Words of the Naked Leopard

April 02, 2017:

Jhiao sheds her fur to impart some Buddhist wisdom on an unwilling flautist.

Unnamed Forest in New York

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions:

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Some time during the long, warm and comfortable nap, the leopard apparently awoke and disentangled herself. How? Good question. She certainly showed no signs of wanting to do so earlier. She just stayed atop and across Nerina, comforting her, cuddling with her, sharing warmth with her, a low and deep rumbling purr vibrating through her and the other woman in turn. But at some point, she did so.

Proof? Fish. Cold, still wet, and dropped from a leopard's maw onto Nerina's lap. And then a big yawning grin. Because she brought food.

Pinned under a hundred pound cat, what a horrible fate. While not sleepy when Jhiao showed up, something about having a warm bale of fur in her lap coaxed the black-haired flautist to nod off… and on… and off again. Even if the leopard's departure managed to wake her, the groggy vagabond has fallen back to sleep by the time Jhiao returns.

*Snerk!* "Yack!"

Cat on lap, asleep. Fish on lap, awake. Nerina jumps and grabs at the cold wet thing suddenly on top of her pants before she notices the leopard in front of her and its big proud grin. "You found food…" she deduces with a laugh, her cheeks a little rosy at her own embarrassment.
The leopard leans in close and gently butts her head against Nerina's cheek. She is nice enough not to take her fishmouth and lick the blonde. Instead, she backs up and lets Nerina move freely. And she nods firmly. Yes. She found food. First, she found a Nerina. Now she found food.

Nerina nuzzles the leopard's cheek lightly in turn before taking the fish off her lap and brushing at her pants. She looks at it for a moment, then back to Jhiao. "You want a fire for grilled fish? I don't have my pot."

Though it looks odd indeed, a leopard can indeed shrug her shoulders, and she does. She is a leopard, she's as capable of eating the fish raw, honestly, but she's pretty sure most two-feet don't prefer it that way. Her teacher did not. She slowly extends her claws on one paw - yep, she can do that - and holds it up towards the fish suggestively.

The fishwife grins and pushes herself laboriously onto her feet with some assistance from the tree behind her, comfortable joints popping as they're forced to move once more. "You can cut it and I'll get wood, but we only need a sharp stick to hold it," she offers while producing a folding knife from her pocket.

Ever seen a cat fillet a fish? Probably not. But with care and precision, that is precisely what the leopard does. She cuts, guts and debones the thing, and then nudges over the fillet for Nerina's half. But the guts? Bones? She eats all of those; waste not, want not, this cat says. But she really does manage that seemingly impossible task, proof that this kitty's claws are very sharp.

It's a sight Nerina doesn't get to watch in its entirety as tucks her sword through her belt and disappears into the woods once Jhiao sets to work without reaching for her knife. When she returns with an armload of branches, sticks, and twigs, the blonde cocks an eyebrow at the neatly spread fish.

"<Nice claws,>" she murmurs with a grin as she sets down the timbers and prepares a cooking fire. Yes she's cheating. The flautist brought a lighter.

Jhiao has even cleared out a little safe space, dug it out to bare the earth, created a little embankment to contain the little fire sure to be set.

But when Nerina returns, there's no Jhiao. No leopard in sight.

As the blonde starts setting up the fish fillets to be cooked, using her sticks to set things out, a familiar Chinese figure comes out from around a couple of trees. The one difference is that this time she emerges without her satchel, and without the things she carries in that satchel. Jhiao emerges as just Jhiao, the two-foot girl padding barefoot over to the fireside.

"You haven't the talents to understand me as well. You need the two-foot mouth sounds. So, I need two-foot mouth." Just that simple.

Nerina starts when Jhiao first emerges and whips her head towards the sound. She stares - for just a moment.

"There you are," the flautist replies as she turns back to her fire-starting with a grin that she can't quite force off her face. "<I wondered when you would change again.>"

The little Chinese young woman makes a face for a moment. "I'm sorry. I do not understand Russian." But she recognizes it. Perhaps someday she will learn? "I hope you do not mind." she murmurs, as she settles down beside the fire, turned to face the blonde floutist. "I have wanted to speak with you for some time."

"It's okay," Nerina dismisses as she drops onto her rear and lets her legs fall haphazardly open, inviting the heat to warm her as it builds. "I was wondering when you would do that."

Two sea-blue eyes look back up at Jhiao's jades quietly, letting the leopard lead.

"Given all I have seen you go through, why would you speak with hate at others for being different?" Jhiao inquires. Being a cat, she can be very subtle and sneaky … or startlingly direct. Looks like right now it would be the latter.

Nerina lets a slow, hot breath out her nose - a muffled sigh. "I don't care about "different" - you're different," she answers flatly. "I care when someone goes inside my mind without my permission, and I care about a mansion full of kids with superpowers."

"No one went into your mind without permission." Jhiao offers. "Like it or not, your thoughts are energy, just like the sounds of your breathing. They are an energy that others can perceive, if they have the talent. Just as I can hear you breathe, or smell when someone is lying." Yep. She can do that. "And those children did nothing to you, nothing deserving of your hatred and threats. I do not understand that." This is her friend. But what her friend has done does not make sense with who she has come to understand her friend to be.

"It is just as bad; she *read* my mind," Nerina presses. "And I was not there long enough to give them a chance."

Pulling herself from the conversation, the brown-eyed vagabond takes a pair of sticks and props the fish meat atop it before guiding it over the fire to cook. With a grunt and a little fiddling, the other ends are thrust into the ground.

Jhiao just shakes her head. "I do not understand you. I do not know where this hatred comes from, but it does not seem like the person I have gotten to know. And it hurts me to see you hurting others."

"No one bled, and now they know," Nerina concludes as she pulls a flask from the front of her pants and takes a short, stiff drink. The lid and shoulders poke out when she tucks it back in.

"Jhiao…" the young woman starts, her eyes softening and her lips frowning slightly. "I don't think you can understand, but I will never live with a telepath. Ever. I don't like people with powers either, but you're okay. You're a cat with a power, da?"

"And what about you?" Jhiao answers, just as incisively as before.

"Me?" Nerina echoes in confusion.

"Yes. You." Jhiao answers. She doesn't seem terribly inclined to expound upon the point. She's just waiting, patiently, with that open, guieless look of hers.

There's the briefest pause before Nerina answers evenly. "I'm human." It almost smells right. Almost.

"I never said you weren't." Jhiao answers. But she's still waiting.

The Russian girl raises an eyebrow as she looks back into Jhiao's eyes. "What do you want to know then?"

Those wide amber eyes focus on the other woman. "You are not without your special talents." she answers. "Not that you have shown them to me, and I will not ask. I do not need to know." Typical Jhiao; she really doesn't pry. But she doesn't miss much. "But how do you justify such hatred for others with talents, when you have them yourself? Do you hate yourself?"

Nerina's expression falls into a frown. She turns pensive and doesn't immediately reply to the leopard girl. Too many things to ask back, too many things to say. After a few moments filled by the crackling heat of the campfire, she decides.

"They're not talents, they're powers," she refutes sternly. "Some of them kill people. Some of them do not turn off. Why would I choose people with powers when I would not choose people without them?"

"Point is there is no reason to level hatred at them." Jhiao comments. "You have 'powers.' They have powers. You do not hate all two-foots, anymore than I do." The leopard girl shakes her head. "I am not asking you - I do not think anyone is asking you - to love them. You don't know them. But hating them for being who and what they are makes no sense. It is not just fearing them because they are different. You are, too. You don't say cruel things to other two-foots just because they are there. But you did to these, and all they did was welcome you openly, offer you safety, and food, when you had very little of either. And all they asked of you were simple chores. Just like the temple." <re>

Nerina rubs the bridge of her nose with a grunt as Jhiao finishes speaking. "Wrong, Jhiao. Not all powers are equal. If all they could do is turn their skin blue, I *might* have accepted the offer. No, the first one I met read my mind without even telling me, and the entire mansion is full of more people with more powers. All they offered was food and a lie about privacy."

"Like it or not, you are wrong." Jhiao offers. She really doesn't mince words, this one. It's just not in her. "You never told them about your abilities. You never told me. Yet you expect someone else to tell you, the moment they first meet you, about their abilities? They did not lie. I would know if they lied, and I would no more tolerate lies from them than I can accept your abuse or threats."

"If their power is to turn blue, no, but before they look inside my head I would like the same warning before they tear my clothes off," Nerina retorts stiffly. "She cannot even control her mind reading so even if she wants to, she cannot behave."

"And without any thought you took me there and they told me of all the *mutant* *children* that live there. Even *if* all of them *were* harmless and *could* behave, being killed in the middle of the night because of an air strike or because someone sneaked in a bomb to kill all the mutants is not how I plan to die."

"They're fools, and they're dangerous, and if they don't kill me they would get me killed." The heat of the words has worked Nerina's blue eyes up to a light glare by the time she finishes, perhaps not aimed at Jhiao personally but no softer for it.

The leopard girl just shakes her head. "I know not what has created this canker inside you, nor can I. But one should strive to protect children who would be so endangered, not speak flippantly and insultingly to those who care for and guide them, and then stalk away blaming those children and their caretakers for the evil of others." Reemmber: raised in a Bhuddist Temple.

"People. Too many and the wrong ones," Nerina answers tersely. "This world would be better with no powers at all - and no people too. But there is no use wishing for what cannot happen…"

The flautist looks down at the fish and pulls it away from the flame. Wordlessly she turns the branch towards Jhiao and offers the leopard the first bite.

Despite her disappointment, Jhiao accepts some of the cookied fish, nibbling carefully. She says nothing more to Nerina about their discussion, whether because she herself is flummoxed, or because she has simply given up on her friend. It does not much matter which is true.

Nerina musters just a little bit of a smile as Jhiao accepts the fish before pulling it back and nibbling from the opposite side. She turns her gaze back to the campfire then lets it drift upwards and outwards to the woods around them.

"…How old do you think you are?"

The leopard in girl's skin and two feet just chews her fish and thinks, silent and introspective. After a while - a good, long, pregnant pause - Jhiao does finally answer, speaking softly. "I have no way of knowing how long I was in the jungles. A leopard does not count moons, or passes of the sun. Time has little meaning, beyond the time of a single day. I suspect that I am far older than I appear. Teacher grew old, and died, and I have not changed. And I have wandered for several years."

Until Jhiao feels ready to answer Nerina leaves her attention on the trees - old, silent observers to their conversation. Strength and sternness bleed from the flautist again, giving a peek at fatigue that one day's cat nap can't fix.

"Is it lonely?" she asks gently.

"Is what lonely?" Jhiao queries, gently. She nibbles more fish when it is offered, and stays near the fire as they chat. "Wandering? It can be. But that is actually part of the point." The leopard girl's wide amber eyes seek out the other woman's gaze. "It is an ancient tradition: to wander the world around you, to learn it, to find wisdom, your own truth, your own level and insight. And to find those that need you."

"We wander differently then," Nerina considers as corals disappear inside jades. "But at least I found you." The fish is passed back and forth without greed and the flautist pats her thigh, offering the naked leopard a space in her open lap.

"And I meant the years - watching people like your teacher die."

The leopard girl scoots over closer, and rests against Nerina. That seems to be something that is very natural to her: seeking out some measure of physical contact with another. She isn't greedy about it, but she takes all she can get when she can get it. And for her it isn't much different in two or four feet. "It can be lonely. But I know it is Nature. He lived a good life, found his own Truth. He was ready. Lonelier is watching those who are not ready, who will never find their Truth in this life, pass on before their time."

Nerina's free arm wraps around the small leopard's waist and pulls her into the soft fur of her coat. This time she gets to be the fuzzy blanket. Her bare hand lightly rubs Jhiao's side as she takes another bite of fish and offers the stick.

She doesn't have a commentary to that; the young woman has fallen into a wistful silence.

The leopard girl burrows happily inside the coat and shares Nerina's warmth and closeness, nibbling more fish when it is offered, never greedy, but happy to share. She too does not see much point in interrupting silence with only noise. She has said what she needed to say, heard her friend's answers, for all that she does not agree with them. She has to find a way to live with that, or act upon it. But acting is not words. The time for words, at least for now, is past.

With Jhiao pressed close against her, Nerina lets the quiet crackle of the campfire before them hang uncontested and looks around the leopard's dark hair towards it with a forlorn cloud in her eyes. Her free hand comes up to her mouth and the disguised vagabond holds it in her teeth rather like a dog with a bone - except perhaps for the scent of blood that escapes into the air a few seconds later.

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