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Freedom

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The last thing Asher does before he leaves the place he has come to think of as 'home', is to open the small bird-cage in Belle's salon. Its inhabitant, a gaily-colored bird that was presented as a gift from an exotic and distant country by one of Belle's admirers, stares at him curiously, as if wondering at his motivations.

Asher can't quite explain them to himself either.

If Belle had been here, she might have called it another sign of his madness, his loss of reason that has already been proven by his willingness to depart from here, from Belle Morte and all that she can give him.

Perhaps he has lost his mind, together with his heart, both held by the same two persons. Asher thinks that he can live with that, and be happy on top of it. Is it not said that sanity is over-rated, that rationalism is but a restraint on the soul, by the young poets who rant and rage against the established Great Authors?

He has seen them drinking themselves to death in smoky cafeterias, or huddling around bonfires in the cold Parisian winter-nights. They are not suitable as guests to Belle's salon, though he remembers her having invited some of them, to alleviate her boredom.

She compares them to moths, too eager for the fire that will burn them to ashes, too quick to embrace the flames that will kill them. Their passion is a fatal one, too bright and too all-consuming.

A soft sound wakes Asher from his revelries, alerting him to the shutters that are still closed, and to the little bird whose wings beat against the wood frantically. It would seem that he and Jean-Claude are not alone in their desire to be gone from here after all.

Throwing open the windows as wide as he can, without damaging them, he sees that it is snowing again. A breeze carresses his face, ruffling his hair. Had he been human, he might have felt chilled, but he isn't, so he doesn't, even if his nose does pick up the unique smell that comes with the cold.

Something bright hops on the windowsill, before vanishing into the darkness, and for a moment, Asher wonders if he truly has done the right thing. After all, the bird isn't native to this kind of weather, and it's been pampered all its life, fed and watered.

The chances of it being unable to survive on its own, of it freezing to death or of it simply falling prey to some kind of predator, human or otherwise, are immense. Maybe the creature would have been better off in its gilded cage, a captive but at least safe and alive.

Asher lets his gaze wander around the room, taking in the luxury, the fresh fruits in a bowl that only serve for decoration but are refreshed every week, the paintings that each have cost more than the average Parisian earns in a year.

He feels much better as he softly closes the door behind him and finds Jean-Claude waiting for him, holding a single bag that contains those of his belongings he wants to take. Several closets filled with clothing have been left behind.

"Are you ready?" Jean-Claude asks, with a glimmer of excitement and anxiety in his eyes that reminds Asher of those young poets who kill themselves in their flight from the world and its restraintments.

Asher shivers, glad that Jean-Claude has already turned around and thus is unable to see it.

They descend the stairs that lead up to Belle's door, together, to where Julianna stands, waiting for them, the hood of her cape protecting her from the cold and the falling snowflakes.

Her hands are covered by mittens, but Asher can still feel the warmth of her hands as he grips them. They exchange a smile, and somewhere in the night, a bird sings, as if greeting a new day.