Honest Women


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Scene Title Honest Women
Synopsis Bella and Odessa make offers and counter-offers to ensure each gets what they want. One of them is lying.
Date August 3, 2011

In Dreams

Staten Island: Bella and Odessa's Condo

Who'd have thought Staten Island would become the jewel of New York?  The sole citadel of law and order?  The only place where human beings are allowed to live like human beings- assuming they have the proper dispensation.

While it's never really clear to Bella anymore who it is she really answers to, the Department of Evolved Affairs or the Commonwealth Institute, but Dr. Sheridan has survived under many masters, and from the reinforced concrete of her luxury condominium - only one in a long line of realized nightmares - she senses that she's picked the right masters under which to survive.  Out there, people live like animals, huddled in shattered buildings and sleeping - Bella can only assume - in blast craters.  And while she feels nothing but sympathy for their plight - someone has to live well, if they have the option!

Moral ambiguity is, ultimately, easier to deal with when one's concern can be replaced by personal problems.  The drama of the day to day, the ever-pressing concerns of the psychological, do a better job even than her work at keeping her from worrying about a malady as common as hypocrisy.  She has people, after all.  People who need her.  And doesn't that testify to her essential goodness?  Doesn't love conquer all?

Love, then, moves Bella to worry over Odessa Price.  Having sensed, bloodhoundish, the whiff of Odessa's discontent, she confronted her at work; for her efforts she received deferral.  'Later,' she said.  And then again, in the bus. 'Later'.

Well, it's later now.

The moment the door is open, Bella moves over to one of the stools that lines the kitchen island, a slab of marble countertop that doubles as a bar.  The slim stems of wine glasses rise up like crystal tulips from the marble, read to be plucked.  Bella points to the fridge. "Riesling, then," she jabs her finger at the stool next to her, "sit.  And tell me what's on your mind."

Odessa almost makes a display of throwing deadbolts and fastening chains in the wake of Bella Sheridan's sweeping entrance. (She always sweeps when she makes an entrance. She'll deny it.) Stepping inside the condo, she unshoulders a bag, setting it next to the couch while her lady dear fetches glasses and wine. "How much are you comfortable knowing about?"

It's this dance they've played many times in the past. How much should one tell the other, to allow plausible deniability? Odessa has always been one with a voracious appetite for knowledge, and has always insisted upon full disclosure. She's smart enough to know that it doesn't always go both ways. It's been the better part of a decade since she's had to preface any of her troubles in this way, however. Odessa moves to retrieve the blue glass bottle from the fridge - a commodity most families in New York don't get to enjoy - after throwing her coat over the back of the couch.

If Bella sweeps, it's just because she's a self possessed woman of means.  You see, another excellent remedy for a murky conscience is to adopt an attitude of ferocious rectitude and seeming importance.  Motherhood, it appears, has granted her a sense of authority to match with her superiority (also sense of), and however sacred that office, it still serves as an excuse to prop up the status quo.

The irony is that, for all Odessa's openness and insistence, Bella still plays things close to the vest.  Further irony, too, that Bella presses Odessa for information in turn, and that makes her give her companion a skeptical look as she gives, once again, her preface.

"Your interior state is my business," Bella says, plucking one of the glass bulbs and lifting it, awaiting Odessa's service, "tell me everything going on in your head."

"Nosy bitch," Odessa teases fondly, dropping a kiss on Bella's cheek before pouring the Riesling. She can’t keep the preoccupied worry from her tone, however. She doesn't give away the reason for this until she’s secured her own rather generous glass of wine and taken her seat.

"Ray has found Ellie Bishop's son." Odessa's single blue eye settles on Bella’s face, gauging her immediate reaction to this news.

The tease is a concession, or so Bella figures, and in the wake of Odessa's kiss, she plants another of her own on the other woman's lips.  Positive reinforcement - taking all the way back to Skinner.  She lifts the glass of wine to her lips, but when Odessa opens her mouth and says what she says, Bella bumps the rim of the glass against her teeth instead of taking a drink, a small reaction of surprise that results in a brief but very painful experience.  She's unable to reply for a few moments, placing her glass back down quickly and pressing her forearm to her mouth, brow wrinkled.

In time the pain fades, but her brow doesn't clear.  She looks back at Odessa, frowning.  Her immediate question is: "Does that put you at any risk?"

"Not yet." Staring down into her wine, only once she's certain Bella hasn't somehow drawn blood, she gives in fully to the sense of melancholy she's been keeping at bay the entire workday. "But it may. I have to warn them. I can beat Ray and his retrievers there. Give them a head start."

That she won't look at Bella now isn't evidence of a lack of conviction that accompanies her choice. No matter how the woman chooses to pout, or fuss, or throw her hands up and argue logically about all the risks involved, Odessa won't be swayed.

"Zimmerman died to keep him safe. Ellie died to bring him life. I won't let their sacrifices be in vain, Bella." Odessa's throat is tight, it strains her words and makes her voice sound thinner. She takes another drink, willing it to relax her. "But I have something they both don't," she assures. The implication being the same as it always has been.

Odessa’s ability makes her superior.

Bella, however deep her insight, cannot know how unswayable Odessa is on this matter.  Even if she had a hint, she'd deny it.  Her sense of entitlement old as memory, she refuses to believe that a course of action she does not care for cannot be changed.

"Zimmerman died to keep you safe as much as that child," Bella interjects, and it's clear from the get go that she's opposed, "and that will be just as in vain if you do something to put yourself at risk," eyes narrowed, "I know that tone - don't you dare fail to consider what your safety means to me.  To Calvin!"

Odessa’s head snaps up in an instant. "Don't you dare," she warns. Her lips have come together so small, lines in her face from age and injury seem deeper when she’s angry. "Don't you ever insinuate I don't care for you or our boy ever again." Her fingers tighten around the glass and she forces herself to relinquish it, lest it shatter in her hand.

"You know I love you both. I will do anything for the two of you." But that isn't the issue here. It's a deflection. A tactic employed by Bella to get her way, and Odessa forces herself back on course. "All I have to do is get inside the safehouse and warn them. No one will ever know I was there. I can't let the Institute have her boy. I owe Ellie that much."

They could be living in a Ferry safehouse. Well, Bella and Calvin could be. Odessa knows she'll never be truly welcome in that fold again. "This can only help us, when we decide to…"

That decision has always been one Odessa's tried to make for them. But they've both grown accustomed to this life of relative luxury. This life of near stability. Not life off the grid, running constantly to avoid detection. It's a life she's offered a willingness to re-embrace, however. Every summer, there's a conversation about whether or not this is the year they'll take Calvin and run.

They never do.

"That boy doesn't deserve what Ray wants him for. I saw what they used to do to Ellie when we were only kids. You saw what it did to her. I can't let that happen to him."

"No- no no, not out there," Bella says, pointing towards her window which, like most windows that aren't hemmed by buildings or pointed at the open oceans, frames a pretty bleak vista.  This argument is old, and Bella continues to hold the final conservative say.  Whose womb, after all? "No way in hell.  Given my choice between maniacs, I keep my son with the maniacs behind walls.  Odessa-"

Bella's voice changes pitch, and she attempts to sound less emotion and more 'reasonable'.  But she still sounds like a staunch opponent of those kind of heroics. "Send a message somehow.  Something discreet.  But don't you dare go out there," again with the point and the dire emphasis, like a Puritan evoking the woods - there the devil lives - "for all you know they'll take you hostage.  You've cut your ties with those people- all right?  Send a message, but don't you leave me alone!"

Odessa reaches to capture Bella's face in her hands, brushing her thumbs over her lover's cheekbones. "You and Cal' are never alone, sweetheart…" She smiles in an attempt to be reassuring. "I haven't failed you yet, have I? I'm not about to break my streak. I don't think I could handle you holding out on me." Trying to sound sly. Now who's deflecting?

"The Ferry won't touch me. I've got Julie and Harrison to champion me." Insistent. She's made this argument before. "You have to realise, I don't know who I can trust. I don't know who leaked the information to Ray in the first place." The only person Odessa believes she can trust is herself. And her family, of course. "I'll take every precaution. Going myself is a last resort, I promise."

What she doesn't say is that she’s already exhausted her other options.

Bella's mouth is a curve lined of displeasure, and all Odessa's touches and deflections do little to clear her thunderous brow.  She is not happy.  Not happy at all.  The wine she demanded remains untouched, and Bella's folded arms show no sign of unfolding to alter that condition.

"Your continued survival attests to your successes," Bella says, formality of speech taken in favor of coldness of tone - she doesn't want to be angry, not if she can help it, as being angry doesn't help, but as she's not managing aloofness she must compensate with a tinge of petulance, "but you only have to have it go wrong once."

Odessa withdraws. Not just her hands, but completely, reaching for her drink after sliding off her bar stool so she can pace the space between kitchen and living area. She knows all too well that it only takes one misstep. That lesson cost her an eye. (And her life as well, depending upon which version of events you’re most fond of.) "This isn't about us," she says quietly. "It isn't about… proving anything, either. Not to the Ferry or to myself. It's about that kid, Bella. If it were Calvin, you know you'd want someone to do the same for you."

She keeps her back to her, one arm wrapped around her midsection, the opposite elbow resting against her wrist with her glass held aloft. "I'm not… I don't intend…" A heavy sigh escapes Odessa's lips as she turns to look over her shoulder. "I love you." Three words she peppers frequently into her arguments when she's asking permission for something.

Can't we please convert the third bedroom into a workspace? I love you.

I know it's three hundred dollars a bottle, but it's the good stuff! I love you.

It's just the bathroom. You'll get used to the yellow walls, I promise. I love you.

Can't I please just go risk my life for this child two people have already died for? I love you.

Yes but it's not Calvin, Bella wants to say, it's not, and so she doesn't give a shit about comparisons or absolute principles.  She cares about here and now, her and she, near and dear.  She can't give one damn about the Bishop kid.

There is resentment in Bella's look as Odessa recedes into the living space, and she doesn't leave her perch to give chase.  It only seems to deepen upon Odessa's profession.  It's not that she doesn't believe, doesn't care or doesn't feel the same way.  It's that love proves terrifically inconvenient more often than not, and would be a thing to get by without if it were a thing one could get by without.

"And I love you," she grants, and with the openness of tone that means some kind of caveat is coming.  Sure enough:

"But if this goes awry- if you- if you die on us, Odessa Price," something she has, as just mentioned, come nekyia-esque close to before, "do not expect me to forgive you."

"If you forgave me, you wouldn't be my Bella," Odessa retorts with a small smile. She turns back then and approaches the counter once more, setting her glass down in favour of wrapping her arms around her… Bella.

"You and Cal' always come first," she insists. "I won't do anything to jeopardise you." Odessa drops a kiss along Bella's jaw, then a second closer to the shell of her ear. "You know, we could just run off to Vegas and get married." People still do that, don't they? Surely they must. If people can't still run away to Las Vegas and make very bad decisions that result in bands of gold around fingers - sometimes with diamonds - then the world isn't even worth saving, is it?

"If I get married it will be before a justice of the peace, not an Elvis impersonator," Bella says, with a tartness that is, at least, trying to be funny, "I'd want to convey my disrespect for the institution without cost to my own dignity.

"Anyways, is there even a Vegas left?" Bella sounds a little distracted at this last comment, because Odessa is kissing her, is being sweet, and Bella has never found it easy to shrug off regard when it's offered so openly.

And so with a spoon full of sugar, Bella accepts with only some residual, medicinal bitterness the assurance that she is first and best, and that that must be enough.  Hands on Odessa's waist, then linking at the small of her back, she answers the embrace, thumbnails picking at the weave of her sweater as she tilts her head and wordlessly solicits Odessa's affection.

"Would you hyphenate?" Odessa teases before pressing her lips to Bella's, answering that request for attention. Affection. Same difference. "Bella Sheridan-Price has a lovely ring to it, don't you think?" She's joked about getting married before, but it's never been more than that.

The only way she even got this gravy deal is because Bella's - let's call him gentleman caller - had to go and get himself thrown in prison for a crime he didn't even commit. For some girl he maybe used to sleep with? Odessa's always been a little fuzzy on the details, but was more than happy to fill the void. And to have the void in her own life filled in return.

Who knew that a woman raised with no family would discover how important it is to her?

The point is, Odessa's never felt confident in her position as favoured first. It's what kept her from asking to make their partnership (that's what this is) official with words and papers and trinkets or baubles. That sort of thing.

"Oh Lord-" Bella intones, smiling in and through the kiss, having the good grace to reciprocate (once she's good and ready, of course) "all this talk of matrimony.  It's like you're trying to hasten lesbian bed death."

A running if slightly snide and frankly sort of obscure joke, this.  According to certain outdated research lesbian relationships had some of the worst sexual frequency figures, declining rapidly with the duration of a relationship; a product, it was postulated, of so many women never learning what they want, nor how to ask for it.  Though maybe more a product of researchers in the 80's having rather narrow definition of 'sex'.

Bella has very little trouble asking for what she wants, however.  And will go to some lengths to get it. "Are you saying you'd give it up, though, if I did?  A hyphen in exchange for- what's his name?  Roger?"

"Robert," Odessa corrects, tone just the other side of sharp. "And… maybe." She nuzzles against the other woman's neck, breathing in the lingering scent of her shampoo in her hair. "Would you give up Flint?" The scenarios are different, but they both feel threatened by a male presence of significance in the other's life.

Drawing back, Odessa watches Bella's face curiously. "Or, you know, Odessa Sheridan doesn't sound so bad, I suppose."

"A somewhat less ugly name," Bella half drawls, not about to quail from Odessa's displeasure at her mistake when she feels she's still got the high ground here.  The nuzzle is still well received, at least until Odessa brings up Flint Deckard.  If Odessa hadn't drawn back, she might have found herself pushed.  Gently, but firmly.  So Bella has room to give her partner a skeptical look.

"What, you think I'm waiting for him to make an honest woman out of me?" Incredulous doesn't quite do justice.

"If that's your price, Price, then fine.  I'll make an appointment at the civic center," if Bella's bluffing, she gives no tells, "just give up the kid.  Let whoever is taking care of him take care of him, like they have been for these past howevermany years."

That uncovered eye goes wide, and Odessa’s jaw drops open. "Are you serious?" Of course she’s serious, or she wouldn’t have said it. But whether or not Bella’s lying or not is an entirely different matter. She's not joking, at any rate.

"You realise I'm going to get a kick out of telling everyone that you're my wife, don't you?" Odessa barely pauses for breath before she informs her apparent to-be, "And you're wearing a dress. Maybe not white. I mean, you're no honest woman. But ivory should suffice."

A joke need not be unserious, or untrue.  Bella doesn't seem as obviously worked up about this - her attitude towards marriage, even when just proposed (to?) remains staunchly blasé.  Her ginger brows edge up her forehead as Odessa begins making plans.

"Did I agree to a ceremony?  Because it sounds like you're suggesting a ceremony.  And I'm not wearing a dress, my dear.  I will wear a tuxedo if you insist on such trappings.  You may, of course, wear whatever you like.

"And you may tell people whatever you please, as long as you know I'm going to tell them it was a shotgun wedding over baby daddy drama." Which is, from a certain viewing angle, not untrue.

"Oooh. I like it your way better." She almost always does. "It doesn't have to be a ceremony, as such. I just, you know, think we should get dressed up. And, darling, it's been ten years. There's very little shotgun about this." Odessa leans in before there can be a protest so she can kiss her fiancée(?).

Then she takes on an almost critical look. "Oh, but don't you think we should wait until Cal's home for the summer? His mum in a tux. He'd be so upset if I let him miss this."

"There's very little at all to this," Bella says, her snarkiness fading into softness in the face of Odessa's excitement and the wake of her kiss "you're here.  You've been here.  All this time.  What we have is what we have.  Marriage is a formality."

A small smile. "So I suppose that means we can dress formally."

Consideration, now, and maybe a little apprehension. "I suppose we should wait.  But that does not give you leave until summer to get involved with those people again.  This is conditional, Odessa.  You see this out.  You stay with me."

"Of course, darling," Odessa lies through her perfectly straight, pearly white teeth. She has no intention of backing down from her decision. She'll go, and she'll warn the Ferry, and maybe get the chance to lay eyes on Ellie's son. Because Odessa controls time itself, damn it. No one will be the wiser.

Least of all her pretty little wife.

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