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In need of councel - ... ment

Posted on Fri Jan 26th, 2024 @ 21:10 by Almaz Awate & Liana Zhao

Chapter: Winter's Crest Festival
Location: Miss Zhao's office
3218 words - 6.4 OF Standard Post Measure

Almaz stood before the door, trying to steel herself. To be honest, she felt sick to her stomach. Not in a physical way, but in the way that the mental affected the physical. Her whole world had been turned upside down. Everything she had believed about these people - to which she was slowly starting to realize, she would have to count herself as well - had been false? Surely not everything, right?

.... Right?

Come to think of it, many of the things she'd heard had been silly, once you thought about it. They sacrificed babies? Where would they get the babies from, then? It made no sense. They secretly controlled the world through some kind of deep state and wanted to turn everyone into a mutant? How would they do that? She didn't know. She didn't understand where mutation came from anyways. Like, did these Avalon people have some sort of mutant laser beam or something that they used to turn people into them Nah, that couldn't be, right? It didn't make sense.

They'd been so nice to her. So far.

The girl realized she'd been standing in front of the office door for several minutes now, hesitating, her mind wandering. With a deep breath she gathered her strength and knocked.

It had taken a few days, as it often did, but Liana had finally arranged the office she and Jessica had been provided with to her admittedly-exacting standards. Her younger counterpart, despite often showing a quiet preference for being close to windows, seemed otherwise less invested in the presentation of the space beyond the stacks of reference materials piled up on her desk at any given time, but Liana had long ago accepted that she just didn't work as well in environments that lacked purpose. Some assumed that it was part of the tricks of the trade, that there was some kind of intention to her efforts to ensure that anyone visiting felt immediately less intimidated by the prospect, and that was part of it, certainly. Liana just also liked looking at aesthetically-pleasing things, and since she had to spend more time in here than anyone else aside from her colleague, she reasoned she might as well make it comfortable.

With William's, and to an extent Oliver's, help, she had added several indoor plants strategically to break up the stoic bleakness of exposed stone on one of the accent walls and the morning's delivery of belongings she'd arranged via freight had unearthed a rug that nicely complimented the couches and armchairs tucked into a nook to provide a casual seating space away from the officiousness of their desks. Her coffee table completed the retreat, along with two bookshelves Claire had provided that were already well on the way to being filled, not with professional material, but novels and personal interest topics. Facilities for tea and coffee had been a little jerry-rigged for now but perfectly serviceable and, after several attempts that had seen her climb up and down the stepladder to get them exactly right, her artworks finally had their place on wall-space deemed best for displaying them. Appearance wasn't everything but it was still allowed to matter, especially when attempting to set a particular mood.

The woman herself was dressed in a blend of cream and autumnal tartan, the heels of her brown boots clicking against the tiled floor as she stood back and declared herself partially satisfied with the arrangement of fresh flowers she'd just placed onto the coffee table. Still tweaking at several of the blooms out of sheer habit, she didn't look up as the knock on the door drew her from her contemplation. "Come in."

The door opened cautiously, with just a moment too long between that, and the other person entering. Muted clothes, faded jeans and a black top, but brightly colored rubber work gloves on her hands. Dark skin, eyes blazing, sparking with electricity, arcing miniature lightning to nearby skin of brow and nose, taking away any doubt that the girl was a mutant.

"Miss Zhao?" She almost got the pronunciation right. Almost.

"Hi, I'm Almaz. I'm - ... new here. They suggested I come have a talk with you," the girl added, closing the door behind her, though almost startling when it latched with an audible click. She was still very tense and a bit skittish.

As far as pronunciations went, it was not the worst Liana had heard by a long shot. She still had the little decorated canvas somewhere, given to her by one of her more artistic young clients, of a sleek Siamese styled to resemble her with the name Miss Zee-ow underneath, a testament to all the times she'd corrected that particular interpretation with claims that she 'was not a cat'. For those with any understanding of what form her transformation took, the mistake had an additional layer of ridiculousness to it, but it was rare, these days, for the psychiatrist to bother drawing attention to people's attempts. In Almaz's case, the only reaction she earned was a warm smile and a gesture from the woman to join her, not yet willing to abandon her last-minute floral perfecting.

"Come in, join me. I'm just in the process of sorting myself out, we can be new together." Liana pulled both hands away and admired her handiwork. "What do you think? Enough greenery? Too much?"

"Thank you," Almaz stepped further inside, though keeping her distance, for now. She looked around at the decoration, taking in the sights. She looked thoughtful, even as she brought a hand up to her chin, narrowing her eyes slightly - though that did little to diminish the electrical effect. "Maybe ... Swap that one and that one around? I think that would make for a nicer balance, since now it seems a little right side biased," she eventually offered. "Unless that's what you were going for, Miss Zhao."

Had she been speaking with an adult, Liana might have been tempted to quip that it was the first time anyone had accused her of being right-leaning, but a politically-motivated joke didn't seem quite appropriate given the circumstances. She would become doubly pleased she avoided the temptation once she had an opportunity to read the girl's file. Reaching out, the counsellor made the adjustment, giving no indication whether or not she agreed with the end result outside clasping her hands together in a physical manifestation of her agreement to stop fiddling. "There."

She turned then, taking a moment to study Almaz's features before a gentle smile replaced her earlier zeal. Being able to conceal her mutation had been both a blessing and curse over the years, but Liana tended to settle on being mostly grateful for the opportunity for anonymity as required. "What brings you to Avalon, Almaz?" It might have seemed an odd question, since a general assumption would have been educational in nature, but Liana didn't presume anything, not where young mutants were concerned.

The girl bit back an initial sarcastic response, remembering that everyone here had treated her well, and this lady was probably just wanting to hear her side of the story. So she took a deep breath and began to explain. "Yesterday, I - ... went to play with our dog, and something happened. I - .. Electricity came out of my hands. And my eyes, they changed," she held up her gloved hands as if to emphasize, motioning to her face. As she spoke there was a subtle bit ever present exotic accent to her speech, one that sounded almost African.

"My father, he - ... we - ... always hated mutants. We cheered when Avalon came on the news, that it was attacked. And now - ... now I'm a mutant," shoulders slumped, as she cast her eyes down. "My father made me go to my room, told me he needed to think about what to do about me. I could hear him and mom fighting, shouting. He made me gather some clothes and stuff, told me to wear these gloves, then drove me here and threw me out. Told me I was a ድንጋጸ - a freak," she'd said the word in her native language of Tigrinya, "and that he never wanted to see me again."

The counsellor, who had by now heard dozens of heart-breaking recounts of young mutants being rejected by their families, took a moment to gently process the girl's willingness to divulge and gestured to one of the couches. Moving quietly to put the kettle on, Liana left it to boil and sank into an armchair facing. "Thank you for telling me, you're very brave to be so honest. I'm sure it must be very confronting, having to seek safety in a place you'd previously not supported." There was no judgement in the woman's tone, only a pervasive sense of deep concern and empathy. "Are there any questions you'd like me to try to answer?" As much as there was clearly a lot of work to do unravelling the girl's beliefs and how they now applied to her own situation, that wasn't going to be done in a single session, nor was it appropriate to focus on so early into her displacement. Right now, Liana was sure that Almaz's main priority was how she was going to get through the next few days.

The girl shrugged a bit, even as she made her way to the couch and sat down. "I see no reason not to be honest," she quietly offered. "I - ... My old life, it's gone, isn't it. No way I could go back to that. Not looking like - ... this," she said with a hint of disgust in her tone. Disgust and defeat. Deep beliefs would take some serious work to overcome, this much was certain. "And being what I am."

"Questions ..." The girl shook her head a moment. She didn't rightly know where to start. There was one question, but she'd asked it twice, and twice now she got answers that she couldn't quite come to grips with. Mostly because she had her entire foundation ripped out from underneath her. But everyone had been so nice - though a part of her whispered that that was only so she'd lower her guard, and then they'd strike - a thought that made her feel silly for even thinking it. "Are you a - .. mutant too? What's going to happen to me next? Will I be able to stay here? Will I be safe here?"

All were reasonable questions, only one of them had an easy answer. "Firstly, yes, I am a mutant. One that hasn't always found it easy to accept," Liana added, just a sprinkling of reciprocated empathy without diverting the conversation to a discussion about herself. "As for the rest of it, Claire and I, and the other teachers here, will work on establishing communication with your parents. If it's their wish for you to be enrolled here, then we will make sure the process is done properly." In best-case-scenarios, the family could be convinced to remain at least somewhat involved, if only because denouncing legal guardianship was not as easy as throwing your daughter out of the car into the waiting arms of strangers. "You will absolutely not be left on your own though, okay?"

Almaz' slight tinge of panic when Liana mentioned contacting her parents was eased at the counsellor's last words. "Good. Alright. That's - ... what I wanted to know," she spoke, quietly, still that soft accent to her words. "Th-that I'm not going to be on my own, that is. I - ... " She was afraid, afraid of the future, but that was only logical in her position. "I - ... don't want to see my parents again. At least, not my father - not just yet. I'm - ... afraid. Ashamed," that last word said under her breath, barely above a whisper, as she case her eyes down.

"You have every right to be scared, Almaz." Rather than address the girl's reluctance directly, given her inability to promise things she had no legal standing to enforce, Liana chose to focus on the emotions that sat behind the desire to self-ostracise. "As for your other feelings, given what you've explained, they seem a perfectly understandable reaction too. We will work through them," the counsellor promised. "And, when you're ready, we can start exploring what your powers mean for you. How to control them, the best ways to safely utilize them, if you choose. In as much as it's ever possible, it is a choice." One of the things Liana had learned was that, whilst pretending not to be a mutant wasn't possible, brandishing her powers was something that she could absolutely opt out of, or at least take a very minimalist approach. It wasn't possible in all cases, and control still required regular effort to maintain but she could imagine, to a girl in Almaz's situation, the mutant world probably appeared to be one of flamboyant extroversion when it came to public demonstrations. The average mutant very rarely lived so ostentatiously.

There was something calming about Miss Zhao's words. Perhaps it was her soothing tone of voice, her patience, or the validation that Almaz felt from the other woman. Though for all off Liana's work to calm the storm within Almaz, when the counsellor's kettle whistled, she startled again. "Do you really think I will be able to learn to control my - ... " She was still hesitant to say 'powers'. That felt so - well, empowering. And right now she didn't feel empowered. She felt small. Alone. Scared.

Having risen to deal with the kettle, Liana pulled down two intricately-designed china mugs and rustled up a teaspoon from the partially-unpacked supplies. "I don't see why not," became the counsellor's practical reply, once again careful to avoid empty platitudes and promises that couldn't be guaranteed. "It may take some work, but you are in the right place to seek out help. Hot chocolate? Tea? I have coffee here somewhere, if you'd prefer."

"I wouldn't even know where to begin," Almaz mused quietly, contemplating her hands. She held them up, turned them around, flexed her fingers and slowly straightened them again, before placing them back in her lap. "Oh - sorry. Tea will do fine, thank you. Nothing in it," she offered an apologetic smile, quietly adding "Just plain tea for just plain Almaz."

"It's not an immediate concern unless you experience more difficulties controlling it," Liana reassured, preparing a teapot instead. It allowed her to speed up her return, bringing over the brewing tea and empty mugs, along with the biscuit tin she'd only just finished restocking. Eventually, she would prefer it filled with her own baking efforts; for now, the bakery in town was more than sufficient. Leaving the lid tucked beneath, the counsellor sat back in her chair and folded one leg over the other as she waited for the tea to steep. "For now, we'll focus on getting you settled in a room and worry about the rest in the morning. Did you bring everything you need? I can arrange for some toiletries and such if you need them."

"I have a bag with clothes and my laptop with my homework. That's it though. I'm going to need a toothbrush, toothpaste - toiletries as you said," the girl spoke quietly. She watched Liana with a slightly distrustful look, still unsure what to make of her situation, though slowly finding peace in the hand that fate had dealt her. "This is a - ... school, right? Just like - like a normal one? With teachers and subjects and maths and phys ed and english?"

"It's a school, yes, with regular subjects. Miss Cavendish is very committed to making sure that young mutants have access to quality education in an environment that supports them." It sounded like the wording lifted right off the promotional literature, which Liana had probably helped write. "For a lot of these students, attending regular school would be difficult. For some of them," she added, quietly aware that Almaz and people like her family would have been prime culprits, "It would be downright dangerous. So they come here, and can learn to become really whatever they want. Being a mutant doesn't have to be the only thing you do with your life."

"I went to a private school," the girl quietly admitted. "Expensive one, too. Only the best for my girls, dad would always say. I think he wanted me to be a lawyer, like him. Guess that plan fell in the water," she added, heaving a deep sigh. She took one of the biscuits, munching it quietly. At least the biscuit gave her something to do with her hands. It seemed to help calm her down. "My whole life's going to change, won't it," a forlorn tone to her words.

Liana nodded slowly, careful yet again not to offer empty platitudes. "It will but you will find, in time, that you have a lot more control over that change. Whatever you want to be, there will be people there to help you achieve it." The counsellor smiled warmly, leaning forward to pour tea. The sugar and milk sat separately, neither of which she chose to add to her own. She did, however, take a biscuit, and gestured for Almaz to follow suit. "I have every confidence there are mutant lawyers, and with the way things are, the need for them might only increase. That will depend on how much of that dream is yours," she added gently, "and not your father's."

"I don't know what my dream is," Almaz offered quietly. She heaved a deep sigh, leaning back and closing her eyes for a moment. "I guess it's time for me to start finding one of my own. One that isn't whispered in by others. Authority figures," as she opened her eyes again, her expression more steeled now, less forlorn than it was. "So, what next? Do you have more questions for me? Is there some test? Some more people to meet?"

"Next, we enjoy a cup of tea." Liana took a delicate bite of her biscuit and eased herself back into a relaxed repose, one leg crossed over the other. "And a biscuit, which I can highly recommend. And then we take a deep breath, try to relax and I will find out where your room is and show you to it." She smiled kindly at the young girl. "There will be a time and place for all the rest but I think, for now, you've probably been through enough for tonight."

"Enjoy a cup of tea. That - ... That sounds like something I can do. Yeah, I can do that," Almaz smiled softly. Tiredly. Maybe this place wasn't going to be so bad after all. These - mutants seemed to be just like normal people, with their own normal people things and normal people words. Of course, time would tell how much truth there was to these words she'd been hearing, but if most of them were true - well ... This place wasn't going to be so bad after all.


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