Psychometer or Bust


aman_icon.gif phoenix_icon.gif

Scene Title Psychometer or Bust
Synopsis Some would pay a pretty penny for answers.
Date September 15, 2020

Help Wanted: Psychometer or Postcognitive
Assistance needed deciphering the history of an heirloom
Serious inquiries only
Reach out to…

Neutral Grounds

10:45 am

Aman is sitting slumped back in seat along the wall with one hand clasped loosely around a tall mug before him. His eyes are on the door, and his boots shift along the floor idly while he tries to find a more comfortable sitting position. A loose, light scarf is wound around his neck against the chill that's only started to recede from the air outside, the rest of his clothing comfortable but not overly casual. A brown jacket is worn over the warm tones of his shirt, both complementing the maroon of his pants.

He sits up a little straighter in anticipation when the door opens, waiting to see if this is the person he's waiting to meet.

As Phoenix steps in, he looks around, seeming slightly amused at the dingy hole in the wall he finds himself in. His own attire cuts a sharp contrast with the shabbiness — there’s not a wrinkle in his garments. Casually as he’s dressed, it’s with an attention to detail and quality.

It doesn’t take an expressive ability to notice Aman’s attentiveness and he moves in that direction, brows lifting inquisitively before he reaches the other man. “Are you my 10:45 appointment?” he asks, rather than saying his name or the other man’s in case he’s wrong. He may not remember his life prior to a few years ago, but the lessons of caution have imprinted themselves on his personality in a more indelible way than memories themselves.

With a quirk of an eyebrow, Aman wonders in return, "Are you my item appraiser?" Nonetheless, he comes to a half-stand, hand offered out for a handshake. "The name's Aman. Thanks for coming out." He doesn't hide how he's sizing up Phoenix's appearance, trying to decide if he's the real deal or someone looking to make a quick buck on a swindle. He's going to do better than just bring the sensitive item onto the table right away, he tells himself.

"How exactly does your skill work?" he asks after. "Just want to make sure before we go any further than we're not wasting each others' time."

“Phoenix Dawson,” the psychometer replies, taking the hand offered to him in his own, his hand calloused from years of hard work, while his nails are clean, trimmed, and even buffed to a shine, as tidy as the rest of him.

He moves to take a chair across from Aman’s and lifts his palm upward — not to receive the heirloom he’s been asked to look at, but simply to indicate that the trick lies within his hands.

“Fingerprints. So long as the item hasn’t been cleaned, I can go through the layers of those who’ve touched it with bare hands. It doesn’t have to leave a proper forensic fingerprint to work. It isn’t the handiest of abilities,” he says, amusement in his green eyes. “That’s why my rate is half for the meeting, the other half only if I see anything that could be considered useful.” He raises his brows questioningly. “So what’s the item?”

"You can call me Aman," the other man says with a smile. He regards the explanation with a slight, tight nod from where he sits through the beginning, though he relaxes some when Phoenix gets around to joking about the nature of his ability. He has confidence in the psychometer's ability. He trusts the explanation he's been given, and the limitations. The two serve as required keys to continue forward, ones delivered through a silent link.

With a faint laugh under his breath, Aman admits, "In this case, the fact that I don't think the thing's been washed should be a boon for us, here. Fingers crossed, right?" He's comfortable, his hands come to clasp between his knees, but he doesn't offer up a direct answer to the question posed to him, instead looking slightly off of Phoenix. "The item's small. Unconventional. I'm given to believe it's been through a lot."

Looking back to across the table at the other man, he reports with smooth reassurance, "It should be here in a moment."

The door pushes open right on cue.


Notes of confidence and trust are what keep the woman from pausing just beyond the threshold to take in her surroundings. Instead, she steps inside without hesitation and bee lines for Aman’s table, offering him a smile as she makes her way there. A strand of blonde hair peeks out from beneath the grey hood of her zip-up sweatshirt. He’s never seen her in jeans before. The dark skinny-cut denim hugs her slender legs, tapering off into a pair of green Converse high tops. The polished cherrywood cane with the crystal ball, however, is a constant.

“Good to see you,” the woman greets, starting to pull out a chair for herself. “Have we made introductions?” There’s uncertainty in her voice. Are they exchanging names? Are they using made up ones? She’s never done this craigslist power-for-hire thing before.

Her gaze stays on Aman a moment for confirmation before she turns to offer a greeting to the psychometer as well. “Thank you for agreeing to meet us out h—” She drops into her seat suddenly, as though she’d lost the strength to remain upright. Shock and anxiety wash over Aman as surely as if she’d just splashed next to him in a wading pool.

She knows him.

That wasn't a part of the plan. Aman notes Ourania sink down with a turn of his head, concern for whatever's going on flaring beneath the surface but hidden underneath a cool exterior. "My client, miss Ranya, is the one with the heirloom." He'd go on to say what it is, and he'd have used one of her names, if not for the negative emotions circling his way.

With a fade of his easygoing smile, he tips his head at her. Good to continue?

The blonde shakes her head quickly, dismissing her earlier situation, rather than responding to Aman in the negative. “Sorry. Hip’s not so good,” she explains as she passes her cane from one hand to the other and props it up between her seat and Aman’s. “Catches me off-guard sometimes. Hope I didn’t give you a start.”

The good news is that she doesn’t look like herself. The shift to relief comes easily. Before she brings her hand to rest in her lap, Ourania taps the side of Aman’s knee with the back of her fingers lightly. A physical signifier that she’s fine, to go along with the empathic one.

“Very mysterious,” Phoenix says, lips tipped up in some amusement at the shrouded nature of the item, but he doesn’t press. He turns when he hears the approach of feet and cane. His brows lift as Ourania stops suddenly, then dip into a small frown of concern as she drops into the chair.

“Sorry to hear that.” His tone is mild, perhaps a little skeptical. He offers his hand out to her. “Phoenix Dawson.” She’s not the only one with a different name. Though both of his new names are familiar in their own right.

“I take it you’re Miss Ranya?” He glances from Ourania to Aman, and back again. “I was telling Aman here there are no guarantees. My power’s a little strange. There’s a lot of factors involved, and it depends how often the item's been handled.”

Ourania's reassurance, physical and otherwise, will have to do. Maybe it really was just a physical, failing, but…

Aman turns back to Phoenix with a smile of reassurance. "Trust me, I sympathize. I've dealt with a couple fastidious abilities before." His smile fades as he turns back to the woman at his side now, nodding to her in an attempt to physically lend her some of his confidence again at the same time he offers it across their link. "But as for the penny…"

“That’s right. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Dawson.” Curious, but she can appreciate the desire to fly under the radar better than most. If she’d been FRONTLINE, she may not want to be using that name anymore either. Similar issues, she imagines.

Ourania darts a look to Aman, then back to Phoenix. At the same time, she’s reaching into the neck of her hoodie to tug a chain free and draw it upward bit by bit until the pendant hanging from it slides free. “I don’t think it’s changed hands all that often. I probably fiddle with it entirely too much, but… I don’t think I would have left much of an impression on it. But I don’t know much about psychometry, beyond that it’s supposed to tell you about the past of an object.”

“That penny,” Adam says with a nod toward it, “contains every memory I ever had. Every memory that was ripped from me by the Company. In the event of my death or… worse, I need you to take this.” He taps his finger beside it on the table. “I need you to hide it, and I need you to get it to a psychometrist to decode what’s on the copper.”

The woman’s hand curls protectively around the tarnished copper penny held captive in a silver frame. “Can you tell me a little bit about how your ability works? I mean, how does it manifest? What’s it going to look like to us?” Now Ourania locks eyes with Aman. “Not that you’re a random stranger…” The wave of anxiety crashes into him from her, and she holds that gaze for just a moment long before she turns back to Phoenix. “I just… I don’t know what there is to find on this and I’m concerned about embarrassment or shame to my family.”

There’s a resigned smile from Phoenix when Ourania reveals she fiddles with it too often, and he tips his head to the side, watching her for a moment, before he speaks.

“You won’t see anything. Some shadows, silhouettes, in my eyes, maybe, though not large enough to see or make out, really. I tend to close them or look down as that can be a bit disconcerting to some people.”

He smiles. “Or so I’ve been told.”

Phoenix holds his hand open, thumb brushing across the fingertips of his four other fingers. “I basically have to travel through the fingerprints left on the object. It’s sort of like rewinding a VCR tape. The more fingerprints, the longer it takes to get to the past. I see what was happening when the item was being handled.”

He glances at the penny, a little skeptically. “Money’s generally a little tough, though you say it hasn’t been handled too often. Except,” he tips his head in her direction, “by you. So it might take time to get back to where it’s relevant.”

A pit of dread meets Ourania's anxiety. A hard no, when she starts to fish for details regarding Phoenix's ability. Surely she's not fishing for him to use his own ability and…

"No. No way, I'm not just gonna— steal some guy's ability and then hope he agrees to meet with me again so I can give it back to him. I just— Des, do you even realize how many things are wrong with that??"

Or wait. No— no, this is someone she knows. Maybe? Fuck.

"Aman, this is just— there's information here people would kill for."

"What are the fucking chances some random guy is going to be able to put together the context clues necessary to understand what happened with your particular ball of yarn?"

Of all the times the universe could decide to 'well, actually' him.

"I think it's worth seeing what we can see," Aman stresses anyway, nodding to Ourania. He's not as certain about that as he was before, but he's still convinced this is their, and by proxy her, best chance for information.

Ourania nods her head slowly, mulling over the explanation of the psychometer’s ability. She turns to look at Aman when he speaks, again holding eye contact with him. Yeah. They seem to have landed on the one person in New York with this ability that she’s afraid can put together the pieces of her past with the pieces of Adam Monroe’s.

But, infuriating as it is, Aman is right. This is her best shot.

Turning in her seat and tugging down her hood, Ourania pulls her blonde hair away from her neck. “If you wouldn’t mind,” she murmurs, indicating Aman should help her with the clasp of the chain. Once he’s separated ring from claw she drags the pendant down until the chain slips free from its drape across her shoulders.

She offers a wan smile along with her prized possession. “You can keep your eyes open if it doesn’t hinder you. Takes a lot more than shadows to unnerve me.”

The not-so-stranger watches the long moment of eye contact between the two, and he seems about to speak, when Ourania apparently makes the decision to have him look.

His brows draw together, as her apprehension elicits his own. Aside from the furrowing of his brow, though, Phoenix doesn’t show any sign of anxiousness, and nods when she offers the penny on the chain. His hands take it carefully, holding it by the silver frame around it.

“If you have an idea of what I’m looking for, that might help. Otherwise I’ll just tell you whatever I see, which might be a whole lot of nothing useful. Depending what you’re looking for, you might want to take notes, if there are details I talk about that you want to write down — dates, names, whatever.” He hasn’t begun yet, and his green eyes look from the penny to Ourania. “Professional courtesy: if I see something implicating either of you in something illegal, consider it between us. Law enforcement can’t use my visions as evidence, so…”

His smile turns up a little at the corner. So you don’t have to murder me goes unspoken.

Fingertips slide from frame to penny and his gaze falls, lids half lowered as if he were looking at the table, though movement can be seen in the pupils of his eyes, miniscule silhouettes moving at lightning-fast speed.

After helping Ourania hand over the penny, Aman looks relieved— and she knows he is because it courses under his skin. He was worried paranoia would win out and rob her of this shot to find the answers she was looking for with her very mysterious problem. After Phoenix gives his warning, all he can do is look to the woman at his side.

Beyond knowing the object wasn't really a heirloom, after all, there's very little he knows of it himself.

Maybe the visions can’t be used as evidence, but if an anonymous tip points them in the right direction of something bigger…

Aman feels the panic rising in Ourania before it shows on her face. Whatever she hopes is on that penny, it must be huge to inspire a reaction like this before the viewing’s even really begun. She had hoped she’d be able to read something in the psychometer’s eyes, but it all moves so fast, she can’t keep up with it. Can’t make heads or tails of it to know when — or if — she should pull the plug.

She flickers one worried look to Aman before she starts to reach out with the intent of snatching back her heirloom. “No, no!” Her voice and her grasp are frantic. “I changed my mind! Maybe— Maybe the past needs to stay in the past.” It’s an excuse she’s feeding to Phoenix, and Aman knows it. Her insatiable desire to know is still there, it’s just been overtaken by fear.

“Pl- Please just stop and let me pay you for your trouble,” Ourania begs. It very likely has something to do with the fact that he’s now seen two very different women holding the same reverence for this singular object.

When he’s told to stop, Phoenix looks up, the tiny shadows in his eyes fading from view. One brow lifts, and he smiles gently. He lets the penny fall into his palm, then offers his hand to her so she can pick it up.

“It’s fine. Your friend here has already paid a deposit for my time,” he says, with a nod to Aman, before conceding, “which is probably a bit more than this amount of work deserved since I didn’t try for very long. I’ll refund all but a small stipend for travel time and Uber fare.” He reaches for his wallet, taking out a few bills to set on the table before rising.

“I hope you find the answers you are looking for, Miss Rania. It was a pleasure,” he says, with a small dip of his head. “I know a bit of what it’s like to look for answers to the past. Hopefully you’ll find yours.”

Aman feels the shift in Ourania's resolve, but it's realized too late to stop her from pulling the plug on the exchange of information. He looks disgruntled for a moment as he works through setting their emotions apart, offering a stiff smile up back to Phoenix when that's done.

"Hey, you came all this way, and you put yourself out there in the first place," Aman insists, sliding one of the bills back across the table. The gesture is important to him, even if it goes unaccepted. "Thanks again, Mr. Dawson. Safe travels to you."

“Please take the money,” Ourania looks down at her lap, penny clutched tightly in her hand and looking flustered. “I insist.” She keeps her face pointed toward the floor, and away from Aman and the emotion radiating off him.

Phoenix’s green eyes slide from Aman to Odessa and back, and he dips his head, reaching out to pick up the bill, tucking it neatly back in the wallet, the wallet neatly back into his coat.

“Thank you,” he says, tipping his head a little to look at Ourania. “Best of luck, miss.” There’s no recognition still — if he saw the more famous face of Odessa Price in the few seconds he was holding the penny, he doesn’t seem to have found it strange.

Straightening once more, he walks to the door, opening it and stepping out without looking back.

As soon as the door shuts, Aman turns to Ourania at his side, hissing quietly, "What the fuck, Des?" His brow knits in perplexed concern. "What was that all about?"

The blonde covers half her face with one hand after the man has left. She groans quietly, looking pained. “He was with FRONTLINE before the war, Aman. We weren’t exactly on the friendliest terms.” Ourania shakes her head quickly. “I couldn’t risk him realizing who I am. I couldn’t risk what he’d do with that information.” There’s no way for her to have known. Her loss.

Her hands are shaking as she fumbles repeatedly with the clasp of her necklace, trying to lock it back into place behind her neck. “We were both on Roosevelt Island during the Dome,” she goes on to further explain. “He was there when I first—” Her throat gets too tight to finish that thought. The emotions coming off of her are complicated, but even more than the apprehensiveness, the fear, it’s the shame that’s overwhelming. Phoenix Dawson was there when Odessa Price first made the choice to run with Humanis First, even if he doesn’t recall it.

Aman's expression slowly falls while Ourania explains, thoughtfulness bereft of judgment taking the place of other emotions. He's careful in the response to her own state, but with the beginnings of a frown comes to his feet, stands behind her to take the small clasp of the necklace for himself by nudging her fingers away with his own. He grows quiet while he works on affixing the necklace’s chain back into one whole.

Her shame is met with acceptance that doesn't even know what it is. But it's most notably not the hesitation, the avoidance that's capitalized his usual treatment of any topic that could potentially lead to… well, the era she's too conflicted to set voice to. He sets a hand on her shoulder, angling his body to better face her. "Hey," Aman nudges her aloud, the act mirrored in his emotions.

He settles back down in his seat, hand unmoving like that act alone might offer the support he means to convey. "So it didn't work out. That sucks. But let's not call it a bust just yet." The corners of his eyes crinkle in a smile visible only there. "It was a long shot we even made it this far, maybe we can hold out for one more. All right?"

Aman's calm reassurance on that matter sounds and feels so full of conviction. He trusts things will work out … one way or another.

Ourania relinquishes her hold on the chain when Aman intervenes, sighing quietly as she sweeps her hair out of the way. She nods her head wordlessly, taking his hand after he settles it on her shoulder and reclaims his seat.

“I don’t deserve your kindness,” she tells him. “I’m so sorry I wasted your time today.” She means it. Feels it. Regret for inconveniencing him. There’s a flash of frustration, but it’s gone just as quickly as it came. It takes a few false starts, but she finally manages to look at him again and meet his gaze.

In the meantime, waiting for her to look, he sweeps their hands off her shoulder and holds onto it. Aman is patient through her struggle, mindful to strive for a barrier between their distinct emotional states. Empathy without taking on her emotions in the process. It has mixed results— echoes of her own emotions sending ripples through his own.

"We didn't know," he insists in return to her apology, simply but resolutely. "Nothing to apologize for. It wasn't a waste."

"Can't strike gold every time we swing." Aman grins briefly but fondly at her, attempting to lift her mood with good humor… but mostly just feeling hope that the facade is believable.

Ourania has a much harder time telling her emotions from his, except to know that she’s not a terribly optimistic person by her own nature. She holds tightly to his hand, bringing her other to clasp along. The shift of her brows speaks to uncertainty. The current of her emotion paints a more complete picture.

“Is this me? Or is it you?” There’s a swell of melancholy that Aman recognizes by now is distinctly Odessa. But there’s elation when he smiles for her, and she can’t tell if it’s because he’s pushing the positive emotion to her, or if it’s what his grin inspires in her.

"If you can't tell…"

But that's as far as Aman's joking goes, his mood mellowing. "Maybe a bit of both."

He gives her hand a squeeze in his own, smile twinging again. He's not sure what to say himself, and maybe it's her reflecting on him, or maybe it's just because this is just a difficult situation in general. The swiftness in which his own advice turns back around on him is ironic.

"You ready to give this another shot?" he asks.

Leaning forward, she lifts one hand up to curl her fingers around the back of his neck, then rests her forehead against his, eyes closed. Like maybe if they sit like this for a moment, they’ll hear what goes on inside their minds and somehow this will all be made easier to figure out. If only.

Without breaking that contact, Ourania nods. “Yeah,” she confirms. “I’m ready.”

For a moment, Aman's surprise surfaces before giving way to acceptance, giving way to her emotions. His eyes slide shut along with hers, and torso and forehead leaned forward to her, he continues to hold her hand. What he has— the only thing he has to offer toward the resolution of this is persistence, and that he's prepared to give in spades.

He's just glad that, at least for now, she's not demanding more of him than that. Asking him to cross a line he refuses to cross.

His shoulders sink as he lets out an exhale, thumb brushing over the top of her hand unconsciously. "How about we get something to drink while we wait for our ride back?" Aman lifts his head up enough to open his eyes, gauge her expression as well as her emotions. "I'll put out another classified, both online and in the paper."

There’s no answers in that stillness between them. The ebb and flow of emotions doesn’t elucidate anything. It does bring about a sort of calm, though, for her. If he’s as confused as she is, then maybe that’s okay.

Her fingers tense slightly at his nape, like she doesn’t want to let him drift away from her again, but she relents. His gaze is met coolly, only a few traces of regret bitter on their tongues now. A drink might wash it away. “Sure.” She smiles, resists the urge to dip forward again. “A drink sounds good.” Ourania presses her lips together for a moment, then finally draws away to sit back in her seat, letting her hand trail from his neck, along the slope of his shoulder, and down his arm before falling away from his elbow.

A shaky smile follows. “Maybe we—” Her head turns away, gaze following, though her thumb brushes over his hand where they’re still linked, while she rethinks what she wants to say. “Maybe we will have better luck the second time around,” she settles on.

It doesn't take their connection for him to feel the longing in her reluctance to pull away. The emotions could be misread in their complexity, but the lingering touch leaves little unsaid. A flare of conflict blooms in his lungs and his gut— sends the hair on the back of his neck rising as her fingers trail from it.

Aman meets her eyes the whole while, knowing there's more she means to say but backs off from.

This is never gonna get any easier, is it?

"One way or another," he promises, "We'll figure this out, Ranya." The squeeze of his hand he gives is fond, echoes of longing still in it. It makes it hard not to hear the double-speak in her words just as much as his.

His eyes close hard as he sits upright again, still holding her hand, but fighting down a sudden void of frustration that opens up within him. It skips self-loathing and jumps straight to hate, a maw threatening to draw him in over his own shortcomings. When his eyes snap open again, the yawn of it snaps shut again, shoved firmly under the surface.

"Let me buy your drink, at least," Aman insists. "An apology. I'll do a better job screening them next time." He looks away from her, the link of their hands unbroken even as he lifts his voice. "Hi, could we put an order in?" he asks of the employee manning the cafe.

As long as he’s willing to maintain the contact, so is she. In fact, she laces their fingers together while he holds her gaze. But he feels her recoil at the swell of hatred, which she doesn’t comment on or push back against. Whatever he’s feeling, he’s entitled to, but the sadness shows in her eyes and wells up inside of her, spilling over to him, then receding again.

“I probably owe you more,” Ourania counters in a soft voice. How many beers did she drink at his apartment? How much did she cause his world to tip on its head? “I should be buying for you.” While she isn’t going to argue about it, she will at least make the point.

He doesn't argue back against the protest, at least not while the cafe worker comes over to them. "Do you do tea? Black tea with cream?" Aman asks, and the man just arches an eyebrow at him. Politely, he goes on as if an actual answer had been given aside from the sassy are you kidding me look, "Two coffees, then."

It's only then he realizes how tight his hand has firmed around hers in his unwillingness to let go even though sense dictates even this much is a danger. Not just to the uncertain tide of their own relationship, but the one she was currently in— not to mention the life she was trying to make for herself. Aman relents in his grasp with a touch of surprise in the sudden breath he lets out, one seeded with regret.

"It's— not a game of who owes who what," he protests in a voice just as soft as hers. Then it harshens, but it's not at— her. He can't even bring himself to look her way again. "But if we're talking about what's owed, you aren't owed having someone come in and fucking up what you've been trying to build."

Now Aman brings himself to turn back to Ourania. "I'm sorry you have to be party to me kicking myself away from doing that. That… that's not fair to you either." He forces a flash of a smile and then looks down at their hands.

He should let go. But he doesn't.

Ourania stifles a smile at the question of whether or not they can get tea, glancing down toward the floor as she bites the inside of her lip. She nods her agreement to the notion of coffee and lifts her head again.

The loosening of his fingers has her wanting to clutch back tighter, but she lets him drive the encounter. She sighs quietly at his counterargument. When he looks away, she can’t stop looking at him, feeling ashamed. She doesn’t glance away, as much as he might notice a sudden spike of anxiety when he meets her gaze again.

Aman,” Ourania begins sternly, clutching his hand tighter, “I want you. If you still want to be here, a part of my life, I want that. I don’t want you backing off because you think you know what’s best for me better than I do.” She leans in closer now as she explains, “My whole life has been that way. Everybody thinks they know what I need. Nobody ever asks me what I want.

Then she lowers her head, looking down at the tight knit of their fingers together. “Do you want me to turn it off?” she asks quietly. She wants that answer to be no, but it doesn’t matter, in this case, what she wants. This emotional tether is a two way street and he deserves a say in whether or not it remains active. Especially when it’s just the two of them. “If we’re talking about what’s owed,” she echoes his earlier words, “you aren’t owed having someone in your life who’ll make you feel like you constantly have to look over your shoulder.”

They could go in circles like this forever if they were left to their own devices. Between feedback loops and cyclical arguments that won't resolve themselves because they each place the other's circumstance higher than their own, they'd be hard-pressed to find an end that was satisfying to either of them.

Aman takes in a breath to request that they both be allowed to take a minute without being knee-deep in each other's mental state, but he pauses. When she asks it like that, part of him always worries it'd be more than a pause. And beyond accepting the link between them, he's grown attached to it. To the closeness to anyone, regardless of what the relationship between them is. On nights when he's on his own, he's not. On days he's troubled, he doesn't have to shoulder them alone. They maybe suffered from pushing each other both to limit the amount of time they spent experiencing any negative emotion, but the strength found in the support had its worth. If anything, it's rarely boring long.

Overwhelming, sure. Separating what's hers and what's his on the emotional spectrum is still a challenge at times. He reflects on that quietly for a moment, eyes still on their clasped hands.

When he looks back up, he asks with calm certainty, "What do you want to do, Ranya?"

It’s all of those things to him, and even more to her. It means walking on eggshells at times. He’s at the forefront of her tumultuous emotional tides. Better than anyone, herself included, he’s aware of how deeply unhappy she is. But in the comparatively short time they’ve known each other, he perhaps hasn’t been able to build the context for why. He’s seen plenty of reason and is capable of inferring much — she has a lot to feel guilty for, so it may be small wonder.

But when he asks her what she wants to do, she laughs and bites her lip a moment. “Nothing good,” is her reply. “This is the one time where it’s not about what I want. I’m asking because I care, and because you have a choice.”

Aman smiles despite himself, a pit of well-meaning warmth seeding itself in his chest as he glances down for a moment before looking back up. He leans to the side, elbow on the table while still holding her hand with his other arm. "Let's turn it off, then. Just for a few minutes. We can pretend to be normal, just for a while."

He squeezes her hand. "What do you say?"

“I say normal’s boring,” Ourania counters with a grin. But soon enough, her head lolls forward, chin dipping in toward her chest as she sags with a deep sigh. Her eyes are closed for a moment longer, as though she needs a chance to reboot and come back online almost. With a sharp breath, she lifts her head again and forces a smile. Now, they’re each alone with their feelings.

Alone, but with each other.

“Better?” she asks, blue eyes blinking and one corner of her mouth coming up in a little half-smile. She’s always a little more hesitant when she can’t get that immediate feedback from him any longer.

"Quieter, anyway," Aman affirms, meeting her small smile with one of his own. He regards her for a long moment with nothing but the noises of his own mind to keep him company.

Her eyes having been closed, her senses having been cut off from his, she missed that initial involuntary reaction to want to claw the connection back on. The momentary flicker of panic in his eyes had passed without event, save for a twitch of his hand in hers.

He's in the process of reaffirming his grasp, something he means to say reflected in his eyes before the employee— or what passes here as a barista— returns with their drink order. Aman's disappointment isn't well-telegraphed, but there's a reluctance to let go of her hand so he can accept both cups, setting them between each other. "One perfectly normal cup of crappy coffee," he says in a low, conspiratorial voice after the cafe worker heads back to his post.

"Here's to… figuring shit out." Aman lifts his mug just barely off the table in a quiet indication of cheers. He lifts the drink up, taste-testing despite the fact it's still steaming.

The clasp of their hands is relinquished without complaint, but not without reluctance on her part. Ourania brings her hand back to rest in her own lap while she picks up her own coffee, tapping their cups together lightly before they both go in for their experimental sips. “To figuring shit out.” She blows gently on the surface of her coffee three times before she finally tastes it, then pronounces her verdict, flatly:

“I don't know what I expected.”

Aman’s phone lights up then, buzzing to let him know there’s a new message. A late response to the original ad. still looking for a psychometer?

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