Could You Learn to Love This


ace3_icon.gif odessa3_icon.gif

Scene Title Could You Learn to Love This
Synopsis You're far too clever.
Date April 20, 2021

Williamsburg: Ace and Odessa's Brownstone

Keys jingle in the door as they always do, but the cadence of them is all wrong in a way that’s difficult to get a pulse on. It’s simply a sound that has a certain rhythm to it that, when disrupted, is notable, but not disconcerting. The door still shuts again, after all. This blip on the radar is followed by the sound of something reasonably substantial hitting the hardwood floor, followed by a whisper of satin and the weight of weatherproofed cotton.

This trail continues on. The bag, the trench coat, the right shoe, then the left, the cable knit sweater, and the pencil skirt.

The open study door.

Odessa sits on her loveseat with her knees drawn up to her chest, dressed only in her vintage-inspired foundations and wrapped in her soft blanket, head on her knees and staring at the cold hearth, tears running down her face as she cries silently.

The continued small thuds perturb Ace in his office upstairs, his door left open. By the time he navigates his way downstairs to discover the trail of clothing, confusion gives way to interest before crashing back down again.

Concern, such as it exists for him, follows.

"I would normally suspect you were in the mood for a romantic evening, but…" After silently approaching her side, he crouches and lays a hand on her shoulder. "The tears lead me to believe you have something else on your mind."

“That late meeting tonight was just… We talked about future projects and I’ve got a couple that I’ve taken on, but…” Odessa scrubs tears off her face with the heel of her hand, trying to get her emotions back under control. “All that talk about it — the future — made me think about where I want to be in life and I just…”

Odessa turns to look at her partner. He’s seen that look in her eyes not so very long ago. She was crying then, too. But this time, she isn’t trying to run away. “Everything feels too heavy. Everything.” Which might explain the trail of, well, everything between the door and here. She blinks away a fresh wave of tears, brushing under her eyes with her thumb gently. “I’m such a basketcase. I don’t know why you keep me around.”

Rather than sit just beside her, Ace sits with himself turned toward her, his back nesting into the corner of the loveseat. "Come here," he bids, opening his arms to pull her in close. Even if she doesn't move and ends up just leaning his direction, he can work with that.

"There must be a reason for it," he asserts quietly. "Basketcase or not," the term used dismissively, "I've found you don't tend to feel these things without reason. There's always cause, and I can help you if you tell me." He lifts a hand to brush her hair back from her face, tucking the displaced locks behind her ear. "Do you feel like they're holding you back?" he wonders.

The invitation extended, Odessa doesn’t hesitate to RSVP in the affirmative by scooting over and curling in against Ace, offering a fleeting smile for his gesture of affection. Then she twists to rest her back against his chest, where she can feel the steady beat of his heart, letting that bring her a sense of calm. “No, nothing like that,” she’s quick to assert. “I like what I’m doing at Raytech. It’s freedom. I’m taking on the projects I want. I’m not being forced to facilitate some fucking madman’s doomsday scheme.” There’s another flutter of a smile for that. Even with the best of intentions, her situation has often boiled down to someone using her to hurt others.

“You know, I intended for romance,” she admits with a breath of self-deprecating laughter. “Went through all the motions, obviously,” a tiny gesture is made toward the open door and the trail to the front, “but by the time I got through the door, I just…” Odessa takes a deep breath and wipes at her face one more time, glad to find less moisture than expected. “All the stress just kind of hit me at once, I guess. I keep it at bay all day long, but I can come home to you and let my guard down and I guess there was more waiting at the gate for me than I realized.”

Odessa turns her head to press a kiss to the curve of Ace’s jaw. “Can you forgive me?” She adjusts the blanket so she can keep it pulled around herself, but also leave some for him.

"What is there to forgive?" Ace asks without an ounce of deception. His arm settles around her to help nest her to him. "We went with dealing with the fire, filled with a chance of there not being a tomorrow had things gone wrong in that building… and then you immediately turned around and were faced with this. Even I can see the whiplash in that." Again his hand lifts, passes over her hair.

He offers her his shoulder as much as his calm to draw from. "Breathe in, exhale out. You're still here. And these plans— surely they don't need all acted upon at once. You'll have time." With a gentle cant of his head, he looks down at her out of the corner of his eye. "Certainly what needs done will become no less heavy a task, but it will be easier to bear come the second, or even the third day of being aware of it." He assures her, "Whatever it is, you have the strength."

“I just know you weren’t expecting to have to deal with…” That hand again gestures, this time to herself. “This.” Even though the ring on her finger implies that it’s what he signed on for, it’s not quite so, in her eyes. But she doesn’t expect him to follow up, doesn’t need him to explain why he does this for her — holds her and comforts her when she’s entirely overwhelmed. She’s finally started to accept that just is. That he’s become this person she thought he would only ever try to trick her into believing he could be.

You’ll have time, he promises, and it almost breaks her again. The time they have left is so much more diminished than he believes.

“Give me just a second, okay?” Odessa carefully extracts herself from this nest of them, only after one firm pull of his arm tighter around her, her hands curling around his forearm in her own sort of hug. Then she’s on her stockinged feet and padding over to her vanity where she settles — even with only the dim illumination that comes from the light in the other room — to fix away the smudges of her make-up, reaching into a drawer to grab a comb and a small folded square of cloth. The former smooths out the small imperfections in the perfectly imperfect waves of her blonde hair. The latter is dabbed carefully under one eye.

All the while, she continues speaking to him. “The fire really — You’re right. I— I’ve had a lot of close calls over the years, but that one… Something about you being there to see that it might’ve been…” The last one. He’d have been fine, of course. That’s the miracle of his ability. One she’s grateful for and covetous of in nearly equal measures. “I don’t know what would be worse… Wondering how it ended? Or knowing.” Blue eyes watch him in the vanity mirror, fingers curl around the fold of cloth like it’s a talisman that might give her strength.

“It was the right thing to do, though,” she insists, not for the first time. “And I don’t regret having gone in. I’d do it again. If I do whatever I can to save lives… Maybe that will save my own.” Odessa turns in her seat, satisfied that she’s put herself back together enough, faces Ace and holds fast to her determination. “I don’t want to change that about myself. Can you still love me knowing I’ll carry on down that path, for the compassion I’ll continue to allow to rule me, rather than love me in spite of it?”

Not looking her way as he's still giving her privacy to have fixed her face, he responds instantly and easily, "It will forever be in spite of it." One hand rests atop his knee, tented on the loveseat while he waits for her return. "We have not been so careful with your safety for you to throw it away on something so… so… inconsequential."

Only then does Ace turn to look at her while she sits in front of the vanity mirror. Without meaning, he catches sight of himself in it, his expression. His certainty clouds over it, and he sighs, looking back to Odessa.

The words have been said, though. There is no taking them back.

"I was terrified you were going to become trapped up there, and I felt powerless to stop it. I never want you to be in a position like that again. There had been police officers and firefighters there, after all. There was no need for you to have…" But they've had this argument, too. He tries to back away from it. "I greatly prefer you alive, I'll have you know," he interjects instead.

"The 'right' thing is irrelevant. Your safety is all that matters."

Odessa’s placid expression remains the same when Ace tells her that he essentially loves her in spite of herself, but the way her eyes shift away is telling. “They wouldn’t have found that poor woman in time, if at all.” But this isn’t the conversation she wants to have. She sighs and gets to her feet if only to stretch, rather than let her legs bounce or her fingers tap restlessly. He said he’d love her still. Maybe that’s enough.

Ironic, she feels, that the partner she’d find would be the one that loves her for her dark and in spite of her light. The others she’d had who’d felt the reverse hadn’t lasted, so maybe this is what it takes to avoid living a life alone.

You managed it, a voice in the back of her mind tells her. He will too. A sentence on the tip of her tongue that begins with I used to watch my husband dies before it can find its way to the light. It’s now that she realizes that voice is bitter. Maybe Mrs. Woods understands the man on Odessa’s loveseat better than she first gave her credit for.

Shoving down the influence of those memories, Odessa turns to the piano and sits down facing the keys. She has to set the square on the edge of the slope that keeps sheets of music from simply sliding down and away. Her fingers sink down on the keys in a heavy, plodding pace, tuneless.

“I’m not…” Letting out a note of frustration, the keys are focused on again for whatever passes for another bar of this plunking for inspiration that she does. “I’m not good at this like you are.” Head bowed, he can still see the cut of the fond smile across her face in her profile. “You have such a style that I just lack the finesse for… But it makes me appreciate you all the more.”

In turning to follow the sight of her as she leaves her vanity, Ace once again catches sight of himself and his chest knots before he comes to his feet, moving to follow her to the piano. He traces the outline of her figure from behind while she seats herself.

His hand finds the curve of her neck and settles slightly lower than that on her back in a gesture as always meant to be grounding. There's a yearning in him, quiet and strained, for her to find a tune rather than engage in the listless plonking of keys. Indeed, that serves to demonstrate just how much she's thrown off her center.

He's not finding the relevance between what he's said and what she's now lamenting, but he repeats quietly into her ear, "You have to stay safe, my phoenix." Ace's other hand trails down her arm, fingers laying overtop hers at the keys. He joins her in her listless playing, but guides their hands both toward something that could pass for melody. "Because I love you. Because it would be the most terrible thing were anything to happen to you."

The mere thought of it brings that tightness back to his chest for a moment before he breathes and lets the anxiety go, finger by finger, so he metaphorically holds her with a delicate hand again rather than a desperate one. He presses a kiss to the back of her head.

"You are worth more than they are. Any of them. Never forget that." The encouragement comes as a whisper. "All we have worked for is worth so much more… than the tawdry life of some nobody." Head bowed against the back of hers, he slips his hand off her neck to weave it around her collar in an embrace. "Promise me you'll think of our future, my muse. That you value it…" Another kiss is pressed to the side of her head. "As much as I do."

Odessa feels the turbulence of Ace’s emotions. Twice now she’s felt it, but doesn’t know what precipitates it. Incorrectly, she hypothesizes it may be the sight of her, that this weakness he perceives in her makes him recoil emotionally. After all, how could a narcissist such as Ace possibly find his own reflection disconcerting?

His hand just below the base of her neck helps her to uncoil the knot created by his own feelings. Her eyes close and her exhale is audible as his breath and his words wash over her ear. While she doesn’t miss a note — but how could anyone tell? — she does shiver for the brush of his fingertips along the length of her arm.

“My life isn’t worth more than anyone else’s,” Odessa asserts quietly. “My life is just worth more to you than anyone else’s.” He hears the smile in her voice even if he doesn’t see it as he draws her close and she plays on. “Foolish man. Don’t you know I’m always thinking of you? Even when it’s to my own detriment?”

Blonde hair brushes softly against Ace’s arm as Odessa tips her head back slightly into his embrace, fingers still playing over the keys, but with slightly more purpose now. She has many pieces memorized, and far more fragments of them than he may ever know. There’s a pace established now, an intent, even if it seems like he’s only hearing every fifth note.

“I’ve never been able to see a future for myself. I imagined one when I was young. Fantasized about what the world must be like, and how wonderful it’d be when it would be safe enough for me to finally join it. But once I met the harsh reality of it all…” If Ace could reach out with her ability, he’d sense the bittersweetness of her complicated opinions on this world outside her dungeon. “I stopped being able to see ahead. Everything’s been moment to moment since then.

“But with you…” The left hand starts to play chords, disconnected from a greater melody, but setting the backdrop all the same. “Finally, I can see a future. Together.”

He shifts his head, the next kiss placed on her shoulder while he continues to hold her possessively. "Hold onto that," Ace whispers, sounding pained for all his yearning for it. "Any time you're faced with something that could cut that beautiful future short, just…"

If only he had the words to flip a switch in her mind, he laments with a sigh. The hand atop hers shifts, moving up forearm to rest at elbow while she sits in the pool of blanket. "Let it guide you. Remind yourself that if you're not there to be part of it, it ceases to exist.

"There is no together if it lacks you," Ace whispers, then rises upright, arm still looped loosely around her collar and shoulder.

He’s right, and yet she knows she won’t change. But he delights in her moments of cruelty, so maybe that makes this next moment fitting.

With his grip on her eased — a thing she wasn’t sure would happen — the right hand starts to liven up a little. The music still proceeds at a gentle pace, but it’s starting to take shape. One that Ace begins to recognize little by little as the layers start to build a better picture. Odessa hums softly as she seems to find the confidence with the keys under her fingers.

It’s unnecessary, of course. The confidence is there and has been all along, and the hesitance and uncertainty merely her mask. The last piece to slot into place comes in with the swell of piano that can’t help but stir emotion. The inclusion of her voice now fills the gaps of music with song and lyrics.

“I’m not suggesting that this proposition here could last forever…” Odessa expects a ripple of surprise, or perhaps more than that. There’s a flutter in her own chest of worry over how this will be received that only shows as a flutter of her dark lashes as she casts her eyes down and to the hand resting on her shoulder. “I’ve no intention of deceiving you, you’re far too clever.”

Her next breath in is audible at this short distance between them. “But we could come to an arrangement, a practical arrangement.” There’s no loss of richness to her voice, only a rise in this desire to convey to him how she feels. “And perhaps you’d learn to love me, given time.”

The sting of this particular knife sings so sweetly, though.

Over her shoulder, the corner of his mouth hooks back into the beginnings of a smirk. The way his own words, his proposal for her, are used against him here is nothing short of brilliant. Any upset he has is smothered, strangled by that admiration. Ace brushes his thumb across her collar, eyes closing for a long moment as he draws in a pained breath and sighs it away between teeth, head tilting back.

"But I do," he laments to her bittersweetly, head lowering before he opens his eyes. The hand at her shoulder is lifted, the curve of his knuckles just barely grazing her cheek. "To my own detriment."

His attentiveness shies away to give her room to turn, should she like. Either way, Ace observes Odessa with an enchanted curiosity. "What's on your mind?" he probes innocently enough.

He might see where he thinks he's being lead, now, but he can play along.

Odessa’s fingers keep playing over the keys, holding for audience applause as the case may be here. She has an amused smile on her face, quietly pleased with herself, even if she does respond to him with a terse, “Shh!” Whispering, “I didn’t interrupt you before the finish.”

When she’s sure he’s going to let her have the floor again, she completes one more loop of her holding pattern before letting the piano swell again to take them to the end. “It may not be the romance that you had in mind…”

That either of them did. How did they get from mutually beneficial use of one another to so romantically entangled that it feels impossible to separate them without a sharp instrument?

Her smile has faded now, head bowed and brow knit. Her voice is softer. Much as when he played this song for her, she too has an ask, and there’s an anxiety buzzing through her now that he’s interjected and made her pick up where she left off, the momentum of the moment interrupted and becoming something she has to find again. There’s the barest quiver to her voice when she sings her final line.

“But could you learn to love this, given time?”

Ace waits for the hum of the last notes to fade from the air. He's not a monster. Then he gently pulls at her shoulder to pry her from the piano, to face him properly. Well, mostly properly.

"You know the answer, my muse."

He lowers himself into a crouch to look up at her, knees crackling. Perhaps he should have done that before the song waned. But regardless, without true care for it, he tilts his head at her, reaches for her hands.

"Now—" he wonders with an arch to his brow and only a hint of his earlier smirk. "Do I get to know your thoughts?" His teasing fades further as he asks with more grace, "What's on your mind?"

Her hands lift from the keys, letting the pedal sustain the notes for her a moment longer before she allows herself to be turned. One hand reaches out to use the piano itself as leverage, the foot opposite coming up off the floor so she can bend her leg and face him without straddling the bench. Odessa shakes her head with a small smile, leaning in just the barest bit as though sharing a secret. “You’ve answered a different question.”

As he reaches for her, she meets him with her left hand while her right comes up to scratch at an itch up by her eye, and she frowns faintly at the fleck of mascara she finds under her nail, trying to dislodge it gently with her thumbnail and not just smear black under the nailbed in the process.

“You told me that you could see yourself as an engaged man, but not as a married one,” Odessa explains quietly, and though she pauses, there’s a glance up at him, almost sharp, warning that she hasn’t finished that thought yet. “I was wondering if I could…”

Properly chastised by that glance, Ace demonstrates his understanding by grinning. The ebbings of impatience with her fussing over the tiny bit of mascara fade, understood that perhaps she's playing for time. He settles again, waiting for her to finish.

Her right hand falls back to rest in her lap and when she opens it, fingers unfurling like the petals of a flower, there’s the bit of cloth she’d been fiddling with earlier, unfolded and with a ring resting in her palm. The edges and the inner band are gold, as one might expect, but there are three rings inset on the facing side. The outer two are warm and rich, dimensional… Not a metal, but a wood of some sort? Binding them to the middle ornamental circle are two more strips of that gold. The feature of the piece is a ring of crushed opal that shows predominantly green, but also blue and yellow when the light catches and dances through it. Cosmic fire. Like a belt in a solar system.

“…persuade you to change your mind.”

By the time Ace realizes she's thought this moment far more ahead than she's let on, it's too late by far to tailor his reaction to read as whatever he deems to be the best manner. Having suspected where this might be leading does nothing to prepare him for it, shockingly enough.

His grin slips, the green-grey of his eyes dropping to fixate on the golden wend of bands wrapped round warmly-colored wood and stunning gem. For a moment all he can do is stare; an empty, echoing void of emotion. His pupils dilate and shrink again in silence while he takes in the gesture, and follows it by taking a moment to shift his crouch, one knee touching the ground.

Perhaps the additional balance is needed.

Reaction comes trickling, finally, muted passes of emotion pairing with whatever thoughts run through his head and render him silent. He lifts his head to look at her, expression hard to read.

“Don’t lie to me,” Odessa begs in a whisper, fingers curling subtly toward her palm as though she could protect her feelings as easily as the material object in her hand. “Whatever you do, do not lie to me.”

A hush of a breath escapes him, the laugh hidden in it incredulous. "How long have you been planning this?" he asks in a whisper even quieter than hers. If it can barely be heard, perhaps it doesn't count as his answer. His line hasn't been spoken loud enough for any audience to reasonably hear it, including hers.

But he's still deciding what form it should take. Needs a second to come up with anything that passes usual muster.

Ace doesn't ever think he's ever been in a situation where the shoe was so firmly on the other foot before.

Drawing in a deep breath to give her voice more strength, she tells him, “It’s okay if your answer is ‘no.’ The ring is still yours. I had it made for you.” Odessa has to resist the urge to lift it from its blanket and show him what she means — the stamp on the inside of the band that’s a simple card suit spade. She didn’t even have her own initial added to it, just in case.

Finally, a reaction from him that's distinguishable as something, even if it's still complicated. Irritation flickers in his eyes, a knife of hurt filleting his uncertainty into a different shape. Of course it's his. That ferocious snap of internal declaration manifests as a slower and more measured thing, his hand coming to rest over the inside of her wrist. He doesn't pry the cage of her fingers free, but neither does he let her withdraw.

Ace only frowns, head canting at her in much the same way she had at him to prevent him from interjecting too early. The look is stern, but momentary, ending with him looking off and letting loose a sigh of better volume.

Obediently, her fingers open again. The flash of negative emotion visible on him and deeper seeded hold her still, and it’s what she can do to keep her breathing even. When he’s good, he’s so very good, but when she’s provoked him, no matter how unintentionally…

But he isn’t angered, not yet. Maybe not at all, if she doesn’t poke at him. He’s wary, and those are two very disparate emotions, no matter how they present or how easily they bleed into one another when they overflow the banks of that river.

Blue eyes cast down to the freely presented ring once more, then back to green-grey of Ace’s eyes that she can find at once feel like sunshine through the trees and also cold wind coming off the water.

His possessiveness of this object of her heart made manifest no longer threatened, Ace is left to finish working through his expressiveness regarding its existence and presentation. Its everything draws him in.

She's said it's his, and his fingers curl down her wrist into her palm, resting over the curved edge of the ring. He spears it with his middle finger, drags it from her hand to his, carefully closing his other fingers around it. He needs a moment free of the sight of it before he turns his hand over to examine it for himself, and he sinks more toward a sit.

Ace pulls her by her other hand to find her way into his lap, intent on having her as close as possible even while he remains riveted, fascinated by this strange object's existence. "There aren't words," he finally says in a muted voice. Tension gathered in his shoulders disperses and he sinks into a lean against her. He turns his head to her, insisting, "I've tried thinking of them— I had them, even, before you surprised me with this."

The ring is lifted casually, carefully pinched between index and ring finger to put it on display.

"I had such words, O," he says in a regretful murmur. "About how I would bind my existence to yours. About how you'll be the death of me, one way or another. That as long as I got to see you become everything I know you can, it wouldn't matter." He doesn't smile, even if a self-deprecating twinge of one crinkles his eyes. "But now all the words have simply left me," he laments more softly still.

He settles, as cautious as before but without fangs bared any longer. If anything, he's still mired in disbelief.

Things like this do not happen to people like him.

The cloth is crumpled in her hand and absently laid aside once he’s taken possession of her token and shifted his position. The keys on the right end of the piano seem to ring out in a surprise that Odessa doesn’t verbalize when he means to shift her position as well. Her leg has to unfold quickly so she can get her feet both back on the floor and lower herself to that waiting lap, rather than find herself tumbling into it. He’d probably laugh, provided she would manage to find the grace to avoid pinning one of his soft organs under a knee or something.

She settles with him, her side to his chest, knees tented in front of her and an arm looped around his back. This way, they can more readily look at one another as he wonders at this gift she’s given him. A request, a promise. “Even half-formed… those are some pretty amazing words,” she can’t help but assure him with a flutter of a smile.

Cautiously, she reaches up to take his hand with the ring in it. “Small and meek as I can be…” Her fingers brush gently over the back of his palm. “Indecisive and frustrating as you know…” Curling her own fingers through the gaps in his, she’s careful not to disrupt his hold in the process. “Can you take me as I am? Passionate and obstinate, yearning albeit profoundly sad, nervous and isolationist, subservient while at times domineering… In spite of all my flaws, my inconsistencies and my contradictions…”

Odessa takes the ring carefully between two fingers now, claiming control of his hand so she can turn the wrist with care and slide the ring onto his fourth finger. “Ace Callahan, will you marry me?”

A thing like this was never meant to happen for someone like her.

"How forward of you," he murmurs to her, conspiratorial. He meets her eyes before regarding the ring she's decided is his, one way or another. "And untraditional besides. Meeker men might squirm."

But he approves. It can be felt in the chiding purr of his words, the lightness gradually returning to his soul.

"You are far more than just your negative qualities, Odessa Price. I won't waste time coddling you when you fear you won't be more than your anxieties tell you. But I do promise to cherish you— to lift you up and push you to ever greater things.

"Will you forgive me for that?" Ace asks, head dipping in that curiosity. "And will you have me in return?"

The beginnings of a grin kick up the corner of his mouth as he tells her, "I'd take you to the courthouse now, if you hadn't gotten rid of nearly every last bit of your clothing…"

A whining keen sounds from elsewhere in the house. Up the stairs.

"… and only if Rex is also allowed," he relents with a sigh from his nose, eyes rolling up into his head. He can count on more than one hand the number of times the puppy has ruined a perfectly good moment, now, and he won't let him ruin this. Ace lifts his ringed hand to cradle the side of Odessa's face. "Just imagine," he whispers with latent sarcasm, a secret just for them, "How much trouble we'll be in when he's no longer afraid of the stairs."

He's good-natured about his melodrama, distracting himself and her both from his bemoaning by kissing her nose.

“Luckily for you, I know how to redress myself,” Odessa teases right back. At the sound of the whine, her eyes lift as though she could see through the floor and to the landing at the top of the stairs. When she starts to turn away, however, Ace’s hand is there to guide her back to him. Nose wrinkling when that kiss is bestowed, she laughs softly, in no hurry to get up. After all, it’s his office that will need fixing up, not hers.

“I’m going to teach that puppy to carry a flower basket.” That’s delivered by the bride-to-be with a straight face. “It’s going to be the cutest thing anyone has ever seen. They’ll be talking about it for decades.” Her eyes force their way open wider to try and stave off the narrowing that comes with mirth, lips pressing together briefly. “I’m gonna be a fucking lege—” The rest of that word is lost to the fit of laughter she succumbs to.

Odessa leans in and presses a kiss to Ace’s mouth, even if she is still giggling happily through bits of it. “Maybe I’ll just put a flower crown on him.” This time she does start to reach for the bench, telegraphing her willingness — if not actual desire — to remove her weight from his lap so he can get up.

Never mind that he could just phase and let her sink into the floor instead. That’d be kind of weird.

Wait. Is that how he always manages not to wake her up in the morning?


Odessa's apparent determination regarding the pup's inclusion after he had only jokingly made the suggestion brings idle curiosity forward in Ace. Oh is she, he half has a mind to ask. But even she can't take herself seriously, and he resigns himself to a hum of humor of his own when she breaks down.

He gives her space to rise, and follows after, unfolding far more gracefully than he sank, back into a standing position. He captures her ringed hand with his before she can get far. "When do you want to do this?" Ace presses quietly, ignoring the renewed whine from the top of the stair.

He swings their joined hands loosely, green-greys peering intently at her.

Odessa’s attention drifts only briefly in the direction of the puppy, her senses splitting the duty and she merely smiles in the face of the knowledge that she’ll be sweeping that pup outside while Ace can grumble about whatever mischief darling Rex has gotten into.

After all that, this is far too wonderful a moment to waste on that. It’s a later concern. Her fingers weave through the space between his, binding them together. “Soon, but not so soon as tomorrow,” Odessa admits. “End of May? Maybe early June? I’d like a dress. I’d like… maybe a few people,” she posits, hastily justifying herself. “We’ll need witnesses after all. I’d like my family there. Jaclyn would look lovely in yellow.”

There’s an absent little smile for the notion. How can he deny her when such a fancy makes her so happy? “I want to do it soon.” With the repetition of her desire, that smile stays glued in place even as the existential dread of why she wants to move forward with this so soon — rather than plan out a larger, more ornate ceremony — creeps in.

They may not have much time. She’d like to spend what little of it they have left with his name. Just once, she’d like to prove her devotion to someone and prove she’ll stick by someone.

To find that someone will stick by her.

The doubt shows in her cool blue eyes when she stares into his, and she knows it.

"We could do it," Ace counterproposes. "Something small. You and I and us, a witness… then worry about a larger something later. More time to worry about the extras, such as who you'll want to invite, what sort of dress you like, what sort of saving will need done to furnish our tastes in formalwear and location."

He cants his head, suggesting, "Give it some thought," before he drags their twined hands to his mouth, pressing a kiss to the back of her palm. His green-greys move on to what needs done in this moment, and he lets go of her with a put-upon sigh as he heads for the open doorway to the hall. He pauses at the bottom of the steps only to be yipped at excitedly by the gangly puppy upstairs— a thing not meaning to be a bark but becomes one anyway.

Ace glances down at the ring on his finger for only a moment, thumb pressed to the bottom of the band, and then begins the steps up. "Come on," he tells the wispy grey thing. "We have to rid you of this fear you have. If you don't want to be alone, if you're this pleased your mother is home, you're going to have to not be held back by this foolish aversion to the staircase."

He produces a tiny nugget of a treat from his pocket as he nears the top, offering it out at the space on the second stair from the landing. "Come on," he bids.

“A compromise,” she both suggests and rephrases as she starts to gather up her discarded garments. Rex would like nothing better than to snuffle them and perhaps teethe or curl up in them. “I’ll pick my witness, you pick yours, and we’ll marry. Something small now, something a little more elaborate later.”

It can be their celebration if any of them survive that long.

Odessa stops with her clothes draped over one arm and the other adjusting the hang of her coat in the closet. For a moment in time, she’s frozen by her terror. Then, she breathes again and her shoes are haphazardly set inside before she pads toward the staircase, watching her groom-to-be trying to coax their puppy down the steps so that, maybe next time, the little scamp can greet her at the door.

A hand covers her mouth and tears gleam in her eyes by the light in the hall, but don’t take shape enough to escape their wells. She can’t fail them. Odessa’s heart aches at the horrible thought of it. The horrible notion of their reality.

Rex takes the first halting step with one paw, then brings it back up, bouncing lightly and alternating feet. At Ace’s coaxing, he tries again. One step, then another when the goalpost is moved just another step further. The treats prove an effective motivation. Odessa remembers a conversation she and Ace had some time ago regarding carrots and sticks.

And if she succeeds — along with her fellow scientists, the others working toward this same goal, those leaving this string to search for help in the next — this is what she’ll have fought for and won.

Her hand flutters back down so she can adjust the grip on her garments and she’s smiling when her expression is revealed.

Odessa won’t fail.

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