on a raft in the middle of the loch seemed a good place to start.

Meditation sounds a lot like therapy, Jonathan thought to himself. He lifted his chin to the inky sky again, taking in the vastness of the cosmos above. He enjoyed the feeling, being small in an enormous universe; being smaller meant feeling less obtrusive or significant to the workings of everything else. "There are days where I wish I could just...let it all out," he said, voicing it out to the sky. "Release all that bottled-up passion and rage and emotion..." he sighed, closing his eyes for just a moment. A deep breath later, he lowered his face back to Liana's. "But then I remember I put it all away somewhere, and I'm not entirely sure how to take it out again."

"Repression does tend to be a short-term solution." It was an agreement, of sorts, with a sentiment Jon hadn't exactly spoken and yet remained implied by his situation. It remained on the observational side of contribution, however, intentionally devoid of judgement or opinion because, if nothing else, Liana had already offered him what she felt was a way forward. Holistic training from those who dedicated their life to balance had been her redemption in the end and remained the only reason she was able to live a relatively normal life with limited need to transform. She could try to pass on some of what helped her but, ultimately, it wouldn't be as effective as allowing the masters to tailor something directly suitable.

"What's the difference between repression and control?" he asked in response. "I know, emotion is healthy...but it's natural to try to put things in place to make ourselves happier, right? So what's the difference if I'm putting myself into a safer and healthier place by controlling the way I feel?"

"Do you want the clinical definition or a more friendly interpretation?" Gently raised eyebrows didn't really seek to challenge, the question being more or less rhetorical in nature given Liana's feasible accuracy in taking a guess at Jon's preference. "I think you've probably already partially answered it yourself. One of them is more likely to result in contentment, if not happiness. One involves avoidance, the other expects mastery. One may be classified as fleeing from a problem, or at the very least trying to pretend it doesn't exist, the other could be argued to be one's best attempts to work around obstacles in clear focus. Ultimately, the difference doesn't matter unless you are very certain that, whichever one you've chosen, you're actually succeeding at it." A pair of dark eyes sought his in the darkness. "Maybe start there. Are you actually happier?"

His eyes roamed the stars as he considered that question. Happiness was, in some ways, pretty relative for someone who had grown up the way he had; away from family and friends, learning not to accidentally harm those he cared about. Some would say simply getting by without causing damage was reason enough to be happy. For others, a lack of close contact and comfort meant less emotional connection, and therefore a longer-term detachment from the world.

"Some days," he finally answered. "Some days are happier than others. Especially...especially when I'm here."

A dip of her head to the side was Liana's way of acknowledging a fair response. "Such is the nature of happiness, of course."

She took her time then, gaze lifted to roam once more with fresh appreciation for the intricate detail he'd pointed out amongst the multitudes. Such was humanity's way, of course, to seek patterns in the chaos. It had been a good while since she'd indulged in stargazing for the sake of it, the light pollution back home had rendered it a pointless task and it had taken relocating halfway up a mountainside for her to realise she really didn't travel as much as she'd once promised herself she would. It had been easier when she was younger, to traipse around under the dictate of her own whims. In that, at least, she empathised with Jon; finding people who needed you tended to reshuffle your priorities considerably.

"You're on the way," she eventually declared, fixating for a moment on the brightest point directly overhead. A vague half-smile tucked her thoughts away behind the privacy of unspoken resolution and she turned as if to leave, pausing just long enough to give him a nudge with her shoulder. "Now all you have to do is decide if you're happy enough."

Escape back into the warmth was only part of her motivation. There came a point where best intentions still became an intrusion and, when her simplistic intent had been only to reiterate the existence of possibility, Liana was more than capable of knowing when she'd said enough. The sound of the gravel beneath her boots heralded her path back along the driveway towards the front doors and then the night air was still again.


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