"I'd like to see the story you want to tell." (Set some while after confusion about religion.)
This courtyard is the lush central hub of the surrounding Harbor Commons, bound in on three sides by rows of duplexes and triplexes, cutting upward at the sky with the sharp thrift of a minimalist's style, neat lines and bountiful windows, boldened with accents in wood towards the upper stories, stone towards the base, the whole of the compound sealed in by a low stoneworked wall that opens entrance gates to the streets beyond at its two far corners, smaller gates at building back doors.
The fourth side of the courtyard is open to the East River, the ground forming a slight decline, controlled on one side by micro-retaining walls to form wide steps where picnic tables sit beneath the nominative shelter of a trio of dogwood trees, accessible by ramp. The other side is allowed to slope at its natural angle, a wide open yard space, until its cut off at the river's edge, where a massive pair of oak trees stand, a staircase leading away up one of their thick trunks.
The yard itself is carpeted in an organic flow of emerald grass swirled through with wending channels of smooth-paved cement walkways, flowing naturally away from the building's front entrances, where some are arced by trellis, some flanked by hosta plants, fern and lilies, a few laid in gentle switch-backing ramps for wheelchair access, before forking off at matching angles to sites of small garden installments. Bird feeders and baths suspended from the necks of small lamp posts, a rock-lined koi pond, a sleek gazebo tucked to one side in simplistic varnished wood, its southern side overgrown with a mass of thriving grapevine and a caged-in barbecue pit under its sheltering roof. A play area and proper garden are within sight off another branch, until finally all paths spiral in like wheel spokes to a shared common house at the center of all traffic flow.
The gazebo hasn't exactly been rebuilt, yet. There /are/ still seats, though, around the fire pit, and the lack of roof just gives a better view of the nearly full moon. In the small hours of the morning -- probably someone is still gaming upstairs, probably movies are being watched, who knows. Out here, though, it is quiet. Jax is adding more logs to the bonfire, carefully, stoking its quieting flames back up before he returns to his seat. Near the pit it's toasty-warm, warmer still with his hands curled around a mug of mulled cider from the kitchens. He had a jacket but it's been discarded, leaving him in black sweatshirt and jeans and boots as he leans in to watch the flames dance. A play of creatures dance within them, a forest springing up carved out of fire, woodland creatures frisking beneath the trees, a silhouetted figure perching on a large rock and gathering the creatures around.
Matt has been curled in his seat, unmoving, for some time now, staring into the fire as it burns down, then as Jax builds it back up. He does finally stir from his daze when the fire turns into a forest, green eyes blinking wearily into the light. At length a wan smile touches his lips, and he starts humming Rabbit's Song (quietly, and not altogether on key).
Lucien is just returning from the kitchen, a bowl of candied yams and plate of gingerbread cookies in his hands. He sets these down on a chair in front of the others, settling /himself/ down perched on the edge of the bench beside Matt. A soft smile touches his lips as he watches the dance of creatures in the fire. Considerably more on key, soft but rich and warm, he joins in -- singing rather than humming. His arm curls around Matt's shoulders, pulling the other man against his side as he sings.
Jax sets his mug down and leans forward, snagging a cookie from the plate and pulling his legs up to his chest as he nibbles on it. The creatures in the fire continue to shift and change, flickering ursine and feline forms growing out of the flames to pounce and prowl towards the rock. Tangle and fight, tumbling in and over each other, large claws rending at each other's flames until they tear into ribbons -- reform, just as easily, licking with mock-affronted dignity at imaginary wounds as they rejoin the cluster of animals. Jax's own smile curls, soft, too, as the others provide music to his pantomime. His eye slants towards the brothers, firelight casting warm glow over his too-pale features.
Matt smiles wider when Lucien returns. He doesn't touch the food, but nuzzles in against his brother while he watches the flames dance. When the song concludes, he reaches back to a large black gym he'd brought with him (decorated with patches of smiling stars and moons and suns) and pulls out a stack of black fabric, popping it out into a pointy witch hat. "You know I've been thinking. What the Commons is missing..." he announces solemnly, perching the hat on his head, "...is a Quidditch team."
Lucien's eyes have continued focusing into the flames, but they shift to his brother at the end of the song. A quiet laugh spills out of him, soft and amused in counterpoint to Matt's solemn tone. He picks up a mug of his own eggnog, shaking his head. "And when did you learn to fly?"
Jax's creatures continue to shift through the rest of the song, moving and changing as the Trickster sorts through the animals, dismisses many and many more. His rock is left with Coyote and Raven and Crow and Rabbit, the other gathered animals bowing down as Rabbit's shy silhouette twitches its nose in startled uncertainty at the front of the pack.
The flames melt back down to their default state of dancing. Jax's eye lights with warm delight. "Oh, /goodness/. M'sure B'll help out with /that/, no problem -- oh, gosh, no, wait, what am I /sayin'/, do I want to /encourage/ her in this."
Matt can't quite keep the smile off his face anymore. "We don't /need/ to fly, but...like Jax says, B will probably help. She's got a long break ahead." He reaches back into the gym bag and comes out with more hats, pressing one into Lucien's free hand and waving one at Jax. Tempt, tempt! "They've worked out /most/ of the kinks in the hoverbikes, right?"
Lucien quirks one brow up when the hat is pressed into his hand. He takes a sip of his eggnog, slow. The breath he pushes out is very longsuffering. With a great solemnity of his own, he lifts the hat, carefully perching it atop his head. "Several around here would not need the bikes, regardless." He takes another long drink of the eggnog, settling back in his seat. "There could be worse ways to spend break, certainly."
Jax stifles a laugh, taking another quick bite of cookies as he watches Lucien don the hat. The tip of his tongue pokes out of the corner of his mouth, swiping cookie crumbs off his lips. He takes the hat from Matt, though in his hands it changes colours, rich crimson with gold tassles, glittering velvety green swirls coiled up along its pointy length. He perches it atop his bald head with a grin. The flames are taking shape again, a forest once more springing up out of the bonfire. "Might be as we'd hafta open it up t'folks outside the Commons if we wanted enough for proper teams but I don't doubt B'd want to help. It sounds totally unsafe so she'll be delighted."
Steve comes out of the Commonhaus looking a little sleepy. He wears a purple, green, and white flannel and khakis, his shield (still red, gold, and green) slung across his back. He approaches the bonfire with slow steps, looking a bit uncertain when he catchs sight of the pointy hats. Pausing at the edge of the firelit circle to admire the forest of flames, he waves to the three men sitting there. "Mind if I join you?"
Matt breaks into a boyish grin as he watches the others don the hats. "We could start a /league/, even." He pulls a black and yellow scarf from the bag as well, draping it around his neck loosely (he clearly doesn't need it for warmth, so close to the fire). "All in good time. Hi, Steve!" He waves back enthusiastically. "Not at all, come on."
"I will provide the --" Lucien hesitates, sipping at his eggnog again before answering primly, "audience." He glances up, tipping a very small nod to Steve -- the pointy witch hat (it contrasts oddly with his neatly tailored vest and slacks and dress shirt) slides just a touch lower on his forehead with the motion. "Certainly not. There are cookies." He turns his hand out to the plate of cookies. "Eggnog and cider, too, if you would like me to fetch you a mug."
"Oh, come on, at the /least/ you could provide the colour commentary." Jax's black sweatshirt, a moment after Matt takes his scarf out, recolours itself as well, yellow bands at its cuffs leaving it with yellow-and-black striped trim. He considers Lucien for a moment -- the trim of /his/ vest colours itself silver and green, briefly, then blue and bronze. His brows furrow in indecision, looking to Matt kind of helplessly.
He looks up with a quick-bright smile and a darkening of his cheeks when Steve approaches, though, scooting over on his bench to gesture to the empty space. "Plenty'a fire for everyone." The fire in question returns to its morphing; through the forest, now (thick and tangled and wild) a stocky figure, dress-clad, long-haired, darts through the trees. Stops to pluck a rose from a thorny bramble, hold it up to her face; a second silhouette, leaner, lither, choppy-short wild flames of hair, materializes out of the trees, strutting and imperious as he swipes the rose from her. She swipes it straight back with a toss of her hair.
"-- Yams, too," Jax adds. "I don't know as what else is left. Stories. An' moonlight."
"Thank you, but I'm pretty full still." Steve nods at Lucien and sits down beside Jax, setting his shield down against the bench. "But I'll take the fire and the moonlight...and the company. I also have a some... possibly silly questions about religion." His eyes follow the figures in the fire. "Is that one of the stories?"
Matt twists around to look at Lucien. "Hatstall," he tells Jax firmly. "But it's not a fair question! He /looks/ better in Slytherin colors. Though. So do I..." He snags a cookie for himself and turns to Steve with an appraising gleam in his bright green eyes. "Hm...Gryffindor or Hufflepuff? And I field a lot of silly questions about religion at work, so...fire away!"
Lucien cants a sidelong glance to Matt, a small twitch tugging his lips upward. His fingers brush downward against the changing trim of his vest before he looks over Steve, appraising as well. "Yes." He looks back to Jax's fire-play, eyes slipping half-lidded. "You need not worry. Matt is rather an expert when it comes to silly."
"Right now it is. It could be any story, if you want." Jax's blush deepens, his head tipping down a little self-consciously. The figures in the fire continue, though, one taking the other's hand as they disappear off into the trees. The woman reappears later, a noticeable swell in her belly as she heads back out of the woods. Jax finishes his cookie, brushing his fingers clean and looking down at Steve's shield. It changes colours -- bands of brilliant crimson and gold, but a badger on a quartered yellow-and-black field taking the place of the star at its center. "Guess I'm jus' not deciding for /anyone/ tonight. You're playin' for both teams, honey-honey, hope you don't mind."
"I'd like to see the story you want to tell." Steve says softly as he watches the fiery figures move, fascinated. He looks down at the shield, smiles. "In general I don't mind -- aren't all the houses supposed to work together, anyway? Relying on each others' strengths, filling in for each other's shortcomings. But if you mean /Quidditch/?" Grinning again, he spreads his calloused hands before him. "Might be a bit tough, even if I did figure how to fly around on a broom. Speaking of which..." He looks a bit more serious, all of a sudden. "Someone told me there are...actual witches? That it's a religion. And that the two of you," he nods at Lucien and Matt, "do...magic?"
"Well, /I/ certainly think the greatest strength lies in collaboration..." Matt smiles brightly, sweeping a hand down the scarf wrapped around his neck. "...but then it wouldn't be much of a competition, would it? Calvinball Quidditch, perhaps." He perks up at Steve's question. "That is almost exactly the kind of question my students were asking at the beginning of Pagan History. Less silly than I was /hoping,/ though." He shakes his head, tsks in mock disappointment. "So, yes, there are witches! It's a very broad term, but most people who self-identify that way ascribe to some form of earth-based religion and practice some form of magic. Which, to be extremely reductionist, is kind of like prayer." Matt pauses to take a swig of his mulled cider. "In fact, a lot of magic /is/ prayer."
Lucien leans back in the bench, lowering his mug and just watching the dance of Jax's figures. He hums to himself, softly, as the fire shifts and changes, a few snatches of the Glasgow reel. His forefinger taps against the side of his mug as Matt answers Steve's question. "/Actual/ witches," he echoes pensively. "Actual magic. It's all very contingent on your definition, non?" A small smile plays across his lips. "Though we have certainly been accused of working magic by many others long before tonight." He lifts his mug again, takes a long slow sip.
The fire continues. The woman leaves, returns to her home, is confronted by other figures back at the hall that spring up. Returns to the woods once her pregnancy has grown still more heavy; flits through the trees, searching more and more frantically -- is finally caught by her lover once she falls to her knees in the woods. From here the smoke takes over rather than the flames, curling out from the pair, foggier, to paint a new scene above the frozen one below. A man out hunting on horseback with a smaller child; the child falling from his horse, snatched up and whisked away by a flitting band of more ethereal figures, growing up now hunting and dancing in their company instead.
Meanwhile, Jax's cheeks flush red at the mention of Lucien working magic. He laughs, quiet, pressing a hand to the side of his cheek. "Tonight's a holiday for them so they come celebrate -- figure s'always best spending important times with family, right?"
Steve listens to Matt's explanation, his look of perplexity tempered by the unfolding scene in fire and smoke. He opens his mouth several times, coming up short until he finally admits, "I don't /have/ any definitions. Even my mistaken preconceptions are vague and belong in the realm of legend. 'Actual witches' is just me parrotting Shane, and I'm still not completely sure how much he was pulling my leg." For some reason, he blushes /kind/ of fiercely here. "Anyhow, I /do/ understand spending a holiday with family -- even if I don't understand the holiday /itself/." He's staring into the scene above the fire kind of wistfully now, though his eyes suddenly widen. "And, not trying to change the subject, but I think I know this story."
"Shane probably wasn't /exactly/ pulling your leg, but he might have had a bit of fun with telling exactly what witches do. Which is really a very wide range of things." Matt curls up tighter against his brother. "Personally, I feel magic is in /everything/." His voice grows soft and reverent. "Every stone and tree and rainstorm. Also every word and remembrance and embrace." Then he breaks into a mischievous grin. "Every stupid pun, too. Certainly in every story, not just the ones told in smoke and fire."
Lucien draws in a slow breath, slightly shaky when Matt curls in against him. He wraps an arm tighter around Matt's shoulders, fingers squeezing in firmly. "And every person." His voice has gentled, his cheek pressing down against the top of his brother's head. "For all tonight is the longest dark, this holiday is typically about light." His eyes have shifted, flicking from the fire to settle on Jackson. "Where better to be?"
Still quiet, his expression is composed as he tips his gaze back downward, takes another sip from his mug. "It is the end of the year and a time of -- rebirth. I suppose as much preparation for the future as having /hope/ for it. That as dark as things have been --" His fingers press harder into Matt's arm, a very small tightening at his jaw. His eyes lock steadily back onto the fire; he pulls in one deep breath and then another. The small shake of his head is quick, abrupt. When he starts to sing, the rich notes of his voice pick the story up where Tam Lin is explaining about the trials Janet will have to endure to win him back from the faeries.
The fire figures keep time with Lucien's singing, now. Janet waits in the woods for the procession of faeries, mounted and armed wtih all manner of strange unearthly fiery weaponry -- none of which stops her from running up to steal Tam Lin off his horse, hold fast to him as his form shifts from human to beast, clawed and toothed and then serpentine, then monstrous. Then human once more as she straightens, casting a rippling fire-woven blanket over his form and standing proud and defiant in front of the suddenly larger raging faery Queen.
Jax's eye has grown wider, though, fingertips touching lightly to his lips as Lucien speaks. There's a very faint ripple around him, a tiny catch of his breath. The figures in the fire have distorted for a moment. It takes a bit before Jax composes himself enough that they shift back to identifiable once more, though /something/ in him still pulses, fluttery and hot to Matt's senses. It takes a pause, a ripple of tension through his muscles, another flutter of light, but he sets aside his mug, pushing out of his seat to kneel in front of Lucien's instead, leaning up to wrap his arms tightly around the other man. "/Oh/." Behind him, the figures have frozen, Janet standing protectively between her cloaked lover and the entire faerie court.
Steve listens raptly, looking up from the story now and again to the brothers with flames dancing in his pale blue eyes. He bites down on his lip. Blinks his eyes rapidly a few times -- maybe to clear the smoke from them. "Thank you," he says quietly, at last. "I think I understand, now." His eyes slip shut. He draws a deep breath. Then lifts his voice, high and clear, to join Lucien's on the next verse, finding the harmony and threading it through the rhythmic sway of the reel.
Matt had turned his face against Lucien's chest, but he unfolds himself part-way to look at Jax. He soothes the fluttering pulse of Jax's power without dampening it, wielding his own ability with enough finesse such that its operation is just barely sensible, like the ghost of a touch against that light. He emits a small, faint whimper and rests his head against Jax's shoulder, one arm wrapping around him and the other around Lucien.
A small crinkle pulls greater warmth into Lucien's eyes when Steve's harmonizing joins his singing. His voice doesn't waver as he leans in, curling his arm back firmly around Jax. He doesn't move again until the song has finished, punctuating the final refrain with a kiss pressed to the top of Jax's smooth head. A deep flush of warmth accompanies his touch, soothing, peaceful. His hand rubs at Jax's back, only slowly dropping as he sits back on the bench again.
Behind them, the flames dance again -- not as characters, anymore, but only as flames, settling back into the normal course of wild erratic play as the disquiet calms inside Jax. He just leans in to the hug, pressing his forehead back against Matt's, shifting one arm to curl his hand against Matt's waist. There's a dampness to his eye by the time the singing ceases, and the glistening lingers even after he pulls slowly back and stands once more. He returns to his own seat, snagging another cookie on the way to nibble at it slowly once he settles back down. Closer to Steve than he had been before, a small tired droop to his posture that -- eventually, still slightly hesitant -- shifts to lean his head (oddly /standard/ temperature, tonight, in contrast to the usual radiant heat he carries) against the taller man's shoulder. "... ain't long now. Till dawn."
Steve opens his eyes. Gazes through the fire, at the Tessiers and Jax. The smile on his face is a little faint, a little distant. Beneath the weary lean of Jax's head, there is a sudden easing of a tension in Steve's frame that did not seem at all obvious until it faded away. For the barest moment he is just completely still. Then he curls an arm around the other man -- gently, for all his strength -- gathering him closer even as his head tilts back to search the eastern sky for the sunrise yet to come.