The Calm After


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Scene Title The Calm After
Synopsis Maybe the worst is finally over.
Date June 29, 2021

Raytech Industries Corporate Housing

The worst of it is over. It’s what they believe, and so far, it’s holding true. There’s a covered garden on the rooftop of Raytech’s corporate housing building. Its original design was conceived by Desdemona Desjardins, though it’s changed since then as others have moved in and come to care for it.

It feels like a lifetime ago for Odessa Price. Seated on the back of a park bench, her feet on the seat of it. Slouched forward, she has her elbows resting on her knees, a cigarette held in the vee of two fingers. It sits forgotten while she stares blankly ahead at the skyline.

There’s blood. On her lab coat, under her fingernails, the cracks of her knuckles, smeared across her cheekbone and forehead. On her sneakers, rubbed into the fabric of her dark slacks. When relief arrived, she took care of briefing her replacements, then walked into a fog that apparently led her here.

The key given to Amanvir Binepal still gives him access to the building, the elevator she escaped to, and this rooftop.

“You ever think about going back to med school?” she asks before he can even announce his arrival, her back to him, eyes still unseeing. Of course she could sense him coming, and remember the shades that are distinctly him. The darkness of his concern, the brightness of his compassion.

He stops midstep, taken aback anyway. Of all the thoughts he had, all the questions he thought she'd ask, that wasn't one he considered.

"You know me, Des," Aman answers softly, since it's just them. "I don't have the discipline for that. The… follow-through, once I run into something I can't make peace with. I just want to help people; not deal with everything else that comes with it."

A mirthless note of laughter comes from her with that.

He shifts his weight, considering stepping forward, but the dig he's just taken at his own expense reminds him why he shouldn't. He looks down for a moment, and then up– over the side of the building, across the city. The fires are still burning out there in places, he can see the smoke in the distance. The river in particular would be a stubborn one to quell. Quietly, he asides, "I just came up to tell you– Sera's doing fine. Her condition ended up not being serious, just scary to look at. She'll need recovery time for sure, which'll probably be the hardest thing on her…" He starts to trail off before he remembers to add, "Knowing her."

Odessa nods her head slowly, soaking in the status report. “Thank you,” she responds, voice still even with bone-deep weariness. She finally brings the cigarette to her lips and takes a slow drag in. The smoke is held in until it burns like the world outside before she expels it through her nose.

“I don’t bite,” she reminds him.

"Not often anyway," Aman acknowledges with a nose-driven exhale, looking away again. Like her own laugh, it doesn't carry true amusement. He shakes his head to himself and corrects himself, "I know. I just… there's a lot still happening down there. At home, too, I'm sure."

Does he even still have one?

"And– I don't know where Isaac went. He's not where I left him." Somehow, even that manages to sound like the excuse it is despite the genuine worry behind it.

Her brow creases and she frowns. “I left him in good hands. I’m sure he’s fine, or someone would have come to get me by now.” It’s not a dismissive statement, but she’s not doing a great job of injecting much in the way of assurance into her voice at the moment.

“You didn’t come up here just to tell me about Sera.” Somehow, she manages to sound even more tired than the moment before. She watches the smoke curl from the embers of her cigarette, pirouetting skyward, unruffled by the wind that would be choking them with the more acrid stuff in the greater world around them. It thins out, then it’s nothing. Odessa’s lips twist briefly into a wry smile. There’s something inside her that sympathizes, in some way.

"Maybe," Aman allows, not willing to shoot her down entirely. "But mostly. It was the excuse to see you for a second before we go our separate ways again, back to our separate lives."

There's a numbed hollow in him that sees something like the awkward lightning of a sleeping extremity waking. He tries not to disturb it further, but he can't help but look back to her finally, and can't help the pang that goes with it.

"I'm glad you're doing okay, in all this especially," he notes, still rather than gesturing with his hands at everything happening beyond the rooftop as he might if this were a more casual conversation. "I'd… I can't say I wasn't wondering."

Odessa finally breaks off her staring match with her cigarette and leaves it settled between the grooves of the bench seat when she climbs to her feet and steps down to the rooftop. She turns finally and gives him the benefit of seeing how much she’s affected by his presence. He knows that look and he knows the feeling that goes with it. He’s felt her heart crumble in his own chest.

“I miss you,” she says without shame, without flinching from it. She takes a step toward him, then another, but only to make their distance more conversational and less like they’re both wary of the other. Maybe they are. Maybe they should be. “I miss having your heart next to mine.” The smile reflects the same sadness in her eyes.

“But I respect your choices. I live a life that you don’t want any part of, and I get that.” Odessa’s gaze lowers to the path beneath her feet. “I don’t like it, but I get it. It just… doesn’t change how I feel about you.”

"I'm sorry I couldn't stand by and just accept… what you wanted to do," he tells her, and seems to fully mean it without bitterness. "But I didn't stop loving you. I couldn't watch you put yourself in danger, and I sure as hell wasn't going to help you continue to do it, but…"

Aman purses his lips, mouth flattening as he too looks down to center himself. I miss you too is the burning phrase he tries to fight back, one that fully aches as the numbness begins to recede.

He forces a small smile to try and mask the sadness that accompanies pushing it all down, but he doesn't succeed. "I don't know, O," is all he can say.

He won’t say it, but she feels what he feels when he doesn’t. “I know you didn’t,” she assures him. Maybe she’s just so shell shocked by the day that she doesn’t have the capacity to turn their situation on herself like a knife. Maybe she’s actually learned some maturity. Odessa sure doesn’t know.

“My life is insane. It’s always going to be dangerous. Watching someone you care about go through that over, and over, and over again… I get it.” Her smile is weak and seems to accessorize well with the dark circles under her eyes. “For me… All of that crazy shit? It’s no different than what I just did down there.”

Stepping closer again, she wraps one arm around herself, clasping her hand loosely around the opposite elbow, looking away for a moment as she thinks about what she wants to say. “I could have chosen to stay away from it, to get myself safe… But those people needed me. Or someone like me.” Diana Hahn would be dead if she’d decided to hide somewhere safe. Eric Doyle probably would be, too. Those aren’t thoughts that haunt her, however. They provide a sense of validation.

“I do these things, these… Absolutely insane things, because I’m trying to help.” Odessa shakes her head, bringing her eyes back to Aman. “I know it doesn’t always look like that from the outside, and I’m not saying this to somehow convince you that this is something you should be able to accept about me.” A heavy sigh feels at once like it’s shedding some weight from her shoulders, but also as though it’s making space for more. “I guess I just don’t want you to think I’m self-destructive for the sake of it.”

She reaches out for him, and while she doesn’t complete the motion across the chasm between them, she doesn’t entirely abort it either, hand hovering somewhere more on her side of that divide than his.

"Helping people and what we did in April can't even be compared, Des," Aman reminds her with a deepening of his sad smile. The third tenor in the background of all of this shifts, the has-gone-on-long-enough-to-be-numbed-to cycle between desperation and frustration pinging something instead that attempts to be reassuring. It's Ace, somewhere in the distance, reacting to the downturn in her emotions and attempting to impart strength upon her.

For his part, Aman sees her attempt to reach out and closes his eyes. He attempts to hold back from it, but he steps closer to shift the percentage of distance she's reached out to him. His hand settles at her waist, head lowering down to hers to brush his forehead against hers.

"You were great today, though," he murmurs. "It– inspired me to do more than I thought I could."

And that strength suffuses. Odessa feels bold enough to rest her hand on Aman’s cheek. “You were there when I needed you.” Her eyes shut, her nose brushing against his. This is dangerous, but there’s no murderbots pointing high caliber machine guns at them, so this really doesn’t rate at the moment.

“Thirty seconds,” she says in a soft voice. “Thirty seconds, we pretend like it’s alright.” Her tongue slips past her parted lips only to wet them. Pressing for more isn’t her intent. She’s telegraphed what she wants. He gets to decide what to do with that.

In another universe, Aman succumbs to the tension of the day and kisses her without hesitation. He cherishes every one of those seconds, loses himself to them, and finds escape from reality in them.

In this one, he feels the metal of her wedding band against his cheek and he whispers, "Thirty seconds doesn't change… everything that came before it." It hurts to acknowledge it, but he presses a kiss to her forehead and leaves it at that. "I love you too much to do that to you. To cause that for you. I want you to be happy where you are, O, not… to keep looking for me."

Aman's shoulders sag and he lifts his head to look down at her.

I stopped looking for you when you stopped showing up would be an honest response to his concern, but not a kind one. And they’re both attempting to be kind to the other, when the reality of them is an unkind thing.

So, she nods, opening her eyes again to look up at him. It aches horribly inside her not to have had those thirty seconds to break that tension and move on from it. And maybe he’s right. Odessa doesn’t fight it, she just smiles sadly. “You’re a better man than you give yourself credit for, Amanvir.” If that stopped being the case — that he suddenly believes in himself the way she believes in him — then she’ll be pleasantly surprised, but she doesn’t suspect that to be the case, so she feels he needs to hear it.

She leans in and presses a soft kiss to his cheek, lingering for a second. “Thank you.”

"We wouldn't be here at all if I were a better man, Des," Aman can only murmur with a whisper of a chuckle sounding in his chest. He shakes his head and ruffles her side fondly. He may regret becoming involved in the prison break… but not because of her.

A sense of urgency tugs at Odessa.

"I should find Isaac. I'll… see you around."

She’d probably be dead if he were a better man.

“Let me know if he needs more help,” Odessa insists, letting her hand squeeze Aman’s shoulder before she finally retreats back to her side entirely. “I’ll be here for the night.” So even if he can’t get a call through, he’ll know where to find her.

It’s a better parting than their last, even if it remains bittersweet.

I love you.

“Take care of yourself.” And though she feels his need to go, she stays where she is until he does.

Aman leaves, but that sensation of needing to move does not. In contrast, it nears.

It's interspersed by the echo of patience– feigned– and then the worry and urgency intensifies.

In a shockingly short amount of time, the door Aman had gone into opens again. A man disheveled emerges, soot-covered sleeves pushed back up to his elbows. Sweat is formed at his brow, and he looks out over the roof space without immediately looking to the green space. Why would he? It's not who he's looking for. It's not–


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Ace sounds more distressed than she's ever heard him in her life. Almost like a different person entirely. "Ouran–"

He finally turns his head and finds her. Even if she weren't acutely attuned to how the tension and worry in him bottoms out into overwhelming relief, she can see it. If Ace was remotely thinking about presentation, he's forgotten the last bits of it entirely now.

"You're… you're–" He almost stumbles her direction, the reassurance of her safety weighing so heavy on him he continues to lack grace. Ace lifts one hand and reaches for her.

Like her own, his hand is coloured, darkened by dried blood not successfully shaken away, especially where it's pooled under his nails.

It’s whiplash. From one set of emotions to another. It crashes into her and almost sends her staggering against the bench, where she was leaning to retrieve her smoke. Panic spikes. Had they met in the elevator? Did he know who he was passing? He didn’t—

Odessa steps into his reaching grasp, eyes wide and lips parted. “I’m here,” she assures him. “I’m alright.” But is he? She looks back and forth between his eyes, not reaching for him in return, but her hand held where he can see it, where he knows she will if he wants it.

“Oh, god, I’m glad to see you.”

Thirty seconds may have undone her and Aman both. Odessa exhales shakily. “You look like you should sit down.”

He forgives her for her panic on hearing him. She's never heard him like this before in their lives. Not now and not later will he think twice of her nerves spiking after a day like the one they've both suffered; one where he's not entirely sure that her panic isn't just remnants of his own taking dying gasps. Ace certainly shows his own signs of it, looking between her eyes, over her face, up and down her person before he truly believes she's alright.

His hand comes softly to her cheek, in contrast with the firmness he draws her into himself with his other arm after taking a step closer. The hand on her cheek shifts to help his arm curl around the tops of her shoulders, hand pressing to the back of her head instead to hold her tightly to himself. Shuddering breaths leave Ace as he reckons with his fear for her finally being given room to stand on its own without determination to reach her grandstanding on top of it. He attempts to let relief warm it over, the wash of conflicting, pent-up emotions all breaking free of him. Those dammed waters flow, and he holds onto her like she's the rock that will keep him from being swept away in its storm.

His head nested against the side of hers, hiding his eyes, he finally finds his voice to share, "I don't have words." The quality of his voice remains strained. "I was able to hold on… because I could feel you. O, if I didn't have you, if I hadn't had you in my heart today…"

Ace's words choke in his throat.

It’s alien. He is the one who provides the relief in the face of her fear. He’s the one who’s infuriatingly even when she feels like she’s about to lose her mind. This is…


Maybe he feels her confusion, maybe he can’t. She’s beginning to feel like she’s going to suffocate against his emotional tumult. But she lets him hold her tightly until he can find his voice.

But he chokes.

Odessa pulls back, in spite of any attempt he may make to keep her crushed to him. “Ace.

Is it his fear or hers? If she couldn’t feel the fucking proximity of him, she might be worried it isn’t even him she’s looking at.

“What do you mean, hold on? What do you mean…” The blood was registered before, but she’s reading it differently now. “Oh my god, are you hurt?”

Ace shakes his head, and he has the sense enough to let go when he feels the feedback loop start. Has no reason to want to hold onto it when she's here, safe, and he can see her. At last he takes the step toward the bench she told him to, and picks up the cigarette to ensure neither of them do become hurt this evening, even if by accident.

"I nearly lost my fucking mind trying to reach you," he rephrases himself, his gaze distant– his eyes distinctly ringed with the red of tears he tensely holds his breath to contain. He lifts the convenient cigarette to his lips to help with centering himself, taking a drag that hardly stokes the cherry on the end of it but still gets the job done of getting even more smoke into his lungs. He doesn't even exhale it properly, letting it sift from him like dragon's breath as he says, "It all started– there was a fucking line for the ferry. I had to wait. I don't even know what fucking happened to it, because the entire fucking river caught on fire during the wait."

Now he breathes the rest of it out and looks over to Odessa, some semblance of himself beginning to slide back into place– bit by shaky bit– since the center of his universe has been restored, and he finds she's hale and whole. He leans forward, elbows to thighs.

"If I hadn't been able to feel at that point that you were still alive, that you were… mostly well… I don't know what I would have done. Likely killed myself from ability overuse to overcome every fucking obstacle to get here." And in truth, he looks exhausted. "Crossing the river while it was on fire was taxing enough." His arm shifts, still tilted on that elbow, to offer her cigarette back to her.

"The rest of it wasn't an easy walk, and I couldn't reach your phone. I don't understand what the point of this fucking high-tech Yamagato non-grid is if it fails like a regular one when it's most needed."

Rather than come to sit next to him, Odessa kneels in front of him on the bench, looking him over for signs of injury, even if she doesn’t do it by prodding and touch. He’s not supposed to be in that kind of danger, and so she trusts that he isn’t hurt so badly that he needs her attention, but it doesn’t stop her from attempting to verify visually.

Worry gnaws at her heart, confusion hangs in a cloud as dark as the ones choking New York City. She finds herself unbelieving. Not thinking that he’s a liar, but entirely bewildered that anyone could ever have so much concern about her. At least, not one that could also translate to this level of dogged determination. No matter how much that means she’s selling others short.

“Ssshhh…” Odessa’s hand settles on one of Ace’s knees, rubbing gently. Trying to soothe him, but also to give him something to focus on that isn’t just inside his mind. The cigarette is accepted and brought to her lips for a drag to steady herself, too. She turns her head away to blow the smoke over her shoulder before looking up at him again.

The smile is meant to be reassuring, but she’s so exhausted, she isn’t sure if it manages to do the job. Maybe there’s something in the gradual stilling of her own waves that will accomplish it. “I’m a survivor, love.” It’s a reminder and a promise. “But… But feeling you still there with me in the middle of everything…”

Ace’s wife tips forward until the side of her face rests against his knee. Her position shifts so her legs sprawl on the ground beneath her, rather than keep up her kneel. The hand with the cigarette is held up in invitation. “I don’t know what I would have done if you suddenly weren’t there.”

Probably been distraught enough to arm herself and try to fight off the insurgents in the parking lot herself. Something to take her anguish out on.

There are no words for the nebulous thoughts inside her. The only means to convey them is the deep sigh that escapes her.

Ace accepts the cigarette back and leaves it pursed between lips while he eases back into a more comfortable sit. His hand comes to stroke the top of Odessa's head, and he considers their surroundings just as nebulously as she feels. Everything beyond them and outside of them doesn't matter. Except:

"There were Pure Earth roaming the streets." He pulls the cigarette away with his left hand to exhale straight up to keep it from wafting back down to her, and leaves that arm lying across the back of the bench. "It got worse, the farther north I got. I'm sorry I wasn't here to help– I saw the fucking lot on my way in." Raytech rose in his estimations of them for keeping her and the rest of their people safe in the face of the sickeningly large robot in their south parking lot.

"On my way, there were a few that peeled off from the rest of their group at one point, chasing someone down an alley I was trying to cut through. I had to take the time to get in their heads… if only to make sure none of them would fire at me after they were done with their current hunt." Ace glances askance at his hands, realizing now he'd not done as clean a job as he'd thought with ridding his hands of the blood. A horrific-sounding cough starts to form in his chest, and he squints through it, doing his best to throat-clear it down from being nearly as bad as it wants to be.

The cigarette had been a terrible choice after the day he's had. His explanation highlights some of the major shifts and dips in his emotional state she'd felt throughout the day– a sudden cold fury having come on later in the afternoon that resolved itself in short order.

"I don't even think they had a fucking clue if their mark was gifted or not," he mutters. "The way they ran made me think they weren't."

Odessa’s blood runs cold as she listens to what Ace saw in the streets. Watching dimly as her hand trembles, it only suits them that the blood on her hands is from saving lives, while his is from ending them. But there’s no horror for the thought of that. Not in the way that’s usually born from the bloodthirst she’s been trying to unlearn, but this stems from a sense of righteousness. That doesn’t make it a good thing, but at least a distinct one. She has plenty of friends who would agree that it’s no loss when the life of a Pure Earther is taken.

Fuck.” That shaking hand comes up to rub at her forehead. “I thought they were targeting us.” Which seems like a stupid assumption in retrospect, she realizes, but her world had been narrowed down to a pinpoint. She’ll forgive herself a bit. It isn’t as though Raytech doesn’t have a target on it anyway.

“They got what they deserve.” She puts the thought to words and shifts to lean into her husband more. “You’re lucky there weren’t canisters of negation gas in the streets,” she realizes distantly. Her stomach drops at the thought. It brings her back to the city before the war and during it.

Again, she reaches for the cigarette.

“One of them was… I was working on one of them. I don’t know if it was a ruse to get inside or if he’d actually been injured in all of it, but…” There’s a breath of laughter that curls something dark inside of her and in him as well, an amusement. “We made him break his own fingers.”

The humor dies quickly. As she rewinds that moment further, she revisits how perilously close she was to having been ended right there. If it hadn’t been Doyle the shooter aimed at first…

“How did this fucking happen?”

Ace offers his wife the rest of her own cigarette with no intention of taking it back this time. He remarks in a particularly droll tone, "The fire drove all the vermin out from underground, too, it seems, and they didn't want to go quietly into any goodnight. Maybe they blamed us for the fires. With how unnatural it was to get put out…"

Little does Ace know. He'll be as furious as he is vindicated when the truth of it comes out in the papers.

"I'm mad, by the way–" He's not. "That it's here I found you. That you hadn't followed the plan."

There's nothing but gratefulness for her health under his skin, and he strokes his knuckles across her hair. Tiredly, he admits, "I had a feeling, though. It didn't feel like anticipation and waiting for me. It felt…" Closing his eyes, Ace sighs, "That you were where you felt like you needed to be."

“Worked that way during the war,” Odessa murmurs hollowly, remembering the forests of Oregon. He feels the pang of sorrow that comes with the memory. The resentment. Doesn’t matter if they say human is first, or if the earth must be made pure, it’s all the same angry feelings inside of her.

There’s notes of apology issuing from her soul, even if they don’t come from her voice. “Yes, well I’m mad—” She’s not. “— that you didn’t show up with our dog.” But he can feel the way her throat gets tight the moment after she says it, taste her worry on his tongue.

“I think more than we realize,” she admits, pushing past what she can’t effect right now. “After seeing that hunter,” by any other name, “I’m not so sure our flight wouldn’t have been shot out of the sky.” That leaves her cold, too. It’s her worst fear every time she even thinks about having to get on board an aircraft. “This is where I was needed. More than even by your side.”

The cigarette is stubbed out on the underside of the bench without her having partaken. Just this once, she won’t feel guilty about leaving the butt to sit. “If I had been,” she clarifies, “you’d have been even more beside yourself.” They’ve both acknowledged the fact that he can’t protect her from everything.

The thought strikes true enough Ace shifts his sit, leaning forward to drape his forearms over her shoulders. He kisses the crown of her head and leaves his mouth resting there for a moment before murmuring, "Yes. I would have."

He holds her as though he could shield her from any harm, still, and realizes the last of the light has faded from the skies. Anything that remains comes from searchlights and fires. He whispers, "These people mean nothing compared to you. I wish you'd one day see that." Ace's head turns back down to hers, resting his forehead on her hair. "I'm pleased their decoy suffered under your hands. It's the very least he deserved."

Sitting back up, he realizes even more tiredly than before, "Rex, though– is probably beside himself by now."

The smile is more a thing he can feel than see from the angle they’re both seated at. “These people mean nothing to you compared to me,” she corrects. “But it means something to me that I…” The air leaves her in a heavy exhale. They’ve been down this road before. They’ve not found common ground, just grudging acceptance for periods of time.

Odessa tips her head back only a fraction, doing most of the work of seeking him out just with her eyes and the slant of her brow. “I honestly don’t think I have it in me to go home tonight,” she admits, and he knows how difficult that is for her to say, because he knows how badly she wants to ensure her dog is alright, knowing the rest of the city faced the same kind of danger they did here.

“We don’t have the car, the streets are probably too choked for cabs…” If anyone is even driving cab in this mess. “I don’t know what to do.”

"We've already established the phones are fucked," Ace reminds her grudgingly. "As are, likely, our hardwood floors." He closes his eyes and assesses properly how exhausted he is and admits to her in return, "If you're staying here… then it will have to wait until tomorrow."

"We'll make it up to him," he proposes without particular feeling behind it, lost somewhere between knowing this isn't adequate and that neither is he up for several more miles of walking tonight– likely through darkened streets and possibly running into more people taking advantage of the city's being in chaos.

“I swear to Christ, if I lose my dog after all this…” In her mind, she sees a squash-faced persian kitten with a calico coat go shooting out from under the furniture before disappearing down a flight of stairs, out of the bar, and into the snow. Her hand shifts to lay over her stomach as discomfort about what came after that seeps under her skin.

Old troubles. Then, she reminds herself, is not now. No matter what the situation in the streets says to her.

“I might just sleep here.” She means right here. On the ground, on this rooftop. But she’s not serious, and signals that with the groan that comes as she plants one hand on the ground and reaches up to grasp the seat of the bench with her other one to push and pull herself up to stand. “I’m sorry in advance about your floors.”

"I assure you he'll be fine," Ace says, beginning to roll one of his shoulders– preemptively assessing the weight of what happens should he be wrong. But he too shakes his head, half a scoffed smile adorned for her description of things. Her dog, his home… "I don't rightly care about the brownstone to begin with, O."

He allows her to come to her feet on her own terms, offering his hand to help until it's his turn to follow. Like a shadow he follows close behind her, one hand to the small of her back for as long as he can get away with it. "We'll shower, the both of us, before bed," he says. Once they reach the door to go back indoors, he takes one of her hands and pulls it to his cheek in a silent indication– invitation– for her touch from here onward. "And we can be up early to go back home."

“I know,” Odessa sighs. It is highly probable that her puppy will still be there when they return. There will be messes, and he’ll be horribly hungry, but she’ll shower him with treats and scritches and pats and will even let him come upstairs and take a nap on the bed with her in order to make sure he knows she still loves him. These are the things she looks forward to, because it keeps her from imagining the worst.

“My apartment is… not in great shape, fair warning.” There’s a wince at that admission. Her thumb strokes over his cheek slowly, feeling the shape of his cheekbone, then curving her hand back to stroke his jaw instead, while her fingers curl around the back of his neck. “I hope you won’t hold it against me, Mr. Callahan.” Her haven at Raytech is practically a bachelorette pad in comparison to the space she keeps in their home. It’s her place to be in disarray and fall apart when the stress of everything gets to be too much.

Which makes it an exceptionally appropriate place to nest tonight.

"I don't know if you know," he confides with a touch of wry, "but I hear it's Mr. Stoltz around these parts." His head bows to hers once more, forehead to forehead for just a moment before he nods his head on inside to… wherever this apartment of hers happens to be. It's she who will need to take the lead on this short journey.

"And if it bothers him that greatly, he can spend the energy to clean it." Which, depending on the state of things, he might.

But given the oncoming crash when the last flutters of adrenaline that have fueled him today peter out, there may not even be that chance.

Odessa has the grace to look sheepish when he corrects her, reminds her to be careful without saying those words. “Mm.” Her hand slips away from his neck to instead find his hand and keep him fastened to her side as she leads him to the elevator and chooses a floor she needs a key to unlock.

“Well, he’s welcome to it. Just so long as I can still find everything when he’s done.” The ride down is a short one, the walk down the hall a little further. When she reaches the door, she pauses there a moment, resting her hand on its surface before moving her key toward the lock. He sees her eyes lid, he knows that face.

Once she’s satisfied that there’s nothing — nobody — on the other side of the door, she disengages the lock and pushes it open. “Welcome to the place I take my naps at,” she muses, waiting just inside until he’s gone past her, so she can push the door close and re-engage the electronic lock. Three more manual locks follow.

It’s also clearly the place she drinks at, if the two empty bottles of vodka next to the sink are any indication. The trash needs to go out, but isn’t overflowing. There’s a sweatshirt and a rumpled blanket on the couch. As they walk past the open bedroom door, he can see three different sets of pyjamas on the floor. He knows her well enough to know this isn’t what she was like before.

This is a glimpse into her mental state since being burdened with the task of saving the world.

Ace takes it in slowly, reserving judgment until he's taken the full of it in. His head sweeps first until his shoes are slipped out of by the door. His eyes narrow for the ache he keenly feels in them– miles walked in them in ways they shouldn't be. But then he finds himself free to wander, to see.

“Drink?” Odessa asks, already taking a left out of the foyer to bee line for the glass front liquor cabinet. “I think I’ve got some of Albert’s cognac.” She’s pulling a new bottle of vodka from the back, although the way it sloshes when she drags it down shows that it’s just three-quarters full. She lets it thunk down on the counter, but doesn’t pursue a glass. Instead, he has the view of her back as she plants her hands against the countertop on either side of her and leans forward with a heaviness he feels in the bond between them.

He feels the tears even before he sees the quaking of her shoulders or hears the shuddering of her breath.

This is the place where she falls apart.

A kiss finds her shoulder from behind, light so as not to provide additional weight. His hand settles at her side, more hovering next to rather than sinking in. There's little else he does aside from transmit he's there in the most complete sense he can.

Perhaps he meant it earlier– that tonight was more Harry than Ace.

Perhaps they've just both been through a lot, and their stress is– for once– mutually shared in its intensity.

"Is there a tub here, or shower only?" he asks in a murmur, stroking her side.

It isn’t like the emotional outbursts that come from their interpersonal conflicts. The sobbing feels, somehow, more broken and yet more subdued. Maybe that’s just the way stress alters things for her. For once, she doesn’t feel compelled to apologize for it. Perhaps it’s because she doesn’t feel the downturn of his emotions, that hint of disdain or exasperation she’s come to expect.

“It’s so fucked,” she whispers, rather than answer his question. She’s already starting to pull herself together again. The volume of her is usually dialed so low during her workday, since they each have their own tasks to see to and don’t need the other’s contextless emotional notes to distract them. He’s not as aware of the little breakdowns. “Was it always like this?”

Odessa turns around to look up at her husband. “I’ve only been a part of the… world for… Just over ten years. Has it always been like this?” There’s fresh tears to be blinked away before she continues. “It’s just been constant. I’ve been trying to heal a sick world since I was born. Since I got away from the Company, it’s just been fighting and one potentially world-ending crisis after the next!” Helpless, she searches Ace’s face for answers. “Does it ever stop?

Ace gives Odessa a small smile, and he lays one hand over her cheek.

It may be it's always been this way, but he's not a man who's cared particularly. Or rather, been affected by it. Not in any ways that continue to hurt. There are flares of passion and anger here and there, ones she's seen herself him succumb to at points, but…

"Humanity is a cesspool, my love," he reminds her gently. "That'll never change. All one can do is hope to amass enough power that the immediate area around them doesn't reek of it." His other hand comes to cradle her face too, fingers of this one curling around her chin to keep her from looking away from the answers she might not want to hear. He finds it incredibly important for her to understand, "You've done everything right. You're in the best possible place you could be. Guarded from the sick while you try and heal them regardless."

His other hand lifts to brush some of her hair back from her face as he promises with reverence, "And that's all you need to do. Continue to be as bright and as wonderful as you are… to take the fire and anguish and blood that they would try to burn you with and incorporate it into you, stronger than ever." Ace lets go of her chin, letting her decide for herself how she wants to carry herself.

"It's okay– to take a moment to grieve," he promises. "But only if you get back up and continue fighting."

The words are exactly what she needed to hear. Not platitudes, but the reality of it. Acknowledgement that the world is sometimes exactly as fucked up as she feels it is. She’s not just being defeatist. He holds her attention, and she’s captivated.

She’s done everything right.

It feels like the first time she’s ever heard that. Maybe it’s the first time it’s ever been true. That Ace’s notion of what falls under the umbrella of everything might not be things that are good or just doesn’t factor in. Not for the moment, anyway.

And he doesn’t tell her to stop. He doesn’t admonish her for caring. In his own way, he’s encouraging her to keep on doing that. Maybe he understands that it’s that care, the concern, that need to make things better, that keeps her from giving up.

“I have to, don’t I?” Continue fighting. “If I give up…” Odessa doesn’t close her eyes. Doesn’t let the fate of the world that sits on her shoulders weigh her down.

“I won’t. I’ve come too far to back down now.” She smiles and reaches up to wipe her subsided tears away. “I just may need you to give me a hand up from the muck from time to time.”

Odessa leans up to press a kiss to the corner of Ace’s mouth. “Thank you, my artist.” She takes his hand and rests it over her chest so he can feel her heart beating, eyes sliding closed. This heart that she professes belongs to him.

"There's still work to be done," Ace reminds her gently when she asks her rhetorical. "The bigots will all burn when the end comes, and when we outlast it, we can smile with the knowledge that the superior party won… in so many ways."

He leaves his hand resting over her heart for a beat after that before he tilts his head down at her and asks again, "Come get washed up? And then we can both take a well-earned rest."

Odessa’s chin dips and she nods slowly, taking a moment just to breathe again. The unpleasantness is behind them for the evening. With the next breath in, she can start the process of unwinding. Tomorrow’s problems will be tomorrow’s projects.

“My tub’s not as nice as yours at home,” she informs him with an apologetic smile. It won’t fit the both of them. “So if you want to soak, be my guest. I can start laundry?” She’s finally remembered she’s still dressed in her lab coat, which she should probably just throw out, rather than try to salvage it with bleach. She’s shrugging out of it regardless of whether she decides to just stuff it in the trash. “Or make us a little dinner?”

She must be worried over him. Odessa Callahan has just offered to cook.

Ace lets out a sigh of protest when Odessa tries to put more on herself instead of just relaxing, but there's likely no fighting her on this. "Or we can just burn the clothes in the end, I'm just as fine with that. I've likely got blood all over the back of my loafers from chafe." He doesn't bother to look, or to consult the black of his socks. He simply suspects given the pain from them.

But he breezes right on past that like it's not even a concern that rates. "I'll be quick in the shower, then. After that, you let me finish this out here, and we'll both be in bed shortly after. All right?"

Odessa leans forward to wrap her arms around Ace, resting her head against his chest, a heavy weight against him when he himself is so weary. But the solidness of him is a reassurance to her. The embrace firms a little more, then she relaxes and releases him again.

“Take your time. You stretched your ability thin. Make sure you aren’t hurt worse than you think you are.” The worry ripples off her, but it’s nothing compared to earlier. “I’ll be here when you’re done. I’ll wash up, we’ll eat, then we’ll rest. Put this all behind us.” Maybe for once, she sounds in tune with his own desires. Odessa smiles and turns to the sink finally, flipping on the water to heat up before she’ll begin scrubbing her own hands.

A gesture of petulance nearly occurs when Odessa slips away from him– Ace's form flickering like a poorly-processed image as he considers and nearly slips entirely into intangibility. He never makes it as far as folding entirely in on himself until nothing is visible, stays within the three dimensions of known reality instead of stepping back into whatever extra state is available to him.

His footsteps are measured as he heads into the bedroom, then the bathroom. The shower is turned on before he finishes stripping, languidly stripping one article after the next and leaving it to the graveyard of the floor rather than putting anything aside with the intention of it being worn. The time it takes for that makes the water warm, and as he goes to ease into it, a quiet hiss escapes him at how screaming nerve endings take what should be a pleasant thing and makes it a chore. Out of sight of her, in the time it takes Odessa to begin putting on something quick to eat, Ace seemingly finishes the first leg of what he's promised, the water turning off in the master bath.

His emotional state stills- after that, the tension of continuing to push himself as he has all day slipping away. If she comes looking for him, she'll find him– seemingly tripped over the end of the bed and faceplanted into the middle of it, breathing shallow and even.

Odessa emerges from the living spaces with two plates stacked together, a pair of sandwiches settled on top. Meat, lettuce, tomato, cheese — she’s not much of a cook, but at least she does better than just a couple of swipes of butter on white bread with bologna slices.

She has a small moment of panic when she finds him laying there that way. She hadn’t felt any distress from him, but there are plenty of things that can happen to a person — medically speaking — that they aren’t even aware of. It almost causes her to drop their meager dinner on the carpet.

Instead, she moves forward to set the food aside on the bedside table before reaching out to grasp her husband’s wrist, silently counting seconds against the pulse of blood under his skin. Just one last vitals check today.

Ace turns his head immediately when his wrist is moved, eyes opening to drowsy slits. He's intensely aware of the touch, but doesn't overreact to it. "It was only supposed to be a moment," he's murmuring. "Was it longer?" A slight turn of his head reveals the plates on the nightstand.

All he can do is sigh out a very tired "Fuck."

“More than a moment,” she confirms. “Come on. Sit up and eat some dinner with me, then you can get cozy while I scrub blood out of my hair for the next four and a half hours.” Hopefully fucking not. Nudging him with her elbow, she smiles, voice warm. “I picked the softest fucking mattress I could find. You’re forgiven for falling prey to it.”

She unstacks the plates and transfers one of the sandwiches over, holding them both out to let Ace take his pick. “Eat,” she insists.

One is taken seemingly at random, and sourly at that, after Ace props himself up into a sit against the headboard. He sulks and takes a bite, his mind still on anything but the food. Still with half a mouthful of it being worked through, he murmurs something rare indeed, "I'm sorry." He doesn't look at her directly, rather at the sum of the day as he considers it in its whole. It's not just for this moment, it's for all of it.

He failed today in ways he shouldn't have, and while he doesn't feel much at the moment, there's a quiet thrum of having let her down that resounds in the background of everything.

He glances up to her hairline to judge if she's exaggerating or if it really will take that long for her to get herself clean. Ace considers, asks, "Do you want help with it?" and then takes another bite. Despite a complete lack of emotional reaction to the food, indicating he's not tasting much of anything in his current state, he does seem to at least have an appetite.

Odessa sits down on the bed next to him, folding her legs together and setting the plate on top. The first bite of the sandwich hammers home to her just how hungry she is after everything. He can feel the shift of her emotions just as easily as he can see the sag of her shoulders. Relief.

“You have nothing to be sorry for,” she insists to him after she’s swallowed her third bite. “You did everything right today. I’m just glad nothing serious happened to you. I’m glad you’re alive, unhurt, that you found me.” There’s a swell inside of her that is a bit like flood waters starting to crest over a retaining wall. It’s kept to a singular quake of her frame, a breath causing the waters to recede just enough. She’s still overwhelmed, but doing her best.

There’s not so much that it’ll be difficult for her to manage on her own, and the worst of it is on her clothes, but it’s clear she had blood on her hands when she ran fingers through her hair, tucked strands behind her ear, twisted it into buns that didn’t hold. Not so much as to be alarming, but it’s going to take more than one wash to get it all. “I’ll be fine,” she insists quietly. “I won’t say no, but I don’t need help. And you…” Turning to look at him with heavy eyes and a heart that’s just grateful to be near his, she takes another bite and talks around it, “You need to rest.”

"I asked if you wanted it, O," Ace answers quietly, tearing off another bite of sandwich. Only after he sets to chewing that oversized chunk of sandwich does he turn his head slightly toward her with a meaningful look out of the top of his eyes. He can feel the way her heart reaches for his, even if he can't read the context in which it's done. The plate is set down in his lap, and he breathes out long through his nose.

He, too, finds himself able to relax thanks to the peace of mind– and the food– she's given him.

Odessa rolls her eyes with a muted groan, all at herself. He’s right, he didn’t ask if she needed help. She finishes her bite and sets the sandwich back down on the plate. “What I want is to hold you close and never let go of you again,” she admits. “Which is hardly realistic, but my heart will remember that eventually, given time.”

She lists gently to the side until her shoulder has connected with his, settling for this closeness. “I’m glad you picked me up from that bus stop a year ago.” One year and two weeks ago, but who’s counting other than Odessa? “I’m glad that you let me come home to you on those nights when I can…”

When she can.

Ace only lets out a tone of inquiry. It feels like there should be something else there. Flicking his fingers free of any crumbs off the side of the bed, he bumps his shoulder into hers and lets his elbow weave underneath her own.

Rather than press more than that, he lets out a breathed scoff of, "Let you," like the idea is preposterous. He's too tired to insist tonight that what he has is hers. He would hope the fact his heart lies in her hands would be proof enough of that, but he'd also be surprised every time she says something like this.

His scoff brings her to hum a note that’s almost strong enough to be laughter. There’s no but in her statement. She’s just grateful. “I’m so glad I don’t have to go through all of this alone anymore.” Odessa curls a little against his side.

“I love you, Ace Callahan.”

Ace lets his head drift toward her, lying on her shoulder. A good moment like that elapses before he murmurs in reply, "Je t'aime, O." It's mumbled, nearly, if a deeply felt thing. The depth of that emotion shallows out into waters that merely feel safe, and then, placid.

He breathes out the last of the breath he'd been using to prop himself up, drifting off again without meaning to.

Odessa sighs quietly, reaching up to stroke his hair gently. “Crawl under the covers, you fool,” she teases. “I’ll come join you after I’ve showered. Feel free to get a head start on those zees.”

It's with some protest, mostly nonverbal, that Ace sits himself back up before he quietly sets aside the plate on his lap and acquiesces. He shoots her a look of tired apology, then scoots the covers out from underneath him. The sound of Odessa being on her way to the bath, the sound of the water running, nearly lures him back to sleep right away.

It's the thought that perhaps this isn't the calm after the storm, but merely the eye of it, that keeps him from falling asleep again immediately.

The overexertion of the day wins out in short order regardless.

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