History and Present


ace_icon.gif odessa2_icon.gif

Scene Title History and Present
Synopsis The landscape has drastically shifted.
Date June 17, 2020

Staten Island

Ace closes the car door behind him with a slam, the bright light of day cut off by the tint as he settles into the driver seat. He leans back, head never quite meeting the rest behind him, and grinds the heel of one hand into his thigh while his jaw works. Finally, he looks to Odessa— first in the peripheral glance afforded to him by the rear-view mirror, then properly, but still out of the corner of his eye. His head only turns to her just barely.

Unlike other emotional ripples he's previously gone through in her presence— rocks thrown into ponds which fade away to nothing ere long— this has been a building tremor, the quake of which is about to reach the surface.

No motion is made to turn the car on, simply utilizing it for the privacy avoided by the enclosed space and the tint that prevents those outdoors from easily seeing in. Knowing better than to trust that he might not fail to notice the rear door opening should a certain trickster decide to insinuate himself into the picture, he shifts his hand from his leg to lock the doors, cutting that concern off definitively.

Teeth bare before he speaks, helping him mind his tone before he lifts his hand from the armrest to gesture placatingly to Odessa. Ace directs her with taut delicacy, "You first."

The walk back to the car had been tense, and more than once, Odessa had considered veering off to go anywhere else. Excusing herself to the ladies room before they take to the road, and crawling out the window had been a fantasy to play out in her head. That she can feel the strong undercurrents of his emotions when he is otherwise so unnervingly even bodes nothing but ill for her.

But she let him guide her by the elbow, escorting her through the building and back out to the sleek Porsche. She supposes she should be grateful she isn’t spending the ride back to the brownstone in the trunk.

Odessa doesn’t reach for her seatbelt now that she’s settled into her seat. What she does do is let her hand rest against the ledge built into the door. Her ring and little fingers stretch out just the barest bit to lay over the locking mechanism to ensure she isn’t properly trapped in here if things go poorly.

“Don’t look so dour,” she coaxes with a smile. “We accomplished what we set out to do. I know it wasn’t a perfect performan—”

"But it wasn't just a performance, was it?" Ace snaps back before she has the chance to go on. If she's not taking the chance to air her grievances first, then he'll gladly slide back to his. "No— you heard something you didn't like, and decided to go a little farther than the planned ingratiation."

It could be a poor read of her tone, of her doublespeak, of the use of the second language— but with enough time to stew on it it's turned into something else entirely in his mind now. It doesn't help that a topic particularly sore to him had been brought up in the course of the meeting.

Odessa flinches back when he snaps, dropping the pretenses of being perfectly calm and unafraid of him. “Jesus Christ, Ace.” Her brow furrows and she looks him up and down with an expression that borders on incredulous. “It was working. I merely capitalized on it.”

She shakes her head, uncertain what the best tactic to take is here. “Think about it. He responded favorably to my vulnerability. To my use of his language. To my femininity. And those brief moments where I led him to believe he saw the real me.”

Brows furrow and mouth forms into a thoughtful pout. “Was my performance so good that it fooled even you?”

Ace looks away rather than deign that with a verbal reply, a twinge in his jaw. There's a tic of movement, a shake of his head.

"You need to learn to mask your reactions better," he advises flatly in lieu of an answer. "Your shock was this close to derailing the entire conversation." His hand lifts, fingers pinched together to emphasise just how near a thing it was. "The information you gave him with that reaction was priceless, and it's likely to shape future interactions with him— with the Group in general."

He looks back to her with a frown pulling at the side of his mouth, refusing to actually let it take hold. "What it spoke to was my own trustworthiness. Let us hope it doesn't speak poorly to yours."

Ace’s emotions are a complicated thing. And for someone so very poorly in touch with her own, it’s hard to tell what she feels herself when he starts leaning into her that way. The pout gives way and the line of her brow forms to something harder.

“If you hadn’t let me be blindsided by it, I wouldn’t have been shocked, would I?” she spits back at him, reminding him of his own role to play in her slip. “And he was fine. How the hell does that jeopardize my trustworthiness that you kept a secret from me?”

It doesn’t, that’s how.

“What are you so worried about?”

A question he again avoids answering, though the sharpening edges on his rough demeanor become more pronounced in the process. Whatever murk he's feeling, it's unrelenting.

"Was it particularly important for you to know about the others?" Ace poses, reaching for the ignition. The car cycles and comes to life, practically still silent. Now, at least, there will be heat flooding the chilled vehicle. Maybe it'll also rid the ice from his veins. "I thought it would have been obvious, seeing as Redd didn't make it out of his double-crossing on his own." He shifts a hard glance in Odessa's direction, but already it begins to lack the same edge as before.

He's simmering, but he'll work through it.

"Varlane, Renautas, and Dunlap showed up on our doorstep along with Redd two days after the Plum Island explosion. We lost one and gained another shortly after. The twins stuck around, and Dunlap ghosted." His mood's closer to mellow as he asides with dry sarcasm, putting the car into gear, "I'll give you two guesses as to which of them is the brownnose d'Sarthe is so fond of."

He's better because this is better. Conspiring together is better than whatever the hell it was that had happened in watching her back inside, feeling less and less in control with each murmur in French.

“I imagined it would have been simple enough for a man of his talents,” Odessa offers in her own defense. In her mind’s eye, she had devised at least one scenario in which Redd would manage to get off the island in one piece without assistance from anyone else. But she shrugs. “I stand corrected.”

Since he suggested she mask her reactions better, she’s masking this one. She doesn’t let on that she’s surprised and concerned by the list of names presented. “Pete’s a real charmer,” is what she offers to show she understands the situation. “A survivor.” And he’s done things that make her look nice.

“You’re better off letting me associate with them,” she asserts. “Pete trusts me. I can use that. And the Renautas girl… I’ve not met her brother, but she and I had a certain bond at PISEC. If you want to know what they’re really up to, you’ll let me stay close.”

Finally, she lets her right hand slip away from the door, no longer feeling the need to have that exit quite so near. “Ace…” She reaches out toward him with that hand, but pauses with more than enough space between them yet, leaving her intent clear but her respect for his boundaries clearer. “May I touch you, please?”

Survivor is a word Ace keys in on. It's the term she uses to describe herself when she's not being particularly flattering about it. He lets out a disaffected hum of an acknowledgement to her assessment of Pete Varlane, checking the rearview before he pulls the car out and away from the parking spot.

He shifts a glance to her when she asserts she should be anywhere near her former gaol companions, holding it a meaningful second before returning his eyes to the road. "No one trusts you, Odessa— you made that very clear. Rapport isn't trust, and prison isn't the real world."

The cut of the words doesn't carry the same weight behind them that his outburst did, if it's any consolation.

And neither does Ace leave her hanging when she reaches out to him, no abuse in the form of neglect. He shifts in his seat, driving only with his left hand now. His right elbow comes to rest on the soft surface of the center console, hand on his thigh. "Not my face or my neck. I'm driving. Otherwise, yes."

“Then he thinks I trust him,” Odessa corrects herself with a sneer. “Which can be just as valuable.” In some ways, she does trust Pete Varlane. It’s just that those things she trusts him with tend to be things like that he will bury me given the first sign that it’s advantageous to him. “He’s wearing his own mask now. I’ve seen him without it. I can read him.”

Still, that’s as far as she’s willing to push the point. “Use me to your advantage… or don’t. That’s your choice.” He doesn’t need to make that decision now.

When he grants permission to her, she resumes to reach across. Her finger traces in the air just shy of his cheek before instead coming to settle on his shoulder, then slowly glide down the length of his arm until it settles at his elbow, for now. Firmly, her thumb strokes over the bend of it, felt through the fabric of his suit.

“I meant every word I said about you. How I admire you. How I think you are simply marvelous.” There’s no beguiling here. What she says is delivered as matter-of-fact, not given in a purr. “You remind me of a part of myself that was missing. Do not mistake my flattery of d’Sarthe for…” She pauses a moment to decide on the right word. “For a diminishing of my esteem for you. In this matter, please… Never doubt.”

Continuing to reach for Ace precisely where he'd directed her not to does Odessa no favors in terms of his mood. As soon as she enters a range he deems too close, his head turns away from her, irritation flaring within and manifesting in a twitch of his brows.

It's a moment he would engage his ability to avoid the undesired contact— but he cannot. Not now. Not with the steering wheel under his hand, his foot on the pedal.

He doesn't look her way again.

"I don't." Ace replies nonetheless, words clipped. He's adamant in that tense, the one that insists his lack of doubt is current and not future. His bruised ego sees no salve by her words, though— at least not at all yet. He keeps his eyes ahead, lies to himself that his mood is even though it's still tinged with sour. "And I meant what I said about the risk of socialization with the other jailbirds as well. How separate is safer, smarter."

"I want the best for you," he clarifies. "And Pete Varlane does not remotely qualify. What he does for the Group isn't a mystery to me, although what else he means to do…"

Well, that's different.

"I'll consider it," Ace finally concedes regarding her weaponization against her former prisoners-in-arms.

There’s an inward cursing of herself for pressing her luck. She should’ve known he was in too bitter a mood for that to pay off. It’s all fine for him to do the same to her, but the rules are always different when the roles are reversed. She realizes she can’t differentiate whether the flare of irritation is her own, or his. It’s a problem.

She turns finally, hand lifting from his arm just long enough to pull on her seatbelt while she shifts her stare forward at the road ahead. “You didn’t like what I said,” she circles around back to, like she can’t just leave well enough alone. “When I told him my story. It’s all in my past now. Why does it bother you so? It wasn’t yours to endure.”

No, it wasn't.

Conflict plays out under his skin, even if it doesn't manifest physically. The most he does is shift his weight in his seat, attempting to get more comfortable while he considers how to word his reply. After settling again, Ace narrows his eyes a touch at the road ahead, turning his face toward Odessa just slightly as he lets the car pull through a right turn.

Had his feelings made themself manifest in that room? He didn't think so. No— he was almost certain.

But it wouldn't have been the first time he made an error influenced by the presence of Odessa Price.

"There are so many parts of it to not like." It boils down to something that simple, at least to him. "The manipulations you went through— the tiers of them— I'm not saying I sympathize or empathize, because I have nothing similar to draw from, but neither does that preclude me from not liking hearing about the mistakes you made." The arm under her hand lifts as he explains, "You justified them beautifully, of course. You made him believe he was seeing the real you, and it was a joy to witness. However…"

Now his eyes finally do return to look at her. They both knew what had been on display wasn't the real truth, or at least, not all of it.

Looking away again, two fingers lift off of the steering wheel in addition to his placating gesture. "I know we would not have met if not for the way things played out. For the universe to align just so— for you to be in place to inspire me, and for us to have crossed paths again— but I reserve the right to loathe your circumstance."

No apology for it, not even the pretense of one.

"We're getting Chinese for lunch," Ace offers up abruptly, a bristle of irritation still in him for having been made to justify himself.

“You mean you—”

Abruptly, Odessa closes her mouth around the words she nearly said. “Just— Give me a moment,” she breathes out, as though it required exertion on her part. She closes her eyes then and sags back against the seat as she closes off her empathic sense. “I’m reflecting what you’re giving me,” she explains, however vaguely. There’s a note of apology that goes along with it.

After a moment to catch her breath, she lifts her head from the seatback and opens her eyes again. “Take out? Or have you decided I can be seen in public?” There’s no hidden barb in there, no undercurrent of cynicism. She understands what her circumstance is, and how she has to be mindful of how it reflects on him. Preserving his reputation is paramount.

And it’s better than asking him if he really means that he loathes the fact that she loved someone else enough to let Ace walk away from her.

"It's a d'Sarthe Group establishment," is how Ace waves her very valid concern away. Though…

The direction they're heading, as far as she knows, it shouldn't be that way at all. The Rookery was filled with establishments owned by competitors, or at least, it had been. He navigates the car through a narrow alley, leading to a service road behind several storefronts. Private parking opens up on either side of the cramped alleyway at intervals, and when a yard of free space makes itself present, Ace pulls in there.

He wasn't going to be parking in a spot where it was easy to deface his vehicle. Or, a spot where many people could see him and Odessa carry out their business together.

Ace looks up at the loading dock for the restaurant they've pulled up behind, head dipping a moment to survey for anything he deems out of the ordinary, and finds nothing suspect among the few men milling around behind the restaurant. It leaves him free to turn to Odessa and consider her fully, letting the car idle in park. His hand moves off the steering wheel, coming to rest at the crook of Odessa's arm much how she'd done the same with him minutes prior.

"Do I owe you an apology?" he wonders, brow lifting. If he does, what specifically for might just be beyond him. But he's aware enough, at least, that what he's last said has affected her in some way.

“No,” Odessa is quick to assure. “Of course not.” But she doesn’t turn to look at him, either. And if anything, she’s only grown more tense under the touch of his hand on her arm. She’s busy looking out the windows, trying to spy something familiar. Or, rather, something that will shake the familiarity and tell her that things aren’t what she thinks they are.

“This isn’t the right neighborhood,” she tells him. She knows Staten Island. Well, she did over a year ago. Can that much have really changed? (She knows the answer to that is yes, now that she’s seen it in the light of day.) Geographically, sure, but has the landscape of who owns what territory changed that dramatically?

Slowly, Odessa looks at Ace first from the corner of her eye, then turns her head partway. “Should I be afraid of you?”


This comes from Ace quietly, instantly, and emphatically besides. It's an answer given looking her directly in the eye. His thumb brushes the inside of her elbow before he lets go entirely, sitting more upright but still turned toward her with full interest. "Especially not now."

"I haven't lost my interest in you. It will just take me time to develop the amount of trust you require of me." His chin lifts a touch. "But we're working on that, like we're working on so many other things." Now he finally looks away, back to the building they're behind. The brickwork on the building is new in many places, making it hard to tell at a glance what it belonged to in the first place. Signage being for the storefront makes it additionally difficult to tell.

"We acquired this block shortly after your arrest. The restaurant took some time to renovate after the fire it suffered under its previous ownership…"

And it must have been some fire to require such extensive work.

"But we're back to business as usual, just under a new set of eyes and owners, now. Have you ever eaten at the Nuojin He Jia?" he wonders of her. "We've tried to keep the menu more or less the same."

Maybe the question was foolish, but Odessa likes to believe she knows Ace well enough (ha!) to take him at his word on this one. If only because she suspects he would delight in her fear if it’s what he wanted from her. But she’s seen him when he hasn’t wanted her fear as well. This… feels more like that, though she can’t pinpoint why.

Still, it does nothing to ease her tension.

When he talks about the building — the fire, the change of ownership — she at least starts to allow herself to believe that they really are just going to have lunch together. Like the kind of people they’re both pretending to be do.

The talk of the restaurant’s menu brings a small smile to Odessa’s lips, but it doesn’t bring any light to her eyes. “Then I suppose I’ll be having the kung pao chicken.” Yes, she’s eaten here before.

The smile fades and she fixes him with a pensive expression, considering what she needs to say to him next, and how it needs to be said. “Affection would help,” is what she decides on, and further elaborates, “I could feel your anger before we left that office. It’s hard for me to shake off.”

Ace tilts his head just slightly in reaction to her suggestion, seeming surprised about the change in her reply to him. No apology required, but instead affection. His brow lifts while he thinks that over, expression milding when she explains her discomfort. "I forgot I can't hide my heart from you," he admits at a leisurely slow pace. "That you hear what lies under my words just as much as them themselves."

He settles back into his own seat for a moment, thumbing the engine off instead of letting it idle. Ace looks ahead for only a moment before he rotates his forearm out, elbow still perched on the center console.

He holds his hand out for hers, palm upturned. "Jealousy got the better of me. I'll do… better." Taking her hand, he curls her fingers to his mouth, pressing his lips to the backs of her knuckles. He doesn't smile, but his grip firms comfortingly around hers. "Do you have an appetite or should we get takeout?"

Her smaller hand settles into the one he offers her, long, slender fingers curling loosely. “There is nothing for you to be jealous of,” Odessa insists in a soft voice, her eyes half lidding with pleasure at the brush of lips on the back of her hand. “I am yours.

She smiles then, finally feeling the tension uncoiling from her shoulders, the knots in her stomach untie. “I would like to do something as profoundly mundane as have lunch in a restaurant with a man I admire.” Without fear of who she may be seen by. “You have no idea what a privilege this is.”

The light in Ace's eyes shift when she reassures him. It would seem he takes her at her word in this moment, gaze shifting back to her with the barest of nods. No words follow, his acceptance of this reality silent and content.

His hand slips from hers as he opens the door, pushing to his feet. The men loitering behind the back of the shop receive acknowledgement from him in the form of an incline of his chin while he rebuttons his coat, then he circles around to the front of the car, waiting for Odessa to join him.

He offers her his elbow while they walk up the stone steps beside the loading ramp. "Let's indulge ourselves a little, then," Ace remarks in an aside, a bold flint in his voice. He pauses before the door, waiting for it to be opened by one of the men standing guard before he heads back into a back-office hallway still smelling of fresh paint and drywall. Doors to other rooms are all closed, but Ace winds around the corner to lean into an open one on the left side of the hall, taking them into the storeroom for the restaurant.

Tongue pressing against the back of his teeth, he considers something briefly, but presses on in his stroll into the kitchen anyway, Odessa at his side. Ignoring the cookstaff as they in turn place a blind eye toward his presence, he makes his way and parts the hanging curtain of beads between the kitchen before stepping out into the restaurant proper. A curt nod is given to a waiter who steps out of their path, and then Ace gestures to the booth closest to them, the tall back of it and the etched glass privacy screen between it and the booth next to it providing enough screen between them and the rest of the patrons.

"After you," he directs her in seating, standing on the side of the table that would put him in the position to be seen in partial view by other patrons. Ace glances past her to see just how many people there were in the restaurant. Even at noon, relatively few, which in this case worked in their favor.

One of the few benefits to eating at an establishment that served as a front.

By the time she’s sliding out of her seat and out of the car, closing the door behind her and double-checking to make sure the vehicle’s locked before she moves around the front to join her partner, she’s reaching out again with her empathic senses. His offered arm is taken graciously, looking for all the world as if she’s a woman used to such chivalry. (She isn’t.) That Ace is unbothered by those milling about means that she by extension finds herself entirely unconcerned. Her chin is held high and she does no more than let her gaze pass over the men they have to walk past.

It feels like there’s a buzzing in her head by the time they reach the kitchen, however. One that causes her to grip Ace’s arm subtly tighter. It’s eased again some by the time they enter the dining area and she takes her seat when and where he directs her. That she has her back to the rest of the restaurant isn’t lost on her.

The little ripples of emotion from the other patrons are allowed to glide across her shores, and Odessa stares blankly ahead at the space Ace will be occupying across from her as she goes through the gamut of each sensation. She’s feeling for any notions of surprise, anger, or fear that might accompany their arrival. Anything above and beyond the cool disdain or mild unease she could recognize as they made their way through the kitchen.

Her focus doesn’t shift to acknowledge him when he takes his seat.

No strong surprise rises to meet Odessa's open senses— just interest. Idle wonderings, one set of eyes more keenly on them than the rest, but there's no strong sense of shift that would accompany recognition.

There's eyes on them, but none that know what to do with the visual information they're presented with before Odessa finds her seat.

Ace shrugs out of his coat, slinging it across his side of the booth with a flick of his hand. The way it lands is smooth, but not careless. He adjusts it with one hand, folding it over before he looks up. His eyes catch on the simple, thin vase flush with the wall— a single bloom of carnation, white with pink stains and bloodred tips. It's regarded with a momentary lift of his brow, a flicker of appreciation for what it does to the space before he lets his gaze move on to Odessa.

He settles upon seeing her, relaxing, for all that he still holds a certain tension, keeping an eye out for anyone that might recognize her. This is still Staten, and Odessa's a free woman besides, but he let his guard down once before and walked them directly into a trap.

He's keen on not doing that again.

That his anxiety regarding that will lessen considerably once they meet this changer of faces is a thought that passes over his mind, one that goes unspoken. After all, they're here to enjoy themselves. No need to darken the conversation like that. When the waiter approaches, feeling he's waited a respectful enough amount of time, Ace doesn't bother with a menu— a simple but dismissive gesture made to wave off an attempt to offer it to him. "Water. Dumplings, pan-fried."

He shifts his gaze to Odessa then, chin lifting in silence to prompt her to provide her starters.

Odessa seems startled from her reverie, blinking hard once before she actually seems to register and see Ace across from her, looking at her expectantly. Her expression remains blank for a moment longer before she seems to come back to herself, turning to look up at their waiter with a smile. “Cherry cola?” she starts with, feeling a little juvenile about the order, but it’s not like she had the option where she’s been. “And egg roll— No. Crab rangoon. — Wait. No.”

She casts a look back to Ace, letting her smile shift from something polite to giddy. “Both?” she asks, without waiting for permission. She tells the waiter, “Both. Please.” When the waiter has departed again, Odessa lets out a breathless little laugh, but it doesn’t last long. She tips her head down into her left hand suddenly, her elbow propping on the table, fingers massaging at her creased brow.

“Nobody seems to have recognized me,” she tells him with a sense of certainty. “Just you.” There’s a throbbing that’s settling in behind her eyes, but there’s at least one sensation that seems to be focused at them, and it keeps her from shutting down just yet. “You don’t have an ex hanging around here that I should be worried about, do you?” She’s joking, but also kind of not.

It's Odessa's indecision that drives a shift under Ace's skin, one at odds with itself. He finds her exploration of the options curious, but not endearing. He's only passingly familiar with the lack of options available to one in prison, and just how terrible they can be, but time has nulled his particular appreciation for her exercising her freedom of choice.

He just takes it in, letting it continue to mold additional color into his image of her. It's one put in additional contrast with her reaction after the waiter leaves. Despite himself, his eyeing of her is one that sharpens, wondering at the source of her difficulty.

She seems unwell, somehow, and he mislikes that.

The question from her draws a quiet chuckle from him despite that, and he shakes his head. "No," he clarifies easily, and with traces of amusement. "No, no previous trysts that might try to seek me out…" Ace pauses shy of moving onto the question he wanted to ask, shifting instead to follow the course of current conversation. "Are there others of yours that we should concern ourselves with?"

“No,” is her own quick assurance. “Certainly not around here.” If she’d been thinking more clearly, she’d have simply left it at the monosyllabic negative. Not given him room to ponder on the fact that she might have an ex-lover to be concerned about elsewhere. “And don’t be so cross with me just because I’m—”

There’s a sense of anger in this place that’s coloring her emotions. Fear and horror and — “How many people died here?” she asks in a hushed tone, gaze lifted to study his face from beneath the furrow of her brows and the cradle of her fingers. The question is withdrawn in short order. “Don’t answer that.” The answer is enough.

“I feel like someone is watching you,” is the pertinent information here. “I’d like to know if you’re concerned about it, or if I can let this go.”

There are a number of things curious about Odessa's reply, all layered together unevenly. Her history, this place's history, and finally, its present all in one swift sweep of splintered storytelling. The susurrus of the subtext— the secret in the shale— is what shatters his previous emotional state, shunting it all down into a single pinprick of fascination.

It finds a mirror in his expression, his elbows coming to rest on the table along with languidly-folded arms, head cocking at her. Ace should likely be concerned, but he isn't.

He's positively curious.

"Me?" he asks in a perfectly conversational tone. Perhaps he's flattered. "How certain are we, now?"

Unconcerned then,” Odessa offers her assessment with a hint of exasperation in her voice. Still, she makes a show of sitting up straight again, her head tipped back and to one side slightly, level stare fixed on him as she steels herself.

Her gaze goes unfocused as she lets out a heavy exhale, pushing her senses out and beyond her further, but also nudging slightly in each direction, waiting to feel the ripples that come back to her, ascertaining intent and direction.

From where he’s sitting, she may as well be zoning out and trying to place the music piped in from overhead. Except for the twitches of effort he can see in her brow and the way her eyes pan off in one direction, then start to track their way back to the opposite corner, like she’s scanning the horizon.

It's when Odessa starts to turn, her face a homing beacon, that he follows where her eyesight begins to turn. His curiosity becomes something sharper and searching, seeking out physically the thing she's seeking out with her senses. He catches sight of someone looking their way plainly before quickly turning back to his meal and his conversation partner, a spike of nervousness rising in him.

Ace's eyes half-lid, maintaining that stare toward the other man for a long moment in a gesture of deterrence.

"Unconcerned," he confirms with a certain flatness. "Likely watching out of a sense of jealousy, if I had to guess."

Whoever it is is known to him, it'd seem.

He looks back to Odessa abruptly, her figure of focus slamming back firmly to being his singular attention. "I suppose I shouldn't find it surprising you can see what you do without looking directly at someone, and yet."

“They’re nervous,” she tells him, still not seeing him just yet. Her focus is forming a narrow band that encompasses that spike of emotion. It sees it concentrated in her, mirrored in her own expression in a way she forgets to hide from her partner. “I know jealousy, and that isn’t it.” She hasn’t even turned to look at the subject. In some ways, it helps not to. Faces, posture, body language, those things all lie. By not looking into any of those things, she can’t be fooled.

She hasn’t given the subject a gender yet, either, further cementing that she hasn’t yet determined who so much as what.

Odessa swallows tightly, the emotional wavelength she’s zeroed in on becoming indistinguishable from her own. “Is this normal when you go out?” After all, he’s said he’s unconcerned. Once he provides further explanation, she may allow herself to be as well. Until then, he’s a potential victim of his own arrogance.

Nervous? Ace seems again surprised, but not disappointed by this reaction, his own emotional state a purring calm. What finally sends the slightest ripple through him is Odessa's reaction to it all, leading him to shift the fold of his arms to take her hand in his own.

"Not everyone views my presence as a promise of safety to themselves," he concedes in a quieter voice, thumb brushing over her knuckles. "So, perhaps it is normal. I don't concern myself with it overmuch." Ace notes with an easy slow, "But it seems it's of concern to you, so."

How to ease her nerves? "It doesn't affect me unless it needs addressed." Ace says with the slightest lean toward her. "People, after all, have all kinds of thoughts in their head every single day… but few act on the darkest of them." His head tilts thoughtfully at that, eyes not breaking from hers.

Odessa’s gaze slowly shifts to focus on Ace when he takes her hand and leans forward to address her and her concerns directly. It’s like adjusting the viewfinder of her old Kodak. The edges of him are fuzzy at first, but then the details begin to come into relief.

Her senses contract, drawing back in toward herself in a way that sees that anxiety ebbing away. She could be content at that, but instead, she concentrates on him. It’s as though she can feel her power unwinding from a comfortable coil around her neck to slither down the length of her arm, wrap around the place where the two of them are joined and start to siphon the emotion from him.

The change in her is instant. With only the space it takes to draw breath, the light comes back to Odessa’s eyes and she slants a grin across the table to the man whose hand she now holds in return. She mirrors him now for poise, composition, calm.

We happy few,” she muses on dark desires, and their propensity toward indulging them.

There she is. She's come back to him. He's grounded her with that touch.

It's useful information he files away for later, a knifelike grin cutting his face in the meantime.

"Why concern yourself with what others feel to begin with?" Ace wonders with that same airy lightness, the touch to the back of her hand featherlight while he still offers his palm up into hers as an anchor.

Why indeed? Everything had been so much simpler when she hadn’t been forced to concern herself with the emotions of others. This ability of hers truly is her own personal kind of hell. “Because it’s advantageous,” is what Odessa decides on for the explanation. Her middle finger curls against his palm, tracing the line from his wrist, curving gently to his first finger.

“It’s important to understand what motivates men. What desires lurk in their hearts.” Her eyes don’t leave his, her own grin sharpening. “A man can smile at you and say the sweetest things while hiding a knife behind his back.”

One brow quirks at that. Sound like anyone you know?

“Everyone hides behind a mask,” Odessa murmurs, “but I can see through the cracks to the true face.”

And accordingly, through those cracks, she sees Ace's eyes narrow, wondering about her ability and the way she sells it. He turns from her only when their drinks arrive, hand retrieved when he sees their appetizers have also been brought.

"A moment," he requests of the waiter, brushing them away with a wave of his hand. The conversation between him and Odessa is more important.

"You need not even see someone to see under their mask though," Ace points out, this now a game of its own, the irrelevance of the once-busybody summarily forgotten. "And that is a fancy trick."

But annoying. He's not blind, after all. He's started to piece it together.

"What is it you do? Crawl right inside to get your look?"

With her hand released, Odessa leans back into her seat again. For all the world, she seems supremely comfortable in her own skin in this moment. One foot slips out of her silver heel and stretches across to rest on the opposite seat, next to his thigh, but not touching.

Her lower lip is captured between her teeth as she feels the shift of his emotions under his skin. She’s given away too much, but it’s a game now, and so she can forgive herself. Trust for trust.

“Nothing so sordid as that, darling.” Blue eyes glance down briefly, as though she can see through the table to where she gently brushes against the outside of his thigh. “I’m not a telepath.”

That truly would be hell. Of this, she’s certain.

Ace frowns at that. Would it? He gives little time to the thought, snapping apart disposable chopsticks to snare himself a gyoza. The end of it is nipped off, making the rest of the dumpling a self-contained pocket the provided sauce can drip through as he dips it through the provided ramekin. "No, you're not. You're far more interesting than that."

She knows just how to distract him away from pressing too deeply at the moment, as well. The dumpling is hot as it's tucked away, a sensation Ace weathers with a gentle stroke backward of his nails up the side of her leg, avoiding her feet directly. "Though this additional shade is new. I admit curiosity— just how much can you divine from the air itself, here?"

Thank you.” The drag of his nails is responded to with a lidding of her eyes, allowing him to see the enjoyment she gets from their proximity. But soon, the expression twists into something harsher. It’s the same look she wears when she’s in pain.

“There were people here when that fire happened,” she surmises. That might be simple or obvious enough to know, but she’s been cut off from the outside world and events in the previously lawless frontiers for so long. “Whatever it was must have happened out back. A fire on the dock?”

Dark brows form deeper furrows as she draws her senses in toward herself and simply listens for the echoes around her. She doesn’t have to reach to find them. They come to her all on their own, though they're much fainter from where she sits now. “There’s anger — so much anger — so I’m suspecting arson. But there’s also fear. Hints of sadness.”

Maybe none of those are impressive observations to him, but they’re truthful ones. Odessa opens her eyes again and looks across the table to judge his reaction. She doesn’t take her gaze away from him when she stretches out her arm to curl her fingers around the bottle of duck sauce near that beautiful carnation, bringing it to sit next to her appetizer plates in anticipation of its use. “Have I passed the audition?”

What exactly the fuck happened here isn't a question anyone still on Staten had the answer to, as far as Ace Callahan knows. It was like a vengeful ghost had assaulted the place before disappearing back into the night. Every fucking Triad member here had died New Year's Eve, up to and including Wai Ching Tsai, the devil he'd struck a bargain with.

A devil he leveraged as excuse when they first moved on this place. Tsai and d'Sarthe had struck a deal, he half-lied. Promises were made that will no longer be able to be delivered, and they would take what was due to them…

Ace's chin lifts as he lets the warmth of that particular wrangle of victory settle through him. A touch of a smile pulls at the corner of his mouth.

"Not just arson," he recalls aloud with that knowing smile playing at his lips. "Whoever it was shot their way through here first. Or maybe it was at the same time. The world we live in, and all…"

It's now that Ace taps the end of his chopsticks together to reassume a proper posture with them, using their ends to pull his plate closer. When Odessa poses her question, his green-greys meet her blues, the secret of her question causing his smile to persist and deepen.

A satisfied pleasure blooms in his chest, along with mischievous anticipation.

"Yes," Ace confesses with smooth contentment. "You have."

Odessa allows Ace’s pleasure to spread through her, his contentment to become her own. She basks in the glow of it for a moment, a smile slowly spreading across her face. Then she closes her eyes, sucks in a quick breath, as though bracing for something. Her shoulders tense, features draw tight.

Then, with the exhale, everything relaxes and Odessa is wholly herself again, cut off from her ability. Ace’s mood is a rapidly decaying echo felt in her breast, then gone.

Reaching up, she scrubs a hand over her face, hissing a curse when she comes away with lipstick on her palm. So out of practice is she, she’d forgotten she had been wearing any make-up at all. She turns toward the wall as she lifts her napkin to discreetly wipe at the edges of her mouth with the corner of it, cheeks flushed with embarrassment.

Seems as good a time as any to admit, “It’s not perfect.” A quick swipe of the ring finger of her left hand doesn’t come away with more color from her cheek, so she assumes she’s fixed the smudging. “It’s harder the more people are around. The more storied a location.”

Pulling her own plate toward her, Odessa first introduces a generous pool of duck sauce before picking up one half of her egg roll and dipping it. “You know you can ask me whatever you want,” she reminds him anyway with a glance in his direction that returns in short order to her plate. “So go ahead.”

It would be better if it did not cause her pain every time she drew on these extra senses of hers. Odessa's discomfort is only enjoyable when it's planned. These other times— it causes slips like the one she has when she uses touch to bring herself back down, upsetting the makeup she's applied to her.

At least she needs no direction, self-correcting in a heartbeat.

"I imagine this location in particular has its fair share of history," he muses offhandedly, eyes wandering away as he wonders about it all. The invitation to questions is one he seems less enthused about than normal, surrendering that topic with a shake of his head as he gets back to his food.

Not now, it'd seem. He's got enough to think about for the time being.

He instead circles back to topics they've already covered, but not finished on. "Have you decided on a name yet?"

That he seems content to let it be for now is something of a relief. But it’s better to provide at least the illusion of transparency, allow him to think she’ll tell him anything it is that he wants to know, and truthfully. When he turns down that opportunity, it’s his own choice to have her capabilities remain obscure, rather than her own obfuscation of them.

The smile that brings is kept entirely to herself, felt within her chest rather than seen on her face.

Chewing a bite of her egg roll carefully, savoring it, it gives her a moment for thoughtful consideration. “I thought maybe something that starts with O,” she begins. “A… tether to myself, I suppose.”

And she loves it when he uses that single initial to address her. It’s so simple, yet so personal. “That’s what I want,” she states plainly, lest he mistake what she says next as an inability to commit or make her own choices. “That said, I value your opinion. What do you think?”

Ace lets out another hum of absent thought, another dumpling snared and dipped. "I'm in favor of that idea. Perhaps keep both initials? Some stage name conventions involve a rearrangement of the letters of your name into something new. I don't think we'll find much suitable for you with that method, but…" He pauses to take a bite, leaning back in his seat and tapping the tips of his chopsticks together.

"My suggestion? Don't go wildly different just for the sake of it." He shifts a look back across the table. "Keep strains of familiarity. Keep it yours in however you best decide. If that's initials…" With a wave of his chopsticks, he decides, "Fine. If it's something else…"

“It should be something simple, shouldn’t it? Something similar enough to make the transition easier?” In truth, she finds inspiration from the threads of causality her mother could travel. There’s a spirit to it that Odessa would like to maintain. “I thought perhaps, for the surname…”

The egg roll is dipped again in sauce, another bite taken. A small one, so she doesn’t leave her thought hanging long. “Pride?” Odessa’s brows lift, seeking her partner’s opinion. His approval.

Ace takes a moment to savor the taste of the proposed name. "Pride." Slowly does he roll the idea around, though it's clear he's in favor of it— he'd have shot it down immediately otherwise. He's not the type to suffer something he mislikes for very long if it's anything he can control.

And Odessa is giving him oh so very much of that.

"Bold. Layered. And…" His last observation almost doesn't leave him, but he relents anyway with a ghost of a backward pull of his lips. "If I might say, rather close to home. For once, in a good way." And in this, he can be satisfied, even if the specifics of it he leaves for himself to reconfirm later. Instead, he looks back to her. "So that solves your family name. What about your given one?"

There’s a smile when he voices his agreement. “Saves me from having to alter my signature too much,” she quips, amusement in her eyes. But to the second part of that question, some of that amusement diminishes. “That one…” The given name, “I’m less sure about.”

The side of her foot brushes idly against his leg again, briefly enough that it might have been an accident. “Ophelia feels overwrought. And I’ve already gone the Shakespearian route with Desdemona, previously. Oksana is pretty enough. Olivia.” Some secret inside joke sees her chuckling quietly. “Ozma.” There would be no end to the teasing she’d endure from her brother if she’d choose that one.

Paper is torn from her straw finally, and she plunks it down in her drink before drawing it close to the edge of the table so she lean forward for a sip. “I don’t know,” Odessa shrugs her shoulders easily. “I’m all ears if you’ve got any suggestions.”

Of course he does.

"Octavia," comes from Ace first, a certain thought behind that suggestion. "Oriana. Olenna. Odette. Olwen…" His gaze wanders upward in his thought, and the brush against the side of his leg sees that his free hand returns to her calf. She'd asked for his affection, after all.
His brow furrows in thought, continuing down the list. "Odile," is a name he offers without particular emphasis. "Olympia," comes next, a bit more active thought put to it. Then he turns over another suggestion in his mind, fed by that last idea. He seems pleased with it, even if he's not shared it yet.

But it doesn't take long for him to do so— only after he's finished appreciating his own genius. Ace meets Odessa's eyes across the table. "Ourania," he pronounces, "daughter of the sky, was one of the great Muses. She was renown for her beauty, her music, and her attenuation to the heavens. She elevated mortal men devoted to her to 'godly heights'. She served as a guiding light."

He lifts the glass of water set before him, brows arching as he brings the glass to his lips. "If you want my suggestion…" that'd be it, it'd seem.

While he mulls over choices, she eats, a look of content on her face to just have this moment between them — this moment to herself — that feels like normal. Sure, they’re discussing changing her identity the way others might be discussing where to take a weekend trip, but she’s enjoying good food and the feeling of his hand caressing her leg through that layer of silk.

It’s like she hadn’t been scared of him earlier. How could she be? He says such beautiful things. “Ourania,” she repeats, testing the name on her tongue. “Ourania Pride…” He can see the smile in her eyes before it spreads across her face. “I think I like that.”

Odessa’s head tilts to one side and she toys with her bottom lip between her teeth briefly, expression coy. “Do you think that’s a name you’d like calling me?”

Ace meets Odessa's look with a knowing one of his own before he finally signals for the waiter to reapproach. "Well, as long as I still get to call you O…" he murmurs as a mischievous non-answer. This time, she doesn't get the verbal satisfaction of a direct reply. Instead, he squeezes her leg affectionately, and when the waiter comes back to them with a pad braced against the small drink tray, he lifts his chin to indicate she should go first.

"What will it be, Ourania?"

“Oh yes, please,” Odessa responds to the single initial moniker. And to the grasp of his hand. And just like that, it seems as though the matter is decided. She lifts her head and a bright smile that’s reflected in her eyes. “Kung pao chicken, please.”

She gestures back across the table. “Et toi?” She almost calls him Harry, but isn’t sure that’s the face he’s wearing at the moment, having not seen that one in action yet. Who is he among these people? If she had to judge by the earlier emotional reactions to their entrance, she’d say he’s certainly Ace Callahan.

"Sichuan pork," Ace directs for himself, no outward sign of warmth or courtesy for his part. The waiter, of course, returns Odessa's smile, signals a nod to Ace, and tells them both their meals will be out shortly before turning on a heel.

Once it's just the two of them alone again, Ace lifts his glass to her.

"To the future," he toasts them both, a smile making itself present again on him.

Odessa raises her own glass to agree and offer a minor adjustment. A little bit of assertion of her own, eyes sparkling as she returns his smile.

“To our future.”

Where once Ace would have balked at such a thing, his grin grows. It pulls back in one corner over the other, a knowing glint entering his eye as he cants his head.

"I'll drink to that."

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