Guiding Star


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Scene Title Guiding Star
Synopsis The night is full of questions. The answers will come with the day.
Date November 5, 2020

Roosevelt Island

Twilight and nightfall come early this time of year. A lot of people find it melancholy, but Odessa Price chooses to see it as being given more time to admire the stars. Which is precisely what she’s doing, laid out on a blanket on the grass in a peaceful sprawl of parkland. At her side is Amanvir Binepal, who’s become her astronomy student for the evening, whether he invited this upon himself or not.

“Okay, that’s the easy one,” the blonde says with a smile, nudging close enough that the two lay nearly shoulder to shoulder as she lifts her hand to point to the sky, turning her head his way briefly to try and discern what his sightline is compared to hers, and align her directing finger with that. “That’s the big dipper. It’s only a small part of the larger constellation, Ursa Major.” She starts tracing the line between impossibly distant motes of light, naming the stars. “Starting at the tail, that’s Alkaid, Mizar, Alioth, Megrez…” The line moves lower to form the bowl of the dipper, “Phacda, Merak, aaaand…” Coming back up to dot one last star, she concludes with, “Dubhe.”

Even if his eyes are on the sky, even if their feelings weren’t twined so tightly with one another’s, he would be able to hear the smile on her face in the sound of her voice. Dragging her finger up, she continues, “If you follow a line from Dubhe up, up, up… There’s the little dipper — Ursa Minor.” Her pointer stops at one pinprick of light that shines brighter than the others. “That one’s Polaris. The North Star.”

That last one may be the only one he's actually followed, for all Odessa's best efforts, but he hears her happiness— feels it— and he contents himself with that alone.

"I don't know if anyone's told you," Aman counters her very seriously, "but that's the most important constellation, that one. All these other stars? Beautiful, but I've never heard of them. Growing up, it was all Big Dipper this and Little Dipper that."

He settles his head back against the ground to let his gaze roam up and back to the point he feels the ground begin to tip away from him. Letting his eyes close, he folds his arms tightly before him and lets out a relaxed sigh.

"It's interesting— they tried to impress on us if we ever got lost to just find the North Star to reorient ourselves, but I don't think a single one of us kids could if we were put to the test. You, though… you'd put every last Boy Scout on Earth to shame, I think."

Odessa laughs quietly, letting her hand drift back down until it’s laying along her side again. “When I was a kid, I wanted to see the stars more than anything. I looked at them in books and memorized as many names as I could.” She doesn’t take her eyes off the sky, though she feels that same sort of drifting sensation. It’s a comfortable one to her, for all she sometimes irrationally fears gravity might relinquish its hold on her and she’ll just float away.

“I didn’t get to until I was… Twenty-three? Maybe twenty-four? I was astonished just how difficult they are to see. I thought the night sky would shimmer like diamonds.” It’s a bittersweet thing. The elation of finally getting what she wanted, tempered by the realization that it couldn’t live up to the fantasy. Worse still when she found out what had to be sacrificed to make the very scenario she imagined a reality. “But in parts of the Dead Zone, it does.”

Aman opens his eyes again with a hum of acknowledgement, his arms still tucked into a fold against the cool night air. The scarf wound around his neck is layered over and over, but the thin fabric of it feels like it does so little to actually help against the chill. "You know— out in Pennsylvania, there were places so far countryside you could see the Milky Way. They'd have campsites where these domes were set up, so you could lie back and look at the stars through the roof of them, all without worrying about a bear coming up on you while you were doing that."

"Bet you some of them are still out there still, even if they're a little overgrown," he chuckles, head tilting slightly toward Odessa even if his eyes linger on the stars, on the ones he remembers. "But it's been nice to see the ones out here while the city's been rebuilding. It's the one thing I miss about the rolling blackouts, to tell you the truth. Everything else sucked."

Again, he brings out her mirth. Although at this point, she’s made enough peace with her past to keep from letting it drag her down too far. Not much effort was required from him to bring her back. “Tell me about it,” she agrees.

Odessa stuffs her hands into the pockets of her coat, incidentally nudging her elbow against his ribs, followed by a murmured apology. She retrieves her gloves and tugs them on, bringing her hands to her face to breathe warmth onto them in the hopes of speeding up the process of driving away the chill.

“Pennsylvania, huh? That’s not so far, right?” Given the amount of travel she must have done across the country by land during the war, her idea of what’s near and what’s far might be a bit different from his. “I bet that’d be a nice getaway for a couple of nights.” Odessa turns her head and smiles at him. “Wanna run away with me?”

Her tone is teasing, but her emotions betray her. Something in her means it when she says run away. Not just for a weekend.

The brush of her up against him is met with a shake of his head, his consolation to the apology transmitted via the link more than visible in the dark as they are. Aman waits out while she works on warming up her hands in silence, listening to the quiet around them and the ever-distant sound of the city beyond the park.

Her question brings him to tilt his head slightly her way again, brow furrowing in thought. He takes one of her hands to sandwich it between his own, running the friction of his palms against the fabric to help in the warming process. Less damp that way, maybe, even if his own hands are bare and chilled.

"Yeah?" he echoes to her thought first. "What would we get up to? Find an abandoned cabin or town and just… hang out in the mountains without any of that electricity we're so fond of?"

“Do I look like a woman with a plan?” Odessa asks with a grin, enjoying the way he plays at entertaining the thought. Her free hand is slid back into her pocket while he warms the one between his. She’s amused by that, too. She should be doing this for him, shouldn’t she? Given that she’s the one with the gloves.

“Wouldn’t be the worst conditions I’ve ever lived in,” she admits with a tilt of her head. “We could make a go of it, if you wanted. Call it a dare. See how long we can last.” Now she acts like she’s giving the matter serious consideration. “If we could get a place with a stove that’s in good condition, we could probably make it through the winter. Stockpile enough ammo and I can keep us fed if we can find game. I’m a good shot.” But she has to admit, “I’m a terrible cook, though. You’d leave me to the wolves in a week.”

"And I'm a spoiled little bitch. I'd not last three days out there like that." Aman knows his limits, he thinks, even if he undersells himself on occasion with them.

He hasn't missed how she's planned this out with sudden details that are meant to make this endeavor last. How she almost pines for it to be possible. How almost isn't just almost, there's a wistfulness to it. Because… wouldn't that be nice. The adventure.

The distance.

"I'd lose the dare anyway," he admits in an even quiet. "I don't think I'm as motivated as you are to finding ways to make that work."

His hands slow in their friction-pancaking of hers, more focus on reading her reply, physically and otherwise.

“Must be nice,” she teases. To be spoiled. That isn’t to say she isn’t spoiled now — Ace makes sure she wants for nearly nothing, after all — but she considers any comfort a fleeting thing that must be enjoyed as long as it lasts, but not dwelt upon when it’s lost.

Her hand comes out of her pocket again and she half-turns onto her side so she can grasp both her hands in his now and hold them tightly, trying to share some of the warmth with him that he’s given to her.

“I know,” Odessa says softly, believing that it means she doesn’t mean as much to him as he means to her. That’s just how she expects all her close relationships to be. How could she ever mean as much to anyone else as they could mean to her? No one else has suffered loneliness the way she has. It’s just accepted that she’ll always cling more fiercely to others than they’ll embrace her in return.

“Still…” The melancholy is there, more bitter now than sweet. “A girl can dream.”

Blonde head turns so she can study the sky again, meaning to move past this little game of what if of theirs. “Weird flex, but I’m curious… I… You’re the most normal, well-adjusted person I know, so I’m trying to get a read on…” Odessa rolls her eyes, a ripple of frustration with herself for not being sure of the words she wants to use. “I guess I just wonder what people who aren’t as damaged as I am want out of life.”

Glancing at him out of the corner of her eye, she continues, “I mean, you’re close to my age, right? You want kids at this stage in life? Is that a thing normal people want?” She’s trying to make it conversational. A thought experiment. Not to be misconstrued as taking a roundabout way to ask if he wants to have kids with her. “Or is that ship sailed at our age?” Sometimes thirty-six feels so terribly old in a life as fraught as hers.

The return curl of her hands around his brings Aman to still, looking at the clasp of them rather than at her directly. There's a return to that featherlight feeling from before, this time, without the vertigo from looking at the stars.

The bitterness that worms its way to him is met with a touch of silent confusion. For all that they might instantly know how the other reacts, the both of them still do their fair share of sticking their foot in their mouth. One would figure they'd have learned by now to be better in sync, and yet, Aman's cautious concern in the subtext of his comment is misconstrued to be something other than what it is.

Context is key, and emotions so often lack them.

He eases into those feelings of concern all the more as he unfurls the curl of his fingers and presses his palm to hers, an underlayer of calm behind it. No, he tries to impress. That wasn't what he meant.

Even if he lacks the words to describe what he does, at least at the moment. It was hard to approach the topic of this particular concern in new and novel ways while not coming at it at an angle that could just be brushed off. His dislike of Odessa's situation was well-known, and he needed to make sure he had his argument in a row before attacking it again.

She moves on before he gets that far, though. And the question is a whammy that hits him with more surprise than his face would suggest. "Weird flex, yeah," Aman echoes back with a surprised, vaguely nervous chuckle. "Uh…" His eyes close and he pushes himself up into a sit. He can't think about this lying down, but he leaves his hand in hers, and reinforces it by laying the other atop her glove while he quickly organizes his thoughts.

"So first off, all the bullshit about women's reproductive systems shutting down by 35 or whatever— it's just that. Bullshit. You've got time right up until you hit menopause, so that ship hasn't sailed until it's sailed. Let's just get that straight."

That's the easy part. Less so is: "As for whether I want kids? I mean, most people do. People want to grow their families, extend their bloodlines, all that. I should want that. I should've just let my mom set me up with a marriage by now and been done with it." He looks off, distracted. "But the war happened, and no one in their right mind would give up their life in India to come here in the middle of all that, and I didn't want to leave the only place I've ever known as home, so I just…" His shoulders climb in a shrug. "And I mean, I'd really hoped I'd find the right person along the way, you know? But I guess…"

What he's trying to say is he's never really thought about this in depth before, and he's in the middle of a revelation about the stage of life he's in versus the progress he's made in it compared to others.

"I'd want kids someday, sure. I'd want a son to teach to play sports, and—" Aman's brow furrows as he backtracks, now. "O-or a daughter to…" He shakes his head abruptly. "It's a roundabout answer, but it boils down to, sure, it's perfectly normal to want kids."

But where the hell was this coming from? Cautiously, he ventures, "Are you saying you don't, or…? Because if you don't, that's fine, you know."

Emotions both deal in and eschew nuance. Regardless of the words he can’t think of, she accepts the nudges of reassurance for what they are. He does care. Whether it’s in the way she’d like him to is ultimately irrelevant. She acknowledges it with a smile and a squeeze of fingers.

She’s patient as he talks himself through a situation she realizes he hadn’t given too much thought to before. Which in turn tells her something she didn’t already know. About him and about how other people think and feel. About how maybe she isn’t as far off from normal as she assumes.

One of her hands slips away from his and rests against her stomach. He feels the churn of sadness and regret mixed with pain. “Oh, no. I want them, but…” She smiles in a way that conveys no mirth. “That ship sank for me ten years ago.” Odessa lets her eyes go back to the sky. “I got, uhm…” She struggles to explain what happened to her. Struggles with whether or not she should explain. He no doubt remembers the scar. “Anyway,” she moves on with a shake of her head. “I can’t have my own, so it doesn’t really matter, I suppose.”

That’s something she’s never made peace with. Another case where she did the right thing and got punished for it so severely. So permanently. It’s hardly a wonder she keeps stubbornly trudging away from the path and back into the dark.

“I would teach my children how to play the piano.” That’s when she drifts back to him. This smile is a bit warmer and met with light in her eyes that isn’t just a reflection of the stars of the city. It’s a notion that carries hope with it, in spite of the fact that she’s just insisted it’s not to be for her. “To speak French and name the stars.” Now that she’s told him, she nudges him to finish his earlier thought. “What would you teach your daughter?”

The explanation Odessa provides brings with it a pang of sympathetic sadness. Aman squeezes her hand between his, waiting for her to make the decision regarding explaining. It's with a small smile he regards her when she decides to move on. That's okay.

It hurts him, now, in a particularly bittersweet way to hear her go on with what she would do if she had her own kids. She smiles, and he can't match it now. He's suddenly aware he's still holding her hand well-past the initial excuse for it, but he can't convince himself to let go, either. A thoughtful glaze hits his eyes before they avert down.

"I'd… teach her how to read. Teach her she could be anything she wanted to be. Beyond that, I— I dunno, you know? Didn't grow up with a sister. Just a cousin." Now some of his humor returns to him, a faint chuckle rumbling his shoulders and bringing him to shift the angle of his sit. "So I'd teach her everything I saw Jasleen struggle with with her dad. Not make her be any certain way or do certain things because tradition. Maybe that makes me a bad son, maybe that makes me more American than Punjabi, but— fuck it. It's the twenty-first century. I want to share my culture with my kids but I don't want them to be limited by it, you know?"

Aman suddenly frowns, not realizing the depth of his opinions on the matter until he was standing in it. He shakes his head slowly. "But, I uh— I don't know, Des. I'd probably not know until I was in the moment."

It's hard for him to conceptualize that for himself. "I'm not sure I'll ever feel ready for that, unless it just happens. The backtrack of my life has been spun toward learning to live for others, but that never— included building a family."

While he tells her about his family, Odessa pushes herself up to sit with her free hand braced under her and giving them the excuse to keep holding hands in the form of needing him for leverage to help pull her upright. She doesn’t let go after she’s settled.

“That’s really nice,” she tells him. “I guess… more than anything? I just want to give a kid a better life than I had.” Odessa laughs quietly, shaking her head. “I get that that’s supposed to be the goal of every parent, but… I mean, that bar is so low as to be sunk into the ground for me, but it feels somehow like it makes it that much more important to overcome. I’ve always been real protective of kids. Even when I couldn’t give two shits about anybody else, I needed to do what I could to make sure the kids around me were as happy and safe as they could be.”

She sighs with another one of those pained smiles of hers. “I told my partner I wanted the white picket fence dream and I could feel a part of his soul wither and die right then and there. It’s… really not his thing.” Her shoulders come up in a shrug, feigning casual even though he can feel the crushing weight of her disappointment. “So… That’s that, I guess.” Odessa looks up at Aman again, waiting for him to say something. This might be a dare he can handle.

To his credit, he tries real hard to swallow back his opinion.

For about .5 seconds.

Then with a twist of his mouth and a tilt of his head, Aman hisses out, "Dude, fuck that guy, Des." And with that, there's the satisfaction that comes with finally airing that out, but it also uncorks the deep loathing and frustration and hate that comes with. His hand shakes hold of hers then, brow creased together. "He literally could not give a flying fuck about what makes you happy, not even when you fucking lay it out for him. I wish I could say I can't fucking believe it, but—"

And it's right about then he tries to rein it back in, not for his sake, but for Odessa's. She's still got to go home to this asshole after this, and the last thing she needs is to carry around his hatred with her. He closes his eyes with a tense shake of his head as he tries to twist the faucet back to an off position, succeeding initially only in fighting against the tide.

"God, I can't stand him. I can't." With a forceful sigh pressed from his nose, he looks forward and renews his supportive grip on her hand. "I don't know how you do."

For a moment, his anger is her anger. It’s all the feelings she shoves down deep inside and ignores because the alternative is to let them out and face the consequences that would come with that. He feels it in her. The different taste to her own emotion, how it’s that much more personal for her, rather than the aggression born in him from her half-accounts of her home life.

“When he’s good, Aman, he’s really good,” Odessa insists. Not in Ace’s defense, but in her own. “He calls me remarkable and gives me just about anything I could ever want. If I see something in a shop window that I like, it shows up in my study the next day. He remembers the songs I sing for him. He wants me to feel cared for… Safe with him.”

But she’s crying, and she only realizes it when the breeze blows through and she feels her tears chilling on her cheeks. She presses her gloved fingers beneath her eyes carefully, attempting to keep her make-up from running. “But he’s going to kill me,” she admits. There’s no fear in that admission, but it doesn’t feel like hyperbole either. It’s like she’s just accepted it as an unavoidable reality and made peace with it.

“He’s just going to hold my hand and lead me straight to hell. Or right to the hangman.” It’s like every fear Aman’s had for her being confirmed finally. She’s admitting to all of it. “He brings out all the worst parts in me. All the things I don’t want to be anymore because I know they’re going to get me into trouble. But I can’t help it when I’m with him.” Odessa’s eyes shut tightly and he can feel the shame coursing through her. “It feels so good.” And she knows, she knows it’s not just because she’s siphoning Ace’s mood from him. Most times, she isn’t at all, to spare the man she’s with now. That delight in cruelty is all her.

“But then… When I’m not with him… All the good stuff just kind of gets hard to see.” Odessa looks up, blinking hard at the continued flow of tears. “Like the stars in the city.”

Any argument Aman is on the verge of passionately making against what he finds manipulative behavior is put on hold when he sees the light catch the rivers down her face.

And then, of course, she keeps talking.

He takes pause rather than launching into an argument, his grip around her hand relaxing but not receding. "Is it really that hard?" he wonders with a smooth calm. "Or is it just that when you look up, you see nothing because you've been poisoned so hard that you've gone blind?"

His tongue presses hard against his cheek for a moment as he looks at her. His voice carries with it an unshakeable tenor, head bent forward in his earnesty.

"You didn't come all this way to let some narcissistic fuck get you killed. I watched you nearly die being selfless as fuck at the worst possible moment, Des." There's a painful, complicated twist behind those words. Pride, frustration, desperation. "If you're darkness, you're the kind that lets people see the stars, not the kind that drowns them out."

He couldn’t possibly know how those words would affect her. Not before he said them, anyway. He certainly feels the gut-churning guilt that follows the notion of being so filled with poison that she’s lost her sight. It’s happened to her before, and she’s done it to someone before in the most literal sense.

Odessa hunches in on herself with a thin whine. She starts to cry in earnest now, without attempting to hold it back any longer. He knows her anguish anyway, so why try to hide it? “How are you so good?” she asks, starting to reach for him, but stopping short because she doesn’t feel like she deserves it. His comfort. Him.

“How are you so good to me?” He’s told her already, shown her in so many ways, but she just can’t believe it. The same way she won’t let herself believe it when Ace calls her amazing. Her opinion of herself is so low that she can’t accept kindness from anyone, unless she can see the strings attached to it.

The last thing he wants to do is see her cry. Aman shakes his head fiercely to the feeling that pours from her, to the way she denies herself reaching out. Instead, he shifts his seated position and reaches out to sweep her in closer, both arms around her shoulders.

Even with her head against his shoulder, he still shakes his own. He doesn't know what exactly to do now, but the bastion of his feelings hold strong against the tide of hers. "Fuck," he whispers to himself, and draws her in tighter still.

Being dragged in is like being given permission, and tearing down the makeshift wall she keeps trying to erect between them. Odessa wraps both arms around Aman tightly and just lets herself sob into his shoulder for the time being. All the feelings of doubt and fear and sadness that she just keeps refusing to give into, she's finally unable to keep inside anymore, and they just come pouring out.

And Aman sits through it all, eventually rocking them both from side to side in an attempt to ease both their emotions. He offers himself as both bedrock and life preserver in the sea of her own emotions and their depth. He waits, calm and compassionate and patient.

Every time she seems like she’s about to calm down, a fresh wave hits her and she starts in all over again. It’s like this for minutes that seem to stretch into eternity. It’s not sustainable, however, and while she certainly hasn’t rid herself of the feelings, she’s at least gotten enough of the tension out of herself to finally relearn how to breathe and to quiet herself again. Odessa doesn’t lift her head after she’s stilled, though. She doesn’t let go. “When I’m with him,” she begins softly, voice hollow, “I’m so in love. I can’t help myself.” She knows he’s felt it. The way that 6:23 rolls around like clockwork Monday through Wednesday and those warm feelings kick in.

“When I’m not at home, though… When I’m not at the club, performing and hoping he’ll come watch…” Odessa’s fingers curl more tightly into the fabric of Aman’s coat and she leans back enough so she can look at him again. “But I don’t have a choice. I can’t leave. He basically owns me.”

"The fuck he does, Odessa."

Aman's firm and fast rejection of that notion comes with a dose of sickness, horror on her behalf that's quickly replaced with the righteous anger he speaks with. "Any gift he's given you is yours to do what you want with. He doesn't— get to be the end all for the rest of your life just because he did something for you, no matter how big a gesture it was. It's the twenty-first goddamned century." But it's more than that, and it manifests in the way his expression twists into something disturbed and indignant both. "You're not— you're not property, Des. He can't just own you because he bought you a new life you don't want!"

He lifts one hand to place it on the side of her head, wishing he could make her believe that. That that was his ability, or the one he had now, anyway.

"You don't have to stay if you don't want to," Aman tells her emphatically, having no idea just how dangerous that would be.

It’s because of his anger that she’s so terse in her own reply. “This body didn’t pay for itself, Aman.” Her radical transformation came with a cost, and the sticker price was not cheap. It sees her lips pursing and her gaze get sharp, but at least it also sees her tears drying up.

Odessa gasps when she realizes what’s happening, when his hand touches her face. Her eyes get wide and fix on him, like he’s keeping her centered while the world around her is spinning. “I’m sorry.” She reaches out to mirror his gesture, trying hard to keep her tears at bay now that she’s managed to find this moment of reprieve from them.

“I sold myself for this,” she admits, seeming to have a sudden sense of clarity. “I sold my soul for this chance to start over, but all I’m doing is making all the same mistakes with a different face and a different name. And it always feels right at the time. Ace doesn’t judge me for who I used to be. He doesn’t look at me with horror the way you do. The way everybody does. He… appreciates the person I used to be. That I still am, underneath my carefully cultivated façade. It makes it so easy to just… be that still.”

Blue eyes watch his face and she feels the ebb and flow of his emotions. “But when I’m with you, I want to be better. I want to be good. I want to help people, not hurt them. I want to make everyone proud of me. But above that, I want to make you proud of me.” Odessa bites her lower lip hard to keep from crying again. “I want to be worthy enough to love you… and be loved in return.”

It’s the issue they’ve always danced around, even just earlier this evening, now laid out plainly between them.

Aman would love to say he's not horrified by things he knows Des did, and the things she was party to. Really, he would. But shutting down hard every time the topic was brought up or remotely neared may have given off its own impressions, too. Ultimately, he has no choice but to own his reaction to it, the same way she has to bear sometimes feeling like she's never more than those worst moments— with reckoning that maybe they aren't so far away from her now.

Her terseness with him sobers him further, grounding him firmly. Her explanation is both plain and yet it dances around something unspoken. Aman hardly knows how to address what he does know of the situation, much less what lies underneath it. He doesn't know how to reconcile Odessa's struggle with both feeling accepted and hating that she is— how to advise her what she should do to move on when there's a sword apparently hanging over her head.

I always thought I might be bad, now I'm sure that it's true

"Des," he murmurs. "Do you really love him, or are you locked in some kind of Stockholm Syndrome scenario where you're just… really grateful he helped get you where you are now?" His stomach sinks as he asks it, twists it because this feels both necessary to clarify and yet cruel to. He regrets it.

Because I think you're so good— and I'm nothing like you

But not as much as he regrets the look in her eyes when she says she's not worthy of love, but she wants to be.

Look at you go, I just adore you, I wish that I knew—

"How can you be so smart, yet so blind when it comes to yourself, Des?" Aman wonders aloud, meeting her eyes. A swell of emotion fills him to his edges, blurring everything. There's so much he wants to say, but he can't. Why him? What was worthy about him when he stuck his head out too far, dove in too deep in situations he never should have? He shakes his head to himself as he comes to a realization.

What makes you think I'm so special?

"Love… I don't think it's about who is and who isn't worthy. It's just about how hard people fall for each other when they're brave enough to show who they are." The hand on the side of her head brushes back through her hair before cupping her neck.

"I want to be proud of you," he says firmly, brow knitting with how desperately he needs her to understand this. "I want you to be happy, not just get glimmers of it. I don't want you to be afraid all the time. Most of all, I don't want you to think I don't have feelings for you."

Aman leans in the rest of the way to her, head tilting to the side before he kisses her firmly, letting it linger for few moments before he pulls back.

"I can't fix everything for you. But I can at least fix you of that notion."

Do you really love him? Odessa doesn’t know how to answer that question. “I think so,” she admits, “but I also know it’s… bad. Like when I—” She shakes her head quickly. “I know part of it is self-preservation. I can’t escape the situation I’m in, so I’m… making the most of it. Finding all the good that I can and clinging to it.” Her head doesn’t tip down, but her gaze falls. “He’s devoted to me. I know he is. I feel it… But he doesn’t love me. He doesn’t know how to love anyone — I’m not even sure he loves himself.” And her heart breaks for that, because for all his faults, Ace has such potential. He is amazing in her eyes. The things he could accomplish if he wanted to do good… But he doesn’t.

One corner of her mouth pulls upward in a little smirk in spite of herself. Ace does this same thing Aman is doing, after all, trying to convince her that she’s just oblivious to all the ways in which she’s spectacular. The virtues extolled are quite different, however. Her breath catches when his hand shifts. It leaves her all at once when he draws in for that kiss.

Now she cups his face with both hands, kissing him back with a desperation. She makes a sound against his mouth that signifies her contentment and just how badly she’s been waiting for this moment.

A moment that’s over far too soon, but she lets him drive this. It’s the least of what she owes him. “You could have turned me in.” Her voice is strained with her emotion. She’s overwhelmed by good feelings for a change. As soon as he admitted to having feelings, she felt like her heart burst. It’s more than she could have dared to hope for. But there’s also a fear that he could revoke this at any moment. That there’s a caveat he simply hasn’t presented yet.

“Instead, you protected me. You comforted me. And when I showed up at your door like a stray cat, you welcomed me back.” After he kicked her down the stairs, but that’s fine. When she lays it out like that, it only highlights her blindness, doesn’t it? “When I’m with you, I feel like I can be the person I want to be. You make me feel like I could be someone good.” Odessa continues to hold this face she finds perfect in her hands, sorrow creeping back into her again. “I know… I know I’m the one ultimately responsible for making that happen. I know no one can do that for me. I have to make good choices, but I…”

Odessa closes her eyes tightly, willing him to understand without words, with just the swell of her emotion. With the knowledge of how he makes her sing. “I want to choose you.

Aman lifts his hand, resting it on the side of her head again as he rests his forehead against hers. At least she knows enough to know that he's still not a good choice, even if she's looking at everything else through severely rose-colored lenses.

Before, he had trouble not feeling lighter than air. Now, gravity practically works double time on him as he tries to envision some way to get her out of her current situation. He's not sure there's a way to do it safely. Not now, anyway.

"Odessa…" Aman's brow furrows hard, bringing him to kiss her again. He meets her emotions with his own, ones tempered to shine not as bright though they still burn so warm. It's lined with nerves and uncertainty, it's layered with determination, and a sobering dash of acceptance of their reality.

The weight of his own feelings lift away the longer the kiss goes on, though. The fingers of his other hand lifting to wrap around hers, he lets go of his own concerns and embraces the heavy, shadow-casting light she feels instead, letting the echo of it wash over him.

It's so easy to, when it's calling to him as loudly as it is.

After a shorter, but deeper kiss following the first, he lets out a quiet chuckle. "Des, out of all the things I should have done, turning you in after being one of the people to break you out never was going to make that list." The teasing is lighthearted, and he opens his eyes, shifting his head back barely so he can glimpse her again.

Aman lays out as gently as possible, "What we're dealing with— it's complicated. Trying to make it simple by putting me on so high a pedestal… that'll only hurt us in the end. You more than me." A flicker of a smile comes to him as he squeezes her hand.

"I don't want to let you down somehow, by failing to live up to that."

If he were a better person, after all, he wouldn't have been kissing her at all.

He certainly wouldn't be doing it again, like he finds himself doing now. Aman lets out a pained breath as he pulls back again, his head tilting down in an effort to dissuade himself from re-engaging. "What time do you have to be back?"

“A—” His mouth on hers cuts her off and she presses into that second kiss, sliding the fingers of one hand into his hair and still cupping his face with the other. She holds to him, unable to tell which feelings are her own and what’s his mingling with it. It should frighten her — it has frightened her — but in this moment, it feels right. Safe. Like a harmony to her melody.

“I’m an accomplished liar,” she reminds him with a soft note of laughter, catching her breath. “I’d have convinced them you…” It doesn’t matter. She would have done what she could to make sure he got away with his involvement. Fortunately, it didn’t come to that. A shake of her head dismisses the subject. She won’t argue with him this time.

Instead, she listens now, expression soft, but thoughtful. She’s absorbing the weight of what he’s saying. And he’s right about it. Of the list of things Odessa Price is, a romantic is near the top. For all the experience she’s gained since her initial escape from the Company, she’s never quite managed to shake the hope that life really could work out like those fairy stories she used to read. Like the romance novels she reads now.

“Aman… I—” Again, he cuts her off and she welcomes it. This time she tries to give chase when he breaks away, but she stops short, settling for pressing a kiss to his temple. “He’s out tonight with a friend, and he doesn’t expect me to even leave the club until after two…” She’s counting hours, minutes, and seconds in her head.

How dare time carry on. Never has she been so furious to be without control over it.

“I can text him. Tell him I had to go check on the overnight run on one of my experiments. Tell him not to wait up…” If time won’t give her what she’s owed, then she’ll steal it.

And there she goes, demonstrating her accomplished penmanship when it comes to crafting a lie.

Aman's smile that comes is at war with itself, same as the breath in his chest. Pushing things isn't what he should be pining to do, but Odessa's confidence and desire bleeds into him. He tries to fight that with only middling results.

"I've got a roommate now," he murmurs distractedly. "He'll leave us alone, but he's back at the house as far as I know."

Tensely, he begins to shake his head. "You shouldn't stay the night. Don't… don't do anything to fuck things up." The only thing worse than a possessive narcissist was one scorned or suspicious. She shouldn't do that to herself.

"Promise me. You know better than me on this. You gotta use your head for both of us there, because I'm… I'm not thinking clearly." Even with the higher-percentage alcohol beginning to fade from him, other things were clouding his mind.

“A roommate?” There’s flavors of surprise and disappointment that come with that admission from him. Well, it’s not like it’ll be the first time she’s fooled around while someone (or multiple someones) in the next room were absolutely aware that’s what was going on. It’s far and away not one of her favorite things, but the alternative is trying to convince him they should get a hotel, and that means a record of the two of them together.

And she does not trust hotels anymore.

“I can work with this,” she promises. That’s certainly not the most bitter-tasting shame she’ll have ever swallowed. Her fingers stroke along the line of his jaw gently. “I don’t have to spend the night. When we’re… done, I’ll shower and head to Jackson Heights. Text him from the lab, see if he wants me to take a cab or pick me up. He’ll believe me.”

It’s almost as if this isn’t the first time she’s crafted this scenario in her head.

“I want to go home with you,” Odessa states clearly. “I want this. You. This night.” Maybe he needs to hear it like that. “But it’s your choice.” She’s dragged him into so much already. If he has his doubts… Well, she wouldn’t be able to blame him.

Aman's not got any, not until it's laid out clearly like that. There's plenty of things that are louder in him than they are, but the appearance of them is enough to make him mutter, "Fuck."

His hand settles on her shoulder, smooths down the length of her arm as his head leans to rest against her opposite shoulder. His emotions tell him so badly to say yes. He feels his head turning, lips finding her neck before he's able to quell the urge to do so.

This moment isn't just this moment, though. It's the walk home. It's the commitment to the rest of this night, whatever it is it might hold. It's living with it and figuring things out the next morning—

He's not thinking that far ahead, though. He's still trying to decide if he'll continue to be this bold by the time they end up back at the townhouse.

Aman leans back abruptly, nearly rocking away from her. If he doesn't make a decision, he's liable to lose his center again. If that happened, the emotional tether between him and Odessa might not be enough to keep him from floating away. So he decides, because he already knows, even if higher brain function argues with him about the sanity of it.

"Let's go." He begins to push himself to his feet, offering her a hand afterward to help her stand.

If she were smarter — no, if she were kinder — she’d sever the link between them while he tries to decide what to do with this situation. She’d let him have a clear head, not muddied by the things she’s feeling.

But then he’d probably say no.

Fuck, he says, and then he’s kissing her neck. “Yeah,” she murmurs, “that’s the hope.” Her head tips back and she sighs at the sensation, the new spike of longing. When he withdraws, she tenses, studying his face for signs of an answer his emotional state may not be forthcoming about. The head and the heart are often at war with one another, after all.

The hand up is accepted with a sense of elation and gratitude. Between him and the cane pressed into the earth, she’s able to make her way to her feet with much less difficulty than she would have had alone after having her legs folded for as long as she has. She takes a moment to stretch while he gathers up the blanket. She shoves it back into her purse, letting the handles slide down to the crook of her elbow. Grabbing his scarf in her hand, she drags him back in for one more heated kiss.

There are no words adequate now. Odessa simply nods and loops her arm through one of his to allow him to escort her from the park.

It's Odessa who's able to reorient them when Aman realizes he's lost all sense of earthly direction. She's the one who lifts her arm to point out that guiding star high above, the one that lets them know which way refuge lies.

The house is quiet, lights off when they arrive. Aman doesn't bother shouting he's home, seeing if there's actually anyone here. He doesn't want to talk anyway.

The entire process into the house and up the stairs feels like a fumble, but the moment the door closes, he starts to again fall into sync with her and her with him. The two of them carry on slow and quiet at first, chasing each other's enjoyment until they reach a loud high.

Until her hand is planted on the ceiling to support her, hand curling into it and plaster dusting under her nails.

Until they decide that once wasn't enough.

How are we doing on time? he thinks he asks while they're still outside gravity's normal bounds. The reply Odessa murmurs to him more than implies she doesn't really care.

It should be a warning flag that she doesn't, but the funny thing about their twined being and the abandon he's given over to means that because she does not care…

Her plan, her promise for a continuation becomes his plan, his promise.

And it's not an easy thing. It takes time, time they should have spent parting ways. Instead, they spend an excessive amount of it building each other up again only to bring them each to their metaphorical knees.

At least, he feels like Odessa would have sunk down if the gravity of several of her limbs was not under the influence of an object insisting that up is the natural down. When her head at least lolls back, he takes a moment to press a kiss to the side of it, his arm wrapping around her.

"Hold onto me," he murmurs to her, and then without a touch at all to prompt it this time, the magic of levitation running rampant in the room ends. Aman is ready with his arms supporting her when her weight is no longer pulled up at her wrists, her shoulders able to sink. There's a clatter of the floating picture frame landing on some clothes on the ground, muted, unlike the tumble the alarm clock takes when it hits the ground. The clothes themselves land with sighing thumps.

Aman figures if Isaac wasn't awake from the sound of their careless abandon, if he was even home, the addition of the falling objects would be the last thing to rouse him.

He comes down slowly to a knee, and with Odessa cradled in his arms, begins to lie back on the mussed covers. He lets out a sigh of relief when his head hits the pillow, his eyes closing. He breathes in the scent of her hair, the scent of them, and contents himself with holding her wordlessly.

Odessa nods her head weakly, wordlessly, when he tells her to hold on. When her arms are able to come down, she lets them rest loosely against Aman’s shoulders, the cuffed wrists behind his neck. She’s certainly not weightless anymore, but she feels like she is still, while also being impossibly heavy. Her eyes remain closed as he helps her back down to earth. Down to his bed.

For a time, it’s all she can do just to relearn how to breathe deeply, and savor the last lingering twinges in her body. The falling objects do nothing to disturb her thoroughly and wonderfully exhausted state.

Then, she lets out a deep sigh, and their link breaks. Anticipating his concern, she snuggles in closer, trying to telegraph that she’s okay without being able to send him that emotional nudge.

And there is a tinge of alarm present in the way his hair raises on end, skin rolling in goosebumps down his shoulders and arms. It's felt in the way he holds onto her with more purpose than a moment before. Acceptance comes in the way he slowly comes to breathe again, eyes open wide and blind as he navigates what he's left with now that their existence isn't codependent.

For a while he feels nothing but the silence of her absence, unable to help himself from listening for her, probing mentally as though he'll find their link again on his own.

Aman finally accepts it's just himself and begins to remember what that's like. He blinks his eyes closed and draws his hand slowly up her back.

Everything he didn't want to think about comes flooding back of its own accord, but he lays there, breathing slow and easy, fingertips tracing patterns on her skin. He avoids the bulk of the topics he doesn't want to address by murmuring on a chuckled, tired breath, "Well that's never gonna be the same again."

Her response comes with the same delivery. “I was just thinking the same thing,” Odessa admits. “That was… the most intense experience of my life.” And that’s saying something, considering the prolific lifestyle she enjoys with Ace. “I… Just. Wow, Amanvir.” She smiles dreamily, still not having opened her eyes after her finish.

But there’s something niggling beneath her skin. Even without her ability active, she can feel it in Aman as well. “I feel bereft without you…” She shifts enough to bring her hands closer to him, so she can pet his hair affectionately. “I hate it when we can’t—” Sustaining their link just isn’t feasible. It isn’t fair to him.

And he’s the only person she can’t lie to.

But her thoughts have started to drift to what she needs to do now. Where she needs to go. The consequences she may face. She spares him the dismal gloom of her melancholy. The oppressive gravity of her fear.

“I wish it could be just us, always. When you’re not with me,” she means when they aren’t joined at the heart, “I feel like the stars have all gone out and there’s nothing left to guide me.”

Odessa’s brow creases under the weight of her bittersweet emotions. “I love you,” she whispers with a desperation woven through it like delicate lace. She finally opens her eyes again so she can look at him. “I love you.”

Coming back down, facing the world, it's something that feels insurmountable. Unfaceable. Aman's gaze continues to blindly peer, but his brow twitches together in the beginnings of a furrow when she shares what she feels without him. He shifts his head just enough so he's not pinning her hands under him accidentally, and he turns his head in the process to look at her, look her over. He watches the same look develop in her, and he feels his heart try to shift out of his chest.

Everything hurts, abruptly. He feels somehow as though he's already, inescapably lost her to the starless skies she's going to return to now.

Words he can't possibly follow up on well in his throat, and he wants so badly to say them anyway. He can't look her in the eye for long before his own eyes close heavily, too much visible in them while they're open. He cradles her head to his shoulder again and lays his atop hers, holding her fiercely and winding one of his legs around hers in an embrace all its own.

Twined around her and with her like that, no words still come. The most sound he makes is to take in a breath, but even that breaks, bringing him to hold her all the more tightly. He finally lets go of the attempt to speak, his shoulders sagging as he exhales away messily.

How is it that she can still feel him so keenly? Is it just some sort of psychosomatic echo? A phantom pang? Is this just what it’s like when normal people connect with one another?

Odessa wants so badly for him to keep looking at her, but she understands his need. She lets herself fit against him and feel as though her new frame was made for it. Held in his arms like this, she feels safe. Cared for. Loved.

Her tongue slips past her lips a moment, the lower one rolling under as it makes its retreat. Does she crack a joke? Lay out the plain truth? “I feel like I’ve tricked you,” is ultimately what breaks the silence around them. “You… You have this insight into me that no one else possibly could have and it’s— It’s not— It’s deceitful.

Sniffling, she tries to get closer, like if she could just hold him tightly enough, they would merge. Their hearts would find one another and they’d finally no longer care where one ends and the other begins.

“People aren’t meant to… to share these things. To know these things. If you couldn’t— couldn’t feel what I feel, you wouldn’t—” Her voice breaks and she starts to cry.

It doesn't make him feel any better that she's the one that broke first. He finally moves, his hand petting her hair while he shushes her tears, eyes opening enough to see her partly in profile. "The truth isn't deceitful, you maniac," Aman manages to tease her with a nudge of his shoulder, his chuckle wet with the tears he's holding back himself. "I get to know you, not what anybody else says you ought to be. And god, Des…" He brings his hand to her cheek, brushing forming tears away from her face with a movement of his thumb, careful to avoid contact with her eye directly. "Do you know how lucky that makes me? Do you have any idea how lucky I feel that—"

When his brow begins to furrow this time, it changes the shape of his eyes, and the tension across them breaks. He can't see her properly anymore through the blur that's suddenly there.

"You deserve so much better," he whispers shakily. "than to go home to who you're going home to."

Ask her to stay, a powerful part of him pleads. And— he's afraid she'd say no more than he is that she'd say yes. But the realist in him knows there's no way they could make this work, not tonight. She can't just do that, and it'd be selfish to ask. More than selfish, it could be dangerous for her.

It doesn't murder the longing to do it anyway.

"I don't want to let you go," is as far as he gets to expressing that fever dream, filled with all the same bittersweet energy.

“I know,” Odessa whispers in return, surprised that she’s able to find her voice again, no matter how small. Lips press softly to his face, high on his cheek, as though she could kiss away his tears. Hers still flow, but without the messier little simpering. Less now than they were moments before.

“How can you feel lucky to be tethered to a stone so heavy?” she asks, wonder in her voice. It’s not a question she expects him to provide an answer to. There is no rational answer to that, no matter who’s involved. Love doesn’t deal in rationalities.

Instead, she laughs, a single breath of it, a ribbon of humor among her pain. “You could cuff me to the bed like we did Catholic Guilt and never let me leave.” Another bubble comes up, shaking her shoulders. But she’s biting her lip and looking away as quickly as it comes. They both know that they can’t do this. She knows it never should have happened in the first place. There’s no concern in her mind for herself in this scenario. Whatever comes to her, in her mind, is deserved.

Whatever comes to her, she’s had worse.

But him…

Odessa’s stomach drops at the notion that she can’t protect him if this secret is discovered. Her lips press together, quivering against the onslaught of the emotion she’s trying to hold back behind them. “It wouldn’t work anyway,” she reasons, forcing one corner of her mouth up in a wry grin, even though she plainly wears her pain in her eyes. “I’d make your poor mother cry.”

Her joke at least succeeds in drawing him from his melancholy for a flicker of a moment, a laugh coming from him almost involuntarily as light enters his eyes. Aman only shakes his head, and it's not the joke at someone else's expense that he replies to. "As happy as she'd be to have grandchildren, I think she'd be happier to have a daughter," he murmurs.

He regrets the words as soon as he says them, but he stands by them nonetheless. His eyes turn solemn again and he scrubs the heel of his hand against the side of his own face, glancing down after the realization there really were tears to have wiped away in the first place.

The high of their intertwined emotions is a terrible thing to fall from now that they've been cut off from each other, and he continues to focus on the gnawing pit of the loss of that bond rather than closely examine the emotions left behind in its wake. In the morning, he'll go back to feeling a dozen conflicted things regarding Odessa Price, but for now, he just wants to hold on tight and never let go.

But nights like these don't last forever. And as far as fairy tales go, Odessa's planned excuses for why she was out so late likely turned into a pumpkin over an hour ago.

Aman closes his eyes again hard, and when he looks to Odessa as they open again, the last of the magic is fading from them. He brings his hand back to the side of her head, cradling it gently as he bestows her one last kiss before they both have to face the rest of the night. It's a moment that contains a small eternity, and yet it's one that breaks all too quickly.

He sighs as he breaks away from the kiss by resting his forehead against hers, admitting in a mutter, "I don't even know what we did with your cane." He stays like that for just a moment longer before carefully turning his head in an attempt to look over his shoulder near the door for it.

The words almost break her into pieces so small that no one could hope to put her back together again. The surprise of them does provide enough of a counteroffensive to push back her tears, though. “I guess one out of two wouldn’t be so bad,” she reasons quietly in return. A daughter, but no grandchildren.

But it’s a lot like suggesting they find a cabin in Pennsylvania to hole up in and hope that the fire of their love will be enough to keep them warm. It’s a joke, but not really, but an impossibility, so none of it matters.

This is precisely why she cut him off from her, however. Because the continuous feedback of their sorrow for the conclusion of this evening would destroy them both.

And because it would be more alarming if she only shut down after she returns to her partner.

Odessa starts to shift on the bed, lifting her arms from where they’d settled at his shoulders, carefully drawing them back toward herself. She holds up her wrists and lifts her brows. “I mean, it didn’t get up and walk off. And I don’t think it floated away…” It seemed only to be objects he’s touched that fell under his influence, by her observations.

"Yeah," Aman sighs as he pushes himself up into a sit and swings his legs off the side of the bed. He digs a hand into the nightstand drawer to place a tiny set of keys on its top before leaning into a stand to begin sifting through the mess of the room.

Once he pushes aside fallen clothes, he finds the cane, and in short order, everything else belonging to her. He sets them aside on the bed for her to take, putting himself partly back together as well. Shirtless, he eventually settles back on the edge of the bed, hands loosely clasped between his knees around the cane. He rolls it between his palms, brow furrowed at nothing.

"I'm glad I came out tonight," he finally says. "I'm glad… all you had to say didn't go unsaid." Even without their link, guilt flickers in his eyes as he glances up to her— guilt that he doesn't have more to offer her than that. He's solemn, no smiles. He's glad, but.

But that's no one's fault but his own, as far as he's concerned.

While he sets about sorting their things from the mess of the room, Odessa plucks up the keys and lets herself out of the padded cuffs. She leaves the key slotted into one of them when she places it all back in the drawer. That’s an admission that the night is ending. The first step toward the door.

Redressing herself is done with care. Her movements are slow, and she’s deliberate about how she stretches and folds herself to fit back into her clothes, staying on the bed for as much of the process as she can manage. She settles eventually on the edge herself, around the corner of the mattress from where he sits with her cane. There’s no focus to her gaze across the room or angled at the floor while she pulls on her tall boots.

It’s too quiet. Her mind has too much space to roam. It wanders away from this room, across the bridge from Roosevelt Island to Brooklyn. Winds its way through the boroughs to Jackson Heights. Makes its way through the doors of the Raytech building and finds her lab. It pinpoints the last place, the last moment in which she’ll be safe. Once she’s there, she’ll pick up her phone and decorate her back with phosphorescent paint. A dot inside a circle inside a circle.

And Ace is a hell of a marksman.

Odessa is grateful for the way Aman can’t feel her blood run cold or the overwhelming sense of resignation to the fact that when she leaves here, her life will have changed for the worse. However subtle the ways in which that will manifest. She feels dead inside and glad he doesn’t feel it too.

“Yeah,” she responds belatedly, a hint of warmth in her tone. Even she doesn’t know if it’s a lie or the truth. “I’m glad you were finally able to hear it.” The song. Her words. The sentiment. When he looks at her, she turns to him and nods her head, acknowledging more of what he isn’t saying than what he has said. As is so often the case, she is his mirror. Solemn, no smiles. She’s glad, but.


He shifts, guarding himself against the hope that wells in him— that maybe she's thought of something he hasn't, something that will let them both end the night without this heaviness on their hearts.

That'd be an awful lot to ask for.


She would love dearly to be able to give that to him.

All she has is the opposite.

“Whatever happens…” Her voice stays steady, and she’s glad for it, because nothing else feels on even footing right now. “This was my choice. I chose this. I chose tonight. I chose you.

And whatever happens after this will be the consequence of that choice.

“And I wouldn’t take it back. Not for anything.” She wants to move closer to him. To rest her head against his shoulder and let him put his arms around her and just sit there with him like that in the dim light until her heart can quiet.

Instead, she looks away. “Whatever happens is not your fault.”

Aman's heart sinks. Whatever happens, she says, like she expects the worst, or something so terrible it might as well be.

The weight of the mistake they made in how long this night between them lasted is suddenly fully felt.

"Des, please."

She's right. It's not his fault. He'd asked her to be the smart one for them both, and she'd been the one to choose to be just as stupid as he'd been. What's all on him, though, is that he'd trusted her to be smart enough for them both. And she… well…

His hand reaches for hers on the bedside, clasping over top of it tightly, urgency in his movements and in his eyes. The terrible sinking gives way to claws of nauseating lightness that tear through him, gouges that begin shoulders and chest before working their way down to his gut again.

Fuck this ability. Aman closes his eyes hard, one hand shifting to firm its awkward grasp atop hers while the other remains planted atop her cane with a paling grasp.

"Don't," he snaps as much as pleads of her. "Don't. You're— You're going to figure this out. And nothing bad…"

He can't even finish.

She can’t bring herself to look at him. Her hand doesn’t shift away from his grasp, but nor does it encourage it. In that touch, it’s like he can find her again, the way that it feels right. The way it feels they should be. He feels her, and it’s empty and broken.

“Nothing so bad that I can’t recover,” she corrects, finishing his statement for him. She could have lied to him the way she lies to everyone. Odessa could have told him everything would be okay. That she would stick to the plan she loosely outlined for him and that it would go off without a hitch and everything would carry on the way it always has.

But she cares for Aman too much to sell him that lie. To risk that he might make a delivery to her office and see her with bruises. That she might open their connection and he might feel her fear, her anger, or her fathomless sorrow. He deserved to know she walked into this knowingly.

Finally, she does turn to him. “Amanvir.” Her lip trembles, but her voice remains steady. She shifts so she can sit nearer. Under his hand, hers turns so she can grasp him just as tightly. “This… Tonight. You. This is what I needed. I need to know…” Her blue eyes close as though blocking out the visual stimuli of the room will help her focus her thoughts. “You’ve given me a reason. To keep living. To fight. To walk back toward the light instead of… swandiving into the abyss.” Looking at him again, there’s that fondness in her eyes, in the upturned corner of her mouth.

If I could begin to do something that does right by you

“Whatever happens after I leave tonight… If he blackens my eyes, or knocks out my teeth or just… crushes me with his indifference… It doesn’t matter.” And she smiles at that, properly and with her teeth and an elated little exhale. “Because I’m going to do better from here. I’m going to be better. Please just… Please wait for me, Aman.” Fresh tears spill from the cold blue wells of her eyes. “I know… I know I’m asking — too much. To ask you to stick with me while I go home to him every night and…” The light goes out in her eyes when she thinks about all the ways she’ll need to continue to lie. With her eyes, her mouth, the language of her body, her…

Odessa swallows it down and forces herself to come back to him — to Aman — and make him her focus. “I’m going to find a way out. It’s just… going to take a while.”

The realization Aman goes through as she explains is a difficult one, one filled with a colorful maelstrom of emotion entirely his own and yet feels like so many things at once it couldn't possibly be. He does feel betrayed now— deceived that she made these decisions knowing exactly what the outcome would be, and how badly he'd hate it. Devastated, angry, and yet accepting. Love makes people do stupid things.

He opens his eyes at the sound of his name— not just his name, but his name, and turns to her. His grasp is weaker in hers, the look in his eyes guarded save for the melancholy he can't erase.

Aman hopes with all his being she remembers this is the course she wants to follow, he really does. But he also remembers what she said about what happens when she's with Ace, and he finds himself unable to believe that the same won't happen again. The nausea turning over his stomach settles half-flipped with that heartbreaking touch of clarity.

But he closes his hand around Odessa's, and he nods once. He has to hope— and hope that his hope isn't in vain— that she really will climb her way out of this relationship that's terrible for her.

"The stars are there, even if you can't see them," comes from him quietly, numbly. "You know right where they should all be. All of them. No matter how cloudy it gets in the dark, they're not gone."

"All right?" he asks, narrowly avoiding strain in his voice. He turns out the handle to the cane, even as he can't help but look forlorn, withdrawn. In the end, he wasn't able to keep reaction to himself after all.

If she understood what he was feeling right now, knew the emotions he was cycling through, she’d give him that sad smile of hers and remind him that she’s trouble. No good. Selfish. Above all else deceitful and prone to betrayal. He might even argue with her about it.

But without the advantage afforded to her by her ability, she can’t comprehend the complexity of his emotion. What she can understand is the terrible thing she’s done to him.

Odessa closes her hand around the head of her cane, drawing it toward herself with a deliberate sort of slowness, as if to prolong this moment. Forestall her departure. And while it does both of those things, what it truly does is give her time to make a decision.

The cane is flung aside in favor of pulling herself closer to him and him to her so they can meet in the middle and she can crush her mouth to his and lift their joined hands so she can press the palm of his against her heart, let him feel it beat for him through the soft wool weave of her dress.

If he had the ability to take, at the moment, he'd do it. He'd reach into her, hold her heart, and know it. He knows it wouldn't make him feel better, but maybe it wouldn't make him feel any worse, either. Just more informed.

The kiss is returned gently instead of desperately, his other hand lifting to pet her hair, to brush strands to it back behind her ear as he pulls back from it and looks at her. He weighs only what he can see, and he decides to do more than hope the way she feels now is enough— he decides to trust it.

And knows he needs to figure out what to do with his own emotions, his own plans, his own everything if this really was the way she felt.

"Call an Uber now," Aman suggests in a murmur. "It'll take a few minutes to get here." His hand on the side of her head strokes her hair again before suddenly withdrawing, remembering. "You said you were going to clean up before going, right?"

The tenderness of his response is devastating. Always, always, he’s that force of calm in the midst of her storm. She doesn’t want to let him go when he draws back, but she allows him to have control of this. Allows him to see her. Doesn’t turn her face away even when she lifts her hand to paw away her tears.

She wore the good make-up tonight.

“It can wait a minute,” is both a shrug off and a promise that of intent to follow through, just… not yet. Odessa wipes her hand on her skirt before raising it again to settle against Aman’s face. Her eyes search his, look at all the little lines of his features, the tension of his brow and at the corners of his mouth and eyes. The softness and unyielding resolve. The tells of all of those things.

The inhale that precedes the question she needs to ask is a sharp one. “Do you think you could still love me if it was always like this? If you couldn’t feel my heart anymore?”

Aman's brow furrows sharply. Whatever immediately comes to mind isn't an answer to her question, simply that he'd not like the outcome of it. She can feel the tension in the corner of his mouth, the way he shifts and begins to reach for her as if somehow that would preserve that link she's talking about silencing.

He stills. The bond was always a fluke. A reaction between their mutual abilities or something else, he was never really sure, but it was never a promise.

"It'd be different," he admits smoothly, because that's easy. His uneasiness regarding that reveals itself when he adds, "And I'm not sure I'd like it." He lets out a faint breath of laughter at his own expense, looking back to her in apology. "It's been a long year, Des. Filled with plenty of shit that wasn't the best, exactly."

Constantly still wondering if he's going to be tracked down by the d'Sarthe Group hitman or his friends or the government is still a thing, after all.

"Not having to deal with it alone made it easier. And I hope… it was the same for you."

With the beginnings of a frown, he looks back up to her, and it fades as he meets her eyes again. "I think we'd have communication issues. But it's not like we don't now." Aman shakes his head momentarily. "Why, though?"

Satisfied that he’s not going to feed her platitudes or sugar-coated bullshit about how nothing would change, Odessa gives herself the permission to let her gaze wander away from his face. She nods along slowly, mouth ticking up in a wry smile. “Yeah, tell me about it.” It’s been a rough couple of years for her, too. And she knows what he’s going through. Knows what it’s like to live life looking over your shoulder.

And she knows it’s all been more bearable because they’ve had each other. Even when there’s walls and miles between them. There’s no gulf wide enough to keep them completely separated.

So, she nods again and lifts her gaze. “I wouldn’t like it either,” she promises, trying to give a quick assurance that it isn’t her intent to sever their bond. “But… I just… I’ve been through a lot and I know better than probably anyone else how our abilities are a gift. Even what’s in our genetics… isn’t truly ours.”

Odessa smiles sadly. “I lost the one I was born with twice. I have no guarantee this one’s going to stick around either. And… I just… thought that if there was a chance you wouldn’t want this if you knew…” Frustration purses her lips as though she’d been sucking on a lemon.

She lets the thread go, hoping she’s sufficiently laid out her concern in a way he can understand. Now, her eyes close and she’s glad he can’t feel her internalized shame or the anticipatory fear of rejection. “I want the house, the yard, the garden, the dog, the… kids. The family. Tell me that I’m not crazy to want those things with you.”

Aman lifts his hand to rest it on her cheek. He's the one that started this line of thought, wasn't he. While she's got her eyes closed, she can't see the shift in his expression, one he smooths away by the time she looks again.

"You're not crazy."

He begins to shake his head despite that. "But we have to take this one step at a time. All right? You've got to get out, first." He raises his other arm to frame her face between his hands, brow furrowing. His voice picks up in its pace. "Odessa, I— I don't want you to lose sight of that goal if that's what you want. If that's the dream you want, then don't lose sight of that."

His shoulders begin to sink, and his hands fall to her shoulders. "But we can figure out the details when we're closer to being there, okay?" Aman leans in slightly to emphasise what he's saying. He keeps speaking, past what he should. "House, kids, everything."

Her breath holds in her chest, her heart seems to pause. It feels like it used to when time would stop around her. All this to say…

It feels right.

“You mean it?” Odessa asks when she relearns how to draw air into her lungs and use it to power her voice. Her heart hasn’t dared to begin to beat again. “You really, really mean it?” It’s terrifying to her to suddenly hear it. To possibly accept it.

Once, she thought she’d found the right person. The one who would love her for what she was, but love her more for what she could be. The possibility of her, though, hadn’t been enough. The promise of a different future couldn’t outshine the shadows of her past.

When she dares to hope, it quite often leaves her blind to reality.

“You? With me?”

Aman can see the precise moment where she seizes onto that hope, and his stomach falls again. He's not going to be able to live up to this image she's building up. These expectations. They've kindled a small flame of fear in him, but he finds himself glued and unable to retreat nonetheless.

The fuck would he even go, anyway?

"We can try," he says, no glaring overtones of warning in what he's saying, even though his eyes dance back and forth between hers with the nerves that are growing in him— ones she can't feel and he can't find the right words for. "But you've got to survive tonight first, okay? We have to— this is a thing to work toward, not something we can just— wish and it'll come true, okay?"

He prays, prays she understands that.

"Please, you've got to be okay first."

The light doesn’t go out, but it does dim. Her heart starts to beat again. “You’re right,” she agrees with a short nod of her head. “You’re right.” There are eight thousand things that need to happen before she can even begin to pursue this fantasy of hers.

The look in his eyes told her what she needed to understand. Even if this somehow is what he wants — if she is somehow what he wants — it doesn’t matter if she can’t get away from Ace’s clutch.

“I should go.”

Hours ago.

Odessa starts to withdraw from him so she can start buttoning up her coat, turning her face away while she does that so she can note where her cane ended up on his floor. Facing her trial felt less harrowing than the prospect of facing the end of this liaison. “I’ll touch base with you as soon as it’s safe to,” is the best she can promise. She pulls her silenced phone from her coat pocket so she can call her cab.

Unlocking the phone allows that single notification regarding a text from Ace to expand out into the behemoth it is before flashing away to her home screen. Even then, the number indicating new messages in the double digits sits in innocuous quiet.

Aman is looking away at this point, reaching down to grab the cane and bring it back up again. He remembers, abruptly, it is the dangerous thing it actually is when it splits apart. He mutters a wordless invective as he tries to piece it back together, slowly coming back up into a sit.

"You don't even have to text. Just… check in," he suggests. The link, at least, is traceless.

Shit,” she hisses out when she sees just how many missed messages there are waiting for her to read. She fights against the instinct to tap through and start playing catch up. She doesn’t dare read them until she’s at Raytech. Until she can establish her alibi properly. God forbid he receive a read receipt half an hour before she actually reaches out to him.

She swipes the notification away from her screen so it won’t accidentally be bumped into. The little digits on the SMS icon still menace her silently, however. The Pryr app is navigated easily enough while she forces herself to breathe through it and not give in to panic.

Dear god, please just let him send weird drunk texts like a normal human being. She would thank every higher power in the universe for something as innocuous as a bunch of misspelled texts and an unsolicited dick pic right now.

“Car’s on the way.” Odessa informs Aman as she slips her phone back into her pocket and takes the cane. She nudges him with it gently, indicating he should give her space as she stands there with it.

It becomes apparent why when she brings it down sharply on the mattress five times in quick succession, a shrill fuck! to accompany each blow. Fortunately, it’s still sheathed. The mattress is just a punching bag, not a pin cushion. Odessa’s hand is trembling when she drags it through her hair. She won’t even look at Aman when she insists to him, “I’m fine.”

The first sound of a swear from her brings Aman's head to turn. He doesn't ask what? because he has a fairly good idea. And cautiously, he gives her her space when asked for, figuring she'll…

Do anything, maybe, than what she does.

And then she has the audacity to insist she's fine.

"The fuck you are," Aman breathes out his defiance, but doesn't act on it. He only looks at her in profile, sees the shake of her hand. It hurts, but he needs to let her get to a point where she's actually fine on her own. He can't let them get caught up in a cycle of stay, no, go all over again.

"What'd he say?" he does ask now, because it seems like the least offensive of all the things he could do.

The fuck she is.

Odessa stands there, catching her breath and suddenly wishing, of all things, that she had a cigarette. She wonders when she picked up that habit. When it became tied to times of stress. Especially this particular flavor of it.

Her head lifts and turns when Aman asks his question. “I don’t know yet. I didn’t read.” One shoulder comes up in a half-shrug. “A lot, given the number of unreads waiting for me.” She smiles tightly. “I’ll check them after I get to the lab. I’ll… figure out where to go from there.”

There’s apology in her eyes now when she looks at him properly again. “I’m not fine,” she confesses. “But I will be. The next couple of days will be hard, if he’s mad. But… he only burns bright for so long. I’ll either smother it or get it back down to a simmer. I just need time.” And in this realm, she doesn’t feel her confidence is undeserved.

Shut out from her emotions as he is, hearing how she plans to compartmentalize all of this and handle it is a positively intimate level of insight. Aman feels like he must not even be blinking right now with how careful he's being with that knowledge.

He can't believe how smart she's being about this only now, in some small way.

"I'll be thinking about you," Aman murmurs. "Hoping for the best."

“I’m a survivor, Amanvir.” It’s both an assurance that his hopes will be fulfilled as well as an explanation for that information she’s given him about how she plans to move forward. It had always been part of her plan. It’s just that… the night hadn’t stretched on quite so long when she initially formed her strategy. It was a calculated risk, and the math was sound… But she’s still going to wind up with a deficit to pay down.

Odessa smiles to herself. How many small acts of rebellion has she engaged in over the years that have helped her develop this method? She shakes her head, dismisses the thought. Instead, she bridges the distance between them again, lifting her hand to conform to the curvature of the back of his head, leaning into rest her forehead against his.

“I leave my heart with you,” Odessa tells Aman, her voice heavy with emotions both sorrowful and amorous. It’s a promise to him, and one she hopes she can keep. She knows well from experience that she doesn’t just fall out of love with someone overnight. No one does.

Breaking the spell Ace Callahan has her under will be no easy task. The handsome prince can’t simply kiss her to save her from her curse.

He draws her in for one last embrace, his head beginning to swim. His head turns to the side, forehead still against hers. He's sure his worry is conveyed, and that's all that matters at the moment. The rest … the rest is for him to deal with and figure out, the same way she has her own nervewracking mountain to overcome.

"We'll see each other soon," Aman promises her, pressing a kiss to the side of her head before he loosens his embrace. With any luck, they'll know more about where they stand, and where they're going, by then.

He forces a smile for her sake.

"I'll walk you to the door."

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