Take III


ace_icon.gif odessa2_icon.gif

Scene Title Take III
Synopsis They say third time's the charm.
Date June 15, 2020

Rikers Island

The prison jumpsuit is peeled out of and — instead of customarily folded neatly and set aside — crumpled up and tossed into a hamper like it personally offended her mother.

A tweed skirt is stepped into and zipped in back with only a small bit of difficulty, a cable knit sweater pulled on over her head. Both articles of clothing are too warm for the summer breezes outside, but it’s what she has. Feet slide into sensible flats.

There’s a look given to the mirror. A hard frown for what that reflection holds. Blonde fades into copper curls that brush just beneath her shoulders. Not a lot to be done for that. Her face is devoid of make-up, leaving nothing to mask the dark circles under her eyes. She had thought that the prospect of this day might have helped her sleep better, but it hadn’t.

Before she turns to the door at her back, she pats down the right side of her ribs under her arm with her left hand until she finds a hard, circular mass beneath her fingers and the cushioning fabric of her sweater. Once she’s satisfied, she drapes her navy blue trench coat over her arms, then pivots on one foot and strides the few feet to the door to rap on it twice to indicate she’s ready to go.

Being led through the halls of the facility, hopefully for the last time, she can’t help but wonder where she goes from here. She’s got bus fare in her pocket for when they reach the mainland again, but where should she go? There will be no one expecting her. Beyond her lawyer, she’d kept this day to herself, afraid that by sharing it, it would cause the whole thing to fall through.

The ferry ride across the water is both hopeful and tense at once. The boat creeps closer and closer to the opposite shore, deliverance, but if it stops, she’s up this creek without a paddle. There’s no way to complete the journey. Every instinct of hers is screaming that this is a trap. It’s only once she’s finally ushered the last of the way off the pier, through the lot and past the fence, deposited beyond its borders and now left to fend for herself, waiting alone under the awning of a plexiglass bus stop shelter, that she finally allows herself to feel a moment of relief.

She is finally, completely, honestly, free.

It turns out, however, the air outside is just as foul as the air inside the prison yard. Reaching into her pocket, she pulls out a crumpled soft pack of cigarettes and a book of matches. Peeling back the top, she shakes out a stale cigarette and places it between her lips before sliding the pack away again and bending back the cover of her matchbook in order to break off and strike a flame.

Except that it’s empty. Only a message written in pen in looping script greets her. You’ve Got This. Blue eyes close in tandem with a heavy exhale.


Odessa Price is off to a great start.

She just doesn't know it yet.

The bus stop is a lonely place to be this time of day. Anyone who's coming has already come, and shift change hasn't occurred yet to accrue a line of bodies waiting to leave. The bus will continue to run its loops as it must— but that takes time, and the heat of June bears down, the stink of Riker's Island seemingly inescapable. Even free, the world is still filled with scratchy, hot discomfort and smells like shit. It's hard to see past that and ahead to her future, but she doesn't need to— it comes to her.

Approaching slowing tires on asphalt make a distinctive sound, one lacking the grind of brakes larger vehicles tend to carry. No— the car that approaches is sleek, nearly silent save for the purr of its idling electric engine. The sleek black curve of it stands out against the light of day, glinting under the overhead sun as it rolls to a stop in front of the bus shelter. The understated Porsche emblem is the only splash deviating from monochrome on the vehicle, the dark tint of the windshield and windows preventing easily seeing who colors the inside.

Odessa doesn't have long to wonder, though. The front passenger window on the thrumming Taycan rolls down and away, revealing beige interior… and a man in a navy-colored blazer accented by a steel-grey tie and sharp, reflective sunglasses.

Ace Callahan looks over the top of his lenses as he tilts his head Odessa's direction, saying nothing at all. His elbow rests on the armrest, a cigar held loosely between two fingers, along with a sizable silver lighter pinched between an additional set of knuckles.

Both appear to be offered her way.

A quick glance is all it takes to see that it isn’t her bus rolling up, so Odessa pointedly ignores the vehicle at first, out of some sense of resentment that she tells herself is about being polite and not staring. But when it doesn’t simply roll on past, and when it doesn’t park for someone to climb out and head past her to go to the checkpoint and wait for the ferry, she slowly lets her gaze track back in that direction.

The pavement. The wheels. The emblem on the hood. — Wow, who the fuck drives a Porsche to wait for the boat to Rikers? — The tinted glass. The passenger window sliding down.

The man inside.

The cigarette falls from lips that have parted in surprise. Odessa’s shoulders sag and disbelief writes itself into her features. “Ace,” she breathes out, barely loud enough to be heard. It takes a moment to get over the shock, but when she does, a broad smile stretches across her face as long strides carry her to where the car waits for her.

His was not a face she expected to see. Possibly ever again. She hadn’t dared to even hope for it. And yet… “What’re you doing here?” Odessa asks as she ducks down to lean toward the open window. She’s not yet so bold as to reach inside or actually open the door herself. She could be completely mistaken about what this is, and she’d like very much to save herself that particular brand of embarrassment.

Patient, Ace looks away and makes a show of unlocking the door with a press of a button on his door. When he looks back, his eyes are half-hidden by his lenses this time, the bend of his arm shifting on the center console to make it abundantly clear he's making an offering to her.

"What do you think, Odessa?" he asks evenly, more flint in his expression than in his emotions. They're a carefully stilled thing, wound with tension made of anticipation… and perhaps uncertainty.

"Celebrations are a classier affair," Ace explains— flippantly, like it should be obvious. "They deserve better than…" A disdainful glance to the package in her hand is given, the emotion gone by the time he looks back up. Apparently, he thinks that all spoke for itself, because he doesn't return to the topic.

There's something more honest to say, something that takes the tension in him and makes it heavier yet.

"I've come to see if I can make this all up to you," comes from him in a thoughtful canter, care taken to not throw the words out either too quickly or too slow. They must be precise. "Or, failing that, see where you mean to go from here…"

The offered cigar is curled down to his palm, brow lifting as he looks out at her, adding, "And drive you there." in the event his courtesy in being here was construed as being conditional.

He’s difficult to get a read on, and it should make her wary. Instead, it leaves her with plenty of space for her own feelings, and after months spent cooped up in that hell — not even close to a nice cage — she has a lot of feelings. They’re big. Overwhelming. And here is a friendly face and an air conditioned car and an offer to get her wherever she wants to go.

Without realizing, Odessa grasps the handle of the door and tugs it open, stepping back so she can swing the door out and she can duck down into the passenger seat. The door is pulled shut behind her, coat folded in her lap, and she turns to flash an excited grin. The barest breath of a laugh passes through her nose. She’s trying to play it cool, but maybe he’d forgive her if she didn’t, considering her circumstances.

And it’s hard. It’s really fucking hard. She feels like she’s practically vibrating with energy both nervous and delighted. The crumpled pack is shoved back into her pocket — if only because she lacks a proper trash bin to chuck them into, and she has more class than to litter — and she reaches out for the offering instead. “You’re right,” she says with a smile. “This is a celebration.”

The smile she receives in return is tight, cigar and lighter relinquished without argument or comment. When Ace turns away to look ahead, his expression is hard to read, but his emotions sing and give him away anyway. The flood of relief coincides with a subtle settle of his shoulders, the car shifted back into gear again.

"Let's leave this sordid place behind us, shall we?" he asks, easing onto the pedal before waiting for a response. Ace glances for traffic before he leans into that act of leaving, the Porsche accelerating quickly away in the hopes of making the prison island a mere speck of memory as soon as possible.

It invokes a spark of joy in him.

The rocketing vehicle loses some of its speed before long, nearing but never quite meeting legal limits as he charts them a southbound path. "There's a change of clothes on the back seat. Something more appropriate for the weather." he advises without appearing to let his eyes leave the road.

When they go speeding off down the road, Odessa lets her delighted laughter ring in the air. That he finds relief in her accepting his offer to make things up to her is incredibly gratifying. His joy in this moment mingles well with her own. Her two-toned hair is whipped around by the wind that comes in through the open window. Now she’s free. She is never going back. The cigar is brought up, and she’s about to flip open the lighter when he draws her attention to the change of clothes in back.

Her brows lift up at that and she turns around to look at what lays folded in the backseat. The cigar and lighter are abandoned to the cup holder in the center console for now so she can twist around and grab the small bundle of clothing, leaving her coat behind in place. There are two sets of tops on offer, and she lifts the first up after depositing the other in her lap, unfolding and examining it.

The fabric is lightweight, white, and covered with a small navy blue fleur-de-lis pattern. Sleeveless, with three buttons at the neckline. Perfectly suitable, incredibly tasteful. But she’s spent more than enough time wearing white and navy. She refolds it and carefully tosses it into the backseat again. Thank you, next.

The second blouse is made of red silk. She holds it up and smiles slowly, feeling the fine fabric between her fingers and admiring the drape of its faux wrap front.

They have a winner.

Setting the blouse back in her lap, Odessa reaches for the hem of her current top. “I hope you don’t crash,” she quips, because she wastes no time disengaging her safety belt so she can set about peeling herself out of her sweater while Ace drives. When he rolls up the window to afford her some extra privacy (and probably to spare himself getting pulled over for her indecent exposure), she shrugs her shoulders. “You kind of forget about modesty after a while,” she admits, alluding to what kind of life she’d gotten used to in prison.

Freed from the confines of her sweater, she takes a moment to enjoy the cool air on her skin after having been out in the baking heat, covering it by taking her time in laying her change of shirt out across her lap and then flipping it over before she sticks her arms into it and finally pulls it over her head. She leans forward in her seat to pull the back of it down, and then adjusts the drape of it before leaning back to repeat the process for the front.

“This is absurdly comfortable.” There’s less care taken for her sweater when she just throws it into the back to be dealt with later. Now, she leans forward again so she can get her hands on the zipper at her back for her skirt, working it down until she has to lean back again and lift her hips up off the seat to get it pulled the rest of the way down.

Ace does not crash, but neither do his eyes stay quite where they should. If there was a specific destination in mind at this point in time, he may have missed his turn. Odessa's not trying to be a distraction, but she proves to be one. His right hand flexes around the leather of the steering wheel while she enjoys the air, patient while she dresses.

One corner of his mouth curls back into an unsubtle smirk at her choices, in fashion and timing and commentary alike.

Rolling to a stop at an intersection behind another car, he waits until then for his interest in her to manifest properly. It's once he turns his head that he has time to properly take her in mid-transition, right hand falling to brush the top of her thigh with the back of a single knuckle.

"So tell me the good news," Ace asks of her, all anticipation once more. "You're entirely off the leash?"

In the backseat, underneath the tossed shirt, another two choices await Odessa, surely minor in the grand scheme of everything. A folded, black skirt rests beside a pair of beige chino shorts dark in hue. Either would go with the discarded white, or the worn red.

His attention had gone entirely unnoticed, for Odessa is used to going entirely unnoticed. It’s only when his hand brushes her leg that she jerks her head to the side to look at him, startled and embarrassed. Her cheeks flush pink and she shivers in the wake of his touch. “Careful there,” she murmurs, turning to look the opposite direction, through the tinted glass.

But she’s watching his muted reflection in the window. She smiles, a tenuous thing. “That’s what they tell me.” Her head tips to one side, jaw working in one direction, then the other, considering. “Well… Parole is where I’m at now. Less leash, more invisible fence.

Gathering herself again, she twists in her seat to grab up the options for the bottom half of her outfit. It doesn’t take more than a second of thought to dismiss the shorts. Given the choice, Odessa will nearly always take a skirt. And black and red are suitably bold for her, even as demure as she appears to be now.

“Eyes on the road,” Odessa instructs as she starts to shimmy out of the heavy winter skirt. “I don’t have cute underwear on, so let me just have this, okay?” The simple answer would be to just change in private once they reach wherever their destination might be, but that’s not how this is going to work. “Besides. The light is green.”

She doesn’t actually bother to check to make sure his eyes are fixed ahead again before she tugs the twill fabric down past her hips, arching her back so she can pull the garment from between her and the seat, then off her legs entirely. It’s tossed into the back seat before she leans forward to slide her legs into the shorter skirt, sliding it up easily and rocking from side to side until it’s finally pulled into place fully. “So much better,” Odessa breathes out in a sigh of relief.

She slants a shy smile over to him finally. “Fits like a glove.”

When told to mind himself, Ace only glances at her over the top of his sunglasses. The car rolls forward again and he eventually pays attention to its path, but at his own pace. "Parole…" he echoes the word back, trying to decide how he likes it.

He doesn't.

The illusion of privacy is granted while Odessa slips into the snug skirt, his hands and eyes kept to himself. "Kotch kept the details to a minimum, but he kept them coming at my insistence. I made it clear that I wanted to know the moment they considered extending your sentence, moving you… imagine my surprise when it was commuted instead."

For having effectively left Odessa on "read" status after a message about her was secreted to him through her lawyer, it might be a surprise at all that he held such interest in her continued wellbeing.

He says nothing of the circumstances that lead to her recapture, nor his feelings about his role in that happening. Instead, he gives her a small smile when she compliments the garb. "Good."

A beat passes, silence in the car. The hum of the engine can't even be heard from within. After that small pause, Ace says after a short inhale, "You didn't answer me clearly enough. Is this a ride which ends with us parting ways, or…?"

He simply lets that one hang.

“It’s not like I have a lot of choices,” Odessa says of her parole situation. “This… This is a good thing. Kotch is a miracle worker.” Because after what happened at PISEC, after she didn’t immediately turn herself in, like Mohinder Suresh had suggested they do, she should have been facing down a life sentence again. One without parole as a possibility for years, if not decades. She owes Kotch something nice. (Her life does not qualify as that.)

That Ace is here at all is a shock. He didn’t visit. Not once. Didn’t even indicate he cared. That he continued to get information from her lawyer about her status… She isn’t even mad at Kotch for keeping that secret from her. If Ace’s interest had been merely for his own curiosity’s sake and not because he actually wanted to maintain any sort of contact, Kotch had to know that would have devastated her. More practically, he probably knew it would cause undeserved hope where she needed practicality.

Odessa smiles slowly as she considers his query. “You’re driving the car,” she says easily. She means that both literally and metaphorically. That he still asks what she wants in the face of him having that control here, that he isn’t exerting that control… She reaches over to rest a hand against the top of his thigh and locks eyes with him. (Or, as best she can with the sunglasses in the way.) “Then let me be clear: I’d like to stay with you, as long as you’ll have me.”

The green-grey of Ace's eyes don't need to be seen to impart a certain flash when his head turns, visible in the lenses and in his emotional state. The answer goes beyond what he could have hoped for, and he finds it to be…


The abrupt right onto a road which takes them to the expressway is one he makes easily, revealing he's kept his awareness about their location the whole time. It's eagerly that the car climbs the on-ramp and takes to the wider lanes, only a flick of a glance given to check for potential wet blankets to the short adventure they're about to embark on.

"In that case," Ace tells her easily, head tilting while he keeps his eyes on the road before them. "I have plans for you. Plans which will need altered, now, given your… situation, but you've proven your flexibility— your patience. Your ability to bear discomfort."

The fact that he’s pleased with her answer, the lift in his mood, it bolsters Odessa’s own. Her hand grips his leg a moment when the car turns sharply, and a nervous little giggle bubbles up past her lips. She places her own hands back in her lap once they’re on the expressway.

She opens her mouth to speak, but shuts it again obediently when he beats her to the punch, laying out this notion before her of plans that he has. She watches him with polite, earnest interest. He’s been thinking about this. About her. Consideration has been paid.

Color flushes into Odessa’s cheeks at his assessment of her capabilities. “Right on all counts.” She’s not embarrassed to admit to it. “I’m versatile.” She’s never gotten anywhere in life by not selling herself. Modesty serves her less than it suits. “Whatever you have in mind, you have my undivided attention.”

Ace's Brownstone

Harry Stoltz
Travel concierge
Prestige Travel, Inc.
a d'Sarthe Group corporation

Ace slides a business card across the island counter at Odessa, expression flat and his eyes unmoving from her. He leans onto his hands when that's done, positioning them on the side of the counter. It's barely past noon, but a neat glass of whiskey sits beside his hand, an ashtray settled between them for Odessa's cigar as well as one for himself. The simple kitchen chandelier is lit overhead so the contents on the card are easy to read, even as summer sunlight streams in from the shadeless kitchen windows of his Williamsburg brownstone.

"This is the backup plan."

After waiting an appropriate pause for her to begin absorbing some of the details implied by the card's existence, he reaches for his cigar. It's clear, though, it's more as an instrument of conversation than something he means to immediately smoke, because as soon as he's tapped it, he sets about gesturing with it. "I had wanted to incorporate you into affairs on Staten Island, see you integrated with our business there… but parole complicates things. You can't be close to any of that for your sake, but mostly ours."

His hand tips up in a subtle shrug, cigar coming to his lips. "So, we keep you legitimate." There's no emotion behind that for him. It's simply how it is.

How it has to be.

The weight of his gaze on her makes her disinclined to break eye contact, but it’s expected, and so Odessa finally does let her attention drift down to the card he’s pushed in front of her. She doesn’t need to lift it to read it. (The glasses Desdemona wore were all part of a costume, after all.) Her brows lift a little as she takes in each element. His false identity, the title, the front.

Odessa looks up again and nods her head once to show she understands before lifting her cigar. Being as she’s letting him do the talking for now, she does smoke while he gesticulates and explains how things need to proceed. He’s not wrong, and she’s grateful he isn’t just showing her the door now that it’s become obvious he can’t have exactly what he wanted.

“I have inroads with the Trade Commission, you know.” She smirks faintly. “Alister Black hired me to be a companion to that darling sister of his.” Odessa’s fondness for Margaux Maxwell is legitimate, but she’s not above exploiting a connection. “Incidentally, if you ever meet her, don’t shake her hand.”

She's taking this gracefully, Ace notes, though anything sounds better the first day out of prison, surely. Letting smoke pool around his mouth and nose, he mulls Odessa's connections over for a long moment before he exhales the thick cloud away into nothing. "Noted," he says lightly while he passes the cigar from his main hand to the other. "Though I don't suppose you'd tell me why."

That's less important, ultimately, than the fact she has that in to exploit in the first place. "The Trade Commission's play ball attitude with the armed forces fucked the rest of us over, so an ear to the ground on their side of things could be valuable. If they mean to sell anyone in particular upriver, it'd be good to have a heads-up on the matter…" He tuts quietly to himself at that before glancing back Odessa's way. With a blasé gesture of his cigar, he shares, "Because when it comes to powerhouses remaining on Staten Island, there are few. Anyone who didn't pass a sniff test has effectively been driven to the mainland, sent to hide in the ruins out there instead of the slums of Staten. Between that and the literal void left behind when the Ghost Triad lost power after New Year's, well…"

Not that he expects Odessa's kept up with the power structure shift in New York's organized crime scene. With a wave of his hand, he digresses.

"Well, that left very few businessmen on that godforsaken spit of island, you see. Less people, no less opportunity." A fact Ace relishes with another inhale of his cigar, holding it just as delicately as he had with his dominant hand.

She hasn’t, as it happens, kept up on who’s King of Shit Island. So it’s with interest that she listens to him give the broad overview of where things stand these days. The vacuum left by the Ghost Triad is even new information to her, despite the fact that she’d been on the outside when that was new.

“Mm,” she hums thoughtfully as she breathes in another lungful of smoke, then exhales the stream out the side of her mouth, rather than in his direction. She is taking it gracefully, and he’s partially right about the motivation. Anything is better than Rikers. But the opportunity to do something legitimate… She wasn’t likely to get that anywhere else. The trick is to keep from appearing too excited about it, lest he think she’s not still game to get her hands dirty.

Odessa sets her cigar aside in the ashtray after tapping it lightly. Her forearms are folded together on the counter in front of her and she leans forward with a knowing smile, a glint in her eye. “She’s a telepath,” is why Ace ought not to shake Margaux’s hand.

See? She’s perfectly willing to be giving.

And it's a bit of information some people would kill for, at that. Ace's brows lift, holding in his breath longer than he needs to. His feelings on the matter tumble out in a cloud of sinking smoke, not exactly exhaled as he sighs, "Interesting."

His thoughts are hard to read based on his expression, but Odessa doesn't need that. His thoughtfulness swells into pride, silent and swirling once he reaches for his glass. In the time he bides by drinking, the tide muddies the waters, darkening them with other thoughts, ones he swallows away.

By the time he looks back across the island at her, he's settled into contentment again. He's pleased to be looking at her, it'd seem.

"There's only… one major issue to work through."

The blonde’s head tilts to one side, watching and feeling him mull over that information. It’s interesting, the highs and lows he cycles through. It’s something she’s not inclined to call him on, but rather information she decides to file away for her own reference later. She’ll build a profile of him over time. This is where it starts.

That he seems pleased just to be with her in this moment is enough to make her smile easily. Not — she hopes — that dopey kind of smile of the smitten, but something companionable. She’s delighted to be here with him herself. She’d probably be delighted to be anywhere that isn’t prison right now, but he’s a nice added bonus. Easy on the eyes, the rich timbre of his voice…

Right. Not smitten. Just appreciative.

“Is it the fact that I’m still a convicted war criminal?” she asks with a faint narrowing of her eyes. There’s humor in her tone, but it’s most assuredly at her own expense. “I feel that’s a pretty major issue that I’ve yet to devise a work around for.”

The corner of Ace's mouth twitches up into a smile, his humor shallow but felt in its subtlety and in his soul. "Yes," he decides to agree, tone light. "That is your biggest barrier to a better you— yourself."

Voice deepening, he assures, "But we can fix that." The green-grey of his eyes move back to the card set before them, the lie it presents. "Desdemona won't do… and we should likely go a step further than that. If your name won't give you away, to a number of people, your face just might."

He considers that thought with a twinge of his jaw, misliking it even for its necessity.

Her gaze follows his to the card, then comes back up to watch his face while he talks. Whatever he’s about to propose, she can feel he doesn’t like it, and it puts her on edge. Is the dread creeping up on her all her own, or is it his? It’s difficult to tell at times. She’s not sure yet the flavor of his emotion.

“All my previous pseudonyms have been outed,” she confirms. “A new identity will be required, if that’s your aim.” And it ought to be, from where she’s sitting. Odessa reaches out and lays her hand half over the top of his. “What aren’t you saying, Ace?” Her fingers curl and gently attempt to liberate him of his glass of whiskey, all the while keeping eye contact with him.

In return, his grasp becomes unshakable from the glass, fingers unyielding under her gentle prying. He waits until that moment has passed before speaking again. "The best thing for you would be to lose your looks entirely." And only then does he lift his hand, the curl of his knuckle bracing under her chin without actually touching as he meets her gaze. "Find a new identity down to a new face." His hand moves on, brushing past the tips of her growing hair to push the dual-toned growth behind her ear. "We've already found a change of hair isn't enough to dissuade a discerning eye."

And that's as close to that topic he'll get, it seems. He finishes brushing those bangs behind her ear, emotions oddly stilled despite the distress he seemed to have before with his own thoughts. Whatever his qualms were, he's made his peace with them. (For now.)

"I've heard of a man come back to town who does just that thing— gives well-paying clientele a second lease on life with their skin." Ace's hand falls back to his glass, holding onto it loosely and dragging it closer to him on the stony surface of the island. "He only does small jobs, but what is this if not just a… cluster of small jobs needing completed?"

"To change your…" Now he frowns, unable to help himself. "Looks."

The moment she encounters resistance, she gives up her quest to commandeer his liquor. Her grip loosens, fingers brushing lightly over the backs of his as they withdraw. She doesn’t want to take what isn’t being freely given, it would seem.

Odessa is learning where the boundaries are.

When his hand comes up under her chin, she lifts her face obediently without him needing to guide with the pressure of touch. Her eyes only leave his face to track the movement of his hand to her hair, watching the movement of it out of the corner of her eye as she brushes it aside and behind her ear. Perfectly still under his scrutiny.

Her expression clouds with uncertainty as he explains that this isn’t just some fantasy. This solution of his, that she change her appearance, is something he can facilitate. Now she understands somewhat why he was reluctant to say at first. Odessa studies his face, but knows she won’t find anything there that she doesn’t already know.

“You’ll mourn me.”

The laugh that comes from him is short, humorless— masking the bittersweet wound left by the knife of her words. Perhaps it hurts worse they're an echo of his own.

Ace only shakes his head, drink settled back down. "No," he answers evenly, looking away at nothing before his gaze returns to her, along with a patient explanation. "This is so I won't have to."

There's a tension after that, one created and maintained by no one but himself and his uncertainty regarding how that makes him feel— and how untrue what he's said just now might actually be. But then, the moment's past.

"You run less of a risk of something from your past crawling up to do you harm if you assume a completely different identity. It's less time spent on ensuring your safety, and more time spent on utilizing you as an asset. It's an investment, certainly, but it reduces the liability you pose long-term."

Ace tips his head to the side as he posits with a certain flint, "It's win-win."

It’s the lie he tells himself, she knows. Feels. But rather than call him on it, Odessa simply nods her head twice to indicate that she understands. She should take his commentary about her use as an asset at face value. She should tuck those words up against her heart and use them like armor.

The problem is, she’s able to convince herself that he doesn’t believe them either. Emotions can tell her a lot about a person, but they don’t put a spotlight on which words convey which feelings. Or whether or not what’s said is the actual root of things. It’s easy enough to tell what’s disingenuous, but nuance is trickier.

When Ace tilts his head, Odessa mirrors the posture, considering for a moment. Finally, she turns her back so she can fix her own drink. She needs it now. “I’ve spent… years inside of my own skin and feeling unlike myself,” she explains, voice even, in spite of the turmoil she feels for the admittance. “During the war, I had to be practical.” She expects he knows the unhappiness that goes along with that. She’s seen him both as a soldier and as a man in charge of his own destiny. She’s certain they both prefer this look to the former.

“After the war, I had to blend in. I had to be mousy. A nobody.” Odessa only turns around again when she’s poured herself a glass of vodka. Her tongue toys with the tip of one canine. “Have you seen what little Desdemona looked like?” There’s disdain for that. For herself.

“I like color. I like vibrance.” The turmoil shows in her eyes, unhidden from his view. “I thought I finally had the chance to be myself again…” Odessa frowns and stares down into her glass before taking a drink. It’s the first sip of alcohol she’s had in months and she makes a small face as it burns its way down her throat and settles warm in the empty pit of her stomach. “But I suppose…”

Turning her face away, she still finds herself tracking her gaze to his. Some part of her can’t help but watch him watch her. “I’m nothing if not adaptable.” And that clearly leaves a bitter taste in her mouth.

The appropriate thing to do here would be to find some way to comfort her, but all Ace does is drink from his own glass, like this weighs just the same on him. In a world where he's not lying to himself, after all…

"This pleases me little neither. Yours is the smile which inspired me. I would hate to see it change its shape."

Ace sighs, setting his drink back down. He refuses to let this talk sour his mood entirely. "But this isn't a knell. It's not your curtain call. It's a new mask for a new act." And this is language he doesn't put on for show, his lilt of enthusiasm genuine as he looks back to Odessa. "It lets you pick your own color. Select your own vibrance. It will let you excel without your lessers looking down on you in judgment for having the audacity to shine in their presence."

The fondness in his voice fades, leaving behind something more coarse. "It's also a precondition to obtaining this new identity for you. It does you no good if it can be seen through with a look."

Ace's expression mellows further as he feels obligated to point out the potential flaw with his plan. "But… whoever it is holding your parole leash will somehow need looped on these changes— unless you want to slip their lead, of course."

Always an option. Always one he'll be in favor of, too.

While he doesn’t go out of his way to comfort her, and instead focuses on the reality of her situation, he says something that derails her from the gloom of it all the same.

Yours is the smile which inspired me.

Everything about Odessa’s demeanor softens. Her shoulders relax, her mouth forms into a soft ‘o’ shape and her eyes grow just a little wider in that way that they do when he has her transfixed. He saw it before, the moment he began to convince her not to turn herself in all those months ago.

It makes the other parts of it go down smooth. Slowly, she’s begun wandering back to the counter. One uncertain step. Then another. This is dangerous, what he’s proposing. “No,” she says softly, clearly worried that he won’t like to hear the word. “I can’t… I can’t go back to that. If Odessa Price disappears, they’ll look for her. It’s what they’re expecting me to do. I’m sure of it.”

Odessa sets her glass down on the counter, but doesn’t keep that surface between them this time, coming around slowly and silently on bare feet until she stands on his side. It’s a symbolic sort of gesture, on top of everything else that it is in the literal sense. “They’ve given me a rope, Ace. They want to see if I’ll tie a knot around my own wicked throat.” She starts to reach for him, but withdraws before she hits the halfway mark between the two of them. “We have to play this game by their rules.”

Then, she smiles. “For now.”

He'd be less inclined to hear her tell him no if this was a situation in which a 'yes' was expected. Accordingly, Ace accepts it gracefully, without even the slightest sneer. The way she closes the distance between the two of them additionally ensures it, leaving him occupied with observing her. He admires the movement of her curves more than the look on her face, though by the time she joins him at his side his eyes have lifted that high again.

Her smile finds one mirrored back, knifelike. His hands remain by his sides, his posture unresponsive entirely to her closeness, neither leaning into it nor away from it. "For now," he agrees softly, lifting the cigar to take another short puff from it, blowing the smoke toward the ceiling. Then he turns it around in his hand, offering it to her. "But that doesn't mean we can't have some fun in the meantime."

Surely Ace saw the effect his words had had on Odessa, but it had elicited no reaction in him, neither visually nor emotionally. This though— this promise of mischief—

It fills him with excitement.

And so it does the same to her in turn. Odessa’s smile widens, her eyes light up. She takes the cigar and seems to consider things for the moment it takes her to draw from it and hold the smoke. Given that he’s taller than she is, she angles the stream of her exhale down and off to one side.

She’s thinking about the kind of fun she’d like to have with him, and glad her ability isn’t one that’s—

Odessa tilts her head to one side, gaze going distant as she stares off at some indeterminate point between herself and the wall of his kitchen. She reaches out with her senses, like sending a ping. She’d been so wrapped up in herself, gotten so used to the little blips in her own ebb and flow, she hadn’t considered what might be felt on the other end of that tether.

She’s been content to let Aman live his own life for these past months, checking in here and there with a gentle nudge of emotion. What must he be thinking right now?

Does it even matter?

She offers the cigar back, finally looking up from her own thoughts. “I’m here,” she offers softly in a preemptive response to a question she isn’t sure he was going to voice. But if she were standing where he is now, she’d be wondering where she’d gone to.

Ace has no frame of reference for what suddenly draws Odessa's attention away, what's drawn her so deeply into thought, but the novelty of it stays any annoyance he might otherwise draw from it. Instead, he merely arches an eyebrow as he accepts the cigar back, only to put it aside. "You've had a long day," he acknowledges, apparently bereft of judgment.

On the other end of that distant tether, surprise bubbles its way back to Odessa at the feeling of that connection being actively sought. Warmth follows, then annoyance at that kneejerk reaction, then a return to contentment as Aman makes peace with his original reaction, decides not to throw it away.

Ace's hand lifts from his side, this time not merely hovering under her chin, but meeting it without turning her face up to him. He brushes his thumb over the front of her chin, the tip of it grazing her lip.

Cautious curiosity winds its way back to Odessa through the emotional link she's pinged. The emotional equivalent of What's up? She seems— good today.

"Do you need… grounded?" Ace asks along with that brush of his thumb, eyes settling on the curve of her mouth.

This is an incredibly inconvenient moment, Odessa realizes. Her eyes shift down to the movement of Ace’s hand then close entirely when he makes contact. Her lips part and a ragged exhale follows in the wake of his touch. When she opens her eyes again, her gaze darts to one side, then the other as she thinks, considers how to respond to his question.

Embarrassment that has nothing to do with him causes color to creep into her cheeks. This is not the ping she had intended to send, but she knows Aman feels the flash of excitement. Her fingers curl in towards her palms at her sides. She sends back a push. Happiness. She’ll find a way to explain later. She’s fine for the first time in a very, very long time.

Now, her nails are biting into her palms, pulling her back to the moment she’s sharing with the person in front of her. It’s with a heavy exhale that she puts up the barrier between herself and the rest of the world around her. It cuts her off from Ace, which is a terrible shame, but it spares Aman from wondering what’s happening to her, which is, by her estimation, the kindest thing she can do for him.

Her shoulders relax, her fingers uncurl, and Odessa looks up at those green-grey eyes again. A shiver runs through her frame.

Well, that wasn't the kind of reaction he anticipated her having. Seems she might need that grounding after all.

Ace brings his hand to curl around her cheek, fingers trailing down to her neck after. The touches are firm after that initial graze, his hand curving around the hollow of her neck and down to her shoulder. "I'm going to take that as a yes." He leans past her to put out the cigars and leave them for later, setting them just so over the lip of the ashtray.

His thumb brushes along her collar.

"Come along. Let's see the rest of the house." Ace leads her with that hand on her shoulder, a wry smile playing at the corner of his mouth.

"And when we're done, we'll talk through new looks… and names to go with them."

The touch is leaned into, a sigh slipping past her lips that does nothing to release the tightness in her chest. The anticipation is maddening, but the restraint is appreciated at the same time. The brush over her collarbone sends another shiver down her spine and more color into her cheeks.

He leads, and she follows readily, demonstrating that she's back with him in the here and now. She should explain herself, lest he start to wonder if she's a (bigger) liability, but for now, Odessa can coast by on the excuse of her incarceration having left her a touch out of sorts.

"Will I be staying here, then?" She glances up at him out of the corner of her eye. She'd like to grab him by the front of his jacket and drag him into her, but she's afraid to get ahead of herself. That, and she's worried she might creak like a hinge rusty from disuse. "I'd like to, if it's not an imposition."

"There's only one bed," Ace points out while they turn about the banister to head up the stairs. Like it stood the possibility of being an issue. "So if you can put up with that…"

"I like when you pretend to care about my modesty," Odessa muses, reaching out to take hold of the railing so she can climb the steps. "Is your bed soft? Does it have more than one pillow?"

Her criteria is remarkably easy to fulfill.

A soft hm of amusement escapes Ace when he's called out on his paper-thin courtesy. "Well," he counters with an airy mild, but no further argument. To be gentlemanly was a certain kind of expected, but it was a boring mask to wear. So instead, to her question, he smiles.

"You'll find out shortly." And with a loose gesture of his hand, he directs her up the stairs. The home is lacking in personal touch, no photographs hung in the halls or stairwells. There are several paintings throughout the brownstone, landscapes of late summer and early fall, when the leaves are beginning to change but the last of summer's flowers have not yet died. At the top of the stairs, on a simple table placed against the wall between the bedroom and a home office, is a single, meticulously curated white orchid in a cylindrical black bed.

It's hard to spot signs of active living in the space for how neat everything is left, no item out of place, very few indications of personalization even in the bedroom. It's a philosophy that includes the dresser, the nightstand, the bed, and what can be seen of the attached bath. The one thing that's consistent is the coloring— wood being an earthen, hickory brown whose darkness seems somewhat lessened by deep black fabrics with matching linens of cream white.

There are, in fact, four pillows on the bed.

"Until we sort out the matter of your new identity, it'd be best for you not to be seen coming and going. After— well, after, it will be much less of an issue." He lingers behind her, leaning against the doorway and toying with the cuff on one hand. His eyes stick to Odessa's form, her movements— as though by looking at her he might divine her thoughts.

"What Ace Callahan does with his free time is something I never bring home as Harry. I don't intend for this to be an exception to that rule." He thumbs the button of his cuff free, brows lifting. "I've put a lot of effort into keeping his appearance impeccable and neighborly."

Color floods her cheeks again as he confirms his intention. But it surely isn’t embarrassment that puts the spring in her step as she climbs the stairs. She spares the briefest glance toward the home office before turning her attention to the orchid. She leans in close, but doesn’t move to touch. Odessa has an appreciation for the effort that goes into maintaining such a demanding flower.

She doesn’t linger long in her admiration, making her way toward the bedroom door and stepping inside. With so little on display, there isn’t much call for her to make a cursory circuit of the bed before she examines the room’s centerpiece. Her movements are languid, the sway of her hips relaxed. There’s no uncertainty in her posture, no reluctance in her gait.

Odessa brushes her fingers over the bedspread and sighs happily. When he starts talking practicalities again, she turns around to face him, brows lifted in turn to show she’s taking an interest, aware of the importance of what he’s saying. “Understandable.” Now she saunters her way back to where he’s standing in the doorway, her eyes on his.

Since he’s got his cuffs free, she’ll start work on loosening that tie. “Then are you telling me the condition is that I can stay here, but I have to stay here?” No wandering about New York City like a stray cat this time, maybe. Even if she does technically have every right to. “Or are you warning me this is a one-night arrangement and you’ll be cutting me loose in the morning?” She gives no indication as to which supposition she prefers to be reality. “I can find somewhere else to be, if that’s what you need from me.”

Ace's eyes half-lid at something in Odessa's tone, his entertainment with the flow of the conversation visibly fading. "The former, and for now. I thought that was clear." With a slight cant of his head, he lifts his hand to take hold of her wrist. "This can be permanent— so long as you do not abuse my generosity. Respect the framework and there will be no problem."

"That's what I need from you," he indicates, his other hand settling on her waist, pulling her that much closer. "To commit to a different life."

Sliding his grip around her wrist further down her forearm, he advises, "I am not going to babysit you. It is up to you to prove yourself worthy of that effort, of that trust. To prove to yourself you are capable of it." Ace's mouth purses into a thin line. "Jeopardize me, or jeopardize yourself, and there will be no forgiveness."

"As for now," he says more softly still, glancing for a moment to the bed. "I would be delighted to help you find your feet again." His hand around her waist lowers further still, eyebrow arching. His fingers wind their way under the wrap of the shirt she's wearing, grazing bare skin underneath.

“It is now.” Clear, that is, where he wants her to be from here. Her movements still when he takes hold of her wrist, fingers lifting from the silk around his neck that she’s just worked free from its knot, splaying out in front of her as if to show she means no harm. She turns her attention back up to his face then, listening attentively to the ground rules and expectations.

A smirk quirks up one corner of her mouth as he wraps his free arm around her and draws her in. “I can be good,” she promises, no sheepishness about her. She’s aware of her past shortcomings. If she hadn’t decided she was safe to venture out to see him, they wouldn’t be having this conversation now. “I request only your patience and clear communication, but expect anything else must be earned.”

She doesn’t need to follow his gaze to know that it’s shifted to the bed. The touch of his hand over her back sends an anticipatory shiver running through her. Odessa closes her eyes and exhales heavily. “God, I’ve been dreaming of this since the last time I saw you,” she admits in a thin voice.

Now her free hand comes up to curl fingers around the back of his neck, her thumb along his jawline. “I want this,” she murmurs, opening her eyes again so he can see she’s sincere. He’d been concerned she didn’t know what she was truly inviting on herself the last time they met. She means to make it clear that she doesn’t need him to ask her again. Her head tilts back slightly, prepared to receive his lips against hers, or provide easier access to her throat. The quickened pulse can be seen faintly in that fractionally craned neck, felt under the thumb pressed into the inside of her arm.

Ace doesn't offer up the same verbal confirmation, the same agreement to the conditions Odessa lays out for her terms of success. He whiles away the time she speaks by letting his fingertips drag underneath the back of her shirt, nails grazing her skin. They wind their way back around her side, grabbing her by the hip. He holds her that way long enough for it to be felt, then tightens his grasp about her forearm before roughly directing her against the wall beside the doorway.

"Good." he says to her murmur, right before he finds her neck with his mouth, leaning into her. The hand directing her hip falls, seeking the hemline of her skirt and curving his fingers around the back of her thigh. He shakes his head as he lifts it, neck still craned down to her. "For how much fun we had together last time, I'd hoped that wasn't the end of it."

"Let's begin," Ace decides, pulling her back from the wall with a mischievous glint to his eye. No mask, all eager anticipation. The red of Odessa's shirt goes billowing away as she's freed of it. "Our encore performance."

"May it be the first of many more."

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