ace2_icon.gif pride2_icon.gif

Scene Title Stars
Synopsis Odessa grieves for what she's lost in the best way she knows how, much to Ace's displeasure.
Date December 31, 2020

I was never one for singing
What I really feel
Except tonight I’m bringing
Everything I know that’s real

It’s the first set of the night on New Year’s Eve at Rossignol. Ourania Pride is only headlining the first of the three, opting to spend the rest of the evening mingling and enjoying the music herself for a chance. And besides, why not let one of her colleagues have the limelight for a moment or two? It’s fine if she’s the one making that choice.

Stars, they come and go
They come fast or slow
They go like the last light of the sun
All in a blaze, and all you see is glory

Most of her pieces have been behind the piano tonight. Some she hasn’t sang for at all. All the ones she has have been subdued things. A time to look back on the year and reflect, she’d said at the top of last hour, with the promise that the next two sets would be ramping up the energy leading to midnight.

Hey, but it gets lonely there
When there’s no one here to share
We can shake it away
If you’ll hear a story

There’s been her usual mix of love songs, with the occasional broken heart. Songs about the fickle nature of life. The ups and the downs. Each one delivered with the same heart and soul that have come to be anticipated from the venue’s little songbird.

People lust for fame, like athletes in a game
We break our collarbones, and come up swinging
Some of us are downed, some of us are crowned
And some are lost and never found

For the penultimate song of the set, the band took their bows and exited the stage, leaving Ourania to be ushered from her piano not by the bassist and not from the stage, but by the guitarist and to the center of it. There’s a tall stool waiting for her, sitting in front of an antique gold condenser microphone, fastened in the center of a circle and held in place by a four-pointed star.

But most have seen it all
They live their lives
In sad cafes and music halls
They always come up singing

The nightingale perches upon the stool set out for her in her sombre black gown accented with gold. Gold nails, gold lips, gold dust scattered over cheekbones and dark lids like the first signs of starlight on a cloudless and moonless night. The light of the stage bathes her in its glow and highlights the shimmer and the void both. Somewhere in the dark behind her, the guitar begins to play, and she embraces the hoop around her microphone delicately with one hand, palm conforming to the curve of it, her first finger resting atop and the others curled loosely behind.

Some make it when they’re young
Before the world has done its dirty job
Later on, someone will say,
“You’ve had your day, now you must make way

It’s rare for it to be just Ourania and one other instrument if it isn’t accompanying herself on her own piano. It’s a different sort of gentleness. One that seems to require the audience to hold their collective breath to avoid the risk of this bubble coming to burst. Of interrupting this moment of terrible intimacy as the blonde leans in to her mic and quietly pours herself into the shape of the music. Filling the spaces between notes and words. But it’s just over two minutes into the song where it truly begins to feel personal. The furrow of her brow, the way her eyes close and she can’t bring herself to open them again. Even the way her mouth forms the words is different, somehow.

But they’ll never know the pain
Of living with a name you never owned
Or the many years forgetting
What you know too well

Those ice blue eyes open and stare out at the audience, or at least into it. It’s likely she doesn’t see anybody, whether by stage lighting or by design. But they can see her. They can see her pain laid out there for them to connect with (or not) as they see fit.

That the ones who gave the crown
Have been let down
You try to make amends
Without defending

There’s a sustained note that the guitar player won’t let her lose herself to, keeping their agreed-to pace and forcing her forward. If anyone’s cognizant of what she’s giving to this piece of music, it’s the one who’s practiced with her for hours on end to make sure the delivery will be done just right. It gives her the room to sigh audibly, heighten the resignation of it.

Perhaps pretending you never saw the eyes
Of grown men of forty-five
That follow as you walk and ask for autographs
Or kiss you on the cheek

There’s a smile as if for some memory, bitter as it is sweet. It’s a thought yet incomplete. Her left hand comes now to wrap around the stand of her microphone, the light catching the gemstone on her finger so that it flashes off its facets.

And you never can believe
They really loved you

Is there a young woman in the audience who hasn’t felt this way at one point in their lives? Ourania’s songs tend to be well-chosen in that respect. There’s always some thread of something that can be found relatable.

Some make it when they’re old
Perhaps they have a soul
They’re not afraid to bare
Or perhaps there’s nothing there

She shakes her head regretfully, a rueful little smile tugging at her lips, as if wondering what it must be like. Whether to be unafraid or to even be in possession of a soul in the first place. Although no one who’s heard her sing — especially not after tonight — will accuse her of feeling nothing.

Stars, they come and go
They come fast, they come slow
They go like the last light of the sun
All in a blaze, and all you see is glory

The chorus serves as a place to reset. To breathe.

Most have seen it all
They live their lives
In sad cafes and music halls
They always have a story

Before diving down again.

Some women have a body men will want to see
And so they put it on display
Some people play a fine guitar
I could listen to them play all day

There’s a calm to her again. Still the sorrow, but the kind that comes with acceptance of her place in the world. There are certain things that are hers, and things that she will never have. But above all that, she’d be remiss if she didn’t take the opportunity to turn her head and acknowledge with a nod of her head the musician who keeps her from being alone on this journey she’s undertaken on this stage.

Some ladies really move across a stage
And gee, they sure can dance
I guess I could learn how
If I gave it half a chance

There’s an unconscious glance toward the piano now, where her cane sits propped up against the bench, not quite out of sight, but out of mind for the audience. They don’t have to think of it as part of her the way that she does.

But I always feel so funny
When my body tries to soar
And I seem to always worry
About missing the next chord

A faraway little smile comes and fades away again over the course of that stanza, asking the audience to empathize with her hesitation. If she tries something new, what if it takes away from something she already does well? What then?

I guess there isn’t anything to put up on display
Except the tune, and whatever else I say
But anyway, that isn’t really what I meant to say
I meant to tell a story I live from day to day

And what a story that is to tell. If she wrote it down in a book, would anybody believe it? Ourania has her doubts. But she can sing about it and have it taken for allegory, dismissed as metaphor.

Stars, they come and go
They come in fast, they come slow
And they go like the last light of the sun
All in a blaze, and all you see is glory

It’s this last turn through the chorus that sees the strain in her voice returning. How long has she spent looking for stars? Hoping and wishing on them. On this stage, she can sing of things like truth and beauty, even the kind that make a heart ache.

But most have seen it all
Who live their lives
In sad cafes and music halls
And we always have a story

But while those are lovely concepts — and maybe she even touches lives in some small way — at the end of the day, she’s alone with the bed her mistakes have made.

So if you don’t lose patience
With my fumbling around
I’ll come up singing for you
Even when I’m down

Her head lowers on her last night, which almost leaves the promise of more. It’s the guitar that resolves the chord, however. That pulls tight the sutures, concealing her bleeding heart once again from the audience, who only come to their feet after Ourania has finally exhaled the breath she’d been holding. As though this small act gave them permission to breathe again.

When she lifts her head again to stare out at the crowd, she seems surprised to see such adoration for her performance. She’d been afraid that setting it as the zenith for her night’s showing may have been a mistake. That it may have been lacking in the brightness that people want for a holiday like this. But maybe… just maybe she’d been right to present it as reflection.

That grateful smile finds its way onto her face by the time she reaches for the outstretched hand to help her down from her seat so she can take her bow. And another.

And another.

Her cane is accepted next, along with the steadying arm to help her down the steps from the stage that lead her to the floor, where she makes the rest of the way to the bar and her reserved seat at the end of it on her own. In place of her customary lemon drop martini is champagne, served in a Nick & Nora glass. It seems suitably festive, and the style of glass keeps her hand from warming the drink while opening it up so she can enjoy the flavor of the bubbly.

Staten Island
December 31, 2020
8:37 PM

Ourania faces toward the bar back, as if studying the bottles on offer that wouldn’t normally be, except for such an occasion. It serves to give her a private moment to wipe away a tear and press a finger gingerly along the delicate skin just below the waterline of her lower lids, making sure to absorb any moisture there that might threaten the thick layers of mascara, shadow, or fine microglitter.

"You know," says a man suddenly at her side. "Most people sign off with auld lang syne and call it a night."

But she and the man aren't most people.

Harry Stoltz doesn't look at the songstress as he sets aside an emptied glass of his own. He pushes it across the bar, lifts a hand to the bartender to indicate he's not fishing for a refill. He smooths his hand down the silver tie he wears— silver and black are his colors for her gold, to let her shine more brilliantly. She seemed understated but glowing, radiant upon setting out this evening.

Now it felt like her star was setting, the way she was hiding herself away at the bar like this. That just wouldn't do. He reaches to relieve her of her glass, eyes on the pearls about her neck— admiring the way the yellowed trio at the string's center play well with the gold of the remainder of her outfit— before finally lifting his eyes to hers. His green-greys are as impassive as his mask, a smile which doesn't touch them flashing over him.

"Can I see you for a moment? Backstage?" he asks cordially. But with the way he's taken her glass, all but shepherding her that way, it's not a question.

Turning to face the man at her shoulder, she smiles easily, as if she hadn’t just been crying. “Well, the night isn’t over yet, is it? There’s two whole sets, so it’s far too early for that.” The touch of her teeth together for that last consonant stays when her drink is taken. Her lips close a moment after. He hasn’t ordered a fresh drink for himself.

And she can’t read him in this large space, with all these other hearts present, being tugged in their own directions. Inexorably in her direction if she were to activate her ability.

With the shift of his attention to her neckwear, whatever light had been in her eyes for that smile dims while she lifts her chin as if to give him a better look. It helps, she thinks, disguise the way that her spine now sets rigid. There’s a chill that she feels when he makes his request, and the deep breath she draws in does nothing to help her nerves. “Yes, sir,” she demures quietly before reaching for her cane and standing up from her seat.

“Shall we?” she asks with a smile that doesn’t reach her own eyes. And she doesn’t wait for further invitation before she starts toward the velvet curtain that hangs in front of the backstage door. He’s faster than her. If he wants her to take his arm, it’ll only take one of his long strides to present it and for her to drape herself from him.

And he does, weaving his path and arm with her own after collecting her cane, too, to bring with them. Harry lifts his head in a polite acknowledgement of one of the waitstaff they cross paths with before he draws the curtain aside with his drink arm. He slips the cane back to its rightful owner. The entire time, he says nothing.

Only when they're past the curtain does he acknowledge, "You sang from the heart tonight."

Only once he's steered them into her dressing room and let her off his arm to close the door behind them, he wonders, "Have I done something?" He sounds particularly perplexed, if calm. Turning away from the door, he approaches the vanity, sets her drink down there. His fingertip taps along the body of the champagne glass before he lets go.

"The last thing I recall is that… I gave you that ring, and we were both overjoyed by your answer," he notes in a matter-of-fact evenness. "Then you come home from work the way you did Monday… and now this?"

Ace looks back to Odessa just as calmly, but with more presence to his gaze. It's not as vacant as when he wears Harry's mask. They focus sharply on her. "You were singing about something, and it nearly had you in tears up there." An edge of frustration enters his voice, one he's held back long enough. "What?" he snaps. "What is it that has you like this, O?"

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"This should be the happiest time for you, for both of us. Why isn't it?"

He doesn't go as far as demanding what's gotten into you, but he doesn't need to reach for those words exactly.

“I sing from the heart every night.” The rejoinder is an easy one to summon and throw out there, but he isn’t just anyone attempting to engage in this line of questioning. Odessa knows her attempts at doe-eyed innocence won’t be effective here, so she opts for a cooler delivery. Cooler, but not cold. Any attempt to shut this down will only raise more questions. All she needs to do is seed enough doubt in his own conviction.

The door clicks shut behind her and she has her hips rocked back against it, one hand still braced on the handle in a deceptively casual posture while she watches him make his way deeper into her sanctum. And eventually wheel on her.

The way he snaps reveals how on edge she’s been since the moment he joined her at the bar. Her back and shoulders hit the door just as surely as if he’d thrown her against it. Mouth soft, eyes large. The gasp hides the tell he may have caught on to by now, the sharp inhale as she activates her ability.

“Not everything is about you,” Odessa dares to say, not sharply or unkindly. If anything, there’s a gentleness to it. A reminder that not everything that gets under her skin is a direct result of his actions.

Ace looks away, jaw rolling, her gentle words pushing aside blackened earth and revealing there's a slow-moving lava underneath. One that advises don't touch. It simmers there, existing but not doing much else.

"Fine. It's not about me." His flippant tone gives away he doesn't believe that's not the case in some way, shape, or form. He looks back to Odessa directly, chin tilting to her as he emphasises, "But it impacts me. It impacts you. Whatever this is, you just invited a hundred people to look upon it and wonder what does she have to cry about?"

"Not a hundred—" he corrects himself sternly. "A hundred and one."

He numbers among them, too.

Woe is Ace. His fiancée has feelings and what will the neighbors think? Odessa knows the ground she treads upon now is more precarious than she initially thought. It’s always a bit like crawling through a minefield with him, when he’s decided something’s wrong, and just when she thinks she has them all marked, she finds more hazards.

She sizes him up, a sweep of her gaze down and up again, trying to determine from posture and emotional keel where this might go, regardless of whether she plays this honest or otherwise.

Odessa gestures toward the front of house and the stage she’s vacated. “And a hundred souls eat it up. They love my vulnerability. When I give them my laughter or my tears. This is why they’re captivated by me.” Her posture straightens again, finding a little more confidence now that she can tell when he’s about to snap, instead of having to guess at it.

“And anyone with half a brain believes it’s all just a show. It’s theatre.

But he knows better. And in a way, she acknowledges that by the way she presses her lips together and looks down toward the floor. That wasn’t theatre. Even if everyone else thinks it is, even if it doesn’t reflect on Ace, he still knows she didn’t fake any of that.

It’s a display of trust she’s giving him when she pushes away from the door and steps closer to where he’s taken up his station at her vanity. She’s giving up the easy escape route of pressing down on the handle and fleeing into the hall, where someone at least might hear her if she shouted. Even if she can’t outrun him.

Still, she hesitates, gaze lifting from the floor to a point off to her right, then left, and finally coming to center. To Ace. The determination is there, underneath the visible layers of uncertainty and worry.

“I figured out how to…” Suddenly, her throat gets too tight for the words and tears fill her eyes. Blinking, she looks away from Ace again. Not necessarily because she can’t bring herself to look at him, but because it gives him permission not to look at her or acknowledge those tears.

“I figured out how to break the tether with Aman.”

Ace waits through the insistence with naught but a tilt of his head and a pressure behind the look he gives her, yielding no ground physically, mentally, emotionally. He knows better, and she knows he does. He's just glad he doesn't need to press her further on the topic, that she comes back to him on her own.

He's prepared to give her his hands, to be supportive in what ways he can be, but she chooses to look away. Those tears threaten to overcome her again. The tilt of his head slowly begins to right.

It finishes, leaving him standing up straight as that name leaves Odessa's lips as the source of her heartache. It wasn't Ace causing her upset after all, but something worse. The negativity in him flares like birds taking flight to a crack of sound— nevermind the circumstances surrounding it being made. For a moment he doesn't see her, the only thing manifesting in him being that dangerous intent that shifts this heat in him to a moving thing.

Then he actually reflects on what she's said, and the skies of him clear up enough to see something beyond it. Something bright is revealed in that glimpse. His eyes regain focus on her.

Ace lifts one hand, knuckle of his first finger curled as he gently captures Odessa's chin and turns her face back to him with it and his thumb. The burning thundercloud of hatred is a thing that will cool off with time, and is one he still believes is silent and unseen to her besides. The look on his face— the him he shows her willingly is a far more sympathetic thing. "And?" he wonders.

He doesn't presume, in this case. Figuring out how to do something and acting on it are two different things, no matter her upset. He's not sure if it's worse, actually, if she's already done the deed. What it means that she's this upset about it.

Sometimes she wishes — well, often she wishes — this ability had never come to her. How nice would it be to be able to trust Ace’s presentation? To take him at face value and not question that anything else could lie beneath? To not know that behind all of that beautiful sympathy, there’s murderous intent.

“I…” Tears are wiped away before they can streak down her cheek. At least the make-up is waterproof tonight. She came prepared to lay herself bare. “I don’t expect you to understand it, but I need you to know that it’s different from what you’re going to assume. I need you to ignore your gut and trust me.” The dryer of her hands comes up to settle on Ace’s cheek, searching his eyes — and deeper — for his assent in this.

“Can you do this for me, my artist?”

Ace lays his hand over hers, palm warm to the touch. "What needs done to break it?" he asks, certain he's proving his bravery, his belief in her. His brow begins to knit. "Or have you already done it?"

No longer held in place by him, her chin dips toward her chest. At his second question, she nods her head quickly, the miserable sniffle having to suffice as substitute for a verbal affirmation. For a period, all she can do is suck in those breaths meant to steady her and let her hand slide further back until she can curl her fingers gently toward the nape of his neck. Holding him like an anchor.

“On Monday.” The way she’d come through the door and gone directly to the freezer to retrieve a pint of ice cream, announce her intent to sleep in her study, and then spend the next hour sobbing inconsolably makes a bit more sense now. Or at least is painted in a different shade than the one she initially suggested.

Her head lifts again, but she can’t look at him. She still needs the illusion that she’s rehearsing the lines to an empty room. “I wasn’t sure it would work. I had an inkling, but… Well, it did.” Oh, had it. Even now, she wonders if Aman can’t still feel her heart breaking just to speak of it.

But Ace can’t appreciate what it’s done to her. He can only go by what he sees on the surface, and if he doesn’t hate it with all the fire his passions can produce, Odessa would be amazed. “Imagine… Imagine having had two hearts. And now one of them is gone.” To put it like that starts to put cracks into the hastily constructed dam she has up to hold back the onslaught of her devastation. “And, yes, you’ll live with only one. Everyone does. But you had two. And they were both yours.” Maybe it’s the possession he’ll manage to appreciate.

It isn’t quite right, though, is it? A heart beats, but it does so quietly. In the background. Unnoticed. If it had been as simple as that, the bond would never have needed breaking.

Now Odessa can look at him again. “Imagine someone took me from you. And you could see me through a pane of clear glass, but I wasn’t yours anymore. None of what you would observe anymore would be for you, or about you, or… Shared with you. Nothing. None of it. But it’s— I’m still there. Just out of reach.” There’s only one thing in this world that Ace bothers to feel anything but hatred or disdain for, it seems.

Well, only one human thing.

Maybe it paints the picture well enough, however it may look like abstract impressionism to him.

“I’m not saying I loved him.” And she isn’t saying she didn’t, either, and this is why she’s asked him to trust her. Even though, in this matter, she especially does not deserve that trust. “But it’s like there’s a silence inside of me and it hurts. Whether I want it to or not. Whether it was the right thing to do or not.”

It's the touch around the back of his neck that stills him. What grounds her has never done so for him. Ace cools under her hand, waiting patiently for whatever explanation she has to offer to come. Whatever could be worth clinging to her how she is. He allows her to touch him, allows his arm to fall back down to his side.

He finds he just doesn't understand. Not for all her attempts to break down in a way that will resonate with him.

The thought of losing something viciously his doesn't pierce the icy chill coating him, not entirely. But it does help bring him closer to something neutral. His eyes half-lid in an attempt to mentally root himself back in the moment.

"My muse," he murmurs to her. His hands lift to up her face between. "But the pain is over. The last harm that will ever come to you because of that wretched connection… is done." He smiles, gently— fondly. His head tilts as he regards her.

"You're free, Odessa."

There’s a numbness to her when her hand falls away, both now resting limply at her sides, her shoulders sagging under the weight of her anguish. It shouldn’t be surprising that she hadn’t managed to break through to him. That she couldn’t make him understand what it’s like. That hurts more, somehow. His ability to just shrug it off as if it should be nothing, the distant past and not worth her pain, makes her want to scream. If she had the energy to do it, anyway.

Instead, she looks up at him with those lightless eyes and shakes her head. “No, Ace…” The pain isn’t over. She isn’t free. “Someday, when I’ve died, someone will say that to you. That it’s over, and done, and you’re free of the burden I represent to you. And you’ll tear their fucking heart out for suggesting that it could ever be that simple.”

He may not realize it now, but she has to believe that much is true. She’s seen him at his most honest. She’s seen him when he’s raw, unguarded, reactionary. The man pulled a gun in their kitchen at the mere idea someone might be a threat to her. To them. Someday… Maybe he’ll even remember this moment and acknowledge that she was right.

Or maybe even that means nothing to him now and never will.

“If you lost your trigger finger, would you not feel pain every time you even thought of Cleo?”

It's getting harder for Ace to look past, in this moment, that Odessa lied to him. She lied to him Monday evening about why she was upset. And given just how upset she is… given his suspicions regarding what that link held, he suspects she's lied to him now, too.

She doesn't need to say she loved this other man. Not when she makes the comparisons she does to describe this level of loss she feels. What Ace would do if he lost her.

"It is the last harm that will come to you because of it," he murmurs, certain of this. If the matter was to be left in the past, her back turned on this bond as it should be, then… it's just a matter of time for it to fade. "What you do with it is up to you, my muse."

Ace lets his palms fall from her cheek to cup the sides of her shoulder instead as he regards her with a tuck of his head as he delivers his answer to her final what if. "What I would do in that case is what you will do now: adapt. I would not attempt to sew a dead finger back onto my hand. And you won't let this person have dominion over your heart any longer."

"You are you. You belong to you. All of it— one hundred percent, save for the times you share pieces of yourself with me." And even then, he seems to stress, his brow furrowing as he looks at her.

"You owe it to yourself to claim this night as your own. To wear your gown as more than mourning garb." Ace lifts his chin, like to encourage her to reclaim her pride— or to demand it. He steps closer to her. "Your star is beginning to rise, my love. Don't let what had to be done keep you from reveling in your victory."

Lowering his head to hers, he whispers in her ear, "Let go of what was." He presses a kiss to the side of her neck. "Enjoy what is." Fully aware of the distraction he provides, he lets his hands slide in brief touches down her arms to set his hands on her waist. "And make ready for what's to come." The heat in him redirects, manifesting in the affection he lavishes on her, lips finding the base of her neck to seal his opinion there.

"Can you do this for me, my muse?" Ace whispers into her ear, one arm sliding around her back.

The words are good. The sentiment of them sounds lovely to her ears. It gets through the numbness of her and makes feelings permissible again. She starts to lean forward, intent on finding comfort in his arms and allowing herself to cry it out for a couple of minutes, now that he can know why she’s crying and no longer feel terrified of it. What comes next may be awful, but the now is what she has, and it seems for the moment that he isn’t about to give her a black eye in exchange for her (near) honesty.

But he meets her halfway and whispers. Odessa goes still again, eyes opening wide and staring off at one of the currently unlit bulbs on her vanity mirror. Past that. There’s a gasp that comes with his lips at her neck. It’s exhaled in a deep sigh when his hands glide over her arms and settle. Finally, her eyes close when those lips press to her skin a second time.

It isn’t all so easily swept under the rug as this, of course, but the distraction proves to be a welcome one. It allows her to sink further into the fantasy of her life with him. There’s an entirely different tenor to it now when Odessa replies to him, “Yes, sir.”

To not ruin her outfit in some way is what encourages him to lift his head from hers. That and: "The night is still young. Let us go claim it for ourselves. We'll find someone who appreciated your song and invite them upstairs, give them a private performance and let them be awed. We'll join everyone on stage again when it comes time to drop the ball here shortly. We'll drink, we'll laugh, we'll dance…"

Ace lets his hand slip from her hip to her hand, palm kissing hers. He can do at least that much. "We'll forget about everything else except the good time we've come to have tonight."

Him, too, he promises.

As is often the case, Odessa tries to chase him when he begins to pull away, the softest of notes of disappointment emanating from her throat. Her cheeks burn with shame and embarrassment. Her fingers weave with his, tipping her head forward while she considers his proposal.

The last thing she wants to do right now is give another performance, and certainly not a command one, but what is she if not the minstrel to the court of d’Sarthe?

Odessa lifts her head again, finally opening her eyes. Her smile is a warm thing, for all that she feels chilled inside without continued distraction. “That sounds wonderful,” she tells him. “Should I have a wardrobe change? Paint the image of the phoenix having risen from her ashes?” Now it’s her turn to lean in and press a featherlight kiss to his jaw, just below his ear. “Maybe something green?”

A small smile cuts its way across his face like a sharp knife, held taut in a quick jerk before it slacks again. "Selfishly, I'd like to point out I don't have several outfits to change into this evening, and I've rather enjoyed being your other half. Besides— have you ever seen a green phoenix?" As touching as the suggestion for his sake is, there's practicality to think of. The art of their presentation.

Without even looking to check for himself, he suggests, "But if you had something gold— yellow— perhaps it'd radiate the pose you're hoping to strike. It'd certainly capture the eye of everyone who looks your way."

He turns from her to glance back at the door while he thinks of the time they're already spending away from the floor. There shouldn't be anything needing his attention, one would hope, but what if there was? The thought is cast aside in a ripple of derision, focusing instead on what's before him: her.

"It's your decision," he insists quietly.

Ace’s vanity is a beautiful thing that she enjoys. “You’re always my other half,” she reminds him. “No matter how color coordinated we are.” Now her nose brushes his, teasing a kiss that she doesn’t give. The proximity allows her to think about the choice he’s presented to her.

She wore golden yellow that night she invited Aman to come hear her sing. The gown would be perfect for tonight, but… It will be some time before she’s ready to put it back into rotation.

“But I like looking the part as much as you do,” Odessa pronounces as she falls back again. There’s something in her eyes when she does, and he knows the look. She’s about to ask for something. “Promise me we leave all of this behind us. Nothing comes of it. It just… follows its natural course.”

In other words: Promise you won’t track down Amanvir and murder him, my love.

The fingers of her free hand curl around his lapel to hold herself fast to him, for all that she doesn’t rumple his finery. “I love you. You are mine. My chosen. I am changing my life for you. Tell me that’s enough.”

It should be, shouldn't it?

Ace presses out a thin smile as she professes she wants to look as well as be his other half. The appearances are just as important as the actual. Every opportunity to demonstrate that bond— to flaunt it, him, and her— is special.

Odessa feels the stillness behind his eyes and in his emotional being when she asks him to do nothing. He would have an immediate answer for her, but she holds onto the front of his jacket and implores him. His eyes meet hers, green-greys difficult to read.

The lavalike heat of hatred in him shifts— parting perfectly around Odessa when he lifts his free hand to her waist— guarding her as much as caging her. He'd use every bit of himself against anyone he deemed a threat to her, certainly, but it's so hard to shake that memory of the time he almost used himself as a weapon against her. How quickly the turn had happened.

But the hands at her side and woven into her own are nothing but supportive now. The look in his eyes not nearly as sharp as they were then. Something similar to then broils in him behind his hatred of the man causing her heartache, though—


"If he comes back into your life again, if he causes you more pain— I promise to trust your decision and you, O, but should Aman not let go and move on?" The vitriol in that name brings a flash to his eyes. "I will follow my natural course."

As for why? And why he won't change his mind on this? "You mean too much, my phoenix." Ace lets his eyes soften some at their corners once that's said, the walls he's built up around her cooling away from hatred and into something more protective.

The churn of Ace’s emotions is expected. Disappointing, but expected. Still, it’s progress made over the course of months. It isn’t hard to imagine that not so long ago, she’d be crying and attempting futilely to drag him back while he went for his coat and a gun to solve this problem. In this, she’ll accept what she’s given. Her hand smoothing out over his jacket signals that acceptance.

She’d been about to let the whole thing go and start to disengage so she could gather up her drink and consider starting the evening anew, but he explains himself. And just like that, she’s undone again. Odessa smiles sadly, blinking away tears. “Oh, love… Haven’t you learned by now?” That blonde head shakes slowly as she loses the battle against the tide of her sorrow. “I’m not worth fighting for. I don’t mean anything to anybody, except to you.”

To hear her disparage herself invites Ace to refirm his arm around her. "Fools, the lot of them," he scoffs of everybody else. "Just because they don't see you the way I do does not diminish your value, Odessa." He slips his hand from hers in order to brace his other arm around her as well, hoisting her up off of her feet and spinning them both around in a circle that sends the bottom of her gown in a pirouette with them. "It just makes them blind at best, stupid at their worst."

The same way she skirts carefully around her mention of love for another man, he contentedly spins them around and past the very real reality that Odessa has served a valuable purpose for a number of people— to the point that organizations had her working on multiple viruses meant to kill entire populations. The world does see worth in Odessa, just not the kind she'd like.

"You've clawed your way out of the life they would have for you, now grind all the rest under your heel, my muse. Rise above their petty expectations of you. Shine with me." Eagerness bubbles under his skin as he lets them both slow, breathless in general as much as for her answer. "Tonight, tomorrow— all the days to come."

Any attempt at argument she may have tried to mount is derailed by the way he takes her balance from her and she has to quickly bring her arms up to wrap around his shoulders to keep from feeling like she’s going to fall. As far as distractions go, it proves nearly as effective as his earlier tactic, and she doesn’t think even for a moment about the way people see worth in her that has nothing to do with her, personally.

The genuine affection he holds for her carries through from him and to her. It’s a bright thing that does indeed shine as he intimates. Odessa laughs in spite of herself. “I already said yes at least twice, didn’t I?” The storm clouds haven’t cleared entirely, but the sun is peeking through and with a little more time, they may disperse. “Do you need me to repeat it? Maybe I should reword it.”

Odessa pulls him into a tight embrace, pressing her lips to his cheek before letting her own rest there. “I love you, Ace Callahan.”

With mock offense, he wonders, "Can you fault me for wanting to hear it again?" Ace rocks once side to side, embrace firming around her. His eyes close for a moment.

Then, he gingerly extracts his cheek from hers. "Now I'm going to have glitter all over me, too. Covered in stardust, as it were." He turns his head to the mirror to assess the damage done to him. At least she seems sufficiently distracted from her sorrows. "If you don't need to touch up here, then let's be off."

“Oh, good,” Odessa says of the glitter. “Everyone will know you belong to me, then. You look so devastatingly handsome, I thought I might have to fight for you tonight.” The inadvertent echo of her earlier words sees a brief dip in her mood, but it’s pushed back quickly. She asked him to accept that she’s enough for him, it’s only fair that she accept him as enough for her.

The opportunity to sit at her vanity, ostensibly to touch up, is taken without hesitation. Try as she might, he can still see the way she settles heavily into her relief. Without bothering to flip on the lights on the frame, she simply leans in to examine her reflection, grabbing a cotton bud to clean up some edges that are more genuinely than artfully smudged around her eyes, then touches up lines and adds another pop of gold to the corners.

“I could even you out,” she jokes with a sly smirk thrown his direction before she reaches for a pot of gold pressed powder and a lip brush. First, though, she tips her head back, neck long and eyes large when she taps her mouth twice with her finger tip. “Before I reapply?”

Ace leans down, lips brushing the crown of her head before he regards himself in the mirror. "I'd hesitate to put too much more to me. We're already going to be finding glitter for weeks after this." It's a statement rather than lamentation. He shifts his eyes to hers through the mirror.

"I'll survive the asymmetry, I assure you," he swears, a touch wryly.

The crown will have to be enough, she supposes. Odessa leans in close to the mirror, dipping her brush carefully. “Why don’t you just do the…” The end of the brush twirls in the air at her side in a nebulous sort of gesture before she plants her elbow on the surface of the vanity for stability to begin touching up the color on her lips. “Phase thing like you do when you’ve finished in the shower? Wouldn’t that get the glitter off?”

Ace's brow lifts in a telegraph of the light wind of surprise that runs its way through him, cooling the intensity of all his earlier sentiment. "That, my muse, is a little trick that took lots of practice," and still didn't completely dry him. That he even admits as much is testament to the comfort he's found with her. No hesitation lies behind the easy explanation.

"I used to not be able to shift when being touched," he additionally reflects as he leaves the vanity to meander about her room while waiting for her to be done. "But I've had plenty of time and so many colorful stages to rehearse on. I don't know if I'll ever say this enough, but I do miss the war. My own personal renaissance in a cessation of the rules of normal society."

Never mind what it did to the rest of the country, of course.

His eyes half-lid in his fond remembrance, and reminds him how ready he is to drink and be merry again, especially with these memories to reflect on during the duller moments. "Are you about ready?"

Odessa lifts her gaze to Ace in the mirror at his admission. “And even if you don’t feel you’ve perfected it, you employ it beautifully.” She smiles to herself, pleased with his level of candor and his trust in her.

While he waxes poetic about the war, she fixes her lipstick, renewing the luxe vibrancy of that gold sheen with care. Sharp lines, soft touches at the fuller part of her pout. “I do wish I’d been there with you. What fun we would have had.” The fact that he feels a warmth for that time helps keep the cold chill of regret from seeping bone deep, but it’s still there. A frost on the surface. “The art we would have created together.”

Are you about ready? Again, she finds him through the reflective pane of glass and lifts her brows. “Every time you ask me that question, I’m going to re-apply something. If I leave this room looking like a circus clown, so be it.”

Try as she might, she doesn’t manage to hold back a grin. Odessa turns in her seat to look at Ace properly, holding her empty hands out to beckon him to her. “I want to really enjoy myself tonight. I want to forget about all of it. The pain,” there’s a glance spared to her cane, “and the worry. So. Are you ready to be my shoulder to lean on? And to carry me upstairs to bed when the night is finished?” Either she’ll be too drunk or too exhausted to make the climb. The result is the same.

Ace's ears turn at the sound of Odessa wishing she'd been at his side sooner. For all his failings, he has learned that she's liable to fall into a pit of regret over not having followed him that day should he not intervene. "But I have you now, my phoenix," he reminds her as he begins a circuit back to the vanity. "And there's so very little keeping us from art in the present."

In his eyes, anyway. And he smiles so convincingly as he makes his case as she looks at him through the mirror as she teases him for his impatience.

He takes her hands gladly when she offers them, giving no thought or look to the cane or her worries. Just the moment. He feeds her his excitement, one he demonstrates with the warmth and mischief in his grin as he still believes what runs underneath his skin is inaccessible to her. "Behave yourself, darling, and I'll carry you anywhere."

Ace leans back on his heel, providing a counterweight to help lever her back to her feet with minimal effort expended on Odessa's part.

So very little, and yet so very much keeps them from making the kind of art they’d have made during the war. Fortunately, they have the art she makes on the stage. His art she asks as little as possible about. Not due to a lack of curiosity or desire to be included or live vicariously, but out of a necessity for separation.

Nothing tonight, however, will keep them separated.

Odessa comes to her feet, eyes bright with excitement to get back to the party and let her cares melt away. But first, she bows her head and holds Ace’s hands a moment longer, savoring this time between them that’s just theirs. A deep exhale sees her resetting, mentally prepared. Cut off from her ability.

Her head lifts again and she smiles. “Am I not always well behaved for you, sir?” There’s a nudge when she asks that, shifting her posture so she can take his arm instead. Whether they bring her cane is his choice, she’s decided. She’s fairly certain she knows how he’ll go on this matter.

It's down a path that leads them directly back to the door without pause. He remarks with a grin as he pulls it open, "You know…

"You have a point."

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