That Tangible Foundation of Love and Trust


ace_icon.gif everleigh_icon.gif odessa4_icon.gif

Scene Title That Tangible Foundation of Love and Trust
Synopsis Ace and Odessa seek help from Everleigh in bolstering their relationship.
Date February 21, 2021

Dr. Everleigh Madison's Office

The "waiting area" of Everleigh Madison's office is almost more of a formality. It's there to serve the purpose of keeping people out of the cold and give them a moment to compose themselves before being invited into the office proper. The reception desk is unmanned, instead taken over by a neat stack of clip boards with questionnaires, a self-filtering water cooler, and a collection of magazines: all vintage ones in their pre-1980s glory. It isn't really a waiting room because, for the most part, she's wise enough to spread appointments out generously so as not to cause anyone to run into anyone else.

Privacy, after all, was a valuable commodity.

The door leading to Dr. Madison's office is open, the faint hint of lavender in the air from inside, with the gentle sound of teacups being arranged audible from just outside the door frame. It is, after all, meant to be a therapeutic and comforting place. Or, at least, give off that impression.

But the waiting room serves its purpose as limbo before purgatory in that once inside, once exposed to the calming aura that Everleigh's office puts off, Harry Stoltz stops in the doorway and moves no further. His hands stay in the pocket of his overcoat, tightening into fists.

The man underneath his mask is snarling that this place tastes like a trap. The scent is designed to disarm, and sets him on edge for it. He holds that much more tightly to his claws.

"Odessa," he says to her quietly, lips unmoving. Like they're in a life-or-death situation requiring whispers— not paused in the entryway to a therapist's office. "Keep your ability off."

Well familiar with Dr. Madison’s office, Odessa takes comfort here. The scent brings her to close her eyes and breathe in deep as she wanders her way to the middle of the waiting room. It’s a quiet delight that she doesn’t have to immediately bee line for a chair to rest. There’s no cane with her today.

There’s trust built up within her, to be here. If she didn’t trust, she’d never have brought her fiancé here.

Odessa’s head swivels to him when he says her name, her eyes open now and her gaze sharpening. It doesn’t last. As always, she softens for him, yields. The heels of her pumps sound on the floor as she crosses back to him to bring her hands up with a deliberate slowness, cradling his face in them ever so gently.

“Ace,” she says in the softest voice, “my artist, my love. Mon phare.” Her thumbs caress his cheekbones with the lightest of touches. “I cannot thrive if you do not help me soar. Trust me, my darling. This will be worth it.”

In other words, no.

He lifts both his hands to take hers, palms covering over her knuckles and pulling her away gently like her fingers might have hooks in them that could harm him if he yanked them away too quickly, or at the wrong angle. Ace's eyes burn with an unpleasant green fire. "Oh, of that, I have no doubt," he assures her in a flat whisper.

"But I do not need my internal compunctions to distract you here. For you to…" His eyes flutter closed as he wills himself calm and steady, grasp around her hands tightening. "This is not going to be enjoyable for me. But it will be educational, and therefore worth it, no? The point is that we develop better communication, is it not? So," he encourages her with a tense purpose to it. "Let us work on that. With all the tools we both share."

"Please," he repeats in a hissed whisper.

There’s a flash in Odessa’s eyes, but it’s not defiance. It’s not quite fear, either. As usual, she’s the first to give, breaking eye contact by turning her face away, tipping it down toward her shoulder. But when he speaks again, her gaze slants up to try and catch sight of him. The effort is met with only partial success, but it’s enough.

Enough for him to see the worry in her expression when he grasps her tighter. Slowly, she nods with an acquiescent, “yes, sir,” closing her eyes and sagging visibly as she disconnects herself from her ability. When it’s over, she lifts her head again to fix Ace with a vaguely wounded gaze. His intentions seem good, but his delivery is found lacking.

This is why they’re here.

The last thing she feels from him is an edge of frustration along with a sense of defeat of his own. Then, by design, nothing. But she can see the furrow of his brow before he brings her knuckles to his mouth, pressing them to his lips. He sighs audibly through his nose.

This is why they're here.

Ace slips the mask of Harry back into place, the angles in his expression softening. When he lowers his arms, one hand still stays curled about hers to fix him to her side. "Thank you," he's sure to murmur, his green-grey eyes placid if a little uncertain as he regards the open office door once more, and they together take their steps toward it.

Then through it.

"Dr. Madison, yes?" Of course she is. "Harry Stoltz, it's a pleasure to meet you." The smile he presents the woman the office belongs to is small, maybe a tinge timid. Harry carries himself well-dressed and with an easy confidence, a dark overcoat worn over a beige suit, white dress shirt, and pale green tie. He turns his freckled face away from her directly to cast a glance around the comfortable space, taking it in with a flick of a glance before he looks back to Ourania née Odessa at his side.

"Everleigh is fine unless you're fond of an overly clinical approach," Dr. Madison explains, gesturing towards the couch and the coffee table with the tea set on it. "If you're interested in something to drink, the tea's freshly brewed. Vanilla chai's in the pot, but there's hot water and tea bags in the corner if that's not to your liking."

There's a long pause. "Also, if the need to throw a cup comes up, please do me the favor of giving me a warning. I'd like to put down a tarp so the glass doesn't get everywhere. And maybe pick one of the uglier mugs." Everleigh smiles, although it's hard to tell if she's being entirely serious or if it's supposed to be a joke. Maybe a little of both.

"It is certainly a pleasure to meet you though. May I call you Harry or, again, are you fond of the overly clinical approach?"

For her part, given her secret identity, and her court-mandated therapist’s awareness of it, Ourania prefers the simple monogram of O. She casts an encouraging smile to her partner that serves also as an insistence that all is well, despite their earlier tension.

“She let me throw one of the ugly ones into the trash bin once,” Ourania says of the mugs. “It was very satisfying.” This has to be a joke, right?

That smile is turned to the other doctor in the room. “Thank you for agreeing to see both of us, Everleigh.” Ourania’s hand firms around Harry’s briefly as she moves to make her way to the couch she sits on every session, hoping he’ll follow and join her.

"Is that how a first glance at me reads?" Harry wonders with an arch of an eyebrow, in good humor as he asks, at least. Commentary that he'd refrain from such childish behavior is bitten back when it appears Ourania's partaken in this particular stress-relieving exercise. He firms his hand around his partner's in a gesture of his commitment to her and his being here, waiting for her lead to take them to a seat.

"I'm fine, please," he assures regarding drinks. "And Harry is all right, thank you." Slipping off his coat, he folds it in half by sandwiching it over his arm before setting it next to them, setting the collar face-up at the couch's ledge. Easy to pick up when he's ready to go, but for now… He smiles small before settling back into his seat.

If they're going to be here for an hour, he might as well get comfortable.

"Do you often have people throwing things at you?" Harry wonders sympathetically. "That request of yours makes me wonder. A little too detailed to have been entirely a joke just to break the ice."

A half a beat later and he's glancing at Ourania, slipping his hand back into her palm, lacing their fingers together should she allow it.

Everleigh laughs. "I wouldn't say people throw things at me. But different people have different needs and ways of dealing with things and sometimes having a physical object to throw just feels cathartic." As she makes her way to the nearby armchair to make herself comfortable, she glances around. "Honestly, though, I don't like to use appearances to judge someone upon first meeting them. Tends to be less of them and more of what they want the world to see."

She gives a nod in Ourania's direction. "Of course, I'm more than happy to see you both." For Harry's benefit, she gestures at the office itself. "The reason this office looks the way it does is because I've found that people tend to be a little more comfortable in something that doesn't feel like a sterile office. Giving a feeling of comfort and allowing people to do what they need to get through what they need to is pretty important. The decor isn't to everyone's taste, but I find it's suitable for the majority of my patients."

Ourania gives Harry a little shrug of one shoulder with a look of clearly feigned innocence that asks so what if I’m one of the people who throws things? That’s not quite the truth anyway. Odessa Price has come a long way from I could kill you before security ever got through the door. The occasional controlled destruction of a coffee mug is nothing.

Her own coat is shed and folded to drape over the arm on her side of the couch, but not with the forethought Harry has regarding its retrieval later. Ourania’s hand finds Harry’s again easily, lacing her fingers with him to help bolster his resolve to be here. This is for them. So they can stay strong. Get even stronger. Be better as a couple.

She offers a smile to him, encouraging, however small it is. “Why don’t you tell Everleigh what you’re hoping to get out of this, love?”

What he's hoping to get out of this.

There's a pause as Harry feels the weight of the conversational ball shift into his lap, meeting Ourania's eyes for a moment before he turns his face back toward Everleigh. His fingers remain in that twine with his partner's, firming invisibly around them just a little more tightly.

It keeps the tenor of his voice even and conversational as he admits, "O and I have run into some communication issues quite recently." Where else to start but there? "For such a long time, we didn't have any of those. There was once, maybe twice we've run into issues in the past, but very abruptly it's like neither one of us knows what the other one is thinking anymore." His eyes half-lid in pensiveness, shifting off of the woman seated across from him briefly before he looks back, his head canting slightly as he finds the heart of the issue.

"I felt a risk I might lose her," Harry offers up very plainly. "I don't want to. She's my partner, and I want to rectify… whatever it is that's gone wrong." He resumes a more proper posture, fingers loosening from the firm weave they had around Ourania's fingers. "I would like us to be right again, and not for it to feel like a temporary thing."

Everleigh listens, taking a moment to glance between Ourania and Harry. "I feel like people are naturally bad at communication. The first step here, I'd say, is to have O give her input." Her gaze goes to focus on the other woman in the room. "What I'm hearing is that the problem is in communicating thoughts well, fear that it might pull you apart, and uncertainty as to why the problem has cropped up in the first place. Would you agree with that assessment or is there more you'd like to add to it?"

Ourania brushes her thumb back and forth across the side of Harry’s hand, silent praise for having said what needed saying. There’s only the briefest moment of mild surprise to have the question turned back on her. She hadn’t expected it to be redirected so quickly, but… It has to come out sometime, doesn’t it?

“I think that was an accurate assessment of Harry’s perception,” Ourania replies diplomatically, “yes.” Problem is that one person in this room has a PhD in calling her on her bullshit, and the other will do it because it rankles. She looks down at her lap where her free hand is now worrying at her skirt. “I think we’ve had communication problems for a long time.”

She doesn’t leave that to hang long, lest Harry think she’s pinning more than his fair share of blame on him. “That’s my fault. I haven’t been an effective communicator until more recently. I’ve kept a lot of my thoughts and feelings to myself because I haven’t felt safe to express them.” Ourania lifts her head quickly, squeezing her partner’s hand. “Which has nothing to do with you,” she assures him. “I’ve just been hurt so many times…”

Her eyes close and nobody needs her ability to know that just admitting that much hurts her now. “But,” Ourania continues, her attention back on Everleigh with a shy smile, “Harry’s not like that. I… want to spend my life with him. That means I need to get better at telling him what’s on my mind, how I feel and what I want in the moment, not just what I hope and dream for down the line, in a fantasy world where everything’s turned out perfect.”

And if that were as simply achieved as it is spoken, they wouldn’t be here right now.

The fact Ourania puts the blame on herself here makes it no easier, no more comfortable for Harry. How can he rectify an issue he's unaware of? When she clarifies there's a lot she's simply borne for his sake, even if she doesn't say it, there's a twinge of his jaw.

In many ways, it feels like they've opened Pandora's box, and he's uncertain he'll survive the storm of ills unleashed. But he's here, at least, to try and have better tools to tame it with.

"Where do you even start with that?" he asks Everleigh directly.


Everleigh glances between the two. “Communication is hard, but it comes easier the more you trust someone. Trust is hard too, especially after trauma.” She takes a moment to dwell on Ourania’s words before she sits forward a bit. “You already know exactly why communication is hard for you, you admitted you’re afraid. You’ve been hurt.” She gives Harry a slight nod before she shifts her weight and her focus fully onto Ourania.

“Are you afraid of being hurt again, or is there more to it than that?”

With a squeeze, Ourania slips her fingers free from Harry’s. It’s not a symbolic withdrawal by any means, just a practical one as she scoots to the edge of her seat to pour herself a cup of that vanilla chai while she organizes her thoughts. It allows her to keep her focus off her partner without it being obvious that she’s having a hard time looking in his direction at the moment.

Everleigh’s attention provides another great excuse. Ourania brings her cup and saucer up to settle carefully on her knee as she nods her head to show she’s heard the question. “I think it’s more than that. Obviously, I’m afraid of being hurt again. I’m… conditioned for it. It’s not anything to do with Harry. It just is.” She shrugs, feeling helpless against the patterns she’s trapped in. “I’m afraid of disappointing him. I’ve learned in the past that if I disappoint, then I’m discarded. Or worse.” That trauma they’ve alluded to.

The blonde’s expression is blank, miles away from the table she stares down at. “I try to conform to what other people want. I always have, because it’s what kept me safe. I don’t know how to be myself. I don’t know who that is. I don’t know what that looks like. But more and more I found I was having to ignore my thoughts and my feelings in order to keep being who I thought Harry wanted me to be.”

Ourania lifts her head, turning toward Harry hesitantly. “So I stopped. I started talking more about my preferences, my needs. And… I think Harry likes this version of me better.” She searches his face for some kind of confirmation or a tell that would give away his thoughts on the matter. So badly she wants to activate her ability so she’ll know his feelings, but she promised him.

Hands folding before him once they're released to their own devices, Harry's expression is hard to read for signs of deeper emotion. He's there, actively listening with an air of sympathy, but he gives Ourania as much privacy as he can while she explains her side of things.

That ability being off keeps him a cipher wearing a thoughtful air. "I want her to be free to be herself," he affirms. "Outside of the expectations others have for her and of her. I want her to explore and to know."

"That she continues to choose me every day even after learning more, sharing more… well." Harry wears a small smile to go with his pensiveness.

There’s a hopeful look from Ourania as Harry shows he’s listening and begins to affirm his support of her quest for self-discovery. Except for the second part. The expectations others have for her and of her. Unknowingly, her shoulders sag a little. It’s living up to all those expectations that will keep her from believing she can ever truly be herself. Whoever that happens to be.

Right on cue, however, the blonde turns her head to smile fondly at her partner. “And the more I share,” she counters, “I’m pleasantly surprised you continue to choose me.”

Everleigh offers a bit of a smile herself. "Exploring who you are and determining what it is you need and want is an important thing, and it's good that you're supportive of her in that." She lets her gaze move back to Ourania. "It involves a lot of trust. I’ve often found that it’s in human nature to try to and create an impression on someone, to cultivate what you think will be favorable to them.”

The woman’s gaze moves back and forth, a careful assessment of each before she sits back a little. “Do you,” Everleigh levels her gaze on Harry now, “think you’re giving her the same openness and honesty or do you feel as if you are holding yourself back from her?”

Everleigh’s affirmations help. Ourania nods along to indicate she understands the deeper meaning to what her therapist is trying to convey to her. Or… maybe there’s no deeper meaning at all, and she’s ascribing it all herself. Taking the words and applying them as she feels pertinent. Human nature is all at once a thing foreign to her and yet the most base part of her. The level at which she operated for so long. Anything to survive. Thriving barely entered the equation.

Everyone talks about Odessa Price, the duplicitous bitch. The deceiver. The traitor. No one ever considers her side of things. No one considers how she got to the point where she accepted trust without intent to live up to it.

Trust is something she gave so often, only to have it betrayed.

To her credit, when Dr. Madison asks her question, Ourania doesn’t look in the direction of her betrothed, and instead looks down at her hands, affording him the same facsimile of privacy he gave to her.

Harry's smile thins some with Everleigh's observation. Regardless of how passive she meant the comment to be, it doesn't come off entirely that way to him. It feels like an accusation, as though he were creating an impression on her by encouraging her freedom. Just providing her an opportunity because it's favorable to him.

Because yes, that was the idea, wasn't it?

Without Ourania's ability to chart the stars of his emotions, to help her see which one burns and at what intensity, she's exposed to the same well-formed pause that Everleigh is when Harry takes his time in answering. "I'm struggling," he finally confesses thoughtfully. "To come up with anything I've not been open with her about."

“I want a bigger house, with a garden.” She shrugs her shoulders lightly. “Maybe a dog.” Then she looks away again, too embarrassed and ashamed to maintain eye contact — afraid of the moment the light in his eyes dies — when she puts the cherry atop her fantasy sundae. “A couple of kids.”

She places the last flourish on the domestic desire of hers, and it's good she's better at hiding her face than he is at finding it. He stills.

This went a different sort of dark than he'd expected it would.

Rather than let her see what he wrestles with, he comes to rest his forehead against her cheek. He brushes it back and forth against it gently. It's affection, delicate and reassuring that he pours himself into. The arm braced around her side ends in a tense fist, however, tendons highlighted on his forearm. Should she still avoid his face, that's plainly enough seen, despite all his best efforts otherwise.

Because god, he wants more for her.

"Anything that I kept to myself…"

The plastic cover lands with a muted clunk as Ace tosses it aside. There's a poisonous edge to the gleam in his eye as the white slice on the end stands in affront to his very being.


Misplaced anger finally finds its way out over the existence of the mundane, plain flavor. He reaches and grabs the slice with enough force it's squished slightly by his grasp. Crumbs trail behind; small little displaced chunks falling from his hand as he storms across the empty kitchen to the trash can, stands on the button to open the lid, and hurls the cake to the bottom of the bag.

"Well, it's already made its way out," Harry explains mildly. "For a while, we both tried to play roles we thought would be most favorable to the other."

"You've pushed me, too. Made me adapt, and I've given you more than I would for anyone else," Ace points out with more anger than anything. He seethes. "The vanilla shit you love that I don't, I've done more than just endure and engage in only when you ask. This street goes both fucking ways, O. You've made sure it does."

"Through the process, we've found several topics our desires don't exactly align on. For better or worse, she knows my opinions on them." He doesn't reach for her in this moment, not for her sake, nor for his. They both needed to accept it was fine they carried these differences between them, after all. To not try and force the other into moulds they'd ill-fit and loathe.


"I think," Harry admits carefully. "I could have been less harsh in my honesty."

Everleigh sinks back into the couch. It's a gesture to make herself seem smaller, unobtrusive. It's meant to give them their own space, much as they had given space to each other. While she does speak, her tone is soft, food for thought for continued conversation more than something to interject herself into.

"O, do you feel like you've been hurt by the way he expresses himself?"

Ourania lifts her head only when she realizes it’s her turn to speak again. The reactions she’s had to Harry’s words have been kept to herself. He’s right after all, isn’t he? “Everyone has their differences,” is how she chooses to address that at all. “Favorite colors, books to read, movies to watch, restaurants to eat at…” Like the troubles they may be experiencing are so trivial as whether to paint the living room dusty orchid or dove grey.

“I don’t think there’s any particular problem with the way Harry expresses his thoughts.”

Odessa laughs with a giddy nervousness. She's wearing her green sheath dress and a pair of silver silk high heels. He hasn't seen her wear heels for more than show since her transformation. She's dressed like she expects to go out. “You’re home early!” Her tone says elation.

Her eyes say panic.

It's the heels which draw his attention. "Going somewhere?" he asks with an edge to it, bolting the door behind him. His eyes narrow.

Odessa shakes her head quickly. “No. I just… felt like getting dressed up, that’s all.” She glances away to the kitchen briefly before coming back to him with a renewed smile to accompany it. “I missed you,” she sing-songs.

He catches the glance to the kitchen with venomous precision, suspicion boiling over. "And I you," Ace answers in return, far too calmly. He brusquely pushes past her to come around the corner into the living space, gun slipped from his waistband. Jealousy is behind the fling of his arm as he leads with it, expression cold.

There’s a surprised squeak as Odessa rocks backward, catching herself on the wall when she’s pushed back. “Ace, please wait! I swear this isn’t what it looks like!”

There’s no one present in the kitchen – not readily apparent anyway – but there is…

A platter with several different slices of cake?

“I wanted to surprise you,” Odessa pouts, slowly and cautiously trailing behind. “Happy birthday?”

“I’m the one who has the bad habit of holding back.”

She recognizes the sound of his wingtips, heard them on the warehouse concrete countless times. She’d know his stride anywhere, however cautious he may be now.

“Thank you,” Odessa says once he’s within earshot, not bothering to seek the visual confirmation first. That’s left to hang in the space between them for a time, the time it takes him to finish his approach. “Thank you for reminding me that I’m not special.”

Ace slows his approach when she speaks first, his steps taking him wide of her. His face is a mask, placid save for the twitch of his brow that silently demands explanation.

Turning then, she gives him the full view of her flat expression. Whatever it is that he’s done – and surely, he has no idea what it is, because he never does – it’s cut her so deep that she can’t even bring herself to show that pain. “You don’t even see what you do to me.”

"What are you talking about?" he asks slowly. "Odessa–" Ace can't even devise what to follow that with, how to temper it from not being emotionally-driven in all the ways it shouldn't be.

Her head tilts to one side. She’s just tired. Tired of the emotional drain he has on her with his carelessness. His inability to connect if she doesn’t tell him that’s what she needs. There are moments when he is so good, but the moments like these just deplete her empathic batteries.

“Even the things – the intimacies I thought were ours…” Odessa gives him the smile of the jaded. “It’s just you working to get what you want. It’s always about you.” She takes a drag off her cigarette and looks away, disgusted.

Ace's shoulders settle, his eyes not leaving her. He owes her – he owes himself that much. To look her in the eye and not forget or overlook what's happening here in the middle of this warehouse. He feels himself grow colder, the warmth of her receding from him.

In so many ways, it feels like.

When she returns her attention to him again and gives him the benefit of the full view of her face, she’s struggling to hold back tears. “You’re just an appetite.” This, she sees now, is the truth of him. And it’s so difficult to absorb, to accept, to watch play out in front of her. “And if you stopped being greedy, you’d die.”

Odessa draws in a ragged breath, willing herself not to cry. Not over him. “You take all that I’ll give to you, and then more, because you’ve decided I can endure it.” Her slender shoulders shrug, helpless against this indifference of his caused by his lack of that which she cannot rid herself of.

“And I’m empty.”

Ace is speechless.

“When we make mistakes, we each own our parts.”

He angrily runs a hand back through his hair and turns away, beginning to pace. "This was a fucking mistake," Ace spits at the wall rather than at Odessa directly. "I should have told you no to this. Now look what's fucking happened."

“When we have our differences, his approach is very even.”

It’s only once she’s managed to dry her face again that Odessa asks the most dangerous question she could right now. “Do you regret this? Do you regret me? Bringing me into your home, inviting me to share in your world?”

Ace's grace begins to slip from him at that question. He begins to slowly shake his head, incredulous. "If you leave now," he declares, "I'll regret all of this. Every last second of it. It will have been a colossal waste of time, and I'll regret not having just killed you when I should have– saved myself a year of headaches." As flippant as that is, he furrows his brow with something more poignant in his eyes when he looks back to her.

If he did, by some miracle, decide to allow her to drift from his orbit, there would still be a tether holding her nearby. One that – if she tried to break, to escape from – would bring to her even more danger. Odessa owes far too much to Gideon d’Sarthe to be permitted to walk away from his organization, no matter how messy the break-up. And without the wall of protection Ace represents, the vultures will come circling.

They know something dead when they see it.

“But we trust each other, you know?” Ourania smiles fondly. “We’ve worked hard on that. That trust. I love him, and he loves me.”

"Stop this," he begs her in another shaking, fervent whisper. "Stop trying to tear us apart. Odessa, I love you, so stop this game you've decided to play where you're deliberately misleading me. Stop it. You want to know what would make me happy? That."

Is he…?

Maybe the way his eyes drink in the light is just a trick of the moment. But they gleam as he holds onto her desperately.

"I gave you my trust. I trusted you, when you said what you did tonight. When you said what would make you happy. So please, for the love of god, Odessa— don't lie to me and tell me your happiness doesn't matter."

Odessa lets out a single broken sob before wrapping her arms tightly around Ace and burying her face against his chest.

"I can't change who I am, but you're changing the longer you have that ability." It's easier to blame it than her freedom showing her who she really is when unbound. "Into someone I sometimes have difficulty recognizing."

"I just want things to be right between us again," he sighs with a wistful agony. "And I don't know how to make that so. How do we find our catharsis? What will it take for us to leave tonight without irreparable damage?"

His commentary about her ability and what it does to her isn’t something she necessarily has a counter for. Not one that won’t spark another argument, anyway. She wouldn’t say it’s an invalid observation. Odessa might, however, suggest that it isn’t that she’s becoming unrecognizable. That it’s more likely he never took the time to study her before, to get the complete picture. She’s been this way far longer than he realizes, but he’s only noticing it the longer he studies the shapes and planes of her.

“I want that too.” In case he might be beginning to worry that she doesn’t wish to mend what they have. “I love you until it hurts,” she whispers, like her heart might be in a vise grip. And frequently, it’s true. “And then beyond that.” Of all the bridges she’s burned, the ones she’s set fire to for Ace Callahan are the ones that have caused her the most pain. She may as well have stood atop the pyre and waited for the flames to reach her. The anguish would at least have had an endpoint.

And yet, Ourania stares in her lap instead of flashing a smile to her partner. “I… guess it isn’t always the smooth sailing we’d like it to be. That’s why we’re here.”

The last thing Harry wants to do at this point is speak for his partner, but he becomes painfully aware of the avoidance in her reply and isn't certain what else to do except paint in some of the image Ourania keeps mum on. His tongue presses to the roof of his mouth before he looks to Everleigh, a shift in his expression.

A calculation is made— a decision weighed. They came here for a reason after all, didn't they?

"Even when given the opportunity to do otherwise, she continues to put me before herself," he explains evenly, his voice dipping away from affable in favor of being blunt. "If she thinks there's something I'd prefer, she defers to that. It's a defense mechanism; aims to keep me happy as a partner, even if it runs with assumptions regarding what my desires actually are."

"She… has the best of intentions," Harry acknowledges. "And hides behind them at times."

His weight shifts, a glance afforded to Ourania by his side before he looks back to Everleigh. "The clearest, most visible instance I can think of… was the weekend trip when I proposed. It was a surprise trip, so I had a bag prepared for her when we woke up Christmas Day. I didn't pack anything green for her, purposefully. I didn't want any misconstruances to come from selecting a wardrobe that catered to my tastes. I didn't want her to feel as though she had to be anything for my sake."

His eyes half-lid at the memory. "Before we left… she'd put on green make-up. When we changed for dinner, she revealed she'd snuck on a green belt under her sweater before we'd left. Believe me, I was touched, but…"

Harry shakes his head once. "She gives me more than I ever ask for from her. Her devotion and desire to showcase it lends her to…" He dithers with the wording, unable to find the one he wants. With a touch of a frown, he relents, "Give more of herself than she might have to give."

"It's interesting," Everleigh remarks, sitting forward a bit as her gaze moves between the two. She's observing. Studying. "You're both explaining the other person to me. You're both speaking for the actions of the other's thoughts and feelings but from your own perspective. Instead of choosing to speak for yourself and your own feelings, you both attempt to analyze what the other person could want instead of listening to them."

She offers a smile as she repositions her seated position. "I don't mean that in any sort of judgmental way, so please don't take it as such, but I have a feeling the two of you have sort of… grown around each other. You've lost touch with each other because your mind fills in blanks where there's silence."

As if to somehow illustrate her point, she pauses the conversation, sitting in silence. Perhaps intentional, perhaps to regather her thoughts, but it's certainly less seconds than it probably feels.

Everleigh cracks a small smile at the end of the silence. "You both have already proved to one another the commitment to having things be better between you. That's a fact, not an opinion. You both are sitting here, you both are attempting to open up. Regardless of whatever else you get out of this, you have both concretely offered an act of love, an act of concern for your partner."

"So building from that tangible foundation of love and trust, a solid place to stand, I'm not seeing either of you fully opening yourself to each other." The doctor's eyes move to Ourania again. It's a focused look and she leans forward. "O, the question I asked you before was if you'd been hurt by the way he's spoken about things. You didn't answer that. Both of you are willing to defend the actions and motives of the other. But I want to know how you feel. Both of you as individuals."

Everleigh rests her elbow on her knee, chin in her hand. "Tell me how you feel about your relationship, O. Not about Harry's qualities or traits, no praises on what you like about him, I want to know about what you feel. Is it a wonderful feeling? Terrifying? Is it the driving force of your life or the sprinkles on top of your life's sundae? The good and the bad, how you feel is just as important as the intent behind an action."

Her eyes shift briefly towards Harry. "I'm going to ask you the same question, but not quite yet. Don't think about how you'll answer it, as tempting as it is to prepare in advance to have a well thought out response. Instead, just take the moment to really listen to what she's saying. Even if she feels something you didn't intend to make her feel, it's important to understand that it's still how she feels. Feelings aren't always logical."

There’s a clear desire in Ourania to say something when Harry mentions their trip, and the ways she’d worked green into her style choices, but she holds her tongue. That’s not the issue at hand, it’s merely an example. All the same, she turns her face away from Harry to avoid letting him see the misery on it. She avoids all eye contact to afford herself the illusion of privacy in this moment where she feels nothing but failure. Like she’d been presented with a test and only now has come to find she didn’t pass, when she’d thought she had all the right answers..

The side of her knuckle has just pressed against the underside of Ourania’s nose, helping to muffle the small sniffling sound when Everleigh calls her attention again. “I… I suppose I didn’t answer the first question, did I?” And for a moment, it seems like she might just leave it at that. The silence she holds stretches on almost as long and almost as uncomfortably as the one the therapist had treated them to.

“We don’t have to compromise on much,” is how she chooses to begin. “We’re very often of one mind, and it’s why we usually work so well together.” And why they also have a tendency to lock horns. “But… When we do have to make concessions, I often feel like I’m the one who’s expected to give something up for our sake.”

As she goes on, her jaw sets tight. “I’m not entirely sure how to explain what I mean. If I’m the one with a complaint about an activity, I’m encouraged to step out of my comfort zone and just try, even if it isn’t for the first time, because this might be the time I learn to love it. But when there’s something I enjoy that I’d like us to do together, if it isn’t something he enjoys, it isn’t worth doing. He’ll find some alternative that isn’t what I wanted, but he thinks is good enough.”

Ourania’s chin lifts, giving her pout a haughty affect. “He belittles the things I enjoy that he doesn’t care for.” His words feel like they’re burned into her skin. “But then… he does the sweetest things. Like surprise me with crystalline snowflakes suspended above our bed, or take me to see a frozen waterfall. When I said I’d never seen live theatre before, he planned an outing for us so I could have that experience.”

A series of rapid blinks does nothing to clear the threat of tears from her blue eyes. “Most of the time, Harry is everything I need, but when he means to cut, he cuts so deep that I know I’ll never make a full recovery.”

Every single word she’s just spoken is regretted once she falls quiet, but she doesn’t scramble to beg forgiveness. She can do that away from Dr. Madison’s prying eyes.

Harry keeps his silence, gaze drifting in and out of focus. Everleigh's observations are astute, perhaps. But how to address them? His expression loses its presence in the moment when given a hard look after she invites Ourania to air her feelings.

Feelings aren't always logical, Dr. Madison reminds them. He knows well. It's why he avoids miring himself in them. They needlessly complicate matters almost as a rule, to the point of repulsion in some cases. Unconsciously, he settles back into the couch while Ourania works through her thoughts. It provides an outward appearance of him reaffirming his presence. It also stands to put as much distance between him and Everleigh as is physically possible, presently.

His jaw sets by the time Ourania finishes airing how she feels, his own attention back on Everleigh for her interpretation of things. It's a dare, almost— a challenge to tell him what he needs to do to fix those feelings— as much as an earnest ask for those very same things.

Harry's hand parts from his side to roll the backs of his knuckles across his partner's thigh, half-curled fingers silently offered palm up for her to press hers into if she desires.

Everleigh gives a warm and compassionate look towards Ourania, but she turns her gaze instead to Harry. "It might be hard, but try not to feel the need to address or explain yourself for any of these things. They're her feelings. It may not be what you see as accurate, it may not follow logic to you, but they're things she feels. Those are the things she wants you to understand from her perspective."

She notes the offered hand between them with a slight shift of her gaze, but it's not something she comments on. "It might not seem like a lot in this moment, but I have a feeling telling her you love her and trust her in this moment might do a world of good. Sometimes even if things are known, they need to be said."

With that, she sits back a moment, as if to give the two a touch of privacy to interact.

Ourania looks down at the offered hand briefly, weighing whether or not she should suspect it of being a trap. Not taking it would send the worse message even if she sets her hand in his and finds it being crushed in his grip.

Her hand fits into his neatly. Lifting her head, she looks up to him apologetically. “Sometimes you just really destroy me with the things you say. And I feel like we never really work through it. We just… sweep it under the rug. I feel like I’m just expected to forget it, and that’s that. I have to let it go, so we can continue on harmoniously, because that’s what we both want.”

At first, she looks away entirely again, but she manages to bring herself back to where their hands are joined, if no further than that. “I feel like that’s weaponized against me sometimes.”

Harry's hand firms around hers without a trace of discomfort to be found in its pressure. It's a silent acknowledgement of what she's said, a receipt of it. All right, Ourania. You've been heard.

"This isn't a sacrifice only you make," he tells her softly, all offense removed from his voice, the words void of defense as well.

As requested.

"I don't think you properly appreciate all the ways you ask for things I'm not capable of, O," Harry goes on just as gently as before. "And how I try to give them to you anyway." His thumb brushes over the backs of her knuckles before he eases the lace of his fingers around hers.

"You know why I try anyway," Harry is certain. He cants his head. "I want you in my life, and I understand this requires a certain amount of sacrifice. I want a partner, and though we are so similar, we still… have differences." Disappointment twinges in his voice, and his eyes drop to the fold of their hands as well.

He considers her hand in his a moment longer before his voice lifts in tone, but not volume. His words here are meant for her, rather than the room. "But," he interjects, eyes on the curve of her knuckle. "A thing isn't always perfect because it is without imperfections, rather because it possesses something that makes it stand out above the rest, my love. This… is something I have come to realize applies to this relationship of ours as well."

They're talking. Which is, of course, the entire goal.

Instead of offering another question or suggestion to prompt the couple, Everleigh remains still. Like someone who's seen something beautiful in the wild and is afraid to scare it off, she remains in a comfortable relaxed position and makes no moves or motion to interrupt. While she's not going to simply walk out of her office to give them their privacy, this is the next best thing she can offer.

She seems more than content to simply let the conversation flow.

It’s incredibly difficult for Ourania not to take Harry’s words to heart in a way that doesn’t hurt her. She wants to fire back some kind of retort, but that’s just a reaction of immediate defensiveness, not one born of rationality. And she does pride herself on her rationality. It’s just that she used to be able to take all the time in the world to work through those initial reactions so she could respond coolly.

Does he sacrifice for her? Does he sacrifice his physical comfort? Apart from the one area, where she asks permission or for reassurance that he’s comfortable with her touching his face or neck, she can’t imagine a situation in which she demands anything from him in which he might find physical aversion. Can his reluctance to connect emotionally or with softness really compare with what she gives to him?

It’s the dissatisfaction in his tone that really guts her, though. It knocks the wind out of her sails and keeps her from saying something in the heat of the moment. Where his grip firms, hers loosens, disheartened in the worst way to be a disappointment to him.

“I’m sorry,” she whispers. Now it’s time for the knee jerk reaction to go the other way. “I’m trying,” she promises. “I’m not— I’m not good at this.” This isn’t the longest relationship she’s had, but it hasn’t been punctuated by gunfire, so that must count for something. “I don’t know how to be a good partner, other than to give myself away piece by piece in order to build you up. And— and you don’t even want that, so what am I supposed to do?

Ourania’s forgotten Everleigh’s even in the room now, which is of course by the doctor’s design. “And you tell me to be myself, but you don’t even want that. When I’m most myself, you tell me you don’t like the changes I’m going through.” She looks up at her partner, eyes glistening with tears yet unshed. “I— I know what you need me to be so that you’ll want to keep me, but I can’t… I can’t be that person again.” That blonde head gives a shake. “I try to do something nice for you, to show I care, and even that’s wrong.”

Harry lifts his other hand, the curve of his knuckle finding the underside of her chin to make sure she can't look away again, or at least— not from this truth he wants to impart from her. "All I want you to do is embrace your strength, O. For you to believe in yourself. To do things for yourself and not because anyone expects it of you." His brow furrows deeply as he speaks, his head beginning to shake slightly.

There's not a shred of self-consciousness in him, focused entirely on the person he wants to become his world.

"I've given you my trust, and I've yet to see you do more with that. You've barely spread your wings. You're letting fear rule you, and the worst of all is that it's somehow become fear of me, too."

His thumb brushes over her cheek before he lets his hand fall again. Tongue passing between his lips while he forms his thoughts, he cants his head at her. "I miss our banter. I feel like it happens less. This fall, this winter— it felt like you were withdrawing. Just completely absent unless I came to you first. Like you were so afraid of this good thing that happened to you that you decided to stop touching it sometimes for fear of breaking it, or that you felt you had to keep bringing up something else new and challenging to confirm I meant my interest. And even then, every time you opened up you impossibly ended up further and further away from me."

He sounds perplexed— because he is. It's the same brand of confusion he had on Valentine's when he was overcome with not knowing how to fix them. "I want your comfort. I want your smile. I want your delight and your wit. I want your happiness." The furrow of his brow softens as he feels the need to clarify, "It's not a trick."

"The things you said you wanted— your goals— I am sorry they're not what I want for me. But if they make you happy, my muse, I want them for you. I will work with you on making those things happen. Did I not promise to?"

Harry lets out a faint breath from his nose, the corner of his mouth on the side of his face facing Everleigh pulling back into the smallest of smiles. He murmurs, "And I mean it when I say I want your comfort, in particular. I would not have given you that ring if my home was not your home— if I was not serious about our partnership. The only time I ever want you to feel uncomfortable in my presence is when it excites you."

“My wings were clipped long ago, Harry,” Ourania reminds him. “I’ve never learned how to fly.” He can give her all the trust and encouragement in the world and she won’t remotely begin to guess what to do with it.

The absence of that intimate hold he takes of her chin, the brush of his thumb against her cheek, the way he commands her attention, it feels like she’s been spurned to feel its loss. Unwanted. This is part of the problem with their relationship. At least with her part in it. “I’m just trying to find ways for us both to… Get something we want out of this union of ours,” O insists. “We want such different things, and if we can’t find a way to intermingle those…”

Her lips twitch in a sad smile. “I’ve heard you promise, but I don’t believe it,” she admits in a whisper. Ashamed with herself again for it. “I want to, but I’m afraid of failing, being told see, that wasn’t for you anyway.” How much of that is her own baggage and how much of it is truth? It’s impossible for her to say. That’s why she sees Doctor Madison on a weekly basis.

It’s his last comment that sees her shame turn to embarrassment. Even the tips of her ears turn red. Flustered, her face turns away, as if the back of the sofa is suddenly so very interesting. “I’d give you the sun and the moon,” Odessa swears to Ace. “You don’t understand what you do to me. For everything you’ve done that’s made me scared, in one way or another, I can’t imagine tethering myself to anyone else. Even though you can’t begin to understand me. And I know you never will. It’s just not how you’re built.”

Now Ourania squares her attention on Harry again, reaching out with the intent of laying her hand against his face, but she changes course and finds her fingers curling around his shoulder instead, like she can hold him fast to her. Her voice again falls to a whisper, to convey the importance of what she’s about to say. To give it the reverence it deserves.

“Do you know what today is?”

It's a careful dance—while they're opening up and talking, it's on a razor's edge. With so many emotions flowing, Dr. Madison is careful to pay attention to what's going on, but in respectful silence. She shifts her weight in her chair, just enough to remind the pair that she's there, but not so much to feel as if she were an interloper. Just the slightest visual clue that there's someone else there. She's the safety line in case that open conversation because something that she feels might be too overwhelming for either of them.

While Harry's not her patient, Everleigh's seen more than enough of Ourania to know just how important the communication is. While initially she'd kept her presence as minimal as possible, she sits up straighter, an unwavering buoy of calm in a sea of mixed emotions. Her eyes settle on Ourania, mostly because of the two she knows how to read her better. This means something.

None of this was rehearsed, but this part especially wasn't, and the reminder of Everleigh's presence couldn't come at a more apropos time. Harry's eyes find Ourania's and dance between them. He knows, and perhaps she knows he knows, but the point was to say it. And how does he phrase this without letting himself be led into some kind of trap?

Just over 8,760 hours ago, it had all happened. And that complicated event didn't happen to Ourania and Harry, it happened to Odessa and Ace.

365 days ago, Ace began his vigil for the muse he thought he'd never see again. He contemplated finding her, visiting her before they took her to the gallows. He began his obsession over her. Forty days after today is the anniversary of when he first initiated contact with her lawyer, unable to bear not knowing her condition, whether or not there was hope.

But that came after. It wasn't this anniversary… Of the night they never speak of, for so many reasons.

"Yes," he answers unwaveringly, meeting her eyes. In doing so, he sees the last piece of herself that still was that night. He remembers the way she'd looked at him, so uncertainly, so fearfully— so bravely at the end. Harry's green-greys half-lid as he resigns himself to a dangerous choice.

Hand still around hers, he directs Ourania, "Say it. All the things you've never said about then."

When given the shortest route to the simplest answer, he’s gone the long way, winding through the darkened wood of their past regrets. She only hopes that what he finds there when he steps into the light of the clearing is something he can take comfort in. A reminder that there are things she doesn’t dwell upon. Things she doesn’t hold against him.

It’s her heart he can see in those eyes as he studies them, watching for signs that the trap he’s so delicately stepped into is about to snap about him. Not the cold calculation he knows her to be capable of. He’s seen the coolness of her gaze as she’d stared out across a field of battle and saw not people, but pests. This isn’t that. The frigid detachment doesn’t exist between herself and him.

“I fell for you the first time we met,” O tells her partner without reservation. Something she’s never said about then. “I wish I’d had the strength then to follow you. I suppose it was the first time I disappointed you.” That much is spoken with a little smile. It’s a joke, see? She can detour through that wood too, it seems.

That blonde head gives a shake. She’s there waiting for him when he emerges. Just over 8,761 hours ago, Odessa stood in a courtyard festooned with lights on strings, giving everything a soft glow. He’d nearly walked away from her, but then he’d turned. Ace had turned back to her and she saw the detail in his handsome face in a way she hadn’t been able to appreciate in the twilight or the drizzle before.

There’d been an unspoken dare. All Odessa needed to do was trust that when she leaned back far enough to fall, that he would catch her before she could plummet perilously.

It’s this she chooses to dwell upon. Not the way his vainglory could have ended her life if she wasn’t ill-fated enough to be a player in some grand scheme she can’t see the shape of yet.

“The significance of today,” Odessa’s head tilts to one side, and back slightly, “is that it’s when you first kissed me.”

Just because she chooses now to remember that she placed her trust in him rather than how it was his choice in location that set his own plans aflame, his shortcoming that kept him from keeping her fixed to his side… doesn't mean that it won't change later. And it doesn't change the way he views that night.

But Harry firms his hand around hers, mouth pressing into a thin line. It's plainly visible that today is more than just what she's aired, but it's placidly that he echoes softly, "Of course it is." His other hand lifts again, knuckles brushing her cheek before he flashes a small smile. While he might not know what else to say, he relaxes visibly, shoulders dipping.

How she’s chosen to remember the anniversary of their reunion and her recapture isn’t how she’s always chosen to remember that night, no.

"You're at fault for making me fall in love with you, and causing me to lose sight of the careful balance I needed to maintain to keep you happy, safe, and your heart close to mine. I blame you for blinding me with that light—"

"Love," Ace repeats for emphasis, mournful, regretful. Love has made a fool of him, and he knows it won't be the last time.

I’m at fault,” she repeats in a breath, slightly incredulous. “You… You took one look at me and knew you could wrap me around your little finger. You just had to make me feel like I could love you. Give me the illusion that you could love me back someday. Just enough to get me hooked.”

His jaw sets. They're both well-aware him developing feelings too was never a part of the plan, and yet it happened.

Odessa lifts her chin, looking at her partner through half-lidded eyes. “Joke’s on you, isn’t it?” There’s no particular mocking or cruelty to her tone, but the irony of the situation bears acknowledging. “You seduced me, Ace. Don’t pretend that you didn’t have ulterior motives.” Just because it’s turned out very differently from how either of them intended doesn’t erase the history. It doesn’t change how things began.

Ourania lifts her hand from Harry’s shoulder so she can lay it over the back of the one he’s touched to her cheek, ensuring she’s captured it in a hold only insistent enough to keep him there while she turns into his palm and presses a kiss to it.

No amount of his love now will save her when he falls out of love with her later.

He can be as flowery and poetic as he pleases, plying her with the sweetest prose of how she nourishes his soul, how she is his weakness, or that she’s worked her way under his skin, but none of him is hers. She isn’t the partner he professes her to be so much as she is a prized object.

Odessa no more owns Ace’s heart than the painting owns the frame it’s displayed in.

She meets his green-grey gaze with her blue one and assures him: “I’m glad for it. That first token of your affection. I know I’ve been a year of headaches,” that echo is a week belated, but he should be used to the way she holds on to his words by now, “and that we still have a lot to work on, but…”

There’s a desperation to her now, a need for them to connect and hold fast to one another through the storm of their disagreements. “I’ll work through it. I’ll work on being braver. I’ll stop trying to push you away. I’ll try not to ask anymore for the things you don’t want to give me.” Again, Ourania’s need to keep Harry happy eclipses her need to be herself. It outweighs his desire to see her be true to her own.

They've had more than a couple of minutes to sort out their feelings and talk, and Everleigh finds that this is a good moment for her to intercede. "O's been able to express what she needs, at least a part of it, and how she feels," she says, though her gaze is firmly on Harry now. "She said what she needs to work on. It might be nice for you to say what it is you'd like to work on for her."

The doctor looks back to Ourania, offering a compassionate smile. "It's good to see that you're able to recognize what you feel is a fault, but a relationship is also two people. You're also not remembering the good qualities you have. While you can't control what someone else does, don't discount the work that's been put into the relationship. If it wasn't important, you wouldn't be here. That means something. Especially because people seem to be really gunshy about talking to a therapist," Everleigh chuckles.

As much as Harry despises having this other person there to review their relationship with them, Everleigh's intervention gives them the opportunity to try something that won't just perpetuate another turn of the cycle they've found themselves in. Odessa has such a list of things she'll profess to work on…

What about him?

He glances back to Everleigh, his hand winding about Ourania's so he can lift it and kiss the back of her knuckles while he thinks, fingers laced with hers. "I'm going to endeavor to upset her less. Give us both less cause for headaches. Work with her more on the little things…" He seems uncertain about this one, hand tightening around his partner's. "Maybe allow myself to believe that in some cases, she really does want whatever it is I want just for the sake of it. That that is her love language and not just… a survival tactic."

"It sounds so silly in comparison. Stop fighting her so much when she wants to do something nice for my sake. I feel like it presents entirely the wrong image…" His mouth is barely moving as he looks off, a stiff jaw to go with his stiff upper lip. Harry glances down at his and Ourania's hand, at the ring that adorns her finger. He brushes his thumb over it.

"I will be kinder. When you do something unexpected… I need to better demonstrate I trust your commitment to me. I need to accept that the safeguards we've put in place to protect you aren't perfect, but they are… numerous."

Seeming distracted for a moment, Harry lifts their joined hands to press his lips to Ourania's knuckles again before looking to Everleigh.

"What else needs done?" he asks her directly.

"I'm not the one to ask that question to. I'm here to start the conversation and keep it going. If both of you are comfortable where you're at, I'd suggest you go home and spend some time thinking on your own. Before you discuss or address the issues you both brought up, give yourself both some time to think. It tends to prevent arguments and frustrations and offers the chance for you both to think on if there are any related issues you might not be comfortable bringing up in front of a third party."

Even if Everleigh sounds amused, it appears to be a genuine point. Not everyone, after all, is thrilled to be speaking about private things in front of someone they don't know well. She shifts her weight, leaning on the arm of her chair before she sweeps her gaze over to Ourania. "Is that enough to think on for now? Remember that this is your call. It's all about you being comfortable."

Is it a love language or a survival tactic? If you can’t tell…

Harry looks to Everleigh for guidance and it provides Ourania with the opportunity to look away. He says the right things, does the right things in front of an audience. That’s what performers like them do. While she meant what she said about the things she vows to work on, she’s overpromising again at the same time.

How can she be so happy and in love with him, yet feel so fearful and trapped all at once? Her fingers curl, tightening the lace hers with his, telegraphing encouragement as she turns her attention back to Everleigh. The psychologist can see for a fleeting moment behind the mask the blonde wears, the haunted look in her eyes. Quick as it was spotted, it’s gone again.

“I’m sure that’s plenty,” Ourania grants. Comfort, she’s come to understand, isn’t a luxury she knows how to afford herself. “Would you like me to finish running errands and meet you at home, Harry?” The offer to give him a chance to think — to be home before she is — is presented without any indication that there’s a wrong answer to that question.

"I'm not," Harry interjects evenly. "Sure this has been enough."

Despite Everleigh having looked to Ourania for her permission to be granted, she had said only if they were both comfortable. And he's less concerned with rocking the boat now for the sake of peace later. His eyes don't leave the woman sitting across from him rather than ever look to the woman beside him. "I don't feel like we're leaving here having made anything better."

"I fail to see, precisely, how leaving anything off here would help things. I don't think, for one, that O feels particularly any better about herself, here, and that—"

His jaw snaps shut so something more aggressive doesn't find its way out. But he feels strongly that that's the antithesis of what should be happening by the time they leave. As illuminating as this has been, this wasn't supposed to feel like a trial for her sake, he thought.

No, he's not sure how he's come out of this feeling this unscathed.

"I don't feel any closer to understanding what I'm doing wrong," Harry clarifies in a tempered voice. "What the hell does my own promise mean anything if I don't leave here knowing how to meaningfully fulfill it?"

That, it seems, is what Everleigh was looking for. She listens to the frustration in a patient and calm manner, like a mother watching a child throw a tantrum and letting them scream and cry it out. It's very obvious this isn't the first time she's seen similar behavior. Once both Ourania and Harry have said their piece, she addresses them both.

"To start, therapy is not a quick fix. I don't fix anything. That's a very common misconception. I'm afraid the hard work has to be done by you both. I'm here to start the conversation and keep it going, to offer suggestions and ideas on how you might pursue a better relationship. The onus is on you to keep that conversation going."

She sits back, looking between the two of them, but her attention returns to Harry. "The hard truth is that you've just admitted you haven't listened to her. Regardless of what you take away from this, O has said things that frustrate her and she's been open and candid about them in ways she clearly doesn't do alone with you regularly. If you're saying you don't know what you're doing wrong, there's your answer."

Everleigh gestures between the two of them. "I've probably seen a side of O that you haven't, and that's because she's come to me with honesty and trust. She feels safe telling me how she feels about things and is open to trying to look at things from multiple perspectives. The reason you're here today is because she recognizes that she can't be like that with you. But she wants to. The question you're asking me isn't a question you're asking me. It's a question you should be asking yourself. What does that promise mean if you aren't open to listening and trying to fulfill it?"

Though her words are sharp, Dr. Madison's gentle smile returns. "If you want my honest opinion, I think you should both see me separately for a session and then return together to discuss what we focus on. I know a bit of how O thinks because I've seen her more than once. If you want to get the most of this, I need to know how you think, Harry. I need to know what's important to you, I need to know how you approach the relationship. Separately, you can say what you need to say about your relationship without facing fear or judgment for how you feel. My job is, when you return together, to help each of you express that to each other. But that's something you have to be open to."

"Think of me as a translator," she says. "You both speak a language with a common root, but the nuances aren't easy to understand without study. While you might understand some of what she's saying and she the same for you, there are words that fall through the cracks because you don't understand their significance or meaning. The ancient Greeks had multiple words for the concept of love because love is such a complicated situation. They needed a way to express the difference between a love between friends, a sexual love, a romantic love, familial love… it's not all the same. If I get an understanding of the words you're speaking, I can better tell you how to tell them to O in a way she'd understand."

She pauses to let the words rest for a long moment and it's hard to tell if she's waiting for someone else to say something before she breaks the moment of silence again. "We can, of course, spin these wheels and continue the conversation but I don't think you're going to find the answer you're looking for by extending this session. You need to think about what she said and ask yourself some questions about why you think she can't say these things to you alone."

She gestures towards where her phone sits on a nearby end table. "If you're still both interested in finding out how to talk to each other, I can check my schedule. There's clearly a lot to unpack."

If Ourania were to be completely candid about her feelings on this matter, Everleigh would be mandated to report a threat to her patient’s safety, and that’s not an outcome she wants here. Her eyes close as she considers the words, considers what she’d like to say, and considers what she actually does want from all of this.

“I just wish you’d understand how hard I’m working at this,” the blonde says quietly, without lifting her head. “I wish you could see things from my perspective.” And she’d launch into it further, about how she feels un-to-under-appreciated and taken for granted. None of that is likely to be productive now.

“But that’s why we’ll schedule more sessions.” Her eyes open and her bowed head comes up again. “We can discuss this at my regular appointment?” Ourania asks Everleigh. They’re familiar enough with her communication styles, and her traumas are held at bay for the most part. They’ll keep.

Hope is held tight to now that there won’t be fresh trauma to discuss next week. O has plenty to discuss with her partner in the meanwhile.

Harry might've finally snapped at Everleigh what use was she, then if not for the blunt observation that follows her profession that it was up to he and Ourania alone to tackle the difficulties between them. As bold as it might be, the language is forward enough it makes its way through to him. The light in his eyes shifts.

In the space he says nothing at all, Ourania volunteers up that they will both be back. Even him, it seems, separately.


"I'll review my schedule and call you," Harry offers up with an amicable distance in his voice. His hand gives Ourania's a gentle squeeze before he withdraws it, gathering himself up and reaching for his coat.

For her sake, he repeats, "It'll take time. But we'll make progress."

Or they won't, and they'll change tactics. But confirming he's not just… walking away from the situation seems like the prudent thing to do.

Even though he's literally about to walk away.

There's a moment where it seems like Everleigh is watching Harry with a critical eye. His comments get a slight nod of her head in acknowledgement, but her words are directed towards his partner. "We'll talk about this next time," she agrees, then pauses for a half-a-second. "You have my number in case you need to bump up our appointment or if you need any sort of phone consultation. You know where to find me."

She gets to her feet, then looks over to Harry. "I'll be looking forward to your call."

Ourania doesn’t need her ability engaged to feel Harry bristling like an agitated cat, ready to climb the walls to escape this situation. She stands and retrieves her own coat, nodding to Everleigh with a grateful smile. “I’ll be in touch if I need it. I promise.”

Her hand fits easily into his to squeeze encouragement. “Come on,” Ourania murmurs. “Let’s go home.”

They have much to discuss.

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