Demon Lord Shapeshifting SystemChapter 230 By The Fire In Her Hair
Joan watched the boy stare into the small fire of his lighter.
He kept opening it and closing it. He shivered on the edge of the bed where he sat, waiting as the psychiatrists talked about the evaluations they could do and discuss information on the child with social services.
He was a street urchin. An orphan that had run away from foster home to foster home, spending most of his life fighting for survival on the streets.
It wasn't as uncommon to have younger patients of similar backgrounds in the asylum. Joan knew it was worse during the time of wars. Children would lose their fathers in service for the country, then their mothers to madness, depression, or other causes of death.
And they would be alone.
They would always feel alone, no matter who they were with. To experience loss so early would make them wary of losing everything soon enough.
Joan knew that lighter was significant to him. While the shrinks weren't looking, she went to approach the child.
"Hey there. Can I sit here?"
The boy just nodded, but his eyes remained on the lighter and the flame.
She asked him: "Where'd you get that?"
"A kind lady with fire for hair."
Joan narrowed his eyes. "Fire for hair... She's a ginger, then?"
The boy nodded. "Ginger is a bad way to describe the color, though. She doesn't like it. I don't think it's right either. Ginger is too yellow….. Hers is more like orange and red, so bright yet also so dark. And thick."
Joan tried to visualize this woman, but since she was only given a vivid description of her hair, that's all she could imagine.
Barely a woman besides the fire in her hair.
"And this lady….. When did she give this to you?"
"That night. When the shadows chased me. She said it will keep them away, and it did." The boy stopped flicking his lighter, and turned to her.
"The world went so dark. So dark. There was no light. But the flame was enough, the flame burns and destroys and kills….. But that's all I have. I'd rather die from the fire than from those who do not have a skin of their own."
Joan felt something was more than meets the eye with this kid's experience. It doesn't feel like regular trauma, and so she decided to pay closer attention to him and to talk about him to Harker.
If Harker was available at all. She had been so busy with work too that she honestly didn't think he was the only one to blame for this 'not checking up' thing.
There's just many aspects in life besides relationships, especially romantic relationships. When you were in the honeymoon phase of love where it was just blooming, it was easy to get lost in it and live in a bubble for a while.
But you can't stay in the bubble forever, since the world is still waiting beyond that. And their time in that bubble was so brief that it felt abysmal compared to other matters.
As she went home, she went to call Harker, only to find that he had been calling earlier before. She quickly opened it.
Harker sounded tired. His words did not stick with her more than that tiredness in this voice. She recognized that very well, that sense that he was speaking through a thin paper and it was a bit muffled despite him speaking clearly.
There was something else bothering him.
"Okay... Wait a minute, Harker. Are you really okay? Do you….. Do you want me to come over and help look after the kids?"
Harker seemed to sigh in relief at this. "That would be great. Dad's still not home and he promised to be back yesterday. We'll talk about it better here."
He hung up, and Joan went on her way to his home.
This was her first time seeing the Jones residence. It was small, but she thought it must be pretty cozy. Harker would fondly describe during their times by a campfire some memories with his father and his 3 siblings.
And of course, his mother would be there too. But he seemed to only speak of her briefly, as if he was scared that if he talked about her for too long, the sad feelings would seep through and make their conversation awkward.
When Joan was there, Harker was more stable, but in a sort of stoic way. He seemed to just suppress or purposefully numb himself so he can perform his objective.
Which was to tell her the details of what he had been up to these past few days, and what their other plans were.
They talked about this in Harker's room after all the children had been put to sleep. They didn't really explain further why she was there and what their relationship was beyond that she was their professor.
It was fine with Joan. The children knew Mina was his girlfriend, so trying to explain that she too was his girlfriend would just add more complications given their age gap and the fact that it's uncommon for people to have a 'second girlfriend'.
She didn't mind. What she did mind was how utterly emotionless and practical Harker recalled everything, from the moment Roland asked for his help in the Garcia case down to him seeing through Felix' memories and learning the truth about his lack of attraction from Zaina.
"What about you?" Harker said in a mundane tone. "How have you been these few days?"
Joan frowned, but did not press further. Just like the boy too transfixed with this flame of his that he believed would fix everything, she thought she should watch Harker more in order to make the best decision for this matter.
"You mentioned shadow people. Now, I'm not sure if it's related or a coincidence, but we had this new patient. He's just a kid, name Aiden Moore. He said that he saw a shadow in an antique shop. That's why he threw a rock at it. Police found him and as police do, they beat him up. Social service got involved and insisted on taking Aiden to us for mental aid."
Harker raised an eyebrow. "Where is this antique shop?"
"From the records, it's near Columbus Park. Just across the street, not a very popular place since no one cares for antiques nowadays." Joan said. "It's a long shot, but we can check it out if you want."
Harker nodded. "Yeah…. It's a better place to start digging around than Holmwood University. I'm also interested in this fiery girl he mentioned. I think my dad had a client before too who had an obsession with depictions of a house fire in wood carved portraits."
Joan nodded. "Your dad is acting really weird. He got new feet now so he can move about, but…. Doesn't it feel like he's slowly abandoning his children nowadays? The least he can do is give a reason."
Joan then nudged him. "At least now I know where you got that from."
Harker wasn't even offended at this. "Yeah. Now that I'm at the receiving end of it…. Being kept in the dark really doesn't feel good. But I understand him too. I understand him very well."
Joan's expression softened. "You know we're always here for you, right? You can always ask us to take a break from work and school to join you—"
"No. I don't want to end up bothering you two more than I should. You two have a life with or without me. What I want is for that life to not be messy as much as possible." He said. "Thank you for the help, anyway."
Joan sighed. ".... There's no need for thank yous. I'm your lover, it's my job to help you through your shit somehow."
Harker smiled at this, and kissed her. But as their lips touched, he still felt that guilt that he was fire itself that would be burning every single person he touched and loved.
It reminded him of that wooden carving his father made. Two lovers kissing….
A skull in flames and a woman with fire in her hair.
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