aman_icon.gif pride_icon.gif

Scene Title Linked
Synopsis Inexplicably and inexorably.
Date September 1, 2020

Roosevelt Island

Pinpointing this location hadn’t been easy. It’d taken a lot of patience, studying of habits, the better part of two weeks. Figuring out when he stays put the longest to suggest where to start hunting for where he might call home.

The search had led her to a new housing development on Roosevelt Island. Then, it was a matter of wandering the neighborhood until she could identify the correct house. A car driving slowly up and down the street attracts too much attention. Especially a car as fine as Ace Callahan’s. If she’d had her way, she’d have simply look the part of a pretty blonde out for a jog. Instead, she has to settle for a pretty blonde out for a stroll. The walking stick is conspicuous enough, notable in a woman her age, that she knows she’s only going to get one back and forth sweep to get this right.

So, she narrowed it down to a pair of townhouses, then left the neighborhood alone for a week. It had been killing her, waiting, but she couldn’t afford to be seen skulking about. It would be unseemly.

But now… Now she stood outside the first house, a piece of paper clutched in her hand with an address written down. Dressed in a striped suit in cream and bronze tones, a tasteful leather handbag hanging from the crook of her elbow, she’s the very picture of professional. Running metallic bronze-lacquered nails through her platinum bob, she starts up the steps to the first door, then pauses.

Glancing down to the paper in her hand, she retreats, and moves to the second door instead. She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath, keeping herself on an even keel all this time had been difficult, afraid to get her hopes up too high.

Opening blue eyes, she raises her hand, index finger extended, and rings the bell.

Whispers— confusion, curiosity. They could belong to anyone whose doorbell is ringing unexpectedly.

But she doesn't feel them by plying the weft of the ether for nearby emotions; she feels them on an invisible tether only she knows.

A link.

She's aware when the tumble of emotions get closer— more hearable to her than the shift of footsteps inside. She's in tune with how they shift to suspicion, one that's shoved away. Those nerves don't belong to him— he needs to not make them his own. He needs to…

Aman takes a deep breath, then glimpses briefly out the blinds to get an idea of how many people are on his doorstep as he approaches. Okay. Just one, then. Trying to overlay anticipation with calm, he comes up behind the front door, head craning down to look through the spyhole. Some white woman? She looked nice.

Man, hopefully it wasn't the fucking HOA about to be on him for who knew what even.

He lets out a wordless mutter behind a sigh as he draws his hand back through his hair, keenly aware he's already dressed down for the evening. When he undoes the deadbolt and pulls the door back, he's plainly in a faded red tee with the sleeves long sawn off of it, and washed-out jeans with strings of wear visible on the knee and thigh. It could be fashion, who knows, but it's definitely worlds down in class from the woman who's on his step.

He's keenly aware of the fact he's barefoot, now, too— shifting his weight to one hip over the other to help him be better seen as he doesn't open the door the entire way.

"Can I help you?" Aman asks, a quizzical touch to it. It's clear he wasn't expecting any visitors.

The woman at the door flashes a smile with lips painted the same color as her nails. “Yes, I hope so! My name is Ourania Pride.” If he’s feeling any nervousness, it’s likely due to the fact that there’s a stranger on his doorstep, right? “I’m a volunteer with the New York City Safe Zone Cooperative. You’re the homeowner, right? I’m… taking a survey. Seeing how people are settling into the neighborhood. Find out what’s working, and where we can improve.”

She’s rehearsed this so many times just sitting in the car two blocks away.

“I know it’s a little late. You’re my last call of the evening. I promise this won’t take much time.” Pride looks appropriately apologetic, sighing quietly and tipping her head to one side as she clearly prepares to make an ask. “It’s… been a really long day, sir. And I—” She lifts her cane off the ground briefly, demonstratively. “Would I be able to come inside?”

Inside is exactly where he does not want a stranger. His gut and his sense tell him that.

Aman's gaze flicks down to the cane as she speaks to it without speaking of it, his inner gentleman being plied. A wounded look passes his face for it, hand against the doorframe. "Listen, miss— I've not got a lot of feedback to give, really. Things are fine. There's stable power, water, plenty of sh— of stuff to do around here, so really, it's as great as it could get. It ain't like it's Park Slope over here. Different kind of green."

He flashes a smile as friendly as it is apologetic. "No need to waste any more time on it than that, especially if you've had a long day."

He feels slightly guilty for the brush-off, but not enough to change his mind on it.

There’s a lift of her brows, overriding any sense of disappointment. And he feels a sense of… satisfaction for sticking to his guns. For trusting his gut and keeping this space between himself and the woman on his doorstep. “Really? You— You like it here? You’re happy?” It isn’t surprise in her voice, but relief so palpable it’s as though he feels it himself.

“It’s quiet? You feel safe?” All of these things seem extremely important to her in a genuine sense. Like it might to his well-meaning mother.

Now he's baffled, the lean against the doorway a little less secure. Aman's brow furrows together in confusion. "Uh…" He looks off and then back to her. "Well, yeah. My previous place was an apartment, so this is definitely a step up in the quiet department. Neighborhood's nice. There's kids down the block— some people who moved in out of town to send their kids to that school. The uh, Academy, or whatever."

For some reason, she really seemed like she needed to hear it. He'd not meant to go on this long about it, but the words started to flow of their own accord. "And— Safe? I mean, it's the Safe Zone, right?"

“I’m really glad to hear this.” Her smile is infectious. “I’m not from around here, but I lived here for a while before the war. Used to work out over…” The cane is lifted again, this time to gesture further into the borough, albeit kind of nebulously, “at the old Suresh Center. It’s really nice to see it all coming together again…”

Her attention turns back to him. “Good to see people happy. I’m super happy for you, Aman.”


So much for the calm he'd settled into.

The sound of his name— properly pronounced, nonetheless, raises the hair on the back of his neck. How did she know his name? Internally, he fights down a spot of paranoia. If she's some survey-taker with the SZC, maybe they knew everyone by name. Had records from the city.

It dawns on him too late that if she were really some survey taker, she'd have pen and paper. Or if not that, then a tablet. Certainly, if they were in her purse, she'd have gotten them out by now, perhaps?

And she knew his name.

The hand of the arm braced against the doorway starts to close into a fist before he lets it fall back to his side anyway, trying to mask what his emotions can't hide at all. "I'm sorry," he asks with a forced smile. "What did you say your name was, again?"

The cane shifts from right hand to left as the woman shifts her balance as well. She doesn’t seem to favor one side over the other, but she does seem to need it regardless. Her right hand lifts then to rest against the doorframe, fingers gripping loosely around it so they’re on his side. He’ll have to slam the door on her hand if he wants to shut it. That’s a gamble she’s hoping pays.

The smile falls away from her face, and she looks disappointed. The blonde looks over her shoulder, back toward the street. “I said your name, didn’t I?” He can see the frown in her profile. “I said I wasn’t gonna do that.”

Blue eyes lock on his face again as she swivels her head sharply back. He asked for her name. “Do you really want to know?” There’s a beat. Two. Then, the intensity fades into something softer, more vulnerable. “I don’t want to hurt you. And I know you don’t want to hurt me. So…”

Her head tips to one side, her hair just brushing her shoulder. There’s something so familiar about this moment. He feels it in his chest. Her focus settles on his mouth for a moment, then drifts back up. “Take it,” she says, with only a dart of her eyes to the curl of her hand for context, then immediately back to his eyes. “Find out who I am.”

The stranger curls her hand around the side of the door, her voice dropping, looking over her shoulder — and that's not fucking creepy at all. Aman bristles further, his eyes going to the hand of hers locked right in the door.

He starts to hear little aside from the adrenaline rushing his blood. I don't want to hurt you…

Yeah, that's exactly what people say before they do something vicious.

When he looks back to her, there's something about her eyes, the way she looks at him, that stalls him for a hair of a moment. Take it, she says, and her eyes dart away.

He decides it's not worth the risk. He'd rather live.

"No way," is all he warns as he pulls the door further in. It's only to create enough room to lift his leg and kick with all the strength his position and his hand bracing against the wall affords him. His foot plants into the middle of her chest and bucks out with all the viciousness of a horse kick.

The moment her fingers slip free of the doorway, he slams the door shut and scrambles the deadbolt back into place, chest heaving. Fuck, Aman hisses out under his breath, taking a step, then another back away from the door. Who the fuck was she? Was she Mazdak? Someone else entirely?

Fuck, why did he have to give back the fucking teleportation?

The woman’s eyes get wide with alarm as she realizes what’s about to happen a second too late. She thinks at first that he’s going to slam the door on her hand, so she draws it back toward her quickly, but that also means she’s got backward momentum by the time his foot hits her in the chest.

With a cry of surprise, she goes stumbling backward and down the handful of stairs that led to his door, rolling across the sidewalk and finally coming to a stop when she tumbles over the curb and lands in the gutter.

Once she relearns how to breathe — which feels as though it takes an eternity — she starts sobbing, curled in on herself and her pain both physical and emotional.

And Aman can feel that emotion, even though he can barely hear her through the closed and deadbolted door.

Aman's already paced up and down the hall twice and decided to sprint up the stairs before he realizes what's happening to him. How the— frustration turned to regret is now anguish, which…

That's not him. That can't be.

He stops on the steps, hand on the banister. It tightens there as he looks back to the door, eyes blind as he wills himself to listen. After a blink, he gingerly reaches out with his emotions, hesitantly transmitting astonished curiosity across the tether.

It couldn't be, right?

But he sinks a step back down the stairs.

His concerned nudge is answered with a withdrawal, like a wounded animal recoiling from an outstretched hand.

Outside, she pushes herself to her hands and knees, breathing hard and fighting against the tears, because they make the ache in her chest worse. Both physically and metaphorically. Frequently, she stops and holds her breath, only to let it out in a gasp again that just makes things worse.


"Oh, fuck," Aman breathes out, regret and concern emanating from him like it's his essence. Not necessarily for what he'd done, but what he's caused. It's complicated, and it's only going to get worse from here.

Because he unbolts the door again with nothing in terms of the hesitation he'd displayed until now. He throws it open.

"Oh god, Odessa?" He skips steps on his way down to the sidewalk, for some reason grateful it's not rained recently. At least the curb he'd kicked her to wasn't about to leave her soaked, to boot. "What the—"

"What happened?" he demands to know, his horror at himself as much as her situation beginning to flow from him.

“Jesus Christ, Amanvir,” the blonde wheezes out. “These tits are new.

Yep. That’s Odessa.


Sitting up on her knees finally, she gingerly presses one hand against her chest. First in one place, then another, feeling for signs of anything worse than the bruise she’s sure to see blossom tomorrow.

Shit. How is she going to explain that one?

At least her own emotions are starting to even out, even if she feels his regret and his shock so keenly. Her own feelings are starting to abate now that he’s come out to check on her. Now that he’s realized who she is.

“It’s a long story.” Odessa lifts her head and starts looking around for her things. Her purse and its contents — wallet, phone, a hardcover romance novel, a set of keys, and a few business cards and crumpled receipts — are scattered over the stairs and the sidewalk. The cane, it seems, is sticking out of one of the shrubs that flanks the steps.

One shaky hand points in that direction. “I kind of need that. Please.”

Aman shakes his head stubbornly, both hands held out down to her to steady her back to her feet. "Okay, that's fine, but first— just let me help you." Leaving her on the ground will do nothing to ease his worry and his nerves, so the cane can come later as far as he's concerned. "We'll get you some— ice."

Ice, yes, might be nice.

"Jesus fucking Christ, I'm so sorry, Des," he apologizes profusely, hands closing around hers to guide her up and as roots she can steady herself off of, if need be. And it does seem like it's needed, somehow. "I'll get all this, let's just get you inside." Preferably before someone thinks he's mugging the well-dressed woman crumpled on the sidewalk in front of a house with an open door.

“It’s okay,” Odessa assures him as he helps her to her feet. She leans heavily against him for a moment, stretching her legs carefully. Okay. So she’s going to have a few bruises, but she’ll be okay. Nothing feels out of joint or worse.

“You did good,” she tells him then, and he can feel the pride with that. “I was worried about you. That if someone came… you wouldn’t be prepared. That you’re just too good for your own good.” Odessa wraps her arm around the back of his waist, ready to let him help her into the house. “Can’t believe you fucking kicked me, though. I didn’t think you had it in you.”

And for that, he gets a grin and a light squeeze.

Aman just shakes his head, willing himself to keep standing as a support for her instead of sinking to the ground himself. God, this was a test? He's still too much of everything else to be bitter or angry about it, though after he's validated what she already knows, chances are it could come up.

"Yeah, well," he says in the meantime, brushing off the compliment. "I couldn't help but get serial killer vibes off a perfect stranger trying to get weirdly intimate with me seconds after knocking on my door. So, congratulations us— my ability to perceive potential danger isn't entirely broken."

Heading for the steps, he leaves his hands for her to lean on as he goes a step ahead of her at the time, leading her to the opened door she'd gone flying from unwelcome only a minute ago. From there, the frame and the hall will have to help her. "Living room's on the left." Once he's sure she's stable, that's when he crouches to pull the cane from the bushes.

Serial killer?” Odessa’s brow furrows with an offended scowl. Then, she thinks about it a moment and sighs. “Okay, yeah, I guess I could see that.” If he showed up with a new face at her door and tried that with her, she probably would have stabbed him or something, so she supposes she should be grateful she didn’t get shot.

When he leaves her at the door, she takes a moment to steady herself, then heads in the indicated direction. Her instinct is to do so slowly, to stop and examine his living space. She’s surprised to find that she recognizes much of his furnishings, and it brings a smile to her lips as she shrugs out of her blazer. At least he didn’t have to abandon everything.

She settles down on the familiar couch, in the spot she had claimed as hers when they were sharing a living space. Now, she has to decide how she’s going to explain all of this to him. Somehow, she hadn’t rehearsed that part.

Well, it's a good thing she's not shooting her shot there at the moment, because Aman's not listening anyway.

He's standing befuddled, holding awkwardly onto the sword that came out of his bushes. With a single baleful blink before life comes back into him, he mouths a dramatic what the fuck with a shake of his head and replaces it back in the bushes. He's got the sense to handle this all in a certain order at least.

The purse is collected back together in a shuffle of affairs, Aman stopping to give a pursed-lip smile of hello at one of his neighbors who steps out to take their dog on a walk before scuffling the rest of the objects, phone and all, back into the purse. Then, once he's sure his neighbor's got their back turned, he heads back to the bush and collects both sword and sheath, heading back inside.

Slam goes the door, but only in his excitement. He drops the bag and keeps holding onto the 'cane', storming around into the living room in his bare feet.

"Odessa goddamned Price, what in the actual hell are you doing walking around with a…" God, what to even call this thing? He looks down at either piece in exasperation.

The house is sparsely decorated, but she was right in her initial call— every single piece of furniture from his old apartment has made its way here, though the size increase certainly means there's area's less filled. The extra living space this room opens up into could be a dining room or a study, but it's set up with exercise equipment pushed up against the wall, making what can be seen of the first floor feel practically empty save for the comfortable arrangement of the red couch, the coffee table, the hanging television, and that poor, beer-stained oriental rug.

Even the knife-stabbed endtable has a home here, its injuries hidden over by a surround sound speaker.

When the door slams, Odessa is drawn out of her silent reverie of mouthing the words that she might like to say. She lifts her head and stares in the direction of the entry hall with wide eyes, waiting for Aman to reappear with her things.

Well, he has one of those things.

The blonde’s expression shifts from concerned to bewildered. “It’s a swordstick,” she says with a furrow of her brow. Like that should be obvious to everyone involved here. “Obviously I’m carrying it because I require both a mobility aid and protection.”

Aman has no words for that, brow arching even higher. He's stupefied by it. Who does that?

Her confused stare is held on him for three more seconds before it gives way to realization. “Ohhh… That’s not normal for other people, is it?” She glances away then, eyes a little wider, brows lifted, mouth pulling into a tight line with a flash of teeth. Awkward. That sort of thing is very normal in the sorts of circles she’s walked in.

Unconsciously, Odessa lifts her right hand to draw her index finger across the front of her throat. It’s an old habit. One that would normally result in her nail catching on raised scar tissue. Now, there’s nothing there, so her hand slides a little lower until she can catch the chain around her neck instead.

“Could you maybe not say that name so loudly? Kind of trying to reinvent myself here.” Her left hand comes up and frames the side of her face, the backs of her fingers following the underside of her chin to her jaw, like a model posing for a shot. “It’s Ourania. I said so before.”

With an attempt at a grace he doesn't feel, Aman disgruntedly begins to put sword back in sheath, setting the completed set against the side of the couch. Standing back up, the knuckles of one hand meet the palm of the other while he attempts to process all this. She's got a new name— a new identity. Okay. He can do this.

"Ou… what?"

Okay, maybe he can't. Not immediately.

"Des," he sighs, hands abruptly covering his face. Not to mention his eyes, to help him deal with this incongruency of person remembered and person actual that caused him to literally kick her off his doorstep. "Des, why do you have a different face? Why do you have a different name? I thought— I thought you were on parole."

In his defense, this is a lot to take in.

Oh, it is. Which is why this conversation did not happen over the telephone.

Though perhaps a word of warning wouldn’t have gone amiss. Bee tee dubs, I have a new face? You’ll see it soon. Bye~

“O. Rah. Nee. Ah.” See? “Ourania.” Simple.

But he had a more important question, so she doesn’t linger on the speech lesson. “Well. I… was never gonna get a fair shake out there with my own face, you know? So… I asked if I could get a new one. I’m not on the run. I’m still on parole. My agent knows what I look like, and he helped me get the name all legitimized.” Still, Odessa looks down to her lap, clasping her hands together. Self-conscious. “It’s a new start. Like you wanted for me.” I thought.

Hands dropping from his face, Aman looks over Odessa Ourania with a carefully slow exhale. "Yes," he agrees emphatically, because it's true, it's just: "I had no idea you were gonna go at it from this angle, but…"

Already, his posture sinks down in an initial relaxation, sense being restored somewhat to this situation. "I mean… this is good. You can do some real good like this." There's even relief burning away his confusion, felt and heard. "I just— wow. This is a lot, you know?" He slowly comes to sit next to her on the couch, studying her new features, wondering at them. "You look amazing, though. Different, but— good."

He reaches for her hands, laying one over hers. "You still look like you," Aman acknowledges. "Totally different, but now that I know… I don't know, this doesn't feel weird. Is that weird?"

Then he releases her hand with a jerk, realizing something. "Hold on," he apologizes swiftly, stumbling back to his feet and heading to the kitchen through the other nearly-empty room. "I forgot the fucking ice."

“Nobody’s really supposed to know,” Odessa admits. It sort of defeats the purpose if she goes around telling everyone who she used to be, doesn’t it? “But… how couldn’t I tell you?” She smiles at him then, glad to be sharing this secret with him. Like she shared the secret of her ability. It would have made things so much worse if she hadn’t, wouldn’t it?

Him relaxing helps her to relax some, and the relief bolsters her own mood.

At least until he says she looks amazing. Her heart sinks, and she can’t articulate why. The smile is slower to fade, because she recognizes the compliment, but it’s further complicated by the way he says she still looks like herself. Because she doesn’t see it when she looks in the mirror. The face she sees in the mirror and the face she sees in her mind’s eye are entirely different, and she wonders how he can reconcile this while she can’t.

But his hand on hers provides some buoyancy to her heart once more. Until he pulls away, and she wonders what she’s done wrong. He can feel the uncertainty. But he explains the forgotten ice, and she gives him a brief succession of short nods.

When he returns to the living room, Odessa is down to her bra — a thing of aubergine lace — with her shirt draped over the arm of the couch next to her. Her chin is dipped down and she’s examining the bruise that’s forming already. It’s not as bad as she feels like should be, but she’s aware she’s still incredibly tender after what she’s been through.

Aman may as well have walked into a rope net suddenly present over the doorway for all that he reacts when he looks up from the paper-towel wrapped plastic baggie of ice. It's not embarrassment over her impropriety, just a sudden sense of overwhelmed over the dynamic shift to this situation yet again, when he'd only just gotten the previous one under his belt.

"Is there a reason you're shirtless?" he asks, more exasperated than weary, but there's definitely both parts there as he makes his way back to her. "It's… probably better to not put this directly on your skin, don't you think?" Aman sighs as he drops to a crouch before her, eyeing the bruised spot. He stops short of prodding to verify how bad things are himself, finally hesitantly turning the bag over for her to pick up if she wants. "You got any other bumps on your way down? Anything feel like it could be fractured? They've got a hospital out here, better than Elmhurst, if we need to go get you checked."

“Because I'm examining my injury?” Odessa doesn't so much as glance up at Aman, pressing gingerly at her breastbone, then slowly increasing pressure until she's satisfied nothing's cracked. This should be the most obvious thing in the world, shouldn't it? She takes the ice, assessing just how cool it is in her hand before she rests it against her chest with a quiet sigh. That's better.

“I don't think I fractured anything. But I could probably stand to give myself at least a visual once over.” Now, she looks up at Aman's face. "I'm a little fragile at the moment. I don't… want a hospital." With her free hand, she sweeps her hand from her chin to her hip, indicating her self. “This didn't come without growing pains.

He can feel the ripple in her emotions at that admission. It's a conflicted one. Regret and pride are the strongest intermingling. She's weathered something difficult, and there's a certain self-satisfaction at that, but it has come at such a cost.

“Would you be more comfortable if I put my shirt back on?” Odessa meets his gaze again. There's no shame on her part, but she's trying to learn to be more sensitive to others' sensibilities, regardless of her opinions on modesty.

"I mean," he balks. "I'm not going to tell you no, but…" Aman pushes himself to his feet, gesturing with a hand back toward the main hall. "The half-bath's over there if you want to do a turn for the mirror first."

Figuring out his reaction to her emotions takes longer than that answer. He's able to separate what's his and what's hers, logically, but he spends time making sure that's so. "Growing pains, huh," he echoes back, a little vacant sounding for it. He understands, now, the pain she went through a month ago. It doesn't give him any relief or satisfaction, though.

It does, however, solidify the feeling he needs to support her decision, her new self, even if he's not sure how to do so without aggravating the duality in how she sees the event.

It's been so long since they've spoken, he hardly knows what to say. Instead, he lets his hand hang off the side of his neck, focusing on broadcasting an emotion: optimism. Acceptance comes as a side-dish to it. Maybe she'll believe in herself, too, eventually.

"So, um…" he calls out after, not having followed. "Why did you come over all of a sudden?"

Once obscured from his view in the bathroom, Odessa puts the wrapped bag of ice in the sink and strips out of her skirt next so she can start looking herself over in the mirror. She frowns with dissatisfaction. Her right hip hit the curb pretty hard, and it shows. Aman can feel her frustration, with a strong undercurrent of worry.

“I thought it was time,” is a simple enough response, but not terribly explanatory. “I… I’ve wanted to see you for some time. I wanted to see you when I got out, but… I had to make sure it was safe. And I… didn’t want you to see me while I was healing.”

Pressing on her various bumps and bruises is uncomfortable, but no worse than that. That’s good, at least.

There’s a playfulness in her voice as she asks, “Would you like to see me now?” It doesn’t take a link like theirs to catch the implication in that question. All the same, she’s picking her skirt up off the floor to step into it again. She has to catch herself on the bathroom sink to keep from losing her balance when she tries to step up and into the garment. He can hear the shuddered exhale as much as he can feel the aggravation that comes with her weakness.

It's from the kitchen Aman gives another scoff of, "I mean…" in response to her coy question. He's too wound for games, too concerned by the negative emotions that course through her and represent her pain and her struggles. For a lack of knowing what else to do, he puts a pot of water on the stove, shuffling around until he finds what he needs to make tea.

His mother would argue everything's better after a cup of cha, and in this case, he imagines it could not hurt.

"I want to see you." Aman clarifies after he has the peace of mind the chore has given him. "No games. No pretending everything's fine. Because… it's not, isn't it?" He turns his head over his shoulder, even though he can't really see. "I don't need to know why to know that it's not."

Once he's set aside what he needs, bare feet turn to bring him back around to the living room. His hand rests on the entryway, watching her for a moment before he heads in. Aman curls his arms around her midsection from behind, hug mindful of potential issues but still firm.

"You know it's okay not to be okay, right?" he asks in a murmur, chin settling on her shoulder.

Having returned to the living room, now redressed and with her hand wrapped around the crystal ball at the end of her walking stick, she was distractedly staring at the television. While she’d just been standing in front of the mirror, it wasn’t her face she was looking at then. Now, she studies her darkened reflection in the switched-off screen.

Aman’s reapproach doesn’t catch her by surprise. Even if she hadn’t noticed him in the reflection, she can feel his proximity at all times. There’s a sort of harmony to it, she realizes, when he’s near her. The arms around her was a surprise, however, but a happy one that dispels some of her fraught introspection.

“Imagine,” Odessa begins, melting into Aman’s embrace, “having your identity so tied up in your ability, and then losing that.” He can feel the sense of loss in his chest, but knows that it is Odessa’s. “Then, imagine knowing that the person you used to be is who you’ll be judged as until the end of time.” The choice of words is intentional, even if it feels a bit like inflicting many small cuts to herself.

“Now, imagine destroying your body, everything left that you recognize about yourself. Everything that feels like it makes you you in your own eyes. In the eyes of those who care about you.” Odessa leans her head against Aman’s at her shoulder, eyes closing. “Imagine how that loss must feel. Then add the worst physical pain you’ve ever known on top of that.”

She reopens her eyes, staring ahead unseeing and swallowing a lump of emotion. Her heart is broken, and he knows it better than anyone else ever could. More flatly, she concludes, “Imagine the disdain and revulsion coming from your partner every time he looks at you.”

No. It isn’t fine.

Aman doesn't have to imagine it. Or at least, it doesn't take much to, with all the cues she's fed him, with everything he's passed through their connection.

Even so.

"Ourania… Des." His embrace settles in more deeply. "I'd be devastated, if I were in your shoes." He shakes his head, trying to stave off further comparison there. Just because he can literally empathize doesn't mean there's not use in saying as much. "I'd not know what to do. I might lose sight of who I was, who I am, who I want to be. But…"

"The beauty of it is, you can find it again— where it is you want to go." Aman lifts his head up from her shoulder and he shifts to get a proper look at her. "And you will— even if it takes help from friends to get there." A tinge of burning wariness enters his being. "Because it sure doesn't sound like you're getting it from your 'partner'."

Whoever the fuck that was, whenever the hell that happened.

"I…" Aman's expression cringes apologetic before he shakes his head. Regret plays through his being. "If you're looking for someone who understands, though, because of something they themselves are going through… you might…"

He frowns, looking down for a moment. Maybe this wasn't the right time to be bringing this up.

When he lifts his head, she cranes hers back slightly so he can get a better look. She can’t hold his gaze, though, her eyes darting away anxiously. She’s surprised to find that his wariness, that distrust she feels stirring inside of her that she knows belongs to Aman, even when it feels like hers, is validating. She doesn’t like that it is. “He just wants what’s best for me. Doesn’t mean either of us have to like the route I take to get there.”

Turning slowly, careful to encourage the embrace rather than to break it, she looks up at him. Barely has to look up. Gosh, he was so much taller when she last saw him.

No. She was shorter. The world didn’t suddenly shrink for her.

Odessa starts to reach for him with her free hand when she feels his regret. It stops her short, because she’s afraid she knows its source. “What’re you talking about?” she asks cautiously. Maybe this isn’t the direction she’s expecting after all. Or maybe it’s both what she’s expecting and something else on top of it.

Hearing someone wants 'what's best' for her when it's something that's clearly causing her so much pain flares the aggressive dislike of this mystery person even more than before. Between this and his other concerns, his other emotions, Aman can't help himself from frowning.

He shakes his head, trying to bite his tongue and keep from pretending he knows better than this other person. "I was just gonna ask… if you'd…" talked to…?

Aman sighs, uncomfortable by the topic. He holds onto Odessa's hand more firmly than before out of habit, something he's able to do now instead of just wish it. "You haven't," he realizes, trying to steel himself for the way the conversation will turn without actually leading it there just yet. "I'm positive."

He angles his head down to look at her better, frown still very much there. "Kaylee's not doing so hot," Aman explains finally, carefully.

"She's testing SLC-N."

Odessa starts to open her mouth to protest against Aman’s feelings, but he tightens his grip on her hand and she stills. He feels her surprise before it show on her face. “Kaylee’s— What?” It’s like someone’s knocked the air from her lungs.

Her head shakes back and forth. “No. That’s—” Certainly not impossible. She’d just spoken about having her own ability stripped from her. And it’s happened to her twice, in two different ways.

“Oh, God…” Odessa closes her eyes heavily, turning her face away while she processes this information. She doesn’t have to imagine what it must feel like to Kaylee. It was a blow so devastating to her, that Odessa had shifted her entire ideology. It’s how she ended up on the wrong side of the war.

“Are you looking after her?” A nervous and curious expression settles on Aman now. Odessa’s worry and hesitance seeps into him. Her hand loosens its grip on his slightly.

"No. She's not home yet." Aman says with a shake of his head, his hand retreating from hers so he can rub the side of his neck. "And I'm gonna try to give her her space, but… she's gonna need help whenever she comes back, I think. So I'll do what I can, just—"

His hand slides free in order to make a gesture of pause. "But that's neither here or there." Hand falling, he turns his palm out in a shruglike gesture before it settles by his side.

No. Shit. It's definitely still important. His stomach sinks.

"Just… one thing at a time." he tells himself. Refocusing hard, Aman looks back to Odessa, sternly trying to keep himself on track. "On one hand, Kaylee knows exactly what you went through. On the other hand, Kaylee is going what you went through. Back to the first hand— you're not alone, okay? I'm pretty sure a new start doesn't mean you have to suffer all the time— that's not healthy. You deserve better than that."

The arm still curved around Odessa's side firms in a hug. "Being taller and having a new face is great and all, but you don't deserve for everything you do to still feel like a punishment."

That blonde head bobs up and down in a series of nods. “Okay…” Okay, he’s giving her space, but will check in with Kaylee later. Okay, Kaylee knows what she went through and is going to need her to get through this, too. Okay, she doesn’t deserve to be punished constantly.

Slowly, Odessa slides her arms around Aman and rests her head against his shoulder. “You know… He doesn’t like you very much either,” she murmurs, circling back around to the unaddressed topic from before.

This very moment is one of the reasons why.

"Why, because I'm not a sadomasochist?" Aman counters, not a touch bitter at all in his snipe. Frustration bubbles under his mood, and he tries to smooth it out, but it's not a clean thing. He can't just compartmentalize this away. "Because he sounds like an asshole who'd rather make someone suffer because it's easier for him that way."

He lays his head on top of hers, hugging her more firmly. The water's come to a boil in the kitchen, though, for who knows how long now. He presses a kiss to the top of her head before snaking free, gesturing for her to follow after with a bob of his head. "You take sugar in your tea? Or you want to try without it first?" Snaking his way back into the hall, he grabs the handle of the fridge and pulls out a gallon of milk, uncapping it to head to the pot and look. He glances askance at how much milk he's got to work with, then begins pouring it right into the boiling blackish mixture, stirring until it turns a warmer, inviting shade of brown, speckled with spices.

Nudging the heating element off, Aman sets aside the milk to look back to Odessa. With a touch of regret, he says, "Listen, I'm sorry if it's out of line for me to pass comments like that without knowing the first thing about this guy, but if he's why you've been feeling terrible since you got out, I feel like I'm fucking justified, okay?"

Of course, though, he's stern by the end of it again. Protective, even. "I'm pretty sure Luther would kill a guy over making a woman feel that bad about herself, so I'm not going to waste my time feeling guilty for not liking him."

Odessa’s cheeks flush, burning not with anger but with embarrassment. “That’s not— fair.” But maybe it is. Her face may be hidden against his neck, but she can’t hide the ripple of uncertainty that courses through her. Isn’t it easier on literally anyone who’s not her for her to suffer, though?

It’s reluctantly that Odessa relinquishes her hold on Aman, almost clinging to his shirt before finally letting go and watching him start toward the kitchen. With a sigh, she trails behind. “However you take it is fine with me.”

Taking a steadying breath, she shakes her head. “No… I get where you’re coming from, but… My pain is my pain, Aman. It isn’t because of him. He’s not why I feel terrible. I made this choice, to change myself. That’s why I feel terrible.” Odessa’s jaw trembles, and Aman feels the sorrow that flows from her to him through their link. “It’s not his fault that he… That he looks at me and he feels… I made my choice.” She bites the inside of her lip. “I don’t have the face that he fell for.”

Her eyes squeeze shut, and fat tears roll down her cheeks. Then she looks up suddenly, brows knit together with an overwhelming sense of confusion. “Why don’t you feel like that when you look at me?” He wasn’t even part of the decision, and yet he doesn’t feel the reservations that she’s come to expect from her unique situation.

“And you know Luther?” When and how did that happen? Those seemed like very compartmentalized portions of her social circle, not part of the overlap in a Venn diagram.

Good questions, the lot of them.

Aman pulls open a draw to pull free a mesh strainer, snagging cups off of a drying rack after. He pours the calmed pot directly over the cups, letting the tea drain through and the swirling spices settle in the strainer. "I don't know," he admits uncomfortably. "It just… I didn't know who you were, I panicked because of it, but then I felt you. I— I knew it was you, because I don't need my eyes to tell me who you are. And then I regretted not seeing it a little sooner."

He looks back to her for a long moment to reconsider her. Yeah, she looks different— and she's taller— but he reacts the same way he feels he would for someone that got a particularly dramatic haircut. It was jarring, but then you accept that that's the new them. And then you move on.

To that effect, he shrugs to show he's largely nonplussed. "I know it's you in there. You who drive me up a wall because you make bad choices and I forgive you for them anyway, you who're more than any one pain; you and your teasing; you…" He sighs, admitting in a mutter. "surprising motherfucker." Aman shakes his head to himself as he pours the second cup for him. "How could it be anybody but you?" He has to stop pouring well before the pot runs out of liquid. He made too much.

Ah, well. He does that often enough.

"Luther… was at Kaylee's when I went over that first night. He didn't get in until after I did, woke me up and scared me witless. I'm still not entirely sure he didn't want to snap me in half just for existing. As for a reason— pick one." He sets aside the pot and caps the milk, pulling forward the glass container full of sugar. "Help yourself," Aman indicates on his way back to the fridge, haphazardly starting to get things back in order. "Anyway, he supported me not making my problems Kaylee's problems, and I got my shit together and just left town entirely. I didn't come back to New York until…" He squints one eye almost shut, thinking. Looking back to her, he starts to sound out, "Mmmmmay…?"

“I know when you came back,” Odessa cuts him off. She looks down at her feet a moment, awkward in that too-easy admission. “I… I could feel you weren’t so far away anymore.” It does nothing to diminish the strength of the feelings they pass between themselves, but she just knows, somehow. Improbably. Lifting her head, she finally picks up a mug of tea for herself, flashing a brief smile. “Welcome back.” Then more sheepishly, she gestures. “Sorry. Continue.”

That robs him of his steam a bit, recognition of that aspect of her ability flashing in his eyes before he makes his way back to the counter, standing shoulder to shoulder with her. He slides the back of one hand across the surface of the countertop to sluice away drops of tea he's spilled, and then he slides a test grasp around the ceramic of his own, steaming mug. "Well," he says mildly, "I mean, that was about it."

Aman looks back at her with a small shrug. "I mean, I came and I got my job back, I went and gave the teleportation back so I could have my side-gig back— and god, that was the longest time I'd had any singular ability, so going back to just being me was…" His mouth quirks to one side. Not like there was anything wrong with being him, it was just … weird. Different? He'd gotten used to who he'd become. "But anyway, so I've got all that going for me. Used most of my oni money for a downpayment on this place. Now to just keep up with the payments…"

He slides a look back to Odessa a bit pointedly. "I mean, and hope nothing happens to lead Redd right to my door."

There’s a flare of irritation that morphs swiftly into anger and is doused quickly by a wave of guilt. “I’m handling Redd,” Odessa insists in a quiet voice. Her mouth ticks upward in a brief moment of amusement at her own expense. Because of their link, she can’t hide her feelings from him. And if she does shut down their link, he knows she’s hiding from him and he’ll just draw it out of her anyway. It’s a dual-edged sword.

“You like my teasing,” is a deflection from all of that. Though she pushes the undercurrent of flirtation toward him, it lacks substance. Which isn’t to say it isn’t a genuine emotion, just not one she can fully settle into. Not when that guilt keeps threatening to drown her.

Aman can't help but read into the guilt, feel like it's related to why she feels the need to handle Redd herself, when Redd wasn't her problem. He meets her guilt with compassion, acceptance, leaning into it. "I wish you'd just let it lie, Des." he murmurs in that same sort of quiet, glancing back to his drink. He lifts it to take a test sip off the top, settling it back down to screw off the top of the sugar. He pulls a spoon from the drying rack, offering it to her first.

"And I hate your teasing," he says, waggling the spoon at her with a small smile. The amusement in his ribbing gives away that's a lie.

Odessa shakes her head to the offered spoon. Apparently she likes hers just fine without sugar. And as far as she’s concerned, Redd is her problem. Even if he doesn’t realize Ourania’s connection to PISEC — or especially because of that — she has to keep an eye on him. Make sure he doesn’t find out about Aman. “Looking out for you is the least I can do, after everything you’ve done for me.”

Her heart positively aches in her chest. Odessa drinks her tea silently, absently brushing away stray traces of her tears with her thumb.

The continued quiet brings Aman to frown. The two spoons of sugar he dumps into the chai are hastily done, barely stirred. The cup is abandoned in favor of turning to Odessa at his side, arm wrapping around her shoulders again. He doesn't say anything at all now, looking out the window over the sink and sitting in the moment.

He wishes she wouldn't do that to herself, but he knows there's no fighting it. Not without incurring some kind of pyrrhic victory.

"If you're allowed to look out for me," he finally murmurs. "Then I'm allowed to worry about you. Seems fair."

After he lets that sit for a moment, his head turns slightly to hers. "I've got your bag still, by the way. Got it off the boat."

Her arm snakes back to deposit her mug on the counter in favor of leaning against Aman. One arm slips around the back of his waist. The other reaches up to curl her fingers across his collar and just over his shoulder. “Thanks,” she murmurs absently.

“I wish,” Odessa starts, fingers curling into the fabric of his shirt a little, “I could live up to the dream you have of me. I wish I could be the good person you want me to be. I wish I could be someone you want.” Like she has to remind herself that he doesn’t want her. Not really. Not when he sees those glimpses of who she really is; whether from her own slips or from what little he’s tried not to read about her.

"I dunno, Des," Aman sighs. "I keep trying to tell you to be selfish and not worry about me, and you keep fighting me tooth and nail on this selfless bullshit. So maybe you're already better off than you give yourself credit for." He pulls his other arm around her, resting it higher on her back. It's hard for him to hide his guilt from her when she needles at the way he feels about her.

Is it an argument worth having? Or would explaining things just make it worse?

"I wish you'd stop thinking I'm some kind of goddamned paragon, already. Like I'm too good, or too innocent, or too pure for… whatever, you know? I spartan-kicked you off my porch not even an hour ago. What more'll it take?" He lets out a huff of a laugh, but it's hollow, and it hurts. "I just…"

She can feel it. It's not that he's not attracted to her, even with the new face. It always starts like this, too, before it devolves into something tasting of guilt and loathing. Self-loathing. It's one thing to support her, after all. It's another thing entirely to want her while wilfully ignoring her history. It's a line he draws for himself, save for the times she pulled him over it.

"It's not your fault," Aman feels the need to tell her, even at the risk of putting his foot in his mouth in the process. He hugs her tighter, forgetting any potential soreness. "So don't do something stupid like hate yourself over it."

“I don’t.” Think he’s a paragon, that is. “If you were, you wouldn’t have been anywhere near PISEC. Or, you would have bailed once you figured out what was up, because you could have. Any fucking time.” Odessa lifts her head far enough to slant a knife-sharp smirk at him. “I’m not that naive.”

Her head settles back in where it was. “You did kick my ass back there. You’re not… quite as gentle as I took you for.” It’s one thing to teleport someone in and out of a place — even one like PISEC — for the money. It’s another thing to inflict harm, damage, and pull triggers. The latter items leave dark marks on a person’s soul.

But she’s sick with guilt. His and her own. It makes her want to appeal to him, to explain why she needs him. But that… would be manipulative. It would put her weakness on display in such a way that he feels responsible for it, and… in this way, she can be a better person, by not putting him through that.

Maybe she’d be better off if she did. Because the fact of the matter is that she does need someone like Aman to keep her anchored. To remind her to be and do better, because she does so poorly at it when left to her own devices.

“I…” Odessa sighs heavily, defeated. “I probably don’t love you,” she admits. “I probably love the idea of the person I could become if I had someone like you. I probably love what you represent to me.” She shakes her head, helpless. “Maybe I do love the reality of you, too. But… you can’t love the reality of me.

Which hurts so fucking much.

“And people like me don’t know how to love properly anyway.”

He doesn't need her hurt to ache from hearing that. But here he is anyway, feeling as though it's him that's been kicked in the chest, succumbing some to the feedback loop of them being honest even though all it's doing is causing them both pain.

"Des," he says reluctantly, "if I got around to loving you, I'd want it to be because of you, and not because of what some headlines say about you. I just… don't know how to reckon with the person you used to be and the woman you are now. I know— I know based on what you told me that they're the same person. That the reasons you had? They were valid at those points in time. That you've changed since then, at least some. That the places you ended up, they weren't because you had some burning, dying desire to see all Evos strung up from trees, they were…" His brow furrows, trouble in his expression and his spirit. "More human than that," is how he decides to frame it.

His hand shifts, curling around to rest on her shoulder. "I'd want to hear it from you. But at the same time, you shouldn't have to justify your entire life experience in order to be loved. You shouldn't have to answer for every wrong thing you did just to be granted love, or forgiveness. And I hate that I can't reconcile that bullshit catch-22 I have going on in my head." His hand lifts again, this time cupping her cheek. "It's not your fault I have that going on. It's my own inability to commit to any one thing."

"Even a feeling," he chuckles then at his own expense. His eyes half-lid as he settles, the light in them shifting to something more somber. Aman brushes his thumb over her cheek before meeting her eyes again.

"Does he love you?" he asks reluctantly. Fully. The reality of her. All her parts.

Except her physical appearance. They already know how Odessa's partner feels about that.

The hand on his shoulder slides slowly until it’s settled where his neck meets his shoulder, fingers slowly curling around to rest against the base of his spine. Her attraction to him is clearly telegraphed, but held at bay. Even while her heart soars and breaks all at once with every physical act of affection from him.

“Why is that unfair? It’s unfair to you not to hear it from me, isn’t it?” Odessa’s eyes search his face now. “I’ve done wrong, and I should have to justify why I deserve a second chance.” She had to do it for the courts, after all. Repeatedly.

The brush over her cheek causes her eyes to close briefly. Her chest feels like it contracts. Like her ribs have been fashioned specifically as a too-small cage for her heart now. “Of course not, Amanvir.” Odessa shakes her head, meeting his gaze with a sad smile. “No one who accepts the woman I’ve been with open arms… is capable of that kind of love.”

Others don’t understand people like you and I. Not our motivations. And certainly not our emotions.

“But he provides for me,” Odessa is quick to offer in defense of Ace Callahan. “He gave me a place to live. Food to eat. Clothes to wear.” Blue eyes dart down quickly, then back up. “This body didn’t come cheap. I have him to thank for that, too.”

Leaning into the touch of his hand, her eyes close tightly a moment, brows knitting as though she’s trying to recall something buried in memory. “There are glimmers, sometimes. He cares, in his way. But it isn’t the great romance I’d hoped for.” Odessa looks back at Aman again at that, impossibly sad. “But he makes me feel alive. He encourages my interests. Supports me while I figure out my new place here… Maybe that’s the best a person like me can hope for. Ace doesn’t make me justify my past. He just… accepts who I’ve been and the things that I’ve done, and the strength that’s given me.”

Even if it feels much more like weakness from where she’s standing.

Her argument that she deserves to make the argument for herself by herself meets only a strangled note of a reply. The intention of one. Because she's right, isn't she? Somehow, in his mind, it felt like forcing her to do so. But… that wasn't the case, if it was just a conversation.

One just like this one.

The news her partner doesn't love her, which he reads as lacking feelings for her— it leaves him feeling hollow on her behalf. Aman struggles to see what she describes as anything but another form of bondage. He hears the arguments made at the end, but they don't stick to him the same way the rest of it does.

His hand cups her cheek more firmly, worry manifesting in the brush of his thumb. He's crushed, thinking of her situation. "I mean it now more than ever, if you ever get in a position where you're not okay, where you're not safe, you call and all you have to do is use that phrase we talked about, okay?" He searches her eyes for a sign maybe she's already said it without saying it, deeply concerned he might've missed it before. "You remember what it is, right?"

His doubt is indistinguishable from her own. He realizes what she doesn’t: That it’s because she, too, doubts.

So badly, she wants to do what she’s proposing to do. To start laying it all out there and let him decide if she is or isn’t worthy of this affection he keeps giving her. Like she’s earned it. Like it means something. Like she means something.

Her voice is strained when she asks, “Did you call your mother for her birthday?”

With difficulty, Aman nods in return. "That's right." His hand falls to her shoulder before he brings her in for a tight embrace, cooling tea be damned.

"I know nothing's perfect. Nothing's ever perfect. But there's a difference in accepting that something isn't ideal and dealing with something that's…"

He can't even finish the statement verbally, only anguish coming from him.

"No matter what you've done, you never deserve something like that," he proclaims in a fierce quiet.

“No undue pain,” Odessa murmurs sardonically, even as she’s wincing and holding back a soft sound that would betray just that. “Gently, if you please,” she reminds instead, and in spite of herself. She’d much rather cling to him like this and feel the crush of his embrace, but… he also kicked her square in the chest and that still hurts. Along with all the other more minor aches and pains.

When he eases up enough for her to lean back enough to meet his gaze again, she smiles at him reassuringly. But there’s no emotion to back it up. “I’ll go home to him tonight, explain that I lost my footing on the library stairs, and… he’ll do something nice for me.” That’s probably a lie, but it could be the truth. Or he could berate her for being clumsy and not taking better care of herself. Maybe they’ll flip a coin for it.

“It’ll be fine.” Which is a lot different from I’ll be fine. “You don’t have to worry about me, okay? I’m… I’m not your problem.” God, how she’d like to be, though. In a way, that’s precisely what makes her so.

"Even if it weren't impossible for me not to worry about you, I would anyway," Aman argues back. "Besides, I just told you, Des. If you're allowed to worry about me, the same goes in return. That's just fair." He tries to put a spin on it and make it a humorous sort of gotcha, but his emotional register is still just a little too tight underneath it. Reluctantly, he lets go of her, busying himself with drinking the tea instead. It's not his best, but it's not his worst. It's cooled enough he takes a large gulp of it.

"Honestly, the name thing is going to be harder than accepting you've changed the way you look. Ourania just doesn't come as easy." He looks back to her for a moment before trying to find busywork in putting his kitchen back together to avoid continuing to fret over her. "Why'd you pick that one, anyway?" That might make it easier to do the transition, if he knows.

"You accepting nicknames for it, yet? Like Ori?"

Even if he couldn’t feel her emotions, her disappointment and regret when he releases her would be palpable. Odessa turns back to the counter, though, and reclaims her own tea. One hand takes up the mug while the other retrieves her cane from where she left it propped against the under-counter cupboards. “I’ll always accept nicknames from you,” she tells him fondly, a small blush coming to her cheeks despite herself.

“Ourania was the muse of astronomy.” Which is perhaps a little confusing in its significance without context, so Odessa continues. “When I was younger, before I’d ever seen the outside world, I used to study the stars in books.” There’s a hint of nostalgia there, even though she’s discussing her time in captivity. “I loved them. Everything about them. I wanted so badly to see them for myself someday.”

She smiles, meeting Aman’s gaze. This is a simple conversation. Like friends have. “I was so disappointed to understand the effects of light pollution. But… during the war?” Odessa closes her eyes and her smile widens. “There were so many stars.” In those remote areas, where all but firelight had been lost to them in the dark. “I can navigate by stars,” she confides, a twinkle in her eye when she opens them again. “It just… felt right.”

That it was Ace’s idea is conveniently omitted. Aman doesn’t need to know how eager she is to please someone he doesn’t particularly care for. “Ranya is nice, too.” To get back to nicknames.

"Ranya." Aman echoes back, thoughtful. Well, that's not a terrible leap. And now that there's a story behind the name…

"Ourania." It sounds like it comes easier from him that time. Like it feels closer to right. But then he's twisting his nose. So, maybe not just yet.

After putting the milk back in the fridge, he shrugs the feeling away. "So… so what are you doing now, anyway? Are you really working with the Council?"

Odessa laughs quietly, shaking her head as she takes another swallow of tea. “Oh, gosh, no.” Like she thinks it’s precious he thought she might. “I ah, actually… My full-time job right now is at a lounge on Staten Island. Opened last month. Called Rossignol?”

She’s pleased with this, and he knows it by more than the shy smile she wears. “I play piano with the band and sometimes I sing. I… actually really like it.”

Aman turns back with a blink of surprise. A lounge? Compared to all the heavy topics they've discussed, this is a pleasant spot of news, a bright one. "That's amazing!"

"I hope the place is a huge success. That sounds like a great outlet for you, Des." He smiles with warmth in it. "I'd love to come see you perform sometime." No hesitation there, all enthusiasm. No consideration for that possibly being a bad idea, to clash worlds like that. "Would there be a good time to do that?"

The correct answer, of course, is never. Odessa instead answers, “Maybe next month? Give me a chance to get my feet under me a little better. Build a little more confidence.” Sometimes it's hard to imagine Odessa as anything but confident when it comes to showcasing her skills. “I'm still all nerves when I step on stage. But I'm okay once I get settled into a groove.”

Light in her eyes and in her emotions fades slowly. “This is a bad idea.” It's not a dawning realization, just one that she's acknowledging, rather than continuing to push it under the rug. “It's Staten Island and all…” Safe enough for someone like her, but for him? She's certain it isn't. Not with Redd in the picture.

Not with Ace in the picture, for that matter, if he were to figure out that Aman is Odessa's friend.

“I… I shouldn't be a part of your life. It's not safe.” Even if they’re both well aware that he’s plenty adept at making his own life unsafe without her help.

He's more at peace with that than he should be. There's disappointment, but calm acceptance in it as well. "I understand," Aman tells her, trying to hold onto that feeling. It should be good enough that things are going well for her in that area… right? He shouldn't need to be involved. "You're right. About it being a bad call."

"Still," he says, screwing the cap back on the sugar and slotting it back with the other glass jars of spices and additives. This place in general seems to be more well-kept than his old apartment. He's doing the best to make the most out of his own new start. And it looks like his kitchen competency in general has improved.

"I'll be cheering for you, from all the way over here." he tells her, leaning one hand against the countertop. His lean deepens as he realizes something, expression douring. "I'm… Should I not tell anyone you stopped by? Not Kaylee, even?"

He frowns a little. That's a thing he can get away with now, not that he's enthused about it.

His acceptance seems to knock the air right out of her lungs. Odessa drains the last of her tea, moving past Aman to rinse her mug in the sink and leaving it in the basin with water still in the bottom. She braces both hands against the edge and sags forward in tandem with the lidding of her eyes and a heavy exhale.

There’s no more link between them.

It will still be there later, of course, but for now… She doesn’t want to broadcast just how badly she hurts that he agrees.

He won’t fight for you.

You don’t deserve someone good.

No one really believes you can change.

You aren’t worth the effort.

You aren’t worth the risk.

They’ll always cut you loose at the first opportunity you give them.

No one wants you.

You will never change.

Odessa straightens up and glances back to Aman. “If you… have my bag, I’ll just take it and get out of your hair.”

Though she tries to hide her reaction from him, the emotional sink doesn't exactly hit him on a delay. And then when there's the silence, the sudden lack of her being tethered to his, the ground feels as though it's been pulled from him.

It always does, a little. It's different when she's doing it and they're three feet apart.

With her facing away, she can't see the confusion, the alarm that flickers in Aman's eyes. Little did he know that respecting her apparent wishes wouldn't be the right thing to do.

But the smart thing is never what anyone wants to do, isn't it. Not when it comes to matters of the heart.

Aman finds himself reaching for Odessa while she tends to the simple chore, hand raised and hovering over her back. He hesitates when she turns back, sounding as cut-off in tone as she is from their link. But, his gut says to find that connection again, even if it's not quite the same as through her ability.

His hand settles high on her back in the center, pads of his fingers rubbing over her spine in a gesture of comfort— a gesture of presence and grounding. Aman smiles, a small thing that looks genuine save for the worry and conflict that haunts his eyes.

"We can do that," he admits, careful and slow. "Or I can keep it, in case you need it again. It's… up to you."

Maybe it shouldn't be, but it's important to him it is.

Odessa inhales sharply and all but flinches when he finally makes that connection with her again physically. Her shoulders come up and in slightly, huddling in on herself. Even with the added height now, she’s still able to make herself look so small with those little shifts in posture.

“I’m trying to make this easy for you,” she breathes out. Now her pain clearly shows in her face, eyes having gone glassy with tears. And those blue eyes are so unmistakably Odessa. “It’s not fair o—” The rest of that sentence dies on her tongue. “I want you in my life so desperately, Aman.” It’s everything she can do to keep her hands at her sides. One grips at the head of her cane and the other curls into a fist at her side.

“And I don’t know if that’s because of what I feel, or what you feel, or if it’s this link that neither of us fucking understands, and I’m just passing my crazy to you!” Her focus fades, staring off into some distance past Aman’s sternum. Defeated.

"Nothing about this is easy. And if it were…" Well, maybe that'd be an issue. Complicated emotions aren't supposed to take ten seconds to resolve themselves. "I know it's hard, and it's even harder because we're dealing with two heads in one here, and nothing is fair because life isn't fair, but—"

Aman falls quiet then. He takes his time with his next words, before just trusting his gut. "Who knows, Des." What continues to draw them together still, that is. If it's a byproduct of the link alone, or something more. "Who knows."

"I'll tell you what, though—" His hands lift to her shoulders, bracing them so the two of them properly face each other. He ducks his head to look into her eyes, if only she'll meet his. "I'll be here for you, if you let me. I'm a phone call away, any hour of the day. I can't solve your problems, but I'll sit with you and try to work with you on them. I know… that you're trying to make a new life, and leave the old one behind."

"Maybe that can be the case after all— Maybe Ranya is the one who I get to hang out with in the light of day." He smiles small, brief and serious about it. "Because that's something we can do now, isn't it? It doesn't have to be all doom and gloom." His hand lifts to brush away the moisture at the corner of her eyes, wishing he could quell the turmoil that causes them.

"It might not be perfect, but we'll make the best of it. Okay? We'll figure it out." Aman stands to his full height again. "And I promise there will be like, eight hundred percent less kicking involved."

“Stop it,” Odessa whispers weakly. “Stop it, stop it, stop it.” Over and over, her voice barely carrying enough to be heard. It cuts off when he finds her eyes again, her breath catching in her throat. The barely restrained emotion causes her to shudder when he wipes away her tears. Her eyes shut tightly as though in physical pain, lips pressed together.

When she opens her eyes again to look at him again, tilting her head up to better see his face, it’s with a shaky breath of laughter. “Actually? That was kind of hot.” The kicking. It’s a joke. Probably. Without the link, he’ll never know for sure.

A scant couple of months ago, she’d have had to get up on her toes. Now, Odessa simply leans in, tilting her head back slightly and closing her eyes. But she doesn’t take what she wants from him. This is something she only wants if he’ll give it freely, but she’ll allow her intention to be made clear, close enough now that it feels like they could share one heartbeat. One breath.

Aman's glad in this moment the only set of confusing emotions he has to deal with are his own. It makes them marginally easier to sift through, but not by much. "Des—" he whispers, surprise in it. His head leans to hers, nose brushing before he leans his forehead against hers. His arms fall, looping around her midsection to hold her close. After closing his eyes, his brow ticks in a sign of the pain the decision puts him through, though his palm plants on the small of her back.

Didn't she just say she has someone she's with now?

"I…" Aman shifts the curve of his head, kissing her on the cheek even as his body, his head, his heart kick him for it, all for different reasons. "One thing at a time," he tells himself softly in an uncertain whisper. Tells her, too.

He continues to hold her, unwilling to break the moment.

The reluctance tells her what she thinks she needs to know. Odessa accepts what he’s willing to give with about as much grace as she can manage, though he can practically taste the salt of her tears when she presses a kiss to his cheek in return.

Neatly, she nests her head in against his shoulder now, just enjoying the warmth of his arms around her, and the more metaphorical sort that comes with that. “I don’t know how to be normal, Aman,” Odessa confesses. “I don’t know what normal people do. I don’t know how they live their lives. I don’t know what a life without chaos and violence and hiding and secrets looks like.”

Meaning, she’s going to be awkward. She’s going to be frustrating. She’s going to be looking to him for guidance. “But I’d like to try it sometime.” Even if it’s only make-believe for a few hours at a time. As long as it’s time she gets to spend with him.

Aman rests his hand on the back of her head, eyes drifting nearly shut. "I think I can swing normal for a few hours," he tells her. "Or I can do a hell of a job pretending, and teach you how to pretend, too."

Contented by that, the note that the conversation has reached, his arms loosen in their hold around her, the hand on her head falling away entirely. "And maybe you can give me a crash-course on how to handle a life less normal than mine. Where terrorists and… entities…" a word he chooses carefully, the sound of it drawn out, "and time travel is par for the course."


She had never talked about any of that with anybody. Only she and her cousin know about what they experienced. Richard thinks she was just high. Odessa straightens up to look at Aman as though she’s never really seen him before.


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