ace3_icon.gif odessa3_icon.gif

Scene Title Inset
Synopsis n. A small scene set inside a larger one.
Date February 20, 2021

The folder hits the table in front of her with a slap that feels like a gunshot after fifteen minutes left alone without so much as a ticking clock to break the silence. There’s a buzzing that follows, like a failing light, a tinnitus whine that makes everything said to her an indistinct susurrus, lacking in anything but vague intent. She understands what’s happening here, even if she isn’t processing the exact words spoken. Or maybe she just doesn’t remember the words later, so the sharpness of the moment is lost to time.

Lost to time. That’s a good one.


A snoop has been found, of course she’s being questioned. The man who stares up at her from a photograph, captured by a security camera, sits in a room much like she is now. Maybe even this very one, but hours earlier. A day? She studies the man’s face because she’s told to. His blonde hair is close cropped, the color of his eyes isn’t much different from her own, but that’s where the similarities between the two begin and end. He isn’t much younger than her, but probably younger than she was when she first struck out on her own, away from the controlling interests of the Company. Maybe he’s five years her junior.

At their age, that’s a lifetime.

Her gaze lifts from the man’s picture, meeting the expectant one leveled on her. She shakes her head. While his purpose here is one she can guess at, and his point of entry possibly something she inadvertently aided through a chat with one of the small cohort of malcontents who’ll speak to her, his is not a face known to her. His name is nothing she can conjure either. There’s a satisfaction to be found in the fact that someone managed to slip past their restrictive security. There’s pity for the man that he was caught. If he’s like her — like she used to be — he may be fortunate enough to be invited to stay. She doesn’t expect he’ll be so lucky.

Whatever fate awaits him, Odessa does not envy it. There’s still a chance that his transgression will lead to a bullet for her; a variable removed from the equation. She has to try and assert her innocence and hope for the best.

“Sorry. You’ll have to look elsewhere for red hands.” She lifts hers from the table, showing her palms, the backs, and the palms again with a pivot of her wrists. “Mine are clean on this one.”

Ten Years Later…

Williamsburg: Ace and Odessa’s Brownstone
February 20, 2021
1:02 AM

The glitz and glamour of the evening has been left behind in her dressing room, traded for a grey wool skirt and a mustard yellow cardigan over an ivory blouse. Sometimes she wonders when she adopted this subdued and tasteful style as her own, rather than simply maintain it as a disguise.

Seated on the bench with her back to her piano, elbows resting on the lid over the keys in her comfortable recline, she stares up at her partner, shaking her head. “I don’t know, you two seemed familiar.” A smirk of amusement sneaks its way onto her face. “Don’t think I didn’t notice. You were flirting.” And she is deflecting.

"I was, wasn't I?"

Ace laughs, because for him, there's aught else to do at that realization. He collapses back into a lounging sit across the couch in front of the fireplace, back to the far armrest, left arm lazed across the framed back of it while one leg tents on the cushions, the other left to repose draped down to the floor. He's loosened his tie since they've come home, doffed his jacket, but changed little else about the vestments he saw himself through the day with.

Just his mask has slipped with the shrugging off of his coat, his grin worn a little less closely to his chest now that they're home. "I appreciate that one more than most. I wanted him to feel comfortable, so I suppose I returned some of the energy I felt from him. If the hound survives the hunt d'Sarthe is sending him on… I want that one to end up closer to us than to him. Begin building our resource pool, so to speak."

"Things tonight went well— better than I could have expected. No bloodshed; and the promise of a long-term relationship, even if it's one that requires patience." He drums his fingers along the back of the couch. His eyes return from the distant future he went off looking toward.

They're sharp for all their warmth as they settle on Odessa again. "Don't think I didn't notice he took in everything in that club except for you."

There’s a light in Odessa’s eyes, a little thrill that runs through her at the notion of building their network. A reminder, an affirmation of this trajectory he’s promised. A freedom of a kind. They have plans. Or at least they have an end goal, and now they’re finding the handholds to mount this summit.

That light gutters a moment when he makes his observation. She can hope he didn’t catch it, or that he misinterprets its inspiration. With an incredulous little laugh, she arches one brow. “I was a little busy with my piano to notice what he was or wasn’t taking in.” And beside that, he should know by now that she only has eyes for him in those moments where she scans the crowd.

“If I had to hazard a guess,” since some speculation seems warranted here, “he was either far too taken by you to give a damn about me, or…” Odessa tilts her head back, a pleased little expression claiming her face, like a cat with a saucer of cream. “Someone warned him about who I belong to and he knew better than to give any indication that he might take an interest.”

That seems to placate his pride enough for his initial answer to limit itself only to a rumble of noise from his chest. Ace lifts his head slightly to acknowledge either case. "With him, it's the things unmentioned, the things passed over that will be of note. His true intentions, the things he cares about— he tries to hide. He's wise in that respect."

He smirches his tongue off the roof of his mouth as he peers off thoughtfully again. "What he wants with…"

That sentence almost finishes itself, but for the content of it. His eyes roll back in Odessa's direction carefully, the words glued to the roof of his mouth. "Right," he sighs instead. "Nearly got ahead of myself."

In his eyes, this is exactly the sort of topic where the less she knows, the safer she is. But just like in his observation of Elliot's behavior, his own draws attention to what the topic likely deals with just for his avoidance of it. There aren't many things he'll deliberately steer away from speaking about in her presence.

There’s a certain pleasure in knowing how to placate his ego. Odessa’s smile stays fixed, though it softens some, the catalyst of it shifting as she becomes more curious than merely self-satisfied. Her head tilts to one side and dips forward some, indicating her interest.

But he stops short and there’s now a crease to her brow. A consternation that sees her drumming her fingers lightly against the piano’s wood surface. This isn’t the first moment they’ve had like this. It almost certainly won’t be the last.

“I…” It troubles her. “I understand the precariousness of my situation and the barriers it creates.” Her voice is halting, almost hesitant. “But I’m still your partner. In all things.” It isn’t a request for him to share his knowledge with her, but a quiet promise that she’ll stand beside him and trust. “If it’s something I can help with…”

Ace shakes his head once. He's placid, internally and externally, the waters of his emotions stilled but filled with a surface tension shaped like the intent to hide. It's getting easier to recognize those subtleties for what they are. "In this instance, I can take no risks there. It's uncertain still whether Mister Rosen— a nameless man on a personal quest— is the one dealing with us, or Elliot Hitchens, the Hound who was found out but will still lead his pack to our doors anyway."

He smiles his reassurance here. "The more unimpeachable you are in this matter, the better it looks for us all, my phoenix." With a slight cant of his head, he muses, "Especially since we know only one of the things he's after. For all we know, this is just…"

The beginning? Bait, seeking to turn and expose the whole underbelly of the d'Sarthe Group?

It's not that he thinks so, but it's better to prepare for that possibility.

Ultimately, Ace shakes his head. "It's advantageous in more than one way for you to know nothing of this." He's said things like this before, but it's become more frequent this winter. It's code for one of those reasons is I care for you and don't want you caught in any crossfire. In the summer, it felt like a flippant excuse. Gradually, it's begun to carry weight. "Even should it be an entirely personal affair for him, one we can use to wrap him around our finger… there's room for your identity to be picked at should you become involved in any way. And that would be unacceptable."

It’s an unfortunate reality of her circumstance and she frowns with a strong dissatisfaction about it. But he’s told her something she didn’t know before, and it’s that he knows the name of the man he’s dealing with. In that, her knowledge of that name might come out. After all, Hitchens has no reason to want to protect her. And there’s very little harm to him to admit to their affiliation.

But perhaps the less Ace knows of this, the better. “Mon phare,” she breathes out. Her lighthouse, her beacon. She bears the weight of his concern and his care for her. The way it touches her heart is unavoidable. “I wish… I wish this wasn’t the state of things for us.” He’s right. If Wolfhound is sniffing at Gideon d’Sarthe’s door, then it’s best if she continues to maintain her image as merely a singer in a lounge.

In that much, she’s safe. There are plenty of upstanding citizens in the employ of d’Sarthe’s various ventures. To the best of her knowledge, the other musicians aren’t trained assassins, after all. “I want to protect you as well.” There’s no fruit-bearing tree along this path, only a withering misery. So, she takes a different fork, selects a different mask. One painted with a playful smile. “If he turns out to be… enjoyable, well.” Her eyes narrow faintly, like there’s mischief on her mind. “I could hardly be upset about that.”

Ace turns his head back in Odessa's direction with a faint breath of amusement exhaled from his nose, as briefly expressed as it is felt. "That's the hope, isn't it? That this all remains suitably enjoyable."

He leaves his repose like he's propelled from it, back to his feet again with his eyes on her. A grin fits itself along the curve of his mouth, pulling one side of it up. "Even if it comes to a point where we play a precarious dance… oh, won't that be fun, too?" It's a rhetorical, spoken mostly for his own benefit, right before he reaches for Odessa's hands to usher her to her feet, one of his own draping about her hip.

"In its own way," is as much as he concedes to the potential negativity of that moment. For now, he revels in the excitement of it all, even in the danger. He dips his head to kiss her deeply.

"You could protect me," he murmurs to her, lips still brushing her skin. "Should you know what a man like him wants with our resident Institute reprobate." Ace clarifies softly, "He doesn't know we have him, of course, but he believes we could find him." His other hand lifts to draw the tip of his finger down the curve of her jaw until he reaches her chin, curling his finger to rest his knuckle under it while he looks down at her. "But I've yet to find out why."

Tugged to her feet readily, Odessa tips her head back just so to facilitate this kiss. She allows the hand at her hip to keep her from leaning back too far as she grants to him this advantage of height between them, exaggerating it and letting it translate to who has the power and control in this moment. Her arms hang at her sides, relaxed rather than limp, quelling the urge to reach for him in those ways that he doesn’t appreciate without warning. This moment is his, not hers.

But he plays to her heart so beautifully. His excitement is her excitement. This dangerous game that he proposes to play is one that’s thrilled her time and again. It does her good to enjoy these moments where she can live vicariously. When they’re apart, and he’s doing the work, all she’ll do is fret.

The brush of him along her skin — lips, breath, words — sparks kindling to light. But what he asks… The shiver that runs through her is not entirely due to what she knows, nor what he silently promises. When he draws away enough to look at her after encouraging a sigh past her lips with only the soft drag of his finger, she returns the gaze with the look in her wide blue eyes that he’s come to expect when he’s plying her. But there’s a touch of confusion there, too. “Pete? Who knows? Lots of people have good reason to want to find him. Especially if this is personal.” But she can hazard some guesses. “I could perhaps… encourage him to divulge something to me. If you gave me the leeway to make an approach.”

That's a heavy ask, one that mellows his joy. The curve of his mouth slacks nearer to a line. His eyes search hers, dancing from one to the next while he thinks. "No," he decides as gently as he can manage. "As ever, you should stay as far away from him as possible. Now more than before."

It carries with it a hint of apology. An apology without being an apology, as all of his are.

"Besides, if he put two and two together and got spooked…" With a quiet click of his tongue he shakes his head. "That wouldn't do. We need him right where he is."

Something flares under his skin as he thinks about this all, thinks about her, and it manifests in a fiery renewal of his kiss. He draws her into him, navigating them away from the piano. His lips trace their way to her cheek after, trail to her neck. "Hitchens' success lifts our star," he tells her, the secret of it whispered. "Because it unseats Mines from d'Sarthe's side. It's our moment to prove our… devotion." The word brings a dark chuckle from him before he kisses her neck again. "To the Group, and thus insinuate ourselves in it more prominently."

He's of two minds how he wants to express his excitement. Ace seems as inclined to invite her to dance as he is to lose himself in her in other ways. "It's all beginning," he sighs into her ear as he leans his hip against the back of the couch.

His affection, as always, is distracting. But it proves her misstep has not caused an entire upset. The flutter of his mood gave her cause for concern. Those concerns are all but non-existent now. She hums against his mouth as she returns his kiss with a matching energy. Tilts her head to accommodate the wandering of his lips. The whispering causes her to gasp appreciatively.

Odessa’s face angled toward the ceiling, her eyes wander its expanse as she listens, already imagining next steps, while making a vow not to get ahead of herself. “You’re going to use the Hound to upset Mines?” Her mouth curves into a grin, a hand comes to rest at his waist, fingers curling loosely to the anchor point she makes of his belt. “This,” she pronounces, “is why you are my artist.” There’s a note of appreciation released on her breath.

“Tell me what you need.”

Leaning back into the couch, Ace shifts his head and regards Odessa with a smile made up only of unveiled fang. "I need your patience," he asks of her. "I need your readiness. Being available to sink into more responsibility with the Group will be key, when that gap makes itself available." He tilts his head at her thoughtfully, the hand looped around her brushing over the small of her back.

"You've endured so much worse than this patience will require of you. It's anticipation with guaranteed payoff rather than…" He breathes out a chuckle. "A leap of faith."

“When,” Odessa queries as she pulls herself down to earth again, following his minor withdrawal from her, “have you ever known me not to be ready for you, my love?” All the same, there’s an undercurrent of fear to go with this new thrill at the notion of stepping into a bigger role within the organization, to joining d’Sarthe’s inner circle properly. This path leads to excitement, to power…

Straight to hell.

Odessa trembles. “I’m not impatient,” she reminds gently. He knows this, has highlighted it in a way meant to assuage her fear of it. It isn’t the correct anxiety to be placating. If she can bear the weight of his disdain, she can handle this waiting game. She leans in closer, eyes half-lidding. “What need do you expect d’Sarthe to have of me that he hasn’t already?”

Ace slips back into himself slowly, burning desires coiling into a slightly more patient thing himself as he meets her eyes. "Your time," he answers quietly. He plies at what he imagines must be butterflies in her over nearing severance to those other parts of her life, the last vestiges of her past, by pulling her into him and pressing his mouth to her jaw, continuing to murmur to her ear. "That second-most-important tangible offering you can make— your presence. Your readiness to make sure no thread falls, that order in the Group goes unfailing."

He breathes out a wistful, longing sigh. "At most… what will be required of you is that highest offering. Action those lesser would not have stomach for." Just the allusion of it sends a trill of excitement up through him again. "For you to prove how dangerous you can be."

Ace can't disguise just how much he'd love to see her act on that stage. His arms cinch around her, hand traveling up her spine by the tips of his fingers. It settles over that comforting, grounding spot between her shoulders for just a moment before rising to cup the back of her neck while he kisses the side of it.

"I can't wait," he reiterates in a fervent whisper, fingers crushing their way into her hair.

His interest in this shouldn’t come as any surprise, and yet here Odessa stands, frozen in the shock of it and captivated by his ardent desires. His plans for her. She doesn’t have a chance to be preemptive in her response to it, so she allows him to lavish that attention on her. Melts into it.

“How much power do you think we’ll have to amass for me to get away with that level of visibility?” she asks, head tipped to grant him better access to her neck. She wants so badly to match him in enthusiasm for this. Once, more than a decade ago, she longed for a time when the violence was mindless. She finds she can’t hope for a return to that.

Her stomach prepares for a drop even while parts lower than that stir with a different intensity. The conflicting emotional responses just from herself are overwhelming.

"Oh, my muse," Ace chuckles, kissing below her ear. "This is all still a phase where we work in the dark."

He takes in a long breath through his nose, another momentary attempt at reeling in his excitement. "To be honest, I don't want the main stage. Not for long. The spotlight… never was for me. I simply enjoy making things happen." Turning his head to hers, he brushes his nose across her cheek. "We have time yet to work out the details of the aftermath. Plan too far ahead, and we'll lose sight of the moment. And the moment— the now— requires readiness."

The fingers wormed into her hair work themself against her scalp gently, tension released from them. "Pliability," Ace clarifies for good measure.

"Let's just enjoy this for what it is," he encourages her. "Tomorrow's complexities can wait until tomorrow." He pulls back enough to regard her with half-lidded eyes and the curve of a smile. "And tonight, I want to enjoy a drink with you, and celebrate the wheels put into motion."

Odessa laughs quietly in return, impressed with herself for being able to keep the sound relaxed, rather than the tremulous thing she feels in her chest. “Can’t blame a girl for looking to the future, can you?” While he’s been working to lull her conscience to rest, her thumb’s settled over the buckle of his belt.

The fingers in her hair, the massaging motions against her scalp, make for a calming effect, coupled with the assurance that murder is a tomorrow problem. Possibly even tomorrow’s tomorrow’s tomorrow. She sighs deeply, allowing him to see the relief he brings to her with his actions and words.

Instead of anything she may have been considering moments ago, Odessa slips both arms around Ace’s waist to hold him to her in a comforting embrace. Her kiss is gentle, lacking in its earlier heat, but still warm in other ways. “I’d like that,” she promises of the proposed course of action for the evening. “As much as I enjoy the notion of laying out your schemes, I’d be perfectly content to revel in the now with you.”

It’s all anybody has, after all. Odessa Price long ago accepted that futures are meant for others to plan. Especially her own. “I love you, Ace Callahan.” And when it comes down to her performance, he’s her director and stage manager.

Eyes flickering back and forth between hers to drink in her devotion readily, Ace sighs contentedly. He lifts one hand, the curve of his knuckle hovering just off of her jaw while he admires her, pad of his thumb brushing her cheek. Rather than provide a verbal reply, he leans back in to administer one last kiss to her forehead.

"I'll get the ice," he murmurs with an edge of melody, hand dropping from chin to her shoulder in a gesture of affection before slipping out from between her and the couch. "Pick our poison, my muse. I'll be back in a moment."

Odessa watches Ace retreat for a moment, drinking in his self-satisfaction just as much as he does her obedience and loyalty. But she takes some self-satisfaction in that as well. He has no idea that she’s fully aware of exactly who Elliot Hitchens is, let alone that she’s had very recent contact with him, and ongoing.

Likewise, the Wolfhound is unaware of who Ourania Pride was in her past life. Or that she managed to keep her head while he overstayed his welcome in the lion’s den. As long as she can keep both statuses quo with her little lies of omission, then she can keep enjoying the little victory inherent in this secret of hers.

There’s a glance spared toward the kitchen when she hears the telltale crack and tink of the procured ice. If her house of cards topples, then it will be due to the actions of the Ace of Spades. Whether or not that ruinous action will be taken for or against his Queen of Hearts, well… She could consult the crystal ball on the end of the cane she no longer needs to carry and the outlook would still be hazy at best. Pick our poison, he says. One corner of her mouth tics up as she makes her way toward the liquor cabinet, absently murmuring to herself.

“I think I already have.”

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