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Scene Title Safe
Synopsis In order to avoid the mistakes of the past, one must know what they were.
Date November 24, 2020

Williamsburg: Ace and Odessa's Brownstone

Odessa finishes washing the last of the dishes after dinner and pulls the stopper from the stainless steel basin so the water and suds can drain. She washes her hands while that happens so she can banish any lingering scents from her skin, then dries off with a tea towel. “Would you take my cane and bring it to my study?” she asks her partner, tone light and without implication. “I’m going to fix us some drinks. Get the fire going and I’ll meet you in there.”

The corner of her mouth turns up with a smile for the protest she’s expecting will form. “I’ll be fine. It’s just a couple of glasses and not that far to carry at all.” They’re leaving in the morning, so she left the office early today to make sure they could have the chores out of the way and leave nothing to worry about over their holiday excursion. She’d swept the floors, folded and put away the laundry — yes, all of it — taken the trash out to the bins… All to make sure they’d be ready to go without last second concerns.

And not at all because she’s been quietly freaking out about getting on a plane in the morning. Why would you even suggest such a thing?

Ace didn't, but he doesn't need her ability to know that her never-idle hands aren't moving just out of a cause for neatness. She's even taken on chores he normally bothers himself with.

Her suggestion to head along first brings a stare of academic curiosity without deep emotion, and then he nods to heed the request, heading along first. He adjusts the straightened phones on the counter just a hair more parallel in his passing, then places a hand on the study door frame as he pivots to enter that room.

He keeps an eye open for her as he stacks three logs in a shallow, lengthwise pyramid, a bit of starter crumbled along the split wood to help it catch. He remains kneeled there, watching the first of the flame take hold and spread. When it curls around the side of the bark, Ace's eyes half-lid and he reaches for the flame… fingers phasing through the burn and wiggling through the energy put out by it.

The crackle of the fire is complemented by the shifting and cracking of ice in the bottoms of low ball glasses as warmer liquid splashes in over the top of them. Odessa hums to herself as she goes about preparing a gin gimlet for herself and a whiskey sour for her partner. For all that tomorrow looms on her mind, tonight is actually a pleasant prospect to her.

Her voice is as warm as the fire when she stops in the doorway, a glass in each hand. “You know you scare me half to death when you do that, right?” It always takes her brain a half second to remind itself that he’s not actually stuck his hand into the fireplace and that she isn’t going to have to do triage herself and start shouting orders at some idiot internist —

He’s fine. It’s fine.

Odessa’s head tips forward as she lets out a breathy chuckle. She’s endeared even when he sends her imagination off on a spiral like that. Although she doesn’t need to — it’s just the two of them after all, she nudges the door shut along its tracks behind her with the heel of one sock-clad foot. Only once it thumps closed and she makes sure it hasn’t bounced back on its way to open again does she finish making her way into her space, made more inviting by the fire and his presence.

“Here you are.” The drink is held out to him, her fingers spidered under the bottom of it so he can grasp further up. “Should I get my throws or do you want to sit on the couch?” Odessa angles a look to a chest she has set up near her reading nook. A convenient place to stash extra pillows.

"Only half to death, though," Ace teases her from his crouched position, eyes still on the flame. It's almost like he can still feel the heat pass over his intangible palm. Like the waves of heat could make its way to him. Influence him somehow.

It's psychosomatic surely, but…

He draws his arm back to himself, becoming whole and wreathed with shadow once more. It's with that hand he takes drink offered, rising to his feet slowly with a crackle of knee. "May as well get comfortable," he suggests. Ace begins to turn over his shoulder back to face Odessa better, head dipping to hers to kiss her. In his other hand is her cane, which he offers back with a turn of his wrist. "Thank you, my dear."

"Now, what's on your mind, O?"

Odessa returns the kiss, only refraining from winding an arm around him because she needs to take her cane, and that leaves her with both hands occupied. Alas. Her eyes stay closed for a moment even after he’s withdrawn, a dreamy little smile on her face. There’s an easy contentment in their quiet evenings spent together, when she doesn’t simply retreat to her piano to practice and he to his study.

Her drink is set on a coaster atop the upright as she moves past it to grab a couple of those large pillows, tossing one out in front of the fire, then the second. If they decide they want to use them, they’re available.

“I wanted to ask you… Talk with you about something you said the other night.” She’s quick with a shake of her head to allay any concern. “Nothing bad. I’m just… curious.” Concerned, actually. “You told me…” Odessa begins to meander her way back toward the piano to retrieve her drink. “That no one had hurt you.” Her brows furrow with that concern now. With her empathy. “I think you lied to me.”

Nothing bad, she says, and she can feel a pang of betrayal even if she's not facing him head-on to see it when she explains. Nothing bad, she says, except that you lied.

Ace's eyes narrow for a moment, and he opts to sip long from his drink rather than immediately answer. It helps to soften his voice when he speaks again, leaving his reply blunt, but without an edge. "That's a fairly rude accusation, don't you think?" he wonders, brows lifting to dare an argument to the contrary be raised. His offense, his defensive sharpness, is an internal thing finding outlet only that way.

"… Or at the very least, a very bold assumption." He leaves his drink at a neutral middle on his person, arm bent. His other hand slides into his pocket, and he remains standing rather than settle into a position more relaxed. "But if you're going to start a thought like that, you might as well finish it," Ace supposes. His head quirks slightly to the side. So.

Why did she think that?

Without a hand free to raise in surrender, Odessa instead takes a half-step back and bows her head. “My apologies. I endeavored to be more playful than serious.” To borrow some of his own words uttered in this very room. But of course it’s hard to take the commentary as teasing when she’s looking at him like that. And not when that’s an accusation he doesn’t level lightly. “You’re right. I’m sorry, I just—”

Contrite now, Odessa sighs and lifts her head again. “Please try not to let my idiocy color the rest of this conversation,” she entreats him. “What I mean is… I think you held back because you may have been afraid to upset me. And I don’t want you to feel like you have to hide anything from me. You said something to me the other night that…”

Taking a drink to gather her courage now that she’s had such a disastrous misstep out of the gate, she taps her finger lightly against her glass as she lets it rest against her sternum. “It made me think that someone had done something to you, and I want to make sure that never happens again. I want to make sure I don’t inadvertently cause you to feel that way. Like what happened when I first moved in.” When he’d accidentally triggered her own anxiety.

Ace's hackles smooth over with Odessa's deference, brow leveling. His shoulders settle out after with her request to not hold her language against her. It seems he won't, even though he rolls his jaw in the act of putting it aside. He steps left to the loveseat and lowers himself down into a sit, his drink arm along the back of the couch.

He sits still for a long moment besides before drawing in a breath. "No," he brushes off the concern. "Odessa…" He tries to chide it away, but ends up smiling faint and self-deprecating as his eyes wander to the fire. "I make it a point to not leave myself at anyone's mercy because human nature is selfish— it is unkind. Not just in the bedroom, but as a rule in general. Trust is not merely a commodity, it is a luxury. Blind trust— faith, anyway."

With ease and charm rather than anything to suggest he's on edge any longer, he points out, "Most people when you hand them power, the safest thing to do is expect they will abuse it. They will take whatever pleasure they can out of it, and so rarely does it involve seeing to the needs of others." His teeth flash in a renewal of that smile before it begins to slowly die off. "There is no story. Nothing … traumatic. Just a persistent showing by others that when you hand them a whip and a carrot on a stick, they're most interested in the way that whip sounds, in how the stick breaks— in the way power feels."

"You've proven you don't follow the trend," Ace is sure to note, his head dipping forward pointedly. "We're similar in that regard, but I'm by no means as…" What's the word to use here? He smiles again, a faint breath of mirth escaping him. "As selfless as you proved to be."

Though it’s clear she’s still holding apprehensiveness, it eases as he seems to accept her apology. Odessa manages a small smile when he explains himself, and his observation about how she breaks from unkind trends. There aren’t many who’d give her that sort of credit, and she certainly wouldn’t have earned it.

“I’ve had one too many of those sticks broken over my ass to want to do that to someone else,” she says lightly, like it’s a joke and not incredibly close to the truth. “Unless they’ve deserved it, of course.” Lest he worry she might be the type to roll over and play dead.

Hip resting against the side of the piano, she lets out a quiet breath of laughter. “That’s the first and only time anyone’s going to be accusing me of that. Being selfless, I mean.” She shakes her head and takes another sip of her drink. “You certainly never let things get dull.” Even if he isn’t entirely selfless.

Odessa stares down into her glass, watching the way the ice clinks gently against the sides when she swirls it slowly. “You said you’d never felt safe before then. Doing that. I worried that meant that you’d been a less than enthusiastic participant in such activities previously. And since you seek my enthusiasm the way that I seek not to do harm…” She shrugs.

“I had awful visions in my head of someone–” Her expression grows stormy as she frowns. “Someone’s hands around your throat. It was almost as if I could feel your fear.” Odessa does her best to fashion her (hopefully) misplaced worry into something with harder edges, meant to be wielded against some imaginary aggressor. “I so often find myself wondering who ruined you for my affection. Who could have hurt you so badly that your skin crawls and your very essence recoils from me when I touch you.” The scowl softens, but still she scoffs. “How you could be so surprised by my kindness.”

When Odessa describes what she thinks she felt, Ace remains quiet, his emotional pool placid and still with a force behind it. Before he can question if that's part of her ability, the same way she can read the past in the air, she moves on. Tongue running along the backs of his teeth, he opts to drink instead of speak. The smile he affords her as he sets his glass on his knee comes nowhere near to reaching his eyes.

"No one person ruined me, my muse," he tells her with all the air of comforting reassurance. "But with luck, they all died in the war, unmourned and facedown in some shallow mass grave." There were enough of those to go around, right?

Ace only shakes his head, just as happy to move on from those details. "Surely, though, you see the progress you've made. The progress we have made." He doesn't say surely that's enough out loud, but he doesn't need to. He leaves his head tilted to the side, wading back in only as far as to say, "It is important to me you enjoy yourself. Unsatisfying situations… they lead to so many issues.

"Chief among them being why the fuck would you stay if there wasn't enough pleasure in it for you? Why would you ever crave me and want to remain with me if I failed to give you a reason for it?" It sounds so simple, because to him, it is. "I need your enjoyment, or it's all… pointless."

Something about the tenor of his emotion tells her that she’s right, even if she won’t press it. He essentially confirms her fear anyway with an almost cheerful assurance that anyone who may have harmed him is likely dead. Isn’t that just in keeping with the theme for her? The worst offenders never seem to live long enough for her to make them sorry.

“I am not ungrateful for or unaware of this progress we’ve both made,” Odessa provides some assurance of her own, a clarification. “What upsets me is that there was progress needing to be made at all. I’d have much preferred no one had—” She cuts herself off, her jaw tight and showing easily with her expression how affected she is. After a moment, she shifts her approach slightly and continues. “I’m sure you feel much the same about me, when I shy away from something meant to show care.”

In this way, they’re a smart match. She chuckles softly and looks away, her expression speaking to strain. “Bold of you to assume that it took merely one man to break me.” In certain respects, certainly, one is all it ever took, but one thing she’s had to grapple with is the notion that she is a product of years of experiences and abuses. No one person sculpted her into this shape she’s in now. Metaphorically speaking, anyway.

“Surely,” she muses as she brings her focus back to him, “you know there are so few men who feel that way. The first time I was intimate with someone, I wondered what all the fuss was about. I was told that it would improve, as long as I kept at it.” Odessa lifts her glass. “Just another one in the series of lies fed to me. But fake it until you make it, right?” She takes a drink.

Odessa proves, as ever, that she does care. She'd take on the world for him with nothing but the sword in her cane if it meant his affection, and for him unequivocally to know he had hers. He waves for her to join him on the couch, shifting his drink between hands in order to settle his arm around her shoulder and draw her in closer to him.

"I never did," Ace tells her brusquely but not unkindly. That he assumed, that is. "You are not that fragile. And I never once believed that he was the one who did the most damage." Not that he thinks much of Michal Valentin to begin with, or gives a damn who knows that, but it might be a sobering— comforting?— bit of information for Odessa. One that proves he's capable of seeing with at least some nuance on the topic.

His fingertips trace the curve of her shoulder absently. "Some might say we are the sum total of our experiences, shaped by the people who touched us." His palm conforms to the shape of her, better cementing his embrace of her. Lightly, he allows, "I suppose I believe a little in that, if only in an entirely different tenor. We are all the ways we did not yield when someone attempted to mold us into the image they wanted us to be."

“I’d be inclined to say he didn’t damage me at all,” Odessa posits in a soft voice. It’s a lie, of course, but one that she tells herself just as readily as she tells it to him. “Until you came along, he treated me best.” Not precisely accurate, either, but she knows better than to give even the faintest hint of praise to Richard Ray in Ace’s presence. Michal is dead, and thus a safe target to present. “He also never professed to love me, so…”

She never told him, either. Neither of them felt the need to say it. But he would never have carried her to safety when she told him to leave her, that she would buy him time, if he didn’t care for her. He wouldn’t have shoved her out of the way of the building collapse when he could have saved himself instead.

Odessa washes down her growing sense of melancholy with another mouthful of gin, smile tight when she returns to the here and now. “I certainly believe that’s true of you,” she grants with a nod of her head. “I, however, am certainly who I was molded to be. Perhaps I’m learning to live my life the opposite way now, but it wasn’t always so.”

Resting her free hand on Ace’s knee, she turns her face up toward him, taking a moment to just appreciate the angles of him. The curve of his jaw, the slope of his nose, the faint little creases that have only started to form around his eyes and near the corners of his mouth. “You understand how desperately I love you, don’t you?”

While Odessa goes on, Ace finds his hand lifting to let the backs of his knuckles graze her hair, thumb coming to push stray strands away from her face before long. He can't help the possessiveness that comes over him at the mention of the men who have done wrong by her, or even the ones who did the slightest bit of right.

She's right. Michal was certainly a safer play.

"I didn't mean I was concerned for your comfort just in sex," he remembers to say. "I mean in all things. If you enjoy nothing, there is so very little reason for you to stay. If you are not granted the appropriate affections…" His brow furrows as he observes her in his periphery, shoulders shifting. "How would you know how I feel in return?"

"The ways in which I am 'broken' lie in that area. Affection. Receiving it… sometimes showing it."

Ace sighs quickly, ready to be done with focus on that topic. He turns to face her more fully, lips pressing to her temple. Answering her question is a much easier thing to move onto. "You lie for me, you are honest to me, you would murder for me. You would take on the world for me if I but asked." His eyes half-lid, fingertips brushing over her cheek and down to her jaw, thumb passing over the curve of it. "But I bet there are ways yet I still do not know how lucky I am."

It helps that she, too, is ready to move past that topic. The terrain of it is littered with landmines. One false step and all of this blows up in her face. “I know,” is how she chooses to help tie the bow on it. It may have started in a certain way, but this is about so much more than sex at this point.

Leave it to Odessa to smile when he praises her for her willingness to kill on his behalf. It’s a warmer thing still for the affectionate brush of his hand. And he says he’s not always good at showing it. “You must take care with me, my darling. I’m not sure there’ll be enough of me to glue back together if my heart were to be broken again.” She may not be fragile, but that doesn't mean she has the wherewithal to recover from another heartbreak.

Polishing off her drink, she leans across him to set the empty glass aside on the end table. When she rights her posture, it’s to fit herself against his side, enjoying the warmth of him and the fire.

Ace smiles faintly down at her when she smiles at him. His emotions are a difficult thing to judge, mired in possessiveness and satisfaction both. He'll guard her and guide her so long as she continues to share her love with him, her time; but there is some dark pleasure in him at knowing just how she'd fall apart without his affections.

He must take care with her? She must do the same to ensure he has no cause to crush her.

But saying as much would ruin the tenor of the moment. It might even strike fear into her, the wrong sort.

So instead he begins to hum some tune softly with her nestled against his side, his arm around her shoulder. He shifts to set aside his drink, shifts the curl of her body so he can swing his legs up onto the couch, so he can slide the blanket hanging off the back of it over them both.

I'm half exposed, you've seen what's shown
My eyes are closed, I'm letting … go.

It's only once they've settled again that he finds the words, ones that thrum low in his chest. Ace draws his hand down Odessa's back, eyes distant as he puts focus into his voice. It's not effortless for him, not the way she makes it seem when she sings, but it's an absent enough of a ditty it works for him either way.

Falling with the landslide; riding out the high tide
I'm safe with you

Tension in him begins to ease, emotionally and physically both. Any self-consciousness fades. It's just them, after all. His eyes do close with her against his chest, at peace in a way he so rarely is. But every time he is, it's without fail that it only happens when all else fades except the twine of them together.

Swimming in the starlight; hold me til the daylight
I'm safe with you

It is easier like this. Just the two of them, held in a moment of delicate perfection. It’s a deadly thing, the trap that draws her in and sees her merrily seeking this danger he represents to her freedom, her life, her soul.

Trust me, we don't have to run from here
Love me— love me till we're in the clear

But he sings to her, and she feels it resonate in his chest and that resonance touches her heart and her eyes drift closed, content that he loves her. That he does return her affections, and there are no other entanglements that will cause him to be lost to her. No one else who holds his heart. She isn’t his dalliance.

Falling with the landslide
Riding out the high tide…

Odessa traces lines up and down Ace’s arm with just enough firmness to keep it from being a tickling thing. “Have you ever felt like this before?” she asks in a soft voice, curious more than anything else. “You know that I’ve loved before, but… have you?” She wonders if this territory is new to him.

Her voice lifts again, amusement in her tone. “This isn’t a trap, in case you might worry. I just… want to understand you better. I want to know more of who you are. Where you’ve been. How that might inform where we go from here.” Odessa lifts her head and smiles at him. “You know so much about me. I care about you, and I want to know… so much more. I want to appreciate you better.”

Ace stills the movement of his hand, gaze roaming sightlessly beneath his eyelids. His arm settles around her side comfortably. "Everything that came before matters so very little compared to the weight of now," he tells her effortlessly, contentedly. "But… no."

His eyes open to find hers. "There's been no one like you."

Head tilting, he leans it back against the armrest, the small pillow at the end of the couch. "I have traveled, though," Ace admits. "This country and others."

“I can’t say I don’t find that gratifying in its way…” That there’s been no one else like her. “But gosh do you deserve to have had this with someone…” Better than me is how that thought ends, but she doesn’t give it her voice. It may be obvious she meant to say more, but what she has said is at least a complete notion.

If he were someone else, she might get animated, excitedly ask about where he’s been and what it was like. To ask for all the little details and to live vicariously through his experiences. Except… some of their experiences are shared, if from different angles. “Did you ever get to travel for something other than war?”

Ah, and there she goes, striking the unpleasant heart of it. His lips twist into a wry grin. "I'm going to lie and tell you yes. But the reality is most of the travel was in preparation for, or in the immediate aftermath of." Ace lets his tented knee begin to relax, sliding along the seatback of the couch as much as it can without displacing her. "My freelancing period following my mutiny was exciting and brief, bringing me before long to the orbits of steadier work. The rebellion attempted to recruit me, but work with d'Sarthe was more lucrative, less depressing."

"It seems like it's been one war after the other, though. Even now, it feels as though we prepare for the next." His head shifts as he balks plainly, "Not that I mind."

Ace's eyes find Odessa's again, the smile he wears now little more than a flash of canine. "It's the one theatre I feel most at home in. The one stage I never shy from taking. There is, after all, no limelight in war. I enjoy attention, but not the spotlight. I'd rather be known for my work— my hands, so to speak, rather than my face."

“I can appreciate that,” Odessa murmurs. “I always covered my face when we would engage. I didn’t want to be recognized.” But when they lost the war, all it took was testimony from Mitchell’s soldiers to reveal her involvement and the extent of it. “I’m glad we lost the war,” it’s rare she falls into the habit of saying we anymore when speaking on this subject, and for good reason, “but it was certainly not the outcome I expected. With how… unscrupulous the methods, I thought— Well, nevermind. Point is that I never expected to be infamous. I always figured I’d live and die alone. In obscurity.”

She chuckles quietly at that, in spite of the morbid nature of that thought. “I’m certainly pleased with the work of your hands,” she teases, attempting to shift things back. “Although I’ll admit I hope you don’t become famous for it.” Where he flashes fang, she bats her lashes. “I like having you to myself.” One brow quirks upward. “Although, I could be persuaded to make an exception from time to time.”

Ace arches his eyebrows, executing a faint scoff of a laugh before he presses a firm kiss to her brow. "Ludicrous thinking," he declares softly, lips still to her skin. A second peck of a kiss follows before he pulls back. "We're both such jealous creatures."

And just like that, for him the past is laid aside in favor of a more pleasant present. He strokes his hand down her back, looking momentarily to the fire to contemplate its health and any need for intervention in it.

He finds he'd much rather prefer to stay here with Odessa.

"I'm looking forward to this weekend," Ace murmurs absently. "It carries with it a unique opportunity. I know I didn't properly appreciate our change in plans at first… but I'm looking forward to making the most of this little excursion, changes and all."

“Is that so?” There’s a pleased lilt to her voice inspired by his affection and his change in attitude toward the way she’s asked him to accommodate a different travel arrangement. She too is largely unconcerned about the fire. If they allow it to die down, they’ll be able to head upstairs much sooner.

Odessa smiles and begins to surreptitiously gather up the fabric of Ace’s shirt in her hands, so she can work the hem of it upward. Very subtle. He probably doesn’t even— No, there’s nothing actually subtle about it. “Tell me more?”

Her sudden eagerness to threaten to unclothe him turns his head back to her. His expression shows idle surprise, the first movement toward a shifting of mental gear. "What else is there to tell?" he wonders aloud. "We'll have more time to enjoy ourselves than we would driving…"

Ace's brow lifts. "Time enough for a Saturday evening show at a theatre. A proper one."

“And I am so looking forward to that.” Odessa smiles brightly. “It’ll be nice to be somewhere new, where we don’t have to worry about either of us running into someone we know.” The smile fades, but not with any traces of sadness. Instead, there’s almost polite inquiry in its place. “May I?” she asks, not moving higher than his waist with his shirt balled up loosely in her fists.

Ace returns her smile as long as it lasts, it fading with the curious look she gives him. An eyebrow raises to ask what's on her mind, lowers when she makes her request. He lets out a faint laugh. "For all the fun we might get up to the next couple of days, this may be our last chance to…"

He shifts one hand to hers, moving it from his waist instead past his shoulder, encouraging it around the back of his neck. His green-grey eyes meet Odessa's, his reply implicit in his invitation.

And it’s not one she’s going to hesitate in accepting. With her fingers clasping gently around where he’s left them to settle, she pushes up on her knees so she can lean up to press her lips to Ace’s in a needy kiss. It isn’t a deep one, not unless he initiates it. They don’t need that clash of tongues to feel satisfied in their connection.

Odessa doesn’t pull back until she’s breathless. “I could practice being very quiet,” she proposes with an impish little smile and a glint of mischief in her eyes. “Or we can just enjoy this. The way you make me sing.” She dips in again, this time to nip at his ear, the graze of her teeth dragged along the lobe.

Ace's shoulders shift, lifting up off the side of the couch. Eyes roll closed for just a moment before he brings his hand down on her backside in a rebuking pat. By the time his eyes open again, there's a return glint in them. "Head on up," he murmurs. "Pick out what you want. I'll take care of the rest of the fire and be up to take care of you."

He lifts his hand to cup the side of her face, nodding once before letting it fall away. "I'm right behind you."

“Yes, my darling,” Odessa murmurs, carefully untangling herself from the blanket draped over them before climbing off the loveseat. “I’ll lay things out and we can talk about how we’d like the evening to progress when you join me.”

In other words, she’s asking him not to jump right in like they so often do. She’s learning to be clearer with what will make her comfortable.

Grabbing up her cane, she tosses it from one hand to the other before planting it on the floor. “I’ll see you up there.” The door slides open easily and she slides it shut behind her so the warmth generated by the fire will stay trapped there longer. It isn’t as though he’ll have to let any escape when he’s ready to follow behind.

Ace hasn't moved since the door closed. He's still lying on the couch, one knee propped, eyes distant in thought even as the fireplace pops and settles.

He won't be home for Thanksgiving. He imagines his usual ritual of yearly review is something he'll not have the privacy to properly complete on the holiday itself. So in some ways, he does that now as he generally reflects over the way things have progressed with Odessa.

It's been such a year since their chance re-encounter. All because she picked up a shitty lighter at a bodega in Williamsburg. If they hadn't met again there… if she'd not called him… well, she'd not have eventually been cornered by the police the way she had. He tries to remind himself she had filled her head with ideas of turning herself in anyway, so perhaps that sting hurt far less to her than it did to his pride. At any rate…

She came back to him once she was her own again. He gave her the option to go anywhere.

And it's with him she stayed.

His eyes flick up when he hears the floor creak with one of her circuits between drawer and bed. A satisfied gleam enters his eye, and he leans forward to pick up his drink where he left it, swirling it before finishing it off. The sound of her footsteps is a good one to hear. After they'd nearly fallen out following her transformation… Ace really hadn't been sure she would grow back into herself. She had spent so long in pain, demure, seeming afraid of her new form and the way he would receive it. The night they were jumped at her motel on Staten proved she was capable of burning bright still, even for her pain.

And back he'd drifted to her, like a moth to flame, ever glad to waltz straight into the blaze.

But is this where he wanted them to be, where he meant for them to be at this time of year? He considers that while he tends to stirring the fire lower, then looks up when he hears the legs of the armchair shift against the floor.

He decides it's close enough.

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