ace_icon.gif odessa2_icon.gif

Scene Title Encore
Synopsis Always leave them wanting more.
Date June 15, 2020

Williamsburg: Ace's Brownstone

After finally being allowed to relax, Odessa had fallen asleep quickly. At this point, she could probably sleep on concrete and be perfectly fine, but Ace’s bed is infinitely better. When she rouses from her nap, she takes a moment to stretch her arms over her head, palms flat against the headboard as she stretches her legs out, toes not quite brushing the footboard.

Judging from the light still shining in through the blinds, it’s probably early to mid-evening. “Fuck, that was amazing,” she whispers to herself while she arches her back. Sitting up, she scans the room to take visual stock of where her clothing ended up.

Of course everything is folded neatly at the end of the bed. Odessa smiles faintly and crawls off the bed to start reassembling herself in the master bath. Examining herself in the mirror, she feels more like herself than she has in a long time.

Her smile fades. Too bad that won't last.

Once she's freshened up again, she pads silently down the stairs on her bare feet, head cocked to one side. She pauses with three steps between her and the landing, closes her eyes and opens up her senses again, feeling for a ping that informs her of Ace's presence.

The pleasant background buzz resumes. Aman. Her fingers curl around the banister as she pushes her feelings toward him. Calm. Content. A nudge of hello. She'll allow herself to linger in the stairwell for a moment.

A sizzle of sound informs that Ace is in the kitchen, rustling something about in a pan. His emotional keel is even, relaxed in his focus on the menial task at hand.

At once farther and closer than that, though, comes Aman's reply. Confusion at first, that first moment of uncertainty if it's him or something else. Then a different brand of confusion, once he places the feelings as not his own. Twice in one day, and at this emotional register?

A deep breath of a moment later and he's pushing himself to mirror her calm. Hi, right back at her. He's not as content, but that's a feeling he's exuded a vanishingly small number of times since they've known each other. Anxiety related to constantly needing to look over his shoulder certainly didn't help with that.

But it's only moments after that first contact that he can't help but wonder after her wellbeing, asks the question that's never easy to answer with emotion alone. Yearning and curiosity settle on their tether in equal parts. Wanting to know how she is, what's happening in her life isn't something that carries with it sadness or inherent worry, it's just who Aman is. It's what he always does.

Odessa smiles to herself, responding to his question with more feelings of happiness to try and counter the perpetual undercurrent of his anxiety, which she knows she's responsible for.

This isn't like the nudges he gets when she'd receive a visitor or a care package. There's intent to them. He can tell the difference between her ambiance and something that's meant for him by now.

She opens her eyes finally, smile still in place when she finds her way to the kitchen. "Handsome and talented," she muses softly from the entry, not meaning to startle or intrude. "Sorry about…" She waves a hand nebulously over her head to indicate that she means taking a nap. "You tired me out so wonderfully, I just couldn't help myself."

Her smile shifts over to a grin. "Anything I can assist with?"

The relief and gladness Odessa feels belongs to anyone but Ace. It's one last push of emotion before Aman's hand leaves hers, returns to what he was doing before, and just a shade happier for it. He's still there, but content to fade into her background the same as he has to have her fade into his.

Ace looks over his shoulder at Odessa with a slight lift of his brow. "If you're feeling adequately grounded now, feel free to wash and cut the broccoli." Her commentary from the doorway otherwise goes unnoted, no emotional rouse at the compliment paid to him. The cubed steak in the pan before him steams, dark sauce bubbling as he swirls the pan's contents with a flick of his wrist.

Even in the peak of theoretical comfort, in the privacy of his own home, a refined air clings to him. Tousled hair is matched by a white tee, dark jeans, but his posture contains a regal just so to it, even his dressed-down image well-maintained.

"In the meantime, let's begin discussing your next steps. How to begin making your new identity best serve you, and how we can ensure it does so." Spatula shifting in the pan, Ace glances back to Odessa again shortly before returning his attention forward. "Setting it up starts almost as soon as you select its shape."

“I can do that,” Odessa confirms easily enough. Now invited, she steps into his kitchen and first moves to the sink to wash her hands. Then, she retrieves the broccoli and starts running that under the tap as well. She hums a quiet acknowledgement while she lays everything out on the cutting board and retrieves the appropriate knife.

She wonders, idly, how much of his affect is honest and how much of it is put on for her benefit. Only time will tell there, she imagines. “As good a place to start as any, I suppose.” The knife hits the cutting board with a quiet clack! each time she pushes it through the stalk of broccoli.

“You… I don’t know what kind of research you decided to conduct on me before you decided to take this chance on me,” Odessa begins, throat a little tighter than she expected it to feel as she approaches the topic, considering what it means for her. “But there was a time when I didn’t have my good looks.” For all that she swore up and down at the time that she didn’t care, that she was beautiful for all her scars, it had been difficult for her to adjust to and to accept. The comments had often been cruel. They had made her cruel.

Odessa glances over to where Ace stands at the stove, just long enough to check and see if he’s watching her. Regardless of that, she returns her eyes to her work as though that had been the intended circuit from the beginning. Instead of what she’d like to say, which is something akin to don’t ask me to be plain, or ugly, she says instead, “What shape do you need me to take?”

Of the amount of research: "Enough."

Of her previous brush with a less than ideal form, Ace offers silence.

It continues when she delicately places her future in his hands, accompanied by a twitch of his brow. The pause it gives him is visible only briefly physically, but something roils around under his skin, shifting and uncertain of its own shape. Whatever it is, it's negative, raw… repulsed?

Not at her. But at the topic.

Ace turns to Odessa then, sorting out his thoughts with a stoic look while he thinks— one that doesn't entirely hide his displeasure, much as he thinks it might, in this case.

Yes, it's the topic, rather than her, he tells himself. It's at the subservience implied in her reply.

He turns back to the range, shifting the pan off to plate the steak before it overcooks, then settles the pan right back onto the flame. "Bring it here," he says of her prepwork rather than answering immediately. Tongue running over his teeth, he decides to measure his words instead of snapping them. For the amount of investment involved in her change, her question isn't entirely unwarranted after all.

"What I need you to be is someone who looks little enough like you that your past becomes less of an immediate concern. That if someone were to find you over some past grievance, I want them to have truly worked for it. What I need is for you to find comfort in this new skin." Ace shifts a flinty glance her direction. "You'll do me no good sitting on a shelf, or hiding in the shadows."

While he works out what it is he wants to say and how he wants to say it, Odessa gathers up the chopped veg on the cutting board and moves it over to the pan. She doesn’t hand it off to him, but instead uses the knife to tip the pieces into the cookware. Once that task is done, she sets everything aside, steps back to give him his space to work, and simply braces one hand on the counter’s edge, leaning against it.

Her head tilts to one side, slightly birdlike as she studies him, both the physical manifestations of his thinking and what bubbles beneath the surface. It’s like she hadn’t truly seen him before now. “You really don’t like it when I defer to you, do you?” The knife is still in her left hand, the tip of it pointed in his direction for emphasis as she speaks, but nothing more than that. Like someone’s Italian aunt who doesn’t think about the props in her hands while she gesticulates.

A grin slides across her face. The mask she was wearing before has been discarded. Or maybe that is her true face and this is the mask she’s choosing to wear. Maybe neither is real.

“You really aren’t like other men, are you, Mister Callahan?” She quirks a brow, anticipating a rush of pleasure from the address. “They tend to like it when I go all doe-eyed and say—” As she sets this up, her expression changes, shoulders sagging and eyes growing wide, mouth soft, voice a tremor. “Please, tell me what I need to be in order to make you happy.” Now, she tips the knife toward herself, the innocence vanishes, replaced by cynical amusement. “Nobody ever gives two fucks what I want.”

So, she tells him.

“I want to stay blonde.” It starts simple. “I want to be taller.” The image starts to form in her mind. “I want to be less soft. I want these last scars,” the knuckle of her thumb brushes over the twisted scar across her throat, then splays hand (and knife) across her stomach, “these last reminders gone.” As she carries on, her expression hardens, fire in her stormy blue eyes. “I want to be so gorgeous that every man in town looks at you and feels jealousy, thinking, my god, I wish I was the one fucking her.

The corner of her mouth turns up faintly. “I want you to want to take me off your shelf. I want you to proudly show me around. If I wanted to live in the fucking shadows, if I wanted to wait in some dark fucking basement for your good graces to allow me to see the light of day, I would remain Odessa Price.”

There’s one last jab with the knife taken at the air between them. “I am done with that life.” Finally, she sets the implement aside, some of the fire in her diminishing, like she’s remembered herself after that little moment of assertion. “I am more than happy,” she clarifies, somewhat subdued, “to hear your desires and your suggestions. You clearly know how to make the whole… double life thing work for you, and I’d be stupid not to take your counsel. But as long as I have a say in the matter…” She tips her head to one side slightly, like a half-shrug. “That’s where I’m beginning.”

At first, Ace keeps his attention on the meal, brows lifting in opaque, silent reply. No, he does not like it when she doesn't express her own will. He shuffles vegetable in sauce, ears open to Odessa. She earns a glance when she asks her rhetorical, mood mellowing to something lighter when she begins waxing about what most men like.

But then she goes on further than that, all while gesturing with that knife.

He sets a lid down over the pan, turning entirely to Odessa as her passion increases, finding a mirror in him even for a lack of an ability like hers. The fire in her voice draws the corner of his mouth back, in a small smile rather than a sneer, unphased by the large knife she wields in his direction, and radiating an emotion she's never seen from him before:


Ace inhales deeply in the moment she begins to settle back down, like he's trying to capture the essence of her fire in that breath. Waiting until she's done speaking, he cranes his head down to capture her mouth with his, the last zest of appreciation finding its way out through that outlet. While he kisses her, his hand finds the discarded knife, tilts it forward to stab the point into the cutting board, 'using' that small bit of pressure to give him the momentum to stand again. "That's a start," he decides, turning back to the dinner in progress to unseal the steaming pan, knife leveraged as a spike to test the broccoli with. He pops it into his mouth, chewing thoughtfully before shutting the stove off and shifting instruments around to plate the rest of the food. Unlike when they first arrived, Odessa needs not gather a second plate for herself, or make her own meal. This time, she's included from the start.

"My advice to you is leave enough of yourself that you recognize yourself when you look in a mirror. Leave your eyes. And as for your identity… become as boring and plain as you possibly can." Handing Odessa off a plate, Ace moves only as far as the island, pulling out a drawer with silverware to gather one for himself and pass one off to her. He doesn't make a move to sit at the dining table, comfortable where he is. It might not see use at all, judging by the skilled fold of the napkins at each place setting. "Harry Stoltz volunteers. He donates to charity. He hides in the open, for he has nothing to hide." Taking a bite of his food, he drags his teeth along the tines of his fork while he thinks, afterward gesturing toward Odessa with a jab. "He's non-Evolved."

Chewing the rest of that bite, Ace looks off at nothing in particular for a long moment as he retreats into thought regarding his own assumed identity. With a particularly luxurious sigh, he acknowledges, "We probably shouldn't kill anyone to find you a new identity…"

If he hadn't initiated the kiss, Odessa would have. Or, so she tells herself. Maybe she wouldn't have been brave enough to. But since he's saved her the trouble, she reaches up to rest her hands against his chest, gathering fistfuls of his tee shirt as her fingers curl inward. The thunk! of the knife being stabbed into the cutting board elicits a grin and a quiet giggle, rather than being startled or nervous.

She smooths down the front of his shirt again as they part, catching her breath and brushing over the corners of her mouth with the pad of her thumb.

The plate and silverware are accepted and she starts to move off toward the table, faltering for a moment when she realizes he's not following. But she likes to sit down when she eats, so she carries herself the rest of the way there. Either he will join her, or he'll lift his voice enough to carry to her. The plate is set down, but she twists in her seat so she's facing him while he speaks to her.

When he points out that Harry is SLC non-Expressive, she smiles. "So am I. On paper." She chews a bite of steak, making sure to emit a quiet hum of appreciation. "I feel this gives me some leeway in my new identity, don't you? You're the only one who knows I can do anything at all." Aside from Aman, of course.

His last supposition earns a roll of her eyes. "My parole officer would very likely frown on that, yes," she laments. Odessa's expression shifts then, one of sudden realization. "Say, I need to check in with him tonight yet. Don't suppose you still have my phone, do you?" It's probably too much to hope for, and good sense probably had him destroying it shortly after acquisition, but it can't possibly hurt to ask.

The look on Ace's face suggests it wasn't a question he was expecting to be asked, one he takes his time with formulating his answer to. He's eating, after all. "I do have that still, yes," he finally shares mildly, idly looking off at some distant point like he's looking into the past itself. "It wouldn't quit ringing for some time."

And with that memory, he decides he needs some wine. It's an easy thing to pull free two of the glasses below a criss-crossed shelf in the corner of the kitchen, and a recorked bottle on the shelves is accessible in short order after. Spotless glass stains with deep red as he drily asks, "You hadn't been expecting any calls, had you?"

It's a question he asks without bothering to look her way.

He does turn to her though, incidentally, to bring her that second half-filled glass for herself. "We'll dig it out and charge it, so you can tend to your…" His mood dips, a splash of multiple darker hues marring his emotional canvas briefly. "Well." She knows. He knows. That'll be enough.

A drink from his own glass cleanses his palette, metaphorically and physically. "Will that be frequent?" Ace asks as he returns to his perch. "That contact?"

“You mean today?” Odessa smirks faintly, reaching out to take the glass from Ace when he offers it with both of hers. It allows her to keep a grip on him for a moment so she can fix him with a stare. “No, I haven’t been expecting anyone to contact me. No one knows I’m out except for you, my lawyer, and that pesky parole agent of mine.”

One hand tightens around the glass to ensure she won’t fumble it as the other hand loosens and allows him to slip away from her. “Thank you.” She takes a sip and sighs deeply. It’s been too long since she’s had good wine. “A girl could get used to this,” she murmurs, eyes closed and smile dreamy.

But she’s all sharp focus again when she looks at him next. “Regretfully, more frequent than you’re going to like. It’s a necessary evil.” She shrugs and leans back a little, comfortable in this moment and with this conversation, even though she feels his emotions trying to tug her down as well. This is one of those times where she can tell the difference. “Relax,” she purrs. “It’s my discomfort to bear, not yours. You shouldn’t need to involve yourself but minimally.”

Because he may need to be involved somewhat. “It’s likely that he will eventually ask to interview you. To meet you — well, Harry — and know that this position I’ve been offered as your… assistant,” the intonation is lifted, making it a question before she continues, “is legitimate. That’s how this works, I’m afraid. They’ll want to be assured that I’m not falling in with the wrong crowd.”

She toys with her lip with her teeth at that. This is going to be a game.

“If it helps, he testified at my trial. In my defense.” There’s a light in Odessa’s blue eyes as she says this. “He wants to see me succeed. This is the best version of this situation I could have hoped for.”

Odessa answers with her press for clarification, her coyness and her smile and Ace might as well be made of marble for all that reply fails to visibly elicit a response. Irritation prickles in his chest, and passes without acknowledgement.

Vinegar and honey, after all. He'll be patient.

"Assistant?" he echoes back, voice filled with incredulous wonder. He lets out a soft scoff of a breath, one he means to discard that thought away with. But then his brow furrows in thought, and the small sip he takes of his wine does little to mull it away. "However above-the-board your relationship with Harry might be, sharing a bed with a subordinate wouldn't be a good look for either of us. Coworkers paints only a slightly better picture…"

Involvement that close with her leash-holders wasn't something he accounted for, but he'll adapt. He's already thinking through it, finding some small delight in unraveling the problem. He whiles away those moments with another bite, then glances back at her. "At least he'll see the you he wants to see, if we set out compelling-enough bait. Perhaps it'll even be little work to maintain, if he wants to believe in the illusion hard enough." At that, he gives her a small, smug smile. It fades as one piece of the puzzle slides into place for him, thoughts sharpening again. "For your identity, then— perhaps it's best to go the entirely legal route. File to change your name permanently?"

“Oh, is that how that’s meant to work?” Odessa tips her head to one side and fixes Ace with a look that’s all faux cluelessness. By the time she shifts back to a neutral position, the expression has faded entirely again. “I admit, nobody’s ever really cared about the delineation with me before.” She looks away then suddenly without turning her face, expression somewhat stormy. “It’s nice that you do.”

She hates admitting that it’s revelatory to her to be treated with some basic fucking respect, but if this is going to work out, he needs to understand where the baseline is, as uncomfortable as she is with it.

Only after he talks about her new identity again does her gaze slowly lift back to him. It earns him a nod of her head while she takes another bite of food off her fork, mulling it over while she chews. “Precisely my thoughts.” The cheer returns to her by degrees. His smugness fuels her own. “If we do this all legitimately, on the up and up, it’s likely to work out quite well for me. If anyone would want to see me cast off the shackles of my previous existence, it’s him.”

But her brilliant smile doesn’t last, because something he said is stuck in her brain and won’t just leave her alone. “I can find a legitimate line of work on my own, you know.” Her brows lift at that, guileless. “Spare you the concern of propriety. My cousin owns a bar. I’m sure I could make myself useful. Make a living.” She glances away, but only briefly. “I don’t want to make things more difficult for you than they have to be. Besides, I haven’t seen anywhere near enough of the world to sell it to anybody.”

Ace watches the turbulent emotions that play out visibly over Odessa as she works through her frustrations over the difficulty of maintaining legitimate pretenses. It's nice that he cares? That creates an idle pool of curiosity in the well of his being. Who would have thought.

When she gets around to her offer, he arches an eyebrow. "Your concern is touching," he remarks with a false flattery to it, but neither does he shoot it down. No, the flatness in him sees its natural conclusion with a frown. "I think you'd be surprised just how easy it is to sell, though. Learn a few basic facts, pepper in enthusiasm, offer a 'discount'— it's all very simple."

He's forced to acknowledge with a sigh, "Working at a bar does sound suitably boring." All while he stabs several more bites of dinner onto his fork with a certain air to it.

While he’s been considering and speaking, Odessa’s been focusing on her plate. She’s startled when she realizes just how fast she’s been devouring her dinner. Then again, it’s been several hours since she’s eaten. And months since she’s had food this good. Still, she’s sheepish about it for a moment or two. It’s exacerbated by the falseness of his affect.

Still, she doesn’t call him on it. The less he knows about her ability and how it works, the better off she’s going to be. For now.

“Selling something is just lying, isn’t it?” Odessa asks, forcing that lightness back into her tone when she looks up at him, face one of amusement. “I’ve no doubt I’d be good at that portion of it, but…” She trails off, turning her attention back to her wine. She takes a long drink from the glass, as though it might wash away her distaste. The way that she knows she’d feel resentment and jealousy for all the places she’d sell people on that she’s never seen. That she may never get to see. Admitting that jealousy to him, however, would be admitting to a weakness. Not a strategic admission, either.

“The bar could be safer,” she admits coolly. “For me. For you.” It’s clear which one of those she places the importance on when she lifts her brows on the last syllable. “Or I could put in an appeal to Raytech.” Her gaze stays steady on him when she makes that suggestion, inwardly cautious even if she isn’t showing it in her expression.

After all, if he’s done the research he claims, then he knows what she and Richard Ray were to each other once.

“I walked the line with Raytech before,” she points out. “SESA would almost certainly have no trouble believing I could do that a second time. That Richard would keep me in line. And he pays very well.” And as if to give no room for him to guess about where her heart lies, she gives Ace a slow, appreciative look up and down before settling her attention back on his face. “Having a wonderfully respectable partner like Harry will only make me look better in the eyes of my keepers.”

It's clear at a look alone that whether or not the bar is safer, whether or not Raytech is strategic, neither are as appealing as having Odessa close by. But neither is it an emotion Ace means to burden her with, silent and unmeeting of her eyes. He eats in silence for the better part of a minute while he moves past his displeasure, wine in hand when he finally turns back.

"The work itself, without stress. The lying, good practice." He opens his posture in a type of shrug, wine arm out to his side. "But it's not for everyone."

He holds her gaze while he drinks, smacking his lips when he sets the glass aside. "To be plain, I'd rather you near. I have plans, and if you want any part in them, you have to make yourself available for them. The farther you stray, the more interesting the acrobatics become to involve you."

Ace arches an eyebrow. "So. Which of those options gives you the most flexibility?"

Odessa continues to eat unperturbed while he sorts out his feelings. She has to force her expression to remain neutral, because she feels one corner of her mouth starting to tick upward in a ghost of a smirk as she considers what it all means. That he states plainly that he wants her nearby causes her to turn back to him with a look of mild surprise.

“It’s nice to be wanted,” she muses, pushing her now empty plate away from her. “The bar provides cover. An expectation of some chaos. Unusual schedules. And another place to hole up when I cannot do so here.” On the other hand… “Raytech will allow me further validity. It will allow me access to more resources.” Resources she wouldn’t be able to explain on a barmaid or travel agent’s salary. “And Richard will happily arrange for me to go wherever I need to be and make it all look perfectly legitimate.”

She pushes to her seat now, cradling her wine glass against her sternum as she makes her way slowly back toward the island, eyes fixed on Ace all the while. “I’m very flexible,” she promises. “I want to be near you. I want to be a part of your plans, but I’m also my own woman.” She sighs, glancing away for a moment and swirling her wine in the glass absently. “I just need to ask you for the one thing no one ever wants to give to me.”

Ace can't help himself, one eyebrow cocks high at that. "Autonomy?" he wonders first. But, no—

"Trust?" he guesses second.

Ooh,” Odessa coos appreciatively, “got it in two.” She takes another step closer.

Without otherwise moving, his head turns slightly to the side to better absorb the impact, the weight of what she asks. The green-grey of his gaze sharpens on her, his breath leaving him in a calm silence to avoid disturbing the set of his shoulders. Trust, she wanted of him.

"Anyone asking for blind trust is someone with aims to screw you over, O." Ace imparts without much emotion. "But— trust that your proximity to Richard Ray won't jeopardize us both, in the end?"

In one way or another.

He smirches his tongue off his palate. It's a tall order.

Delicately, he gives her a chance to clarify. "Or did you want my trust on something else entirely?"

“I’ve never needed trust to screw someone over, darling.” It isn’t something she should be proud of, or flaunt in such a way, but she can’t help but chuckle breathily anyway. She sets her glass down on the island, bracing one hand against it to support her in a lean. “What I’m asking is for you to trust me when I say it’s you I’m supporting.”

Still, she tips her head to the side and narrows her gaze faintly. “I won’t say I don’t have my own agenda. You’re not naive, and I like that about you. But my agenda doesn’t include hurting you in any way. Or,” she thinks to add, “your interests. I want to see you succeed. I like that spark in your eye when you’ve just done something marvelous.

Like killing soldiers ostensibly on his own side while allowing her to be an unwitting accomplice.

“If I didn’t want to be here,” her brows lift, expression pulled into a pout that conveys a certain degree of faux innocence, “I would have told you where you could put that cigar.” She pushes off the counter and takes another step toward him. “I wouldn’t have taken your offerings.” And another. “I wouldn’t have fucked you.”

One hand lifts, and instead of reaching toward him, her fingers come up and brush over the ragged scar across her throat until she reaches the hollow of her throat, letting them trail down slowly then. “I wish you could experience the world the way I do,” Odessa tells him, tipping her head up to better regard him through half-lidded eyes. “You would know I mean this.” Absently now, her thumb traces down from her throat, down the line of her sternum and settles after an inch or two. “If you don’t want to trust me, then there’s no point to me being here. I won’t be caged again, Ace.”

His suspicion, his doubt that she's just saying what he wants to hear ebb away when Odessa begins to point out all the things she could have done differently. She has a point, after all.

One she drives home while joyfully pulling him by his tie, so her words might as well be a siren's song.

He should be more mindful of that leash she could lead him around by.

"If you truly can read my intentions, if you aren't lying about your capacity to detect lies, then you know I won't."

No indications to the contrary arise. Ace lifts his chin just a touch as he goes on. "I'm looking for a partner— not a tool. If I were looking to control you, then I wouldn't have taken the possibility of a no for an answer."

The hand at his side rather than on the island counter lifts and snakes around her hip, grabbing her and firmly pulling her closer. "But what I will do…" he says in a lower voice, "is exchange trust for trust." Head dipping closer to Odessa's, his lip curls back in a grin. "And a little control," Ace admits in a tease.

As a treat.

“I’m afraid to believe it,” Odessa admits. “You don’t know how many times I’ve been strung along with promises of freedom. Autonomy. Partnership. But…” she grants, head canting the other way now, “I want to. So, I’ll try.”

When he pulls her close, it feels like her heart rises in her chest and she tenses at first, then relaxes against him. “Gladly,” she breathes out, accepting his terms while she reaches up to cup his face with the hand that was resting against her chest. Her thumb brushes over the wicked curve of his mouth, rather than leaning in to kiss him just yet.

“Your sincerity mystifies me.” First one direction, then the other. “I haven’t felt this alive in years. Not since…” She smiles then, lifting her attention from his mouth and back to his eyes as her thumb drags his lower lip downward just a bit before it slips free again. He doesn’t need or want to know who used to make her feel like this before he came along. “Since before the war. Am I truly what you want?” Before he can answer, she dips in and kisses him briefly, just long enough for a press of lips and her teeth to snag what she’s been toying with and tug gently, then release.

She needs this mask, because she’s certain he would be repulsed if he knew just how much she’d like to cry with relief that someone wants to work with her and not simply use her. That someone cares what she wants. That someone is willing to take her at her word and trust her. How much she’d just like to be held by him and listen to the beat of his heart and enjoy a moment of feeling safe, and wanted.

Instead, she holds tightly to a different sort of want. The one she can feel coiling in him, that she now embraces as her own.

That want she ensures with that tease of her kiss. It's strong, overwhelmingly so.

It's yes in a way more powerful than words, one sealed with another deeper kiss. The clatter of silverware on plate doesn't distract him from it as he lifts his other hand, palm cupping her face and fingers curling back into her hair.

He might be infatuated with an idea of her— a single breathless moment in time— rather than the reality of her, but she has these moments where she lives up to that image so very well.

Such that he puts aside his own usual distaste for so many things.

His hungry kiss is accompanied by a roaming of hand, not to where his desires would indicate, but instead to chastely rest at the small of her back and pull her closer. Because it's yes, but it's more than just that.

"I have fantasized," he breaks off the kiss long enough to murmur, "All the trouble we could get into together." The next kiss is shorter before he leans back entirely, still holding her face. "But if you need to hear me say the word, then yes."

In the background of it all, the tiniest whisper. It's not Ace, not in the slightest. Until now, it's kept its distance, attempted silence and to not be noticed. But a nudge of embarrassment interrupts the flow of emotion Odessa pulses outward and receives back in kind. Try as Aman might, their link affects him, too.

And whatever the fuck is going on on her end of the line has him seeking a moment of privacy, to urgently get some fresh air.

Never has Odessa characterized her empathic link to Aman as inconvenient. Not until this very moment. The elation she felt just a second ago at that simple word yes threatens to flee her entirely. Her face flushes scarlet with an embarrassment that doesn’t begin as hers, but becomes her own when she realizes exactly what she’s been broadcasting to her friend. And how utterly unfair it is to him.

Her mask slips.

“I-” She tries to cover her suddenly being flustered with another kiss. “I needed it,” she admits, timid now where before she fed on his confidence. With his hand on her face, she doesn’t turn away like she might want to, instead letting her gaze shift to look over his shoulder, fixing on one of the cupboards for lack of anywhere better to focus. “Shit,” she hisses, a shiver running through her.

“I have to make that phone call,” she laments, looking back with apology in her eyes. “I can’t fuck this up out of the gate.” But she leans just the barest bit closer, regaining the ground he gave up a moment ago. “We can’t get into all that trouble if they decide to toss me back in prison after my first night out.”

With having no frame of reference for her sudden blush and lack of control, surprise manifests in Ace, caused by the belief that only the things in the room with them are things influencing her at this moment. It eases back the intensity of his enthusiasm, the only thing that keeps him from insisting they can wait.

Instead, he sighs from his nose. "Well, we'd have a head start," he insists without particular energy, masking his reluctance with a careless affect. His hand frees itself from her curls, the other lingering on her back a moment longer before he slips away. The distance he needs to go isn't very far at all, though, around the other side of the island and to a drawer in the kitchen. Without looking back at her, he retrieves and holds up a familiar burner phone between thumb and forefinger, waggling it visibly over the height of his shoulder before he sets it down next to his other chargers, plugging it in.

"I'll leave you to it." Ace tells her, completing his circuit back around the island to collect the plate she's left behind, then to gather his own. He doesn't look at her again, all apparent soul-baring done for the evening. Besides, she has her business to attend to. Far be it from him to distract her further. The last bites quickly taken from his own plate, he sets the dishes out in the sink and flicks the water on, giving her his back while he sets about the mindless work.

His dousing of those flames causes Odessa to deflate. When he withdraws, it’s with some reluctance on her part to relinquish her own hold on him. But she does without it having to become some kind of tug of war.

“Ace…” she murmurs after he’s taken the dishes to the sink. She moves across the kitchen to wrap her arms around him from behind, pressing herself against his back. “Believe me, right now… The only thing I want is for you to—” She hesitates, closes her eyes and shuts down her ability.

He can feel her sag against him after she does it. Her embarrassment starts to abate. Her arms squeeze a little tighter. “I want you to fuck me right on the kitchen counter.” There’s a deep sigh that comes after that admission, full of longing. “I won’t be long,” she promises, pulling away from him finally and stepping back toward the phone and the charger. “I’m going to…” Odessa pulls the plug free from the outlet and winds the cord around her hand. “Take this upstairs. Let you have your space. I’ll be back down when I’m done.” While she starts to move in the direction of the stairwell, she lingers just long enough to make sure she’s dismissed.

The surprise contact from behind brings Ace to pause mid-brush of brillo down plate, steeling himself against it before it happens, but remaining whole for the duration of affection. His own emotions are just as complicated as hers about the matter, at once longing yet temperate— unaffected yet disappointed, glad yet unhappy yet—

And then he's just human, stiff in posture, impossible to read for the distance he effused. All the glimpses into the swinging pendulum of his emotions didn't give her any why before cutoff, either.

His head turns back toward her only when she begins to slide free, expression neutral save for a lift of his brows. Ace keeps Odessa in his periphery til she's wound the charger cable around her hand. "Take your time," he assures her, then looks back to the dish in his hand.

Hidden by the dip of the sink, his grip is tight on the dark-stained ceramic. Sharing might be more of a challenge than he thought, he realizes in silence.

So this, that exercise of trusting her on her own, on letting others have her time, it perhaps is good it's happened on the first day before he got too comfortable. Too controlling. This place needed to be a roost— a nest, not a cage. A den, not a crate. A retreat, not a prison.

It would take work to confirm that image.

Ace begins to hum to himself while he listens for the sounds of Odessa's movements, idling away the moments until he hears them again.

Odessa’s gaze lingers a moment longer before she nods silently, even though he appears to be more interested in the dishes in the sink now than in paying attention to her.

As she makes her way quietly up the stairs and to the bedroom, she knows that is an easily presented deception. She’s used to being distrusted, expects it. It’s why she shuts the door behind her. She knows, from experience with him, that if he wants into this room, he doesn’t need to enter through the door. Or even by the stairwell. But it’s the best line of defense that she has against the sound carrying, so she’ll take it for now.

Plugging the phone into the wall and sitting down on the bed, she waits for the phone to come to life and starts scrolling through old notifications.

sorry, wrong number

Oh, Aman. That hadn’t been particularly sly of him. Odessa sighs quietly and closes her eyes. She reengages her ability, reaching out with her senses and feeling for the ping of Ace on the floor below before she continues. At least if he moves, she’ll be aware of it. Aman is a quiet buzz in the background again, noted, but not her focus. She needs to stay sharp in case her leash is shorter than expected.

They promised trust for trust. If he gives her that, she’ll reward him for it with some of her own. Later.

From the last received text message, Odessa presses the green button on the phone’s face and brings it up to her ear while it rings through. Her thumb nudges the volume button, bringing the call down as low as she can while still being able to hear, cutting down on the possibility of it bleeding out and being heard where she doesn’t want it to be.

There’s a quiet click, and for a moment, Odessa thinks he’s picked up. “H- Hello?” she asks tentatively. There’s nothing that follows. Not even the static silence of a line open, but unanswered. She pulls the phone away from her ear and glances at the screen. At some point, the call disconnected. She’s certain that it isn’t just from a bad connection, even in NYC.

A nudge of frustration is sent down the connection between the two of them as she calls right back and listens to the line ring. When the process repeats itself, she sighs quietly and closes her eyes to concentrate on her own emotions. On causing her own frustration and the quiet notes of worry that aren’t hers to ebb away, she instead pushes through a sense of calm. Peace. Assurance.

Once more, she tries.

When the call finally connects, her breath catches in her throat. She waits a moment in silence that follows, then asks, “Is it you?” From the sensation of surprise she felt shortly after the phone began to ring the first time, she knows that it must be.

This time, the line unbroken, silence still comes across. There's a rustle at the sound of Odessa's voice, then nothing. It's accompanied by a feeling of wariness.

Below, Ace remains clear on the edges of her ability's periphery, still in the kitchen. No suspicion. If there was, it's already been worked through and placed face down until there's better cause for it to resurface.

Aman has no way of knowing that, of knowing there isn't someone with their hand right on her shoulder, listening to their line.

She'd said someone else had her phone, after all.

He draws in breath to speak but thinks better of it at the last moment, only that small crackle of sound passing through. He emits doubt, seeking verification through the other line open between them instead. Is it really you? Is it safe?


The little ripples of his emotion that she feels through the phone provide the confirmation that his voice doesn’t. He’s treated to a feeling of relief. “It’s me,” she confirms, as if she had to. “Just me. I didn’t know any better way to contact you after I got my phone back.”

Odessa tips to one side slowly until her shoulder connects with the headboard, letting it prop her up in her lean. “I’m free,” she tells him. “I’m safe. And… I miss you. And I’m sorry.” For everything. Making him worry, ignoring his advice, getting picked up, calling him that night.

Turning his entire life upside down.

Tethering him to her in this way, however unintentionally.

“I’m so sorry, Aman.” She wouldn’t say his name the last time they spoke. She’s hoping that he remembers that now, and takes it for the token that it is.

He does, however much worry it initially causes him. The explanation provides few answers, very little context. And she's sorry, which, no matter how much he's deserved an apology…

"Fuck," Aman breathes out, phone tipped away from his face so it barely carries over the connection. He doesn't know what else to say yet, but his emotions are a symphony of color and variation. Worry folds over into something more soothing, exasperation dancing in the background. He wants to ask so many things, and wrestles with himself on that. Relief-fed curiosity gets suckerpunched quickly by something nameless and more self-preserving.

Then it all collapses back into that strong calm embrace, based in the peace of hearing she's safe, even if his inner skeptic will question it later.

"I'm glad you're okay," comes from him softly even before he's decided on the words. Too late to take them back now. "I've been… worried about you," and he knows she knows, "so hearing from you at all, it's…"

Aman draws in a breath, drawing himself up, trying to take a step back and present something cooler in place of his more honest reaction. "So how long's this been a thing? How'd you even get out?"

The question is honest in its curiosity at the moment it's asked, even if it's attacked moments later by gut-twisting concern that maybe she wasn't let out. Maybe it was another prison break.

For a moment, Odessa considers chiding him for trying to hide his emotions. Or at least for trying to deny them. But that would make her a hypocrite herself, and he would have every right to call her on it.

“Relax,” she says soothingly, letting the emotion of the same flow from her to him. “You’re going to give me a stomach ache with all that worry,” she teases, but it’s also the truth. “I was on my very best behavior, as I so often am,” that aside is a joke, even if the stressed portion is the honest truth, “and now they’ve let me out on parole. Just a few hours now. I’m sure you felt it.” She knows he did, he just didn’t know how to interpret the data given to him. Now, it has context.

“I’m safe. Got myself a place to stay, and an agent to check in with to prove that I’m on the up and up.” There’s an undercurrent that ripples to him then. Something serious and slightly darker in tone than what she’s been projecting so far. “I’m going to fix things, Aman. I’m going to help you get your life back.”

She doesn’t leave that to hang and let him wonder what the fuck that actually means. “I’m going to handle the Redd problem. I’m going to make sure you’re safe again.” Though, if he’s gone this long without being found and — Well, she’s going to hope he’s just been safe and not lucky. “Now that I’m back, nobody’s going to fuck with you.”

If she was hoping to slow down the rollercoaster, she needed to realize it was her hand currently on the controls, Aman thinks to himself. Glancing at the door, he runs his hand through his hair, holding bangs back from his face. "Nobody's fucking with me now, Des," he tries to warn her. "But if we go stirring for trouble, maybe things don't stay that way. For Redd, for the government, for…"

His hand smears down the front of his face, cutting himself off. He's already tired of his own emotional range.

"Maybe you should just stick to your parole. Stick to keeping your nose clean." Aman sounds weary, but no less serious. "Stick with staying safe, too." He looks up and across the room. "Because I didn't lose my life, Odessa. There's nothing to get back— it just changed. And no amount of wishful thinking is going to turn back the clock."

With a particular, painstaking care put into it, his eyes drop as he focuses on the sound of her reply, asking carefully for her acknowledgement by nudging her with, "You know?"

The acknowledgement comes in the form of a wave of crushing sadness and self-reflective anger. “That used to be my thing,” she jokes bitterly. “Reversing time, I mean.” He feels her struggle with this sense of failure. Feels her trying not to let it slip away from her shores to wash up on his.

We won’t go stirring any trouble,” she promises him. Because whether he likes it or not, she is going to ensure that no one messes with Aman. It’s the very least that she owes him. And she’s certain she can find a way to accomplish this without violating the terms of her parole.

But it’ll be more fun if she does.

The thought brings a wry smirk to her face and reminds her to take quick stock of Ace’s state again. That she hasn’t felt any spikes of any kind is both assuring and slightly bothersome at once. Just more data about the man to be filed away and examined later.

“I’m…” Odessa’s voice trails off, regret in her tone and the bond between them. “I’m going to figure out how to… fix this. Whatever this thing is we have here.” She means the empathic link that connects them. “You don’t deserve to be stuck with me like this. No one fucking does.”

He can hear the shuddering exhale that accompanies his sudden inability to feel what she’s feeling again. She’s given him enough to know that it’s her. That what she’s saying is true enough. That she isn’t being coerced at the moment. “I want to do good things with this ability. Like you said I should. But I can’t do that if I’m worried about how it’s going to affect you. If I’m going to work with people who are scared, angry, sad… You’re going to feel all those things the way that I do. That isn’t fair.”

Odessa stares off across the room, toward the door, but without seeing it or anything. While nothing is guaranteed, she’s almost certainly going to be using her ability to the detriment of others, and the longer she can keep him from realizing that she’s lying to him about it, the better.


Aman sighs, pressing the side of his hand to one side of his face, knuckle against the bridge of his nose. His voice drops. "Okay, you want to talk about fair? I think it's more than fair I didn't end up in a cell, too. I think feeling what other people felt like while in jail was a small price to pay for the bit of fair I was dealt out in not being right beside you in the first place."

"I feel like a rich white boy who 'made an earnest mistake' and was let off without even a slap on the wrist, but I've got all the situational awareness about that literally anyone else would have." He looks off to the side, working to keep his voice low instead of climbing in volume. "So for one, I got fucking lucky. For two, you're not a fucking burden, Des."

"Yeah, it might be nice to have my head to myself sometime, but no, it's not the end of the world."

"So just" Aman lifts his hand away from his face in an exasperated gesture to no one in particular, leaving it held and eyes closed while he wills himself to have a cooler head. "Just chill, okay? Take a few days. Enjoy your fucking freedom for a bit. Don't feel like you have to spike the football in the end zone because you finally made it don't give anyone a reason to throw a flag at you for doing it. Just… just be for a bit. Just be okay, all right?"

Eyes opening, Aman shifts the hold of his hand in the air just slightly, still tense in posture even for all the calmness in his voice and being. "If there's anything you do for my sake, just do that."

He keeps pressing. Telling her what he believes he should do. How she should conduct herself. There’s an audible noise from Odessa, of frustration and sorrow, that follows in his insistence that she’s not a burden. “Don’t say that!” she demands, voice raised. It causes her focus to return, now staring at that door as though she could see through and into the hall beyond. For a moment, all she can do is feel the rise and fall of her chest as she breathes in deeply, bracing.

“Lucky or not,” and he is lucky, they both know this, “you don’t deserve that.” On this point, Odessa is firm, her voice low again. How this played out, him getting away with his involvement, is how it ought to be. There will be no convincing her otherwise.

“I’ll… I’ll try, okay?” That is the least she owes him. “I promise, I don’t want to go back there. I don’t ever want to be locked up ever again. I’m going to try…”

God. She even lies to herself.

“I should go. I haven’t told the person I’m staying with about— This, and I’m not ready to explain it yet. I need to call my parole agent. You know, do the check-in thing that’s going to keep me from getting flagged.” Behaving. Like he’s asking her to do. “But… I’ll give you my new number when I have it, okay? Don’t text me or anything unless you really need to. I don’t know how secure those messages are yet.” She’s glad he can’t feel the ripple of guilt she has about that.

From the phone, silence.

From the rest of the house, silence.

For his part, Aman's just trying to figure out what he can say to change her mind, to diffuse some of this tension, but this isn't a quick fix. All he has right now is his tone of voice to convey what he means, and somehow, that feels so lacking.

"I'll be here if you need to talk. If something goes wrong and you need somebody, just… ask me if I remembered to call my mom for her birthday." A code, in case it's not safe to otherwise say.

Aman rolls his jaw, trying to tell himself not to press and somehow make things worse, to not say something else, and he mostly succeeds. Those other words are breathed away on a short sigh, and instead he says, "Take care, okay?" It's accompanied by a well-meaning lift in his voice. "It's good to hear from you. I'm glad you called."

Downstairs, the sounds of an active television piece in and out, the telltale authoritative speech of a news anchor impossible to make out clearly, but easy enough to overhear. There's no other accompanying noises to indicate where Ace is, though.

“I can do that,” Odessa says of the code, now established between the two of them. “You ask me the same thing if anything happens on your end, okay?” It better fucking not, and woe betide the person who dares threaten him, but it’s better to be prepared.

Aman lets out an audible 'hm' at her returned offer, one that doesn't hide the smile behind it. He won't call her on her just as misplaced protectiveness, this once. "Okay," he agrees.

When Odessa sighs again, it’s with a note of satisfaction. “It’s really good to hear your voice again. I’ll try to check in with you again soon. One way or another. But… assume no news is good news for a bit while I’m getting settled, okay?” She doesn’t wait for him to argue about it, because it won’t do him any good. “Please take care of yourself for me.”

Looking down at her lap, she smiles faintly to herself, letting that carry in her voice. “Talk to you later, Aman.” Lowering the phone from her ear, she presses the red button and just sits quietly for a moment, listening to the murmur of the television downstairs. Listening for footsteps.

When the latter doesn’t come, she digs out of her pocket a slightly crumpled business card emblazoned with the SESA logo. Taking a moment to read it over for what is probably the fiftieth time, she starts dialing the number there, climbing to her feet and pacing the room while she waits for the call to kick in.

“Hello, Corbin.” She’s quiet for a moment, just a beat too long. She inhales audibly, her mouth curving upward in a little half-smirk. “Long time no… speak, I guess.” Cradling the phone to her ear with both hands, she stops pacing and instead simply sways back and forth gently with her nervous energy. “I was told to check in when I got settled for the evening. So… I’m checking in.”

All told, it’s only been about half an hour when Odessa comes back down the stairs, phone and charger in hand. She moves into the living space with a glance to confirm Ace’s location before making her way back through to the kitchen to set both items back up on the island with his other devices, in plain sight. Her own display of trust. “Hey,” she says quietly when she makes her way back, loud enough to be noted against the backdrop of the television, but not enough to disrupt it totally. She stands on the fringes of the living space, waiting to be invited to do more than pass through before she makes her way further toward Ace.

The invitation comes straightaway, a glance to her and a lift of his head while he sits in the low-backed armchair in the corner, looking across the open space back to Odessa. The controller for the now-muted television is set aside, and Ace uncrosses his legs and languidly comes to his feet. He leaves behind the finger of bourbon seated on a leather coaster next to the controller, instead making his way to Odessa. He'll meet her in the middle, or a touch farther than that, judging by his pace.

"All well?" he asks calmly, no light affect to it. In itself, it's another small expression of honesty, no explicit comfort for others donned in the comfort of his own home. In it, also trust that there's little need for a mask in her presence.

Odessa gives an affirmative hum and a short nod as she meanders to a stop well within arm’s reach of him, tipping her head back to meet his gaze better. He believes she can always tell his intention, and so she decides not to engage her ability yet. This can be her own show of trust in return for his not attempting to feign concern for her.

“Made the phone calls I needed to make.” The use of the plural in this instance is intentional rather than a slip. She isn’t intending to lie to him out of the gate. Omit some portions of the truth, however? Naturally.

Reaching out, she rests one hand on his hip, hooking her thumb through a belt loop, and the other at the curve where his neck meets his shoulder. “You have questions you want to ask me,” isn’t a question of her own. “Ask,” she entreats with a lift of her brows, her thumb caressing over his collarbone.

Ace arcs one eyebrow while he looks down at her. Well, if she's inviting him. He tilts his head just slightly, hooking a thumb through the beltloop at his side in a mirror of what Odessa is doing on his other side. His other hand stays by his side, no caresses in return for the touches she affords him.

Well, "Who else did you call?" He lets a shine of his curiosity peek through the mildness of his tone. "Anyone I should concern myself with?" Now his hand does settle on her hip, pulling her closer. There's a flint in the green-grey of his eyes, though it's not for her, that much can be felt. It's instead meant for whoever caused her to raise her voice.

Tension grows inside of her until he does finally reciprocate her touch and draw her in nearer. A ghost of a smile plays on her lips then. She’s pleased by the proximity, but knows in the back of her mind that there will certainly be a time when she finds that she isn’t.

“No one you need to concern yourself with,” she promises, but doesn’t leave it that vague. “There’s a friend I needed to call. Someone worried about my safety. I expect you can… empathize.” Surely they both know he can’t. And she only has to bite the inside of her lip just a little bit to keep from cracking a grin at the joke that he wouldn’t understand is at her own expense.

Then, she does indulge that bit of a smirk, gaze half-lidding. “I’ve seen you in action. I can’t think of anyone you should be concerned about.” Playfully, her head cants to one side just slightly. “Except for me, in my former glory.” She can poke fun at what she’s lost just a little bit. It allows her to pretend it doesn’t hurt so damn much.

“Can you accept,” she begins cautiously now, “that when I’m ready to tell you more about my friend, I will?” There’s a little more neck exposed when she asks that of him. Trust for trust. Exposing her throat to a predator. “I want to. And I’m going to.”

Ace doesn't have to do mental gymnastics to recall the particularly worried messenger from that first evening, the one who had abruptly stopped in their rapid attempts at contact. She smiles. His expression maintains a false placidity, eyes too studious for his reaction to be outright acceptance.

He almost says something he'd certainly regret, so he doesn't. The visible act of it alone says enough, he figures. The small prostration in her posture doesn't go unnoted, either, studied as he does everything else.

"I can't fathom why now isn't a good time, if it's nothing to be worried about," Ace expresses idly. "But there was that little promise you sought regarding trust before you went upstairs." The visible curiosity fades, his hand sliding across her back to her other hip. It's not exactly an answer, but it's close enough to one. With a tip of his head, he gestures to the closed sliding doors on the wall opposite the dining room.

"You were right, though— I did want to ask you something. I wanted to know what you would think of a space of your own." Posture turned, he leads her to the closed doors. "The study doesn't see much use. I'm rarely home enough for it. So…"

He removes his guiding hand to push the doors open with a grating glide of wood on its tracks, flipping the switch inside the door once there's enough space to see within. Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves frame a fireplace mantle on one wall, opposite which are another set of sliding doors to the entry hall. The home would be opened up considerably if both sets of doors were pushed aside.

On the wall opposite for them, in the glow of the overhead light, is a shoulder-height standing piano, carved of hickory and embellished with a facade of vinegrowth of the same color framing a three-page music stand. Stepping in, Ace approaches the side of a crushed velvet loveseat facing the fireplace, and past a hickory letter desk flanking his left after he enters. "It isn't much," he opines. He runs his fingertips along the side of the velvet back of the couch, then smooths it back even again. "But it could be rearranged to your liking. More furniture, less. Room made for … whatever hobbies you might like to take up. Whatever company you might like to enjoy."

Including his own, but he takes that for a given.

Ace cants his head in Odessa's direction, following her movements only out of the corner of his eye. "I don't know. What do you think?"

He saves her the trouble of having to explain herself, or protest, though she understands that this is more of a truce than it is a proper accord at the moment. She’ll have to make good on her word sooner than later. Odessa lets her hand slip away from his hip and slides the other down his chest until it falls away to her side while he steers her toward the side room.

At first, her heart sinks. She’d been expecting something like this. He’s a bachelor, after all, and she’d figured it was only a matter of time before he would expect her to remove herself from his space. Be unseen as well as unheard. But her impending upset disappears entirely when the door is slid aside and she gets a glimpse of the study. The bookshelves already inspire a smile to slowly creep across her face, but it’s the piano that leaves her breathless.

She barely sees anything else in the room, and she doesn’t even have the presence of mind to temper her interest. To hide just how simple it was to please her. After a moment of hesitation, and a reminder to draw breath, she steps into the room and makes her way swiftly to the instrument, brushing her fingers lightly, reverently over the ornate woodwork.

“It’s beautiful.” Certainly, the furniture inside meets with her approval as well, but to be sure, this is what she requires to be happy in this space. Giddiness makes her heart soar, and she shares her elation with him the only way she truly knows how. She twirls a half-circle so she can be turned in his direction again before she races back to him, coming up on her toes and grabbing his face to press a hard kiss to his mouth.

“I could learn to love you, Ace Callahan,” she tells him breathlessly.

While she wanders her way into the space, clearly taken by it, Ace watches her wonder visibly unaffected by it at first. But as she lays her hand on the piano, one corner of his mouth toys back into a smile after all. "Definitely a better space to take calls from, at the very least." he suggests with light mirth. It's clear he can see her fondness, though, eyes moving on from her to the piano.

He might even speak, if she weren't dancing her way back to him. In the invisible space of that moment where he can see her intent on rushing him, something enters his eye then passes. Instead, he meets her kiss with an embrace of one arm, hand finding her backside with a smart smack.

"Be careful with those hands," Ace murmurs to her, eyes on hers. He doesn't lift his other to peel fingers from his face, but he does warn her, "You know not what you do to me." His teeth toy over his bottom lip, flirting with the idea of saying more, but he leaves it there, and even flourishes a small— if opaque— smile for her benefit if not for his.

"I'll call someone to see about getting it tuned. It's not seen use in a while."

The smack is rewarded with a sharp yelp of surprise, followed up by bubbling giggles. She drops back to a flatfooted stance and releases her hold on him, hands held up between them as though to show she means no harm. Not entirely dissimilar to her surrender.

His promise to call someone to tune up the piano is acknowledged with a nod, but ultimately stepped around as she circles back to what he’d said a moment before. Odessa grins. “Oh, but I’d like to know.” Still, she doesn’t press it, holding this line they’ve set and waiting to see if he’ll drag her over it or not.

Ace lets out a quiet huff of amusement at her eagerness, tightening his arm around her to pull her closer. Consider herself dragged. "It reminded me of the need to set some boundaries." he remarks, his hand wrapped around her pressing into the sheath of her skirt while the other lifts in a demonstration.

Lacking a second hand, he makes up for it by grabbing both sides of her face at once with the V made by his index and middle finger by curving it around her chin with the same well-meaning firm she'd employed against him. "The next time you want to touch me here," he voices softly, and after holding the position a second longer, slides his fingers down the side of her neck gently only to firm his grasp around her throat. "Or here, you will ask first."

Thumb brushing over the side of her neck, his grip eases, turning to one side of it. He lowers his head to the side he's revealed, pressing his lips to her skin. He kisses her twice, the second time just below her ear, all the better to murmur right into it: "To know anything more than that, I'll need to dip into trust funds, and ask you to give me some in return."

Her body is responsive to his touch, back arching at the grasp of his hand at her back. The one on her face causes her to fall very still, breath hitching in her throat. This isn't a show of her fear, but a display of her obedience.

There is, however, a sharp inhale that cuts off when his hand tightens around her throat instead. It isn't an unexpected move on his part, which is why she made sure to pull as much breath into her lungs as she could manage. What she couldn't be certain of was how long he would expect her to hold it.

The easing of that grip doesn't take long, but just long enough to send a thrill through her slight frame. His lips on her skin draw a deep sigh. His breath and the low rumble of his voice leave her without her own for a moment. Odessa nods first, then she murmurs her assent. “Yes, sir.” She understands. “Whatever you want,” is what she offers.

Ace's reaction to that evidences itself in the realm of the mundane five senses, no special sixth required. His smile can be heard for the small breath that accompanies it, the shift of his hand on her back plainly felt before settling over the zipper of her skirt. He leans back only far enough to look down at Odessa, the hand on her neck shifting back to cup her face, thumb toying with her lip.

The glint in his eye speaks for itself, but he clarifies his desire anyway.


And he invites himself to it beginning with a hungry kiss.

When Ace steps out of the shower, he finds Odessa sitting at the end of his bed, hair still wrapped in a towel, cross-legged and huddled over something in her lap. With one of his tie tacks in hand, she’s carefully pulling at the seams of her bra on one side, removing the stitches until she can peel the fabric back and…

“There you are,” she murmurs with appreciation and fondness. Like she’s just run into an old friend at a party.

The sound of it draws Ace back from the vanity in the bathroom by one silent step, one hand still pressing a towel to his head to dry the last bits of moisture from his hair even as he leans back to peer out at her. He keeps his silence long enough to understand she's alone, and not stealing something valuable of his. Not that he would have suspected her of doing such a thing, but with that tone of voice, he had to check.

Whatever it is she's doing, though, it has her attention so strongly she doesn't even look up at him. Perhaps she didn't expect to see him this soon, the water only just having turned off, the shower stall not even opened to let himself out.

"What's that now?" he finally announces himself, lifting his voice with a certain flat curiosity. His posture rights as he turns to face her properly. If it wasn't theft, then…

Ace's eyes sharpen on the objects in her hands.

The sound of his voice doesn’t cause her to startle. She’d been aware of him at the edges of her senses. But she does lift her head and smile. “My good luck charm.” Odessa puts the backing onto the tack again before she forgets about it and one of them winds up finding it later. “I smuggled this in, and out. This is the most important thing I own right now.”

Whatever it is remains clutched in her fist, held aloft as though it was all he’d need to see to understand.

A good luck charm.

Ace begins his way toward her, the dry towel swung off his shoulders so he can fashion a kilt of it about his waist. It's tucked away just in time for him to arrive next to the beside, a stillness to his emotional kilter save for a simmer of curiosity. "May I?" he asks, palm extended to her. His eyes are on the object in her hand, rather than her.

For a moment, Odessa’s hand retracts to her chest, curled fingers pressed against her breastbone protectively. Then she considers it, turning out her hand to reveal the object in her palm.

A tarnished 1984 penny.

Her face is very solemn as she holds her hand up for him to inspect or reach out for the coin himself. She’s already plotting how many different ways she’ll make him hurt if he tries to steal it from her.

If that's something he can intuit from her, it's certainly not something that affects him. Ace takes the penny, the edges held between two fingers as he looks at it, flips it over. He takes his time with the brief inspection. Finally he presses it onto his thumb, pinching it against the side of his index knuckle and rubbing its surface. Like perhaps if it truly is lucky, it might wash off onto him.

"If it's that important…" he says slowly, then offers it back out to her. "We should find something to do with it so it won't be lost. Something to set it apart." Ace arches an eyebrow as he muses, "Perhaps frame it? Or are you insistent on keeping it with you?"

It’s clear she feels better the moment the penny is back in her possession. Her fingers curl around it again immediately and she holds it against her heart once more, for lack of anything better to do with it in the moment. It isn’t like she has pockets.

“It is.” That important. “I’ve been wanting to have it set in a piece of jewelry. Maybe a bracelet. But it can’t be altered in any fashion. No punching a hole in it to run a chain through. It won’t be worth anything to anyone anymore if that happens.” On this point she’s firm, though there isn’t any edge of accusation to her voice. She knows he wasn’t suggesting anything of like, but she’s heading that off at the pass.

“A necklace might be best. I can keep it tucked under my shirt that way.” So, yes, Odessa intends very much to continue to keep her lucky penny close to her. “Maybe I can find someone to make a custom casing for it.” She shakes her head demuring, “But you don’t have to concern yourself with my little trinket. I know it’s foolish superstition.”

It isn’t.

"You've kept it safe this long, I'm sure you'll keep it safe until it gets placed," Ace concedes to her, willing to brush over the topic and move right along. It's a quaint belief, good luck charms, and he'd rather not risk belittling her about having one. "But that sounds very doable," he goes on to say about the fashioning of a necklace. "Perhaps it might even look fashionable, should you find the right fitting for it."

"It's not uncommon to wear… lockets, for example. That might draw less attention." Ace looks back up to her with a small shrug before turning on his heel and heading back into the master bath. Once in front of the mirror again, he brushes his fingers over the front of his bangs, scrutinizing how it is they've dried. Talking about casings and fashion brings him back to another thought, though.

"Ah," he says to the mirror, voice lifted so it carries back to Odessa in the other room. "You can borrow some of my nightclothes for tonight, but let's head into the office before turning in and order you a few things for yourself. I doubt you'll want to wear the same two outfits for the rest of eternity."

“God, no.” Odessa confirms, having gotten up from the bed so she can put his tie tack back where she’d found it among his accessories. The penny she leaves sit on top of the dresser for now.

“I figured I’d go sh—” Recognition of what’s wrong with that notion comes to her before she finishes voicing it. “Ah.” Yes, he doesn’t want her seen coming or going, which means shopping trips during the daylight hours would be a problem. “Yes, tonight suits me just fine.”

In that case, she starts dressing herself in the outfit she had previously rejected. She can endure one more evening in white and navy. Wringing her hair out in the towel one last time before she frees her duo-tone locks from it, she makes her way into the bathroom so she can hang it up to dry. Unobtrusively as she can, she stands behind Ace and examines her reflection, combing her fingers through her damp hair.

Ace continues his own business easily in the meantime, finishing shaving away the last bits of emergent stubble from his chin by the time she dresses and enters. He sets the razor aside, tousling his hair one last time to make sure the product he's woven into it is distributing itself evenly.

His acknowledgement of her presence in his periphery finally comes with a look to her made through the mirror. He absently presses the tips of his fingers together to smear away any lingering oils while he admires her openly. Her presence, just as much as her person.

"I'm glad for this," Ace admits. "I'm glad you've stayed." The honesty that goes with that statement keeps his voice from being as light as he'd like to make it. It keeps him from glossing over this confession cavalierly, and so instead he leans into the low tones available from him as he adds, "And I so look forward to what comes next."

It had been her instinct to shy away, to scurry off and give him his space when his attention falls on her. But his emotional presence isn’t one of impatience or annoyance, and it doesn’t read in his face either when she glances at him in the mirror. The task she had paused is resumed, color touching her cheeks as she rakes and tousles her own hair. She’ll be wanting to pick up product as well, but that can wait.

“I’ve wanted this since the moment I met you,” she states, as though it were just the easiest thing to say, but there’s a faint tremor in her voice, because her admission is as honest as his is, and it scares her a little.

But she bravely closes the distance between them. “I can’t wait.” The motion he’d just engaged in earlier is repeated by her, ensuring she has the excess moisture off her fingers before she reaches up to rest her hands against his chest. Eyes half-lidded as she looks up to him, focused briefly on his mouth before she manages to meet his eyes.

“Artist mine.”

Ace's mouth twinges into the smallest of smiles, one that's seen more plainly in his eyes than anything else. He lifts his other hand to reach across his chest, fingers hooking around hers in a kind of embrace. The pleased hum that comes from him vibrates his chest under her palm.

"Odessa," floats from him adoringly, contented and peaceful.

"My muse."

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