Negative Emotional Feedback


odessa4_icon.gif richard3_icon.gif

Scene Title Negative Emotional Feedback
Synopsis What was meant to be an attempt at healing instead tears open wounds both old and new.
Date November 7, 2020

Raytech NYCSZ Branch Office
Richard Ray’s Office
November 7, 2020
8:57 AM

A chime from the hallways signals the elevator doors are about to open. The muted sound of footsteps and a sharper click herald someone’s approach. The knuckles on the door announce their arrival.

The office door swings open a crack and a blonde head peeks through, darting a glance around as though to see if the coast is clear before swinging it open further. “Uhm… Sera said you wanted to see me, sir?” Odessa hasn’t even removed her overcoat yet, meaning the receptionist actually managed to catch her on her way in, perhaps shockingly.

Stepping inside, she swings the door shut behind her, letting it close quietly as possible. With the door shut, she relaxes against it for a moment, offering a smile. The act dropped. “Good morning, Richard.” Odessa adjusts a pair of black-framed glasses on her face. Unlike the red ones Desdemona nearly always wore, these aren’t part of a disguise. The lenses are meant to cut down on the glare from the computer screens and bright lighting in the lab.

“Good morning,” Richard looks like he hasn’t slept, which given that it’s nine in the morning, is entirely likely. He’s always been a night owl, after all, even when his ability was gone. He pushes himself up from behind the table, offering her back a smile of his own - genuine, despite the hint of weariness there. His own dark glasses hide his eyes, but mean he doesn’t have to turn the lights off on her.

“Yeah, I was wondering if you might like to help me with some… experimental trials,” he says, eyebrows raising a little, “I want to test something out with the conduit.”

“If this is a thinly veiled pass at— Oh.” Odessa slips from chiding to astonished when he explains what he’d like her assistance with. Her brows lift and her smile grows. “Conduit experiments? Please, I will clear my entire schedule.”

Some things never change, but Odessa has been in her chosen profession since most kids were learning to fold fortune flickers and passing notes that ask do you like me? y/n circle one. If she weren’t fascinated by all matters scientific — especially the mystifying sort — she wouldn’t have gotten this far in life.

“How can I help?”

Richard rolls his eyes - she may not be able to see it, but she can tell - at that first statement. “Please. If I make a pass at you it will not be thinly veiled. Besides, you have a— Harry.”

Despite their double date, he doesn’t seem thrilled with that still. Maybe it’s just jealousy.

“A little bit the other way around, honestly,” he admits, one hand coming up to rub against his five o’clock shadow as he considers her from behind those tinted lenses, “I can tell that you’re not— completely healed yet. I assume from the plastic surgery or whatever you had done.”

Odessa has the grace to look apologetic, if also faintly embarrassed when Richard promises to be overt in his pursuit of her — if there was to be a pursuit of her at all. It’s easiest to assume jealousy. After all, her partner feels the same whenever she mentions the man in front of her.

Her expression shifts into something quizzical, but the confusion clears up quickly when he explains himself. “Oh.” Odessa turns her face away, looking vaguely sheepish. “Yes, well, it turns out that having your body entirely reconstructed from too little base material means it takes a while for the new frame to reinforce itself.” Unconsciously, she leans on her cane a little heavier. Glancing back out of the corner of her eye she asks, “What did you have in mind?”

“So…” Richard’s eyebrows go up a bit over the edge of his shades, “…by having Doctor Miller watch the conduit in action during the spring, we, ah, managed to decipher the biochemical mix that makes up ‘life force’. We’ve been growing some engineered strains of algae down in Botany for the past half-year to duplicate it, with the idea being that I could transfer energy from it rather than, you know, people.”

He motions to her, “Since I have someone in need of healing right here, I figured you might be willing to help with that trial.”

Slowly, her piqued interest brings her to turn back to Richard fully. “You… want to help me?” She could stand to sound a little less surprised about that, and she realizes it. Odessa shakes her head quickly. “I mean, of course you want to help me. You’re a good person who helps people.” Even people like her, but that’s not a fight she’s going to pick this morning. She hasn’t had coffee yet.

“Yeah, okay.” She’s still faintly nonplussed by the offer, but it does make sense. “If it’ll help… Yes.” A slight smile settles on her face. “When would you like to begin?”

Richard just looks at her for a moment, then brings one hand up, fingers pushing his shades up as he pinches the bridge of his nose. His eyes closed as he asks in soft tones, “Did you seriously think I was just helping you before because I was hoping to fuck you more, Odessa? I mean— seriously?”

"No!" Odessa is very quick to refute that notion. "No, I just… I'm always surprised when someone wants to help me." She looks down at her flat shoes self-consciously. "I would never think that of you, Richard. You helped me for years before we ever got together. I know better."

She looks up again, clearly feeling awful. "I'm so sorry. I never meant to imply that or make you feel that way."

“Sorry. Sorry, I just…” Richard grimaces, shaking his head and sweeping his other hand through the air, “No matter what, everyone always thinks I have some ulterior motives. I don’t even think Liz completely trusts me sometimes, I just…”


He flashes a smile as he shoves that hurt down, “Right. We can head down and do it right now, if you want. Get some basic medical workups on your condition, then give it a try, and then repeat to see how you’re doing.”

Odessa frowns. "That's not how I see you. But, I get it. We both have our insecurities." She knows very well what it feels like to be distrusted.

She's just as willing as he is to sweep that under the rug and move on. "Now's good for me. I've got most of a chart on myself already. I did a workup before I started my experiment with the pigs." She was the control sample, after all.

“Oh, good. How’s all that going…?” Richard steps around the desk, starting towards the office door but slowing to ask the question, glancing to her with an eyebrow’s raise. “I’ve been doing a few tests of my own, but the results have been— limited.”

"I'm waiting to get word from KC that I can use their microscope. Probably while classes are on break for the holiday later this month." Odessa turns, but pauses with her hand on the door. This is probably not a discussion they want to have outside the office.

"It's… Baffling and astonishing. I think if I can study the effects on human subjects too, it would help me figure this out, but I'll see what the lab yields first. I could get a breakthrough when I study the blood samples more in-depth."

“If the pigs develop evolved powers,” notes Richard, his tone wry, “I will never forgive you.”

He’s joking.

“I would let you collect the Nobel Prize, though. It’s only fair, since your father did it first, but couldn’t tell anyone. C’mon, let’s go do some science.”

Odessa laughs softly. "That would track for me, wouldn't it? What a legacy he left me…" she shakes her head and pulls the door open, stepping out into the hall and aside from the door to wait for him to lead them down to the lab.

"It would be nice, though," Odessa admits as they ride the elevator down. "Getting recognized for my work in a positive light for a change." Her eyes roll. "Nobody cares that you helped develop a flu vaccine when it was with Institute resources."

“That’s honestly one of the main reasons I built all this,” Richard admits in return, offering her a rueful smile, “All these geniuses and amazing minds, but they kept getting put to work doing… terrible things. I thought - what if they could work on better things? And actually get credit for them?”

He shrugs, “I don’t know if it’s really working, but I think I’m doing some good, so - I’ll take it.”

The elevator stops, the doors slide open and he sweeps a hand, “After you.”

Odessa nods her head graciously, heading into the hall and toward the labs. She keeps to one side of the hall, cognizant of her slower pace and allowing Richard the chance to pass if he needs.

It hit her at once that if this works, she may not be in this situation anymore. She might be able to keep pace again. Be able to move without pain again. The thought brings a smile to her face.

"You've done right by us," Odessa insists. "I've been able to do good work that I've been proud of here.” Even if she doesn’t believe she’ll be recognized for it. “Both now and before."

“Thanks.” A smile’s offered over to her, and Richard steps out of the elevator, shaking his head, “I’ve just been— doubting myself a lot since… everything happened. I tried to reach out to a lot of people, to re-establish ties, trust, but it didn’t go well. Sorry I’m being like this. Let’s focus on the here and now…”

He keeps his own pace slow, intentionally not overtaking her.

"I know," Odessa says gently. "I know how much it weighs on you." She inhales sharply, but no complaint follows, no outward indication of pain. But now that they're further away from others, she's engaged her ability, hoping to keep track of his emotional state as they go forward with this endeavor. She wants to be sure he won't push himself too hard in his desire to help her.

Because he is a good person. One who'll give too much of himself to help others. "Say… Do you think it would be possible to get a couple keys to the residential building, and access to my old apartment. I've been stopping in to run overnights, and it would be nice to have someplace other than the employee lounge to rest. It's eerie when everyone's gone home. Also, I'd like to… I shower before I go home so I don't smell like a farm, and the gym showers, ah…"

How to word this?

"They feel a bit too much like the last place I lived. Reminds me too much of Utah." She means Moab.

“Of course. It’s your apartment still,” Richard notes, glancing over with a wry expression, “Everything’s just how the federal agents left it after they tossed the place. Well, maybe not that bad, I did have the maids clean it up, but— all your things are still there.” He didn’t have it reassigned, even though there was a shortage of rooms at the time. As the campus grows, of course, that’s not a problem anymore.

He’s tired; his mood’s a little low no doubt due to the early hour, but he’s striving to press past that with coffee and a smile. The earlier subjects of conversation stirred up some frustration, a bit of sadness, but he’s working to compartmentalize that back in his box.

He probably does need a therapist, really.

Ahead, though, is the hallway to the botanical research labs. “Anyone you want to give a key to will need to pass a security check, though, and— “ He pauses. How to say ‘Your boyfriend won’t pass it’ politely.

The notion that her place was tossed sits cold in the pit of her stomach. She knew, of course, that it had to have been done, but having it confirmed is something else. It was different with this apartment. She’d allowed herself to accumulate things. Objects that had specific meaning to her. That strangers would have sorted through those things, pawed through the contents of her drawers, torn apart her closet and tried to discern meaning from the curios she kept feels like one of the more intimate violations she’s experienced.

And she’s experienced a few of those.

“Thank you,” is what she says, instead of voicing any of her negative feelings. What’s done is done, and he did his best to preserve some of what she had. “You shouldn’t need to worry. I believe my friend’s already passed your security. Ah… Amanvir Binepal?” She expects the name is recognizable to him. It’s not like it’s a common one.

Odessa tests her keycard on the door to the lab hallway just to see if it’ll work.

<b-deep> The lock disengages. The work here’s not secured above her level, it seems, if only because the project is so incredibly niche it’s almost unthinkable that anyone would want it. It’s not completely unsecured either, of course. Their last botanical expert turned out to be a terrorist.

There’s a flicker of surprise in Richard’s face at the name stated. “Amanvir? Yes, we’ve met… I thought you were with Harry, though?”

He leads the way into the lab, which aside from the usual tables and computers has a small tank of deep green-and-black liquid sitting on a table. Maybe not even liquid, more of a thick sludge, since it’s mostly algae. Wires trail off to various pieces of equipment, mostly monitoring devices to make sure the conditions in the tank are healthy for the GMO inside. It’s not where most of it is stored, just a small amount with tests being run.

“Behold,” he jokes, gesturing to the tank, “Life.”

Odessa takes in Richard’s surprise with no more than a glance, following him into the laboratory and drinking in the project contained with a neutral expression. He knows her well enough by now to recognize when he’s struck a nerve.

That’s only abundantly clear when she throws Richard up against one of the walls in a display of strength and speed that’s only surprising based on how much he knows she’s physically hurting. How much that’s limited her ability to move easily and with any level of comfort.

“Make that insinuation one more time,” Odessa dares him, her forearm pressed across his shoulders and her cane providing pressure across his throat. They both know she can’t hurt him. Not without hurting herself in the process, or worse. But he knows how easy it is for her to spiral downward to a place where she no longer worries about her physical safety.

And none of it stops her from driving home a point.

Bang! Richard has a sudden flashback to the last time this happened, which involved a knife instead of a cane and was in a different room entirely but was also Odessa.

Go figure.

A startled and pained sound escapes his lips as that pressure’s applied to his throat, his brow furrowing in confusion as he blinks at her a few times with dark eyes. “The… fuck?”

Her lips are pursed so small and her eyes narrowed to angry little slits. “Don’t you ever, ever suggest that I’m not loyal to Harry again. Not even as a joke.” He can feel the difference in her strength. It’s there, it was enough to catch him by surprise, but it isn’t enough to keep him there if he decides to fight back. She’s shaking as she holds him pinned there. She isn’t just angry…

Odessa is scared.

Promise me,” she demands.

Richard doesn’t fight back; he doesn’t push against her, doesn’t struggle. After that initial surprise, he just relaxes a bit, letting her pin him there as he looks back at her steadily.

He’s silent for a moment, and then he says something he’d told himself he wouldn’t.

“He hit you, Odessa.”

Several tense seconds of silence follow that statement, punctuated by the hard breaths she takes in and out to keep herself in check. “He knows what I’ll do if he does it again.” There’s no trying to deny it, and there’s no defending it. Even if she does feel she deserved it, she doesn’t play that tired role. Not with Richard.

“I scared him. He reacted poorly.” Those are facts, not excuses. Odessa turns away, but doesn’t ease up just yet. Her lip curls faintly in a sardonic sort of expression. “I should’ve warned him about the cameras.” It’s bad enough that it happened at all. Worse that it was witnessed. Further still by someone who actually cares about her.

“‘He reacted poorly’. You’re damn right he reacted poorly.”

She looks away, but Richard keeps his eyes on her face, his lip curling up in a bit of a snarl at that. “He’s lucky it took a few days for security to bring it to my attention. If someone’d seen it live and reported it…” The speed of dark is actually surprisingly impressive.

“Why are you scared of this two-bit mobster, Des?”

Don’t,” Odessa warns, looking back to him, but only from the corner of her eye. In contrast to her tone, however, she finally steps back. Her arm drops to her side and she goes back to leaning on her cane, looking drained for the effort she’s just expended.

Though her lips remain sealed, it still looks as though her mouth is trying to frame words, but that perhaps none of them are the right words, and so they never make it past the brainstorming phase.

As she drops down, Richard rocks back away from the wall, one hand coming up to rub at his neck as he stares at the woman with a concerned and frustrated expression. Finally he reaches out, lightly touching her shoulder.

“Des,” he says gently, “What’s going on?”

There’s no attempt to shake off the touch or withdraw from it, but nor does Odessa seem to respond to it. “I’m just under a lot of stress,” she says quietly, eyes focused off somewhere in the middle distance of the lab, and not in the lab at all.

“He… He knows that he hurt me. He knows I won’t put up with it.” But she won’t look at Richard, not directly, and he can see her shame. “It’s… It’s not —”

Now she is trying to make excuses, and so she stills her tongue. That isn’t who she wants to be.

“I kind of don’t think that you just shoved me against a wall because he hit you that once,” Richard says quietly, watching her as she keeps her gaze off him, “And you don’t— you don’t act that afraid of anyone, Des. You wouldn’t react that badly if I told you that Arthur Petrelli was coming down the hall.”

That may be a slight exaggeration.

“Well I can’t exactly stop time anymore, can I?” This is a dangerous conversation she’s having, and part of her is aware, but it’s overpowered by the part of her that trusts that she’s safe with Richard. It’s that assumption that causes her to butt heads with her partner.

“News flash: I’m afraid of everything now.”

Odessa rolls her lower lip under and catches it between the rows of her teeth while she mulls over what to say. “There was a time where that would only have happened to me if I allowed it.” She shakes her head, a short back and forth motion. “Obviously… that ship has sailed.”

A breath’s drawn in, and then Richard exhales it slowly, one hand coming up to rub against the nape of his neck. “Des… okay, so look at this from my point of view. I get word that this guy’s hit you - even if it’s just the once, like you said - and then at the suggestion that you’re not with this guy still, you react like I just dropped your real name in front of Wolfhound.”

He sweeps that hand through the air, “What am I supposed to think?”

She can feel his genuine concern, his care for her - and his suspicion coiling around all that like the shadow that he sometimes is. Deeper, the flicker of anger’s heat, but not yet released from its cage.

“I know.” Odessa gives several short nods of her head. “I know. You’re… You’re reacting like you should, because you care.” That is absolutely unmistakable to her. Even if she didn’t have the insight she does from her ability. “But I also need you to understand that the party in this situation with the most right to be mad is me.

Lest he mistake her argument for invalidation, she’s quick to add, “You’re allowed to be upset. That’s… really the only correct response here. But I — the injured party — am asking you to leave it alone.” Odessa sighs, her shoulders sagging. “I need you to keep that anger locked in that box.”

She turns finally, so she can reach up and cup his face in both of her hands. “I need you to trust me to handle my own personal life.” Her thumbs brush back and forth lightly over his skin. She can’t tell if it’s her own feelings for him inspiring this gentle behavior of hers, or if it’s a reflection of his own. “Can you do that for me? Please?”

A sigh whispers past his lips, Richard’s head tilting slightly into one of her hands as he looks back down at her. “You’re asking a lot of me, Des,” he murmurs, a hand coming up to mirror hers in a brush against her cheek, “I don’t do ‘sit back and let my loved ones be in pain’ really well, you know that. Especially as— powerless as I’ve been about so many things lately.”

His jaw sets briefly - stubborn, as ever, and she can feel that very real frustration beneath the surface, “But— fine. It’s your life. But if I find out he’s actually hurt you again, I’m turning him into a fine layer of ash. And if Mister ‘I’m Not Involved In Anything’ becomes involved in my business then all bets are off.”

Odessa acknowledges the magnitude of her ask with a nod. “Stop,” she asks further, voice almost a whisper. “I know you want to help me. I know that your heart is in the right place. But I’m a capable woman. It’s my choice to forgive him, but I’m not forgetting what he did.” That forgiveness of hers is not unconditional.

“You need to understand something, though.” Her expression carries more seriousness now than it did even before. Her features are sharper, harder. She needs this to be heard and given the proper gravity. “I love Harry, and he loves me in return. If you decide you know better than I do what the response needs to be for his transgressions against me…”

Shaking her head quickly, she reorders her jumbled thoughts, fighting against the way his frustration tries to become hers. “That’s not fair to me. What if Harmony decided to microwave my brains out for breaking your heart when I left? Or for having attacked you in the map room.” If he requires an example of violence. “You’d be furious someone else decided how things should be. That someone hurt the person you—” Her voice catches. The next words feel dangerous, like they should be handled with protective gear, lest she burn herself, or cut herself to the bone.

“You loved.”

Her brow knits. He knows that look, that it means she’s holding back tears. “If you hurt him, Richard, you’ll lose me.”

They’re words wielded as deftly as she’s once wielded knives, and she draws metaphorical blood. Richard’s eyes flash with hurt for a moment before he turns away from her, shaking his head slowly as he steps away from the tank and her.

“Then I guess we’d both better hope that he was honest when I asked him about himself, Odessa,” he says tightly as he walks towards the exit that they’d come through rather than the equipment we’d come in here for, “Hadn’t we?”

“I’ll get Amanvir his keys.”

And he wields that guilt with just as much precision against her. Odessa looks down and away, biting down on the inside of her lip. Even that doesn’t keep the miserable expression off her face, the corners of her mouth downturned and the furrow of her brow deep.

“Please don’t go,” she whispers desperately.

Richard stops at the door, head dipping a bit but not turning around. “We can’t do the experiment now because the Black reacts unexpectedly and almost universally unpleasantly to negative emotional feedback,” he replies, perhaps misunderstanding the reason behind her request, “We’ll have to do this some other time.”

“That’s not—” Odessa’s throat becomes too tight for her to force out further words. She inhales sharply, the exhale coming out in a shudder, betraying her tears without him having to look her way.

She lifts her head and turns it to her right, as if searching for something just over her shoulder out of the corner of her eye. She gives a faint little nod, then turns to face Richard properly. “It’s not easy, okay? None of it. This whole new life thing is… I’m trying.” Odessa wipes at her face, smearing the streaks of make-up that had started to run dark rivers down her cheeks. “I’ve had so many false starts, you’d think I’d have learned by now…”

“I know.” Richard rests a forearm against the door’s frame, and tilts his head to rest against it, eyes closing, “I know. And it’s not a life I’m a part of.” He admits it, although it’s a painful thing for him to say, like tearing off a bandage too long stuck over a wound.

”I just see you scared, Des, and I want to help. I don’t— I can’t affect so many things, despite all my power here, and I want to at least help the people I care about. So long as your— boyfriend’s bullshit doesn’t cross into my business, I’ll leave him alone. Okay?”

Quietly spoken, his eyes closed.

Odessa sniffles and shakes her head ruefully. “You are part of my life, Richard. We just aren’t sleeping together or saying I love you anymore.” It doesn’t mean they aren’t still in love. It just means they’re doing their best to ignore it. To let it pass. To cool to something they can both touch again. “You were a part of my life before we began that. There’s no reason you can’t be now.”

She takes a step toward him, but stops, afraid she isn’t invited. “I’m scared to lose him,” Odessa insists. “He doesn’t understand the bond I share with Aman. He feels threatened by him.” For very, very good reason, but heaven forbid that ever be confirmed.

Her mouth opens, but no sound comes out at first, just the breath that should be giving voice to her thoughts. This admission is a risk, but it’s information she trusts him with. “Aman knows who I am. We met before…” She waves a hand demonstratively in front of her face, then down the rest of her form. “That’s why I need him to have a key. We need a place where he and I can just… Where I can be me, without worrying about who’s around to overhear. He’s got a roommate, so his place is out.”

“I know. That he knew you, that is,” Richard says, pushing back from the door with a sigh and turning back to look at her. She can tell, thanks to her ability, that he wants to say something else on the subject— but he pushes that desire back.

His hands lift slightly, “And I already said I’d leave Harry alone if he wasn’t involved in my business, Des. I don’t know what else you want me to say. I’m assuming that everything he told me about himself is true, so - you shouldn’t have anything to worry about from me.” A grimace, “I don’t like him. I don’t approve. But it’s not my place to, you’re a grown adult woman.”

Thank you,” for acknowledging that. Odessa is so used to having every aspect of her life taken out of her hands and decided for her that it’s nice to hear someone say she’s allowed to make her own choices.

In turn, she acknowledges him. “There’s something you want to say to me.” She eyes him with concern, rather than mistrust or wariness. “What is it?”

“I just said it.” Richard replies, hands spreading, “Anyway…”

He shakes his head, shoulders sinking back again as he turns, “You probably have— a schedule for today, and I probably do too. We’ll try this again next week, or something, so my overprotective puppy dog doesn’t decide you’re a threat in the middle of the process.”

“No you didn’t,” Odessa counters. “I can feel it. You wanted to say something, and you stopped yourself.” She scrubs under her eyes and over her cheekbones once more for good measure, frowning when her fingers come away black, but hoping it means her face has less of that on it now. (It really doesn’t.)

“Don’t hold back on my account.”


Richard looks back at her with a frown, shaking his head, “You told me to trust you to handle your own personal life. I’m doing that. You can’t have it both ways, Odessa.”

Odessa huffs a breath out through her nose. “That doesn’t mean you can’t express your thoughts and concerns. I’m not closed minded.” Not that she means to accuse him of believing that of her.

“Since a simple question resulted in you shoving me up against an expensive piece of equipment not in the fun way,” replies Richard a bit sharply, “You’ll forgive me if I disagree with you there on what I’m allowed to express.” A sharp bit of anger there, mingled with hurt that it happened at all.

“I wasn’t— prepared for you to—”

He has her there.

Odessa lifts her hands in surrender, her cane balanced precariously in the curve from thumb to forefinger. “I overreacted,” she relents. “I— panicked. And I hurt you.” She doesn’t mean physically. “And for that, I’m sorry. I’m… not good at these things.” That’s a harder thing to admit, for all that it’s readily fucking apparent to everyone around her, herself included.

“I promise, whatever you say, I won’t come at you. I won’t even shout. No matter how much it upsets me. — If it upsets me at all.”

“Des…” Richard exhales a sigh, sinking a bit, one hand coming up to rub the bridge of his nose. “I can’t. Because you were right, there are some things that aren’t my place to interfere in, and there are some things that I don’t have the right to say because those aren’t my place either.”

Hands spread a bit, a faint and sad smile, “Just give me this one, alright?”

There’s a long moment where she just stares at him, like she might challenge him further, but then she finally nods and turns to meander her way to one of the workstations. “Come here,” she bids as she sets aside her cane. Her hand lifts and she beckons him to come to her.

Richard watches her for a moment with an uncertain expression that’s echoed in his emotions; unsure, even slightly suspicious. There’s a guardedness in him around her now that hasn’t been there before.

Finally he moves, walking over towards the workstation, one eyebrow lifting. “Yes?”

Odessa slides her arms around Richard, linking hand over opposite wrist loosely at his back. Her rests against his shoulder and she closes her eyes. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry I’m such a bitch, and… And that I’m difficult, and that I’m not great at not hurting you.”

A long sigh spills past Richard’s lips, and he brings a hand up, brushing down through her hair and against her neck. He wants to hold her, but he holds himself back, that swelling of affection and worry pushed back by a different worry. “I’m just worried about you, Des,” he murmurs quietly, “That’s all. I can— I can tell you’re not being completely open with me, but you’re right, it’s not my business. And that’s— okay.”

That he doesn’t embrace her the way she does him would hurt more if she couldn’t sense that it’s not born of a lack of desire to do so. So she simply continues to hold him, to convey the depth of her own sentiment toward him.

“I don’t know what to say to that,” Odessa admits. “I don’t know what else to say. I told you, I’m scared to lose him. That’s the truth of the matter. I know I shouldn’t be, but I was scared of losing you, too.” For this, she leans back again, but doesn’t withdraw entirely. She wants to look at him, and watch him watch her for what she says next.

“That’s why I left you. I couldn’t— I couldn’t bear the thought of losing you. To have you realize you wanted Elisabeth more than me, and what that would… mean for…” Odessa presses her lips together and tries unsuccessfully to hold back more tears. “By being the one to end it, I would never have to see you make that choice.”

“Oh, Des…” Richard loosely drapes his arms over her shoulders, looking down at her with a faint, sad smile, “…that’s not how my heart works. Never has been.” He closes his eyes, drawing in a slow breath, then exhaling a sigh, “But I know it’s how yours works.”

Miserable knowledge that it is.

He opens his eyes again, admitting quietly, “I absolutely despise him, you realize that.”

Oh, and he really does.

Her smile given in return is a near perfect mirror of his for affect. “It’s okay. Sometimes I despise her a little, too.” Odessa’s quick to shake her head. “Never, ever tell her I said that.” In spite of herself, she lets out a low chuckle. “It’s fine, though. I know sometimes she gets jealous of the way you look at me.” So in that respect, Odessa and Elisabeth seem fairly evenly matched.

“He’s not taking what’s yours, you know. You’re always going to have a part of my heart. I’m sorry I couldn’t give you all of it.” She has to do her best to safeguard it for herself.

She can feel the brief blossom of disbelieving amusement at those words, Richard’s eyebrows going up a little.

“Do you— wait, you think I’m jealous? No, that…” His nose wrinkles, “I’m not jealous, Des. He hit you. He acts like— John Logan, only smugger, if that’s even possible. Also, he hit you.”

Silent a moment, “And I really, really hope he was telling me the truth when I had a chance to talk to him alone, Des. I really do.”

“Why wouldn’t you be jealous?” Odessa asks with a faint curl of her lip. Confusion and insult commingle. “I’m a fucking prize.” The ire fades and she rolls her eyes with a sigh. “Visually anyway.” She’s just admitted to being a whole host of less than desirable things, after all.

Her dry humor doesn’t erase the gravity of what he’s said, though, and she doesn’t do him the disservice of pretending it does. “I’m not making excuses, but he slapped me, not that hard. Michal punched my fucking lights out after I saved his damn life, then put me on negation drugs. Ace is a step up, really.”

What she does gloss right on over is whether or not what Richard was told was the truth. In her defense, she doesn’t know what was asked or how it was responded to.

“Because you aren’t a possession,” Richard replies with a furrowing of his brow, “You make your own choices, and I’m not going to be upset at him because of your choices. That’s just fucking stupid.” He seems to honestly mean it, too.

He watches her for a moment, then he notes dryly, “The fact that you had to compare him to Valentin to get a positive result isn’t helping your cause here much, you know.”

Odessa looks down at her shoes. “I’d find it at least a little gratifying if you did,” she grumbles under her breath. But why should she expect jealousy from a man who’s more than capable of loving more than one person at a time, and allowing them to be loved by others in return? They both know who the well-adjusted one in this equation is.

Lifting her voice — but not her head — with the intent of being heard this time, “I— I get that. That wasn’t the best comparison. I don’t have a whole lot to go on, okay? I don’t… I haven’t dated men that were good to me.” Now she does look up at him again. “You know how much I struggled with that with you.” Still does, even though they aren’t dating anymore.

“He’s really, really good to me apart from that one moment of poor judgement, I swear. There is no question in my mind that he’s devoted to me.” Somehow, she manages to hold his gaze when she says that. Odessa does believe Ace is devoted to her. She just also believes that the her he sees is an ideal one that isn’t necessarily reflective of the reality of her.

“I’ve met a lot of ‘devoted’ people who were garbage,” Richard says darkly, “And I’m sure every abuser truly believed that they loved their partner, too…”

A sigh whispers past his lips, and he shakes his head, “Like I said. You’re an adult. You make your own decisions. I just don’t like him. You deserve better, even if you struggle with it. I’m sure you can find better, too. And I’m not talking about me, I know that ship’s sailed…”

“You found better than me, too,” Odessa insists softly, but with a twitch of a smile that almost makes it to her eyes. And it does, after a moment, but only because the sentiment of it has shifted. Taking a step back, she takes hold of the back of the chair at the workstation and lowers herself to sit.

There’s a ripple of shame that courses through her, but it’s quieted as quickly as it comes, thanks to a nudge of acceptance and understanding.

Gesturing to the next chair over, she says, “Come on. Sit with me and let me help calm your emotions.”

Since when did she start doing that?

“Calm my emotions?” Richard arches one eyebrow bemusedly, “You know me, Des. I chew on things for days.” He really does.

He snorts, then, settling into a chair, “I have someone different than you. Not better.”

The smirk she puts on when he makes that assertion is playful rather than the rue he might have expected. “No, Richard. Elisabeth is a… far better person than I am. And that’s okay. It doesn’t make me bad. Just… not as good.”

Odessa reaches out to rest her hands on her knees, palms up in invitation for him to take them in his own. “I know you do — chew on them. That’s why we’re going to… try something new. Because I want this… I want you to feel better, first and foremost. But I also want to help you test your capabilities with your power. I can’t do that if I keep pissing you off. So, just… try and trust me for a few minutes okay?”

“Okay…” Richard’s tone as uncertain as he feels as he leans forward, reaching out to lay his hands atop hers and loosely curling his fingers over her own, palm to palm. His gaze watching hers, brow furrowed slightly.

“Is this a meditation thing? My therapist tried to get me to do that once.”

“Meditation takes a while to acclimate to,” Odessa says with a shrug. “I hated it at first, but… I like it now. I sit in front of my fireplace and just…” She smiles faintly and shakes her head. She’s not trying to sell him on the virtues of meditation with this practice.

In return, she curls her fingers around his, her smile strengthening. “This is all going to sound… really stupid. But please just bear with me. I promise I have a point.” For as much as she insists this isn’t about meditation, Odessa takes a moment to simply draw in a deep breath and let it go slowly. “Okay. Tell me what your strongest emotion is right now.”

“I’m gonna be honest, all meditation did for me was make me keenly aware of where every spider, ant, and gnat in my apartment was,” Richard replies with a slight twitch of a smile, “The White is very insistent on telling me where every single source of life nearby is, and the whole ‘clearing my mind’ thing just gave it more room to work.”

He draws in a breath all the same, and exhales it, closing his eyes because it seems like the thing people do in situations like this. “Uh.” What’s his strongest emotion? “Is ‘frustration’ an emotion?”

Oof,” Odessa breathes out sympathetically. “I can see how that would be a problem. Okay, so meditation just isn’t going to be your thing. That’s okay. Again, that’s… not what this is.”

His expression is watched, but the truth of it is felt beneath his skin. Odessa nods her head, even though he can’t see it. He can hear the smile in her voice, however. “Yes, frustration definitely counts. I can feel that from you.” There’s only a beat of silence before she carries on, “I mean, it’s very obvious from what you’ve said. From… what we’ve discussed. But that’s okay. It’s okay that you’re frustrated. What’s important is what you do with that frustration.”

This is so very unlike her. Perhaps all that court mandated therapy paid off. “What do you think would help you deal with that frustration right now, Richard? What would help make it smaller and more easily managed? It doesn’t have to be something just you can do. It can be something you need from an external source, too.” She means her.

Richard cracks an eye open. “Have you been getting into that new age stuff, Odessa?”

Okay, okay. He closes that eye again, and he breathes out a heavy sigh, silent for a moment. “I don’t know. I’ve been running into so many roadblocks lately that they’re just piling up. Also you’ve forbidden me from doing like three or four things that absolutely would help my frustration right now.”

Odessa’s face flushes with color from the implications of what at least one of those three or four things might be. “I meant more like if there’s anything I could say or do that would give you some… I don’t know, measure of calm? Some kind of assurance.”

She isn’t sure if the frustration she’s feeling now is something she’s coming by honestly, or if she’s picking it up from him. Regardless, she doesn’t let it enter her voice, though her hands grip his just a little tighter, the tension manifesting in that way.

Ironically, the question actually ratchets Richard’s frustration up a few notches.

“I don’t— I really don’t think so, Des, because…” He sighs, shaking his head, “Look, anything I would ask would mean you’d answer, and maybe you’d answer like I’m hoping and everything would be fine, maybe you wouldn’t and things would get worse, and worst of all maybe you’d feel a need to lie to me, which would just make things even worse between us.”

“You don’t know what I’m thinking,” Odessa reminds him gently. “You can guess all day long, but we both know I’m incredibly hard to pin down.” There’s a warning look shot to him when she says that. Don’t be smart, it says. “I’m real good at surprising you. So ask.

“Fine.” Richard says it in a resigned tone, a sense of dread starting to creep up behind the frustration as he leans back a little, but keeps his hands on hers, eyes opening to watch her face.

“One. Why did you react that badly when I asked if you weren’t dating Harry anymore? That’s not a ‘I’m afraid of losing him’ reaction, not from a simple question like that. You were afraid-afraid, Des.”

“I am afraid to lose him,” Odessa insists, but she doesn’t leave it at that. “Because I did cheat on him.” She lowers her head then, clearly not her proudest moment. “And I got away with it. And then he told me he loves me.”

The deep breath she takes in does nothing to steady her when she audibly exhales. “I’m worried about what he’d do if he found out.” She sniffs sharply, lifting her head again. “But I’m not afraid of what he’d do to me.

“Mnm.” Richard crooks an eyebrow a little, before asking, “Are you afraid of what he’d do to Aman?”

She won’t insult his intelligence by feigning innocence on this one. Lying to him would be the opposite of productive in what she’s trying to achieve here. She isn’t enjoying this level of honesty, but… If she can’t trust Richard, who can she trust? “Yes.” Odessa lets out a shaky breath, repeating, “Yes.”

Richard’s chin dips in a slight nod, and he leans back slightly, regarding her. “Did you know that he dated my sister for a little while…? Aman, I mean,” he says with a vague motion of one hand, “He went on a few dates with Kaylee, and she had him stay here briefly in her spare room.”

Odessa laughs. It’s almost a bitter sound, but doesn’t quite get all the way there. “Yeah. Yeah, I did know that. It was my damn idea.” She bites her lip and looks away. “I mean, they met on their own, but he decided to Google her and he started to get cold feet. I saw who he was talking about and I told him… I told him Kaylee is one of the best people I’ve ever met and that she’s just…”

A rueful smile plays on her lips. “I mean, none of us is normal, but Kaylee’s down to earth, considering. So I told him that. I told him she’s not what she looks like on paper. I told him to shoot his shot. I said he should definitely pursue her.” So, speaking of things she’s not proud of. “And then I slept with him. Because I was fucking lonely.”

One hand looses from his only so she can wipe at her face. It’s still dry for now, but it feels like she should be crying. “In Aman’s defense, they weren’t dating yet. We were just a one-off.” Odessa grimaces. “I’m a total piece of shit.”

“Do you know why they stopped dating?”

That brings her attention back to Richard. “Honestly, I thought they still were as recently as September. I was surprised when he… He’s not like me. He’s not the cheating type. So… I never asked, but.” Odessa shrugs. “I inferred. I kind of figured it was something to do with the fact that Kaylee kind of pulled back the curtain for him. He was asking me for advice on how to better handle the kind of shit we get into. For her sake.”

“I mean, they might be spending time together still, but Kaylee wrote him off some time ago as an actual long-term romantic partner…” Richard draws in a breath, and he meets her gaze, silent a moment before finishing.

“Because she was pretty certain - and I’ll remind that my sister is a telepath - that he’s in love with you, and she’s as monogamous as you are.”

He may as well have hit her for the way she flinches. Odessa swallows down the lump in her throat and just nods. “I know he does.” Now she is crying and she paws at her face again. “I don’t know when that happened. It— It’s recent.” She speaks with so much certainty. Odessa barely handles her own emotions. How many times has she professed not to know what to do with them? Expressed mystification over the way others feel? Insisted she can’t read anyone?

Blue eyes fall shut. “No… No, it’s… He just didn’t want to before.” One corner of her mouth hooks up in a wry smirk. She looks at Richard again. “Remember how you said I don’t go for normal?” There’s one more pass of her hand over her cheek before she’s gesturing out to her side. Here we are. “I love him, too.”

Richard lifts a doubtful eyebrow at the recent part, but then she takes it back and the eyebrow goes back down. He gives the one hand he still has a firm squeeze, and he shakes his head.

“Someone’s been going to a lot of therapy,” he quips, assuming that’s the source, obviously. Obviously! Why would it be otherwise? “So.”

“Why… are you choosing some two-bit mobster over a fairly decent guy that you love and who shares those feelings? That’s what I’m not getting here, Odessa. Shit, you asked to give him access but not Harry, this seems like a no-brainer here.”

Of course it’s easy in his eyes.

Tipping her head back, Odessa stares up at the ceiling as though there might be some kind of answer written there that she can internalize and use to make sense of her complicated situation. The complicated emotions. She may understand them better, but that doesn’t actually make them all make sense. People just feel what they feel.

“Because I love them both. Just… For different reasons.” She comes back to center, but stares off to one side still. “Harry… accepts me for who I am. Mean streak and all.” Mean streak is putting it as mildly as possible, but surely he doesn’t understand the extent of it. “Aman… loves me in spite of it, in some ways? When he thinks about who I am too hard, he doesn’t like it. He has to practice a lot of mental gymnastics to get past… my past.

This all makes sense. Or would if the story were true. That while Aman knows Odessa, Harry knows Ourania.

“Aman will leave me eventually. All of this will prove too much for him, and he’ll go.” It hurts her to say so, but he is normal. The life she’s lived, still lives, will continue to live… No one escapes that unscathed. No one remains normal in the face of that. “I feel it.”

At ‘because I love them both’ there’s a sharp-edged flicker of irritation from Richard, but he forces it down for her sake.

A heavy sigh, and he sinks back in the chair, a hand coming up to rub between his eyes, “Mhm. And Harry, the real estate agent, isn’t normal, Des?”

Travel agent,” Odessa corrects. “And, yes, I am painfully aware of the irony of what I’ve just told you. But just because I’m conflicted and in love with two people at the same time doesn’t mean that I think I should have them both. Or that I expect them to be comfortable sharing with me.” She’s very convinced neither of them would be comfortable with that, actually. For Aman’s part, it’s complicated and not expected to be a long-term arrangement by any means.

But she’s not intentionally dodging the question he’s asking, even if she is stalling some. Her hand comes up preemptively to ward off him calling her out on it. Give me a moment. There’s one more hard sniff before she’s sure she isn’t going to start crying all over again. She wipes away her tears and the dark make-up smeared by them.

“Harry doesn’t live like we do.” The explanation has to start somewhere, so it’s starting there. “He doesn’t deal in time travel and multiple timelines and acausal mothers.” Odessa rolls her tongue over her teeth. “He’s extraordinary all the same, though.” Her gaze goes distant as she focuses on something in the long past. “He was a soldier during the war. I helped him defect.”

Odessa’s lips purse up small, shifting to one side in an expression of frustration, anger, and disappointment with herself. “He tried to convince me to go with him, and I wouldn’t do it. I couldn’t bring myself to leave Michal.” With a slow shake of her head, she continues. “He didn’t recognize me when we met again. I mean, obviously. But he heard me sing…” Now her lips curl into a smile, but one that’s bittersweet as she brings her focus back to Richard. “I suppose I was predisposed to his sweeping me off my feet from there.”

Richard draws in a slow breath, then exhales it, drawing his hand back as he leans back in his seat and raising a hand to pinch the bridge of his nose. “…he was a Humanis soldier. Because of course he was.”

Her expression is mirrored by his own emotions, reflecting them for his own reasons.

“I think you’re making a whole series of terrible decisions here, Des, but they’re your decisions, and I can’t make them for you. So long as he doesn’t step into my business I’ll leave him alone, but you’re going to have to hope that security doesn’t show that footage to Liz on their own.”

No,” Odessa corrects firmly. “Harry was not with Humanis. He wasn’t one of—” She nearly said us. She bites it back, the taste of it bitter poison in her mouth. “He was Army. You know how many of those soldiers got swept up into something they didn’t want to.” She’s stern as she says that. She saw many of them, after all. Richard didn’t see the front lines.

Odessa remembers.

“You don’t understand what they did to deserters.” She saw a lot of that, too. “Six months, Richard. He defected within six months. And only because I could buy him the time to leave. I obfuscated. I told them I had eyes on their traitor and I led them on a merry chase in the opposite direction. Don’t put those sins on him.”

Her fist slams down on the table, a manifestation of Richard’s emotion bleeding into her. “Those are my sins! You don’t get to forgive me for them and then hold them against him when he had the good sense to get out years before I did.”

Remembering herself suddenly, Odessa draws in a shaky breath and folds her hands together in her lap, looking like she's in shock. "You can hate him, but hate him for the right reasons."

Her eyes come up again with the mention of Elisabeth. “Please, Richard. You can’t…” It feels like a threat. Like he might make a suggestion. “Ask them not to. Please.” Odessa bites into her lip hard to hold back tears. “Liz doesn’t need that kind of concern.”

Richard’s jaw sets as her fist comes down on the table, and he draws in a slow, tight breath. “Fine. I’ll judge him by his own sins, whatever they might add up to,” he replies, and then he shifts, hand pushing down on the arm of the chair, “And I’ll make sure Liz doesn’t find out. Even if we both know she’s the only one of us that can make moral decisions without being a hypocrite.”

“I should get back to the office,” he says with a vague, dismissive motion of his hand as he turns towards the door, “And I’m sure you have work to do too, Ourania.”

The shift in her is instant. The break.


Odessa buries her face in her hands and starts to cry. She knows it’s unfair to do that in front of him, but she isn’t trying to do it to him. For once, this isn’t some kind of manipulation tactic. (Rarely has she ever tried to manipulate Richard into doing anything.)

“Richard, I’m sorry,” she says, lifting her head and turning to follow him, but not getting up from her own chair just yet. “I— You’re not the only one who has trouble with emotions.” It’s a bit cryptic, but delivered with a seriousness. Like that simple statement is supposed to have a significance. A confession.

Of course he hears her crying, but he doesn’t turn around back to look at her, even if the sound of it is like an icepick driven into his back. Richard closes his eyes, drawing in a slow, deep breath before exhaling it.

“I know,” he says, not really knowing what she’s talking about, “And you don’t have anything to apologize for. It’s your life, like I said. You want me to stay out of it, so I’m staying out of it.”

Then he starts walking towards that door.

“I don’t want you to stay out of it!” Odessa cries desperately, getting to her feet and trying to follow after him. She doesn’t go back for her cane. “Please, please don’t go. It’s not…” She’s cut off by another ragged sob, shoulders sagging with a heavy sense of defeat.

“I’m begging you, Richard. Please don’t leave me like this. Not right now.” She knows he isn’t leaving — neither of them is prepared to walk away from the other — but she can’t bear it in this very moment. Lifting her head, Odessa holds out her hand toward him. “Richard, please.”

"What do you want from me right now, Odessa?"

Richard whirls back around, his hands spread wide in a helpless gesture, frustration and pain welling up like a volcano's eruption within him, "I've moved heaven and earth for you, damn it! I've hired you under two identities, I've helped you out when you were on the run, I've given you lawyers and fought for you in court, I've visited you in two different prisons— I let you into my bed, but when you didn't want that anymore I didn't fight you about it, because I don't fucking own you. All I wanted was for you to be happy, for you to have a life to live, and maybe to be able to be in it even as just a friend."

"And now I'm protecting your abusive boyfriend from my wife for you, and I'm protecting your lover from your boyfriend, and I'm giving you a half-time schedule nobody else here has because you're working half of the time at a d'Sarthe business front.."

"What else do you want? Blood?"

The reaction he gets out of her from that is the same reaction he saw her have on the security footage after her boyfriend hit her across the face. The crying stops, her gaze grows unfocused, and she just stares at a point halfway to the floor and miles past it.

When he puts it that way, what possible argument could she mount?

Richard doesn’t owe Odessa anything at this stage. He never did. “You’re right,” she says softly, still feeling and looking so incredibly distant. “You’re right.” Her lower lip trembles, and her voice is thin, but she doesn’t start sobbing again. She’s too stunned to summon the energy for it.

“I want to help you,” she decides after almost a full minute of silence. “And I know I’m… I’ve never been good at that. I ruin everything I touch. I—” She’s not making a strong case for herself, and she knows it. But Odessa doesn’t deserve a strong defense at this point, does she?

Finally, she lifts her head and brings herself back to the present, her eyes coming to settle on his face. She’s still this incredibly fragile thing, but she’s an incredibly fragile thing in the here and the now, and not in the far past or somewhere beyond. “But if I can’t help you, at least let me try to help Kaylee.” Her experiments. “Once… Once we get to the bottom of it, or I get as far as I can go, I’ll—”

Her voice breaks, but she doesn’t do more than take a breath to steady herself. “I’ll pack my desk and I’ll leave. I’ll never darken your door again. You’ll never have to— I’ll never ask for another thing from you ever again. You can pretend I don’t exist.”

“Oh, don’t be— don’t be so fucking dramatic, for Christ’s sake,” Richard exhales a sigh, one hand coming up to rub over his face. Frustration, not anger, is still the primary emotion running through him. He’s not mad at her. He just doesn’t know what to do anymore.

“You work here. You’re— basically part of the family, for fuck’s sake, even if you pretend you’re not,” he says, suddenly tired, “I don’t want you to leave. I want you to— I want you to be happy and stop punishing yourself endlessly for your own past. I love you, Des, but I don’t know what else I can do when you won’t ever love yourself.”

She flinches. It’s always hard to be called dramatic. Even — or maybe especially — when it’s true. But she recognizes it for what it is. She wouldn’t if not for her ability. She’d be recoiling, withdrawing and retreating. Instead, she’s just… awkward. Knowing what he knows about her, he likely isn’t surprised by that.

“You know I don’t know how to do any of that,” she chides him, but without any of the warmth that should be held in her voice. “I’m… I’m trying. And I’m trying not to drag you down in the process.” Odessa looks away, self-conscious as she tries to sort out the thoughts in her head. “I don’t really know what it’s like to belong to a family. It’s hard to— To accept when they’ve all been taken from me. And the ones that remain… They’re better off without this albatross.”

Her lips twitch briefly with a sad smile. “I know you probably don’t think that’s true, but there’s always trouble in my wake, and those kids ” her niblings “ don’t deserve that being brought to their doorstep. It’s bad enough that Jac knows.” That threatens to make Odessa tear up again.

“I’m trying to build a life for myself. One that doesn’t rely on everyone else holding me up, but… I don’t know how to do that either.” Shaking her head, she turns back again to Richard. The physical strain is starting to show in her posture, the subtle ways she shifts her weight to balance more on one side, then the other.

“I know I haven’t done a good job of it today, but… I can help you sort out your emotions. As long as we can refrain from arguing, I can do it.” Her chin lifts a fraction, denoting a confidence that she of all people shouldn’t be entitled to where it comes to anything on the emotional spectrum. But here she is, exuding it. “You’re tired. You’re frustrated. And when you lashed out at me, it was because of pain and not anger. Because you care for me so much that it hurts.”

Those are insights Odessa would almost never have managed on her own in all the years he’s known her. She would have mistaken his pain for anger, his exhaustion for exasperation, his frustration for hatred. This is incredibly profound for her.

“When our eyes meet and my heart skips a beat because you smile at me that way you only smile for someone you love, Elisabeth feels jealousy.” Odessa says this with such certainty. There’s no way Liz would ever tell her such a thing. She’s too kind to ever make Odessa feel like she could drive a wedge between the pair of them.

This isn’t something the Odessa that he knows is capable of intuiting on her own.

A blink, a brow furrowed; the comment about Elisabeth seeming to take Richard completely by surprise, sending his thoughts into a spiral of confusion. "I— what? Elisabeth isn't jealous, the woman's had three times the lovers I've had before, and more of them long-term too. Where did— we're not talking about Liz here, where did that even come from?"

He looks at her baffled, her emotional insights sinking in belatedly, "Have you been talking psychology courses or something? You used to not be able to tell if I was about to fire you or if I was annoyed my burrito was badly wrapped."

Well, if she was trying to halt his frustrated spiral, she certainly accomplished that by turning it into utter confusion!

Yes. This was a success.

“You should know that jealousy doesn’t care about whether or not it’s fair.” Odessa smiles faintly. “I said she felt it, not that she would ever act on it or let it consume her.” She dips her chin, though, conceding his point. “You’re right. This isn’t about her.” That isn’t why she mentioned it.

The smile morphs into something of a rueful smirk. “I won’t lie and say the court mandated therapy hasn’t taught me anything, but no. It didn’t teach me how to do this.” There’s a moment of secret triumph. Having pulled him out of that tailspin had been the plan, and it worked.

But then there’s uncertainty that fills her, bolstered by his own confusion that she’s trying to remember isn’t hers. All traces of her being pleased are banished by a softer expression of fear. Not just of how he’s going to react, but of what will happen when she exposes this part of herself that she’s kept hidden from everyone, except those closest to her. Not those who she necessarily has the most trust in, however. If that had been the criteria, Richard would have qualified from the beginning.

“I… manifested a new ability.”

Odessa has gone very pale with that confession. Now that she’s said the words, she can’t take them back. Even if she says just kidding!, he’ll never believe her. Even if he claims to, he’ll watch for signs of it. He’ll know. To admit to this now is nothing short of terrifying. Her knees buckle finally from the physical and emotional strain.

“Wh— oh God, was it the Detroit wave?” Richard straightens sharply, his eyebrows going up, “And it’s— not your old ability? Des, why didn’t you tell me…?”

Suddenly he has a few dozen other things that his brain is trying to think at the same time, and it takes him a moment to sort out the hydra of questions stirring out of the swamp of thought.

“You’re… an empath?” She’d been hinting at it the past few minutes but only now does it really hit him.

Odessa shakes her head quickly to the question of the wave that resulted from the siege on Detroit. “No, I… It happened before then. I was afraid to tell anybody. I was still at PISEC and I didn’t want to go back on negation drugs. I— I wouldn’t have known what was happening— I—”

Odessa is overwhelmed and she finally sinks to the floor, down on her knees with her hands braced against the cool tile beneath. “Everything hurt,” she tries to explain. “My head just… And so many different feelings. Fear and anger and hate.” It’s hard even now to remember it. “I wouldn’t have known, but… But it was Pete. There’d been a fight. Donna tried to kill him, but I knocked him out of the way and she — fucking decked me. When I fell back, it just happened.

She makes no move to get up from the floor, nor does she look for help to do so. She’s fine where she’s at for now. It feels stable in a way she doesn’t feel on her shaky legs. “While they were breaking everyone up and getting ready to haul Pete away, he tried to tell them what was wrong with me. But they didn’t listen. It was… It was the only thing I could hear through the splitting headache. I thought I was dying, Richard. I- Instead, he said…”

“She needs adynomine,” Pete hisses at one of the guards, “or whatever the fuck you’re using now. You can’t see it, the protein folds, you can’t— ” a guard pushes Pete back and up against the glass wall. “Goddamnit listen to me, she’s manifested! I can feel the linkage complex formed in her— ”

“He could see it while it was happening. And I remember—”

Odessa looks up at Richard suddenly with wide eyes. “Do you remember the Last Road? I told you I could tell about— I can feel them. They’re there.” The ghosts that haunt him.

The blonde clutches her head and curls in on herself slightly. “Oh, god, it’s all just a mess.” But the point is: “Yes. I’m an empath.

"Whoa, whoa…" Richard steps over and sinks down to one knee beside her, reaching a hand out to rub over her shoulder, his brow furrowing, "Shit. I didn't even know Varlane's ability could do that… stupid fuckers at PISEC, wasting him making a bioweapon." There's a flicker of real anger there, both at the bioweapon and at Pete's talents being wasted on such a project.

"But how the hell…? If you re-manifested it should've been the same as your original power, unless it was— artificially given to you? One of them, or both of them…" A little shake of his head, "Christ, Odessa, how're you— dealing with that?"

He's always assumed she was a high-functioning sociopath, so having empathy must be hell for her.

It is.

“You saw what I saw. Arthur said…” Odessa curls against Richard now, letting him give her comfort and strength. “He said I could manipulate time. That has to be me. It was… such a part of me. It was me.” If they had to pick just one fatal flaw of hers, it would be the way she defined herself either by her ability or the lack of it.

“I don’t know what happened. It’s not like we were trying to work on the Formula.” There’s a glance down when she says that, then back up again. “And the sample we had for the weapon, we never tested that on live subjects. Certainly not ourselves, so there shouldn’t have been any kind of alteration there…”

Whatever happened to Odessa, she believes it defies science.

As for how she’s dealing with it… “It gets a little easier each day. It’s not… It’s not a constant. I can kind of toggle it off. I don’t run it in crowds. If there’s more than five people, everything starts to get muddy. More than that and it starts to get painful. I can’t always tell what’s… What’s me and what’s someone else.

Odessa shakes her head slowly. “I don’t just read emotions, I feel them. Like they’re mine. And then I have to figure out if I’m having a legitimate reaction to something, or if someone nearby is just having a bad fucking day. But that’s not all…” Sitting up again, Odessa turns her head slightly as if to look at something just over her right shoulder.

“Aman.” She closes her eyes and sends a ripple through her tether, a hand reaching out for support. The squeeze comes in a ripple back to her. “We have a… bond. And I don’t mean we just like each other.” Odessa looks back to Richard. “I mean I feel him… all the time.” And she’s as bewildered by it as she knows he is. “I don’t know what happened. I woke up, and suddenly we could both sense each other’s emotions. As long as I haven’t cut myself off from feeling what’s around me, he’s with me and I’m with him. No matter how far apart we are.”

“So you’re not an empath, Des, you’re an— empathic mimic,” Richard says in dawning horror, “Jesus Christ. That must be…” A wash of sympathy of his own, and he shakes his head, “I’ve— I mean, I’ve known psychics of different types who could forge permanent or semi-permanent bonds. Usually by accident, so it’s not unheard of…”

One hand comes up, pinching the bridge of his nose. No wonder she’s so fucked up right now.

“It’s not just people, either. It’s… It’s places, too. I can feel the emotional history of a location, if it’s strong enough. I cut my teeth on that particular aspect while I was still locked up at Rikers. Lot of history there.” Presumably none of it good. Odessa frowns. “And when people had that dream of the destruction of Detroit? I could feel emotion there too.”

It’s clear to see she’s at a loss to truly explain what it is that happens to her, what she goes through, but easier yet to see how deeply it affects her. “Something… strange happened, though. I was explaining to Harry what would happen if he ever hit me again — I was so mad at him, and… I heard a voice.”

There’s fear now in her tone and in her expression. It’s worse than the discomfort she’s been trying to explain. This is bone deep, chilling terror. “I heard that voice, speaking the words I was speaking to him. It was the voice I used to hear when I could still control time. And I don’t know if I could really understand her, or if I just intrinsically knew she was saying what I was saying… Reinforcing my own words? But whatever it was, Harry didn’t skip a beat.”

Odessa’s jaw trembles as she concludes, “Something changed. I don’t know what happened, but I… I think it might be time to update my registry status.” Both times she’s been registered, it was when the government took custody of her. The registration she had as Desdemona Desjardins had been a false one. Here… Well, Odessa didn’t lie on her registration. When they registered her, she was SLC-N. Is it her fault they didn’t check her again?

As always, her favored lies are those of omission.

“Christ. I…” Richard leans back a little, one hand coming up to rub over the curve of his jaw as he regards the scientist with open worry now in his eyes, “Maybe, but— have you considered having Julie check you out? She might be able to tell you more about the— nature of your ability, how it works, something like that.”

There’s a pause, “Who’s this her that you heard speaking though, do you mean… I mean, that thing? The Entity?”

Odessa shakes her head quickly, sniffling once before shaking her head again. “No. I can’t. If— First of all, I don’t think she’s much of a fan of Dr. Pride. Second, if she figured out who I really am…” She exhales a hard breath. “The last time I saw Aunt Julie… Or, rather, the last time Julie saw Odessa,” because it wasn’t her on that roof, not at that time. That had been Woods, “she had a knife. She meant to stab me in the back, Richard. Or… Maybe in the heart, for all I know.”

Pressing the back of her hand under her nose, her face twists with her pain. “Julie’s always been good at that.” Odessa holds back her tears, but only just. “I love that girl so much and all I’ve done is fail her.” How can she possibly begin to mend the wounds they’ve both inflicted on one another?

That issue is dismissed with a sigh. There’s something far more pressing he’s asked her. “I want to say I don’t know,” Odessa responds quietly. “But the truth of it is… I think it is Uluru. I think part of them has been inside of me my whole life. I don’t hear them now like I used to, but I— I did then. I know—”

Her thoughts on the matter are shoved down. Too dark to see right now. “I don’t know… Maybe Julie would be able to help. But I’m… I’m afraid of her.”

It takes Richard a moment to remember the relation between the two of them, and he exhales a long breath, one hand coming up to rub over his forehead. “Yeah. And it’d be hard to… consult her, I’m sure, knowing that you’re hiding who you are from her.”

He brushes it away for the moment, shaking his head, “As to that— ah— talk to Kaylee? She had this— snake? I think it was Uluru too, or a splinter of her, or something. She might be able to give you some advice there…”

Odessa smiles faintly, nodding her head just once. “Yeah, I remember the snake well. It felt… familiar. Kaylee’s serpent, the whispers in my mind, the roaring in Mateo’s… It’s like they were all connected.”

Tipping her head back, she just looks tired now. Resigned. “Look. Whatever Aman thinks he feels for me?” Abruptly, the topic has shifted back to that, probably due to the mention of Kaylee. “It’s not real. He feels it because I feel it. It’s… It’s just not real.” And that hurts so much to say. Even if it isn’t the truth, it’s the kindest thing to believe, isn’t it? That he doesn’t really love her, so they can both let this go and he can get on with his normal life where he remains blissfully unaware of fucked up shit like the voices of dormant gods whispering in one’s head.

“He asked me for help,” Odessa admits, “in understanding the sorts of things you and I deal with. It wasn’t for me. He wanted to try and connect with Kaylee. What he feels for her, Richard? That’s real. That has nothing to do with me or my influence. He doesn’t love me. He only feels that I love him, and think that means he must love me back. He can’t separate the two.” Because she can’t either. It’s only her low opinion of herself that tells her she’s the one to blame for this situation, that she’s the deceiver here.

“Tell her not to give up on him. And tell her not to worry about me.” As much as it hurts. “I’ll be alright. I always am.”

“Nngh.” Frustration coils back up to the surface, and Richard exhales a heavy sigh, “Des, I’ve heard you say so many dumb things before, but that is… really that whole thing takes the cake. Jesus Christ, you’ll gaslight yourself just to make sure that you can’t be happy, that you’ll be involved with something abusive because it’s what you deserve…”
“Between you and Miller, I swear to God, why would my life be easier if I was a monstrous tyrant? Literally the two of you would be easier to deal with and probably more content with your jobs if I was,” he rants, tossing both hands in the air. “Do you both have some sort of fetish for being threatened with death and kept on a leash?! Because the slightest hint of a gentle touch and you insist it’s poison!”

Yes, actually!” Odessa bites back at him through her tears. To have him say those things to her, to ignore all the ways he does make her happy just because she couldn’t stay with someone who doesn’t love her best stings as though he were rubbing salt not just into an open wound, but into her heart. “I don’t feel comfortable unless someone is taking control and telling me what to do.

She fixes him with a look of incredulity, like she can’t believe that he hasn’t figured that out on his own by now. “Thirty-two years, Richard. Thirty-two years I spent under the thumb of somebody else. Anybody else.” Now she’s shouting back at him, “I don’t know any other kind of life!” How could she? Catching her breath, fat tears fall down her face when she blinks. Her voice drops back to something soft now, just above a whisper. “Even when I was with the Ferry, Susan Ball was pulling my strings. How do you expect me to unlearn an entire lifetime of that in only four years? Four years that weren’t even consecutive.

The response of pain and hurt pulls the fangs from Richard's rant, and his hands drop down, shoulders sinking, one only lifting again to rub over his face. His eyes closing under the rub of his fingers as he mumbles against his hand, "I'm sorry. You're right. And that's why I'm— that's why I worry about you, Odessa."

He lets his hand drop, looking back at her tiredly but seriously, "I'm afraid for you. Because I know it'd be very, very easy for you to find some amoral piece of garbage to let pull your strings again and ruin your… third chance." Fourth? Fifth? Who's counting? How many times has that very thing happened?

That fear’s very real. That this is the last time he’s going to have a chance to not lose all of her forever.

“I know,” Odessa says quietly to all of it. He worries. It’s going to be easy for her to fuck it all up. For her to throw her life away. “I’m… I’m never going to be the person that settles down somewhere quiet, has the white picket fence and the idyllic life. Even if I try that, trouble will come knocking at my door.”

There’s a mirthless laugh. “I can’t leave this place. I keep thinking about it, but… I’ve always come back. I could’ve stayed away after Kazimir’s virus was destroyed. I could have stayed away after Moab. I could have stayed away after the war.” And that confuses Odessa as much as anyone. “Corbin would probably let me go anywhere else where I’d have an agent to report to. But… I’m here. Where I know, eventually, I’ll be needed.” Adam made that clear to her.

“If I can help you learn how to use this awesome power of yours to help others…” Odessa’s expression softens, she smiles. “Maybe that will be enough to justify it all.”

“This isn’t my power at all, you know that, I’m just… carrying that. The real power I have is this place, the miracles we can work here for everybody,” says Richard with a slight shake of his head, “If you want to justify it, your work here can. Your work on spinal regeneration, your work on… God, so many things. You have the skills to do so many things, and everyone always wastes them on killing people.”

He draws in a slow breath, then exhales, closing his eyes, “We’ll try this again later. Okay?”

Odessa smiles sadly and blinks away her tears. He’s right. All this knowledge in her head, all the ways she learned to preserve life, and her purpose was always to find new ways to take it. In so many ways, she should have been an instrument of healing, but was twisted instead into one of harm. “It feels good to be here,” she promises. “To work on these things. To help people. Even if I’ll never be able to take credit for any of it…”

That part hurts in a way she hadn’t expected it to. That history will remember her as a monster who hurt so many, who helped murder many more, who stood on the wrong side of the line countless times. She won’t be remembered for the things she’s tried to do in the ensuing years to redeem her soul. None of it will ever be attributed to her.

But that’s the price — hah — she has to pay.

Sighing, she nods her head. “Yeah. Whenever you’re ready, just tell me.” Odessa scrubs a hand over her face. “You mind if I go off campus to get some coffee? Give me a chance to reset before I start work?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. The moment you’re dead we’re releasing a statement that we discovered you were secretly the infamous Odessa Price that’d been working undercover here, according to your notes, to amend for your ways, and then there’ll be a long list of your accomplishments,” Richard replies with a tight shake of his head, “I’ve had to dig up too many proverbial bodies in my time. I refuse to bury any more of them than I need to.”

Then he nods a little, offering a faint smile, “Yeah, go for it. I don’t use Warren’s coffee machine in the break room either.”

“As long as we’re both clear on the fact that you’re definitely going to outlive me,” Odessa jokes in that morbid fashion of hers. All to cover up the way that it touches her heart that he would commit to making sure her good work is recognized posthumously.

The out he grants her is taken easily, taking the moment to gather up her purse and her cane and smooth a hand over her hair before she starts to head for the hallway. She pauses in the door and turns back to flash a grin to Richard, unable to let the remark about the coffee machine go just at that.

“I’d rather not lose another eye.”

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