There You Are


ace3_icon.gif odessa3_icon.gif

Scene Title There You Are
Synopsis Ace finally sees what's been in front of him all along.
Date September 1, 2020

Staten Island: d'Sarthe Group Complex

Ace Callahan’s sleek black Porsche pulls up out front of the Howland Hook Terminal building. The engine is left idling when it opens up and the leggy blonde slips out of the driver’s seat, shutting the door behind her and leaning back against the car casually. She looks up, counting stories in windows until she finds the right one. Her right hand lifts and she wiggles her fingers in a wave. She can’t see anyone on the other side of the glass, with the way the evening sun reflects off it, but she knows where to expect she’s being watched from.

A luxurious pair of minutes pass before Ace appears not at the blonde's side, but emerges from the doors of the building instead. Sunglasses in place, he walks with one hand in his pocket, at his own pace. His attention appears to roam the lot judging by the angle of his head, only turning to her once he's close enough to the vehicle.

With his presence comes a subtle wave of simmering irritation.

"I wanted to be home now, not an hour from now," he's waited all this time to say. It's deceptively calmly delivered. No indication given 'til now, either, that she should hurry at all in her errands, just abrupt disappointment that some unspoken expectation has not been met. It's a theme with him, lately.


He stops on the sidewalk directly in front of the car, fixing a look on her expectantly. He moves neither for the passenger nor driver's seat explicitly, waiting for her to decide her position in how they'll be leaving.

By the time he’s reached her side and started speaking, she’s already let his irritation graft itself to her. It calms her nerves, but sets them on edge as well. “Perhaps,” Odessa responds cooly, “if you had communicated your expectations to me previously, I may have been better able to meet them.” Or maybe she’d still left him waiting an hour longer than he’d like to have been kept waiting.

No. When it comes to him, that’s not her style.

“As we’ve both previously established, I am unable to read your mind.” She pushes off from the door and starts to make her way around the front of the idling vehicle. She’ll let him take control of where they go from here, and how swiftly. Her fingers hover just above the hood as she makes her way slowly toward the other side, ready to catch herself against the vehicle if her footing doesn’t hold.

Small ventures without the cane for stability. After the tumble she took earlier, she should probably be leaning on it. But she wants to prove her resilience. To herself just as much as to Ace.

Any shift in his eyes are masked, at least, by the shades of his sunglasses until she closes that distance between them. Then, she can see his eyes narrow critically of her movements purposefully without the use of her cane. He gets as far as opening his mouth to snap a comment about it before his hand lifts to rub his lower face, working his jaw shut again in the motion. Exasperation and irritation both flail before resignation sweeps away those wrinkles in his emotional state. Ace shifts a hard look off to the side at nothing in particular before his hand falls.

"I'll take you home," he airs flatly, moving around to the driver's side since it's been abandoned. "If you want takeout, you'll have to get it delivered." The car door clicks open under his hand, and he swivels himself down into the driver's seat without waiting for an argument.

Odessa holds her tongue until she’s back in the car. She leans against the frame of it for a brief moment before she reaches down to grasp the handle and tug the door open. Stepping around it before leaning inside, one hand remains braced over her head as she moves her bag to the floor, settling against her cane.

It takes effort not to simply drop into the seat, but to maintain poise and control as she slides in to sit, folding her legs up and holding one hand against the inside frame of the door, the other on the console for balance as she twists and settles herself inside. She closes the door again before smoothing her hands over her striped skirt, then reaches for the safety belt.

“I was hoping you’d have dinner with me,” she states plainly. There’s no pleading to her tone. It’s merely a fact that she would enjoy his company, and Odessa will not reduce herself to some mewling kitten begging for attention.

"Perhaps if you'd shown up when you'd said you would before leaving this morning," Ace answers. The car is shifted into reverse before she even finishes settling in, the close of the door being as much as he's willing to wait.

Odessa sighs, barely audible, but seen in her posture even as she pointedly turns her attention out her window. “E-brake’s on,” she informs him mildly.

That, too, irritates him in the mood he's already in, but this is something he keeps to himself. Vocally, anyway. Ace calmly sets the brake back down, but the vehicle moves in a jerk when he pulls from the spot. "I'm done with the day, though," he goes on with saying, like no interruption occurred at all. His voice is only a little more terse for it. "I'm going home."

But it's not to the docks he drives them, someplace out of the complex entirely instead. Home is not a word with its definition shared between them currently. It's been like this for a while now. She goes to her place, and he goes to his.

"Did you finish all your errands at least?" he asks once they roll past the Terminal's gates.

It was easier when she had captured his attention. This disdain he holds for her now, this neglect, causes her to wither like an untended orchid. Granted no water and no sun. Odessa lets the moments pass in silence between them, her eyes closed until they’ve exited the terminal and he asks a direct question.

“Yes, I did. I figured it better to finish than to require a second outing,” she offers in defense for her tardiness. And while she didn’t believe she needed to apologize before, he did remind her she’d given him a time by which she’d return, and she hadn’t kept to it. “I’m sorry, Ace. I lost track of time.” There’s a breath of sardonic laughter that passes her lips. “That never used to be an issue for me before.” If anything, time often lost track of her.

Odessa does him the courtesy of turning her attention to him, whether or not he decides to return the gaze. “I shall endeavor to improve upon this shortcoming of mine in the future.” Which isn’t to say she promises that it will never happen again, just that she’ll attempt to do better.

"I should hope, Ourania."

Ace would prefer to take the roads here more quickly, but the errant pothole still needing dodged on the questionably-kept streets keeps him acting conservatively for the sake of his vehicle. "What if it had been a meeting you missed, not being back in place in time? How can you be leveraged as a liaison if you're unreliable?"

This is par for the course for him at this point. Step one: make it not about him, and what he's inconvenienced by. Step two: bring up her use to the Group. It's all about creating distance, and in the process he exacerbates his own mystery pit of misery each time he shoves that wall down between them.

If he knows he's being unfair, he could do a better job at showing remorse. Or feeling it.

That nugget of misery doesn't have the right taste to be that.

"What time will you need to be at Rossignol tomorrow?" he asks without his prior harshness.

There it is. Step three: deflect and detract.

The distance between them widens to a gulf with the simple use of that name that’s hers, but isn’t hers. There’s an urge that rises sharply within her, a desire to retort with the most even of affectations, yes, Harry. But it’s bit down on. This isn’t what that is about. It doesn’t add support to the bridge she’s attempting to build, but breaks it down. If he’s so intent on building this wall, then she’ll redouble her efforts to scale it. “I’d like to get some time in with just me and the piano, so any time between 3 and 3:30 would be ideal.” It’s a deflection, but she’ll answer it first before circling back.

And she does circle right back, without waiting for so much as a hum of acknowledgement. Or, more realistically, one of his short comments about how he’ll be making sure she keeps to that schedule. “It wasn’t a meeting,” she intones gently. “I would not have risked your reputation in such a way.” Because, she knows, this is about him. Even if it’s her own best face she needs to put forward with the Group now, it’s still his neck that was stuck out initially to allow her this chance in the first place. Until she can make her own impression, it’s his reputation on the line.

“And it’s unfair of me,” she continues, “to have justified my inattentiveness toward the clock by saying that it was only you I was inconveniencing.” Cautiously, she reaches out her hand to rest against his thigh. “There is nothing about you that can be so diminished to me.”

Blue eyes fall to where the contact between them exists, then drift back up to his profile. “I have feared your distance so much that my actions have merely given you reason to create more.” Please, she begs silently to whatever higher power might listen, let him understand. “Have dinner with me tonight.”

"I'm driving, Ourania."

Ace has more control than to flinch away from the hand that touches him, or to swat, letting his words sting for him. From his side, she can see the sharp glance he gives down to her hand before returning his eye to the road.

"Tomorrow," he concedes coldly, with that same distance. Tomorrow, and not today.

At least it's not a far drive at all to the motel she's staying at. The turn into that other lot comes scant few seconds after, one he slows for appropriately before zipping that last distance across the lot with a thrum of the electric engine. Slipping into a parking spot just slightly off from setting the car in the direct center, he puts the car into park.

No e-brake.

And then he finally turns to her, his expression still muted behind the sunglasses he wears.

Her hand has already begun to retract before the sharpness even enters his tone. She feels the shift under his skin and pulls away preemptively, having expected, perhaps, a physical response. The acid dripping off his words is bad enough, as it turns out.

By her estimations, he either doesn’t understand what she’s trying to convey to him or, more likely, he does and simply doesn’t care. Odessa rubs the back of her hand absently as though he had slapped it away, then lifts it to her face, as if to alleviate some errant itch, or ensure her make-up isn’t smudged. The tear is wiped away before it can leave a trace.

Slowly, she turns back to face him. “Thank you for the ride,” she murmurs, starting to reach toward the handle of the door. It isn’t what she’d like to say.

It's not clear what he meant to say is what he did, either.

Ace thumbs the car off and pushes his door out roughly, coming to his feet in a surge rather than a sweep. He lifts his head up toward the sky, tilting it back and looking at the bleeding colors of the clouds with a flare of his nostrils that serves to flatten the roil of his emotions for just a moment while he sighs.

He lifts one hand and runs it back over his hair as he turns back to the car, lowering it to shove closed the door. Leaving his hand leaning against the doorframe, he seems, for a moment, like he'll wait in a heated silence for Odessa to make her appearance from the other side of the car. But despite his mood, despite himself and whatever's gone wrong with him, he comes around the back of the car to make his way to her door, to offer his hand out to help her up from the vehicle.

It's by no means an apology, and he makes no attempt to make it one.

It is what it is.

The door is pushed open of her own volition, a moment taken for her to slide her arm through the loops of her bag, letting it settle in the crook of her elbow. She looks up to see the offered hand only after she’s secured her cane. It takes only a moment to shift it from right to left, held with her bag so she can accept the offer.

For a moment, however, she considers giving him her defiance. Smacking that hand away with her walking stick and getting up on her own. Imagines for a moment how he might strike out like a viper and hiss just as venomously. That would be a thrill. No distance there. Anger is an emotion born of intimacy.

But it is, ultimately, just a fantasy that is hardly likely to play out in life as it does in her head. Odessa accepts the hand and steps out of the vehicle. There’s something nudging at the edges of her perception, but she shoves back against it with a flare of annoyance. Not now.

“You’re upset with me,” isn’t a question. “You don’t need to walk me inside. I walk by myself all the time now,” Odessa assures him without chiding or irritation. It’s merely fact. She’s gained much strength in the months that have followed her transformation. She is on the mend. “I won’t ask you to linger with me any longer than you desire to.” This out is as much an olive branch as she can hope to muster at the moment. “I have it from here, m—”

That sensation niggles again, as though it had been completely unresponsive to her less than subtle hint to fuck off. “I have it from here,” she repeats, aborting the tying on of whatever bow it may have been she meant to add to that assurance.

Somewhat surprisingly, maybe telling someone who's upset that they are, in fact, upset does not have the intended effect of calming them down. Ace's internal being simply recoils from her observation, rather than snap out visibly in reaction to her read on him. His hand on hers tightens. She's giving him an out, but as tempting as it would be to take it, he can at least walk her to her door. Upset or no.

"Whether you have it or not is irrelevant."

Footsteps behind them pad the sound of Odessa's soles clicking to concrete. These other ones are softer, tracked rubber squeaking on rock.

“As you say, then.” Odessa keeps hold of Ace’s hand, letting him steer them toward the building. As they begin to move, she feels anticipation coiling inside of her. Just a little further, and then she can pounce.


Why would she feel that need? It isn’t as though she’s about to retaliate against Ace for her hurt feelings. She’s rationalized that she’s put herself in this position. If he’s cross with her, it’s because she’s given him ample reason to be so. Odessa cants her head, looking up at Ace and attempting to read his expression along with his mood.

It isn’t him either. She’d see the subtleties in him. The tensing of his jaw or the tightness at the corners of his eyes, visible around the temples of his sunglasses. None of those tells exist in him. It isn’t him about to attack her. And besides, he would wait until they got to her room if he was going to, wouldn’t he?

“My love…” Her grip on his hand loosens, she wriggles it away to link her arm with his, all the while adjusting the position of her purse at her elbow. Consequently, bringing the head of her cane closer to her right hand. “Artist mine,” she emphasizes in a hush, hoping to catch his attention with the term of endearment and help him realize she has something important to say. She needs to cash in on some of that trust they’ve been attempting to build. “Walk three more paces with me, then use your ability.”



The dip in her voice is sign enough something's changed, if the telltale footsteps behind him were not. My love isn't something that feels right in this moment otherwise. It's a sign. She has a radar he does not, eyes in the back of her head— so to speak— that he does not.

She asks for his patience, so he allows her those three steps. Allow whoever the fuck it is to believe they stand a chance.

In the middle of the second step, the link of Odessa's arm becomes both more and less awkward in a single flicker of the moment. Her cane becomes much easier to access, although the illusion she's still holding onto him is harder to maintain as she simply phases right through his arm. Ace keeps his head facing forward even as he becomes an opaque thing the shadows no longer play against, allowing the illusion that he's not noticed they're being approached.

He takes that third step, his hand lifting to reach inside his jacket.

"Easy there," the voice from behind them resounds at last, along with the subtle click of a knife snapping out. "No fast moves."

But Odessa is fast. For all that she is burdened by pain, it has done nothing to dull reflex and instinct. With Ace no longer a tangible thing at her side, she whips around, her cane passing through him as she does. Her purse hits the ground with an audible thump of heavy contents on concrete at her feet.

Blonde hair scatters about her face as she whirls, at once pulling her sword from its sheath. But it isn’t with the blade that she lashes out. Her left arm comes up in an arc meant to warn their attacker off. Self-defense is an act permissible within the bounds of her parole. Murder, however, is not.

That doesn’t mean it’s off the table.

"Whoa," the would-be attacker recoils back from marks he thought would be easy. Just an oilslick and his hooker heading to a hotel room, right? But when Ace slowly turns around, cold intent in the green-grey of his eyes, the man doubly reconsiders.

This shit just ain't what it used to be since the civil war happened. Every-fucking-body's goddamned packing now, one way or the other.

It's a little late for that remorse, though.

Voiceless in his current state of being, Ace doesn't have a comment for the thug in scuffed jeans and a threadbare pairing of shirts. He may not have them, anyway, though. Because he's caught sight of Odessa in the corner of his eye, and something about her is particularly entrancing.

Just what will she do next?

“You insignificant worm,” Odessa spits out, furious at the notion that someone has once again tried to make her a victim. She would not be that again. She lunges forward at the same moment to strike at his knifehand. “You want this?” she growls, pressing forward, aggressive where, for so many years, she’s been passive. There’s a delight in her when she demands of him: “Earn it!”

There’s a light to her eyes. A feral sort of grin. Life and death is all a game, and she plays to win. Once, she’d asked Sylar why he had bothered to take a life with his bare hands when he could easily have used any number of the abilities available to him. The answer had been simple, but confusing to her. He wanted to see if he could.

When she and Ace had first met, she’d said her ability wasn’t very sporting, and she had been just fine with that. He had been too, as it happened. There was a certain glee in knowing she robbed someone of their agency. Their chance to defend themselves.

Even when she had been powerless, she had refused to see the point in the toil. Found it supremely unfair the way she had to fight like any common rat. Her methods were always more subtle. The joy came from the deception. Playing the part of someone too weak to defend herself until she would slip the knife between ribs.

Now, however… Now, she sees the beauty in the struggle, and seizing control with her own hands.

If this mugger can best her, even in this state of fiercely protesting muscle and aching bone, then he will have earned her wallet. Not, she suspects, that Ace will allow that, even if she should somehow lose this fight.

And she will not.


It's then that Ace's form becomes whole again, in time for his gaze to snap back to the astonished mugger. "Go on, then. Finish it. Do what you came to do." He even lowers his hand from reaching for his gun in an indication he'll attempt to make it even odds.

But no, the thug is perplexed, confused, overwhelmed and deciding he doesn't like the reach Odessa has against his hunting knife, no matter how lovely he's made it gleam. He jerks away from her stab. He's already taken one step back…

Ace sees it with a narrowing of his eyes the moment before the man acts— his decision to run. He steps hard into it, leaning forward and spooking him with that single jumped step forward. The mugger starts, sniping with exasperation, "Fucking lunatics!" before he turns and runs.

The harsh laugh that comes from Ace when his back turns would normally be accompanied by an end of hopes of escape, a hand straight through the chest or head if he opted to avoid the noise of a gunshot, but… well, there's Odessa to think about.

And he does. He returns his gaze to her in careful study, admiring the angles of her face critically. He layers his memory of her over the reality that is, finding suddenly there's more overlap between the two than not. That look in her eyes, the sneer, recalling her tone of voice

"Ah," he whispers to himself with some relief, turning his entire body to her, giving her his full attention in a way he hasn't in some time.

Just like that, she’s a predatory creature again. Their would-be mugger is a gazelle and she’s a lioness ready to give chase. She’s already two steps into breaking out into a sprint when Ace snares her wrist and pulls her back toward him, snapping her out of her lust for blood.

He's not done in his study.

"There you are."

Odessa never left. But as far as he's concerned, this change saw to it that she had, and that she might never return. While there were things he liked about her new form, her new identity, her new demeanor, it never felt quite… her. Never in a way that was satisfying to watch. Never in a way that was satisfying to…

Ace lifts his hand, fingers curled to brush the backs of his knuckles against her cheek. "I was wondering if you'd come back to me." Inside him, that great longing is filled, his misery— crushed. He just needed to see her.

And just like that, his flame for her renews.

Conversely, the fire in her eyes starts to calm at his touch to her face. His words. Odessa is catching her breath from the sudden spike of adrenaline. The thrill of the fight gradually gives way, consumed by the fire of his ardent reverence for her, burned away to leave in its place a mutual admiration.

“I’ve always been here,” she reminds him without bitterness. “I’ve just been waiting for you to see me.” There’s relief in her eyes and in her voice. Sword and sheath both clatter on the ground as she leans in, grasping the front of his jacket with both hands when she puts her lips to his.

His hand curves around her neck, fingers finding their way into her hair as he kisses her hungrily. There was a different shape to her, but the same taste.

God. How stupid of him to not see this sooner.

Ace kisses her as though it's been years, the act made novel again with the subtle differences. His perception of those changes has shifted, finding them— suddenly— things to be explored rather than rejected. He's finally accepted that with the change in mask that she, herself, didn't mold along with it.

"Foolish me," he acknowledges when he breaks the kiss, fingers tangled in blond strands still. "Foolish, foolish me."

It helps, immensely, that she's a thing no longer in pain with every single touch. She's strong enough to stand on her own, well enough to not wince at his caresses. If she's still in discomfort, she hides it quite well. His hand slips from her hair, following the curve of her neck to where it meets her shoulder, head bowed to hers.

"How much longer," Ace asks abruptly, nose brushing hers as he pulls back enough to look into her eyes. "Until you're ready to come home?"

Yes, it does help. She finds that it gets easier every day to stand on her own. In some ways, it feels as though the weight of his indifference is what kept her down. One hand slides from his lapel and up to his shoulder, stopping just on the border of where it curves toward his neck. She won’t press her luck by assuming permission.

All that trouble, all that pain, it’s as though the cage of her ribs opens wide and those ill feelings take wing, leaving her unburdened again. Free.

Odessa sighs happily. At first, she leans to chase his lips, but ultimately relents, because she would like to meet those grey-green eyes again. To soak up his admiration for her, bask in it, and to feel all those wonderful emotions that flow from him and into her. It’s as if it restores her wounded soul in an instant.

“I don’t know,” she murmurs, a teasing edge to it. “Do you think Harry is ready to ask Ourania to move in with him yet?”

"Harry," Ace says with faux-offense, like anything his alter ego does should decide things this important for him. "Would be mortified to know you were staying at a place like this, where people pull knives on you on your way into the room. It's not safe, not at all."

He's not hearing a no, and his expectations temper for it. His hand slides down her bicep before dipping under her arm and pulling her to him with an arm around her waist. "I have a feeling he'd be happy to see Ourania in a safer, more welcoming environment."

“Well, Ourania,” as though that were someone other than her, rather than the person she’s attempting to be for everyone but the man in front of her, “has been entirely shaken by this experience,” Odessa explains airily, “and would be ever so grateful to seek refuge with as thoughtful a gentleman as Harry.”

It’s easy to draw her in, both physically and metaphorically in this moment. He’s not hearing a no, because the word seems conveniently to cease existing in her vocabulary when it comes to him. “I’ll be ready to come home just as soon as you help me pack.”

He’s seen how she lives, even in spaces that are hers. Spaces she’s meant to occupy for any length of time. Packing her things? That will take moments.

"Well, let's pack it in, then." Ace encourages her with an upward lilt of his voice, patting her backside before unwinding his arm to crouch down and pick up the two pieces of the cane, delicately replacing sword into its sheath.

"This is inspired, by the way," he says of the completed implement before he turns it back out for her to take. "I approve." He gives a light lift of his chin in the direction of her door, indicating he'll follow.

Odessa keeps her eyes on him as she takes the cane back. Her lower lip has been captured between the rows of her teeth since that pat. She grins around it, lifting her brows, only shifting expression so she can let out a huff of laughter and say, “I aim to inspire.”

Her gaze lingers on him for a moment before she finally pushes the end of her cane to the pavement, using it for stability as she bends down to retrieve her purse. At least its contents didn’t go spilling everywhere this time. One last glance before she pivots, a movement managed with more fluidity and confidence than he’s seen in her since her transformation. She’s coming into her own once again, after these long months.

Body first, then face forward. Maybe he’ll finally appreciate that backside of hers again as she makes her way for the door. If she had a hand free, she’d fish her keys from her purse as she goes. Or if she’d had the presence of mind to do it when she scooped up the bag in the first place. So, he has to wait a moment at the door while she unclips them from a ring sewn into the purse’s lining, but she hopes he’ll find it in him to feel anticipation as she does, rather than impatience.

The key fits into the lock and turns easily enough. She pushes the door open a crack before dragging it out again with a click and catch of tumblers, then all the way, clear to the wall, pausing a moment to survey the interior before she steps in. A habit born from a lifetime of caution. Satisfied that there isn’t anything waiting for her inside that shouldn’t be, she steps in and moves to the center of the meager-side-of-modest room to set her purse down on the bed.

Ace takes his time in following in after, eyes roaming the space as if there were much more than there actually is to be taking in. For now, there's neither impatience nor overt anticipation in him. Rather, an idle contentment makes him. Any anticipation is on a slow burn, waiting for some much later point in time.

He lets the door swing shut behind him, clicking firmly locked, and looks to Odessa languidly. "What all is there to grab?" He navigates to the closet space, to the open bag there and pulls it off the shelf. The hanging clothes are plainly seen, but overlooked in favor of bringing the bag to the bed, setting it next to her purse. His arms sweep around her from the back, lips finding the back of her neck and shoulder.

"Just point me in the right direction…" Ace tells her, even as his arms cinch around her midsection in an embrace.

“Just what’s in the closet,” Odessa begins listing off in a quiet voice, closing her eyes and rolling her shoulders to work loose some of the tension she’s still holding from the encounter outside. And from having disappointed him earlier. “My cosmetics and—”

His arms around her elicit a deep sigh full of longing. His lips cause her breath to hitch audibly. Held, and finally exhaled in a shudder. “There you are,” she breathes out, an earlier echo of his own discovery. The kiss before had been nice — better than that — but it had been heated. They’d just had a brush of excitement. There’s more deliberation and intent in this. “I’ve been waiting for you for so long.”

Ace lets out the beginning of a chuckle, his lips still pressed to her skin. He's already acknowledged his mistake once, he doesn't mean to do it again. "That longing makes this reunion that much sweeter." he tells her instead, parting from her only to retrieve the hangers from the closet. Rather than take the time to fold and store them properly, he folds them over twice and sticks them in the top of the bag.

The undercurrent of eagerness in him edges its way closer to impatience. "If it's on the sink, it goes in the bag," he vocally interprets her having cut herself off, and slips past her to make his way into the bath. The sounds of items being tossed into the cosmetics bag one by one make themselves known in tiny clatters. A quick look is given behind him to what is in the shower, collecting only a razer before zipping the bag shut. The rest of it can all be replaced. Later.

"Ready?" he asks as he re-emerges, phasing through the door rather than fussing with opening and shutting and navigating around it. Ace arches his brow expectantly as he sets the cosmetics carefully on top of the main bag's contents, like the respect shown to it now makes up for his brusqueness earlier.

Odessa’s listening to every clink and thunk of bottles, tools, and palettes as Ace starts removing items from the vanity. Most of her things are tucked back in the bag when she’s done with them, so there isn’t much to put away. While she’s taking mental inventory, she’s pulling open drawers in the nightstand, retrieving a pair of ceramic knives and the leather straps and sheaths that would hold them to either thigh. Those two are set inside the bag, with care, because her weapons are important to her.

“Did you get the pink sponge from the sink?” And though she’s leaning to one side to peer through the door to see that he didn’t leave it behind — her cosmetics aren’t cheap — she’s also trying to suppress a smile at his eagerness. She’s charmed by it.

A glance to the make-up bag settled on top of her weekender confirms that there’s still one thing he missed. Understandably. “Just a moment.” She leaves her cane settled against the end of the bed before she sweeps past him and to the bathroom.

Unlike him, she has to push the door mostly shut behind her. Not out of some need to hide her actions, but out of necessity, requiring room to maneuver. There’s a sticky tearing sound and a quiet grunt of effort that goes with it. When Odessa pulls the door open again, she has a clear plastic bag in her hands, duct tape stuck to it in an X shape. Inside is a pistol and holster. The bag is left empty and discarded on the bed, the firearm tucked in with the knives. “I see you got the sponge,” she teases.

Ace lifts his brow at seeing just what it is he'd missed. No, that wasn't the sponge he'd expected he'd missed somehow. Well. His eyes find hers with a small amount of appreciation, accompanied by a small smile. "Good to see you've kept that safe," he remarks, stepping back so she can adjust the contents of the bag just so.

With a cant of his head as he waits for her to make those final checks, he admires the shape of her, hands sliding into his pockets. He asides, "You have no idea how badly I've been waiting for this."

She does, though. She can feel his relief, the burning thankfulness that something terrible is past and only good things lie ahead again. Ace sighs wistfully at it, at his thoughts for what lies ahead now— the plans he won't have to find a way to enjoy alone after all, namely. A spike of more physical emotion, low in his stomach, follows. He works on quashing that one. Patience.

But his hand finds the curve of her back anyway. "Shall we?"

Even if she didn’t know because of her ability, she would have a fairly good idea, based on how badly she has been waiting for this. “Girl’s gotta be careful, right?” she chooses to address the safekeeping of her gun instead.

There’s a flicker of uncertainty where she wonders if she should have simply left it there and come back for it another time. Or if she should have sent him to the car with her bag and retrieved it while he was out of the room. Now he has a fairly good idea of where she would hide a weapon.

With his hand on her back and his relief flooding into her, she finds it easier to lie to herself. To insist that she’ll never face a situation where she might have to defend herself from him.

But would she feel for him quite so strongly if there wasn’t that bit of fear for what he could do?

Odessa chuckles at her own foolishness. “I have fireflies where my caution should be,” she murmurs to herself. Lifting her voice again, she asks, “Would you mind taking my bag?” She gently presses everything down before pulling the zipper closed, reaching over to retrieve her cane once that’s done.

Ace leaves in silence his wondering just what she's muttering to herself, instead reaching over to pick up the bag. "Anything to leave this place behind that much quicker," he assures her as he stands, slinging it over his shoulder and crossing to the door to open.

"If we hurry, we might not have to wait for the next ferry," he suggests, impressing on her his own impatience with a thin smile.

“Go on, then,” Odessa encourages. “I’m right behind you, but you may as well get that loaded into the trunk and get the car started.” She smiles, a genuine thing. She’s frustrated with herself for not being able to practically skip her way to the car in a physical manifestation of the feeling in her chest, but it’s been a long day, and—

Her chest.

Oh, the bruising he’ll see later. Well, Odessa supposes she’ll have the ferry ride to explain about her accident, so he doesn’t frown and start asking questions when they get home. Shit.

Gingerly, she gathers up her purse and starts to make her way toward the door, waving him on ahead one more time.

Ace glances back for her, but ultimately, he doesn't wait. She's close enough, and her ability isn't one that will let her slip away the same that it used to. He has confidence she'll still be right where she should.

He only checks again after closing the trunk of the car, approaching the car only after verifying the cretin from earlier has well and truly gone. When he looks up, it's with the confidence he'll find what he was expecting to see waiting for him.

And it brings him to smile, eyes still hidden by his sunglasses. "Let's go, O."

Odessa looks up from checking to make sure the door is locked behind her - a habit rather than an actual concern. That she falters a moment is only because she just simply must take in the sight of him, illuminated by the glow of a golden sunset and smiling for her.

Her concerns are banished in an instant, a happy peel of laughter issuing forth as she pushes off from the door and makes her way to the car with no shades to hide the light in her eyes.

Settling into the passenger seat again is a relief revealed and punctuated by a sigh. Odessa leans her head back against the rest and fixes her attention out the unshaded moonroof over their heads. Home will be nice.

The drive, as always, is in silence. The joyrides Ace takes are contemplative ones, though he's rarely against music should it be added.

And he's in a much better mood now.

On the return drive to the Terminal, his hand leaves the wheel to brush the top of her thigh with the backs of his knuckles, an idle way to while away the distance. Up and down they go, coming eventually to her knee.

And the imperfect surface of the tights.

His knuckles pause, tension stilling his being. His eyes leave the road, travelling to her knee, then to her face. Brow beginning to knit, concern is the primary emotion that flares with his discovery. "Did you fall?" comes from him, his worry sharp from the surprise finding.

The happy little reverie she’d been slipping into, the daydream of the questing of his hands, is broken by the sudden current of concern even before his voice breaks the silence. Her own attention slips to her knee and she curses herself silently. She should have ditched the tights. Maybe should have stopped and bought new ones, given she was already running late.

“Yeah,” Odessa admits in a quiet voice. Lies to him. The embarrassment is sincere, however. She hadn’t meant to let someone get the drop on her like that. Especially not someone like Aman, who’s always seemed so mild as to assume pacifism. Her mistake, her embarrassment.

“I was at the library and I misjudged the step.” She winces at this false memory she’s conjuring up. “Fell right into the railing and… down I went.” Odessa lets out a frustrated hiss of breath. “I’m fine, though, really. A few bruises, but it’s mostly my pride.”

"Odessa." Ace sighs. Still, the tenor rings of concern rather than disappointment, at least overt. He purses his lips but avoids the issuing of any cutting comments. There's not even a murmur of you should be more careful. He simply lays the palm of his hand over the curve of her knee, like by touch alone he could salve whatever hurt is there. His thumb brushes over her leg and he chances another glance away from the road.

"This… sort of thing doesn't come with an instruction manual," he admits cautiously, and it easily ranks as one of the most sympathetic things he's said in weeks— not just since her face was no longer her own, but since she adopted this new skin that is both her and not her. "Are you sure you're all right?"

As if she'd not just chased off a potential mugger with her spirit and a sword.

The touch does soothe the aches. Maybe not the physical ones entirely, but the emotional. Odessa lightly draws her fingers over the back of the hand on her knee. “I know,” she murmurs. That she needs to be more careful. Appreciates that he doesn’t feel the need to say it out loud.

A tired smile forms on her face at his kinder words. “No… No, it doesn’t. I’ve been doing the best I can with this new housing, but… Everyone stumbles when they’re learning to walk.” In her case, that’s a bit more literal than she’d like it to be.

Odessa curls her fingers around his hand, “Ace…” Gently lifting it from her knee and up to where she can bend forward to meet half-way, dropping a featherlight kiss to the backs of his fingers. “I have you again. I could do anything.” Her lips press again, longer this time, more emotion carried in a single action.

Housing. That double entendre. Or at least, he sees it as one, reads it, appreciates it. That swell of acknowledgement dips to a wondering thing when he realizes just how much simple affection really did motivate her. Her confidence elicits confidence in him as well, fingers curling around hers. "Good," he decides of that.

It's telegraphed when he needs to let go, to navigate the car through the gates, toward the docks. Workers with homes in the Safe Zone come and go by water, and should the traffic be low, there's space enough for two vehicles on the ferry's wide deck. On seeing the vehicle approach, one of the crew consider the space onboard, and then wave Ace's vehicle onboard after all. His shoulders relax when that concession is made to them without even an exchange of words, and after pulling aboard and settling the car into park, he undoes his seatbelt to relax back.

It's just the ride, then. And smalltalk, apparently. His hand doesn't return to her leg, arm leaning against the armrest of the center console instead. "What did you get?" Ace wonders, injecting a lightness to his tone to imply curiosity.

For all the lies she tried to spin for Aman earlier today that she wasn’t prepared to follow through on, this is one she thought harder about. Odessa unfastens her belt and bends forward carefully to reach into her bag and pull out a hardcover book, offering it out to him for inspection. A Memory of Tomorrow by Gillian Childs.

“I like romance novels,” Odessa admits sheepishly. She’s certainly read plenty of books since she landed with him, but they’ve been the ones that have matched to his taste. (Or at least his decorating aesthetic.) This one says something about what she enjoys. “I haven’t read this one before, so I thought I’d give it a try.”

Head tilting first at the decently-sized hardcover, Ace regards the title with a raised eyebrow. The way he takes it, it's like he expects it either to bite him or otherwise infect him somehow. He turns it over in his hand, checking the back before re-examining the cover again.

He knows what they say about judgments based off of them, but he'd have shot whoever first gave that advice if he'd had the chance.

"It looks… interesting." he allows with considerable effort made to keep the tone of his voice from going flat with the observation. It's mild, rather than cool, and comes to more of an ease when he suggests, "You'll have to tell me how you like it." before tipping it back for her to take.

Odessa does a terrible job at suppressing the smile that forms at Ace’s apparent appall for her choice of reading material. “You don’t have to like it,” she promises as she takes the book back. “I spent a lifetime reading the driest textbooks and studies.” With care, she slides the book back into her purse, making sure she isn’t wedging anything past the cover or bending any pages. “It’s nice to read something… fantastic once in a while.”

And from what he’s been able to glean from her, even just since she’d arrived to pick him up, she appreciates romance.

“I’ll try not to gush.” If she decides to tell him about her thoughts on the book at all, that is. It’s a topic she’s ready to shift from, given that this is not a genre that’s going to connect them. “Since I’ll be at the house, you won’t have to get me to the club early tomorrow,” it occurs to her. “I can practice there, if it won’t bother you.” She casts him a look, seeking confirmation that it won’t be an upset or an inconvenience to him. “I don’t go on for my first set until seven.”

Ace leans to the side, elbow resting against the armrest on the driver door as he cradles his face against the lengths of his fingers. "It's interesting to hear you go on about the things you like," he assures her, and that much rings true. Nothing forced behind that. It peels back another layer to her each time— one more petal to her flower unfurling for him. "We'll see just how quickly you go through that one." He's seen, after all, what she's done with the various titles he's had laying around, some nearing dry themselves, depending on one's likes. Many classics, not all of them he's read himself.

The aesthetic of them pleased him well enough.

He considers the shift in schedule given the shift in lodgings, thoughtful for a moment. "It won't be a bother," he decides, a touch of distance in his voice as he considers the logistics, rather than what her playing might do. With a lean against his elbow, he sits more upright in his seat. "It would be nice to hear you at work. I'll have to check my schedule, see if working from home in the morning is in the cards for me."

Alternatives to listening just at home are also an option, but he leaves those unspoken, even if he does consider them. "I'd ask for a performance tonight, but we've both had long days." Emotionally, and otherwise. He assumes for her part solely based off of the story of her 'incident' at the library, and the trouble they went through at the motel. "I suppose if we want anything to eat, we should go ahead and have it delivered." A bit drily, he elaborates, "Wine for dinner sounds appealing in theory only."

It wasn't like him to just be out of things around the house.

There’s an absent little smile on Odessa’s face as she studies his handsome face in profile, listens to him consider aloud what their plans might be for tomorrow. For the rest of this evening. God, could it be that he felt lost without her as she did without him? It feels dangerous to flatter herself with such a notion, but she’d like to believe it, if only for a moment. Did he lose some of that careful control of himself, his environment, his life, in the face of the perceived loss of her? That would feel nice.

And Odessa chides herself for it. She shouldn’t wish him to suffer, should she? That isn’t— Well, it isn’t kind, even if kind isn’t an adjective she uses to describe herself terribly often, if ever.

“We could keep it simple,” she suggests. “There’s that sandwich shop nearby the brownstone? Grab something there. Have it with our wine?” Odessa turns in her seat and leans forward with one hand braced on the console, meeting his eyes. “Have dessert?”

Which is to say the long day hasn’t been so terribly long.

Blue eyes, dark in a way that he hasn’t seen since she lost the face he loved so well and now so very her own again, half-lid and focus on the shape of his mouth. “I would be happy to give a command performance.”

Any nose-wrinkling he might do at the thought of bodega sandwiches for dinner is soundly overwhelmed by the lovely words that come from her following that suggestion. Ace has an appreciation for what Odessa does with her words, leaning into them how she does. She leaves her meaning unable to be second-guessed.

In the silence of the car's interior, the exhale from his nose is audible when she lets him know just what she's willing to do. For her benefit, he rolls his lower lip between his teeth as he looks away, letting canine catch against skin while he silently urges the progress of the ferry faster with his mind alone.

While he sits in silent contemplation, she straightens up in her seat again. The visor in front of her is flipped down, the cover over the lighted mirror flipped up. It’s when she’s procured the tube of lipstick from her purse to start reapplying the sheen of rosy bronze to her mouth that had faded long before she pulled up in front of the building that she realizes she’s been reading Ace this whole time. Throughout the altercation at the motel and what's followed, she's been broadcasting. Her own reflection stares back at her blankly at this sudden awareness. She forces the face she wants to make to be pulled only in her mind, behind the mask she slides into place now with the painting of color over lips with shaking hands.

Well, that’s a bit like an icy shower. “Could use some grounding,” Odessa says quietly, darting a glance in Ace’s direction.

Her comment to him draws him back into the car versus wherever it is he'd started to go to, looking to her with a raised eyebrow. He doesn't understand, necessarily, but he swivels his elbow on the console to offer her his palm so she can lace her fingers between his.

Hopefully this was the kind of grounding she meant. Otherwise, it would take getting back home before he'd be able to provide.

His interpretation is correct, if the way she easily takes his hand is any indication. The lipstick is recapped one-handed, tossed haphazardly back into the purse, where it’ll roll around in the bottom of it now instead of being nestled neatly in the interior zipper pocket. The bag itself is dropped unceremoniously on the floor next to her feet.

Odessa leans left now, until she can rest her head against Ace’s shoulder. A deep sigh escapes her when she disengages from her ability, outwardly to him seeming to relax into or succumb to some sense of exhaustion. Her thumb brushes back and forth along the curve of his hand. Tiredly, she murmurs, “I love you, Ace.”

He turns his head to her when she says as much, his hand firming around hers. Squeezing, like a silent indication of him, too. Ace presses his lips to the crown of Odessa's head, like a silent indication he loves her, too.

He never actually says the words, though, for all that he tenderly rubs the side of her hand with his thumb.

"Not much longer now," he promises instead. Landing at the Safe Zone really can't come quickly enough. He turns the car back on at hearing the gate on the back of the ferry lower down to the dock in his impatience, rather than waiting for a signal to begin that preparation.

Williamsburg: Ace's Brownstone

Back in the signal of the Safe Zone, Ace takes the opportunity to skip the bodega, ordering that food be delivered instead. He's uninterested in any further detours, and he's sure the same goes for Odessa.

The spot directly in front of the brownstone is taken, so he drops her at the doorstep first, where the brown bag of fresh food waits for their collection, and the home beyond waits for their use. Even with the lights off, there's a quiet welcome to the darkened space. The doors to Odessa's space are drawn back on both sides, the study visible from almost any angle on the first floor. It's like the doors to a birdcage flung wide open waiting for its songstress to come back home… or a reminder to himself of her presence, a way to make it feel as though she were present even while gone.

Evidence, perhaps, of his yearning for her.

Everything is as she left it, save for the space has been cleaned— no signs of dust, and it's been vacuumed. The dining space hasn't received that same level of attention, particles clinging to the candlesticks set along the table's center. A trio of washed dishes and utensils sit in the drying rack of the kitchen sink, washed but not replaced.

Ace will be along momentarily.

Odessa wanders into the familiar space, glad to be back without associating it with extreme pain. Her gaze lingers on the table and the kitchen, a pang of sympathy for the way her absence affected him. Even if it's a situation mostly of his own making. But if Harry and Ourania make things official, then their days of separation are over.

The dinner is deposited on the table. She isn't terribly hungry at the moment, and the piano calls to her like a siren. She's seated there when he enters the brownstone, playing chords and humming loudly enough to be heard over the reverberation.

Content. She's finally home.

The closing of the door behind Ace announces his presence, even if he takes his time in returning to Odessa's orbit. There's ritual to observe first. The door is locked, and the heels of his shoes click quietly against the wood flooring as he walks around the study, through the living space, and to the kitchen to set aside his phones for the day. His wallet and key fob goes beside them before he pauses, taking in the sounds of the piano floating on the air.

He hears her hum layered over top of it, the sound of luring him to abandon whatever other plans he might have had.

There's a distinct lack of footsteps to announce his closeness, just the sudden if gentle placement of his hands on her shoulders. "I thought I recognized this one…" he murmurs, like speaking too loud will distract her from the song. His words quiet so he can hum, too— a harmony to go with the melody she hums and plays.

There’s only the barest jump of shoulders beneath his hands at his sudden presence. It isn’t often that he’s used his ability to come upon her in this way. Certainly he’s used it to quiet his movements throughout the house for her sake while she’s needed the rest, but he’s seemed to take care not to startle her. Not that she’s startled now. That would be far too strong a word to ascribe to this sensation.

In fact, there’s no break in the dance of her fingers over ivory keys. If anything, there’s more strength and confidence in her playing now. Odessa’s eyes drift shut, smiling contentedly at the simplicity of this moment. “You’ll have to tell me your favorite piece.” Her head tilts to the right slightly, just enough for the ends of her blonde hair to brush against the backs of his fingers. “If I don’t know it already, I’ll learn to play it for you.”

Is this how things are meant to be, she wonders. This is perhaps one of the most normal moments she’s ever shared with another person. Does it look like this? A man and a woman sharing a quiet moment in time together? The music transitions, perhaps consciously or perhaps not, into something slower, more melancholic. Mozart’s Lacrimosa. “I’m feeling a little overwhelmed,” she admits. “Overcome.” Still, even at her back, he can hear the smile in her voice. “I don’t think you know how I’ve suffered so. How I ached without your regard.”

While it would be nice to simply listen to the sound of her playing, he brushes his thumb over the back of her neck and dips his head closer to hers so he doesn't have to speak over the softening tones of the piano. "I think you've given me some indication. And I know what it did to me." His lips press to the top of her head. "Your absence left an impossible hole in my life. One I could try to fill, and never succeed."

He sighs, a wistful tone threaded through it. "Life is so much less fulfilling without a partner to share it with. Without a muse to…" Sweeping her hair back over her shoulder with a curl of his fingertips, he takes a moment to savor his next word. "Cherish."

"I didn't realize how quickly I'd become accustomed to it." Ace murmurs.

Her smile grows in strength in response to his touch and the kiss to her crown. Once, there was a time where her playing was very mechanical. Very by-the-numbers. Her fingers would hit the right keys, hold the notes for the prescribed length of time, but it all rang hollow. It lacked passion.

It isn’t so now. Now, her eyes fall closed and she sways gently with the music, but not so much as to encourage a break of connection with the man at her back. A tear slides down her cheek, but she won’t lift a hand to wipe it away.

The cause of it, she realizes, is uncertain. It is as she’s told him, she’s overwhelmed with emotion she doesn’t know how to process. Too much of it. But does she feel this need to cry as a release for the immense sense of relief to have him care for her again?

Or is it because she knows it shouldn’t have taken this long? That it shouldn’t have happened at all. That she deserved his care without having to prove to him that she was still herself. Aman had managed to see through her new form, to her, after all, and the time they spent together was so infinitesimally small compared to the bond and connection she feels she’s shared with Ace.

Fingers press to keys harder, the volume swells. Partly because the piece calls for it. Partly because it feels in some way as though it can drown the conflicting emotions. Because Odessa knows, in the end, she has to err on the side of optimism. She must give Ace the benefit of her doubt. To accept that he might care for her in the way he professes, even if he stumbled so terribly.

The alternative is to know that leaving is the smarter option, and she isn’t sure that’s a decision she can survive.

The tightness in her chest causes her to sharply gasp for a breath after a long time of holding without. She’s glad he can’t read her the way she could be reading him. Would he even know what to do with her ability if he were to be afflicted with it? “Tell me you’ll never do this to me again.” Voice quiet, but firm, it’s a demand she’s making of him. Maybe not to keep the promise she’s asking him to make, but to be willing to commit to the lie that he might.

Behind her, Ace arcs an eyebrow. The temptation to ask for clarification is very real— to know which behavior is she specifically asking him not to engage in again. Allowing distance between them? To not recognize her in the new skin she wears?

It must be the last. Maybe the first. If there's more to it, it's beyond him, and if he asked, maybe he'd not be able to answer as confidently.

"Never again," he swears without hesitation. In a match of her own tone, his is quiet but resolute. "I'll always keep you near."

It’s precisely what she needs to hear in precisely the way she needs to hear it. Her head bows, spine curving as she leans over the piano, pouring her heart into the music in a way she’s refusing to do with her voice. The more words she uses, the more danger she invites. The ambiguity of their situation allows them both to commit to it with a confidence neither deserves.

Left hand walks slowly over the keys, the tempo begins to drag, implying a close, until the right hand joins back in, the plink of higher notes instills a sense that perhaps another movement is forthcoming, but a trill of notes leads into another slow progression from the lower register of the piano again.

Finally, the last chord.

Odessa’s fingers still on the keys, listening to those final notes decay in the air around them. They’re left at last with the soft sounds of her breathing, as though there had been some exertion in this piece requiring her to catch her breath when it’s finished. Her fingers relax, curling inward just enough to let the keys rise back to their resting position.

Waiting then, with quiet anticipation of his next move.

"Brava," Ace murmurs into her ear. It's without especial passion, but still pride for how she can pour her heart into the notes in a way he could only aspire to. His art is different than this. He lets the hand settled on her shoulder begin to roam, fingertips sliding forward to her collar and then down her bicep, skipping past her elbow to find her forearm before his fingers curl around her wrist. "I'll have to think on the piece I'd be happiest to hear you play."

Hair already brushed back from Odessa's neck, it's easy to place a kiss there while he bends. "Are you still up for a performance?" he wonders, grasp around her wrist firming. It lapses before becoming uncomfortable, and his lean against her deepens, fingers shifting in their curl to find the palm of her hand instead before he steps to the side.

His new pose is gentlemanly. Offering to help her to her feet. The look in the dark of his eyes is curious, expectant without entering into the territory of commanding.

No, he'll wait for one last cue from her before that.

The coil of need is immediate when Ace’s fingers close around her wrist. The easing of that grip does nothing to abate it. Odessa finally lifts her free hand from the keys and brushes her fingers over her cheek where the tears have already started to dry. She should say no, she feels. Ask to simply have dinner, and share wine together, then excuse herself to rest.

Instead, she takes his hand and accepts the help to her feet. She’s slightly unsteady at first, but she grasps the crystal head of her cane with her other hand, ensuring she’ll have more stability. Odessa nods her head, offers a smile. “Of course.”

Odessa says yes, yet her unsteadiness gives a greyer answer than that. But her smile shows an eagerness willing to persevere in spite of that.

It doesn't feel like a mask. It feels earnest, honest. It feels like her.

It will do.

"Good." Ace smiles in return, signals his pleasure with her with a kiss to her knuckles before releasing her hand back to her. "Come along," he bids her airily, taking a step back.

The next step, he vanishes. There's little mystery as to where.

"I can't believe I let you talk me into getting this for dinner."

Foil laid out inside a styrofoam box, Ace holds his sandwich above it delicately. For his grousing, there's nothing in him to suggest he's more than mildly inconvenienced. Maybe even amused. "I'd like to report a murder," he asides darkly with a quirk of an eyebrow. "They absolutely destroyed this sub with oil and vinegar." But it still must look good enough to eat, because he takes another large bite of it, having given in to this potentially being a messy experience.

In his small rotation of dining spots, he's opted to stand at the kitchen island while he tackles his meal. He would have sat on the couch as initially planned, but this wasn't worth it. Sandwich quickly disposed of, though, the reheated fries are an easier side dish to take with him. So, after wiping his face judiciously, he brings what remains to the couch, as promised.

The remote he doesn't even touch. It's a conceded domain, barring anything particularly balk-worthy being put on screen.

“We were in a hurry,” Odessa counters. “We’ll go get groceries tomorrow to make sure we never have to face this travesty again.” She’s made quick work of her wrap sandwich — well, half of it. “This is why I don’t do either of those. Vinegar goes with fries.” Which she didn’t get with her order. Her half wrap is sufficient for now. Rising up from the table, she closes up her takeaway box and makes her way to the fridge carefully to stow the leftovers for later.

A moment is taken to brace both hands against the edge of the counter and just lean her weight into it before straightening her posture to move from kitchen to sofa. She snatches up the remote, lobbing it over to Ace’s lap with a gentle underhand toss, careful not to hit his food. Then she braces a hand on the back of the couch and one on the arm to lower herself down to sit.

A sigh of exhaustion and relief follows her settling in. “You pick it,” she tells him as she tips slowly to rest her head on the arm of the couch, pulling her legs up to curl up in a ball on her end of it. “I was going to see if I could find Pretty Woman, but…” Odessa shifts a little, pulling at the hood of her yellow cropped pullover where it’s bunched up at the back of her neck, then adjusting her matching shorts where they’ve started to ride up. She’s careful not to push her sock-clad feet against the side of his thigh for leverage when she needs to lift her hip briefly.

Only a handful of fries into his side item, Ace lifts his brow as the remote sails back in his direction. He turns his head to Odessa, and slowing the roll of his chew to something more thoughtful, he lays aside the styrofoam container on the side table next to his end of the couch.

"Come here," he bids softly, inviting her closer with a wave of his hand. He shifts his seat to ensure he'll remain comfortable, supported, even if she's laying against him. He picks up the surrendered remote, setting the television— predictably— to the news. Ace gives thought to what else to change it to, though, if the look of consideration he gives Odessa is any indication.

Odessa looks up when he speaks. A quiet note of something not quite like frustration accompanies an exhale. It’s the impending effort of movement after she’s just settled in that has her ire, not his desire to be close. Holding one hand out, she waits for him to offer one in return. Once she has a grip on it, she pulls herself back up to a sitting position, then scoots over until she can fit herself against his side.

“Better?” she asks quietly, eyes on him rather than the television.

"Much," he indicates softly, likewise keeping his attention on her than the screen as he begins to scroll channels. He makes his decision based on sound alone— no sports, nothing sharp and with the potential for gloom like the news, nothing with the laughtrack of a sitcom. Ace breaks gaze with her to look toward the television when he hears something other than those criteria.

It's an old black and white film.

«What is it you want, Mary? What do you want? You want the moon?»

Ace lets out a faint breath before turning back to Odessa. "Will this do?" he asks with the same softness.

«Just say the word and I'll throw a lasso around it and pull it down.»

Arm wrapped around her shoulder, hand curled about her arm, he brushes his thumb over her bicep.

Odessa doesn’t bother to glance at the television. She knows the film by sound. “Perfect,” she tells him. She lifts a hand, nearly settling it along his cheek, but deviates to mold the curve of it along his shoulder instead as she leans up to kiss him soft and slow.

“I love you.” There’s no expectation for the words to be repeated back to her, and she doesn’t wait for them, instead shifting to rest her head on his shoulder, moving her hand on him lower so she can wrap her arm around his midsection instead. Odessa breathes out a contented sigh. Even if it’s only ever this — moments like this one — it feels like it will be enough.

For now.

There's no spoken expectation, but it's the second time she's said it now, and Ace notices it. He takes in a small inhale, like to voice a thought, but once the kiss breaks she's adjusting the nestle of herself against his side, and he shifts his arm around hers to allow for it.

He wonders if she can see through him in this moment, with that terrible sense of hers that claws through his being to weed out unspoken sentiment, and supposes if she can— perhaps that is enough. There's no need to define what can't be defined, or explain what has no simple explanation.

His breath passes from him noiselessly, and he settles into this closeness with her. Even if she can't sense his heart, she could hear it should she put her ear to him. Ace turns his head to hers, pressing a kiss to her scalp. "My muse," he murmurs, his embrace of her firming.

She doesn’t need to reach out to him with her ability to know the truth. Maybe that’s a sign she’s becoming innately more like what her power forces her to be. Or maybe it just means she recognizes herself in him. Her thumb brushes over his ribs through his shirt just once. “You don’t have to say it,” she promises. “Don’t even have to feel it.”

There’s no pain in that. No sadness coloring her tone. “I know you’re… We have different thoughts on that matter.” Odessa remembers well the look of disgust on his face when she told him she couldn’t leave her partner to follow him all those years ago. “But something I’ve figured out is that… love should be given without expectation or demand of returns.”

Odessa closes her eyes, snuggles in a little closer. Her voice is beginning to thicken drowsily. “If it’s not something you can give me now,” or ever, “that’s alright. It doesn’t change what I give to you.”

She's less small in his embrace than she used to be, physically, and maybe it colors her words. Ace isn't sure what feeds what there, exactly, but there's no sink back away from her when she continues to give voice to her affections, her expectations, nor when she curls around him more snugly. She gives him the freedom to feel however he wants, offering her heart to him on a golden platter even if he has nothing to give in return.

But, surprisingly, he does. Even if it's in his own way.

"I've decided…" Ace remarks carefully, "Love is different when it's me you're giving it to." His hand lifts to brush her hair with the tips of his fingers, looking off at nothing in particular while the television continues to play in the background. "It is a gift that should not be squandered." His arm falls to drape around her shoulder instead, letting the closeness between them persist.

After a pause, he begins to hum faintly, letting his eyes drift shut while he enjoys her presence.

She should be upset. But it’s been the same for her in the past, hasn’t it? Love given to someone else, someone she felt undeserving, was entirely different from the love she felt she was owed. And this is different, isn’t it?

Yes, she decides. It’s different with them. “Glad you think so.”

Odessa sighs softly, enjoying the gentle vibration in his chest while he hums. Slowly, she’s beginning to drift off, content with how a horrible string of months is finally coming to an end.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License