At Least in This Lifetime


ace3_icon.gif odessa3_icon.gif

ff_ace_icon.gif ff_des2_icon.gif

Scene Title At Least in This Lifetime
Synopsis On the eve of anxiety, there is no guarantee. Still, two souls find solace together.
Date June 28, 2021

Williamsburg, Ace and Odessa's Brownstone

Outside, the world is burning. Not the Safe Zone. Not yet.

But soon.

Inside, the pair in the study have made their plans, alternating who gets to be the one to fret about this detail or that. Everything that can be now is set and there’s naught to do but wait. It’s owing to this that they’ve agreed not to discuss it. To act as though no such plans exist, because no such problem exists.

The gangly wolfhound puppy sleeps underneath the vanity and its pushed-in seat. The owner of said vanity (and puppy) lounges on the shag carpet that brings a warmer touch to the room. A stack of fashion magazines and scientific journals sits not far from her.

The blonde sighs softly, listening to the classical music put forth from the sound system, instead of keeping her attention on the article open in her lap. Ironically, it highlights the project she piloted, her name scrubbed clean from it to ensure its success. It’s enough to make a person melancholy, but she’s had time to come to terms with it.

Her head doesn’t lift from where it rests contently against her husband’s leg, just above the solid and ungiving form of his knee, where she sits comfortably and rides the softly rolling waves of his emotional waters as he reads the Safe Zone Siren.

A World Away

The Featherweight

The Archipelago of Manhattan

In the comfort of his small bunk, Ace adjusts the lay of his arm under his head, carefully reading the bent pages of a book fat from ambient moisture it absorbed over the course of its long and storied life. For all he knows, this could be the last time he reads them without the letters bleeding together beyond legibility– the last time he reads them without the weak paper coming undone under his hand.

For some reason, that bothers him, and he pauses mid-line, mid-scene of his rereading of the play and lets the pages folio shut. He swings his legs off the side of his bunk and ducks his head to head out of his quarters. He considers it for a moment, and then with the spine of the collection still in hand, turns for the captain's quarters.

"Destiny," Spades murmurs from the doorway, knocking twice with the knuckles of his free hand on the frame anyway. "Do you have a moment?"

The lid of the box set out on the small wood stand next to the blonde is snapped shut, as it so often is when the captain finds herself with company. It’s an old cigar box, reddish brown in color, its paper exterior bubbled up in places from exposure to droplets and spills of moisture. Two lengths of black ribbon stick out from the Romeo y Julieta box like a short forked tongue. One is glued to the lid and the other to the top edge where they meet. She ties the two together in a bow to encourage the box to stay closed.

It’s no secret to him what’s in there. Items she’s collected since her father died. Things of his left behind on the boat that were small and precious enough to her that she refused to let go of them. She’s a bit of a magpie.

The box is stowed away on the shelf against the wall, next to a wooden music box and a place where a chess set once held residence, and she looks up to Spades. Even if he hadn’t been able to see her fingers dancing over the contents of the box with all the reverence of a psychometer, she’s wearing lipstick. That’s his first sign the tiny captain is feeling nostalgic. That mouth is painted a pale shade of pink that brings out her pout, but moreover enhances the unique shape of her smile, which she shares with him now. “For you, I’ve got two.” Destiny nods to the chair she’s just vacated, relocating herself to sit on the edge of her bed. “Close the door if you like.”

"Ah, a generous captain indeed," Spades replies gallantly from the doorway. When he crosses to the vacated table, carefully setting down the collection of playwright classics he's brought with him, he leaves the door open behind him. What he has to say isn't a private matter, after all. He settles down into the chair, fingertips tapping on the cover of the book as he settles in in a slouch, still used to the terrible posture from reading in his bunk.

"It's not something I've looked into, so I was wondering if you were more familiar…" he dithers at first, head tilting from one axis to the other in a telegraph of his uncertainty as much as his deference. He glances up at the diminutive Destiny from that odd angle. "The Library– they're a difficult bunch to track down these days. But worth it, maybe. Are you familiar with what they tend to ask when brought something to preserve?"

"I think Old Faithful here is at her ends," Spades acknowledges with cavalier sorrow.

The stack of medical journals, manuals, textbooks and loose pages on the lower shelf are a testament to the fact that

“You came to the right place.” Destiny’s smile is a bit thinner. His question hasn’t caused her melancholic feelings to diminish, it seems. Lifting herself back up from the bed, she moves to the shelf to crouch down in the small space between the bed and where Spades sits. She starts pulling books and stacking them in one arm, holding them balanced against her knee. “In my experience, trade in kind works well.”

Spades balks for a moment, wondering what he could possibly have to trade. A blink later he properly notices what exactly Destiny's up to and starts, nearly out of his chair.

"No, no, no–" he objects quickly, raising one hand. "Des– Captain, not on your life. I can find something they're interested in, I'm sure." He settles back from looking flustered, brow beginning to knit together. "Mostly, it's just…" Ace looks away and then back. The knot on his forehead doesn't quite come undone. "You hear things, about the Librarian these days. That she's not been the same since the Sentinel attack. Was more a, uh…" He looks off for a moment and then scoffs to himself, "A vibe check, I guess. Looking for guidance there."

He's not the best at dealing with others, sometimes.

"The material part of the transaction I promise I can handle one way or another."

“If you want to make a solid impression on the librarian,” Destiny responds with her customary cheer, even if they both know she’s putting it on like a mask, “you’ll want something substantial for trade. And…” A breath seems to hold endless possibility within it, like it extends on into some infinite space, but it resolves with a refreshed smile. “I don’t need these anymore! So everybody wins. You get your good introduction, Steph gets some nice books to add to the collection, and someone who needs them someday will be able to access them.”

What’s not to like about such an arrangement?

“She’s just a lot more distant these days,” the captain admits with a shrug of her shoulders. “You know how it is. Everyone lost someone when the Sentinel attacked. Everyone lost someone when we left the Ark. Treating her normal should help.”

There’s a shift in her posture, born of anxiety, and when her eyes lift to his again, something about her already gentle features seems to soften further.

What's not to like? Spades bristles in silence, shoulders rippling in silent indignation as he fixes her with a severe look. "You– gave up enough when we went across the sea," he protests, but faintly. Grudgingly, he's already accepted what she's offering up, his argument weak despite the spirit behind it. "It–"

He looks away for a moment, and when he looks back, the pale green of his eyes meeting her blues, he reads there's more to it than what she's saying. Giving him that bit of advice in the areas he's lacking. He sighs when he sees it.

He's not blind, just withdrawn, mostly.

"Most people lost something," Spades points out in a light voice, brow finally perking up. "But I see your point."

“You’re right!” The chipperness returns. “It’s not all bad! The resistance prevailed and the Sentinel was vanquished!” Raising one arm, she crosses swords with an invisible opponent, gains the upper hand, and emerges from the shadow play victorious. With a big grin, she reminds herself, “Not everyone has my kind of luck!”

Her pretend sword is sheathed with a flourish. The books are pushed across the table, closer to Spades. “These are yours now. If you want to trade them to Steph, feel free. If you want to use them as paperweights or… I don’t know, kindling? That’s your choice. My choice is to be done with them.” Destiny dusts off her hands, showing that she’s rid of these material possessions, and moreover the duty they represent.

Spades dips his head to the side at a severe angle, ear nearly touching shoulder over her chipperness. No, that wasn't quite the point he was making at all. But he keeps his grousing internal, sliding a look back Destiny's way by the end.

In another life, it'd carry a different tenor entirely, but he just quietly regards her when she goes on to push the books toward him without much affect at all. One hand eventually lifts, spindly fingers placing over the stack awkwardly, but in a gesture of acceptance nonetheless.

"I suppose I should be thankful I can serve as a trash disposal service for you in these trying times, then," he sighs, more resigned than put-upon. "Honestly, Destiny, you're incorrigible."

Destiny remains poised through the entirety of his scrutiny, knowing he never points anything sharp at her, and that included words. And still, it’s when he speaks that she flinches. It doesn’t need to be sharp to hurt. It doesn’t even need to be intentional. She hadn’t been intending to be even in the same neighborhood as callous.

She reaches for her hat only to realize she isn’t wearing it. With a sharp inhale, the captain pantomimes wrapping her fingers around its brim to lift it off her head and fling it across the room. To relieve herself of her own duty. To invite a change to the tenor of their conversation.


He'd meant for that to be light-hearted– camaraderic. Ace winces when he sees that shift in her in return, his hands lifting from the books. "That's not–" he stammers, his own voice softening. "I'm sorry. I'll never not be taken off guard when you do something like that. You're…"

He lets out a very faint, almost pained breath of laughter. "You're not like any of the rest of us. You're this little ray of wonder and sunshine, and…"

Uncomfortably, he hitches before saying with a small, rare smile, "Don't lose that. Not on my account, when I say something stupid, nor on anybody else's. It's…"

He's picked up on that shift in tenor when she'd thrown her hat, though, and while unable to parse what exactly it means, he knows it's something.

"… Kind, Des," he finishes his thought anyway. "You're very kind to do something like this for me."

Her blue eyes close while she listens, her blonde head bobbing along to indicate she was listening and understanding, while she was processing. She often adopts such a countenance when dealing with serious matters, usually brought to her by other captains, or…

“Is it?” she opens her eyes again and smiles sadly. “I mean, yes, I’m trying to be. I want that… It’s a gift to you, because you’ll make good use of it and…” Sitting down on the edge of her bed again heavily, she rests her hands in her lap. For a moment, all she can do is breathe, deep and even. Finally, her right hand lifts and hesitates a moment while it still hovers over her thigh. She eventually turns out at the elbow and pats the spot next to her on the mattress.

Spades begins to arch an eyebrow at the invitation in, glancing back to the door before reluctantly getting up and moving to sit closer to her. That wasn't something he'd expected to happen, exactly.

Usually, there was a bit of drinking and a day of shared glances that passed before anything like this unfolded. And somehow it doesn't feel quite like that, either, so…

"What's on your mind?" he asks with genuine concern. "Everything all right?"

With her metaphorical (and literal) hat off, she’s allowed herself to transition from Captain to Just Destiny. She looks up into Spades’ face when he sits down next to her. There are some things that are the same. The way her eyes open just a little wider at first, the slight parting of her lips, and the way her cheeks turn a faint, rosy pink. But he was right, it wasn’t quite the same, even if she was clearly having some of the same thoughts that were running through his own head.

“Eddie doesn’t need me anymore,” she says quietly, her eyes drifting off to the left of the man’s face, staring at the wall, but not really at the wall. “He’s the closest thing I had left to family, and he’s… He’s going to leave.”

Destiny inhales sharply and presses her lips together, moisture showing at the corners of her eyes in an instant. She closes them and sniffles wetly, then focuses on simply breathing deeply, and even.

Oh shit.

Destiny looking elsewhere gives Ace time to panic underneath the surface over this opening up she's doing. What can he even say to something like that? One hand starts to lift, then settles back down to his thigh quickly. No, don't lead with reassuring touches. They'll lose meaning later.

"What do you mean he's going to leave?" he asks, a bit confused given Edward's situation. "Did he find himself a wife or something?"

Destiny actually laughs at that, then feels bad. Instead, she shakes her head quickly. “No, I… Someone… new came in to the Pelago, and…” She presses the heels of her palms to her lidded eyes and scrubs there as the first tears threaten, like she can force them back inside the wells they sprang from.

“He’s been healed. Completely.” Dropping her hands back down, the left soon lifts again to gesture at the table and the books she’s giving away. “I don’t know why I ever thought he’d want to stay here with me.” Again, she sniffles, harder this time. “I’m so stupid.”

Spades roils beside her in silence, the context granting him what he needs to determine to be upset on her behalf. "Well, just where is he going? What's better than here, being in the Pelago?" he demands to know.

“Does it really matter?” Des responds in a flat tone and a slightly lower pitch that doesn’t feel like her and she squeezes her eyes shut as though it will help her shut that link off. After a moment to breathe, she not only opens her eyes, but actually meets the green-grey ones, and their concern mixed with anger.

“If I left this place,” she asks him, the anxiety of the weight of the question she’s about to pose to him inspires an entire kaleidoscope of butterflies to explode forth from her ribcage and fill every empty part of her and make her want to turn away and just… What? Walk? Until he stops following? She’s shaking when she finds the words to speak her mind:

“Would you come with me?”

Spades' brow furrows together and slants down as he tries, with only some success, to try and piece together the unsaid. He hesitates, but he lifts a hand to push back against the crown of her head gently, threading bangs over ear. "Des," he tells her softly. "If he's going to leave, that doesn't mean you have to follow. I know… you're attached after everything you two went through, but you're not obligated to go after him, to stay with him."

His voice hardens as he adds, "Especially if he decided this thing without you."

“He…” Now, she can’t hold his eyes. The butterflies all sink down to the pit of her stomach. He didn’t say yes. While she knows she shouldn’t jump to conclusions, her heart’s already boarding up against the torrential storm that will come when he eventually says the word no. “He didn’t.

After a slow exhale, she admits, “I did. The newcomer said they were going to Anchor, and Eddie said there was no way he could go, so I said to hell with that, I would… I would trade The Featherweight for a caravan he could ride in, and we’d go that way if we had to.” Her smile shows her pain. “And now he doesn’t need my help to get there. But I… want to go to Anchor, too. I want to help establish trade.” It’s not entirely truthful, is it? But how much does she dare say?

Spades doesn't know what to say to that at first, but he does reach for her again, palm to cheek that slides down to her neck. "Destiny," he wonders in a tone passing worried. "Has he said he means to leave you, or are you just–"

He hesitates. This isn't his place.

… or maybe it is.

"Are you trying to skip right to the most unfavorable end in the fear he might?" There's a soothing note in his voice, a lack of judgment. His head angles toward hers, and he leans closer, affectionate and engaging in casual, unplanned intimacy in ways another him would be baffled by. "Don't hurt yourself like that."

"I know," he whispers in understanding. "Others have. But what if he doesn't? Edward, he– Destiny, do you really think he'd just…?"

Her eyes close, breath caught in her throat for a time at the touch of his hand, foreign to her outside of specific circumstance. Her hands lift for the briefest moment, only to lower back to her own lap, palms flat against her thighs to keep from giving in to the urge to reach for him in return.

Everyone leaves, Spades. They all leave me.” Now, Destiny finds his eyes again, and holds his gaze for a few moments before revealing the true nature of her ask. “I don’t want to be the one that leaves—” Again, her eyes widen, her lips part, the butterflies spring to life once more from the low reaches of her stomach and bottleneck in her throat, holding back the words she wants to say until she can think hard enough to will them away and know the right words. “I don’t want to be the one who leaves someone I care about this time.”

Ace's eyes widen in a flash for a moment– not like he doesn't understand, but that he doesn't know what to do with that. He shifts on the bed, turning properly to face her. One knee comes onto the bed as he continues to look her over in confusion that shifts to something else, once the gears start turning.

His other hand lifts to cup the other side of her face, and he raises slightly on his knees, wonder on his face as he looks her over.

She doesn't want to leave him?

His heart stops in his chest, leaps to his throat, demands to be let out and heard. One act of unplanned affection leads to an unplanned gesture of intimacy, and he leans into her to kiss her deeply, repeatedly, leaning into her until her back hits the bed.

While his gears are turning, hers have come to the grinding halt of an emergency stop brought on by her horror. Oh, god. He doesn’t feel the same. She feels like she could throw up, or at least finally start crying in earnest. The shift in her expression that had just begun also halts with his hands cupping her face like that. With his eyes on her like that. What does that mean, if not…?

God, would she stay and face the end just so she wouldn’t have to give up looking at that face?

He finds her eager to meet him when he finally comes in for the kiss, though she’s surprised by his enthusiasm. Neither of them have been drinking. There haven’t been the surreptitious glances across busy or cramped rooms over a long evening, waiting to find a moment of solitude to seize. This usually comes only after a slow build-up of longing.

Well, what is this if not a slow build-up of longing?

Destiny lets him drive her back, her elbow bracing herself against the mattress briefly before she lets herself drop there, stealing a breath between kisses and wrapping her other arm around him to ball up the back of his shirt at the base of his spine in her small fist.

Spades relents in his need to shower her in affection, expression surprised as he bridges himself over her body. He tries to speak, but his brow furrows up helplessly and he lets out a similar-in-tone laugh.

"I'm fond of you, too," he admits brokenly, as though he'd not just made that plainly obvious. "I know it was just… it wasn't supposed to end up being more than…"

Unlike himself, it's him who's flustered now instead of the one taking the lead, a far cry from his usual setting the starting pace with careful touches and firmer caresses to guide her experience. He only shakes his head again, aware of that, but his head's dizzyingly light and making it hard to think of anything eloquent– anything remotely like the well-put-together man of the stage he once idealized being.

"I went across the world for you, Des," he breathes out in wonder. "And I didn't stay there… because of you."

Hawai'i had been so very tempting. Warm, well-resourced, isolated from the Sentinel…

"Destiny," he breathes out again, needing her to understand the depths of these feelings he's never fully reflected on before now. His head lowers to hers again, lips nearly grazing hers. Spades' brow suddenly furrows deep with the intensity of what he can't put better words to. "I…"

When he laughs, she laughs, too. Her nerves are pulled as taut as the wires of a piano, just a tap of the string might set her to humming with her anxious feelings. “This is fond?” she asks with another laugh, quiet and easily extinguished when he continues his thought and reminds her — reminds them both — that this was never supposed to be serious. Her heart begins to erect more walls, continuing to live up to the assessment he made of her. Too afraid of the least desirable answer to consider a different one might be true.

When he reminds her that he returned with her, when he had every opportunity to stay somewhere that… even she thought was basically better in every way to the Pelago. (But the seaweed is always greener, as the old proverb says.) She smiles. He sailed home with her. It hadn’t felt like anything more than a fulfillment of their informal contract at the time.

But they’d laid on a blanket on the sand together, and he’d actually listened with interest while she told him the names of the stars, and the stories that belonged with them. And even being so far from the skies she grew up under, it seemed there was no star she couldn’t name.

He says her name and Destiny returns from the canopy of star-dotted midnight to the closeness of him. With him so near, it takes nothing at all to lean up and silence him while he searches for the words he wants to say. Her free hand finds its way into his hair, kissing him firmly and desperately until she has to stop for air. “Don’t say it,” she gasps. “If you never say it, you never have to take it back.”

As if either of them had to say anything at this point to make their feelings known.

Spades brushes his forehead to hers, either as reassurance he won't ruin this moment, or because it's something otherwise he needs. Relief pours from him nonetheless.

"We've done the trip before, almost exactly," he whispers. "I won't make you go it alone. We've done it before."

That makes all of this so much easier, somehow. The fear of the unknown shifts in scale and scope when those are waters they've tread previously. "I'll be your first mate on the voyage, if you'll have me," Ace promises, canine flashing in a grin at himself, her, their situation.

He leans down, lips and teeth finding the soft curve of her neck.

Relief comes to him and disquiet makes its insidious way through her. He doesn’t know exactly what he’s signing on for, but she wants him there regardless. She starts to open her mouth to form her rebuttal and provide corrections, but she’s quick to discover that Spades isn’t flustered any longer.

Yes,” Destiny whispers as a reflex. Yes, to having him there as her first… whatever titles they might claim, and yes to where his mouth is claiming her. “Oh, heck…” Her eyes roll back and disappear beneath lids that flutter and then close. They need to talk about this… but maybe it can wait until later.

He wasn't supposed to vow anything, but he does. "I'll stay with you," Spades swears, whispering it into her ear before he pulls up the hem of her shirt. "I promise." It's then he remembers the door left open, and he quickly disentangles himself long enough to shut it before bringing himself back to Destiny's bed again.

A World Away

New York City Safe Zone

Ace comes back to the moment after slipping into thought, fingers having stroked their way through Odessa's hair enough times he's left tracks of light and dark in the blonde of it. He rests his palm over the back of her head, resigning himself to the fact they're not angled in such a way that pressing a kiss to her crown will come easily.

"If I'm late tomorrow," he whispers, "You go without me, O. You getting out of the fire's path is the most important thing." His thumb brushes over her temple. "Take your ticket with you to work in the morning. You're closer to the airport, anyway."

"Okay?" he asks with a perfect, reassuring calm she knows better than to trust. She can feel the oily black, obsessive worry for her safety coating the bedrock of his soul. "I promise to be along, so look for me. But don't wait for me."

He in turn can feel her quiet contentment roll over to rabbit-hearted fear. Odessa ducks away from his hand and comes up on her knees in front of him instead, looking up with eyes wide with worry. “No. You— You can’t ask me to leave without you.”

Under the vanity, Rex lets out a high-pitched whine and partially lifts his head, roused from his sleep by his mistress’ distress.

That worry that passes from him sinks into her, and cycles back to him. “If you aren’t there to board that plane with me…” They’d agreed not to talk about this very notion, but if he hadn’t broken the rule, she would have, eventually. “If I can still feel you, I’m not leaving without you.”

God only knows what she’ll do if she can’t feel him against the landscape of other emotions, painting brilliant color over the oppressive darkness of smoke and fear.

“Don’t ask me again,” she half-pleads and half-warns.

The worry cycling back at him only strengthens his determination, his single-minded resolve flowing with certainty now. Worry for her for him for her only stokes the fire of him seeing this need.

"I'm not asking," Ace tells her in a gentle voice, looking her directly in the eye. "I can keep myself safe from harm in so many ways you can't, O. And I'll always be close behind. You can't jeopardize the chance we've set up for you, though. Do you understand?"

"Promise me," he demands in a voice void of barbs.

“I hate this,” Odessa declares, as if there had been any doubt to clear up. “I should be able to protect myself. To protect you.” She turns her face partially away, tongue toying with the tip of one canine as she lets out a mirthless chuckle, lips twisted in an expression that could just as easily be a sneer as it could be a self-deprecating smile. “I would love to find out if I could stop a fire of that magnitude.” No doubt she’d have found as much success there as she found with flowing rivers when she was younger, and still retained control over time.

Carefully, she climbs to her feet, only to set a knee on the cushion to one side of Ace, bracing her hand on the back of the couch. “I understand, and I will do my best, but I will not make a promise to you I don’t know I can keep, my artist.” The intensity of her blue gaze stays steady on him. “I promise to you that I will try. That I will try to overcome my fears and…”

It was like the breath left her lungs, refusing to allow her to voice the possibility.

"There is so very much you're capable of," Ace promises her in return, snaking the support of her hand on the back of the couch into capture between both of his. "And this is the very least of it." His gaze mellows, an outpouring of pride— faith in her possibilities.

"You'll see."

He lifts her trapped hand, curling her knuckles up so he can press his mouth to them. His eyes seek hers, one and then the other. The longer he observes her, the more his thoughts begin to shift, his emotions untangling for hers in favor of his own machinations. "There's that chewtoy stuffed with peanut butter in the freezer," he recalls. "What do you say we give Rex that… and retire early this evening?"

“You must not…” Odessa falls silent, almost sighing when Ace captures her hand and drops that kiss along her knuckles. There’s a subtle shift in her where he knows she’s relenting even before she gives it a voice. The smile she offers him is still fretful. “I am capable of many things, artist mine, but being without you… I never want to attempt it.”

But that seems to be the last she has to say on the matter, dipping in to press a kiss to his brow. Some of the tension woven into her eases just from that simple act of endearment. She breathes in deep, then lets it out slowly. “We’re both worried over nothing, I’m sure. We’ll make our plane and soar away from these worries. Then it’ll be just the two of us for a while. No work to keep us apart from one another. Just…”

The dog tilts his head, seeming to recognize peanut butter as a code phrase. “Well,” Odessa muses, “now we have to.” Her feelings are warmer and seem to nudge against his own, belying the smile she manages not to wear on her face.

That's fine. Ace wears it for her, slow and broad in spread, lacking the usual flash of canine in favor of a shy-toothed grin. "Lucky us," he remarks cheekily, and begins to ease them both up and off to a better state of evening bereft of all these worries.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License