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Messages - Johnny Storm

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1
Crash and Burn / Re: The Obligatory OOC Thread
« on: January 25, 2021, 03:11:56 PM »
Working on a little scene for this folder, to be posted soon. :)

2
Crash and Burn / Re: Maria's Big Break
« on: November 12, 2020, 07:34:16 PM »
Maria knew all the tricks. She didn't need to sign; she simply slid her little hand into Johnny's and gave him her best puppy-dog eyes. batting her lashes hopefully.

"Did you learn that from your mother?" Johnny asked, chuckling at Maria's efforts to persuade him. "I have an even better idea," he said, giving her little hand a gentle squeeze. "How about we do it together?"

The little girl bit her lip, and then nodded happily, swinging their joined hands back and forth for a cheerful moment before skipping after Liv and tugging Johnny with her. Never let it be said that the Storm children were not good at communicating with their parents, even without words.

All his suggestion really meant was that he'd be there to help. After all, the bag of dog food was a bit much for such a little girl to handle all on her own. Johnny caught up with Liv, smiling over at her, feeling that warm feeling of pride and happiness welling up inside him again. It felt strange sometimes, after being lonely for so long. He wasn't exaggerating when he said he was the luckiest man in Rhy'Din.

Who would have thought that such a bumpy start could have lead to this kind of domestic bliss for an Earth hero who had been known for his playing around? It just went to show - there's a boot for every foot, and Liv was more than happy to keep Johnny's feet warm and dry.

And who was Johnny to complain about that? He and Liv had their happily ever after, and they deserved it.

3
Crash and Burn / Re: Maria's Big Break
« on: November 12, 2020, 07:34:01 PM »
Johnny flicked a glance at Liv, but didn't bother to ask. He had a feeling he knew what she was doing, though he didn't know who she was checking in with. "If you decide you don't want to play her, that's okay, too. We're still proud of you, and there are lots of other parts to play."

"I want to see what I have to do before I say I can do it," Maria told him earnestly, brushing the crumbs off her hands and reaching for her mug once again. She beamed at the sensation of heat - it was good to have Johnny Storm for a dad.

"We can let Miss Anya know in a few days," Johnny said, leaning back in his chair to take a sip of his own cocoa, which never got cold so long as he kept one hand wrapped around the mug.

Liv smiled at a message on her phone, setting it to one side. "I owe Sol a box of home-made scones and clotted cream," she said, taking up her own mug. "He's hunting out a Balanchine for us to watch tonight."

"Doesn't he just have to snap his fingers and it appears?" Johnny asked, unsure just how Sol's so-called "powers" worked. He claimed to be a warlock, but Johnny wasn't sure what that even meant.

"I don't ask how he does things, I just limit myself to asking for favors only once in a while," Liv told him in amusement. "Besides, no one makes scones like I do."

"Oh, he wants homemade scones. That figures," Johnny said. If it had been up to him, he'd have stopped at a bakery and ordered a dozen.

"Every time I ask him for a personal favor, I end up baking something for him," Liv said laughingly. "It's kind of endearing, but don't you ever tell him that."

"I assume Brynne doesn't bake," Johnny remarked, taking up his cupcake for a bite and licking the frosting from his fingers, accompanied by a moan that indicated his approval.

"As far as I know, Sol does almost all the cooking in that house," Liv said. "He's apparently painfully good at it, giving her no incentive to learn how herself."

"Except for baking," Johnny remarked, as evidenced by Sol's continual request for Liv's baked goods. "Why doesn't he just snap his fingers and make his own scones?"

Maria tugged on his arm, raising her hands to answer for her mother. "Magic food isn't real food and it doesn't taste as good," she informed him airily.

"Really?" Johnny said, looking from one to the other. "I guess that explains it then." He grinned as he jammed the rest of the cupcake in his mouth, mumbling something with his mouth full which sort of sounded like, "Not as good as these."

Maria huffed out her silent giggle, waving a napkin at him to wipe his face with before diving back into her chocolate.

"You're such a pair of mucky pups," Liv sighed fondly.

Johnny licked the remains of cupcake from his lips, eyes bright with mischief. "I don't even know what that is. Do you know what a mucky pup is, Mo?" he asked, turning his question on Maria.

"Woof."

As her fingers flicked out that one word, Mo's lips formed it as well before she dissolved into giggles once again, leaning back against her chair, shoulders shaking. Liv couldn't help giggling along with her, rolling her eyes.

Johnny chuckled, pride and joy bubbling up inside him again, not only for his daughter, but for his wife, too. "I really am the luckiest guy in Rhy'Din," he said, repeating what he'd told the bartender, just a short while earlier.

"Oh, I think we got lucky to have you," Liv told him, glancing at the time on her phone. "Are we ready to go? Nat's going to be trying to deliver the terrible trio pretty soon, and we're not home!"

What could Johnny possibly say to that? He only beamed with further pride, glad they'd all found each other. As far as he was concerned, that had been nothing short of a miracle and one that had changed all their lives for the better. "Oh! We better get going then. We don't want make Nat mad!"

Wiping her hands and her mouth on the napkin that had been around her neck, Maria nodded enthusiastically once again. She was always happy to go home and see the girls after a long day of school and dancing; home was her happy place.

Johnny reached over to help Maria remove the napkin from around her neck and clean up, even though she didn't really need his help. "Happy, Mo?" he asked her, though he really needed no reassurance there.

Cleaned up, she swarmed over and into his lap, wrapping her arms around his neck as she planted a kiss on his cheek, together with a swell of happiness from deep inside. He could be fairly sure she was a happy little soul today.

He wasn't an empath, but he didn't have to be to know she was happy. Her kisses and hugs were proof enough. "Let's go home," he told her, hugging her close.

"Okay. Can I feed Bella tonight?"

The hope on Maria's face was bright and sweet as she wriggled down onto her feet. Liv let Johnny handle that, absently putting their things back onto the tray so the cleanup of their table would be easier for Blue and his staff.

"Is it your turn on the list?" Johnny asked in reply. Liv was famous for being organized and had come up with a chore chart, so the kids could keep track of who was in charge of what on any given day.

Maria pouted, looking over at Liv. Her mother chuckled.

"I am prepared to allow some negotiation," she conceded. "If you can persuade your dad to give up his Bella feeding rights for tonight, more power to you."

"Oh! Is it my turn?" Johnny said, chuckling. Liv was clearly the organized one; Johnny obviously had no clue it was his turn to feed Bella. "I think I can be persuaded," he teased, tossing a wink at Maria.

4
Crash and Burn / Re: Maria's Big Break
« on: November 12, 2020, 07:33:40 PM »
"Yeah ..." Johnny murmured, unsure just how to broach that subject, too, but at least it was good news. "Miss Anya had something else she wanted to talk to us about, too."

Maria tilted her head, stuffing her cupcake into her mouth as she waited for them to tell her what else she needed to decide on. It couldn't be anything bad, she already knew. They didn't feel worried, just nervy.

"You know the ballet is putting on the Nutcracker in a few weeks," Johnny started, reaching out to touch her hand. "Slow down with the cupcake, Mo. It's not going anywhere."

There was a sucking sound as she chewed, letting Johnny slow her down. Crumbs flew everywhere as she raised her hands to flicker her fingers in sign.

"Madame Irina says we're going to be in it," she told them. "She says there's children, and we can be it, if our mummies and daddies say we can."

"Yeah, about that ..." he said, reaching over to brush some of those crumbs from her mouth with a napkin. "They need someone to play Marie - the little girl the ballet is about. There isn't a lot of dancing involved, but it's a pretty big role. Miss Anya wanted to know if you'd like to play the part. You'd be sharing it with another girl, so you would only have to do half the shows."

For a brief moment, it looked as though the message "Error 404" was flashing behind Maria's eyes as she tried to absorb this. The little girl honestly did not know what to say. It was one thing to be good enough to move up, but quite another to be good enough to actually perform on a stage.

"It's a little girl's part," Johnny explained further, wondering if he'd just broken his daughter. "You won't be up there alone. There will be lots of other kids on stage, too," he assured her.

Liv glanced at Johnny, equally concerned that Maria had somehow just started a hard reboot internally. The little girl's mouth was opening and closing as she absorbed this information, making sense of it in her mind, and quite suddenly both her parents were overwhelmed with a rush of utter delight and happy disbelief.

Johnny was just starting to look worried when Maria finally reacted to the news. He breathed a sigh of relief, the worried frown turning to a warm smile. "What do you think?" he asked, not wanting to pressure her either way. This had to be completely up to her.

"Will it be hard?" she asked, fingers flickering quickly. "Do I have to school as well as the dancing on the stage?"

Liv bit down on a smile. "If you decide to dance, sweetheart, we'll talk to your teachers and work something out with them so you don't get too tired."

"I don't know how hard it will be," Johnny said, uncertainly. He didn't think it would be too hard, but he couldn't be sure. He thought the hardest part might just be gathering the courage to perform on stage. "But we can ask Miss Anya about that."

"Will you come see me?" was Maria's next question, wide eyes looking back and forth between her parents.

Liv met Johnny's gaze for a moment. "Every night you perform, one of us will be there," she promised.

"What your mom said," Johnny said, expression warm with affection, reaching over to touch her cheek. "Of course, we'll come see you. Everyone will come see you. We're so proud of you, sweetheart."

Her little cheek leaned into his touch for a moment before she added one more question, looking seriously into her father's eyes. "Do you think I can do it?"

His smile softened at her question, eyes warm with affection. "I think you can do most anything you want to do," he told her. Of course, some things were impossible - like talking and singing - but she had learned other ways to express herself.

Chewing on another mouthful of cake, Maria lapsed into thought for another long moment. Liv smiled, sipping her chocolate. She couldn't help but be proud of the way Maria was approaching this; that the little girl hadn't instantly said yes without even considering the consequences.

"You remember when we watched The Nutcracker last year?" Johnny asked her. "You'd be playing the part of the little girl who gets the nutcracker for a Christmas present," he said, though she probably knew that already.

"I thought she was called Clara?" The vague confusion on Maria's face was adorable, but understandable. Stories, in her experience, didn't change their protagonists from year to year.

"I thought so, too, but maybe there are different versions of the story," Johnny said, uncertainly. He didn't know enough about the story or the ballet to answer that question. "We can find out."

"We can find the different versions," Liv suggested. "I'm sure we can find a version of Balanchine's Nutcracker to watch tonight, or tomorrow. That is the version they'd like you to play in, sweetheart."

Maria seemed to relax with the knowledge that her confusion was not misplaced, and that her parents were prepared to watch ballet with her to work it out.

Johnny was relieved Liv knew more about the ballet in question than he did, but he was willing to learn, if only for Maria's sake. "We'll watch it together," he told them both.

"I would like that," Maria said, nodding. "I don't want to say yes if I don't know what I am saying yes to."

"You don't have to, but Miss Anya needs to know soon, so we'll have to watch it tonight or tomorrow." He didn't want to pressure her, but a decision needed to be made sooner rather than later.

The little girl nodded. "Yes, Papa."

Across the table, Liv already had her phone out, texting the only person she knew who might be able to scare up a video of said ballet in a couple of hours - Solomon.


5
Crash and Burn / Re: Maria's Big Break
« on: November 12, 2020, 07:33:17 PM »

"I've worked with her a lot, yes," Liv agreed, tilting her head curiously. Opposite her, Maria patted the seat by her own side to invite Johnny to sit down, patiently waiting to be given her snack.

"Have you ever known her to be manic?" he asked, as he went about handing out the mugs of hot cocoa and cupcakes before claiming that seat beside Maria.

"She gets a little hyperactive when she's stressed," Liv offered. "Why do you ask? Did Blue say something about her?" This was, of course, how Liv knew so much - she paid attention when people spoke.

"Just something in passing. Nothing important," Johnny said, turning his attention to Maria to see if her cocoa and cupcake were acceptable to her.

He found his little girl very carefully tying her napkin securely about her neck to protect her ballet leotard from any drips with a very serious expression on her face. Chocolate was a serious business, after all.

"Let me help," he told her, reaching over to help with the napkin. "There, how's that?" he asked, once the napkin was securely but not too tightly fastened around her neck.

She wiggled her head for a moment, and nodded, giving him a thumbs up. Then she scooted right up to the table, reaching for her cup of cream-covered cocoa with covetous eyes.

"Ready?" Johnny asked, picking up his mug and looking expectantly at his daughter. As soon as she signaled she was ready, they'd take their first sip together.

Wrapping her much smaller hands around her mug, Maria drew it close, licking her lips in anticipation. Liv watched them both, a loving smile playing about her lips. She loved watching Johnny and Maria interacting without any distraction from the other children. Perhaps he didn't know it, but he was a calmer, gentler version of himself around Maria, and she blossomed because of it.

He smiled, letting the child in him emerge, especially during moments like this. "One, two, three!" he said, before tipping the mug back for his first sip of cocoa, leaving a whipped cream mustache above his upper lip.

Maria all but disappeared behind her mug as she took that first sip, lowering it to reveal not only a whipped cream mustache, but a large dollop on the end of her nose and the suggestion of some on her forehead as well.

Johnny chuckled, licking his own mustache, as he reached over to dab the whipped cream from Maria's nose and forehead with a napkin. "It's good, isn't it?"

She nodded cheerfully, licking her lips clean as he rescued her from her new skincare regime. Setting her mug down, she let her hands do the talking. "Why are you nervous, Papa? You're all happy, but you're all twitchy, and it tickles."

"I'm not nervous," Johnny said, sighing when he realized he couldn't lie, not to a child who could sense his moods and feelings. "Okay, maybe I am just a little," he admitted. He had already told her there was something they wanted to talk to her about, but he wasn't too sure how to bring it up.

"You don't have to be nervous, Papa," Maria assured him, reaching out to hold his hand for a moment. "I promise I won't laugh."

Johnny smiled softened, touched by his daughter's kindness and caring, but her assurance was hardly necessary. "I'm not nervous about that," he told her. "The thing is ..." He glanced at Liv as if to ask her for a little help before continuing. "Miss Anya came out to talk to us a little while you were still dancing and tell us how happy she is with how you're doing."

"She's very impressed with you," Liv said, leaning forward to join in the conversation. "She asked us if we thought you would agree to move up from beginner to intermediate."

To say Maria was surprised was to lose a perfect opportunity to use the word flabbergasted. Wide-eyed and oh-mouthed, the little girl looked back and forth between her parents almost in disbelief. "Am I good enough?"

"She seems to think so, but you don't have to move up if you don't want to. She also suggested private lessons with Miss Merry, but again, it's up to you," Johnny explained.

Maria seemed to consider it for a moment, a flicker of what could almost have been fear showing itself in the aura of her usually contented emotions. "The girls are all bigger than me," she said, her little face worried.

"Miss Anya seems to think you're ready, but if you'd rather stay where you are, you can. She just doesn't want you to get bored," Johnny explained. "I have an idea ... What if you stay with your class and take a few lessons with Miss Merry to see how you do?"

"And that won't make people upset with me?" she asked.

Liv smiled gently. "Sweetheart, no one who is worth your affection will ever be upset with you for following your dreams," she promised their daughter.

"That's true," Johnny agreed. "Your true friends will be happy for you," he pointed out, reaching over to touch Maria's cup to ensure it didn't get cold. They never had to worry about that while he was around. "What do you think?"

"I like dancing," Maria admitted, her fingers moving more slowly, the way a person would speak aloud slowly as they worked their way through a thought. "I want to get better at it. But I made friends."

Johnny smiled, understanding all that and not really surprised at her reaction. "Do you want to have a few lessons with Miss Merry to see if you like It?"

It took a moment, but Maria eventually nodded. "If I don't like it, I can stop?" she asked, just to make sure.

"Yes, of course," Johnny assured her. "We'd never make you do anything you don't want to do." Except maybe go to school, but that was kind of a given.

"You can think about it some more," Liv assured her. "You don't have to make a decision straight away today. There's something else we do need to make a decision about in a couple of days, though."

6
Crash and Burn / Re: Maria's Big Break
« on: November 12, 2020, 07:33:02 PM »

Fortunately, Maria was small for her age or it wouldn't have been possible. Johnny made sure he had a firm grip on Maria's hand before nodding to Liv to let her know he was ready. "Might as well take advantage of it now because someday you're gonna be too big for this."

Beaming, Maria jumped, and together Liv and Johnny managed to get her high enough that she landed securely on the top step of the entrance to the Shanachie Theater while they were still on the sidewalk.

"Well, if that isn't flying, I don't know what is!" Liv teased.

"You know exactly what flying is!" Johnny remarked back with a teasing grin. It wasn't often he took anyone flying with him - it was just too dangerous - but Liv had flown with him at least once.

She laughed, releasing Maria's hand so the little girl didn't tip backwards down the steps before they reached her. "There are many types of flying, Sparky," she informed her husband, jogging up those steps to open the door.

Johnny arched his brows, wondering momentarily what his wife meant by that. "Are you flirting with me?" he asked, following her up the stairs and reaching around them both to yank the door open.

Liv glanced down at Maria, who was giggling to herself as she basked in the affectionate warmth between her parents. "Do you need me to carry flash cards now, so you know when I'm flirting?" she asked Johnny innocently.

"It might help," he replied, tossing a teasing grin back at her. He had always been a little clueless when it came to Liv's flirting, even now.

"Your father is a very silly man," Liv informed Maria with a faint grin.

The little girl laughed her silent laugh, pausing to hug Johnny's leg before responding. "But we love him anyway."

"You better love me," he scolded her playfully, reaching down to gently tweak Maria's nose. "Who do you think is paying for your hot chocolate?"

"Mama."

Liv laughed again at Maria's cheeky answer to her father, leading the way into the little cafe that was attached to the theater. Though it was also owned by Elena, this was a slightly less informal cafe than Incredible Edibles, often frequented by people in need of a little quiet during a hectic day.

"Very funny," Johnny murmured as he followed Maria's lead. She'd been here with them enough times to know her way around and to know most of the workers by name.

Blue was behind the counter today - a bit of a surprise, given that he ran the theater's bars during performances, but he tended to help out where he was needed during the day. He smiled at the Storms.

"Well, look who's all dolled up like a prima ballerina," he said cheerfully. "What can I get you, folks?"

"Three hot chocolates and uh ..." Johnny glanced at Liv and Maria. "Three cupcakes?" he asked, uncertainly, almost as if he needed Liv's permission first.

"That sounds like a good idea," Liv agreed, groaning a little as she finally gave in and lifted Maria up onto her hip. "You, little miss, are getting a bit big to be carried around like this. I'm a wimpy little weed, you know."

"Why don't you two get a table while I do the honors here?" Johnny suggested, tugging his wallet out of his jeans. He would have taken Maria himself, but he had a feeling Liv was enjoying holding her close, despite her complaints to the contrary. Children only stayed little for a short time, after all.

"All right." Liv leaned in to kiss his cheek, holding there just long enough for Maria to do the same before the two ladies wandered off to find the perfect place to sit together.

Blue grinned at Johnny as his hands busily created the desired beverages. "Looks like you're having a good day, mate."

"I am the luckiest guy in Rhy'Din," Johnny said, beaming a proud smile at the other man. The luckiest guy in the multiverse really. He had an amazing wife who adored him and six happy, healthy children.

"One of them," Blue agreed. "I know a few of you fellas who tell me that on the daily, and I won't disagree. Not entirely sure Max is all that lucky, though - he is married to my boss, and she's a bit of a hard arse when she has things she wants done."

"Who's that? Mataya?" Johnny asked. He'd never had a problem with the woman, but then he'd never worked for her either. "Maybe she just has high standards."

"Have you ever seen her on a techie rehearsal day?" Blue asked with a laugh. "Manic does not even begin to cover it." He set three cups piled high with whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles on a tray, turning away briefly to add the requested cupcakes. "There ya go."

"Can't say I have," Johnny replied, sliding enough coins to pay for their order, along with a tip across the counter. He didn't really have much to say about Mataya, when he was known to be manic himself at times. "Thanks, Blue! You're the best!"

"I live to serve, mate." The cheerful bartender saluted him before turning back to cleaning the counters, letting Johnny escape without getting fully into a conversation he might not have wanted to have.

A quick glance around the cafe revealed that Maria and Liv had managed to snag their favourite seat - against the floor to ceiling window overlooking the park, tucked neatly in a corner behind one of the many bookcases, underneath the staircase to the loft level of seating.

Johnny snagged their tray and turned to scan the room in search of Liv and Maria before spying them in their favorite spot and heading that way. "You know Mataya pretty well, don't you?" he asked Liv in a quiet voice as he set the tray on the table.


7
Crash and Burn / Re: Maria's Big Break
« on: November 12, 2020, 07:32:47 PM »
"I should be the one thanking you," the diminutive dancer said warmly. "She is a joy to watch." Liv preened proudly. It had taken them a long time to find Maria's niche; it was stunning to realize just how well it suited her.

Johnny looked like he was about to burst, which probably wouldn't bode well for either the students or their parents, given his propensity for heat. "Did you hear that, Liv?" he said, once Anya had taken her leave. "Our Maria is a prodigy!"

"I did!" Liv laughed, letting herself be just as excited for a brief moment - long enough to throw her arms around Johnny's neck and hug him tightly. "I don't know what to say!"

He smooched her loudly, grinning from ear to ear. It was taking all his self-control not to pick her up and spin her around for sheer joy, and not just because the other parents were arriving. "I don't either! But I'm so ... relieved."

"I know what you mean," she agreed, leaning against his chest as much to enjoy the closeness as to keep them both from flailing and hitting other parents. "She's finally found a place for herself that she seems to love."

"I'm so happy for her," Johnny said with tears in his eyes he hoped no one else noticed but her. Of all their children, he thought Maria had suffered the most, though she also seemed the happiest and most well-adjusted. "I just want her to be happy," he murmured, clinging to Liv, despite the small crowd of parents that were gathering nearby.

"I think she is," Liv mused happily. The underlying buzz of conversation suddenly grew louder as the studio doors started to open, with little dancers of varying ages skipping out to greet their parents and be taken home. They never needed to worry about Maria not being able to find them - that unique empathic ability of hers meant she could hone in on them from miles away if she needed to.

Johnny sniffled as the doors opened and the kids started streaming out in search of their parents. He didn't really care what anyone else thought, but he didn't want Maria to see him crying.

Lucky for him, their little ballerina was one of the last ones out, skipping along with one of the other little girls, both of them with fingers flashing as they said their goodbyes to one another. Then Maria turned, and without even looking to be sure she was going the right way, barreled straight over to Liv and Johnny with a beaming smile to hug them both in delight.

Johnny beamed a smile at the sight of their little girl, sweeping her up into his arms, despite the fact that she was not as little as she had once been. "How was your lesson? Did you have fun?" he asked, as she hugged them both.

Maria nodded furiously, beaming as she picked up on their shared happy mood. Her fingers flickered to reply. "Madame Irina says we will have a recital and I can dance on my own and it's going to be so fun!"

"That sounds like fun!" Johnny said, with a momentary glance at Liv before looking back at Maria. "Are you hungry? I was thinking maybe we'd stop at the cafe for a snack before heading home."

"Won't Alexei mind?" was their daughter's inevitable worry, reassured when Liv smiled at her.

"It's Alexei's day to be picked up from soccer by Fliss," she reminded Maria. "I don't think he can object to us having some Maria time if he's having Fliss time."

"Right, and there's something we want to talk to you about," Johnny said. "A good something," he added, not wanting to worry her.

Maria seemed to consider this for a moment, possibly checking in with Alexei in her own unique way from the other side of the city, before nodding once more. "Can I have hot chocolate?"

"If that's what you want!" Johnny replied, smiling back at her before setting her back on her feet and offering her his hand. He was pretty sure Fliss was doing her fair share of spoiling Alex in their absence.

And, of course, there would be special time set aside for Bessie and the twins at some point soon, too. They were good at making one on one time for all their children. With each parent holding each of Maria's hands, the little family made their way out onto the street.

"So which cafe are we going to?" Liv asked Johnny with a grin.

Johnny shrugged. It hardly mattered to him, but he had a feeling Maria might have a preference. "What do you think, Mo?" he asked, using the nickname they'd given her.

The little girl grinned up at him, not taking her hands from theirs, and suddenly Johnny and Liv had a very clear feeling that they wanted to go to the theater cafe, not Incredible Edibles.

Liv gasped, looking down at Maria in amazement. "That's amazing, sweetheart!"

"Was that you putting that thought in my head?" Johnny asked, though that much seemed obvious. "Hmm, I think I want hot chocolate, too," he remarked with a grin, wondering if that had come from her or himself.

Maria beamed, delighted that her new trick worked on her parents, making a mental note to tell Alyona about her success next time she saw the Sokovian woman.

"I would have thought you'd be asking for ice cream," Liv teased Johnny as they started to cross the street toward the Shanachie.

"Nah, it'll melt too fast," he said, grinning back at her. "Besides, it's fall. Ice cream is for summer," he explained, despite the fact that ice cream was his favorite sweet treat.

"Says the man who once bought me ice cream in the middle of a blizzard because I was sad and he couldn't work out how to cheer me up," she countered laughingly, bracing her arm as Maria began to jump between them hopefully.

Johnny smirked at Maria's attempt to use her parents' arms as a swing. "Don't you think you're a little too old for that?" he asked, though he was clearly amused.

She shook her head, swinging their hands back and forth hopefully. Liv snorted with laughter.

"You and your sisters are so bad for my shoulders," she said fondly, glancing at Johnny to make sure he was ready.

8
Crash and Burn / Re: Maria's Big Break
« on: November 12, 2020, 07:32:33 PM »
"But you think she's ready," Johnny said, just needing that little bit of confirmation. "She really seems to love it," he said, though he knew it wasn't always going to be fun. Then again, anything really worth pursuing wasn't always easy.

"I do think she's ready," Anya confirmed. "And, because of that, I would like to ask you both how you feel about her performing on stage."

Liv blinked - she hadn't been expecting that.

"On stage?" Johnny echoed, mirroring Liv's blink of surprise. What role could little Maria possibly be ready to dance on stage? Then again, he knew the various companies at the theater sometimes drew on students from STARS and the dance studio for performances.

"Yes." Anya's smile softened in the face of their surprised confusion. "The Shanachie Ballet Company is putting on a production of Balanchine's Nutcracker in November," she went on to explain. "We would like to ask Maria to share the role of Marie with Caty Harker, if she would like it."

Johnny's eyes widened a little , still looking a little stunned. "Really?" he asked, as if he hadn't heard her right again. They wanted their little Maria to share the lead role? It was an opportunity she would have never been able to enjoy had she joined STARS.

"Truly." Anya nodded, her eyes crinkling as she smiled. "She has an incredibly expressive form in her dancing. We think her interpretation of Marie will win over audiences easily."

It seemed to take Johnny a moment to take this in, his heart swelling with pride at Maria's achievement. In all honestly, he had always worried about her most. "Are you sure she's ready for that?" he asked again.

"Sharing the role will mean that she does not have to shoulder eight performances a week for three weeks," Anya explained. "But it is entirely up to you, and to Maria, as to whether or not she is ready for it. We will look after her, I assure you."

Johnny once again looked to Liv for her opinion, though he couldn't help but feel a swell of parental pride and joy, not only at the prospect of their daughter being on stage but at the news of her progress and talent. "I don't know what to say," he murmured, trying hard not to get emotional.

Liv didn't look like she was doing much better with the news than he was, her mouth working for a moment before she could produce words. "I, uh ..." She cleared her throat. "I think it should be Maria's decision," she said finally. "I don't know what else to say about it, I never ... I knew she enjoyed dancing, that she's good at it, but I didn't think she would excel this much so soon."

"Agreed," Johnny seconded Liv's thoughts. "Can you give us a few days to talk to her and to think about it?" he asked. They couldn't very well agree to something like this, until they talked to Maria about it.

"Of course," Anya assured them. "Rehearsals for the production won't start until next Monday, and she won't be required for every rehearsal until the last week before the production starts. If she decides she would like to be part of the Nutcracker, we'll make sure you have full interaction with every step of the process."

Johnny nodded his understanding. "Okay, sounds good," he said, still looking a little but stunned. He wasn't sure if he wanted to shout a Hoorah at the top of his lungs or break down in tears. "Thank you so much. We really do appreciate everything you've done for our daughter. She's ..." he stammered a moment. "She's special."

Anya's smile was soft and understanding. "We have done very little," she said quietly. "All we have done was provide tools and techniques. Maria is the one who makes use of them in a way that sets her very much apart from the crowd. It is rare to see a dancer so accomplished at expression through movement at her age. If she chooses to, she will go far."

Though Johnny was surprised at Anya's assessment of Maria's progress, it didn't really surprise him too much to hear that she excelled at being able to silently express herself. He knew that was in good part due to the safe and loving environment he and Liv had given the little girl when they'd made her part of their family. Things could have turned out much worse. "I'm still grateful," he insisted. "We worry about her."

"If I may make a suggestion," Anya added. "It may be worth looking into encouraging her to try interpretive dance. Ballet can be very restrictive at times, and her expression is what makes her so arresting to watch."

"Interpretive dance?" Johnny echoed, looking puzzled again. "Where do we find someone who teaches that?" he asked, uncertainly. "Is there a class for that here?"

"We have been looking into opening interpretive dance classes," Anya told him. "It likely won't happen for a few months, but when it does, would you like us to contact you and reserve a space for her?"

Johnny looked again to Liv, unsure if they should make that decision now or wait and talk to Maria first. "What do you think?"

"I think we should wait and see on that point," Liv said thoughtfully. "She's very open with us about what she enjoys and what she doesn't. If it comes to the point where she feels restricted by ballet, she'll let us know, and we can move on from there."

"Mother knows best," Johnny said with a warm smile. He trusted Liv to know what was best for her children far better than he did.

"Not always," she murmured in answer, but there was a faintly pleased flush on her cheeks as she said it. It was good to know that Johnny trusted her so much with what was best for their children.

Anya bit down on a chuckle at the familiar interaction. "If you could let me know about the Nutcracker before the end of the week, that would be wonderful," she said, not even needing to look at the clock to know that the studios would be opening their doors very soon. Other parents were starting to arrive.

"We definitely will! Thank you so much, Anya. We really appreciate it," Johnny said, just barely holding himself back from either hugging the woman or vigorously shaking her hand.


9
Crash and Burn / Maria's Big Break
« on: November 12, 2020, 07:32:16 PM »
October 5th, 2020

De Luca Dance was eerily quiet when dancing lessons were in session, each studio well sound-proofed so that none of them interfered with the other. With no other parents yet arrived to collect their enthusiastic bundles of energy, it was almost peaceful. It was certainly joyful, in a very soft way, to look through the glass of the window and watch as Maria shone while dancing with her own group, Liv couldn't keep herself from beaming proudly at the sight of their silent little sweetheart well and truly out of her shell thanks to ballet.

"She's a little angel, isn't she?" Johnny said, beaming proudly right beside Liv as they watched their silent little girl shine. It had taken a little while for them to find something Maria not only enjoyed but excelled at, and Johnny was overjoyed to see Maria in her element and thoroughly enjoying herself.

"She's so graceful," Liv agreed softly. "You wouldn't believe it, with all the falling in mud holes she does at home." Maria certainly didn't lack for enthusiasm in anything she did, but it was obvious now that dancing was clearly something that touched her little heart.

"Running around in the backyard isn't the same as dancing, Liv," Johnny pointed out. Dancing required poise and grace, not to mention patience and determination, all of which he thought Maria had in spades.

"It builds her stamina," Liv said in amusement, glancing over her shoulder at the sound of quiet footsteps in the stillness.

Anya De Luca, the tiny ballet mistress who somehow oversaw classes here, the dancers' syllabus for the dancers at the Rosita De Luca Drama School, and taught the ballet class for under fives, smiled as she approached the Storms.

"Good afternoon," she greeted them. "Thank you for coming in a little early."

Johnny turned to greet the tiny ballerina with a friendly smile, fatherly pride written all over his face. "Thanks for inviting us," he replied. "How's she doing? It's all she talks about lately," he told her, assuming Anya had invited them there to give them an update on Maria's progress.

"She is doing rather fantastically, actually," Anya told them, inviting them to come and sit down with her in the comfortable chairs by the wide window. "I have two things I would like to run by you, with regards to Maria."

Liv tore her gaze away from the little dancers, tilting her head curiously as she followed to the seats.

Johnny's smile faded, replaced by a worried look, despite Anya's reassurance that their little girl was doing well. "Is she getting along okay with the other children?" he asked, that thought the first worry to cross his mind. He knew it wasn't always easy for Maria to make friends, given the fact that she needed to use sign language in order to communicate, but she had a sweet disposition that made her easily likable.

"Oh, there are no concerns on that score," Anya was quick to reassure him. "It was a little bumpy in the first weeks, but since you gave us that information about the sign language classes, I can confidently state that they are somewhat overbooked from us." She laughed faintly. "Maria is very patient with everyone who talks with her and tries to use sign, which is wonderful to see."

"Oh, good," Johnny said, exhaling a sigh of relief. He just wanted their little girl to be happy and lead as normal a childhood as was possible, despite her difficulty in communicating. "She really is an angel," he said, with obvious pride and affection.

"An extremely talented angel with an incredible capacity to learn at speed," Anya said, gently sliding into her first point. "To the point where I would like to raise her into intermediate classes. I know she has only been taking the beginner classes for a few months, but she has perfected almost everything she needs to perfect to advance. However, I do understand that her age might make her wary of moving up to share classes with girls who are significantly older than she is, and if she would prefer, I would like to arrange for her to have private lessons with Merethyl to keep her progress moving forward, rather than stagnating where she is."

Johnny blinked, clearly stunned by what Anya was telling them. "You want move her up?" he asked, as if to confirm what he thought he was hearing. He knew Maria enjoyed her lessons and Anya had assured them she was doing well, but this had not expected.

"I would," she confirmed, smiling at his surprise. "I believe you may have something of a prodigy on your hands there, Mr. Storm. Her talent and ability to learn far outclass the girls her own age, and those above her."

"You're serious," he said, almost expecting her to say she was kidding at any minute, but why would she? He exchanged glances with Liv, as if silently asking his wife for her opinion.

Liv was looking a little conflicted. "I wouldn't want her progress to suffer," she said carefully, "but Maria gets more out of these classes than just training. She's developing friends with similar interests, and I would hate to take that away from her."

"What if we left her in class with children her own age and she had private lessons in addition to that?" Johnny suggested, in agreement with Liv, but also not wanting to stifle Maria's progress if she truly was as talented as Anya seemed to think.

"That is a very good solution," Anya agreed, "and one I would not charge you additionally for. Merry has been teaching Zahan one on one for a few years now, so if you would like a testimonial before making the decision, I would suggest you talk with her and her parents. My other note is ... well, it is more of a request."

"Oh, no ... I don’t think that will be necessary, will it?" Johnny said, once again looking to Liv for her input. He trusted Anya's judgment and they knew Zahan and her parents well enough to have already heard praise for her teacher.

"I think maybe Maria should talk to Zahan about it?" Liv suggested to her husband. "She's never had any one-on-one tutoring except with Alyona, and that is a little different than it would be with a non-telepath."

Johnny nodded agreeably. "That sounds reasonable," he said, knowing Liv always knew best, especially where the children were concerned. "Anyway, it should be up to Maria, too," he added.

"Oh, no, of course," Anya said warmly. "This is why I am approaching you first, since you should be the ones to approach Maria about it. She will be more inclined to give you her honest opinion. I think my students are sometimes more worried about disappointing me than listening to themselves."


10
Crash and Burn / Re: After the Fires
« on: October 22, 2020, 02:07:58 PM »
"Stop it, Fliss. You are always a good wife, but more importantly, you are a good person. You're a hero to a lot of people, including me," he told her, pulling back the covers once they reached the bed so that he could tuck her in.

She laughed quietly. "You're the best," she said. He never let her put herself down without arguing with her, even when she said it jokingly. He was better at the psychology than she was some days.

"Get some rest, baby. I'm not going anywhere," he assured her as he helped her into bed, even going so far as to take her shoes off before tucking the blankets over her and leaning close to press a kiss to her forehead. "Love you, Fliss."

"Love you back," she managed, her weariness catching up to her in a big way. One hand groped for his, not sure if he was coming to bed or just putting her to bed, but not wanting him to go far.

There was nowhere he'd rather be at that moment but right there beside her, proving it by climbing into bed beside her and pulling her close. He might not fall asleep just yet. In fact, he was likely to just lie awake and watch her awhile, but he wasn't going anywhere, and neither was she.



11
Crash and Burn / Re: After the Fires
« on: October 22, 2020, 02:07:43 PM »
Lucas couldn't help but chuckle. He knew how close she was to her parents - her father, in particular. There had been a time when he'd worried he could never take the man's place in her heart, before he had realized he didn't have to. "They missed him. They missed you both."

"I figured," she grinned. "How many nights did Mom bully you into having dinner with them over there? She worries when one of us is on our own for more than, like, four hours."

He rolled his eyes, chuckling again. "I lost count," he admitted. "But I mean, my mom was almost as bad. I had to remind them more than once that I know how to take care of myself." Of course, it wasn't really about that so much as about him not being alone.

"They love you," she teased affectionately. "Not as much as me, but then, I don't usually use food as a method of showing my love. I have boobs."

Lucas blinked, not quite following her train of thought. "What does boobs have to do with it?" he asked, looking puzzled.

"You know I love you, I let you play with them," she informed him impishly, lifting her chin to brush a grinning a kiss to his cheek.

"Oh, I see," he replied with another chuckle. "I did miss them," he said, shifting his gaze momentarily downward before looking back at her face. "But I missed you more," he added, brushing a kiss against her lips.

Fliss giggled into his kiss, her fingers drifting through his hair and back just a little further to caress his feathers briefly before returning to his neck and shoulder. "Are you on shift tomorrow?"

"Mm," he murmured, obviously distracted by her attention. "I can call in," he added, sliding his hands up her waist and leaning in to brush more kisses against her neck. He hardly ever took any time off, after all, and now that she was home, he wanted nothing more than to spend time with her.

"Pretty sure they won't hold it against you," she murmured, gently nibbling on his ear. "Want to go to bed, sweet stuff?"

"I do if you do," he replied, though it was pretty obvious what he wanted at that point. "Tired?" he asked, drawing momentarily back to meet her gaze. He could see the weariness in her face and didn't really need an answer to that question, but left it up to her. He had waited this long; he could wait a little bit longer.

She sighed, nodding reluctantly. "I'll make it up to you in the morning," was her promise, though, especially if he was going to call in sick. If she did it right, he wouldn't be able to walk further than the bathroom for a few hours.

"Time to tuck you in then," he said, moving to his feet and pulling her up off the couch with him. He'd saved enough days off that calling in one day shouldn't be a big deal. Even if he did feel a little guilty about it, he deserved a day off now that Fliss was home, and he intended to make the most of it.

Tugged up onto her feet, she leaned into him affectionately. "If I'm good, do I get a bedtime story as well?" she teased, resting her head onto his shoulder as they turned together toward the stairs.

"I can think of better things to do, but I think you need to sleep," he said, wrapping an arm around her waist to help her up the stairs.

"You are the perfect husband," she murmured, smiling to herself as they headed to bed. "I will be a better wife in the morning, promise."

12
Crash and Burn / Re: After the Fires
« on: October 22, 2020, 02:07:27 PM »
To be fair, she did look tired. It had been a rough couple of weeks for her, but she wasn't ready to sleep yet. "I'm good," she promised him. "So much better now I'm home." Without conscious thought, she curled her arms around him, burying her face into the crook of his neck to breathe him in. "I love being home. I love you."

He smiled, happy to just hold her for as long as she wanted. "I love you, too, and I missed you," he told her again. He would never make her promise not to go away again, if she was needed, but he hoped it wouldn't happen again anytime soon, if ever. "Come on," he told her, taking her by the hand to lead her further into the house. "Let's get comfortable."

"Mmm, that sounds wonderful." She shuffled along behind him, happy to be lead. Her parents would likely be a little surprised by how acquiesant their eldest was in the company of her husband, but then, she didn't have to be the one in charge in her own home. Luc would take care of her.

He didn't take her to the bedroom, but to the living room, pulling her down beside him onto the couch. It was cozy enough there, and what he really wanted was just to be close for now. The rest would come later.

And she was right there with him, curling up as close as she could get to him, needing that reminder that, despite all the heat and hardship, she really was home and safe and with him. It was a weak feeling she would never admit to Johnny, but with Lucas, she wasn't ashamed of the fear she had been feeling for days.

He wasn't telepathic or even empathic, but Lucas knew Fliss almost better than anyone, and he had a feeling the last two weeks had been harder for her than she'd let on. "Are you okay?" he asked, wrapping his arms around her to hold her close in his embrace.

"I will be," she said softly. "I know we saved a lot of lives, but ... so many of them lost almost everything because of those fires, you know? They have to rebuild with nothing to start from. And that's just the people. Am I an idiot for crying over wild animals and the trees themselves?"

"No, of course not," he said, frowning in concern, not only for her but for everyone who was affected by the fires, including that of nature. "But, you know, fires are a part of nature, too. They just got out of control," he reasoned, though that might not give her much comfort.

"I know," she sighed. "I guess I take everything a little too much to heart, huh? Not the best quality in a psychologist, really." She snorted with laughter, trying to make light of the open heart she'd learned from her parents.

"You take everything to heart because you care, Fliss. That's not a bad thing," he told her. "You want to help kids like yourself and Maria and Alex. That's not a bad thing either. And you know what?" he asked, tipping her chin to face him, a reassuring smile on his face. "You're gonna be awesome at it.

She smiled faintly, letting him see how tired she was after two weeks of hard graft with minimal sleep. "You're way too good for my ego, you know," she said fondly. "How have you been? You didn't tell me much about what was going on here when we talked on the phone."

Lucas shrugged. "I'm fine. Just missed you and wish I could have helped," he admitted. He'd felt more than a little useless while she'd been away, but he would have only been in the way.

"Baby, what you do here is completely incomparable," she reminded him gently. "Trust me, I've been in a situation where I had to be rescued from danger. I know how amazing it is to be pulled out of harm's way by someone who chose to be there. You're a hero, even if you don't realize it."

"I'm not a hero, Fliss. I'm just doing my job," he insisted, but none of that really mattered now that she was home. "I'm just glad you're home," he told her, pulling her tighter, as if he never wanted to let her go.

"It feels good to be home," she agreed, cuddling in tight herself. "I missed you so much. I mean, I love Dad, but his idea of evening conversation before bed suffers without Mom and the kids there to keep him on one topic for more than ten minutes."

13
Crash and Burn / Re: After the Fires
« on: October 22, 2020, 02:07:10 PM »
"I wonder if I taste smoky," he mused aloud. "Smoked Johnny, that's me," he added with a smirk at his own corny joke.

She snorted with laughter. "I don't think I've ever acquired a taste for smoked sausage," she admitted with a wicked little grin, final
ly rising up onto her toes to claim a proper kiss. "Welcome home, sweetheart."

"It's good to be home," he murmured against her lips before indulging in that kiss and deepening it. It had only been two weeks, but he had missed her, too. He had never been away from her for that long before and never wanted to be again.

Liv hugged herself close to him, letting her kisses tell him how deeply he had been missed. She would never stop him from following where his heart told him he needed to go, so long as he always came back to her.

There was no doubt he'd always come back. While New York would always feel like home, Rhy'Din was where his family was and hence, where his heart was. This was where he always wanted to be.

The best thing about leaving was having a home to come back to, and Fliss was just now discovering how sweet that really was. There was something very special about being welcomed home by someone who loved you, who had missed you as much as you missed them. So special, in fact, that she hadn't stopped grinning like a fool yet.

Lucas hadn't been very vocal about welcoming Fliss home in front of her family, but the kisses they'd since shared had said more than words. He was proud of her for doing what she could to help with the fires, but he had missed her terribly.

It took them a little longer than usual to make the walk from her parents' house to their own, given the amount of kisses shared every few steps, but finally they were behind their own front door, and the very last vestiges of tension relaxed from Fliss' shoulders. She smiled up at Lucas tenderly. "I missed you, you know that?"

"I missed you, too," he told her, glad they were behind closed doors now, so that he could show her how much he missed her without embarrassing himself. "I was worried about you," he added with a small frown.

"I'm sorry," she apologized, and she meant it. Her fingers stroked gently against his cheek. "I never meant to worry you. I'm never in danger when it's fire, baby. And besides, Dad's too much of a helicopter to let me get hurt."

"I know, but I couldn't help it. Matt and Cas tried to take my mind off things, but it was hard," he admitted. It wasn't that he didn't believe in her or trust her, but only that he was worried about her safety, fire or no. "I'm proud of you though," he added, smiling softly.

She nuzzled to him, smiling her own soft smile in response. "It feels good, to be able to use what I was born with to help without hurting people," she said quietly. "But I don't think I'm ever going to be a hero with a capital H. I'm happy just being Fliss."

"Maybe you were given that gift for a reason," he pointed out. It wasn't the first time he had mentioned it. He wasn't so sure about his own supposed "gift", but he was about hers.

"Still not sure it's a gift," she insisted, dismissing the kinder means of describing her ability with a fond smile. "You're a gift, though. One of these days, I'm going to wrap you up with a ribbon just so I can unwrap you slowly."

"Well, Christmas is coming," he teased with a smirk. It would be their first Christmas together as a married couple, but he thought she deserved more than just him for Christmas. "Are you tired? Hungry?" he asked, searching her face as if he might find the answers in her eyes.

14
Crash and Burn / Re: After the Fires
« on: October 22, 2020, 02:06:53 PM »
"It would only melt," he added, with a wink at Liv. "Anyway, most of the fires are under control now, and Fliss and I are home safe and sound, and that's all that matters, right?" he said. "Did you miss me?" he added, that smirk back on his face again.

Little Maria nodded, throwing her arms around Johnny's neck to hug him tight all over again. A warm pulse of worried affection made itself known in his heart, a sharing of her feelings through the empathic abilities she was learning to control.

Not to be upstaged by his sister, Alex followed suit. He was still young enough that he wasn't afraid to show affection for his family members, including his parents. "We all missed you, Papa ... Even Lir!" he told his father.

Watching as Johnny was smothered with love by his older children, Liv smiled to herself, letting him have as much time as he needed. Alex and Maria were almost certainly delaying bedtime on purpose, and she knew it, but at the same time, she didn't blame them for it. Johnny had been missed, and he deserved to know it.

Johnny ate up the love for as long as he could, before Alex pulled away to ask, "Can we have milk and cookies before bed?"

 Johnny chuckled. He didn't doubt that they'd missed him, but he was well aware they were conning him, too. "I don't know, can you?" he asked, looking to Liv for an answer.

Liv didn't even try to hide the grin on her face as she answered. "Seeing as you've already had milk and cookies tonight, I'm going to go with a big ol' nope," she informed them, chuckling at the brazen impudence. "Honestly, you'd think Papa and I never actually talk to each other sometimes!"

Alex blew out a breath and pouted, though he couldn't very well argue with his mother when she was right. "Sorry, Mama," he murmured.

"Tell you what ..." Johnny was quick to interject. "If you both go right to sleep, I'll make my special chocolate chip pancakes in the morning, okay?"

Maria's eyes went wide with hopeful excitement, a promise that earned Johnny another kiss and a hug before she seized her brother's hand and started to tug him toward the stairs.

Liv laughed quietly, bending to kiss Alex's hair. "Nice try," she complimented him. "Maybe next time."

"G'night!" Alex told them both, glad his mother wasn't angry with him. Chocolate chip pancakes were better than cookies anyway.

"Not too early!" Johnny called as the pair thumped their way up the stairs to bed.

Laughing, Liv leaned against the wall, listening to the thump of feet up the stairs and into bedrooms. "They've missed you," she said, looking over at Johnny.

"Did you miss me?" he asked, taking a step closer so that he could wind his arms around his wife's waist and kiss her nose.

"Mmm, I might be persuaded to admit to that, yes," she teased softly, that tease belied easily by the way she went so willingly into his arms to cuddle close. "You smell gorgeously smoky, by the way."

His brows arched upwards at her statement, even as she snuggled in. "I took a shower!" he insisted, pausing a moment to take a sniff of his own clothes, but he and Fliss had been so engulfed in smoke for the last two weeks that he was a little immune to the smell.

She chuckled, hugging her arms tight about him. "I like that smoky smell, believe it or not," she informed him. That must have been odd to know, given that she herself had been in a life-threatening fire not so very long ago. But that smell reminded her of him, and how could she not love it?

15
Crash and Burn / Re: After the Fires
« on: October 22, 2020, 02:06:36 PM »
"Yes, you have to," Liv reminded the kids. "Because you are still going to school tomorrow, whether you sleep or not. Evil mum is evil, I know." She flashed a smile at the pair, careful not to glance in Fliss and Lucas' direction either.

Johnny smirked as he led the way back to the house. "Go home, Fliss," he said, as he passed the young couple, their house a short walk away.

"Come to dinner tomorrow," Liv added, flashing their eldest a warm smile. She knew, as well as Johnny did, that tonight was definitely all about reconnecting.

Fliss smiled, gently drawing back from her kiss with Lucas to wave at her parents and siblings. "Night, guys," she called. "We'll see you tomorrow!"

"Night!" Lucas called back, mirroring Fliss' wave, a smile on his face that hadn't been there for two weeks now that Fliss was home. He'd volunteered to join them, but he knew he'd only get in the way.

"It's good to be home," Johnny said, pausing to greet his wife with a kiss.

"It's good to have you home," Liv agreed, sliding her arms about his waist to return his kiss with smiling lips, ignoring the disgusted noises coming from Alexei for a moment.

"Why don't you two go put your PJs on?" Johnny suggested, letting go of his children's hands so that he could properly greet his wife, as Lucas had greeted Fliss.

Maria tugged on his pants for a moment to get his attention. "Are you home now for always again?" she signed, her eyes wide with hope.

Johnny couldn't ignore that question or the look in his little girl's eyes. He crouched down again, pulling both his children closer - children he and Liv had chosen to be part of their family, like Fliss. "I can't promise I'll never have to go away again, but I can promise that I'll always come back," he told her, looking from one to the other.

"Did you and Fliss put the fires out?" Alex asked curiously.

"Mostly," Johnny replied, honestly enough. "There are still some fires burning, but they're mostly under control now." At least, until next time.

"Did you make them go cold, or did you blow on them really hard until they went out?" Maria asked, apparently fascinated by the whole thing. Liv bit her lip, trying not to smile too openly at the blatant bit of manipulation that had resulted in bedtime being pushed back just a little while longer.

Johnny knew there was a little manipulation going on here, but he didn't really mind. He'd been away from his family for two weeks, and he'd missed them just as much as they'd missed him. He didn't think a few more minutes would matter too much. "You know it doesn't work that way, Mo," he told her, his expression a mixture of fondness and amusement. "I absorbed the flames mostly. He held up a hand, a small fire bursting into flame before he drew the other hand over the flame, and it disappeared, like it was nothing more than a magic trick.

"But didn't that make you get really, really hot?" Maria inched closer, her eyes still wide with interest even as she peered at the flame on his palm.

"Sweetheart, I'm always hot," he reminded her with a grin. There could be more than one meaning to his statement, but it was unlikely his daughter would know that.

"I can get some ice," Maria offered, much to the amusement of her mother.

Liv smiled, reaching down to stroke their daughter's hair. "Papa's teasing you, sweetheart."


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