Something You Will Miss Dearly


ace_icon.gif odessa4_icon.gif

Scene Title Something You Will Miss Dearly
Synopsis After her self-imposed exile, Ace calls Odessa home and the two set boundaries that may not prove as clear as either of them expects.
Date June 13, 2021

Williamsburg: Ace and Odessa's Brownstone

Don’t come home, the message the next day had said. It had inspired the breath to leave her lungs and whatever joy she’d managed to find in the company of another person, the salve for her heartache, to crystalize in her chest and lacerate her heart, as it should have done in the first place. She’d read the message in the bath and cried in the shower for the next hour, long after the water had turned to glacial runoff, hoping the sound of the spray would cover the misery in every sniffle and desperation in every breath gasped for between silent sobs that wracked her slight frame, huddled on the floor with knees drawn to her chest.

Even the make-up she carefully applied couldn’t hide the evidence of fresh despair, but she wasn’t called on it. It was very kind, and she drowned feeling with wine and snuggles on the floor with her dog, the pair of them wrapped in a blanket she brought from home.

It smelled like him.

Each moment taken to inhale deeply was a twist of the knife in her chest. Deserved.

Eventually, however, the message came. Whether she should or not was irrelevant. If there’s one thing she knew, she belonged at his side. So, taking her things and her gangly wolfhound puppy — dropped off with the neighborhood boys — she returned to Williamsburg.

Not since the first weeks in this brownstone has she been so nervous on the steps, key poised to enter the lock.

Feeling like a trespasser in her own home.

The height of the door — perfectly normal and almost disgustingly average, as all things pertaining to Harry and Ourania — seems towering and formidable somehow.

The key fits in the lock. The door swings open. Odessa Callahan steps over the threshold and into her foyer, her weekender bag hanging from one shoulder and her purse from the crook of the same elbow. The front door still gapes open behind her as she slowly searches the area, visually, for signs of anything amiss. Something that can warn her to the state of the house that she won’t pick-up from the state of Ace’s heart.

The door to her study is slid open– same with its other exit out facing the kitchen. Everything seems in order. Clean. Not a speck out of place. Water running in the kitchen is shut off, and footsteps creak on the wooden floor of the living room as Ace makes his socked way into view, washcloth massaged between hands to dry them off. He's dressed down, no sleeves to physically roll up to assist him with the dishes.

The prickle of coming to attention when she met the door isn't accompanied by a flood of other feelings, positive or negative. It feels like as though it could be just any other day, judging from his emotional tapestry.

"Where's Rex?" he asks with just as much lightness, not even an eyebrow raised. No judgment rendered, either visibly or emotionally.

It’s curious to her, ominous, this even keel of Ace’s emotions. No elation to see her, no frustration or latent fury. It feels unnatural. But they’re sociopaths, aren’t they?

Well, one of them still is.

“With the boys.” Odessa tips her head demonstratively out the door to indicate nebulously down the street. She takes a half step back. Not to depart, but to place her hand on the door and start to slowly push it shut behind her.

"Well," Ace pronounces mildly and turns back to the kitchen.

There's the slightest idling within him, a churn associated with thought. It's accompanied by a quiet clink of ceramic as a dried plate is returned to its proper place. "If he's entertained, let's eat out," he proposes, returning to putting away more than one meal's worth of dishes.

It's a subtle sign there had been stormy skies, at one point. But now they've been wiped clear, much like the plates. Like it never happened, save for those who know better.

“I…” The door closes with a quiet click and she turns the deadbolt with a thunk that doesn’t yet speak to a sense of finality, but she’s open to the notion of revisions. Watching for them to come across her metaphorical desk.

Stepping through to leave her bags at the bottom of the stairs, Odessa finally comes to stand at the kitchen island, watching Ace with a mixture of longing and heartache. How can she be home, yet feel so much further away?

“If it’s all the same to you, I think I’d like to stay in.” The request is delivered with caution. Set in the space between them then backed away from, watched with wary curiosity to see what he’ll do with it.

"It's not," all the same to him, and he delivers that notice evenly. Afterward he turns back to Odessa, meeting her eyes. All the while that emotional keel of his remains balanced.

"I'd like us to have time to ourselves," Ace explains. He rests both hands on the side of the island countertop without leaning into it to push weight behind that statement. He only inquires silently if that's a good enough counterpoint by arching one eyebrow and slightly shifting his head so it's at an inquisitive angle.

It feels like a hit to her core. Not a hard one, but one meant to test the stability of it. Will it crumble? Will she break so soon? Odessa isn’t even sure. She holds for now, but she thinks there may be some hairline cracks, little fissures waiting to become something greater. Something worse.

There’s any number of things that could tip from the end of her tongue now. Any number of things that should trip over the edge of her teeth. Odessa examines her husband visually. Emotionally, she takes his fragile being in her delicate grasp and studies it with a scrutiny born of wonder. She turns it one way, then another. Inverts and rights it. Within, she finds a deep-seeded and blighted imperfection. Dark as pitch. Dark as the witching hour on a night unvisited by her lover the moon.

Within this ugly scar is potential. Under this pressure, he could reform anew. Breathtaking, and more resilient than ever. No longer the spade…

Odessa releases a breath she hadn’t realized was trapped in her chest. “I am so lucky,” spills from her lips. “You’re beautiful.” The proclamation takes on wings and abandons the nest of her heart through her throat. “Perfect.

He could be the Ace of Diamonds.

And she’ll be his Queen of Hearts if he’ll still have her.

The praise is unexpected, leading him to tilt his head further still as a bloom of warmth finds a slow blossom in his chest nonetheless. Who doesn't love praise, even if they're yet uncertain as to its motivations?

"I missed you, too," Ace clarifies mildly, corners of his eyes crinkling in his appreciation. "But that isn't an answer, precisely, to whether or not I'm allowed to take you to dinner."

"We could get dressed, go somewhere nice," he proposes in light whimsy, leaning against one of those arms. "Or go somewhere near the house. Wherever, so long as I get to spend that time with you." Brows arching in a dramatic gesture of sacrifice, he stage-whispers, "I'd even be willing to suffer that place I don't like."

Of all the places he doesn't prefer, they both know he means Cat's.

The emotional response goes some measure toward easing the tension within Odessa. Make no mistake, she’s not above manipulation with her praise and adoration, but she can still be genuine with both. She can mean what she says, and still use that truth to her advantage.

In this case, she isn’t sure if she means to mold Ace’s mood into something more favorable toward her, or if that’s simply a byproduct. A happy accident. The corners of her mouth turn upward in a small smile, hopeful and pleased, in a way, to have been missed.

“Yes,” she answers properly, “you may take me to dinner.” The smile fades, but not the way he captivates her. So long as I get to spend that time with you. It feels, still, such a foreign concept. Sure, they spend quite a bit of time together, but to have it stated so plainly, and for it to sound like it comes from the heart, not from a place of vainglory, still seems so rare. To want to be seen with her. In public. Simply for the joy of being with her, not because she makes for a lovely accessory for his arm.

The smile returns, fuller, showing her heart. “How can I say no to you?” She starts forward, but it gets no further than a lean toward him, feet still planted firmly. Odessa isn’t sure she’s earned the right to his space yet, despite this invitation to dinner. “I do enjoy when we get dressed up. If that’s what you want to do most, then that’s what I’d like to do. As long as we’re spending time together, that’s what matters.”

The sight of Odessa's smile is one Ace traces invisibly, admiring it. He takes in breath slow, chest unmoving despite the sweetness found in that air. In the quiet pleasure of having her nearby again.

"Maybe something in the middle of the two," he supposes. "Comfortable, but not quite casual."

His eyes won't leave hers; the way he trails off seemingly unnoticed by him. Despite that, the distance between them— the physical one— isn't one he closes yet. "Shall we?" he asks instead.

It's a lead he takes, slipping around the counter first to head for the stairs. He stoops to take her bag in one hand almost in stride, other hand on the banister as he rounds it to head up the steps.

“Maybe,” she agrees genially, nodding her assent to getting their proverbial show on the road. She gives him the space for a head start, watching him ascend the staircase for a moment, a small smile sliding into place. All the while, the small seeds of worry sprout within the fertile soil of her stomach. Soon they will bloom and butterflies will come to treat with the blossoms.

Odessa shakes herself free from her admiration of Ace’s form and makes her way to the stairwell at a quicker pace she would otherwise have settled into, scooping up the strap of her handbag as she goes.

When she reaches the landing, she pauses a moment. Respects must be paid to the orchid Ace takes such care of. Odessa recognizes it as a symbol of his meticulousness. His appreciation of beauty.

His need for control.

The petals feel velvety under the very slight pressure required of her thumb and forefinger to provide access to the tactile sensation. Odessa smiles absently — sadly, if she bothered to pay much attention to her own emotions — and wonders if he feels like he’s cultivating her the same way as his precious orchidaceous plant.

With appreciation paid to the most beautiful living thing in this home at any given moment, Odessa turns to head to the bedroom.

Odessa's bag laid aside by the dresser nearest the door, between it and the sliding closet door, Ace crosses to a different one to find a polo to replace the tee he's dressed down to. He seems very much about his own business, not observing or overseeing or interfering with the way his partner prepares herself.

He eventually leans against the edge of the bed to slip on a pair of rarely-worn loafers, glancing up only then to mark the differences in their levels of readiness. His palms smooth down his slacks, curving at the knees as he comes to his feet.

There’s nothing she needs from her bag, so she leaves it where it is for the time being, setting her purse on the bed. Turning, she sifts through her closet, pushing hanger after hanger aside until she finds the series of dresses she wants. Will green look like she’s trying too hard to get back into his good graces? Will black look like she lacks any joy for their reunion? Yellow proclaims her interest to be herself, and that’s worse than trying too hard with emerald.

Lips curl in a faint smile as she settles on something suitable. It’s only with a little difficulty that she pulls the zipper at her back up all the way so its pull rests delicately against the soft peach cream fabric, out of sight once she lets down her hair. A thin leather belt is cinched around her waist strictly for the visual break-up. She adds a lightweight coral cardigan with a hem almost longer than her lace ruffled skirt. A pair of sateen high heels covered in the black and white swaths that identify them as zebra patterned are set at the end of the bed while she moves to the dresser, frowning as she opens and looks through her sock drawer. “No-shows, back seams or hose?” Odessa asks without looking to her partner, feeling for his reaction, rather than listening or looking for it.

"It's warm out, and the weather may turn," is Ace's sole bit of advice for her back, demurely offered without a sign of preference. It's only after he speaks that he seems to consider the options at all, muted opinions rising and falling in silence.

The only head Odessa hopes to turn today is Ace’s, so she decides to keep it simple. Leaning against the dresser for balance with one hand, she pulls a short sock on with the other, switching out and repeating the process. From there, she walks over to the bed again and steps into her shoes.

Her husband is looked to with a mix of question and hope. Is she presentable enough to go out with him? She may not be fully bedecked, but a swipe of lipgloss and a quick trace of her eyes with liner, both found in her purse, will go a long way toward giving her a more polished look. The gently warmed hue of the gifted pearls at her throat are the only jewelry she has any need to reach for.

Ace looks up from his perch with the beginnings of a smile curving either corner of his mouth. Whatever additions she sees fit to add are simply garnish to the perfection he finds her to be now. One that stirs his soul again.

But not his hands. He doesn't reach for her, doesn't move to press a kiss to her cheek, doesn't guide her forward with a hand at the small of her back.

It's not until they're seated at the tavern that he even really speaks, reaching across the table to lay his hand over hers, thumb brushing the ridges of her knuckles.

Jackson Heights: The Cork Tavern

The deep green booth seating and dark wooden coloring offer homey comfort, but aren't as warm as that touch. Soft lighting cast by bulbs protected and held aloft by brass sconces casts shadows around them and affords them a slight sense of privacy. Perhaps he figured it might help mask the way his soul seemed to breathe relief when they sat down to review the leaflet of a menu together.

It manifests at last in the air as he murmurs, "I'm glad you came back, O."

She looks for the lie in his statement even as she turns her hand over beneath his, fingers curling lightly around the edge of his palm, thumb brushing along the side. If not some lie, then a conceit. Like somehow she’d be able to determine that her return to him was merely expected. Could she blame him?

“Where else could I ever want to be?”

She could tell him he’s lucky she didn’t stay away. That she didn’t steal away her things while he was working. That she, like he, believes they’ve put far too much effort into this love of theirs to bury it prematurely.

In reality, he’s lucky she believes all the blame lies with her on this. That, for once, he remains without sin and it’s she who is deserving of the misery. That she is the one who’s fortunate here. He’s glad she came back? She’s glad he asked her to come home at all.

Je t’aime, mon phare.

Ace's eyes don't leave their joined hands when she insists with him is the only place she wants to be, but the placidity in him cracks— moments of warmth before leading now to hairline fractures in ice so clearly seen by she who knows how to look. His thumb passes over the side of her hand again.

The hair on his arm stands on its end, silent goosebumps rising with the profession of her love. Spring winds still carry chill, and her words evoke something in him even if it isn't immediately clear what.

"There are always other places you could be. Other places that, sometimes, you must prefer, seeing as they've kept you from being entirely with me. Entirely honest with me." His eyes lift to Odessa's, hand still wrapped in hers. "And I need you to be honest," he clarifies softly. "Tell me what it was I'd done."

"I believe in us, O," Ace whispers. "In our union, in your ascension to become more than you ever dreamed— in our growth together. I don't want to give up, but I also don't know what I've done wrong." He lets out a shuddering breath. "I never wanted you to fear me. And somehow I became both someone you couldn't trust, and someone you feared."

"I…" he starts and then falters, his hand firming its grip around hers before loosing entirely. Present, still, but unmoving owing to a thin crack of fearful malaise leading down to that deepest, darkest smudge within him.

The cracks in the ice, she hopes, will lead to a spring melt and, ultimately, a return to the glorious summer of their love. But he calls out what he seems to perceive to be a clear desire on her part to have her dalliances elsewhere from time to time, and her lack of truthfulness.

Green-grey eyes lift to blue and she’s forgotten how to breathe. Odessa from Odessa echoes in the back of her mind and she can nearly smell cigarette smoke. A different man, a different time. The same dredged up trauma pouring cold fear into her like someone holding her down and driving a funnel into her chest with a hammer.

And she is so very, very still in his hand. In her seat. But the hand never tightens around her wrist. There is no yanking her across the table. No face twisted so much by anger as to be unrecognizable as anything other than a demon. No demands hissed in her face. No threats or vows of hatred. Instead, he lessens his hold on her.

Odessa relearns again how to breathe.

“What you did,” she begins carefully, her voice soft and unsteady, “was accuse me of a crime I didn’t commit, then refuse to hear evidence to the contrary. You’d already decided my guilt, and anything else came down to some difference of opinion.” She shakes her head and looks down at the table.

Absently, her thumb brushes over the side of his hand in light, but swift passes as she thinks. “There are things that you have said, things that you have done, that you cannot take back,” she informs him regretfully, lifting her eyes slowly. “More than that, though, there are moments I’ve lived that came so far before you that I cannot forget. Things that left indelible marks on me. You’ve never flinched at my scars before…” She knows that isn’t precisely true, but flinching and a secretly sneering disdain are different enough. “These are just scars you can’t see.”

Her eyes meet his again. She knows he understands that, even if it took months of quiet and gentle (and not-so-gentle) persistence on her part to get him to admit to some of his own, and how that informs his own interactions with her.

“I love you,” Odessa states in plain English. “Sometimes that scares me. I’ve never loved anyone like this. Like you. I’ve never loved anyone who’d bother to love me back so freely.” She sucks in a sharp breath and looks away, blinking several times to keep the overwhelmingness of that emotion at bay. “But you need to understand… My ability is no more my heart, my love, than it is my sorrow or my fear or my anger or fury. I can sense those things with it, but it is not any of those things. It is no more my ardent affection than yours is your presence and being.”

Pressing her lips together, appearing pained by the fierceness of her need for him to believe her, she leans forward, fingers closing around his hand in a firm, but gentle grasp. “First and foremost, you have to understand this before we can begin to address anything else.”

Ace lets out a long and measured breath as he turns his eyes up to her, quelling the need to snap in his pain and instead listen and explain, much as she is. It's an exercise that makes him want to quietly gnash his teeth as much as his actual feelings do as they unfreeze from where they were stored and left last week.

But he endures, laying out his counterargument calmly. "What this sounds like, to me, is a deflection from the truth. An attempt to sidestep that love and affection factored in with that bond you forged with them both, whether or not it needn't. Because if I could trust that it didn't, Odessa, this would be an entirely different set of circumstances. A… nuisance, rather than a knife."

With an exhale, he closes his fingers around hers in return, eyes dipping to them in an attempt to conceal their troubled gleam. "I thought about ignoring what happened. Continuing as we were before, for the sake of… hoping all would somehow turn out well. But then I thought about how Richard Ray felt so confident in himself, so possessive of you that he broke into our home without a second thought. Came to attempt to strike fear into me for the seeming hell of it, because he still feels like he has that right over you, your situation…"

He lets out a faint, scoffing laugh at the memory of it, shakes his head to move past that seething sentiment.

"We've attempted the involvement of a third person before, O," he reminds her flatly, "and it went poorly." His brow knits with the fierceness of his feeling, one he consciously keeps out of his grip. "You are mine, and I am yours, and I will not suffer anyone between us. Whether it's someone splitting our focus and affection, or someone who simply feels entitled to try. The bonds you make open the door to third parties doing those things."

"Especially if you don't tell me there's someone else sharing your heart," Ace adds with a sigh from his nose.

“There it is again!” Odessa breathes out in a sorrowful exasperation. “You’ve already decided what my situation is or isn’t and you refuse to accept anything to the contrary.” Drawing a deep breath, she lets it out slow and evenly. Where he might employ that tactic to combat his anger, she does it to fight her nerves.

"I'm listening," Ace argues back in a voice more at conversational tenor. "To what you're saying, and telling you I hear you but that there's also been something more. Tell me I'm wrong, O."

And she nearly does.

But she isn’t sure it wouldn’t be a lie, and so she talks it through with herself as much as with him. “You have no idea the bridges I have burned so that I could become Odessa Callahan,” she tells her husband with a bittersweet smile that puts her heartache on display.

Her eyes unfocus and stare at some distance between them. “Before you came back into my life, I–” Brows furrow, guilt enters her veins like a poison. “I had something casual with Aman. There was no– I would never have called it love. Ever.” Blue eyes close in tandem with a heavy exhale, the weight of this unspoken, and until now unimportant reality bears down on her. “I didn’t lie to you when I said the link was accidental. I didn’t know how I did it. I fell asleep without one, I woke up with one.” She shrugs her shoulders. Did her link with Amanvir form because she held something for him that she didn’t yet recognize or was that something nurtured to bud and open by the link? She’ll almost certainly never know.

“When I told him you asked me to marry you and I said yes, that’s when he wanted the link broken. So I did.” Odessa’s face contorts with her anguish. “Now… He can’t stand the sight of me.” It’s dramatic, but the loss of that relationship, that friendship, had a dramatic effect on her.

Odessa meets Ace’s eyes again. “I’m afraid of you, because I can feel what roils beneath your skin every time I say something you don’t want to hear. And I say a lot of things you don’t like hearing.” She shakes her head. “I’m one bad day from a black eye or a broken nose.” She leaves off the or worse. He’s sharp. He can infer it.

Finding something graceful to say to hearing his suspicions regarding Aman validated is a difficult task, so Ace ends up saying nothing. All the better, potentially, because there's no distractions away from that second matter which needs addressed fully, without interference.

"No," he answers with such conviction, sharp and heavy. "You're not. You never could be."

His head tilts, wondering for the words to explain himself with. "The once ever it happened, you showed me that mustn't ever again. That no matter my fear and panic and worry over your carelessness, I will not take out my frustration on you in that way. You stated you would leave— the absolute last thing I ever want to cause to happen."

"We have disagreements, true, and I may have my feelings about them, but they will never manifest on your skin, my muse. Do you understand?" He leaves a sharp eye on her, tone patient. "They are things we will either work through, or agree to disagree on."

"If you won't believe me on this, then I ask you to trust me on it," Ace asks of her, words slowing to emphasise them. "Because if I break that trust, I deserve to be left."

“I believe you mean that,” Odessa murmurs. It isn’t the same as saying she believes him or that she trusts him, but maybe it’s a start. “If it helps, the first time shocked more than physically hurt.” Maybe it helps to hear that. “But it made me afraid of the next one.” Her eyes fall to the table again, visually tracing around the rim of her water glass for want of something to do rather than trying to see through to the floor. “I understood — understand why you did it. Why it happened. What it showed me was that you could lose control of your emotions, however…”

There’s a sigh heaved from her lungs. Further explanations or assurances of understanding won’t change things any. “Richard knows you hit me. He saw the security footage from the parking lot that night.” She’s certain she’s told him this before. She must have done, right? Maybe it bears reiterating, as it circles back to a previous point. “It’s part of why he feels this need to protect me. He’s built up this mistaken image in his mind of my being battered or on the cusp of it.” Not so unlike her own concern, unfortunately.

“If you think I cry in front of you, it’s nothing compared to the tears I’ve shed in front of Richard. He’s seen me at my absolute lowest points. The times when I’ve been scared for my freedom, for my life, for the safety of my family and the people I love…” Odessa shakes her head. “Somehow, things feel… I don’t know. Maybe I’m anesthetized to it all by now. Or…” She looks up. “Maybe I just feel more stable with you. You… don’t have your own agenda in my moments of crisis. You don’t have to put me on the backburner because there are ten more fires ahead of mine that you’ve prioritized as more important.”

Odessa threads her fingers with Ace’s suddenly. Even if he can’t feel her the way she can him, he can still recognize the shift in her. The warmth that blooms in her that she tries to share with him with this contact. “I know you have things you want, and I am so happy to support you in reaching your goals. Every victory of yours brings my heart to sing.” This sigh is a happy one. “To see you shine so bright.” Less absently and with more intent to convey her attention and her intent, her thumb brushes along the side of his hand. “But I know that when I’m in trouble, you’ll prioritize me. You’ll protect me.”

Shaking her head without a hint of melancholy for once, Odessa explains, “Richard won’t do that for me. He can’t. I’ll never come first. It’s always going to be his agenda, Elisabeth, and his children first. So let him think he has some claim to me. We know better.” A vise squeezes her heart, but she doesn’t let the pain and the sorrow show in her face. “And anyway, he’s gone. I tethered to him to monitor his continued existence, and that was a failure. Whether he’s dead or just beyond my power, the result is the same.” Ergo, he’s no threat to you.

I believe you mean that, she says, and she doesn't need to read Ace's heart— the slant of his brow speaks to his concern. Then the slack in it likewise speaks for itself when she indicates Richard saw that moment. His soul lapses into a wintry silence, a sudden and heavy snowfall masking whatever lies underneath.

At some point while she speaks, his lips move to form words and none come. They finally press together, his expression solemn but no longer looking lost by the time she lifts her head to look back to him.

And then she takes hold of his hand and that heavy snow starts to drop off him in chunks, finally hitting a point where its own weight carries it away. She hits the nail on the head, and she feels him tense in her grasp if she doesn't feel it in his soul, all the while his thumb gently brushes past her knuckle.

When she's in trouble, he'll prioritize her. He'll protect her.

He has to.

Ace's green-greys never leave Odessa's and yet he goes somewhere so far away for a slip of a moment, one that hollows his voice as he proposes, "I need you to promise me this will never happen again. That if some situation arises where you create a link again, you won't hide it from me. That you won't allow misunderstandings to rise, because you'll be truthful and open with me. To not create situations more complicated than they need be… if they are as simple as you've said they are."

"And you— you need more than a promise that I'd never hurt you," he acknowledges. "But that, my phoenix, I don't know how to give. The act of not doing something isn't a thing that brings a salve, not even a half-year later. I don't know how much time it will take, what you need in order to put that in the past." His lips purse before he wonders, "Perhaps you'll tell me?"

She feels it, feels the chill winds of autumn give over to the winter snows much despised by him, but she forces herself to continue onward. She can’t pause when she knows — hopes — that what she says will help to bring the spring breezes and summer sun to his soul again.

How to respond to him, how to answer his questions and how to placate him, all of that is the easy part. Odessa unweaves their fingers, however, and changes her grip on his hand. “Love,” she breathes out, nearly inaudible against the quiet din of other diners, “don’t go where I can’t follow you.” The blue wells of her eyes fill with concern, accented by the slant of her brows. She lifts his hand to her face and presses a kiss against the inside of his wrist, as though to express deliver her love to his heart. “Ace?”

His gaze flickers and sharpens, very much returning to the moment with the brush of her lips to the underside of his wrist. His eyes meet hers, snow sloughing off in a way that reveals they're right back where they started. He flips his hand over and around hers, taking hold of her by the top of her wrist and lying their forearms both down on the table. "I need a promise," Ace reminds her, drawing his thumb down the same sensitive area she'd just kissed him.

"It's a very simple thing," he opines demurely, pad of his thumb coming to rest over her pulse, eyes never leaving her as his head cants just slightly into a tilt. "All you need to say are the words."

And more than that, the sharpness of his gaze doesn't hesitate to imply. But that's where it starts.

In so many ways, Odessa is very much like a fae creature, prone to weaving webs of truth in so intricate a lace that they’re nearly indistinguishable from lies, save for some very key elements. “I shall do,” she begins, voice warm in its resonance if not lifted in volume, “my utmost to maintain a level head. I cannot promise to you that I’ll never be so short-sighted again. That I won’t believe that I’m somehow helping us by creating such a scenario. But I can promise you that I will never do something like this again with the intent to hurt you. To hurt us.

The world is slowly ending all around them. Minute by minute. Hour by hour. All Odessa Callahan can think about is how badly she needs the man across the table to still be in love with her when there’s nothing left.

Otherwise, what is anything for anymore?

The thought brings a stinging sensation to Odessa’s eyes and soon tears spring up from their wells. She hisses sharply and searches the table in a moment of blind shock for her napkin, which she snatches up and quickly starts dabbing under her eyes as discreetly as she can manage. “Please,” she begs in a whisper, her pulse beginning to quicken beneath his fingers, “say you’ll still love me even if I fuck it all up again and we can’t fix it this time.”

Ace's eyes half-lid as he regards her in her weaving of words, trying to decide what he feels about this interpolation of honest tones regarding her ability to perform as requested. She speaks to what comes beyond the words he's asked her to say. How right she is to, how clever indeed. His mouth firms, and he waits through the unexpected tears called forth by thoughts he can't read.

He can only assume.

"I think my ask was very clear, and without room for ambiguation, Odessa," he murmurs so it barely carries between them, lips hardly moving at all. "I am not restricting you. But I am asking for your honesty and your timeliness. Should you link with anyone else, you will tell me. Should you plan to, you will tell me so there are no misunderstandings. This is a very clear instruction on how to not fuck it up again."

"Because I may still love you," Ace whispers plainly. His thumb presses to her pulse. "But there will be no fixing this a third time."

There was no other outcome for this but for him to misunderstand her ask, and so it comes as no great surprise. However, the way he chooses to respond to the contextless mess she laid out in front of him brings her face to pale. The tears still run freely, silently, and she looks first to where his hand grasps her wrist. Her own fingers begin to curl in a way she only perceives as motion in so far as she’s considering making this thought into motion. In reality, her whole hand lies very still against the table and his fingers.

A foolish part of her tries to hop the gate before the starter pistol and argue that his numbering’s off. That the whole mess with Aman happened before he ever showed up to tell her to fuck off with her busted lighter, and so she can’t be held responsible for any of that. But it doesn’t matter if this would be mistake number two or twelve or thirty-eight. Ace dictates when he’s done, and the number here doesn’t matter. Next time is what matters. So she shoots the erroneous line of argument and drags it out of the way to make space for wisdom and logic, should they decide to grace her with their presence.

Odessa keeps her face turned in toward the wall to hide the impact of the last few moments from the world around them. She keeps wiping away fresh tears periodically as she sits in her silence and composes herself.

“If you had an ability,” she begins softly, “to know if the person you love most in this world is being honest with you when you’re just going through… something as simple as daily conversation, just as readily as their reaction to staring down the barrel of a gun…” Odessa’s tongue slips past her lips to wet them briefly. “If every conversation you had with them, you could feel their reaction to your every word…” One last quick swipe under her eyes and her bracelet-laden forearm hits the table with a thunk. “What do you think you would do with that?”

A flatness enters his expression, regardless of whether or not he means for it to. This sort of rhetorical isn't helpful in the sense it isn't pleasant or positive or, under most circumstances, even possible. He doesn't have her gift. He can't feel what she does.

Unless they were to let the bond between them form, a thing he nearly offhandedly suggests they let happen now. Let the what if be erased.

In either case, it doesn't answer that she still apparently feels the need to hide things from him and avoid giving him the simple reassurance he asks for yet again. So, pretending patience, he lightly and directly counters, "What do you think I would do with that?" Ace arches an eyebrow to accentuate he doesn't mean it as a rhetorical. He lets his grip around her wrist lapse, merely holding the back of her hand in the palm of his own while he holds that flat look upon her.

“I don’t know,” Odessa responds honestly. “I can tell what you feel. How often you feel,” or don’t, “and I think it would disgust you. You’re what I wanted to be. What I pretended to be.” She smiles, maybe in spite of herself. “I admire it… and recognize it as a weakness.” The smile fades, mostly. Her head tips to one side as she considers him for a few seconds in silence. “I used to think this ability would ruin you.”

Returning to center, she switches tracks without a gap to indicate as much. “I won’t intentionally form a link without informing you of that intent first. If I form another link accidentally, I will tell you at the first opportunity it is safe to do so.”

Rather than continue to shrink, Ace’s wife has only seemed to grow in confidence as she speaks. But there’s almost a distance with which she seems to study him. “My ability’s made me stronger,” she asserts, and it becomes clear then that her confidence in her own power is what inspires her, “where I used to think I was left only a pale shadow of what I once was. If you could do what I do…”

A grin cuts across her face with a knife’s edge. “You could transcend and become something even more extraordinary.” Lest he think she doesn’t already revere him, she means only to show there’s still room to soar to greater heights.

The pang in Ace's heart when Odessa confesses that what he admired in her was what she pretended to be is visible to her like a suddenly flickering star in the sky for all that he keeps a straight face. She is so many things for him, but he'll always quietly long that she were the twin soul he had wanted to craft her into being.

The salve of her promise washes that dark sky out with warmth; brings him, too, back to center. His eyes darken, refocus on the here and now. Comforted, or at least sated, he shifts the grasp he has round her hand. And for whatever she has to say about his weaknesses, he lets it roll off of him for the sake of admiring her confidence.

He smiles by pursing his lips together, leaning in. His other arm folds across the tabletop, and he demures, "I don't care what the rest think." He confides, "They're nothing. Less than nothing. You, on the other hand…" Ace's smile fades, replaced with a pensive lidding of eyes as he looks down at their palms. "There are times I'd give much to know what you were thinking. To have that… security."

"To know when you're afraid, so I can chase away the fears," he murmurs, barely audible and with his head tilted down. His fingers curl in a gentle brush over the back of her hand before he looks back up at her out of the tops of his eyes. His voice lifts again to her. "Perhaps that's how we bridge this gap between us," he suggests with care for the weight of such an idea. "Perhaps that's how we make things right again."

It hurts her, too, to realize how right she was about what Ace loved in her. But she pretends once more that it doesn’t, just the way he prefers her. But the line she cast into the waters between them catches; the hook finds his heart and sinks into it tenderly. Slowly, she can reel him toward her now. The warmth touches her as well the moment he changes the grip of his hand, and it isn’t to drag her across the table to be scolded.

He’s starting to come around to the idea, and just that much is a victory, though Odessa finds that she isn’t keen to rush into anything of the sort with him. “You need to give this serious consideration. Grasping for any kind of solution after a fight isn’t the time to make that choice.” Not so long ago, she would have capitalized on this weakness of his and used it to ensnare him completely. Now, she shows consideration, and not just for the repercussions she’ll face herself — although also for those.

“You know how I can always sense where you are in our home, even when your ability is in use?” Her brows lift; she doesn’t need to wait for his acknowledgement. “I’ll be able to sense you anywhere. Across town. Across the state. Across the country…” Odessa shakes her head in a short, quick movement. Maybe to forestall what his follow-up to that might be. “And you won’t have the same ability in return. This connection will always be weighted in my favor, and that’s not something either of us has any control over.”

"And despite that," Ace provides his answer not dismissively, but nearly. "I've wanted this before. Didn't trust myself then, in the heat of that moment, but this…" His voice drifts off, and his eyes drift down again to their hands. "This is different. Cooler." His lashes drift lower.

"A link that can be broken should it turn out to be too much for either of us," he rationalizes. It could be he's masking his own potential to be overwhelmed as much as it is acknowledging perhaps Odessa wants to keep the privacy she has now. Letting him in, letting him closer, diminishes how strongly things are weighed in her favor right now. "Something we can try ourselves, my love. Us. The only two people I trust to make this right again."

And so she sinks her hooks into him, and he refrains from barbing his touch around her wrist— the two of them acting in subtlety to ensure they both remain close. For all that things change, in these ways they remain the same. He appreciates that what is beautiful is also fragile; she in turn has come to appreciate all the ways steel can be shaped without being cut— marble molded without so much as lifting a chisel.

"I admit disappointment I wouldn't be able to feel you as keenly as you understand me," Ace remarks with another half-lidded glance up at her. "Were you in danger, the lack of two-way precision would frustrate me. Because if there's anything that frightens me in this life, Odessa, it's the thought that I might not be there to protect you and keep you safe."

"From anyone. Any… thing." The corners of his mouth pull back in the slightest rueful smile a beat after that confession. "We've— you've fought so hard to come this far. The fragility of the human condition, though, it's…" He lets out a short breath that wants to be a scoff, but it takes the form of a helpless laugh instead. "And you have this wonderful habit of throwing yourself into danger." He curls her hand around his so he can lift both up and press his lips to her knuckles.

Odessa watches Ace closely while he works through the notion on his own, without her needing to massage and guide him one direction or another. “My love,” she murmurs as he lifts her hand. “I have protected myself for years before you came along, and for years after.” Their first meeting, that is. “I worry for you as well, however. Once you leave my reach, I cannot sense you. Cannot find you. Cannot protect you.” Far from a face of concern, Odessa’s is a mask of contentment. “But you’ve never needed me to protect you.”

Her hand shifts in his grasp, freeing herself of him so she can instead bring her knuckles up under his chin without touching. Her thumb nearly brushes the edge of his mouth. “But if you’ve made your choice, then we can move forward. I’ll show you how to be stronger for the understanding of the power of emotion.”

Painted lips curve into a pleased smile, eyes half-lidding, languid in her enjoyment of him and her triumph in this moment. It’s a triumph for them both, isn’t it? To have faced their first real obstacle as a married pair and to come out the other side prepared to work harder to ensure their connection will only be further solidified?

“We’re going to go home, have dessert at the kitchen island, and watch a movie together on the sofa.” Mrs. Callahan does not ask if her terms are acceptable.

To her insistence she can look after herself, Ace doesn't even bat an eyelash. "You weren't mine then," he reminds her simply. "It's different now."

Then with a soft chuckle, he folds both arms against the side of the table to meet her eyes and ask, "Allow me that selfishness." Green-greys flit between her blues, and he quirks a brow as he elaborates, "That emotional need," with wit and wry but no trace of a smile. He tilts his head at her when she proposes what they'll do next after leaving here, giving it some thought.

"A lighter dinner it is, then," is how he signals his agreement, eyes finally leaving her to wave a hand for the bartender to come around to them. The menu leaflet is touched only to push it into Odessa's half of the table. He's already decided, after all.

Withdrawing to her side of the table, Odessa smiles across the divide.

So has she.

Williamsburg: Callahan Residence

Their routines are well ingrained by now. At least, his are, and she’s grown accustomed to them. Hers are a bit more haphazard on the surface. Is she carrying a bag? Maybe it gets set down in the entry way. But if she has her laptop, then it goes in the office. But if it’s one of the really nice designer purses, then it has to go straight upstairs. Her shoes are a similarly shifting parameter that changes everything. She’s not as capricious as she seems at first blush. If one knows her variables, she can be predicted.

The heels can be left by the door just tonight. The clutch left on the counter. The sweater light enough to remain on indoors. Leaning back against the kitchen island, she tracks her husband’s progress through his own routine with the movements of her eyes alone. When he steps out of her sight, she only patiently waits for him to re-enter her periphery.

Shoes discarded, phone deposited, Ace presses a kiss to the side of Odessa's head only to vanish from sight once he's past her shoulder. There are clothes meant for enjoying the day, and loungewear meant for better enjoying the evening, after all. Rules to things. An order. Even if the order sought is comfort.

A perfect waste of a good summer evening to be inside like this, in his opinion, but the weather's dismal at least. Stuffy in vision and feel, looking as like to rain as to just make the air miserable. Odessa's concession to likewise spend a night in with him and grant him his need to be close to her is all the more well-received for it. The air indoors is cooler, and he drags the blanket adorning the end of the bed off of it, folding it over his arm before he walks downstairs again, the long way.

"My pick or yours?" Ace asks across the house as he completes the descent, pajama pants swishing in silence against the wood floor.

When he descends the stairs and doesn’t seem to be intent on simply ditching the blanket on the couch and returning to her, Odessa’s lip curls faintly, her face turned pointedly away regardless of how little view he had of it already. “Ours,” she responds without her annoyance on her tone.

Closing her eyes, she draws in a deep breath through her nose and pushes down her own feelings so she can reach out to him instead. Her head tilts to one side, turning slightly to the left as she nudges around him, curious for the shape of his current mood. For the flavor.

“But I said kitchen first,” Odessa reminds Ace gently, but firmly.

"Right," Ace answers automatically as he comes around the corner, pitching the blanket at the couch and letting it land with a thwump made up of its own weight. "I had figured you would get it out, pick the amount you like by now, and–" The sibilant sound of whatever next word he had in mind is arrested along with the breath to produce it, head turning from the couch back in the direction of the kitchen.

He arches an eyebrow at her back in silent question. His lips purse together even before he has an answer. A flicker of instinctual irritation passes before Ace properly remembers they have the house to themselves for the evening, and with that laid aside, he begins a slower, more purposeful walk in the direction of the kitchen. His hands come to her hips as he sidles up behind her, physical salve for the irritation caused by his own lack of understanding. "I nearly made a fool out of myself," he admits into her hair, kissing the side of her head.

“Almost,” Odessa hums teasingly, pivoting to face him and putting herself between him and the counter. She stares up into his eyes for a moment, adoring and ignoring the butterfly wings beating in her stomach. “I want to ask you to do things a little differently.” Looking isn’t wholly necessary, but it’s a habit she refuses to ever break herself of when it comes to discerning feelings. Knowing the tells in the eyes, the little twinges in the small muscles of the face, all are important.

“I need you to show me you love me,” sounds ludicrous, considering the rings on both their hands, but it’s a nuance that matters. “Not that you want to possess me. Not that you’d kill for me. Not that I’m simply yours, and isn’t that enough?” A strand of blonde hair is tucked behind her ear before she reaches to rest her hand against his cheek. “That’s what I need from you right now in order to feel connected.”

Balking first, Odessa breaks eye contact, but only for a brief moment before returning. “Do you think we can manage?” she asks with the hint of a smile.

It's still what's under his skin that shows first before that twinge at the corner of his eyes begins, benign confusion narrowing them. What? is a question that doesn't leave him, assured she'll provide a proper explanation of her request. And she— does provide that. When she lays out the why, though, it's like she's rung a bell so powerful it could shatter everything it reaches.

Not him. But his ego, maybe. Standing oh so still as his eyes dart back and forth between hers, he staggers mentally under the realization— (assumption, actually, but whatever–) that the reason she's never bonded before is a fault of his. Anything he's done until now has never been enough. His hand lifts to her cheek in return and cradles her jaw, the furrow of his brow growing deeper as he struggles to overcome what he dares not air to explain in plain words.

He goes over, mentally, all the ways he feels these requirements long should have been met; holds them. He anguishes over them, briefly.

And then he lets that go, his expression softening. It's not his standards he needs to meet, and he's compelled to understand that here. Instead of his thumb brushing past her lips, the pad of it grazes her cheek. "Yes," Ace breathes before another eternity of a second can elapse. "We can, but we won't be having dessert." The hand still at her waist curves around to pull her to him, and in the direction of the couch.

It’s what he doesn’t say, what he thinks he hasn’t shown her, that releases the entire kaleidoscope of butterflies inside of her. Protests she could have handled — expected even. This? Makes her want to shush him quietly, even when he hasn’t said anything. She wants to soothe away his concerns, but it’s perhaps hers that are the greater issue.

He doesn’t need the benefit of what she’s offering to him to see the moment when the despair takes her. It’s as though the light in her eyes gutters, then is snuffed out entirely. Yes, he acquiesces in his small way. His inventive way. His own way. “No,” she whispers desperately, unaware the word has even left her lips.

The fault, she realizes, is hers. It isn’t that he can’t reach her, it’s that she refuses to be reached. That has to be it, doesn’t it?

This deficiency is taken and cradled to her chest with a care. It’s guarded as she slips his guiding arm and moves toward the stairwell instead. “You can pick it,” she murmurs quietly, “I’ll just get changed.”

It's now that Ace acts briskly, snaring her by the wrist. No, he says without saying, echoing her own desperation to not lose each other. "Odessa," he insists, pulling her back to him only to crane his head down to hers and to kiss her deeply. His other hand lifts to curve around her neck in his need for her to understand his affection, however painful that desperation is. "Come back to me," he murmurs against her lips, then crushes his lips to hers again.

Don't go, he pleads, his need for her affection burning bright.

And with how badly she wants to stay, she’s easily pulled back, her mouth easily captured. Her arms wrap around him as he makes his feelings known to her. Not quite what she asked for, but maybe their mutual desperation at the thought of being without the other is where they meet in the middle. Maybe it’s where they’ve always tethered to one another.

She’s worked with less, hasn’t she?

Odessa assures gently, “I can’t hurt anyone with this ability, and neither can you.” If he does manage to figure out a way, he’d better share it with her. “I can’t really explain it, though. You just have to experience it for yourself.”

That’s not entirely true, but she’s having a little fun with this. Why not?

“I don’t want to hurt you, and I know you mean it when you say you don’t want to hurt me.” Odessa steps forward and brings her hands up slowly, bracing her palms against his shoulders. Her head tips to one side. “So… You want it? Take it.”

Those arms unwind from him just as easily and gently as they had done the reverse moments ago so she can rest her hands on his shoulders instead. She waits until they both need air, or maybe he needs her assurance he’s not being pushed away.

“I’m here,” she promises when she can speak again, her voice a soft reassurance. “You don’t have to fight me.” The reminder comes with a look of concern, but an invitation of sorts. “You promised to ask for clarification. You bottle too much. You assume my intent. I feel that.” Odessa smiles faintly. “You’ll start to recognize when I do it, too. You’ll recognize more how often I nudge you to talk to me, rather than shove it down. Maybe you’ll find me less annoying when you understand that better?” The smile is to show that she’s kidding, unwounded by this assertion she’s just made about his irritation at just how much she talks.

Heart hammering and heard in his ears, Ace hesitates when it feels as though she wants space. His play had been direct, but maybe it had fumbled? Perhaps he'd… no. No, she's still here, and his shoulders relax under her hands when she promises as much. It's almost like he doesn't hear her speak with the look he has in his eyes right until he says, "I have shown you every way I know how to love you. An entirely new language was written to cover the depths of that unanticipated development."

(French isn't new, Ace.)

"All I meant to do was keep adding to the vocabulary. To find some new way to highlight that you…" His eyes begin to narrow with that unspoken word, a silent emphasis of what she means to him. A shudder of a breath leaves him. He finally shakes his head. "I wanted to find a new closeness. Something that closes whatever gap we've never breached. Because if you've not felt what you needed in order to…"

There they are. Back where they were before this wormed out of control.

“Hush…” Odessa doesn't panic this time. Now, she's starting to stitch together where they're coming apart. “I know your love for me. You show it and I feel it.” She smiles, a softness to her features. “If I didn’t believe it, I would not have stayed that night you told me.” He gave her reason to leave, after all, and she told him as much. He must know she means what she says here.

Her hands lift from his shoulders to cup his face gently, looking into his eyes with a look that pleads with him to understand her somehow. Her heart breaks for the way he worries so. “Doubt thou the stars are fire,” she murmurs, eyes half lidding. “Doubt thou the sun doth move. Doubt truth to be a liar.” Blue eyes close fully with an expression that conveys her anguish. “But never doubt I love.”

(Ace isn’t the only one in the relationship who enjoys the theatrical.)

“I’m not asking for anything you have not given or shown to me before.” For a moment, Odessa actually misses being able to turn her face up to look at him and let her soft features do the imploring for her. But she’s the one who wanted to be taller. To have sharper features. “I just want it to be…” Her eyes dart one direction, then the other, looking for the right word. They return to him once she’s found it. “Stripped.” Left thumb brushes along the curve of his cheekbone while right hand smooths over his hair affectionately. “None of the need to control the moment, to infuse it with heat. I want the gentleness you treat me with when you want to draw me close.”

That’s it. That’s what they need.

Draw me close,” Odessa stresses quietly.

Ace breathes in temperance and exhales away stress when she lifts her hands to his face and stresses her loves, her needs, her wants. She just wants to be. That clarity is something he can work with. His eyes are sharper when she opens hers again and looks only a few inches up at him.

He lets out a soft chuckle when she asks him to draw her in. "Let me, this time," he chides her in return, and lets his arm wind around her waist, the other her shoulder. His head lowers to her shoulder in that embrace, one prolonged by a gentle sway, before he lifts it again and encourages them once more in the direction of the couch.

"Let me love you," he murmurs, sitting first and pulling her to him to join him. "And I'll show you all you could want for."

"I am thine evermore, most dear lady; whilst this machine is to him," Ace reminds her with a faint smile. The arm around her shoulder shifts, hand seeking hers to thread fingers together in loose knitting.

It’s difficult, she finds, letting go so that he can steer the encounter again. But how is he to show her how he feels if she’s telling him how to show it? It’s a thought that humbles her, and Odessa smiles ruefully as she returns the embrace and changes venues.

It’s not unpleasant, which sounds foolish in her own mind for even having thought it. Sighing, she fits herself against him, fingers readily spreading and firming around his hand when he initiates the grasp. “I worry too,” she admits quietly — unnecessarily, perhaps. “I’m not perfect. I’m not as… sure of myself the way that you are. I question myself, and I know you question me, too. Even when you won’t say it.”

He’s said it plenty today.

“But I love you so much that the thought of losing you threatens to make my heart stop.” Odessa presses a kiss along Ace’s jaw. “But if you’ll allow me, I’ll tear my heart in two, and you can keep half of it safe for me. You can learn to feel with it. To love with it as I do. To see the world as I do. Only if you’ll let me.” He’s consented, yes, but the empath isn’t sure she can break through if she finds reluctance.

Well, she’s certain she could, but she wouldn’t. Not with him. Ace is too precious to her.

“And you have to understand that… it’s going to be hard for you to tell where you end and I begin.”

Ace tilts his head at Odessa over her confession she still worries she's not enough. Manages another faint smile at the thought of carrying her heart with him— the way she swore not too long ago that that's not how this works— and keeps his peace entirely on it. It doesn't matter if he or she were right or wrong, it matters now that she's not pushing him away.

"Then I might sup from your heart, and you from my certainty, and we both might find a better understanding of one another, my muse," he signals his desire verbally. The arm about her waist shifts, fingers running up along the spine of the zipper for her dress until they reach the top. "And we will both understand if we find such intertwinedness not to be the salve we hoped it might. We can go back to the way it was we fell in love in the first place." His hand parts from hers to unbuckle the belt across her waist more easily, so he can finish pulling down that zipper unimpeded. "And it will be enough."

"No matter what happens next," Ace assures Odessa. "You will be enough. Perfect, for it's through flaw we find greatness. It's in the struggle to achieve it and do better by ourselves we catch flame and shine."

Dress pulled low on her, his arms wrap around her again, cradling her as he guides her off to his side; directs her head to throw pillow, her back to cushion. His eyes lock onto hers as he asks in a murmur, "Are you still certain? Or should we stop here?"

There’s a ping that she feels that he… doesn’t quite rankle, but that he notices the inconsistency in her insistence, perhaps. She gives him a small smile that only grows in width and confidence as he goes on, demonstrating he heard her need and he now seems to properly understand it. She shivers as their hands slip free from one another again.

“I’m certain,” she promises, laughing softly, nervously. “Giving my love, my heart to someone I’m linking myself to is not a necessary component of the process. But for you, I give it freely. Because I want you to have it. Do you understand?” Teeth capture her lower lip and it slips free slowly.

“I’ve decided…” Odessa choses her words carefully, mirroring a moment shared on this couch nearly a year ago. “This bond is different when it’s you I’m sharing it with.”

Certainties given, there's barely enough time to deposit the rest of their clothes to the floor, the light sweater not making the cut in his consideration, before Odessa's symmetry in remarking upon their bond— the one they already have as much as the one they're about to make— magnetizes him back to her. He cradles the side of her face as he frames himself over her, eyes locked to hers and his expression hard to read. His lips are the first to dip to her before the rest of him follows.

"Je choisis ce lien1," he murmurs as he meets and melts into her. "Aujourd'hui—2 toujours3."

"Pour toujours4."

ace3_icon.gif odessa3_icon.gif

The sky is dark outside, the living room lit by the television alone, and barely at that. The blanket brought from upstairs is wrapped around them both, a plush thing they both swim underneath. What dances on the screen is infinitely less interesting to Ace than what curiosities are to be found in his arms, Odessa nestled in front of him. He realizes he's lost focus on the film entirely after he finds the curl of his knuckles brushing down the side of her bare arm.

He blinks slowly, aware of the goosebumps that rise under the brush of his nails. He can feel that, though– Differently, beyond touch, a sensation under his own skin as she stirs.

"Still awake?" Ace whispers.

There’s a feeling of contentment in Ace’s chest and a budding curiosity as Odessa shifts slightly in his arms. “Mm.” The noncommittal hum, confirms that, no, she was not in fact still awake while also not actually admitting to it. It inspires a niggling little anxiety to try to find purchase in the rich soil of his heart.

“I’m awake.” Now. Glancing at the television, she tries to ascertain how long she’s been asleep, but finds herself uncertain. She frowns at a growing worry inside her. “Do you need me to move?” she asks softly.

"No," Ace answers, the poise in his voice sounding slightly uncertain for all that she feels that way. Bewilderment blossoms in him briefly, then pops like a balloon. Nothing like the slow wave building where she's concerned. His hand lifts to smooth down her hair, to encourage her head back to him once more. "It's almost over, is all." A rapid blink later, and he looks back to the television after all. "Nothing important," he assures quietly, and settles back into the leather.

"You're fine," he sees fit to add as an afterthought, another pass of his fingers over the side of her head.

The waters of her emotional sea feel choppy in a way she can’t define. At least, not at first. She thinks she understands what’s happened, and that she’s feeling ripples from his shores coming back to her in amplified waves. Sucking in a breath, Odessa considers how to test it. Aman knew what it felt like to hold her ability within him; they sang the same melody. The tang of Richard’s emotions has always been so different in a way that Odessa uncharitably owes to the hypothesis that he’s never truly understood her; he ran descant. But Ace… Ace is a harmony she’s long gotten used to.

“If you’re sure.” She snuggles into him with a dreamy smile. “You’re nice and warm.” Now, how does she test her theory? Their warm feelings can feel so alike. To ask him to conjure something on his own or to ask him if he’s feeling something she feels is like telling him to think of an elephant, then calling it a success when he thinks of one. If she tells him she feels adoration, he’ll feel it because he wants to. If she tells him she’s feeling annoyed, he’ll be annoyed if for no other reason than to wonder at what she has to be annoyed at.

So, what to do? “I… think it worked,” she ventures tentatively. “But I want to be sure.”

Ace breathes in, answer already at the forefront of his mind. He purses his lips together instead, wondering how to clarify this in a way that isn't simply yes. So he turns his head, presses his lips to her crown. "I'm sure. I've been listening to you sleep."

It was easier when she was sleeping. Calmer. Peaceful. He could've drowned himself in that for an eternity. But the waking world won't be like that. Living won't be like that. So he breathes in slowly, resigns himself to a certain loss of comfort.

"Show me anyway," he asks, shifting slightly to the side so he can look at her better. "Show me something I don't know."

Give me something like your skin

Now it's his turn for his skin to raise, hair to begin to stand on end in anticipation. He's already seen just what the ebbings of her waking brought to him. What else awaits past those moments?

While he shifts, she does so as well, turning herself away from him for necessity’s sake. “I’m going to… reach for a memory that evokes a strong emotion in me. If you feel it too, without needing to watch me to discern it… Then we’ll know.” Odessa closes her eyes and draws in a deep breath…

Give me something like your eyesight

Then wanders the halls of Level 5 in her mind, past moments and entire periods behind panes of reinforced glass that she imagines keeps her safe from the impact of them. In her mind’s eye, she stands in front of the window to one room. It’s darkened, and she waits patiently and with trepidation for the lights to come on.

And they do.

Something you will miss dearly

On the other side stands a tall woman — taller still than Odessa is now, but a full foot advantaged in memory, where Odessa is still herself as she remembers best — about her same age, with blonde hair a slightly icier shade than her own, but blue eyes that match. Odessa reaches out and presses her hand to the glass. The other woman reaches out to do the same, and the pane keeps them from making the reassuring connection they both crave. No matter how hard she tries, how much she desires it, Odessa will never be able to reach through. The looking glass is broken.

And Odessa’s mother is trapped behind it.

To carve me alive

Abruptly, she’s there on the couch again, without even so much as the comforting lie of Juliette’s presence to soothe her. Tears spring up in her eyes, overfilling their wells and spilling silently out. The sadness is overwhelming. Suffocating. Her throat constricts and it’s everything she can do to remind herself how to breathe through it so that she doesn’t alert Ace to her distress. But if the crushing sorrow of the loss of her mother isn’t enough to be felt without the benefit of her visage, then Odessa will know this experiment has been a failure.

Give me something like your skin

It's strange, knowing this shift doesn't belong to him. Isn't his. It's a test, in a way, to see if he can feel at all what she does. And does he?

It hurts.

Does he feel it?

What is…?

Give me something like your eyesight

She's turned away, so she can't see it, the expression he makes. Like he's been stabbed. Like he needs to mind his breathing so she can't see how he's affected. Her sadness and longing washes against his alarm and concern, which have to grow to meet what flows from her and become a wall against it. Her pain inspires him to reach out again, arms coming to wrap around her shoulders instinctively in a physical attempt to quell it.

Ace doesn't bother reaching for words to affirm he's felt whatever she means him to. She, certainly, knows. Won't she? Instead, he blinks once and asks calmly with that embrace still firm around her, "What were you thinking of?"

Your ability to hear me

It’s a wonder to her, the way he can counter what flows out from her. Certainly, he has an advantage knowing that she would conjure an emotion that would have nothing to do with him, but twice now, she’s felt him almost immediately reject what she’s given off. It all adds up to the fact that he’s somehow better than she gave him credit for.

Moreover, he’s chosen to comfort her, rather than recoil with disgust. They’ve come so far, haven’t they? Odessa draws in a sharp breath and curls up small against her husband, trembling faintly while she regains control of her breathing.

“My mother,” she responds in a voice that still contains a faint tremor due to the constriction of her throat. “How I miss her.”

How foreign a concept.

Rock, marble, and ice

Ace blinks twice into the dark and lets his arms resettle around Odessa's shoulders, mulling what she's felt. Wondering if there's something that could provoke him to feel like that on his own. His brow ticks. Useless line of thinking, that is. He could emote it better now for having touched it briefly, and that's as far as he cares to slip into caring. With a slight shake of his head, he proposes, "The family you've made in her absence will always be there for you."

And that's what matters, right? So he thinks, anyway.

He finally lets go of what's left of the breath he'd been holding. Something foreign to him was easy to fend off quickly. But what if it was something familiar– Anger? Passion? Could he easily distinguish where she ends and he begins then? A more worthwhile question, he thinks to himself.

"I don't know what to do with so terrible a sensation save for to shed it so it no longer pains me," Ace admits idly, murmuring it like an aside. He doesn't know what exactly to do with this injury he can't mend.

Odessa chuckles bitterly at the notion of her family always being there for her. She knows who he means, but she knows who she thinks of, and how abandoned she feels by some of those she’s loved the most. Another wave of sorrow comes, leaving behind an acidic taste that fades quickly.

A deep sigh follows, seeing the return of her breathing normalized. It’s only then that she paws at her face to clear away the tears. “I’m not able to do that. Especially not with something so personal…” Trailing off, she briefly pulls at the blanket to resettle it around them, using the coziness of the cover to supplement the soothing he’s already doing.

I’ve got to know you

“Were you like this,” she asks, incautiously and without guile, “before the world hurt you?” The rueful smile begins to curve its way into place just by the shift in emotion that has to take place to even have the question posed, let alone answered.

Ace tuts at her quietly for her question, head lolling to the side. "What do you think, O?" he chides with amusement. He chuckles afterward, warmth prickling his chest. "Do you think I've ever been any me other than this one?"

No, it’s not you

There's no malice in the return of his question, only humor to be found in the entertaining of such thoughts. "Someone— softer? Kinder?" He lets out a laugh, gathering her closer and narrowing his eyes in his amusement. He hums, glancing at her out of the corner of his eye. "Or someone sharper still?" He preens for a moment and then digresses, "I don't know that I'd remember either way, my love. I know who I am now. It's the now that matters."

I do this to everyone

He presses a kiss to the side of her head. It's all that should matter to her, too, he means to impress upon her.

Her swept up to him, he feels the thrum of his heart against her skin. "I could get used to this," Ace suggests lightly, even eagerly. "Enjoying the ways you… experience." Still holding her to him, he sinks back comfortably again. He murmurs with that same contented delight, "In how you react to surprises, ordinary and extraordinary."

That should be all that matters. The now, not the then. The future, not the past. Their present.

But Odessa is terrible about picking at scabs, and certainly bears the marks that warn of it. That small smile has spread, as expected, over the course of that answer. It’s not even a bad one, if he were to ask her about it. There’s a blossom of warmth in her chest that easily finds root in his own, sprouting from the seeds of her amusement.

Tell me who you are

“Oh no,” she bemoans theatrically, “you’ll know all my tricks.” There’s a bubble of anxiety that floats to the surface before going pop! and presenting no further effect. (For him.) “I’ll be ruined!” Time will tell if that’s to be the case, won’t it?

Rolling over instead, she tangles her limbs with his, encouraging the ties that bind them further. There’s a warm flutter, a softness he feels when she takes in the curves and angles of his face. It makes her earlier strife seem to melt further away. “It just seems so funny — no, not funny — interesting to me that as the world gave me every reason to cling to it, I shed the armor I used to wear so well.” The tip of her nose brushes affectionately against his, she drops a peck of a kiss at the corner of his mouth. “And yet I foolishly fall deeper into this.”

He knows he’s meant to feel a certain way when Odessa rests her head against his shoulder and lets the murmur of her breath caress his neck. Now, he feels that from a different perspective — the perspective of the one who’s satisfied about the reaction that brings it out. Who knows what it should be and how to best draw it forth. It isn’t manipulative, truly. No more so than it would be to offer good cheer to someone after experiencing a day of disappointments.

Ace surely knows what this feels like, because he knows so well which splashes of paint on canvas will best capture the mercurial nature of his muse.

Should he then be surprised in turn to realize that Odessa knows exactly which notes to sing in order to so perfectly inspire her artist?

Those moments she cautioned him of are making themselves known.

“If life had not had its way — if we had had our way — we wouldn’t be together now. Maybe, improbably, but possibly so… but not like this.” Odessa marvels quietly. Or maybe the marvel is his? This thing they have together is marvelous, isn’t it?

Open up your scars

“If we had even met in the same way, and I had walked away from him so easily, you’d always assume that everything said about my loyalties is true, and that I am loyal to no one. I, in turn, would be looking for my next ticket to something better, no matter how thrilled I may have felt to find a partner to share it with, because I knew you would one day soon tire of me.”

She doesn’t lift her head to look at him, she doesn’t need to.

“I would not be who I am now. In turn, you would not be who you are now.” Her fingers slide into his hair before she massages the pads of them against his scalp. “My love, my passion, my need to feel this very human condition…” Odessa’s smile is felt against the curve where his neck and shoulder reach for one another. “It’s what allows me to love you as fiercely as I do. Appreciate you as much as I do.” The smile fades with a deep exhale that betrays her tiredness. “Soon, you’ll understand.”

The feeling of her fingers to his neck, up into his hair may well be the only thing he pays attention to in that for all that his skin ripples, a knifelike sharpness dancing through him with her touch. Ace closes his eyes and holds his heart close to him, better able to feel for once something he's never been certain of before.

Something that lets him breathe a little easier, even if it regards thoughts he keeps close and guarded. Something that twines him around her and she around him in return with just a little more fastness to that binding.

So I can free my own

Nothing matters, save for the now. Nothing matters, save for the future.

That knifelike feeling returns again, goosebumps spreading from neck and shoulders down his arms, even to his legs. The future. Ace's eyes slit open and angles one arm around Odessa to lay his hand over her crown, as much to encourage her to not shy from him and his reaction as it is a need to keep her safe as he peers off into the dark.

"Let's head to bed, O," he whispers softly.

Odessa takes the reaction in stride, misinterpreting it in his favor. It isn’t unexpected, after all. Slowly, she’s trying to teach him that her intent isn’t to harm or to cause strife. Maybe someday he’ll learn to believe her. She hums when he holds her to him, her warmth working to counteract the phantom of a cold prickle that’s run down her spine.

Maybe if I take one of your mistakes

“Are you alright?” she asks him softly in return. “I can… disconnect us for the night, if you need it.”

"No, my muse," Ace murmurs almost in a stilted way, like it's hard to bring the words to form. "It's its own salve, in a way." He doesn't bother forcing a smile, though the temptation is very present, but allows himself to reflect again on the way access to her feelings worked to disarm his irrational suspicions.

He focuses on that warmth— on her tired warmth, maybe— and tries to let himself simply feel that.

Into my work of art

A strange exercise for him. He turns his head to hers, to nuzzle his cheek to her before shifting his shoulder to encourage her up and nudge them both toward a better sleeping arrangement. "I love you," he feels the need to remind her, a flicker of desperation in that for her to understand and remember that fact.

And she does her best to effuse him with her own positive feelings. How she understands his hesitance, and how she doesn’t feel slighted by it. Perhaps he should feel offended by the way she continues to push the boundary, but it’s been some time since he’s snatched her by the wrist and corrected her.

But this exercise is about him and his tolerances, and she’s nudged enough for tonight, possibly. Odessa accepts his direction and pushes herself up to sit, one hand left resting on his upper arm once she’s situated for the next transitional movement.

“I know,” Odessa replies to his assurance. It feels like sitting together on the rug in front of the fire, talking about what to make for their next holiday feast for two. Like the serendipitous moment where they happen to meet eyes across the club while she sings on stage. Like a waterfall suspended in a cold and crystalline moment in time.

I will confirm it’s suddenly perfect

“And I love you.”

It feels like surprised laughter, the visceral and blood-spattered joy of the moments where they succeed in being in sync; like the quieter harboring of private affection which leads to the moments where he reaches out to touch her, even if it's the smallest of grazes, to surreptitiously answer his own demands to remain close to her.

It feels like the need to allow her in for fear of losing her; a dull throb of pain echoing faintly where the feelings of betrayal still haven't receded.

You can give it a heart

He reaches up to lay his hand over hers, feeling what she's feeling, then, unconsciously. He doesn't know it for what it is, doesn't question it. Bits of his walls chipping away for the ways their emotions overlap— and him oblivious to it. It's the beginnings of what they were mutually worried might happen.

Insidiously subtle, it begins.

Give me something like your skin

"I know you do," Ace promises.

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