Change Of Strategy


ace_icon.gif zachery2_icon.gif

Scene Title Change Of Strategy
Synopsis Harry and Zachery get together to discuss love, life, and missed business opportunities.
Date November 5, 2020

Miller. Would you be free for a drink tonight?

I appreciate that we almost never speak. Genuinely. But if I ever say no to that question, show me that piano wire trick firsthand, would you.

Such a heartfelt sentiment. I'll keep that in mind.
In the meantime, bring your well-dressed neck to the Flying Fish at Red Hook, 8 PM. And I mean well-dressed— show up without meeting code and they'll throw you out.
I know you have at least one suit that fits the criteria. And besides, now that you're married, it's not as though it's seeing further use, is it?

Not until I'm buried in it, I suspect.

Flying Fish Casino

Ace needed to feel a little extravagant tonight. If he didn't sate that particular need tonight in some way, if he didn't shake off the cloying, poisonous aura of vanilla that was threatening to drown him, he was going to lose it. So, tonight is for him, and he enjoys it. He wears an emerald green blazer with a maroon handkerchief folded in just so, in a way that neatly creates blood-colored two peaks over his heart. His shoes are black, and so are his gold-ringed cufflinks and tie.

He sits at a blackjack table, a lowball of whiskey before him while he waits for the next set to begin so he can be dealt in. The drink is swept away so he can sip from its healthy serving, eyes distant for all that he's come to escape his woes for the evening.

He needs to discuss them with a friend before they can properly be eschewed, he supposes. Only after will there be room enough for enjoyment.

Only after he's established a plan for what to do.

Upstairs, however, a new arrival has absolutely no plan whatsoever and never intended for this to be any different in the first place.

Zachery Miller - having wandered in through the door of a fishmonger's and having summarily been met with two expectant members of staff who came through a heavy set of plastic curtains to meet him - comes to a halt and realises he's being prompted to be the first to speak in this exchange.

"I've absolutely no fucking clue why I've just walked into a fish shop," he chooses to admit with a slowly spreading grin, looking all the more clueless for how well-dressed he did, in fact, walk in here. Give or take an undone button or two. "But I was invited in and promised drinks by one Stoltz, and I'm going to go ahead and assume that means something to you. Yes? No?"

It isn't a minute later that he meanders casually up behind Ace's shoulder. His wariness of the environment is clear in his thorough sweep of his eye searching the room for— something or another, but his expression relaxes somewhat when he finally lands his attention fully on Ace again, and leans slightly forward to say, "Oh, good, I get to be a distraction. I don't know what it is but I would very much like to see you lose money."

What an environment shift it is from the ground level to the sublevel, as well. Out there, no lights, no frill, when down below— opulence streamers from the ceiling, a chandelier in the midst of glided cloth obscuring the rafters. The wood of the tables and bar are rounded, carved. Draped cloth creates the illusion of privacy around the high-roller tables, creating walls without employing any of the effort of erecting them in a maximization of space. Care was put into the setup here. The illusion to something grander than what it is—

A hole in the wall beneath a fishery.

One of the slot machines nearby is singing over its minor payout in comparison to the coins it's been fed this evening.

Zachery's appearance— or the announcement of it behind Ace brings him to turn his head slightly. The curve that works its way at the corner of his mouth isn't quite a grin, but it's as fond as it is wry. "Oh, no," he informs with easy certainty. "You're playing too."

"I've already put up your ante." So he'll be taking no arguments against the betting.

Turning to face Zachery properly, his knife of his grin becomes properly visible, too. "Have to admit, I was slightly worried they'd turn you away at the door and I'd have to play two people at once." He finishes his study of the other man's sheveled state, meeting his eyes. "Wouldn't that have been annoying?"

There is a lot to process all at once, and though Zachery's head has dipped somewhat as if with the weight of it all, he straightens right back up when he's looked at more directly - staring right back with only one good eye, but full confidence.

His grin returns with an added pull of amusement to one side, little by little, and he runs a palm over a nearly clean-shaven jaw. "Not quite as annoying, I bet," he starts, his hand coming back down onto the top of a red padded chairback. "As you finding out I've played blackjack all of once in my life."

"Oh, come now," Ace purrs, patting a hand on the table invitingly even as Zachery prepares to sit. "You have a soft heart, not a soft head. I trust you'll learn how to count to twenty one and weigh risks effectively within the first few hands. After all, beat the house and that's all you need to win. It's not like surgery— it doesn't need be done perfectly. Just better than the other man."

And with that, the dealer begins to set the new hand, setting out cards between them and two other men playing. Ace looks at home as he settles back in his seat, the toe of one shoe hooked under the footrail of the tall chair. The only thing he's missing, he thinks to himself, is a cigar.

That's the only advantage to gaming on Staten. He'll gladly settle for this lifestyle instead.

"So, how is life in paradise?" he wonders, pulling his glass off the table. His eyes are on his cards, leaving them facedown for the moment. "I haven't had a call from you saying you've been turned out with your bags yet, so it can't be going terribly."

"Bold of you to assume I'd call you." Zachery's response comes easily, once he's seated. Less easy is the pinch of his brow when he peers at the other players, and then at the cards being dealt.

"… I don't know about my heart, and I haven't done surgery in…" He shifts in his seat before finding a comfortable enough way to lean back in it, shaking off some discomfort in the process. "Many years, but I can still do more than just count and add up—"

Which brings them to the heart of the matter, and brings Zachery's attention back to Ace with a narrowing look of scrutiny. "You don't talk about home. Mine or yours."

Ace regards the face of his hidden card with only a flick of his thumb before letting it lie flush against the table again. "See," he points out with ease. "I told you you'd pick it up right away." For better or for worse, although he feels better Zachery had.

"My asking is harmless, I assure you. Selfish," he admits at least that much before taking a sip from his whiskey. It's set aside before he indicates with a wave of his hand to the dealer he'll stand on his currently dealt values. "—but harmless."

"I'm curious about a few things, and the number of men I know who are among the happily married are few." Ace glances sidelong back at Zachery now. The open seat beside him ensured it was the other man's good eye that was left in his periphery, despite that the other looks just as real these days. Perhaps a side-effect of the wife they're speaking tangentially about.

"After the favors I've done you, surely you'll allow me this much?"

As if he has to do some extra work to swallow down a potential argument against, Zachery's attention returns to his cards without an immediate answer, but with a sharp exhale. The cards make a good enough distraction to help besides, and with a couple of extra glances to others at the table, he remembers the rules just fine.

He, too, accepts his lot, lifting both hands off the table before they come back down again and he drags them wholesale off and into his lap while answering, a little sharply, "Nicole and I— we've come across difficulties. Extraneous circumstances, rather than from within."

That's not the whole answer, and he fixes Ace with a stare that holds none of the amusement that was present earlier, even if some of his grin remains. "All the same, I'll be glad to come home tonight, and though the future's more unclear than when we married, I've not once regretted it."

Ace looks down the row of cards, and flipping over his own once everyone has placed their bets, reveals his 18. He watches the dealer show off his 12, waits patiently through his next draw. 17 exactly.

But he's listening to Zachery more than paying attention to the roll of the game, silently weighing different odds in the back of his mind. He lifts a hand to signal a passing waitress. "He'd like a drink," Ace indicates.

And once that order is placed, he turns to Zachery properly. His question is as calm and easy as the others. "At what point were you sure that was the next step you wanted to take? How did you know it was the correct decision to make?"

Zachery's first batch of cards is a sad 15, but between the drink order and conversation, he looks like he couldn't possibly care less.

There's something a little proud about the way he sits up, just for a moment, before it sinks back into the slack of his posture. "There were many times. Which surprised me, considering— I do well enough for myself, but longer term relationships have never been… you know."

And on the off chance that Ace doesn't, in fact, know, he moves quickly on - saying as he offers a practiced smile to a waitress already handing him a brand new double shot of whiskey all of his own, "She turned her fucking blinker on. Middle of the country, grass and dirt and clouds our only witnesses."

That something so mundane is what did it makes Ace nearly choke on his drink, and it's long since been swallowed. His proverbial pearls would be clutched. "And— I'm sorry, that makes her marriage material how, exactly?"

He taps on the table to ask for another card on his next hand.

"It was a contrast thing, I think," Zachery answers, staring down at a 9, actions stalled as his thoughts do the opposite and sharpen his gaze, smile fading to nothing.

Finally, he calls for another card, and keeps it face down without even looking at it, fingertips lingering on an edge as his gaze unfocuses. "Nearly two months earlier, I'd almost killed her in a car crash." His voice stays light, airy - though he fails to inhale again until he's gulped down a good mouthful of whiskey and sets the glass down again.

This makes even less sense to him than he thought it would. Ace thumbs his cards idly while he tries to force himself toward an understanding. So, because she had not run for the hills, and was also a better driver, he had decided to propose?

"Contrast," he echoes back, dubious but not entirely disbelieving. "I think I see what you mean. Do I agree with your logic, necessarily? No. But if she hadn't run by then…"

He flips over an ace of spades to go with his two and his seven.

"Had you discussed the topic previously at all? Was it something she'd expressed interest in prior?" He's going down some mental checklist, it's now clear, not clinging to any one answer for long.

"Absolutely not. In fact, when I first— suggested we might get married, she called me a maniac. Not in a cute way, either, and that's saying something with— well, you've met her."

He flips his card over, a jack of spades to match, though it still isn't so much as glanced at. Ace bears the full brunt of his attention again, though the edges of it have been shaved off of the scrutiny, in favour of curiosity. "But that's me. And I kept at it, because…" He shrugs up a shoulder. "I was raised to be extremely risk-averse - or so was the plan - and took to it like a duck to lava. You, on the other hand…"

He leaves the end of his sentence hanging, brow knitting as if he's trying to solve a puzzle painted in the observed expression.

A puzzle Ace also puzzles, just at a different angle. One where he can see the content of the little cardboard pieces he's shifting around, rather than just the shape of their backs. He furrows his brow, genuinely torn between this opening Zachery has left to pry into his past further and… well, getting around to the thing he arranged this for.

He lets out a vaguely disgruntled note at needing to make that decision at all.

With a cant of his head to the side, he watches the dealer hit bust and begin the shuffling of cards again after paying out chips to the rest. Zachery receives his first few, too. "I think I'm dealing with a slightly different situation than you were. My coquette has let on there's desperately nothing she'd like more than to have a ring on her finger."

"My problem, Miller," Ace informs flatly, "is I am not a romantic man."

Looking to Zachery out of the corner of his eye, there's no lack of edge in his glance. "I have little doubt almost anything I could do for her would be sufficient, but that is not enough. Should I claim her for my own, it must be done in perfection." When he flips up his hidden card, the 4 is visible to Zachery plainly, the same number as the card face up. He flips both over and declares to the dealer he'll split his hand.

"If I should at all," he belatedly asides the end of his thought, absent-minded in its delivery.

Dragging his new, shiny chips in slow arcs toward himself and then away again, Zachery squints at Ace's cards, puts two and two together (or 4 and 4, as it is), and glances back at his own. A 7 and half-flipped 9 do not inspire confidence, if his shoulders rising is any indication.

He hesitates, eyeing his cards for more than just a fleeting moment now, as though his fishing around for an answer delays his decisionmaking for both. Suddenly, he motions for another card, and shoots a grin over to Ace again - going bust with a 6, but having a bit of trouble giving a fuck about it.

"You're wrong," he proclaims, sounding somehow all too glad for it. "About romanticism being your problem."

Ace glances at Zachery's bust out of the corner of his eye before he lifts them to the man proper. There's nothing that seems to visibly change with him in that moment, save for the subtle unhooking of his foot from around the rail of his seat to rest his dress shoe flat against it instead. He could make a comment about Zachery's opinion, but that'd only reflect poorly back on himself, he supposes. He's the one asking Zachery for it, after all.

"Now, without being cruel in your honesty," he allows, perhaps having that piano wire trick in mind, and looks back to the way his cards have fallen. "Tell me what you think it is." He looks up to the dealer directly as he begins to receive hits on both sides of his hand.

Already done for, Zachery's full attention remains on Ace. Only now does he seem to relax a little more genuinely in this unfamiliar environment, the conversation having given him something to focus on, and with apparent confidence carried on his words and the way he drinks down some more whiskey before sliding the glass back onto the table, fingertips left lingering on the rim.

Confidence, despite the fact that no one in their right mind would presumably come to him for relationship advice. Or maybe because of it.

"If it were," he begins to answer, words slowing with deliberation as he tries and fails to keep a smug quality out of his voice and grin both. "You wouldn't have already pulled. From the sound of it, your coquette's inside already, she's just asking for a key to lock the door behind her, right?" He explicitly does not wait for an answer before saying, "Which comes with risks."

With a put-upon sigh, Ace neither nods nor shakes his head in response to Zachery's observation. "I've put a considerable amount of investment in her. To keep her close, I have invited her in. Closer than anyone else." He taps a stand on the first stack. "To keep a short leash on her. But in turn, it's left her perpetually in grabbing distance of my tie."

Surely he can appreciate this difficult conundrum.

"She's obedient. Loyal. But she's turned on those she's been loyal to before. The difference is she's not had anything to permanently tie her to another. Should I feel her beginning to stray, a ring could solve a number of issues."

Ace tilts his head as the second stack busts after hitting again at 15. The betraying jack that's laid itself out on his hand is glanced away from, having proven useless to him. "I can continue to gift her what she wants over time, save for children— she's incapable of that." He doesn't sound remotely put out by this at all. All the better, as far as he's concerned. "And in return, she will support me in anything I do. Including starting my own business."

His eyes flit up to the dealer's hand, which rests at 20 to his 19. Ace frowns slightly at that.

Zachery pays no mind to the game, beyond what's necessary on his part, pulling his glass a little closer in idle thought. "So…"

He thinks, leaning back in his seat while his grin ebs away - only for it to return, widening arrogantly before he takes a chance and says, "She's smitten, and you've considered all the practical sides of keeping her around. Romanticism isn't part of that, is it. Sounds to me like you're less afraid of popping the question, not of her locking the door behind her— but more… of her being able to open it back up again without your explicit involvement."

Ace lets out a thin note of acknowledgement, one containing neither agreement nor disagreement. Perhaps Zachery's pointed out his issue after all.

"That's irrelevant," he says anyway, head tilting as he means to deliver it offhandedly despite how flat it comes from him. "What I need to determine is how exactly to woo her with that ring."

His brow arches, glancing back to Zachery. "So— how did you win over your woman, in the end?"

There is recognition in the glance Zachery shoots Ace, a lifting of his brow and face both. He may have sat down to play on Ace's money, but this small back and forth— was won on his own terms.

Maybe that assumption of a victory makes it easier to move on. He breaks eye contact, and looks at his glass again, lifting it to his mouth while answering, "Abruptly."

Swallowing the drink gives him a small amount of time to think of a more eloquent answer, but though his answer comes with a deepening of crow's feet in some unspoken delight, it is not necessarily more elegant for it. "Without a ring— and about thirty-eight seconds after offering to drive her to go get an abortion."

He casts a glance to the side, only just enough for his one eye to find Ace again. "We are cut from a very different cloth."

Ace invites another round for him and Zachery both, chips tossed from his still-sizeable stack. He mulls the thought that the two of them are cut from very different cloth. He wonder if that's so true. The result is that they've both been refined into very different people, perhaps…

He shifts a glance to the man at his side almost disdainfully for realizing he's going to get approximately zero of the help he was hoping for. "Christ, Miller." He shakes his head once. "What use are you?"

It's followed by a bark of laughter, opting to move past his failure rather than linger on it. He's learned more of Zachery in the process, at any rate. After drinking from his glass again, he supposes, "You must have done something right, even ringless, for her to have changed her mind. Or… well," he goes on absently, "I don't think in her case, it would have been a matter of catering to traditional values. A woman like her would not need a shotgun wedding to maintain her propriety, would she?"

Of course not. She'd already had the one war child after all.

He doesn't look over his cards this time, looking to Zachery still out of the corner of his eye as he motions he'll stand with his current amount. "But suppose for me, if you had not been rushed into your proposal— how would you have done it?"

Both of Zachery's shoulders come up in a bit of a helpless shrug at the first question, rhetorical or not— but Ace realising he's talking to the entirely wrong person only serves to add to Zachery's amusement.

"I don't know if I would call it a rush—" he argues, and though his grin stays, his jaw tightens, much of his mirth leaves the top half of his face. Suddenly, the cards in front of him catch his interest a little more easily, a 9 and 4. "But had she rejected me then? I don't think I would have asked again. And she would— probably be better off. I would have taken my chances leaving, and probably died alone." Said more cheerfully than one might expect it to be.

He pauses, but only just long enough to beckon another card over, leaving it face down as he adds, "I haven't changed much, since we met, I don't think. Even before the eye— half blind, half not, moving forward either way."

Well this suddenly went a rather droll direction.

"Miller," Ace reminds him patiently. "I asked you, if you had the chance to propose to her in a manner of your choosing, in a manner you found most romantic and likely to win her, how would you have done it?"

He leans on one forearm as he considers Zachery at his side, lips pursed. He flips over his other card, letting it play as is.

"I'm not certain your prospects are quite that depressing," he asides anyway. "I think you overlook the situations you find yourself in, perhaps because the type of attention it attracts is levels and levels above you."

"So take heart, Miller," Ace says lightly, even as his middling hand is beat by an 18 thrown by the dealer. "People take notice of you, just in ways you likely never see."

"Then what good is it?" Zachery fires back in a lowered tone of voice, brow knitting as he braces a hand against the edge of the table, head canting as he studies Ace's expression. There's no anger carried on his words, but insistence plenty. "Isn't that all the more reason to embrace uncertainty? That's not depressing to me, that's…"

He flips his last card and tosses it carelessly toward his other two, landing him a cool total of 20 while he continues to ramble on, "I'd rather accept that there's a potential faithless end around every corner, and embrace what's already there, within sight. Within arm's reach! And if it slips away, it slips away. I'll live. And if I don't, I won't know about it."

He looks just about done when a breath of a chuckle leaves him through an unflatteringly tightened jaw, his attention darting to his drink again. "That you think I have a romantic bone in my body is worrisome, Harry. You'd be better off getting me to spy on your girlfriend for tips."

When Zachery tries to insist his egoless way of living is in fact better, all Ace can do is manage a look at him down the arch of his nose. Really? Is that so much better than pulling back the curtains?

But he digresses wordlessly, drinking from his own glass so all that remain are dregs.

He even meets Zachery's chuckle with one of his own. "I could continue to argue you must be doing something right, but I have no interest in pyrrhic victories. However, you very well could spy on her for me." Ace sets his glass back down again as the dealer sets Zachery his chips for winning.

"She's a coworker of yours. Ourania Pride?"

A faint smile tugs at the corner of his lips at the mere mention of her name, the reason for it not at all reflected in his eyes as he looks back to Zachery. It's hard to see anything fond at the moment about the way he says her name. If anything, he sounds smug.

"You want to pick the next table?" Ace segues good-naturedly.

But Zachery doesn't respond. The moment the word coworker is spoken, his expression falls to something decidedly neutral again. "I'm not so sure," he answers. "This last table's turned on me."

As unwilling as he is to provide a game plan for the evening, there is something else that squares his shoulders and hardens his stare. Without much of a pause, he asks pointedly, "How long have you two known each other?"

Ace finds good humor in Zachery's turn of phrase, looking to the dealer and gesturing that they're out. He gathers up his glass and slips his feet to the ground to begin meandering away. There's a nest of seating by the slots he's sure are still available.

"We first connected some seven years ago," he offers up easily. That was firmly still in the era of the war, even if it was closer to the end of it than the start. "We happened to chance upon each other again this year earlier on. And then I heard her sing." Fondness inescapably enters Ace's voice now, not in tones of affection that any normal person would use to talk about a significant other— a loved one.

"To be quite honest, I was against the idea of her splitting her time at Raytech. But it seems to fulfill her…" He glances back at Zachery with that dither before he supposes, "And that makes her shine brighter."

Zachery slides out of his seat, his following unhurried - tarrying behind as though the extra time might help him choose his next words more wisely.

When he realises he's still staring at Ace, he looks off into the rest of the room again, hooking both thumbs into his pockets as he meanders along. The slots seem of little interest — Ace's words, a little more. "Splitting her time," Zachery repeats, lightly. "As opposed to what?"

"Oh," Ace supposes in an idyll tone, the kind one uses when they mean to follow that up with an easy, immediate suggestion. But he does not do that, only turning over his shoulder to regard Zachery with the knife of a grin. "I could think of a few things." He turns around entirely to drop into a seat on an upholstered seat of a circular bench surrounding a circular platform filled with broad, colorful leaves of green and hints of exotic flowers better seen by those standing. The seat he's chosen isn't the best for lingering conversations, but he seems nonplussed.

Looking up to Zachery again to line up a more critical eye of his being— his posture and presence down to his very soul, with the way he nearly stares through him— Ace lifts his chin in an acknowledgement of the friend he's chosen to seek out for the evening. Rather than pry at the cracked nut of his being for further insight, he instead poses, "You know, I'm still not sold on the whole thing to begin with, myself. Is a muse still a muse if she's bound to your soul so tightly you can't see her fully anymore? When she draws your eyes inward and down instead of contemplating the world and how to claim your next piece within it?" His head tilts to the side.

"I suppose if I were to take your motivation of contrast, she is about as much yin as my yang could take." He sighs, sounding unhappy with it still. "I just thought compared to this time last year, I'd be somewhere distinctly different by now," he tuts, looking up at the ceiling now as he contemplates the great shame this is. "Having all the groundwork you've laid out frustrated and sorting out what's still possible versus unsalvageable junk is just…"

Ace shakes his head, eyes lowering back to Zachery in a languid drop.

Only once he's settled in to stand next to the bench does Zachery meet Ace's gaze with one of his own. It's one keen with preoccupation, but he holds himself well— a good suit does half the work to remind one to stand up straight. He calmly lifts his drink again, lets his eye attention drift over to the tables again, and people-watches over the rim of his glass.

But before he's about to take as much of a sip from his whiskey, he pauses with it at his face, a dryly stated proclamation interrupting: "I was about to ask you why — if you're having doubts — you're not just taking your yang elsewhere. About what you'd get out of this. But then I realised I'm struggling to care."

He lowers the whiskey, but only just, looking into it as he ponders aloud, almost without pause, "Am I really the only one you could have to talk to about this? Or am I just a sounding board, comfortably and voluntarily kept at more than arm's length?" Now he drinks— all of what was left at once.

Ace lets his emptied glass settle on the edge of his knee as he crosses his legs, smiling thinly before he speaks, adopting a more demure air. "Well, I suppose it was an attempt to see just what kind of relationship ours could turn into. After all, with what happened regarding your wedding, it seemed like there was the opportunity for something slightly… more."

After all, Zachery himself hadn't offered up anyone else to stand in as his best man.

"I admit— I was mostly curious just what your take would be on these topics, and little further." He shrugs one shoulder to signal his honesty. "As interesting as I find our mutual business opportunities together, you've given me no cause to think you'd ever pursue them, and I'm in no hurry to push you into them. So I took advantage of what little excuse I did have, seeing as it's been so long since we last spoke." He sends the last drops of his whisky around the bottom of his glass with a roll of his wrist. "But friendship is such a fickle thing, isn't it."

Ace smiles anyway, unbothered.

"I was busy," Zachery answers, his eye unfocusing as he looks into the room, shoulders sagging under the weight of something. "Trying to figure some things out. And myself, while I was at it."

He angles a look at Ace again, as if the lopsided grin that he can't quite fight back needs someone to be aimed at.

Amusement fails to find itself in his voice. "And funnily enough…" He stalls on an inhale, something dragging his grin a little wider still - even if his voice lowers slightly when he does manage to finish his sentence. "Despite the prospect of progeny having been swept off the table and my very genes having mysteriously been shepherd's crooked into normalcy, I'm somehow kept busier still. So I might not have even been of much use to you, either way."

Ace's own lightheartedness fades with that admission, and he sets aside his glass on the seat beside him. He looks vexed without so much as furrowing his brow.

"Sorry, I don't think I— someone stole your…?"

Learning Zachery was Expressive and now suddenly is not makes him recoil less than he would had he known he was Evolved in the first place. It's with an astonished blink nonetheless that he's still robbed momentarily of his words.

Whatever had happened to his potential children is left aside, at least in his mind. Maybe Nicole had had that abortion after all, for all he knows. Or miscarried. Things could happen to unborn children without the intervention of the unnatural.

Abilities, though…

"That's— a possibility. I'm actually still working on it, but it's a bit of a puzzle." Zachery's grin loses some of its strength, but what remains is more sincere for it. Ace's uncertainty is studied, his unfinished question rewarded with a sharp exhale in amusement.

Zachery stands just slightly taller now that his focus has somewhere to go, and continues at a more calculated, slower rate to ask, "I… thought you'd have known - did Price not know either, I wonder?"

What a very curious thing for him to say.

What an interesting slip of the tongue.

No. It wasn't.

Ace's bewilderment at Zachery's loss vanishes at the mention of that name, his leg slowly uncrossing. Feet settle on the ground. His jaw tightens for a moment. But when he speaks a moment later, it's fluidly, pleasantly, for all that his eyes shine with knives for yet-undeclared victims. Status pending, as it were.

"I don't make a habit out of talking about you, so it's not like she'd even know to make the connection that topic would be of interest to me…" The gears turning is an audible thing with the click of his back teeth back together, lines being drawn between previously-unrelated points of information.

The strange blood his muse had been studying was stranger still, wasn't it.

Ace begins to smile again, expression a charming one. "But Miller," he digresses politely, precisely. "Where exactly did you hear that name?"

Still standing, the view Zachery has of his self-proclaimed friend's reaction only seems to help him breathe a little easier, a little deeper. His head lifts at the reaction earned, as if in some small moment of victory. When asked that last question, he answers without delay, "Thatcher misspoke at work."

He passes his glass to his left hand, motioning with the right one as if to discourage Ace from rising in the most minimal way possible. The glimmer of enjoyment that fights its way onto his face in the rise of his eyebrows is probably not a great companion to this suggestion. "I wasn't planning to pursue it," comes a flatly spoken addition, "and I'd be happy not to use the name again. But I couldn't very well pass up an opportunity to cross reference, now, could I?"

"And you said we're not cut from the same cloth," Ace remarks back with a knowing dip of his head, regarding his companion out of the top of his line of sight. The quickness of Zachery's reply seems to sate him for now, and he keeps his seat.

Thatcher, he says, which lends to the Rays in general. And oh, what a feeling that kindles in him. Zachery has insight into that the way Ace tilts his head, narrows his eyes slightly as though he's caught wind of something distasteful. And he has. He'd forgotten the little telepath might still be involved in Raytech's affairs despite her new walk of life…

Which honestly makes this all worse, when he thinks about it. In multiple ways.

"Use the name again, and it's not me you'll have to worry about," Ace opines blithely. "She's dedicated to this new life of hers. To it succeeding." He sounds less enthused, slightly flat as he reminds them both, "As am I."

As he looks off, his eyes glaze over in thought before returning to the moment. "My my, Miller, you have had quite the year, haven't you?" Something not quite sympathetic hides in his placid expression, but it almost certainly imagines itself to be. He looks back, setting his hand over the top of his glass.

"I've got one last personal question for you. How many times would you be willing to forgive someone for lying to you?"

If anything about the response to the new name mentioned misaligns with Zachery's own views, he does not show it. He shrugs his shoulders, as if to say 'what can you do', before they come back down a little less tense for it.

He listens closely, shown in the stillness with which he stands as he rolls his jaw forward in thought. This whole conversation has brought with it too many questions… but he straightens once more. They'll have to wait. With this year having been the way it's been, he'll take his victories where he can. Maybe he's learned not to push his luck, at last.

Maybe it's for that same reason that he does not immediately answer. He continues to observe, before the last signs of enjoyment slip from his face, and his gaze pulls off to the side again. "Ideally, not one singular time," his answer leaves him with grim certainty. The words that follow shortly after, less so. "What you're willing to do and what you find yourself doing, however…"

He leaves that sentence hanging, reluctance knitting his brow.

Ace lets out a purr of a thoughtful hum to that thought. His eyes half-lid in some silent consideration before he pushes himself to his feet.

"That nugget of insight is… valuable. Thank you for it."

There's actually traces of genuine gratefulness in his voice, one that doesn't reflect in his flat-as-ever gaze as he looks back to Zachery. He lifts his glass in an idle waggle. "My glass appears to be broken," he shares, borrowing a phrase he was introduced to and has become endeared with. "So I'm going to head to the bar and fix that. What will you do now?"

Looking neither glad to have been useful nor particularly happy to be having this conversation in the first place, Zachery looks lost in thought when he's asked that last question, eyebrows dragged low as his eye darts to Ace's glass, then up to the other man's face.

"… I don't know," he answers, finally, with uncertainty-inspired annoyance threaded through. "Enjoy myself, for once? A truly foreign concept of late." The fingers against his own empty glass press in a little tighter. "Maybe I'll pretend I'm not worrying about having turned into the absolute most boring, gutless bastard on the planet for an hour or two."

His gaze slides back to Ace, grin resurfacing. "And pretend not to be very curious about those missed business opportunities."

With a huff of laughter, Ace leans forward to suppose, "As long as you don't plan on behaving as though Dionysus himself has descended and declared this a night of revelry…" One corner of his mouth pulls back in a grin before he angles for the bar at a leisurely pace. He reminds idly, "This establishment has standards. I remember how you started turning at your wedding." And every other time he's ever seen Zachery with alcohol, if he's being fair. It was like the man believed any bottle with alcohol left in it was an error needing corrected posthaste.

As for the standards here, they might be standards he helped set, but that makes them even more important not to break, doesn't it?

"And besides," he asides warmly. "Who says those opportunities are missed?" Ace regards Zachery out of the corner of his eyes, the green-grey of them appraising. "Simply… waiting for the appropriate moment."

Once at the bar, he simply signals the bartender. No preference is announced, and yet the man behind the counter begins working an order all the same.

"What I believe I'm hearing… is that the right time may have come."

Ace releases his empty glass to slide forward the whisky sour the bartender has prepared for him. He waits until Zachery has ordered before picking up the thread of conversation effortlessly, a thoughtfulness weaving its way into his voice. "Are there any skills of yours you're looking to improve upon?" His brow arches before he sips from the foam of his drink. He gestures with it as he poses, "For example, I enjoy every opportunity I get to improve upon my acting. I enjoy getting creative."

He admits evenly, "Truthfully, Miller, I could employ you at any number of tasks." His index finger lifts off the side of his glass to point at Zachery, and his head dips just slightly as emphasis enters his tone in spades. "I'd rather find the right one."

Ace straightens, hand and drink tipping to the side in a sort of shrug. "But if you'd rather enjoy dealer's choice… I am more than happy to choose for you."

"I think I might be done having people choose for me, for a while," Zachery answers, with another double whiskey already in hand.

He begins to wander, some noise of incomplete thoughts only barely escaping his throat. But he doesn't wander far - soon turning on a heel to face Ace again fully, arms going halfway out at his sides while his voice rises in volume and confidence both. The whiskey helps. "Actually. Yes. This last year, I've been held hostage for months, in my own home, like an absolute cunt."

He leaves no time for questioning why he might look amused at this, continuing immediately with, "Then I was kidnapped, failed to do anything about either, and all around struggled to find my footing doing what I usually do in order to try and prepare myself for what might lie ahead. Thinking and planning and being helpless is getting me absolutely bloody nowhere, so!"

He points his entire drink at Ace, wedding ring clicking against the glass as his grip tightens. "So I think it's time for a change of strategies, don't you?"

Ace regards the mercurial drift of Zachery's logic with a half-smile, sipping from his own glass again with muted interest. He lets his eyes do his talking for him rather than the remainder of his expression, tracking the steps he takes there and back again, arms going wide. He arches an eyebrow idly in thought.

He mentally follows the volley back and forth with the shifts in logic like one might pluck flower petals to make a decision. Miller is taking charge of his own destiny to he's embracing helplessness… and back again.

He knows which of the two he's assuming Zachery has landed on in the end, at least. And how he insinuates himself into that decision. He lifts his glass in recognition of it.

"Then here's to creating opportunities for you to longer be helpless," Ace remarks with cheer, drink offered out for clinking. "To being out of the house, to finding your footing—" He grins broadly, a gleam in his eye as he concludes fondly, "To a change in strategy."

There's something personal behind that, a deep agreement and an overcoming of resentment of his own. He drinks deeply afterward, slipping into thought as the glass is lowered away. His tongue passes over his bottom lip while he considers something. "You know— I'm planning a hunting trip soon. It'd be good opportunity for evaluation."

Ace cants his head to the side with that thought. "I'll let you know once I've decided when it will be."

A clink means a drink, and so of course Zachery accepts that invitation— enthusiastically, at that.

Clearly unbothered by whatever's had him ping-ponging between resolutions, he exhales through his nose into his whiskey, swallowing his drink down before he can choke on it. "… A hunting trip." Said with a tone of voice that implies questions to follow, but the frozen-faced look of a man who isn't quite sure what those questions should be, stuck right in the middle of amused and confused, dumbfounded grin and all.

"No, actually, you know what—" Glancing into the rest of the room one more time, he lifts a hand to idly adjust the way the collar of his shirt sits against his suit, fingers running a line downward. "Why not — why not!" This repetition is brought to you by alcohol, and cheerfully at that. "Let's gamble. With whatever you've got planned - but also maybe… over there? What's that?"

Without waiting for an answer, he pushes away from the bar and wanders off toward an occupied table, head high as he peers over. Clearly, he's warmed up to have fun now.

Ace leans back against the bar while Zachery spins himself up with even more excitement, content to see just where it leads him rather than be the driver at this particular moment. He ends up smiling again before long, little more than one corner of his mouth pulling back, but it's a passing one all the same. He finally turns to look at the bartender as Zachery heads off, brows popping.

"Looks like my friend's off to learn how to play craps. Send us another round shortly, will you?"

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