Price of Freedom


ace_icon.gif odessa2_icon.gif

Scene Title Price of Freedom
Synopsis Run, you clever boy, and remember me.
Date February 21, 2020

The clock reads 7:01 PM when one of Ace Callahan’s phone lights up to alert him to an incoming call. The distinctive ring of his work phone pulls him out of the chair he was lounging in where the other he might have just let ring through. The television is paused with a remote in hand as he makes his way to the kitchen, setting it aside the phones so they form a neat row on the countertop. The unknown number displayed on the phone in the middle doesn't cause him to so much as blink as he slides it from its place. He swipes to accept the call, lifts it to his ear, holding it apart from skin by millimeters.

"This is Callahan," he reports without particular emotion.

On the other end of the line, there’s a pause, followed by a hesitant woman’s voice. “I’ve been thinking a lot about the other day. I hope I haven’t waited too long to call.”

Odessa’s world is currently consists of staring out at the water from the deck of the Novelle Vue. The sun has long since sunk past the horizon. There’s only lights from the pier to glimmer off the water now and provide the faintest of illumination to wreckage still jutting up from the Narrows. “You still remember who I am, don’t you?” He can hear the way her smile curves her lips, even if the purr he might have come to expect isn’t quite there.

Recognizing the voice takes that last piece of context, and it's then that Ace's posture settles, relaxing. "Ah," he notes in a faint murmur. "It's you." Turning away from the counter, he slides a hand into his pocket and begins to slowly amble back over the open floorplan border between kitchen and living space. He takes his time with his pace. "I was beginning to think I'd wasted my time." He glances to the drink he's left on the endtable by his armchair.

"Tell me I'm wrong," Ace invites her.

Odessa shifts her phone to wedge between her shoulder and face while she reaches into her jacket for her smokes. She’s got a new lighter now, so it only takes a single flick before spark ignites fuel and she’s touching it to the end of her joint.

“I hope I haven’t.” That’s not nearly as decisive as he might have liked. “I want very much to pursue a… working relationship, but I have just the teensiest of snags.” Her exhale is audible over the line without it being that overloud crackle from air blown directly into the mic.

The redhead’s posture relaxes again, phone in hand once more as she contemplates how to move forward from here. “I have a plan, but it requires you to graciously issue me a raincheck.”

Ace closes his eyes as the phone sinks ever so slightly away from his ear. This wasn't an ideal development, by any means. He forgoes a display of grace and sighs as he sinks back into his seat, staring idly into the unlit part of the home. The sound at least serves to indicate he's not hung up on her. He drapes his hand over the heavy, crystal tumbler he'd left abandoned, tapping a finger along its side. "A raincheck," he finally echoes back dubiously. Sucking in a breath, his tongue clicks off the back of his teeth. "This isn't an offer that will keep. Like I said, your skillset fills an area I know there's a gap in. Who's to say no one else steps in to fill that in the meantime?"

His impatience is masked by the courtesy of the observation, tone worked smooth as silk. If he didn't speak again, it'd have been hard to catch at all.

"What is it that's keeping you?" Ace asks, lifting his hand off his drink to make a flippant gesture with it. "We're already aware up front onboarding you will require— as you put it— a small investment. So think hard— is this not something that falls under that requirement?"

How about I just fucking kill whoever you hire in the meantime and take their place? is not the way to respond to that supposition, Odessa.

Instead, she focuses on the question of why. “I need to get the monkey off my back.” Odessa sets her teeth together, looking disdainfully out of the corner of her eye as though there might be a physical manifestation of the feds upon which she can focus her ire. “I’m afraid I may have miscalculated or misrepresented the size of the investment required to solve that little issue.” Building a new identity — one that hasn’t been burned already — is no small task. And it isn’t done cheaply.

Odessa should know. Richard Ray sunk a considerable amount of cash into helping establish Desdemona Desjardins as an entity that could pass the smell test. “I’d rather something in the realm of small business loan than thirty-year mortgage.” There’s regret in her voice. She wants badly for this to happen.

She’d just also not like to be in quite so much debt to the literal mob, maybe. That never turned out well in the old noir films she used to watch.

"Then we put you in a back room rather than in front of anyone who'd recognize you," Ace suggests, finding this a perfectly viable alternative. "And time might lower that price." He's not lying, but it's grating on him that the chances of that are low, and it reflects in his voice, the cant of his head and squint of his eyes. On the edge of a growl, he says, "Look. You're not thinking this through clearly, because—"

High Spirits Food Truck

Narrows Ave, Bay Ridge

"This is even more naive than the bullshit you pulled before," Ace tells Odessa bluntly, tossing back a shot of tequila. He sets the shot down on the bar, licking the salt on back of his hand without breaking gaze with her, not at all pleased with the set of circumstances they find themselves here. "I want to make this work, if you would quit getting in your own way."

It's the sharpest he's ever been, and maybe that's why he suggested they meet in person. There's no way he'd get away with saying that over the phone in such a tone.

Most likely, anyway.

"Get the stars out of your fucking eyes, because this isn't something you can erase for yourself by saying sorry." Both to him, and the larger situation at hand. "You're already lucky. You're already a survivor. Why do you want to risk everything?"

He just doesn't get it. Ace continues to fix her with that stare as he steps away from the converted food truck parked on the edge of a well-lit plaza in Bay Ridge. The long, stained-wood 'bar' fixed to the non-serving side of the vehicle is abandoned, and it's unclear if he means to conduct a short pace or walk away entirely. The very small rolling establishment known as High Spirits served alcohol, medical marijuana, and tacos.

You know, so it still could serve as a food truck.

Odessa has a paper basket in front of her to that effect.

Oh, he’d almost certainly get away with it. And Odessa would get away with showing as much hurt as she feels when he says it to her. Instead, she feeds on his own annoyance to help keep the shame and hurt feelings off her face. Mirroring him by tossing back her own tequila and bringing her hand up to deliberately lick away the salt while also maintaining that eye contact helps.

A wedge of lime is tossed into the trash bin, followed by the paper wrapping from the fish taco she fed herself for a base before drinking. “I would think risking everything would be staying out in the open and waiting for righteous fury to rain down on my head,” Odessa counters, falling into step behind him again.

He has to wonder if this was how she followed her lover around. Like an obedient dog on a leash.

“Sure, you hide me away in some shithole of a back room and trot me out when you have need of me. How is that any different from any other cage I’ve had the good fortune to be shoved into?” Odessa’s steps falter and she looks up at him with a look of surprise. Taking a moment and a deep breath, she calms. “Sorry. I…” Am channeling you too much, doesn’t seem the way to finish that sentence.

Her posture relaxes as she taps into her apathy, shutting down her ability. She hates it already. “You’re trying to do right by me,” Odessa acknowledges softly, letting her steps carry her forward again slowly to close the (physical) gap she created between them. “I just want a chance at a little freedom.”

Would she even know what to do with it?

Ace only looks at her out of the corner of his eye when she snaps at him. When she's robbed of both words and movement, he only takes a pair of steps past her, then turns on his heel to look back at and wait for her to finish her explanation, find her excuses. His jaw is tight, mouth a thin line. On the edge of the plaza, away from the strung party lights, Odessa's features are mostly shrouded in shadow to him, while the light casts odd, sharp angles across his visage.

He waits until she steps closer to him again to lift a hand to gesture for her silence or her space. His eyes narrow a touch. "Yes," Ace agrees, eyes on hers still. He's non-argumentative, until he slips back to his earlier sharpness. "So stop trying to sacrifice what little you've gained."

His voice softens, his next words a sigh. "The world does not give. It will only take. Allow it an inch, and it will take a mile." A ripple of frustration enters his tone, long-simmering emotion coming back to the surface. "You know this."

So why? isn't a question that needs asked with the way he intensely tries to pry the answer from her with his stare alone.

With her ability shut down, she feels the sharpness of his frustration more keenly somehow. Before, it was a tool handed from him to her. Now, it’s something he can wield against her seemingly with as much precision as she wields a scalpel.

But she holds her ground. She stands there and takes it and wonders why she wants to argue with him. He’s right, isn’t he? What has the world given her lately? Or at all? So, so much has been taken from her. Why would she once again willingly give up her freedom? What very little she has left.

“I’m afraid,” Odessa finally admits, and without visible shame. “I escaped the rope once. If they find me, I don’t think I’ll do it a second time.” That’s provided there isn’t a shoot on sight order for her. “I’m afraid the next time the world takes from me, it’s my life.”

And so the answer is finally pried from her. Ace's posture loses some of its coiled tension, the severity in his expression the last thing to go. "Fear," he echoes back disappointedly. He sighs, his hand coming to his face, fingers and palm dragging down his forehead to his mouth, curling around his chin.

He understands fear, at least.

He might not sympathize with it, but he at least appreciates what it does to a person's ability to make sound decisions.

"It's a gamble," he throws back at her unhappily, his hand dropping to his side again. He has no other disparagement to cast for the moment. "There is no guarantee they will not simply tell you thank you for your honesty and ask you to tie the knots yourself. There is no promise they will not simply shoot you before you get that far."

With a shake of his head, his hand lifts again only so he can take her by her jaw with a gentle touch, fingers contouring to the side of her face. "You have potential," Ace stresses like it physically pains him what she's choosing to do with it. "I would so very much hate to see it wasted."

"But if that is the choice you will make with your freedom—" is an acknowledgement made grudgingly. He leans in to close that distance between them. "I cannot stop you. I certainly won't go down with you." His thumb brushes along her cheek. "But I will mourn the loss of your potential."

As much as she’d like to look away when he repeats her reason back to her with that disappointment, she maintains eye contact. Or, well, she keeps her eyes on him at any rate. Her gaze tends to drift to his sharp lapels and back up the wicked curve of the mouth that can form such cutting words like it’s a fucking artform.

It’s the mention of tying her own knots that finally makes her flinch. It means she isn’t prepared when he catches her jaw in his hand. Breath is drawn in with a sharp inhale, but she doesn’t make a move to squirm away. Instead, she holds still as a statue, afraid to break whatever spell this is.

Just make sure you don’t miss me in mourning.

Carefully, calculated, Odessa tips her head back, like a pack animal exposing throat in a display of trust. Her eyes close, squint shut a little tighter when she swallows the butterflies attempting to escape her stomach via her throat.

You can be with me and live, but I will not die with you.

Her chest rises and falls with quicker breaths now. Leaning into his touch, she opens her eyes again. Forces herself to tear her attention away from his mouth and find his eyes again. “You’ll help me?” she asks, voice pitched low and thick with an emotion that is so far removed from that fear she spoke of earlier.

Where others hear klaxons, Odessa Price hears a starting gun.

This is all it took?

Ace marvels that to himself quietly. His stomach churns with repulsion over Odessa's ability to stick to her own guns, fingers still curved to her face only by the fact he's at least figured out what trumps all else, and that somehow he's an apparent viable candidate. He must be— because she's leaning into his touch, tilting her head back in pleasure. There's that waver in her voice.

He's not blind. He can read those signs.

"Help you?"

He wonders if she's reading his, able to see straight through his mask.

"No," he tells her plainly. "Not with that. I said I'd mourn you." He lets his thumb stray, finding the corner of her mouth and brushing it. What it would be to see what her skin did under firm pressure, what faces she might make, but he leaves the pressure gentle and featherlight. Alluring. "So let me mourn you." Ace lets his eyes leave hers, trailing down her face to rest on her lips, admiring the peak and curl of color.

He leans into her as much as he encourages her closer with the curve of his fingers around her chin, head lowering to hers.

“I don’t want you to mourn me.” If only she weren’t suppressing her ability. Then again, she doesn’t want to know if this is all an act. She’d rather have the lie. If he’s comfortable playing the role, then she’s comfortable being played to. “I want you to—”

Whatever she might have meant to say is cut off as he leans in and she comes up on her toes to close the distance, to press her mouth to his. Hands ball at her sides to keep from indulging the urge to grab him by the front of his fine jacket. The well put-together ones never seem to like it when their clothes get rumpled.

No, but he doesn't seem to have that qualm about her own garb. His other arm snakes around her back, grabbing hold of the curve of her through the bunch of her coat. Ace crushes Odessa closer to him with a hungry kiss, broken only to advise, "I want you— to not finish that thought." His eyes open to flit down her face, nipping at her cheek with his lips.

If she doesn't finish what she's said, they both get what they want out of this, perhaps. With patience, all possibilities are met.

His lips find her neck next, completely uncaring for anyone who might glance their way, or hear what strains might come from her. Gentle pressure gives way to an edge, teeth grazing her skin while his fingers drag themselves up to the small of her back, digging in to announce their movement even through her coat.

"Don't say anything at all, in fact," he whispers into her ear.

By the time he breaks that first kiss to tell her that, Odessa isn’t sure she has any thoughts left in her head to share. Nothing coherent, at any rate. Pressure is rewarded with the press of her body against his. Her hands finally reach for him then, because they need something to hold to, since it feels like her knees might give out. Curling fingers into fabric is avoided, but her palms press against his chest. Not to push him away, but to encourage him.

She’s glad now that she’s shut down her ability. More than ever. Public displays like this make people uncomfortable, and that’s the last thing Odessa wants to feel right now. Her world has narrowed to this pinpoint focus. His hand at her back, his teeth on her skin, the strong coil of need in her belly.

The only assurance he receives that no, she will not be speaking, is a soft whimper and a nod of her head he can feel more than he can see.

Ace smiles.

The shape of it is pressed into Odessa's bare side as he nips the tender, inward dip of the curve of her body. It's a gentle thing that offsets the firmness his fingers have trailed down her body with, leaving behind a trail of lightened skin as his hand glides. That, still, is a lighter thing than other touches have been. Pushing himself up onto his opposite elbow, his hand stops on her hip, palm sliding around to cover over red sting with warmth. It rests for only a moment, lifting to place on her chest instead, salving the skin there instead.

He looks pleased rather than spent, pressing into her as much as he does onto his elbow to sit himself up on his hip so he can admire the sprawl of her form and the way it's reacted to him, shadows tracing up and down her angles thanks to the dim light coming from the nightstand presiding over the bed. "Now what do you have to say?" Ace wonders aloud, voice delicate. If she needs a moment, he won't rush her.

Not presently. Though his thumb does graze back and forth slowly across sensitive skin while he idles.

It’s a good thing he isn’t pressing that response (but his fingers can keep pressing as much as he pleases), because it’s all Odessa can do to catch her breath and will sensical thought back to her. True to the promise she made to him, she didn’t speak a word. Not one. Encouragement was given in the form of whimpers, moans, and cries both soft and loud.

What does she have to say?

Her right hand lifts from where it had rested against the mattress, his tie still wrapped around her wrist. She picks at the tether carefully and smiles at the reddened skin she finds underneath. “I think I’d like to keep this as a souvenir,” she muses even as she pulls it loose and lays it out across the flat of her scarred stomach for him to take back, should he desire.

Her mouth is dry from the gasping and her tongue darts between her lips briefly in an attempt to wet them. “I also think if you’d fucked me like that on that roof, I would have left him to burn.” She chuckles quietly at that, a husky sound that betrays a little bit of nervousness at just how honest that could really be. She wants to believe she would have held on to her loyalty, regardless of any amount of mindblowing sex.

But she isn’t expecting him to comment on any of that. That isn’t what they’re supposed to be discussing. Shifting her focus from the ceiling above her head, she finally looks at him in the warm light of the bedside lamp. There’s a moment taken to properly admire him. He’s handsome and cruel in ways that delight her.

Odessa. Focus.

“They used me,” she says, brow furrowing. “A prisoner can’t consent to anything. I don’t want to go back to that life. I don’t want to do work for—” Odessa’s features harden and she glances away again, because her conflict and her quiet anger aren’t about Ace. “I don’t want to go back,” she repeats, softening again.

He’d wanted to convince her. In the end, all he had to do was derail her hard enough to jump tracks and get there on her own.

Ace's eyes half-lid as she sings his praises, expression passive while she stokes his pride. His brow lifts only when she finally gets back on track. Consent is an interesting choice of word there, one he thinks on while pinching the patch of darker skin his thumb had been circling.

"You don't want to go back, but you don't want to be afraid, either," he acknowledges. It makes it sound like he understands it— sympathizes with it. His hand moves on, replacing roughness for more comforting touches again. The soothing nature of his actions ends there, though. "Both are possible, but it will require patience on your part. Discomfort, even, at times." While it's a sacrifice he sees as small, he acknowledges a touch ruefully: "It will require a strength from you I have yet to see you demonstrate."

"But you'll prove to me you have it. Won't you?"

The pinch is rewarded with a brief wince and a burning in the gaze she keeps fixed on him that has nothing to do with anger. Breath hitches in lieu of squirming, held for as long as he keeps hold of her sensitive skin like that. He wants to see her handle discomfort, and he’s yet to find the threshold of how much she can take.

Tension that she didn’t realize she was holding gradually unwinds when his fingers find other pursuits, visible in the way her body settles into the mattress. She catches herself before she starts to go all doe eyed — and she knows she had been about to. Giving him so much of her vulnerability had been a miscalculation. A tactic that had worked before on lesser men. Right now, Odessa struggles to think of a way in which she’d describe Ace as lesser.

Maybe of two evils.

Instead, she lets that spark he saw earlier ignite. She smiles, and it is not a soft thing. There’s no girlish wonder there to find now. Now it’s her who pushes up, one hand encircling his wrist to make sure his hand finds her breast and stays there in spite of her shifting position. The other wraps around him as she looks into his eyes with a hunger he only saw in fits and starts before. Those moments when he caught her off guard with the right application of pressure.

She leans in as though to kiss him, but stops just short. Fingers curling just a little tighter, her breath comes as a warm sigh against his lips. “Yes.” The other hand slips down his wrist, tracing a path with her nails to the crook of his elbow. “I’m not fragile.”

Ace arches an eyebrow at her when her hands roam to match his and guide them back. He allows her to take his wrist, form staying solid and whole. When she leans in to murmur to him, a short exhale passes from his nose.

"No," he acknowledges thoughtfully, not pulling back from her. "You're a survivor."

She's whatever she needs to be, and he needs to remember that. For all her flaws, her scars, Odessa knows just how to manipulate in return. The daring encouragement to test her while she has a hold of him serves as testament to that. And while this would have been easier if she were more simple…

Well, he can't say he's not finding it interesting.

The arm he's resting on shifts so he can take hold of the tie that's slid halfway off her belly, picking it up with the backs of two knuckles. It slides across her side, still not pulled off her entirely. "I'll only warn you so many times to take care with what you invite on yourself, Odessa," Ace murmurs to her, squeezing hold of her firmly. "Changing your mind is a luxury only for those capable of creating their own wiggle room." His voice drops as his hand slides up to the side of her neck, resting there without applying pressure around it. "Changing your course instead of sticking to it will only be more dangerous for you in the end."

She knows this, he thinks. Odessa turned back when Ace pressed onward last time, and it's not a mistake he'll let her repeat twice.

His thumb hooks around her chin, urging her to turn her head to the side while his eyes narrow in thought at something. Head tilting to an angle, he remarks airily, humored— "A sentiment that does not go for hair color."

Because they need a little levity with the way this conversation's gone.

Her body responds just as readily to word, promise and threat, as it does to touch. There’s a softening of her posture that signifies her understanding of what she’s agreeing to just as much as she’s welcoming it. Fingers continue to trace up his arm, her hand eventually coming to rest on the back of his shoulder.

He finds her pliable enough, easily directed without having to take a firm hand. Though that may come later.

There’s a quiet breath of laughter at the comment about her hair. “It can be whatever you want it to be,” she offers lightly, eyes bright even as she has to peer out of their corners at him with her head directed the way it is. “It all tugs the same.”

Experimentally, she lets her nails dig into his skin. Does he like to receive in kind? Ultimately, that doesn’t matter to her. If he does, she’s happy to oblige, and if not, she’ll readily change course.

In spite of their repartee, she offers her own warning, “I suffer only at my own pleasure, Ace. If you push me too far, I will push back.” There’s no real edge to that. It’s not a threat to him, just a fact. “But I don’t expect that will be a problem with you.”

Ace doesn't respond to the curl of her nails. He does chuckle just before it at her comment about the freedom he's given in regards to her hair, color and otherwise. But his expression mellows, eyes finding Odessa's.

At her warning, he releases her chin with the small beginnings of a smile, contented that she's removed her mask. He begins to reply but leaves it entirely, leaning down on his elbow to push himself properly upright. Whether or not she moves to follow him seems to not be a concern of his, but he takes a hold of the sea of pillows embroidered with the hotel's logo, adjusting them so they stay in place at the head of the bed before leaning back into them.

After settling in, Ace turns his head slightly so he can better regard her again. He sighs, loath to dampen the mood, but unable to let himself not address her. "I'm a simple man," he assures her. "If I ever make you suffer excessively, it will be because you've deserved it." The silence that elapses after seems to serve as the end of one stage of the conversation and the bridge to another. At least, to him it does. He glances away shortly and then back, like it better stresses he's moved on from that topic.

"Will you have much to move with you?" he asks lightly.

He releases his hold on her and she on him then. Her fingers uncurl and her hand drags then across the short expanse of mattress between them to the necktie on her stomach. She drags it with her fingers, up her body, through the valley between her breasts, and lets it drape loosely over the curve where thumb connects to hand while her fingers trace her chin and jaw where his had just been.

His movements are watched with a cool expression. Odessa smiles, satisfied and dipping her chin in acquiescence. “I can live with that arrangement,” is her own bow on the subject. They’re on the same page, it seems.

He moves on, and she follows along readily, letting him admire her - should he choose - as she sits up and stretches her arms over her head. “I live out of a bag. It’s not like I had a chance to take anything with me before PISEC went out with a bang.” Her fingers form fists briefly only to pop open again in a display of splayed fingers that wiggle in the air above her, then slowly drifting down like ash from the sky.

“I have a small stockpile of things with Richard Ray. Should be simple enough to retrieve.” Odessa idly starts in the middle of the tie, dragging it between her fingers until she pulls the length of it taut.

It's impossible, in a way, not to watch her as she toys with the tie. The silk of the short leash it served as is just waiting to see reuse, he begins to think. Ace frowns at himself, and it fades away with her visual description of what happened at PISEC. He waits until she's said where her things are before he shifts again. "Hm. All right," he acquiesces distractedly. Eyes on the tie, his hand crosses over his lap to her leg, curving around the top of her thigh and pulling her leg more flush against his.

"I'm curious, though, what did exactly happen out there?" There's something coy in his tone as his hand shifts, curving in and against her. His head tilts as he watches her expression, eyes on her mouth. "So little made its way out to public." He leans in to his distraction tactic all while continuing to pleasantly ply her for information, waiting for the moment her voice cracks. He glances up to her eyes again. "Tell me all the details."

Left thigh parts from her sister the right and Odessa smiles absently at the sensation of warmth that comes from his skin on hers. She continues to let the tie go slack and then slowly draw it tense again. She doesn’t watch him watch her while his hand travels. The tell is there that she stops fidgeting with the tie then, however.

“Well,” she begins, voice even, “I was finishing up in the cafeteria, minding my own business and heading with my escort to my daily indentured servitude when…” He might mistake the pause for a moment needed to decide on a word choice if not for the way he can feel her muscles jump beneath her skin.

Odessa lays back against the headboard slowly, still seated, but at least more languid about it now. She draws in a slow breath, eyes unfocused and staring ahead at nothing in particular. “My watchman met with a rather untimely death.” The struggle to remain passive plays out on her face in the brief pursing of lips and fluttering of lashes.

Slowly, she’s been collecting the tie in one fist with little movements of her fingers sliding over her palms and gathering more and more silk as she goes. There’s a ripple in the illusion of nonchalance in the form of her shoulders shifting slightly, the beginnings of a squirm.

“It’s Mazdak claiming responsibility, isn’t it?” The question is a rhetorical one. “They seem to have hired mercenaries for the j—ah!

There it is. That crack in her composure he was looking for.

"Mmm, no," Ace corrects her, sounding a little too pleased with himself. He remains conversational, like he's not still carrying on his flush-inducing behavior. "No, I don't think anybody's taken credit. Investigation in progress still, as it were." He flashes a small smile, something knowing behind it.

Probably because he's not done with his investigation, either.

"How did you get off the island?" Ace wonders fondly. "The stolen helicopter?" His brow climbs as he waits for her answer, pressure easing away. "Or something less conventional?" His hand comes to rest on her thigh again. Should she look up, she'll find his gaze have taken on a sharp, calculating edge. He finds himself multitasking, angling to better understand just what kind of trail lays behind her.

Everything else is just bonus.

His tactics have worked, because Odessa only realizes her slip-up when he points it out to her. Her face is already scarlet, which neatly hides how flustered she is to be caught in the midst of… well, being more truthful than she intended.

The muttered expletive is just as much for that mistake as it is about the way his hand eases away from her, leaving her trembling and wanting more.

Is it? Still in progress, that is. The feigned innocence never gets closer than the twitch of a facial expression that’s gone in a flash. She knows better than to play dumb now.

Lifting her hips, she slides her way back down into a prone position next to him, her curls like shiny copper against crisp white linen. Slowly, she dares herself to turn and watch his eye again. There’s no lying to him now, is there?

Although part of her would like to find out what he’d do about it if she did.

“They had someone who could create a… Some kind of impenetrable barrier that allowed them to cross the water.” In having pried that piece of information from Amanvir earlier, she’s now using it to protect his involvement. This is her problem, and not his. “And someone who can… alter people’s ability to perceive them.” That part feels like a harmless add. A morsel that might get her some reward.

“They turned me loose,” is not precisely true. The oni probably didn’t expect Silas’ charge to wander the city like a stray cat. “So whatever they wanted there, it wasn’t me.

Ace meets Odessa's look, his humor still amiable while he listens to her descriptions until it becomes clear these people in her story were the ones who let her out. His mouth twists into an odd shape, resisting the urge to frown at her.

"Anyone else turned loose with you?" he asks secondly, the lightness gone from his voice.

“No,” Odessa lies, freely and just as easily as she breathes. The regret and sorrow that comes over her suddenly is very, very honest, however. “They killed my friends. It’s just me now.” She left behind people she’d come to care about. Hadn’t she promised to protect Kyla? Hadn’t she insisted to Pete that they were going to live?

Her gaze lowers from his eyes and settles on the curve of his collar for want of anything less scrutinizing than his face. “They don’t know about my ability. I’m nothing to them.”

Ace sits for a period in silence. It serves as his only reply for a period that's just too long.

Then he's sitting up from the pillows with a sigh, feet swinging off the side of the bed to grab his dress shirt off the second bed in the room as he stands. "Your story matches Redd's," he admits as he shrugs the shirt on. He pauses, looking back over his shoulder with a perfectly neutral expression. "Mostly."

Just as she was about to pout at him about how he didn’t finish what he started, Odessa’s blood turns to ice in her veins. Your story matches Redd’s. He’s outplayed her at a game she didn’t know they were engaged in. At least it’s chased away the blues. Odessa is pulling herself up again, this time to sit up on her knees while he dresses.

She doesn’t ask why he asked her for details he already had. Knows better than to ask how he plans to use this against her. Her mind races. Redd is alive. Does that mean the others are as well?

The surge of elation for that possibility is shoved down quickly, because her thoughts shift to Silas. She has to warn him.

Odessa crawls over to the edge of the mattress but holds without setting foot on the floor, as though that might be like trying to break out of a cage. “What do you mean mostly?

When Ace looks at her over his shoulder again, adjusting his collar, his look is hardened. "You know exactly what I mean by mostly." he counters. The fun has gone from his voice entirely. More for himself than her, he abandons buttoning his shirt in favor of replacing his boxer briefs. Getting that important barrier will do wonders for keeping his mind straight, he's sure. Stepping into them, he looks up at Odessa with a shake of his head, tongue pressed to the back of his teeth.

"Go on," he decides to say instead of anything else. "I must have not heard you right the first time." The look in his eyes gives away plainly it's a little late for honesty now, though.

She can and must be as calculated as he is now. Her guard was much too relaxed around him, and now she’s paying for it. Unlike him, she doesn’t need any physical manifestation of armor to rally herself, however. One foot finds the floor, then the other and she draws herself up as tall as she can, which is admittedly not very. He wants to see her be resilient, doesn’t he? She can show him that.

To the best of my knowledge,” Odessa enunciates carefully, a preface that if what she says next turns out to be a falsehood, it’s due to a lack of information and not willful misinformation on her part, “my friends are dead and I am alone.

Until a minute ago, she thought she might have him. Now, she’s not so sure about that.

“I thought Redd died there too. But I didn’t think he was a material detail.” Odessa picks Ace’s tie up from the bed and pads over to him with it. It whispers a hiss as she winds it around his shoulders and begins to tie it for him. It gives her something to appear to focus on while she tries to decide what further details Redd would actually know about her escape after he was left behind in the quest to collect Mohinder.

“The kid was tricked into all of it,” Odessa says quietly, and wonders if Aman feels her regret right now. “He was just looking for a paycheck. Leave him out of… Whatever it is Redd might be wanting to do.”

The way Odessa comes slinking over, trying to make herself useful, brings Ace's expression to flatten. He doesn't shove her away, but neither does he acknowledge her outside of a reproachful look while she explains herself. Her defense of the kid is almost certainly the missing party he expected to hear about in her initial story.

But first, it's more important to address that, "I don't give a damn what it is Redd wants to do. That mess he got into is his own."

Ace sighs forcefully, looking off. "No, my concern is you and whether or not you can be trusted. If you are worth putting my neck on the line if…" He trails off, the thought going unfinished. With a hard glance back down at Odessa, he wonders just why she feels the need to lie and cover up what happened.

“Did you need to know that there was a stupid kid playing mercenary?” Odessa asks, brows raised. Aman may only be two years her junior, but she’s lived so much longer than he has, it feels.

She sighs quietly. “So,” she begins, eyes leaving his face again so she can pull his tie in snug, but no more than that, adjusting his collar when she’s finished and moving on to his buttons. “My mess is your mess.” Like she understands it now. “I’m ninety-eight percent sure it was fucking Mazdak. Only slightly less sure than that that they don’t fucking want me.” Ergo, that tangle is nothing to either of them. “They’re not my problem. The U.S. motherfucking government using me for their next genocidal experiment is what I’m fucking worried about.”

And that worry shows in her eyes when she looks up at him again, letting her hands drop to her side now that she’s finished the work. “Please, just help me avoid that. I don’t want to kill the fucking world again.”

Ace continues to look down at her over his nose, meeting her eyes that way. The green-grey of his own are cold— stony moss in winter. Then he reaches for his pants, stepping into them, taking the time to tuck his shirt. "Genocidal experiment is a little detail he left out," he tells Odessa quietly, inviting her to say more there, regain some of his trust.

The flippant way she disregards the kid is something he must write off after all. Odessa did do such a stellar job of stressing their importance. Or maybe there's simply bigger fish to fry given her comment.

“I doubt he actually knew,” Odessa says in Redd’s defense. “Nobody was supposed to know what we were doing in that facility. But someone did. And that’s why we were hit. That’s why I’m not locked up right now.” She steps back and continues to let him stare her down hard enough to chill the air by degrees.

And he shouldn’t know what she was working on either, should he? But maybe… maybe the whole world ought to know. Odessa lifts her chin, a small tremor in her lower lip betrays the horror she feels for what she was recruited to do. “They had me working on a formula for a bioweapon that could kill an immortal man. There’s no telling how many countless others it would have been able to kill in the process.”

Slowly, she shakes her head. “I don’t think they even cared, Ace. I think they’d kill the whole world for fear of one man.”

That makes him take pause. To be immortal was to be Evolved, and if they were targeting the Evolved again with a bioweapon…

A bewildered grin creeps over him, one entirely lacking in humor. "The more things fucking change," he marvels in a mere murmur, eyes flashing in the dim light. He's hard to read as he steps forward, eliminating the space between them and lifting a hand to rest the curve of his knuckle just under her chin, encouraging her to keep looking up without actually touching her.

"And Mazdak shut it down? Destroyed it all?" His intensity has lessened none, though there's no coldness in his tone anymore. At least, none directed at her. "How much progress was made?"

Odessa’s shoulders roll back slightly, her neck craning the faintest bit in response to the direction of his hand. The look of sadness and apology clues him in to her answer before she even gives it. “Too much. And they took it. All of it. But they destroyed the archives. Unless there was an off-site back-up I’m not aware of, it’s gone. The government doesn’t have it anymore.”

But there’s good news. Or, at least, a spark of it. “I had been sabotaging it. Nobody could understand why the experiments weren’t returning the expected results, but it was me.” That’s only half the truth, but it’s enough of it. “The data they stole is basically useless. Everyone else who worked on it is dead. I’m the only one who can decipher it.”

There’s a brief smile of triumph at that, but it’s very short-lived. Her face falls and her shoulders sag some. Her chin stays up, but her gaze drifts off and to the side, sick with sudden cognizance. Blue eyes return to green-grey and it’s only the very faintest flutter of her lashes that might give away the moment when she engages her ability again.

The sharp rise and fall of her chest signals the change in her breathing. Her ribs feel restrictive. The knowledge of her fear and her worry she’ll let him have for free, no prying fingers or cold stares required.

Ace is so much like her, she realizes several moments too late.

There's a relaxing of tension in Ace at hearing the research was destroyed. It saves him effort of figuring out what to do with the cursed information of what the government had been working on, and improves what he thinks of Mazdak, certainly. And then she goes on, to how she in particular had frustrated the progress of the project. His hovering knuckle comes to rest on the underside of her chin, thumb brushing under her lip.

Clever girl. A swell of pride in her begins to rise, the curve of his smile cutting again across his face.

But that last little revelation. That the keys to deciphering the stolen works still exist, and they lie with her. Ace's features become hard to read again, paused and frozen in that half-smiling state without life in it any longer. He doesn't breathe.

The answer here should be obvious. Snap her neck and be done with it. His grip on her even grows firmer.

The pressure on her vanishes almost inexplicably, at conflict with how his hand appears to close around her, the coldness in his eyes sharpening to daggers. Intangible, his hand exists somewhere inside the barrier of her physical form.

And he thinks, weighing the benefits. The pros, the cons. Everything… else. It's some comfort to him she wouldn't suffer if he let his arm simply reform inside her head. There'd not be enough time for that.

The mess, though.

There’s a soft sound that accompanies the strengthening grip on her face. It’s followed a moment later by relief, but that’s short-lived. It doesn’t take more than a quick glance to realize his hand hasn’t moved at all.

It’s then that she also becomes aware that this is something entirely new. Odessa Price hasn’t been afraid for her life in a one-on-one exchange with a man for a long, long time. She no longer has the power to indulge and call an end to the game when it’s no longer amusing to her. She warned him she only suffers at her own pleasure, but he’s proven her just now to be a liar.

“Oh god,” Odessa breathes out in a panic, “please. If you’re going to kill me, please let me get dressed first. I don’t want to be found looking like a dead hooker.” She wants to back away, but she’s afraid of setting him off. He’s still thinking about it. That means she still has a chance. “Ace, please…”

To her credit, she does not cry. She’s properly terrified, but she doesn’t mewl or sob or try to bargain. In his shoes, she would be weighing this same choice. She can do him the courtesy of holding together at least a little dignity. And maybe he’ll grant her some in return.

He finally breathes in, his gaze on her unbreaking even if he's looking through her at this point. Whether or not he hears her isn't immediately clear, for how he still doesn't move. Seconds tick by, small eternities in the space of moments. His jaw slowly begins to rotate.

Ace curls his hand back to himself, removing the immediate threat to Odessa's being. "Get dressed," he directs quietly, still looking at some distant point that isn't Odessa herself. His own movements are slow as he continues to work through his thoughts, a mess of darker emotions competing in his core. For being such a decisive person, he's spending far too much time wrestling with this moment. Irritation flares inside it, directed at himself, before it's discarded.

That won't help him decide what to do with her.

The breath he took in is exhaled out slowly, his arm falling to his side. The light doesn't hit him quite right, no shadows deepening his expression further.

There’s no relief or relaxation when he gives that order. All he’s doing is granting her small request. A little more dignity in the face of death.

He’s stalling for time, she thinks, and so too must she, though she doesn’t have the luxury of moving too slowly, lest he lose his patience with her. Moving about the room, Odessa finds first her sweater, then her skirt, tossing both on the bed before she finds her pantyhose and bra. The former are held up a moment, like she’s noting the holes left behind by their haste, but in reality she’s looking through the sheer material and at the way light plays — or doesn’t — off Ace’s form.


Well, she had to expect that he wouldn’t remain corporeal and provide her an opportunity to fight for her life. The hose are tossed toward the trash bin next to a small desk in the corner. They land half in the basket, one tattered leg sticking out. She finds herself wondering if they’ll find her like that in a dumpster tomorrow morning.

Bile burns in the back of her throat. Even facing down with death at PISEC, looking down the barrel of a gun, she didn’t feel this scared. But then again, guns, in her experience, are so often impersonal.

This is intimate.

Odessa doesn’t remember snapping her bra hooks together or crossing back to the bed to start to pull her sweater over her head. She steps into her skirt next, holding the back of the heavy wool thing closed with one hand while the other works up the invisible zipper, her tongue stuck out between her lips as she does so.

Okay, so she’ll die without underpants. At least her mother isn’t alive to be ashamed of her.

In letting her hollow gaze drift to him, it has to pass by the door. Silently, she calculates how many running steps it would take to get there. Could she get the handle in time?

No. Of course not. And what would it matter if she did? If it were her, and she had the power she was born with, she’d let him get through that door before she just stepped out in front of him and disabused him of the notion that escape was possible.

Odessa buries her face in one hand and starts to laugh. Oh, the irony.

It's the laughter that pulls him from his reverie, turns his head back to her. Ace begins to speak, but no words come, giving insight to just how distracted he is. Vocal cords can't vibrate and create sound when they're incorporeal, which is an elementary facet of his ability. It shouldn't be something that slipped his mind. No strong shift in emotion comes from him as he rectifies his error by taking form again, no longer existing in that half-state phase.

"We find someone to fix your little problem," he decides dispassionately. "You cannot be held accountable for what you do not remember. So it's just a matter of forgetting. It's simple."

And possibly a lie he's telling himself, for all the slowness still to his movement. It takes several moments longer than it should for him to pick up her coat, shaking it out once as he holds it up at her height for her to slide into. "You have nothing you've left behind, so that makes this easy— We take care of this immediately. We resolve your little problem so you can get on with the rest of your life."

He's hungry for this; for that barrier between her and her potential greatness to be destroyed. He looks her way, but avoids meeting her eyes. As committed as he is to this course, he doesn't trust himself to look into those windows and not find something he mislikes in them, presently.

The giggles carry on just past the pronouncement that the solution is simple. When she manages to lift her head again, at first peeking at him between her fingers, twin rivers glisten in the light where they run down her face. With slow breaths, she starts to pull herself together. She knows better than to ask do you really mean it? One doesn’t invite a contradictory response in the face of such good fortune.

There’s still caution in the way she approaches him and slips into her coat with his assistance. Like she’s afraid he’ll think it’s a mercy to tell her she’s not about to die, then do the deed anyway.

How did this go so fucking south so fucking fast?

Her lips press together as she stifles another laugh. A long, slow exhale past those now-parted lips is all the more she allows herself to indulge that. Slipping her right hand into her pocket, she pulls out a white handkerchief, nice and slow, like she’s used to those deliberate movements to prove she’s not pulling a weapon. Not that her coat felt heavy enough for a gun, but he does know she likes to hide knives in her boots.

But there’s no boots tonight, only the sensible flats she slides her feet into.

Odessa isn’t oblivious to the way he avoids eye contact, so she does him the courtesy of turning her face the other way. “Thank you,” she offers in a quiet voice. “I’d like that.” To get on with the rest of her life. And what an elegant solution a little memory alteration would be. Not like she’s any stranger to that.

Nodding then toward the door, she invites him to take the lead. “Mister Callahan?”

He could get used to regularly being called that again. The identity he regularly wore in the Safe Zone was so unexciting in comparison.

Ace opts not to take a lead, exactly, instead offering her his arm once he's donned his own coat. "Miss Price," he seals that offer airily. He glances over their shoulder at the state they've left the bedroom in, satisfied enough with what they're leaving behind. The light is shut off behind them with a flick, door clicking with finality. As fun as that was, he believes the taint of these last few moments are enough he'll never come back here again.

His gentlemanly posture in guiding Odessa onward might be romantic if it weren't for the flat affect he observes the world with. Even in the elevator, at the risk of the lift stopping on other floors, he doesn't bother with presenting anything more amiable. He's very much focused on putting distance between themselves and these last few moments, looking forward to evidence of that turn that happened being erased, too.

"It'll all be better tomorrow," he says into the ether, eyes on the doors as the number of floors dwindles closer and closer to ground level.

Conversely, she could get used to regularly being called anything else. All the same, her mouth twitches upward in a faint smile, as though she hadn’t been wondering how to outrun him just a minute ago. Once that door opens, Odessa is nothing but serene. Like there’s still something left of the afterglow following a pleasant dalliance with her lover.

That act is not for him, however. They can have the luxury of honesty after the curtain’s gone down. With the elevator doors reflecting her own image back at her, although slightly muzzy, Odessa reaches up with her free hand to dab the kerchief around her eyes, and delicately brush smudges of liner away.

He speaks and her gaze then lifts to him. “I know,” she agrees, squeezing the bend of his elbow once. “Everything’s going to be—” Whatever she’d been about to say dies on her tongue when the quaint chime! of the bell signifies their arrival on the ground floor.

Their footsteps sound too loud against polished floors as they make their way from the hallways of elevator banks and toward the front desk. “…Ace?” There’s only the briefest glance spared for him out of her periphery. “How well do you know this place?”

She doesn’t wait for the answer to that question. “There were no less than three bellhops waiting around here earlier,” Odessa observes, her voice kept low as it now seems to carry in the stillness that surrounds them. There’s a shift in her breathing as she reaches out with her extra senses. “I’m not getting any pings at all.”

Before they round the corner that will deliver them from the mouth of the hallway and into the larger lobby proper, Odessa halts his movement when she stops suddenly in her own tracks, her hand on his arm firm and the other hand reaching across her own body to press against his chest. There’s a softened shadowplay of movement reflected off the flooring at the end of the hallway, pointed out with only the slightest extension of her pinky finger when she keeps them from stepping out onto that particular stage. The light dances, a shift from blue to red and back again.

Where there’s lights, there’s cameras.

“Oh, shoot!” Odessa says, louder now and more easily heard. “You forgot to grab your wallet off the sink, didn’t you?” She smiles now, for the benefit of the watchful eye above the banks of elevators. “You should go back and get it,” she continues cheerily, “and I’ll meet you in the foyer!” God, she hopes she’s wrong and that this game she’s playing will have been for nothing.

After all, 99 times out of 100, the flashing lights and the sirens weren’t for her.

There’s just no way she’s that lucky now.

“Can’t believe those fuckers took the bribe and called it in anyway,” she says with the barest movement of her lips, voice pitched so low and so thin. “Can’t trust anyone to be crooked anymore, can you?” she asks with the sliver of a grin and a huff of laughter before the seriousness returns to her tone. For all the world, this looks like sweet nothings to see the look on her face. “I sold you my body. You had no idea who I was. I don’t even know your name.”

Odessa Price didn’t survive this long without having an answer to everything. A lie for every occasion.

Her mouth has gone dry, and it’s almost everything she has not to let the nervousness show on her face. “One for the road?” Odessa asks, the faintest tilt of her head upward.

Ace's singular focus being only on the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel makes it impossible for him to miss those flashing lights at the end of the hall. His pace has already started to slow, realization beginning to dawn in his eyes before Odessa pulls him back, hand on his chest. Her recognition of it somehow makes it more real, takes even the memory of earlier euphoria and crushes it, the hand on his chest an anvil sitting on top of whatever makes up his emotional state.

"I've outdone myself this time," he whispers to himself, shock and anger and— something he doesn't even have a name for sinking into his gut.

But then she speaks, and his attention returns back to her. She smiles, and it's a reminder of the stage they now find themselves set on. One corner of his mouth turns up in reply when he finds the mask he wants to wear, even as anger roars inside him so loudly it might consume him.

"Just tell them the truth," he murmurs to her with that dazed smile. "You were earning your money for the ferry. You were going to turn yourself in." Ace lifts his head to look back at the elevator, kicking a foot back to block the door as it starts to close. His brow knits for a moment at its audacity to ruin this moment even further, and then he turns back to her.

Ace isn't normally a fan of contact he doesn't initiate himself, but he'll make an exception. It's her about to suffer for his hubris, after all. He'd been flippant and dramatic in his greed in convincing her that turning herself in might sooner get her shot, but what if they did? He lets his folded arm slip down, covering over the movements of his hand by settling his outside arm to loosely drape around her hip.

"Remember your choreography, Odessa," he whispers as he leans his face closer to hers. Go out arms raised,

"Your lines," that she was coming peacefully,

"And don't forget to smile."

What would make sense for both the man he is and the man he's pretending to be isn't present in the kindness he does her as he kisses her deeply. This one has to last her a while, though— maybe forever. It's the only chance of an apology she'll ever get from him, either way. When he's satisfied it's gone on long enough, his head tilts, lips parting against hers only so he can momentarily catch her bottom lip with his teeth before he comes back to his full height again, looking down at her appraisingly.

With a flick of his fingers, up his sleeve her retrieved phone goes, and then he brings it horizontal against him, thumb hooking between two buttons on his coat to ensure the stolen device doesn't slip free when he walks.

"Perform well, and this won't be your curtain call."

His emotional temperance holds as well as his physical one, giving little indication to whether or not that's wishful thinking or simply an earnest directive.

Stepping to the side and back to put himself physically between the doors before they have the chance to close again, his smile returns, apologetic. "I am so sorry about this," he says, at once guiltless and guilty. That damn wallet he's forgotten, right? You know, the thing he needs to pay her with? It's not that he's skipping out on payment for services rendered or anything. He leans one arm against the frame of the elevator door. The hand flush against his chest lifts up, palm tilting.

"I'll find you," Ace airs as he slips a step backward, eyebrow arching. One last message between the lines, his fingers curled over the door sensor to still keep them open. He doesn't break eye contact.

Perhaps it's a worrying parting line. Odessa worries.

But when it shifts against her will a moment later, it becomes blatantly obvious it's not her own, and it's certainly not belonging to Ace. An awkward fumble later, the worry turns in on itself, trying to become calm, instead. The emotional equivalent of someone holding her hand, their fingers threaded between hers. It's okay, they try to impress on her.

And they still worry anyway.

For a moment, Ace sees his own anger reflected back at him in the fathomless cobalt blue of Odessa’s eyes. But in a blink it’s gone again. She’s remembered herself. That anger is not hers. And it’s somewhat gratifying to know that he’s as mad about this turn of events as she is.

For the span of only a few seconds, she indulges herself and allows her sorrow to show clearly in her eyes as he leans in, reminding her to use the poise and grace at her disposal to make it through this performance. As his hand finds her waist, she maneuvers her own arm to cover his movements. She grins against his mouth as the weight shifts from her pocket.

Clever boy.

“I could learn to love you, Ace Callahan,” she murmurs against his skin, lifting a hand once they’ve parted to brush her thumb over her toyed-with lip. Love, in her case, is a very nebulous term. There are many kinds of love, and in her case, most of them aren’t healthy.

But she eases away slowly, relinquishing proximity with reluctance. Maybe it helps him to see that she finds this far less terrifying than she found him to be only a few minutes ago. She takes a step back, putting on that smile he reminded her of so sweetly. “You’ll know where to find me.”

Unless, worry tells her, that they throw her in some deep, dark pit that there’s no crawling out from this time. Maybe one six feet below ground instead of five levels. Her thoughts, her emotions drift. Shift and change. Her smile falters as she turns her head slightly, as if to look over her shoulder.



The smile recovers. “Always leave them wanting more, right?” Another step in reverse. “Don’t forget about me.”

He's allowed to be the one who wins the match of emotional chicken. She’s the one who breaks eye contact and turns to make her way out to the stage that’s been set before her. Even as she disappears around the corner, he can still hear her footsteps in the empty lobby. Hears the brief pause of them that’s necessitated by reaching for the door to the foyer.

Odessa Price steps out of the building and out onto the sidewalk to a sea of lights and drawn weapons. All of this pageantry for her. What a fucking production this is. She lifts her hands slowly, then dares to wave the white handkerchief still held in her right. A winning smile.


Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License