Blinding Light


ace_icon.gif odessa4_icon.gif

Scene Title Blinding Light
Synopsis They say the truth shall set you free, but just how accurate is that really?
Date November 6, 2020

The first message had come only two minutes after she'd sent her notice she was enroute to Raytech.

Call me.

He figured, of course, she was enroute— she would have her phone nearby. That she would see it. But maybe she hadn't seen the first message.

There's something I'd like to discuss before you get there.

Again, though, silence. So it's him who calls, and that leads to another little notification. A missed call, no voicemail. Just another text, which serves all the same purpose:

Pick up.

He's never, in their entire relationship, sent this many messages, or called and gone to voicemail so many times in succession. His frustration mounts in the progression of them. He'd called Rossignol, verified when she left. There's a message somewhere near the end of them that just says I'm looking for you.

Followed by more missed calls.

There are no telltale typos indicative of the average drunk text. No pictures, save the one he paints in vagueries with his words— an obsession with determining where she is.

She’d intended to wait until she got to the lab before reading the messages. It wasn’t her resolve that waned while she sat in the back of the car, but the realization that he might say something she needs to be aware of.

As Odessa scrolls through the series of messages and missed calls, her stomach sinks further and further. There’s a sense of illness, overwhelming nausea, and a cold fear the settles into her very bones.

I’m looking for you.

“There’s an employee entrance around the back of the building,” Odessa tells the driver with an easy, if apologetic smile to the reflection in the rearview mirror. “You can drop me off there. And if you wouldn’t mind waiting until I get into the building before you drive off? I’d appreciate it.”

She’s already rummaging through her purse for her ID badge, pulling the lanyard over her head once she has it. It’s already been a few minutes before she realizes she’s been tapping her nail restlessly against the plastic toggle for the back window, likely slowly driving her chauffer mad. Pulling her hand back in toward herself, she notices the paint under her nail.


A short shake of her head wards off any concern. That there’s been no attempt made to engage in conversation since she indicated sorry, I’m very tired, is rewarded with two large bills peeled out of her wallet and stuffed into the driver’s hand before she gets out of the car and heads inside upon arrival at her destination.

Raytech NYCSZ Branch Office
November 6, 2020
3:53 AM

She’d like the shower to be the shortest she’s ever taken. Firstly, her time to beat is already pretty impressive. Secondly, she has to be sure she’s scrubbed all traces of her encounter with Aman away before she reunites with her partner. She has to be thorough. Never would she have thought a shower could be so the opposite of relaxing. Not since she’s been out of prison anyway.

There’s still a small towel draped over her shoulders to protect her clothes from the last drips of moisture when she sits down at her desk with her phone in her trembling hands.

O: Fuck. I had the ringer off and I fell asleep. Just got out of the shower. Are you still awake?

♠: Yes.

The answer comes within seconds, and the seconds after are void of a follow-up. It stretches out into a minute, and only somewhere in the second does he finally explain:

♠: I'm outside. Let's go home.

Her thumb has hovered over the keyboard, wondering if she should send something back while she waits. Does it speak to too much guilt if she responds so quickly? Odessa shakes her head and takes a deep breath. In her mind, she goes through the routine she’d be engaging in now, if she had actually been here, working, the whole time.

Shuts off the lights in the lab. Puts her terminal into standby. Gathers up her keys. Retrieves her purse from her locker. Calls up to Security to let them know she’s leaving for the night.

Partway through that, his next message has come through, but she follows through to mental completion anyway. She’d sent him a message, she had to wait for his reply, now she had to wrap up.

Odessa sets the phone on her desk, screen down. Both hands come up to her face, tented around her nose and mouth, and she lets out a muffled scream against her palms. She draws in three sharp breaths, then does it one more time, this time into the towel she’s pulled off her shoulders.

The towel is thrown across the room with as much violence as she can manage. It doesn’t even have enough moisture trapped in it to make a satisfying slap when it hits the floor. Whatever. Odessa catches her breath and lifts her phone again.

O: I’m on my way out.

Sliding her phone into her purse, she hooks her arm through the straps, takes her cane up in that same palm and grabs her keys off the desk, locking her office behind her as she goes, this time to head out through the front entrance and find Ace’s car waiting.

He's standing beside the car, exuding a patience he does not feel, and one Odessa knows well enough to be false. The door of the car is closed properly with a push of his hand, echoing in the empty lot. When she's only yards away is when he leans away from the side of the car, striding purposefully to meet her the rest of the way.

“Darling,” Odessa breathes out as she starts to slow up her pace now that he’s bridging that distance as well, “I am so sor—”

The lighting of the lot makes it difficult to tell for sure, but there's no gleam of malice in his eye. In fact, it almost looks like—?

It doesn't look like Ace is about to slap her, which is absolutely what he does, zero warning or word that this is the energy she'll be greeted with. Open-handed, nervous energy—

Followed immediately by dragging her in for a powerful, desperate embrace. The hand he'd hit her with comes to cradle the back of her head while the other wraps around one shoulder, his head burrowing against the other. Only a moment later does he release a haggard breath, one he's been holding for hours. Ace waits a beat to ensure he has control of his voice before softly speaking, unmoving in his embrace.

"Never scare me like that again."

Her keys hit the pavement when he strikes her across the cheek. Odessa gasps sharply, but doesn’t have time to react further before he’s crushing her to him. A whimper of fear dies in the back of her throat.

In his arms, Odessa goes very still, afraid to move. Afraid to speak. Afraid to even breathe. She allows Ace to envelop her as he will while she stares sightlessly out into the darkness. Allowing the apathy to consume her had been the right choice, shielding Amanvir from this.

“I didn’t mean to,” the slight woman in Ace’s arms responds finally, voice hollow still from the shock of his fear-turned-anger. It sounds impossibly far away in her own ears. “I’m sorry.”

Later, he'll reflect that his own perceived restraint had been anything but, but for now, Ace thinks nothing of it. He hears the softness of her own voice and thinks it to be merely a mirror of his own— the only fear to be heard an echo of the one he's shrouded in.

When he draws himself up to his full height, it's with a hardened look at the building she's just existed before he lowers his eyes to her. "Why didn't you tell me the Rays know who you are, O?" he asks in a hush, a strain of anxiety to it.

The honest answer to that question — and it’s a question that catches her by surprise — is so absurd that she knows it’s going to sound like she’s lying. Lying, however, to make the answer sound more plausible, isn’t exactly a smart move right now.

Odessa lifts her head and leans back just enough to be able to better see Ace, making sure to meet his eyes before she responds, slightly mystified. “I honestly thought you knew.”

"All of them?" Ace snaps back, a reaction that is at odds with the bewildered look in his eyes. "So that they can slip up and say the wrong name in the presence of the wrong people, the one that puts you in danger, one that puts everything we are working on at risk!"

“Not all of them,” Odessa responds with a little bit of defensiveness. It’s at least helping to melt away some of the tension brought on by her earlier fear. He’s not looking mad with her for this. He felt like he truly was relieved when he let out that breath against her ear. “Just Richard.” Her head cants to one side. “And Kaylee.” Her eyes get a little bigger, not looking at him anymore as her head tips further so her ear is nearly touching her shoulder. “And Valerie…” Her head comes back to center again with a quick shake. “But not Warren!”

See? It’s fine.

His hands fall from her shoulders so he can drag one down the lower half of his face, looking off for a moment and then back. "I thought you'd been jumped tonight, when you didn't answer. I nearly fucking—" His other hand lifts in an angry flick of a gesture toward the Raytech building, and he begins to pace.

Odessa grimaces, watching Ace begin to walk back and forth. Okay, so he is a little mad. And she isn’t sure she can really blame him? “It’s not like that,” she attempts to soothe. “They want me to succeed as much as you do, darling. They wouldn’t put me in jeopardy.” Not intentionally, anyway. But that’s the problem, isn’t it? Intent doesn’t prevent accident.

Stooping down to scoop up her keys may as well double as a pre-emptive duck to avoid the next strike, for all that she’s wary of him now. “Nobody’s going to jump me. I’m safe here.” The keys are tucked back where they belong in her purse. Given that he’s there, she doesn’t need them for protection now.

They wouldn’t do anything against him anyway.

Climbing back to her feet slowly while leaning heavily against her cane, her free hand is laid against her cheek, belatedly assessing the sting left behind. “Hey,” Odessa says softly to get his attention as her fingers trail down her face before falling away entirely. “Look at me,” she requests. Now she reaches out to try to catch his arm in a gentle grip. One that says slow down and not I’m going to stop you. “I’m fine.

Ace feels like he could hit her again for how naive she's being, and this time, it wouldn't be an accident. "You don't know that," he snaps. How could she buy into the false lure of safety? How? There was nothing here she could trust, no one

Not in any way nor with anything that mattered.

The touch to his arm brings his head to snap back in her direction in a stall of his movement, shoulders visibly tensing. His hand curls, but he doesn't shrug her off, looking directly at her. She is fine, he can see that. He's not lost her to some knife in the dark, a gun drawn and placed to the back of her head, or an agent that knocked her unconscious. There wasn't a need to phase through the halls of Raytech to find her, after all. She's here, now— foolish and his.

She's fine, save for the chill she's sure to catch poorly guarded against the cold like she is, and with that damp hair beside.

"O, you don't know that," Ace repeats in a fervid whisper, hands lifting to cup the sides of her face gently and kiss her deeply. He calms rather than insist upon her lack of safety, satisfied now to task himself with ensuring it. With a sigh, he breaks the kiss and shakes his head slightly, his hands dropping before they have the chance to shake. One falls to rest at her side, seeking the small of her back to guide her. He doesn't look at her directly, attempting to lead them away with a tilt of his head where he wants them to go. "Let's go home. It's freezing out here."

He snaps and she shrinks back, braced for another blow that doesn’t come. Mercifully. A little shudder runs through her frame when she finally releases that tension and lets go of the notion that he might lash out again. Her hand retracts from him slowly, suspecting that if she were to jerk it back toward her, that would only set him off.

Again, he reaches for her, this time to ply her with a kiss meant to convey his concern. One she returns without reservation. But he won’t look at her when it’s finished, and she isn’t sure how to read that. Self-preservation tells her to assume the worst. That he can’t stand the sight of her.

But it’s that romantic heart of hers, the one that gets her into so much trouble, that tells her he’s hurting. That she has hurt him, and all she wants to do is to fix that. Odessa lays her hand on the door before he can open it for her, maneuvering herself to stand in front of it. The car at her back, him before her.

Between the devil and the deep blue sea.

“Thank you,” she tells him in a low voice, her hand reaching up and almost coming to curve against his face before she catches herself, drawing it away with the same slowness as the approach. “For worrying for me. For being prepared to act. But for trusting me to look after myself and be all right.”

So, she noticed.

Ace's jaw tightens anyway. "I'm still not sure it was the right choice," he growls, looking off her shoulder. He's looking at her, but not at her. Something has finally clicked indicating to him his frustration with her should not be taken out directly on her. "What if you were truly in danger? What if I was too late?"

He's never been like this before. But then, he's never perceived a potential threat to her like this.

Except the once, and he overreacted then. Severely.

"I should have just stepped in to check on you."

But he didn't. And she noticed. She appreciates it.

Then why can't he quit gritting his teeth?

He lifts his hand to hers, catching it before she can bring it back to herself fully. Curving his about the back of hers, Ace lays her palm high against his cheek, letting out a sigh from his nose and meeting her eyes.

"Your identity is your shield. It is your best chance at ensuring no detractors should ever…" He starts so passionate, but it fades quickly. She knows this. Something passes in his expression, difficult to interpret. He looks down shortly, and then back to her again.

"You're going to catch cold," he observes aloud, his warmer fingers slipping away from hers.

“Sshhh…” Odessa strokes her thumb gently over his cheek, now that he’s given her that permission. “You can’t dwell on what-ifs, my love. If I did that, I’d never manage to get out of bed in the morning.” They may yet keep him from sleep tonight.

When his hand leaves hers, she relinquishes her own hold on him, careful not to overstay that particular welcome. There’s questions she should be asking him. Chiefly among them being where did all of this even come from? Why tonight of all nights did he suddenly become so paranoid for her safety? But it’s a gift. There hasn’t been a single jealous accusation about what she was doing tonight, and she isn’t about to rock that boat.

“I know,” is what she settles on instead. She knows that this new identity is what’s protecting her. She knows she’s slowly freezing the longer they stand out here. Odessa steps aside so he can finally open the door for her. “If it’ll make you feel better, you can warm me by the fire when we get home.”

It might. Make him feel better, that is. He's sure of so very little right now, though.

Ace merely nods, pulling the door open for her. "Fine," he agrees in a disaffected tone, already disengaging to head to his side of the vehicle. It's grown cool on the inside he's been sitting here so long, something he begins to remedy by thumbing on the ignition and immediately turning on the seatwarmers.

He takes a moment of reflection that delays putting the car into gear. His eyes flit up the side of the Raytech building, on it rather than Odessa. "Is this the last time you'll need to stop by overnight?" The question is posed evenly, as though this weren't the first time this has happened, at least to his knowledge.

“I don’t know,” Odessa admits with an ease she doesn’t actually feel. She covers for it by focusing on settling her purse on the floor in such a way that it won’t shift while they travel and spill its contents. Propping her cane between the console and the seat just so. “It depends on what projects I have in the future. What experiments need running and the sorts of timetables they’re on.”

She shrugs. “I thought the interns were doing it wrong,” is her explanation for tonight. “I had to see for myself that everything was running smoothly.” There’s a sigh as she turns her attention out the passenger side window, her attention away from the building he’s focused on. “Turns out they aren’t morons after all. Which… is so —” Her hand lifts from where it had settled in her lap, fingers curving in toward her palm, but not quite forming a fist. “Fffffffucking upsetting.” Her hand drops back to where it was, in tandem with a growl of her frustration. “I need the university to get back to us about that microscope.” She’d had such high hopes about being able to leave as early as next week, but… Apparently negotiating this sort of access to that sort of equipment takes some sort of time.

Odessa pouts.

And Ace shifts the car into gear. "Delegate in the future where you can. Though I understand the need to trust, but verify." He seems more at ease now. The roll of her emotions, the perceived honesty in them, settles him as he eases them into a drive out the parking lot and back in the direction of Williamsburg.

"You may want to revisit your schedule if this becomes more than an irregular activity. You falling asleep like this while doing your work… it's just like how you were when you were trying to work full time at both venues." He glances at her briefly out of the corner of his eye. "Your work will suffer for it eventually."

There’s a small upturn to one corner of her mouth, a wry sort of expression. It serves as a convenient mask to the pleasure she feels in having spun such a convincing tale. Drawing from elements of past events to make it all the more plausible. Playing to his expectations of her. It’s like that line from that movie she loves.

Lying is the most fun a girl can have without taking her clothes off.

Odessa sniffs sharply and coughs against the back of her hand to cover for an involuntary breath of laughter. The little voice in the back of her mind that tells her this is a dangerous game she’s playing is noted, but summarily dismissed to go bother someone who cares.

“You’re right,” she admits, accepting of this shortcoming he’s reminded her of. “If I anticipate needing to do more of these overnight experiments, I’ll be sure I’m shifting something else around so I’m not putting in quite such long hours.” Odessa sighs quietly, further expanding on that thought. “I just feel like I’ve been going non-stop with the activity and the stress since last Friday.”

His birthday.

The day he overreacted. The sting of it is still so close it silences what he would have immediately said otherwise, tongue rolling against the inside of his cheek.

Ace lifts his head just a touch to soften his words. "The trip coming up will be a good enough vacation from all of that. Don't you think?" He slows, taking a turn without signalling. No one was on the road with them at this hour anyway. "It'll be a good opportunity to reset."

Another item to add to their personal agenda for the drive.

“Oh,” Odessa sighs out, “I hope so. I’m worried I’ll just… It’s still travel for work.” This particular gambit, reminding him of how his reactionary nature nearly undid them, seems to have paid off for her. She allows herself a brief moment to bask in the pleasure that comes with that, eyes closed and inhaling deeply. Expression entirely neutral.

But,” she cuts in before he can express concern, “while I’m not sure what I’ll find when I finally am able to conduct my research, I’m certain to find something, and that will bring its own sense of relief. So even if I still find stress there, it will be the peak, and everything else will be easier from there.”

She turns to angle a look in his direction, offering a small smile to convince him of her optimism. “It will all be worth it, in the end. Regardless of whether it feels more like work or play, I’m looking forward to it.” Briefly, she rests a hand on his thigh. No squeeze, no pat, just a moment of reassurance that things will work out.

Ace lets out a sigh of his own, eyes still forward. "So long as it has its points of interest…" he supposes. "Then it won't be a waste of time." He's still pining to be Team Fly-to-Kansas on occasion, as much as he pretends otherwise.

He slips into silence, jaw occasionally twinging in thought. A light ahead flicks yellow, and the car lurches forward as he aims to beat the oncoming transition.

It turns red less than a blink before they enter the intersection, but Ace charges through anyway.

Williamsburg: Ace and Odessa's Brownstone

The fire is crackling for only the second or third time this year, the two of them seated on the rug before the fireplace rather than the loveseat feet behind them in the study. A plush blanket has been wrapped around Odessa's form, Ace's body behind her acting as its cinch to her being. His head rests atop hers, the silky sleeve of his pajama shirt rippling as he draws the back of his hand down the blanket against her arm in slow waves.

He's calming the longer they sit here. The fire had come to warmth by the time they'd changed into nightclothes. And like Odessa had suspected, he seemed uninterested in sleep.

As far as he's concerned, he could stare into the fire all night with her pulled against him like this. There are no pressing thoughts that come to mind, nothing that bears speaking about. Only the act of cradling her to himself, verifying and ensuring her nearness and safety with each moment that passes.

The fire is a comfort in multiple ways. The warmth of it, the sound, its quiet intensity… Odessa shifts slightly in Ace’s arms, as she does periodically when her joints start to feel a little stiff. But the movements are small, not full stretches like they used to need to be.

This moment is perfect, and Odessa hates it.

In the time it took him to get the fire going, she employed the blowdryer so her hair would be dry enough to be considered acceptable, not leave further dampness around her shoulders, or against his now that she’s leaning against him like this. In contrast to his silk, she’s opted for cozy flannel and the square-weave waffle fabric of long johns, rather than her usual soft jersey shorts and cropped tops. Long pants in grey and yellow plaid, long sleeves in white, as though she asked herself how do I best convey I’m only interested in sleep tonight?

“You know I’m capable, right?” she asks him, voice soft, like she doesn’t want to disturb the quiet crackling of the fireplace’s rhythm.

"Of course I do."

The movement of his hand along her arm continues slowly, with a calming softness. Invisibly, his brow twitches together and smooths away. "I also know how fragile the human condition is." Ace is drawn from the trance the fire has swept him into when it crackles, his head shifting along hers.

"I covet your safety, even though it is not always mine to ensure. You are dear to me." Painfully so, by the sounds of it. His hand shifts around her, settling down near her waist. "I've been dwelling on it, lately. I never want you to be in a position again where I cannot support you."

The breath he lets out is slow, pained before it sighs its way right to resigned. "We've done what we can to ensure that night //will never happen again," he acknowledges, remembering the night he had to leave her. "But other things can still come for us. Someone could still figure things out. Someone who would do you harm, one you would never see coming." His voice shifts, a self-conscious bent to the deliberation of his voice. "The variables must be managed, or those opportunities are opened. And I know better than most how little capable protects you when the wrong people learn the right information."

So many examples come to mind, and for once, none of them bring him comfort the way they normally would when he reflects on them.

Ace closes his eyes, feeling the warmth of the fire and the softness of her closeness to him. If there is one place she is safe, it is here. It is now. He shouldn't jeopardize that, or cause her to feel any differently. "I don't mean to alarm you, my muse. I just want you to understand your actions have consequences. And that just as much, I will do everything I can to eliminate those who would harm you before they ever get the chance."

"You are… so very dear to me." His head dips, laying a chaste kiss atop her shoulder.

Odessa snorts quietly, “Who do you think you’re talking to?” she asks in a tease. “Don’t talk to me about variables. I’m a scientist.” There’s no playful glance over her shoulder to him, just the tone of her voice to convey the humor as she keeps her gaze fixed on the fire.

She’s grateful for the lack of reflective surfaces in the space (at least at their current eye level) and the way that allows her to keep up her mask without much maintenance required on her part. It allows her to stay thoughtful while she drinks in what he says, and allow the gears of her mind to turn behind her eyes.

My actions have consequences?” Her tone is mild, like she’s found some amusement in this thing he’s said to her. The corner of her mouth tics upward in a smirk that lacks warmth. “Am I truly so dear to you?”

From him, nothing comes but silence, his arm around her loose and still. He lifts his head, whatever expression he wears unseen unless she turns.

Ace wonders to himself how could she not know by now? What other method remained to show it?

Now, he feels the tension wind through her frame, close to him as she is. The rigidity of her spine and the tight set of her shoulders. “Know this, Ace Callahan,” her voice is firm, resolute and reinforced with steel. “If you ever hit me again, I will leave you.”

Now she turns so he can receive the full weight of her reproach. “I am not some simpering little bitch who will gladly take a kick to the ribs in exchange for the hope of a pat on the head.” He could mistake the faint tremor in her frame for barely restrained anger, rather than the fear that it is. Standing up for herself is hard at the best of times. More so when it’s against someone who might very well decide she needs to be reminded of the place they think she belongs.

“And,” she continues, some gentleness returning to her voice, “you would be the first to insist so.”

His hand lifts, the crook of his finger finding the other side of her chin so he can look at her more properly, to see the full extent of her upset with him. Ace's expression goes unchanging while he studies her eyes, the tension in her mouth and brow. His hand shifts instead to cup over where he'd slapped her, his thumb rubbing past that spot on her cheek gently. "I would," he acknowledges evenly.

No harshness follows, but also no apology. She's stood her ground, and he'll grant it. Respect it, even.

"What would make you feel better now?" he wonders, his hand dropping from her. "What would help you to feel more empowered?" One eyebrow lifts before he asks, "Would it help if you hit me back, just this once?"

No!” Odessa responds easily, surprise in her voice. “Jesus Christ, Ace.” Her breath is drawn in through her nose sharply. “It doesn’t empower me to hurt people.” Not anymore. “Especially not ones I care about.”

This time when she shifts, it’s to start to worm her way from his embrace so she can get to her feet. “I don’t want—” Her hand is shaking when she comes to press it against the back of her neck. He didn’t react poorly, but she’s still so full of nervous energy. Odessa isn’t sure what she wants. When she looks down at him, she feels the weight of his affection for her, whatever form it is that takes. Even without her ability, she knows he cares.

That’s the fucking infuriating truth of Ace Callahan.

Do you even think you did anything wrong?

D̷͈̈́ǫ̷̝͍̹̜̽̓̈́̈́ ̶̺̟͕̰̋̓ÿ̷̳̫̱̣̲̆̒͊͠ỏ̷͎̼̻͉̲û̷̹̭͘̕ ̴̥̾̓ḛ̷͓͂̂̆v̶̨̫̻̰̜́̎͝ė̷͙̣̙͜n̵̯̦̯̝̈́ ̶̬͚̖̩̒t̸͕͚͎̄h̸̫͔͔̄̎͐̃͒ḭ̸͇̆n̷̞̎k̸̼̥͗ ̸̢̘͆y̵̛͚̓̈́ͅo̴͇̻̖̞͌͝ȕ̷͓͇̇͐̀͝ ̵̛͑̽͜d̷̜̻͌͝î̶͖̻̻̂̎̕d̷͓͕̰̓̏͐̈́͠ ̸̀͐̓̌̕͜ȃ̷̼̙̲̜̬́n̷͔̯̕ỵ̴̞̅͌͊t̵̬͍͙̂͗̀ȟ̷̨̨̛͇̮̿i̴̡̻͓͒n̴̻̯͉̍̄̈g̴̦̐͑̂͝ ̵̱̱̀͛̍̚̕w̵͕̭̠̔̎̄̀̕͜r̶͈̮̈́͐͜o̵̜̔͊̅̇̑n̸̨̞͇̟̋͠g̵̨̞̪̝̯̀̈͂̒?̵̞͈͙͚̰̏

Odessa’s breath catches in her throat, horror flashing in her eyes. Her voice. What the hell just happened to her voice? Did he hear it? Did he hear the second voice that overlaid her own?

She knows that voice.

Odessa Price holds perfectly still, perfectly terrified.

Ace settles when she draws back from him, bracing one hand against the ground. Even as she comes to a stand, he remains in a sit. There's no right thing to do at the moment, save for listen to her. Or at least, try to.

So he does, for her sake. He lifts his head to look at her when she speaks to him again.

And his expression goes unchanging, that second voice unheard to him entirely.

But what a question.

"I refrained from doing wrong, Odessa. I did not charge in, I employed respect. I employed trust." He shakes his head once and then looks off. "Did I do anything wrong…"

Ace lets out a scoff, his brow pinching together unconsciously as he's forced to reflect. As he begins to wonder. He doesn't see her fear, lost in his own thoughts.

"Perhaps I did."

"I certainly don't feel that way, but perhaps I did." As infuriating as that is to him. "You know, I thought this would be easier." His head begins to shake, voice pitching to lightness. "I thought we were perfect for each other. That any scruples we suffered from would be washed out by each other's radiance."

Ace turns back to her, his brow lifting. "I did not factor love into the equation," he acknowledges with something nearly another scoff. "It ruined you before. Maybe it'll ruin us both again. I clearly don't know how to behave myself under its influence."

What the fuck is this honesty coming from him. It's uncensored, without care given to the light it washes him in. It's laced with no double meanings. It's perfectly … candid.

He doesn’t react. Why doesn’t he react?

Why isn’t he reacting?

Odessa lets out the breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding, gasps for the new one. She’s heard what he said, because she was listening for his remark on what just happened. There’s nothing. Her brow creases.

Nothing except his—

The tilt of her head further signifies her confusion. She heard a voice inside her mind. That voice. Odessa closes her eyes and waits for the familiar embrace of it. Waits for the honeyed words and the promises and the darkness

And nothing comes.

I clearly don’t know how to behave myself under its influence.

Odessa opens her eyes again, her breathing under her control once more, even if the movements of her chest are still exaggerated from it. There’s so much wrong with it, but there’s more to it than that. It wasn’t cutting, or the artful shifting of blame. “What did you just say?”

And it’s just her own voice again. Her shoulders relax and she blinks down at Ace. Maybe she imagined all of it? Maybe she’s… just stressed and tired. It’s been a long night. Full of good things, but also full of guilt.

His brow begins to knit, perplexed at her. Ace lets out a faint laugh of astonishment. "Odessa," he chides her.

"How many more ways must I say I love you?"

He thought he'd made it very plain.

It's slowly he pushes himself to his feet, graceful and languid. His head bends forward slightly as his hand lifts. "Have you not heard me til now?"

His thumb brushes her cheek. "J'ai un faible pour toi, Odessa,"1 Ace murmurs, speaking the only French he perhaps needs to know. The compulsion to do so leaves him, but he's committed, and the words flow from him like water now. "Je t'ai dans la peau."2 The green-grey of his eyes dance between her blues as he leans in.

"Je crois… tu me combles, my muse."3 This he whispers against her lips, curving his hand around her head, fingers finding their way into her scalp. His nose brushes past hers, eyes half-lidding.

And just like that, the breath has been stolen from her again. Everything about her softens, from her posture to the shape of her mouth and the barrier she’d been building around her heart. She’s filled with disbelief, but also with the strongest of sentiments. It smooths over everything. Her earlier fear and all this annoyance and resentment she’s been harboring.

ace3_icon.gif odessa3_icon.gif

Where Odessa Price is concerned, love has always been ruinous.

Her hand comes up to lay over his, a loose clasp of her fingers around the back of his palm. Tears well up in her eyes, but she’s too transfixed by him to blink, so they remain unshed for now, simply reflecting the firelight to great effect.

The stars have all gone out, but Ace has lit a beacon to guide her.

Odessa loops her arm around him so she can rest her free hand over his spine between the blades of his shoulders as they kiss. She closes her eyes tightly and holds herself to him. The thought of ever letting him go seems so shortsighted now.

His arm slides about her waist to anchor himself to her and her to him as he kisses her, soft and thoughtful before becoming a firmer thing by the end of it. A tone of appreciation for her comes from him as he breaks it off, nose brushing hers again.

Ace lets his eyes close, and has the grace enough to not say anything else that could chance to ruin this moment. There are no buts, there are no conditions, there are no hidden meanings or ulterior motives.

Just the truth, as best he knows it.

His thumb brushes against the corner of her mouth first, then comes back to run over her lips. His shoulders begin to twist as he sways with her in his arm, that light hum of his containing a hint of melody. It's only after long moments pass like that that a thought becomes too heavy to not be spoken. "Are you warm enough now?" he wonders, a bit of teasing behind it. "Or is there anything else I can get for you?"

Odessa smiles contentedly as they sway together. All her other concerns seem so far away. There’s no tension in the quiet that passes. No strife. Her fingers curl a little tighter, her thumb gently brushing up and down along the side of his hand.

These are the moments she lives for. Everything that happens in between them becomes insignificant. Everything endured to get to these points becomes worth it.

Rather than answer his question, Odessa shares some honesty of her own. “I didn’t think you could ever love me.” Her voice is soft, full of astonishment. “I’m… not an easy person to love.” She opens her eyes finally to drink him in. The color of his eyes, the slant of his nose, the shape of his mouth… “You learned French.” Only then does she let go of his hand so she can wipe away the tears on the other side of her face as she laughs. “What am I going to do with you?”

Ace's answer for that is as swift as it is certain, spoken with a touch of wry knowing. "Continue to love me, even though sometimes that can be a very arduous task." He smiles under the lick of the firelight, a gleam in his eye. "And even though my accent is less than perfect. Give it time." He frees his hand from her hair to brush her hair behind her ear, still swaying with her.

"In light of your lack of answer," he goes on with the same light air as his initial question, "I'm going to presume you meant to say yes, and nothing but your continued adoration, and handle the rest of my night accordingly. Do correct me if I'm wrong in that assumption." His hand wrapped around her travels toward her midback rather than lower. With a glance to the clock over the mantle, he narrows his eyes for a moment. "Definitely resetting my alarms for later…"

And that is absolutely the most he'll worry about that, looking back to Odessa with a clear lack of concern for the hour aside from noting, "I think I'm going to make a nightcap for me, shortly. Would you like one?"

“Oh, please, yes.” The next breath of laughter is one that helps to expel some of her nervous energy. Odessa shakes her head and presses a kiss to Ace’s cheek. “God, you learned French,” she repeats with another round of giggles. “I can’t believe it. I really can’t. I thought you hated it.” She hugs him tightly. Rarely do they just do that, but right now it feels perfect.

Sighing with her head against his shoulder, she squeezes a little tighter just before she relaxes and starts to slip away so he can set about arranging the rest of his evening. At this point, they’re headed well into early morning. “Pour something strong for me, won’t you, please? I’d like to sleep like the dead.”

Ace can't say he doesn't enjoy her excitement, even as he demures, "I only know, at this point, various ways to say I love you, thank you, and hello, before we get ahead of ourselves. But it'd be prudent to learn more, wouldn't it?" For the day Gideon d'Sarthe or his fille inevitably grow tired of Ace's charm, if nothing else. And for the rest, there's almost certainly brownie points to be won. Or at least, backhanded compliments to better appreciate.

He presses a kiss to the side of her forehead as she squeezes him so fiercely it should be classed as a type of assault, in his opinion, his shoulders settling once she begins to relax and let him be. "If you aren't up by noon, the dead will be roused, I'm warning you now. You should at least have some part of the day to yourself awake before we have to head back to Staten tomorrow." And with her properly warned, he slips his arm from her and makes his way into the living room area, heading for the endtable by his armchair where his bourbon and their two glasses lie.

Completely in the dark save for what little moonlight comes in from the window, he pours them both roughly their usual amount. Odessa, he determines, can have the larger of the two. The tiny clink of glass on glass as he replaces the stopper, and then picks up the tumblers, foretells his intended return.

“You would not be the first person to decide to learn those phrases in order to impress someone special to them,” Odessa points out in a light tone. “It would be beneficial to you to learn more, absolutely. And it can be our little secret, can’t it?” How much better is it to understand unbeknownst and underestimated for it? The ability to eavesdrop on conversations seems infinitely more valuable to Odessa than the praise earned for such studiousness.

The warning about her wake-up time is met with a nod of her head and a flourish of her hand as he steps away from her. As you say.

While he’s fixing their drinks, she’s gathering the blanket from where she’s left it pooled on the floor, folding it carefully once, then draping it along the back of the loveseat for now. The quiet of the moment gives her time to think about the incident earlier that seemed to go unnoted by Ace. She mislikes it, but isn’t sure calling attention to it, to ask if anything felt amiss, is a wise course of action.

Let it go, she tells herself. If such a thing happens again, she can deal with it then. For tonight, she’ll focus on this gift she’s been given, and reflect on how she very nearly set herself up to ruin it all. Everything’s worked out in the end, hasn’t it? She’s gotten that tension out of her system and now she knows she can find what she needs here, where she belongs.

Odessa nods resolutely to herself, a small smile in place by the time he returns.

By the light of the fire, it's easier to make out which of the two glasses really is more well-endowed with bourbon, and Ace offers the larger 'finger' pour to Odessa once he's within reach. He clinks his glass to hers before he settles down on the loveseat, leaning back.

There's nothing in him to suggest he found something unher in her voice earlier. Simply the peace of having this newfound honesty between them, and enjoying the rejuvenation it brought to their evening.

She understands now that what he did was in the name of love. She's forgiven him, clearly. Made herself clear in return, but that is only to be expected.

"Speaking of our trip, I've evaluated a better route to get us down to 70 and headed west. From there… we have options. We could chance a more southern route, or we could stick to that vein of that better-traveled artery of the Midwest." He tilts his head at an angle while he considers it. "Which is much safer than I had initially anticipated."

It's been a while since he's traveled like this, and the country is thriving in that particular region more than he expected.

Well… with some exceptions. Certain cities with military installations had been hit incredibly hard, even along that route. He notes, "Even so, Dayton, for example, would still make an interesting area to pass through."

Odessa accepts her glass and inclines her head graciously as they tap them together quietly. She doesn’t move to sit with him right away, instead holding her drink up to study its fullness and subsequently angling a look back out to the living area like she might be entertaining the notion of topping off a bit. Start with what you have, ‘Dessa. Refills can happen.

While he speaks, she paces back and forth in front of the fireplace, considering the options laid out. After a deep drink of bourbon, she rests the glass against her sternum, slowing to a halt in silhouetted profile to him. The tumbler is tapped lightly with her nail. “Well, I know you’ve been concerned for my safety…” On the one hand. But on the other, “The southerly route is most likely to walk us into Pure Earth country.”

Turning to look at him, she lifts her brows, “Have you got a preference?” Then she lifts her glass for another long drink. She’ll make quick work of this.

"If we were to take the scenic route, it may be best to save it for the return trip." That concession is made with significant thought dedicated to it. "You have your professional obligations to attend to once we first arrive, and I will have— mine."

Nothing nearly as earthshaking as hers, and yet he'll surely have some task to carry out all the same.

"Depending on our mutual stress levels when we set out for New York, perhaps we meander a bit in the hopes of blowing off steam." Ace looks up to her out of the corner of his eye, the other hand of that perhaps going unspoken, even though he suspects it may be more likely than just a maybe scenario. "I suppose it all depends how eager we are to return to the Safe Zone."

Part of her wants to ask what business he may have found to attend to in the capital city, but sometimes the less she knows about these matters, the better. “I’m inclined to agree. The trip down should be made as directly as possible. As long as my findings don’t prove…” The drink-laden hand waves vaguely in the air while she grasps for the right word. “Exigent,” is close enough, “then we can take our time as we make our way back.”

The corner of her mouth did turn up when he mentioned blowing off steam.

“The fact that you’ve agreed to come with me at all is…” Odessa’s tone is gentle, her smile softening. “Very kind of you. Don’t feel you have to make this any more than it absolutely has to be. Not on my account.” She doesn’t expect there’s much talking him into something he has no desire to do. However much he may prefer to fly, he’s able to find ways enough to make the drive worth his while.

Feeling her weariness now, she crosses to the loveseat so she can sink down onto the cushions next to Ace with a sigh. “Honestly?” Odessa closes her eyes heavily and shakes her head. “Sometimes I think about leaving this whole city behind. Like… what if the two of us just left and went somewhere else and just… could be Ace and Odessa?” The dancing of the fire is almost hypnotic to her as she spins this fantasy in her mind. “We could run a little cabaret together. Wouldn’t that be fun?”

There’s a look angled to Ace that asks can you believe this? “You realize Minneapolis is the theater capital of the country now? Since it didn’t get bombed to shit.” Letting out a huff of laughter, she posits, “I bet they have plenty of problems needing to be solved that you could consult on.” But there’s nothing at all in her tone or delivery that suggests that this is any more than one of her idle daydreams.

Oh, but he loves these daydreams. "I'm not certain I'm built for that kind of snow and cold…" he tsks. "But perhaps if we found an apartment somewhere downtown. It'd be a downsize, but we could take advantage of others' efforts to clear the sidewalks." He grins briefly, head swiveling to her. "I can barely stand it when we get that sort of weather here, after all."

The thought of them living as themselves, though… how pleasant that is indeed.

"We'd have to use false names, of course. Especially if we were to just simply drop all affairs here." Not that he wouldn't anyway, if he found a compelling enough reason. He drinks from his glass. "But otherwise… I cannot say that wouldn't be delightful. To live our truths, or as close to it as this eternally-haunted-by-Puritan society will allow for."

His tongue smirches off the roof of his mouth, brow lifting as he looks off into a darkened corner of the room. "What would be even better perhaps would be if we found our way to France. It would be a suitably moderate European venue for us to stage our talents…"

He doesn't touch the topic of whether or not it is or isn't kind that he won't allow her to complete her roadtrip alone. Perhaps in his mind, the distinction is irrelevant.

“I kind of like the notion of paying some neighborhood kid to do it for us.” Shovel the walk, that is. Odessa takes another drink. “I hear the suburbs are actually nice out there. I’ve only ever been to the southern part of the state — I can’t even begin to imagine you living in a farmhouse — but I used to chat with some of the students that would drive 35 between there and… I don’t know, Des Moines?” She shrugs. “Sometimes I kind of miss sitting at a counter in a diner and just making conversation with people to pass the time.”

She hadn’t realized that before. Then again, she doesn’t often reflect fondly of the time she spent between the Vanguard and Moab Penitentiary.

“I suppose as long as you still call me Odessa, the names hardly matter.” If anything, that’s been one of the best anchors for her in her situation. Certainly, she’s tried on names the way some try on coats, but not like this. Not with the loss of her sense of self that’s come with the change of her form.

France, though… That gets her attention. “I used to… know someone who promised to take me to Paris one day. I’ve wanted so, so dearly to see France. I don’t trust the Europeans not to murder us for our DNA, however.” Moderate venue or not.

Odessa shakes away the entire notion with a back and forth motion of her head. “I’m rambling,” she says apologetically. “This life of ours is fine.” It isn’t, but that’s not an issue for tonight. “I’m free of my chains. I get to engage my intellect and my creativity, and I have you.” Her brows lift as she polishes off the last of her bourbon and sets the glass aside. “And we still have all four seasons here, so that’s not so bad. I absolutely love the snow. It’s like magic falls from the sky.”

Ace lets his gaze slip sideways to hers again when she brings up that social aspect in her past, listening to her without interruption. There were areas of her past she's still not elucidated fully to him, and that stretch of time is one such nugget. It must be after she first slipped the Company noose and not when she was roaming the countryside with Humanis First, because…

Well, they weren't exactly a personable bunch, were they?

"France would be safe— as long as things didn't go the way of the 40's and another country came in to impose rule," he opines with an armchair mentality. "And even with Mazdak out there filling the hundred year rule, there's always the chance some reactionary fools could ruin France for the rest of us. So… I suppose you're right. Moderate means nothing when you're surrounded by bigots."

He lets out a soft, bitter bark of a laugh. "Ha! Sounds familiar, doesn't it."

And down goes the rest of his glass.

He chuckles again, this time much more fondly when she appreciates the 'magic' of winter. It carries with it a startled quality — the kind of sound one makes when someone finds something unexpected endearing. "At least there's someone in the world who still finds snow charming. I could certainly live without it. If it just fell enough to make things look pretty and stopped there, perhaps I'd feel different."

Except it's like the frost equivalent of sand— cold, wet, gets everywhere when you walk in it.

Ace does smile, though. "But here will continue to do so long you love it."

Odessa smiles sardonically. “I’d drink to that, but my glass appears to be broken.” Yes, it sounds too familiar. But he’s in possibly the best place to appreciate that and relate, isn’t he? There’s a pang of jealousy for the fact that he had the strength to walk away while she stayed and damned herself.

But he finds his humor, and so she shakes herself out of that dark little reverie of hers. “I used to spend a lot of time out at Belvedere Castle,” she explains, “and the park… Right after the snow fell, if you went out in the moonlight? It just glittered. The ground, the trees, the rooftops of the little structures… I don’t know. Maybe the novelty of it just hasn’t worn off on me yet.”

She shrugs easily, smiling with some sort of faraway quality for her memories. “The first time I saw it, I stopped time and just… looked at it. Those perfectly unique little flakes of frozen water molecules just looking so impossibly pretty for all that it’s something so mundane.” Odessa sighs with a note of happiness to it. “I don’t know. Maybe it’s foolish. But there’s just… so much beauty in this world that I think people take for granted. And I love it all.”

Her eyes close and her smile returns in force. “The breeze through the trees. The crunch of saltgrass beneath your feet. The smell of the ocean. Rain patting your hair and your skin. The warmth of sunshine on your face…” The next sigh is something bittersweet and full of longing. “You have no idea what it’s like to only wonder at what those things must be like. What does it feel like to sit in front of a fire? Does the summer night really fill with the sound of crickets like in the movies? What is it like to hear birdsong at dawn? To watch the sun kiss the sky good morning, and good night.”

Odessa sniffles wetly and wipes at the tears that have started to run down her face. “Freedom is something people take for granted. The splendor of this world is taken for granted.” Her lip and her voice tremble as she continues. “I watched Oregon burn toward the end of the war. The last ditch efforts. If we can’t have this, no one will. And I wondered, how could anyone be so petty?

Pawing more tears away, she can’t help but laugh as she looks up at her partner. “You wanna be eco-terrorists? That sounds like fun, right?”

Ace quiets as she goes from one reverie to another. The yarn of her tale allows him to begin to see the world through her eyes, and he takes the time to appreciate it. He imagines the structure of the castle and the snow, her standing under the awning and reviewing a world cast in glittering white owing to the moonlight.

The less-frozen images she calls to mind are easier to appreciate, something he appreciates in silence while his eyes half-lid. He begins to withdraw into his own thoughts, something she says drawing him in.

It takes the sniffle to bring him back from it, leading him to blink and turn his head toward her. Hearing just how far West she'd been taken creases his brow. She saw some of the worst horrors out there, didn't she? By then, Ace was off on charming adventures, and she

When she laughs and wipes away her tears, he gives her a small smile meant to be reassuring, consoling. He does a very good job of it. "I would not mind assassinating a few corporate fatcats in between more dangerous opponents."

“Maybe that’s what Ourania does in her spare time, huh? Environmental activist?” She shrugs her shoulders, looking as self-conscious as she feels. She sniffles again and is grateful for the fact that she scrubbed her make-up off in the shower when she again wipes her face with the pads of her fingers. “I’m sorry. I know you hate it when I cry. It’s just… It’s been a really long day.”

But she manages another smile. For him. “I love you.”

Ace lets out a reproachless chuckle as she shrugs, lifting his arm to place it around her shoulder. "There are far worse things that she could be," he assures, then suggests with a touch of affronted melodrama, "She could be a stamp collector."

He presses a kiss to her temple. He says nothing to her acknowledging he hates it when she sheds tears. It's true, after all. But he also struggles with being curious about the depth of her emotion— how suddenly and strongly they overtook her. Ace simply ruffles her shoulder.

"I think it's time for bed," he posits.

Meeting her eyes, he takes a moment to appreciate the pause after she speaks. He lets her words sink into him, lets his own roll over his tongue well before he says them. There's only one first time.

Ace's shoulders settle, his eyes not leaving hers. His hand smooths around the curve of her shoulder, his touch shifting into a type of embrace. "I love you, too."

Oof. I’m only allowed to collect stamps if I’m also doing something far more interesting to balance it out,” Odessa laughs, wincing at the very thought of being so painfully boring.

Her eyes lid for the duration of the press of his lips. “Maybe one more drink?” She won’t press her luck with that, but it can’t hurt to ask for what she wants. And she’d like an excellent excuse to do nothing else but sleep until well past dawn.

But he changes his hold on her and she fits herself against his shoulder to hide the fresh wave of tears. God, when did she become this person? Her emotions are just so big and overwhelming. Odessa reaches to curl her hand around the back of his shoulder, holding herself to him. “I’m so glad,” she whispers.

The small smile he wears is heard rather than seen as she nests herself against him. He takes a moment to allow Odessa to rest there and soak up his warmth before patting her back delicately. "Come on, we can finish this upstairs. More comfortably. Under the covers."

The fire would go out eventually, but the comforter would persist in its warmth, after all.

Ace begins to untangle himself, coming to his feet and setting aside his glass to take up the fireplace poker instead. Passionlessly, he leans over the hearth to poke the fire apart, breaking it down in its cradle stab by stab so it smolders rather than sings with flame. It had already grown low, but this way it would be more manageable. To further ensure flame might not accidentally overflow when they leave, he replaces the metal mesh gate in front of the fireplace as well.

And drawing himself to a stand, he waves idly for Odessa to join him as he nods for the door closest to the stairs. "Come," he repeats in a nearly unintelligible murmur.

It's late.

The time it takes him to diminish the fire is the time she needs to do the same with her happy tears (and what lingers of the less happy ones). Unfolding her legs from where she was sitting, she reaches out to take his hand up.

To him, she appears to need a moment to steady herself, eyes closed and inhaling deeply before she straightens up properly. When her eyes re-open, her senses are active again. She lets go of Ace’s hand and smiles assuringly. “I’m good. Right behind you.” She nudges him toward the door, moving along behind him at a careful shuffle.

Odessa pauses in the doorway, looking over her shoulder as if to make sure they didn’t miss anything, that the fireplace is really safe to leave behind. In truth, she’s ‘looking’ for Aman. It feels so much like he’s always there, nearby, just behind her. If she just turns her head like so, she’ll find him more readily.

Everything’s fine.

Relief and unease in equal parts meet her in turn, an invisible hand slipping into hers. It wasn't instant, but near enough. He's tired, but it doesn't seem like Aman has been able to sleep either.

Surprise also blips on her radar for just a moment. Whether it's that she did get back to him that night, or that she's this well in doing so is a piece of context she goes without.

Ace ahead of her ascends the stairs with quiet contentment, pausing at the landing to wait for her. He listens for the sound of her steps or a struggle with them, and in the faint light he lifts a hand to carefully brush his fingers along the petals of the orchid growing in the hall.

Silent acknowledgment of yes, I know this is unexpected is sent along the tether, but with assurance that it means things haven’t gone the way they expected it might. Her hand finds the railing at the bottom of the stairs and she takes a breath before climbing the first step. Her eyes lift and find Ace at the top of the stairs, waiting for her. Once more, she turns to look over her shoulder.

Goodnight, Amanvir.

With a quiet exhale that shows in her frame, she closes off their link once more and starts her way up to join her partner.

In the moment before the link is silenced, complicated emotion bleeds across it. Worry, agonizing anguish, and malaise are all cut off before they have the chance to sink in. Ace merely settles his hand on the banister, only heading into the bedroom once Odessa has clearer three quarters of the steps successfully.

The covers are pulled back, extra pillows thrown to the simple armchair near the bed whose sole purpose at this point may well be to hold those pillows every night. It takes another moment to reset his alarm for hours past when he'd normally rouse, and finally he's free to climb into bed. With a grumble of comfort, he slides in and waits for Odessa to join him, his arm sinking around her waist once she does.

The sigh he lets out once that ritual is complete is full of satisfaction— peace. He presses his lips to the back of her head then adjusts his shoulder underneath him to be even more comfortable with her nestled against him.

"Rest well," Ace murmurs.

She too had paused at the top of the stairs to visit the orchid, feeling its petals between her thumb and first finger with the utmost care while she sorts through the conflicted emotions coursing through her. Like everything else earlier in the evening, sorting all of that out, preferably with Aman, will be a later problem.

Odessa stuffs it all in a little box inside of her and shoves it away in some dark corner of her mind to be forgotten about for now. Because for now, she has something good to get back to. She grabs one of the discarded pillows from the armchair before she crawls beneath the covers. The small decorative square serves well enough as a buffer between her knees when she curls up on her side to fit against Ace.

“This is nice,” she hums appreciatively when he wraps his arm around her. So often it’s like they sleep together separately. Or she’s the one reaching out to him instead. This rare occurrence ought to be acknowledged.

The kiss, too, is nice. Odessa closes her eyes and feels like she can finally relax. “Je t’aime, mon phare.4

Already he's drifting off, at ease enough to with her being safely in his arms. The French he might remember to ask about later, or he might not.

Either way, he'll happily stay glued to her and serve as that light so bright it blocks out the stars.

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