Roleplaying Log: Stay
IC Details

Warren and Alison, ever since their departure from the hospital.

Other Characters Referenced:
IC Date: October 05, 2019
IC Location: Centerport, Long Island
OOC Notes & Details
Posted On: 05 Oct 2019 05:28
Rating & Warnings:
Scene Soundtrack: [* ]
NPC & GM Credits:
Associated Plots

The staff were very quick to make their retreat, once Alison told them to get out and get the paperwork for Warren's discharge from the hospital. They had one of ther own to tend to now, after all, who left still gasping for breath and clutching his throat.

Warren does a whole lot of nothing afterwards. From the lingering violent tension in his stance, it seems clear that he only stopped his aggression because Ali begged him to. Concerns about what more he would lose if he didn't — what more would be taken from him if he were to hurt or kill someone — didn't even cross his mind. His wings are already gone. What more could he lose that would matter?

For that matter, what more could he lose that isn't already in the process of slipping away? His reputation is already going. His company is going with it. His supporters, even within the old guard ranks of WI, are slinking away with their tails between their legs. Give them an alternative to him, and at this point, they'll jump for it. What does he have left?

Money? Is that all?

"I'm not staying," he repeats, dazed, into the sudden silence once they're alone. He turns, moving unsteadily like a drunk or a concussed man — not towards the doors, but towards the tall windows. He wants to get away on the most visceral level… and to him, the instinct to escape means flying.

He remembers himself halfway there. He stops, stymied, and just stands helplessly, head hanging and wingless back slumped, seeming at a complete loss what to do next.

What does he have left?

At the very least, there is one constant — the way Alison Blaire lingers a breath away, attentive, with reaching hands that fear the worst as Warren sways and stumbles.

It is only a few, measured steps he takes… before he realizes himself, remembers, and gives up on that instinct. An instinct he can never act upon, ever again — natural as breathing, and taken from him.

So much stolen in a matter of hours, and the rest an imbalanced house of cards ready to fall —

Except for Alison, who slips in between Warren and the window, her back to its early dawn light. She reaches to take his face into her hands, her hands warm and light, a slight shake to them as wish they were trying to be something more — something powerful enough, giving enough, to take this all away from him.

She's only ever seen him hurt this much one time before, different but so much the same. His uncle stole his parents, and left in Warren two ripped, painful holes. Now it's himself he's lost, the part that always made the most sense to him, was the most meaningful.

"I'm taking you away," promises Alison on a half-whisper. "Just you and me. I'll take care of it all."

And she does. She does everything — because if she stops for a second, she knows she's going to choke up, going to lose it, seeing him this way, seeing him so small, so empty, so broken — and first requisitions enough supplies to temporarily soothe Warren's bleeding, with enough faith — faith, she thinks — that his healing has come back to him. She tenderly helps him dress, providing as much help as he'll allow, and collects his personal items from the room.

Alison signs the discharge papers just outside the hospital room door, unwilling to leave Warren a step too far, unwilling to allow others — those who failed him — a step in. She calls Kiff for escort, preparing him in few words without saying it aloud, and offers herself as escort.

There is a back entrance. She chooses that, to avoid the crowds.

And, met with Kiff, Alison offers no greeting. She's on autopilot, doing or saying no more than what is entirely necessary — asking him to take them home to the penthouse.

Warren does not react to Alison's hands on his face. His head turns, but only because there is no strength left in him for him to guide where he looks himself. The look in his eyes is the look of a fatally-wounded animal, empty of life or awareness or anything but the vacant glassiness of pure shock.

This is as bad as when his parents were murdered. No — it's worse than when his parents were murdered. At least then, he was still functioning and talking. Now, he doesn't even react to Alison's hushed promise. He doesn't do… anything.

He just exists, docile, as she does as promised and takes care of everything. He sits as she stanches his bleeding back; he stands when she helps him dress; he watches, without really seeing, as she gathers his things for him and helps him out the door. All the little things that people brought him as he was recuperating.

She signs the papers for his discharge. He waits, without response, through that too, and when she starts moving again, he follows her.

Kiff arrives, somber. One look at Warren, and his expression goes more somber still. Alison had warned him over the phone, but that still couldn't prepare him for the impact of seeing Warren maimed of his wings, and no more responsive than a child. He's known Warren's secret for years, much longer than most, and perhaps is the most accustomed to thinking of Warren with his wings of those in his life who aren't X-Men. It's obviously hard for him to reconcile, but he says nothing about it.

He just helps Alison get Warren out to the car without being detected by the paparazzi who, scenting blood, are already loitering around the hospital. She asks to go back to the Fifth Avenue penthouse, and Kiff is about to comply, when Warren finally speaks up for the first time since his last declaration in that hospital room.


He doesn't elaborate for a long few moments, clearly struggling to form words in his foggy state.

"I can't go there," he finally says, his eyes pleading. "Take me to the estate. Tell anyone else there right now to get out."

As it turns out, that last part isn't an issue. The only family staying at the estate at the moment were his aunt and cousin, who apparently left not long ago for one of their residences in the city proper. Warren doesn't question this, as it's kind of a blessing for him not to have to deal with them right now.

It's a long drive out to Centerport — longer, no doubt, than Kiff was anticipating having to make — but he makes it without complaint, even when traffic inflates it to two hours. Warren offers no conversation, the entire way there… not until near the end, when he seems to shake off enough of the shock to speak.

"That place was built for somebody who can fly," he finally explains, and is quiet again.

He looks right through her, as if she were not ever there. As if the entire world were stolen from him, taken out of his eyes — a lone man lost in the dark.

Alison feels only terror to see it. She was there when Warren lost his parents, fiercely pulling him out of his self-destructive spiral and giving him a safe place and a trusting friend to let himself grieve… but even that was him. It was Warren, stricken and miserable and guilty and furious — absolutely furious — but at least he was there, in congress with every bit of the hurt, feeling it as himself.

That Warren isn't here right now, and though Alison tells herself she needs to be stronger — she would be a liar to admit she's not afraid. There is a deep wrongness to see a man like him, grounded in every arrogant notion of who and what he is, look so… empty.

It's shock, Alison tells herself. The same shock she feels right now, only worsened a thousandfold. Shock he will feel for some time, knowing what he lost — what was taken from him — and being left so incomplete that he cannot even walk without imbalancing. She wishes there was something she could say, do, or impart, but everything feels so clumsy, and her hands on his face even go unregistered.

So all she can do is go through the motions. He asked her to get him out of there, and so she shall.

Alison spends those next many minutes tending, herding, managing, and organizing, leading Warren through the complexities of getting out of the hospital right after surgery. Only an anatomy like his would allow it, though any lasting reservations by the physicians are put to rest by both his attack and Alison's quiet, angry insistence. It's good for all to get the two mutants out of there.

She assists Warren in any way he needs, even a warm body to lean on to find his new center of balance — and the reality of walking without the counterweight of his wings at his back. Alison is patient and careful every step of the way, and always on alert, speaking to ten years of expertise in the deft way she dodges the paparazzi and finds them a back exit without any public harassment.

The look on Kiff's face breaks her heart again. The assistant says so much in one expression, and Alison hopes Warren doesn't see it. She just murmurs soothing things to him as she helps him into the car.

She's sat in so many back seats with him over the last many months. It turns her stomach how now there is so much room.

The drive nearly begins under her direction, however, until Warren speaks; the sound of his voice turns her head, her heart twisting in hope after so much silence. And Warren doesn't want the penthouse, and after a beat, Alison understands why. She doesn't say so, but she understands why.

"Of course," she whispers back, unable to stop herself to reach out, and cover his hand with hers. "We'll go right there." There's no argument from her.

And it is a long, agonizing drive. Alison spends most of it in her own quiet state of shock, her mind running laps to figure out how this happened, how they ended here, how it is Warren at her side — how he has to spend the rest of his life never able to fly.

She doesn't try to overwhelm him with attention in their small, shared space. She doesn't break down into tears of her own. She just sits close, always trying to keep one hand on him in some small way, and just… be there. With him.

Silence drowns the car. Alison exists through it. Until, pulling up at the gates, Warren speaks. Comes back, briefly, from that place that took him, and tells her why.

Tells her, in short words, how he now sees himself.

Alison just answers him, voice soft, "All that matters to me is that you're there. I'll stay with you anywhere."

When the car drifts to a halt, she reaches forward to lay a brief hand on Kiff's shoulder — a silent thank you — before Alison goes back to the motions again, all that watchful, insistent care to help Warren in through the estate doors.

To see Warren this utterly passive is so completely unnatural as to be hard to grasp. Whatever else one could say about him, he was never a passive individual; confident to the point of arrogance, totally sure of his place in the world (at the top), he was always aggressively at the forefront of whatever needed to be done, rushing forward with the surety born of having countless safety nets to catch him should he fall.

He was certain of his invincibility. Certain he would always get what he wanted in the end. The world had never told him otherwise. Up until now.

It is a shock sufficient to break him of all ability to cope. One hopes it's only temporary… but it's hard to say. He is a bird shorn of his wings, and he looks about as pathetic and destroyed as one. He is missing what made him fundamentally who he was, and it has broken him.

He lets Alison do everything, where once their relationship was marked by him caring for her with his deft, offhanded competency. She manages their retreat from the hospital, signing the paperwork, calling Kiff, and navigating their escape without being photographed by the vultures which are already gathering. She manages telling off the staff, though that part at least isn't hard: their objections are lukewarm at best. She even manages things as simple as helping him walk; his healing is miraculous, but he's still been bedridden for over a week, and now must suddenly walk without the familiar counterweight of his wings.

He's visibly off. He keeps leaning too far forward and stumbling, and pain keeps crossing his features when he tries to move and balance with two limbs which are no longer there.

Kiff arrives, silent. Warren can't even look at him. He just lets himself be helped into the car, and for once Alison doesn't have to take care when getting in with him. There's an ocean of space between the two of them now.

He eventually speaks, if only to veto Alison's initial idea where to go. It's promising to see that he can still speak, but he says precious little after that. Kiff doesn't break the silence either, the entire car lost in their own respective thoughts; thoughts that all likely center, to a one, on the seismic shift in known reality which is Warren without wings — Warren no longer able to fly for the rest of his life.

That fact is already sinking into his mind, judging by the explanation he finally offers for why he cannot return to that apartment.

Kiff's head turns slightly, listening, but he doesn't speak. Alison fills the silence instead, with her promise of all that matters to her — and all she will do. Warren doesn't react at first, and a long few moments pass before he distantly pats the back of her hand. It's the sort of absent gesture a parent might make to soothe a child when their mind is occupied, and it speaks volumes to the core of him — to how he still sees her, and himself, and them both in relation to one another. It also speaks to how much she is really able to pierce the veil of silent suffering around him right now, and the answer appears to be a depressing 'not much at all.'

Some impulse in him still automatically lets her know it is all right… but he has mentally gone away, and will not be back for a long time yet.

He seems to animate a little more to the familiar sight of the estate as they pull up… at least in the sense that he walks towards it of his own accord once he's helped out of the car. Kiff nods to Alison's hand on his shoulder, his own expression reserved. "I'll start triaging," he says to her, even as Warren wanders away. "I'll have a list of the highest priorities to you by the evening."

Warren takes no note of any of this. He's just letting himself into the main house, transparently needing to retreat somewhere familiar that does not carry so many memories of his wings.

Alison doesn't know how to feel about that pat on her hand. There are too many emotions all at once, and she has little time and less inclination to unravel that knot — so she forgets it, and concentrates instead on what's more important.

Namely, Warren, and everything he's going through.

She answers Kiff's aside with a silently-mouthed 'thank you,' otherwise chasing Warren's walking-corpse departure into the estate. Alison lingers at the wings, at first to remain in touch distance in the chance he imbalances, or falls, while doubling back to the car to help unload his things. She's not certain how well-stocked the estate is.

She's never actually stepped foot inside the estate. Not until now, when she closes the door after them both, momentarily shocked by its old world affluence. She recalls being awestruck the first time she looked up on the Institute, and its old, ivy-walled mansion, but even it seems small and limited compared to this great house.

Thankfully, it is as empty as it is large.

As the time passes, Alison's first labours are to see Warren as situated and comfortable as a grieving man can get, insisting only to check the bandaging on his back — its progress with healing — and otherwise trying not to overwhelm him as she wishes she could. She only deigns to leave him to prepare anything he wishes, or to put away the things he's brought in —

She gets lost three times attempting this. The house is far too large, and built like an immaculate, cloistered-halled labyrinth, and Alison gets turned around in her own working state of shock.

The second time it happens, she is so frustrated that she ends up spending two minutes too many doing what she never allows herself to do in front of others — not since her father. But then she shakes herself out of it, dries her eyes, and goes back to work.

At some point, she finds a kitchen and brings Warren something to eat — some quick meal Alison made with her own hands. She insists he try, but does not push if he will not.

Otherwise, she sits with him. Alison stays close, but she is always watchful, perhaps unsure of herself whether her closeness may do more harm than good. But she cannot — will not — leave Warren alone, and if it means spending many more hours sitting with him in perfect silence, so be it.

Warren does not look prone to falling, at the least, though every so often he wobbles a little dangerously when he forgets himself. These grounds are as familiar to him as the back of his hand, though, and he gets by.

Especially when, very shortly, Laurie turns up to meet them in the mansion's great foyer. The veteran housekeeper takes one look at Warren and purses her lips, though it is clear that Kiff — competent as always — also called ahead to warn her. She isn't as used to seeing Warren with his wings — the winged version of him was the strange version to her, and honestly seeing him without feels more akin to the young boy she remembers — but she can plainly see that Warren's heart has been ripped out, leaving only this absent shell behind.

"Welcome home," is all she says to him at first, with a gentle hand on his shoulder, before she hurries past to where Alison is struggling to unload their few things. "Don't worry about that, dear," she says, shooing Alison to follow Warren into the house. "I'll have someone take these things up, and then I'll get the rooms made up for you. It's too bad we're so short-staffed out here, but we never expected…"

She hurries off again, shaking her head.

Entering the house makes it clear what Laurie meant about the short staff. The place is beautiful, immaculate, every inch of it breathing with timeless affluence, but it also has the air of a museum that is only cursorily maintained. Dust motes trickle through the air, picked out in stray sunbeams; the silence is so complete that the ears seem to ring with it.

Perhaps this was once a lively place, in Warren's childhood and youth, when his parents were alive and the place was fully staffed… when relatives would be coming and going, and functions would be held in all the grand rooms of the house. Now, however, it is a place full of ghosts, quiet as a mausoleum… and it is worrying that Warren has chosen to entomb himself in it, so far away from everything he once cared about.

Warren is quick to settle in, knowing the place as he does, but he offers Alison little help in getting around, and help is sorely needed to navigate a place which turns out to have over a hundred rooms. He spends most of his time in the west wing, hiding, refusing to move; when he's not, he's out on the grounds, in the gardens or on the marina, staring fixedly upwards at the sky.

The room in which they wind up staying most of the time is a pleasant space, lavishly appointed, with an en suite bigger than most Manhattan apartments, but it is impossible to tell from 'normal person standards' whether the room is some kind of master room, guest room, or even just a room for plebs that is only so fancy because everything can afford to be so fancy. The en suite, at the least, simplifies some matters, but trying to find anything else essential for basic life needs is an exercise in frustration, especially when there's usually no one else around in the echoing halls to even ask.

Finding the kitchen, in the end, is an exercise in common sense of descending to the ground floor and walking around blindly; when Alison takes up a home-made meal to Warren afterwards, he weeps into it instead of eating it. It's too strong a reminder of the last time she did it, and how they were then.

The lapse is, at the least, short. Warren scrubs his hands over his face and transparently signals a desire to relegate it as something that never happened. "How did you even find anything to cook with in there?" he asks, his voice raw and tired. "I didn't think the kitchen could be manned by any fewer than five."

At any other time, Alison would have put far deeper thought and meaning into her first introduction with Laurie. The woman is someone she's personally longed to meet, having heard mention of her as a fixture through Warren's boyhood stories —

But here she is, here they are, and too sleepless, in shock, and emotionally gutted out to even remember what the motions are to follow them, Alison just stands there lamely, silent, off-center, and discontent.

The only thing that makes sense right now is to work, trying to establish some broken sense of order into Warren's life, and so when Laurie gently coaxes her away from unpacking, Alison answers it with a momentary looks of pleading, like she's just been punished.

Then propriety hits her, and she thanks the housekeeper, lingering off while listing what personal things mean what, where others should go, oh, and should anyone stop by, please come talk to her —

She shadows Warren's dead man's walk into the estate, watching him, minding him, the entire time.

What is rote to him is a new world to her; Alison knows the upper crust, and was contractually obliged to mingle and party with the rich and hedonistic even when she was green at her label, but even this estate blows her away. It's not like the celebrity new money that was her own lifestyle for a decade, but something several steps transcendent of same: if it reminds her of anything, it's the grand manors out of her childhood memories.

Her father was an ambitious man, and to be a judge, one had to run a constant political gambit. He had to take family to parties in places like these, hosted by governors and senators and big money lobbies, and she was his silent, obedient accessory. She came to anticipate and fear those parties, because only on those nights did her father speak to and about her at length, pretend to be proud, and act like he wanted her near. It always ended when the night did.

Desperate to help, and certain there's nothing she can do for Warren in body or in voice, Alison promises her return and… promptly gets lost. Each hallway feels like a mirror image of each other, studded by the same, beautiful portraits and masterpiece works, that she gets turned around — and, for a moment, feels like she's in over her head.

It's also the first time in days she's been alone, and she quickly realizes that mistake: without Warren in the same room to focus her, Alison hides in a corner and quietly sobs into her hands. She has so much to cry for that she barely knows where to begin.

But there's no time, and she collects herself, and — on the way back, stumbles upon a kitchen. A fully-stocked kitchen, Alison is relieved to find.

When she returns, it's with a glass of water and a small, handmade sandwich — something that looks painfully pedestrian to exist within the estate's grand walls. Roast turkey she found in a refrigerator, some stray vegetables, and mustard.

Finding Warren and giving him that small meal with the encouragement he eat — Alison hopes for many things, but not the sight of him crying into the dish.

She hasn't seen him weep since his parents —

There have been so many hitches in Alison's life, marked by her doubtful apprehensions and careful hesitations, but there is no hitch in the way she goes for him. He has always taken her into his wings when she despaired, and though she has no wings of her own, she uses what's next best. She takes Warren into her arms, insistent to fold around him, and silently hold him sure. Her eyes squeeze shut.

Only when he stops, she relents, letting him go, but staying near. Alison's eyes run Warren's face, searching, trying to intuit so much in the few words he tells her. Even his aside breaks her heart. "I'm tenacious," she answers sadly. "It almost got the best of me, though. There was an entire pantry just dedicated to mustard." The mental picture of Alison, tiny among hundreds of choices, unable to decide.

Laurie does not, at the least, seem to take Alison's lack of proprieties personally. Her own focus is on Warren, who she has watched grow up since boyhood and who she may, in fact, still see as a child. She recognizes easily enough that 'Alison' is what Warren needs at the moment, not 'Alison helping unpack his things,' and so she shoos Alison into the house after him.

If that doesn't happen to be what Alison needs right at this moment, judging by that pleading look that overtakes her features… well, thinking about Alison's needs can come later, in Laurie's brisk estimation. She does offer this much concession: to rest a brief, steadying hand on Alison's shoulder, before taking inventory of her subsequent instructions and hurrying off.

Alison is left to shadow Warren, as he returns home for what may be for good. Oh, he's been back here before regularly over the past few years, but they were always visits solely to get things done, and rarely visits made for the purpose of staying. He never thought he ever would return here to permanently stay, because this place had represented — to him — a person who no longer really existed. He'd maintained the place solely for the sake of his extended family, and if there had come a time they no longer wanted or needed it, he would have relinquished it to become a museum, as so many others have been.

Now, as he walks into his childhood home, it is with the air of someone burying himself. No one has explicitly told him so out loud, but he knows what is being said: why are you so unhappy? You still have your billions. People would kill to be as wealthy and shiftless as you.

Well, Warren apparently decided — he will return to those billions then, since that is all people see when they look at him now. Perhaps in time, he'll start to feel the joy in them that people expect him to.

Yet as the days pass, it becomes clear that nothing here is a solace to him at all, and the finery may in fact just worsen his isolation and depression. There are too many rooms, all empty, and they echo with too many ghosts. The place reminds him of his parents, of his childhood, of times when things were so much less complicated. So many things have gone into the grave since he lived here, and too many of them he mentally associates with this place.

Time passes, and it seems clear his choice to live here is a sort of self-flagellation.

In all that time, his grief is too great for him to be able to think of Alison or take care of her as he once did, and her own emotional troubles go untended. The estate is several levels beyond most of what she would have seen in her whirlwind new-money tours. Those places were gaudy, showy with all their sudden wealth, but ultimately insubstantial; the Worthington estate is built to last, understated and beautiful and constructed for quality, not ostentation. There is a class to the place that reminds her not of the coarse celebrity party lifestyle, and more of the political circles in which her ambitious father moved when she was young. Celebrities are small, evanescent money, really, compared to this. This is a place for blooded American royalty.

And in the kitchens of it, one day, Alison makes — a turkey sandwich.

It's a really good turkey sandwich.

Which makes it all the more unfortunate when he, on seeing it, uncontrollably weeps onto it.

Mercifully, it doesn't last long. He quiets in her arms soon enough, and — perhaps mortified by the display — tries to deflect immediately. Her returned words even bring something of a laugh, though it's more an exhaled breath than anything full-bodied. "There's two pantries," he says, his voice rough. "You could have gone through another hundred selections."

He turns his head to rest it against her, which is a gesture that is perhaps at odds with what he says next, "You don't have to stay here. Not all of the time. I know it is lonely out here." He sighs. "Part of why I left."

It's that guiding, maternal hand on her shoulder — a brief, fleeting thing, really — that stops Alison, chasing Laurie with her eyes for a heartbeat too long. What is taken for granted by so many others is alien to her, a bit of contact like that, and so strange in its entirety that she feels even more painfully out of place in this estate.

Old, well-bred, and meant for staid, strong family lines — Alison Blaire does not belong to houses like these.

But she has no intention to go anywhere, or even linger twenty paces too far from Warren Worthington, if she can help it.

He returns to his old life with the same finality a body should be returned to its mausoleum, and though Alison does not agree with this — though it frankly breaks her heart to see Warren break with his responsibilities, with Westchester, the place he should be healing, the place he should be allowing himself to be surrounded by his mutant family — she respects the decision. She cannot understand the type of pain he's going through, but she thinks if it were her, her first instinct would be to similarly recede… find somewhere quiet, and dark, with as few eyes on her as possible.

She gives all of herself to him.

Alison doesn't know if she helps, but even those old doubts don't restrain her: most of her time is sitting with Warren and watching over him. She checks his physical healing, and she tries to soothe the rest of it, seeing to his every spoken and unspoken request, desperate to touch him and hold him when he needs the support, resigned to leave him and impart her nearby presence when he wants space. Sometimes, she even tries to sing for him in the way she no longer does for the rest of the world: Warren, the only person Alison trusts to have her voice, lulling him with old songs she learned from the books her mother left behind.

The rest of her time is spent in work. When Alison receives the first tide of obligations from Kiff, she begins a failing battle to keep it under control. Between WI, Aegis, and the Institute, it's a lot, so much — she wonders many times how Warren did this for years, seemingly without effort — but she is determined to hold the line. This is his life, and it's precious to her, and every ounce of it speaks to his incalculable sacrifice for those under his financial protectorate. Alison will not let it be destroyed.

Whatever she feels, in the interim — there isn't much time to fathom it. She has so few opportunities to think, her days and night constantly on the go, trying to balance Warren's life with Warren, himself, and struggling to give them all her uninterrupted care. She doesn't eat much in those days, and can only let herself sleep a couple hours at a time, constantly shaken awake with some nascent worry to check on Warren. There are also nightmares of the bear, tearing white wings off a familiar body. Nightmares of the smell of rot, of racing up a thousand stairwells on legs that will not work, of Cameron Hodge, of her father. And, after years of not having one, nightmares of… him.

The Beyonder comes back to her, and weighs her down with an obsessed, starved look in his black eyes, like he's chosen her to fill some deep, cold cosmic void. He courted her across continents. Trapped her in a city populated only with himself. Took her to a mountain peak, and isolated her. There was no control then.

Even less now, as Alison awakens, disturbed, helpless.

She thinks of him briefly again the third night, when Warren is briefly asleep, and Alison spares him the light from her laptop screen, working in the garden. She looks suspiciously up at the sky, and says out loud, "If you can fix this, I'd give you what you want."

Nothing happens. For a hanging guillotine moment, Alison almost… hopes. Hopes an instant later, there's a triumphant shout from Warren, awakened back to his wings. Nothing of the sort. Only silence. "Yeah, I thought so," she says, and closes the book on that.

Back to the real world, back to her myriad responsibilities, Alison remains Warren's staid shadow. She isn't sure if she hopes like she did in the hospital — there's little time and less inclination to figure out how she feels — but she supports Warren however she can. One afternoon, she even makes him a turkey sandwich. It may the most rustic meal ever to grace these over-elaborate halls.

She makes it with the same promise she gave him weeks ago: tastes of a normal life, literally, that he never experienced before, down to the simplicity of a meal made by her hands. So it devastates Alison to see Warren weep into it.

Immediately, she's beside him, around him, ignoring the alien way he feels in her arms without his wings; she stokes with her familiar heat, trying to surround him in it — silent, without judgment, as Warren cries in a way she's never before heard. She does not make a fuss that he cries, or that he stops, perhaps sensing his embarrassment, but, at the same time, Alison does not leave Warren to his space. One of her hands cards through his hair in a drifting stroke. "I can't tell if you're serious," she whispers back to his light-hearted remark, "and that's terrifying. There was gold flake mustard in there."

Her heart twists as his head rests on her, and Alison shifts to better welcome the contact. She holds him to the steady beat of her heart, loud when she is silent, contemplating his words. 'I fell for far more than your wings,' a part of her wants to say. Her own head tilts to brush her lips to his crown. "I love you," Alison tells him. "Where you go, I go."

Perhaps Laurie senses that hesitation from Alison, because her hand and eyes alike linger a moment longer — searching — before she pulls away and goes about her business.

Her business turns out to be the quiet administration of the most meaningless minutiae of the place, allowing Alison to focus on Warren, and Warren to focus on himself. As the days pass, Alison would find the older woman occasionally looking out for her, too. Sometimes food turns up at her table, when she returns from a brief break in work to check on Warren. Sometimes she will wake from where she's fallen asleep at her desk, to find a pillow under her head and a blanket thrown over her body.

Others might disapprove of Warren's choice in companionship, but Laurie had only to look at the way Alison looks at him once, in order to silently give her blessing.

It turns out to be frequent, the number of times Alison falls asleep at her desk. The first tide of work that arrives from Kiff — which he would usually be sending to Warren — is a mind-boggling stack of dry business matters which are not always difficult to handle, but always tedious and demanding of close attention. Lacking Warren's experience, it takes her longer to go through them, but go through them she does.

This work represents all he has done, quietly and in the background, for the Institute, for the X-Men, for Aegis and for WI. The higher powers hadn't seen fit to give him a world-shaking mutation, but they had seen fit to give him massive wealth, which he determined to use for the good of those for which he cared.

And he used it. Well, too, judging by the orderliness of his records; that Harvard education wasn't all pissed away. Alison's tedious tread through his work turns up countless funding channels, grants, and quiet lines of support out to various charitable causes, on top of the familiar ones she already knows. An even more familiar name crosses her eyes, during one late-night session: Suzie Dobson, the alias given Eliza Marshall when she was spirited away after the Mutant Town raid. He is still supporting her, wherever she is now.

Warren helps with none of it; doesn't lift a hand for a whit of these things, for which he once cared so much. He spends most of his time in aimless, idle pursuits. Hauling his favorite sailing yacht out of storage only to lose the energy to do anything with it; laying flat on his back (something he used to have trouble doing) staring at the sky for hours at a time; spending hours of his day laying in bed, looking at the wall.

He listens, when Ali comes and sings to him there, but that's about it. Sometimes, though, her singing does mercifully put him to sleep.

He is asleep the night Ali grows desperate enough to offer herself to an old nightmare. If he had known, he would have finally woken up out of his aimless haze long enough to kick her across the entire estate.

Ultimately, it's something much smaller, much more mundane, and much more seemingly harmless that finally seems to break his daze. There's — too many memories of her making him stupidly simple meals at his request, curious to try homemade food that wasn't catered and massaged and dusted in gold flakes or whatever the hell, and the sight of another one — here, in a waking nightmare so far removed in tone from how they were the last time she cooked for him — hits a trigger.

It doesn't last long, at least. Most men of his type, unused to it being acceptable to express emotion no matter how strong, never let it last long before they force everything back under the surface. "I thought I told them to get rid of the gold flake mustard," he says, instead of addressing whatever that just was. "I don't know who brought it in here."

He's trying hard to yank the tone away from seriousness, away from what he just did, away from his own fragility. Away from his vague guilt that she has buried herself out here along with him. Perhaps that's why, when she professes to love him — when she touches her lips to his hair — he tenses, instead of relaxing into the contact. Where he goes, she goes…

"Then I better go somewhere interesting, soon," he says, though the flip remark stands in sharp contrast with his trembling tension. His words sound pulled out of him, wrenched with hot pliers. "What did Kiff send over today?"

Strange little anomalies keep popping up into Alison Blaire's life.

She has had meals served to her, or errands attended to — hired her own assistant or two back when she would tour, who would hold the Dazzler accountable to her regimented life — but all was done by her own hand, and under her own rule of law. Foods tailored to her restrictive diet. Accessories and adornments all thought of, requested, like Alison giving gifts to herself.

A surprise meal is something new. The first something catches her by such surprise that she, for a few moments, forgets where or why she is, and leaves it alone, her first instinct certain it's not meant for her. But it is, and a little aimlessly, Alison eats at it. It tastes like something missing from her life.

So she feels guilty she rarely ever lets herself finish those meals, or those she does, she feels so anxious that purges it: they are not foods on her special diet, and she has to look perfect in case she has to speak publicly the next day, because if she looks imperfect, it shows badly on Warren's business, Warren's affairs, Warren's life — and she just needs to control something in all this.

Sometimes the blanket happens too. Alison rarely needs blankets; she makes her own warmth. But something about it lulls her back again to steal another twenty minutes of sleep.

They are all little moments that contrast against this too-large, empty manor, but moments that give Alison a brief glimpse into Warren Worthington. It's not him doing it — he can barely register the world around him — so it must be Laurie. Laurie, who loves him transparently, and whose same love — along with the touches of so many others — helped make Warren who he is.

That same man who, quietly and dutifully, worked every day to protect, provide, and shelter everyone in his life, from his loved ones in the team to distant names and faces that have never met him — even Eliza Marshall, Alison recognizes, with a sting to her eyes. He never forget her, either.

One of the reasons, and many, how she fell for him. Ten years ago, they were both so young, and she returned to find him grown into a man in every definition of the word, giving of himself and never believing it was ever enough.

Every reminder is a renewed struggle against her own fatigue, aimlessness, and despair — Warren held the line so long, strong and unfailing, and she would be a coward to let it fail in his absence. Faced with a life without his wings, how could he not feel fractured, or incomplete? She has to protect him while he grieves.

These days, he is more wraith than man, a shadow of Warren Worthington haunting the manor's halls, bitterly going through the motions of a man, in another life, he would have become, and though it hurts Alison to see it, she lets him. She wants, every day, to ask him back to the Westchester grounds, but she does not. She knows those are dangerous words to a man in deep pain. For her usual opinionated ways, she is astoundingly permissive now, offering no judgment to how Warren spends his days; more often than not, if some emergency at an office does not demand her away, Alison spends it with him.

She does not want him to think, for one second, he will be faced to deal with this alone.

She takes on so many roles that she feels her days and nights are spent doing nothing but working — but, frankly, that makes the most sense to her, when Alison otherwise feels helpless to watch Warren stare down countless unseen points, looking at the skies he can no longer touch with his own hands. She misses flying with him too, but she tries not to think too much on those memories. She hopes, someday, to instead make new ones.

She hopes to see him again, some glimpse of the man she loves, as she attends to his silence, his severance, his shock.

Then, just like that, now she does.

Alison holds Warren desprately through every soft, broken sound of his weeping. She was always a hypocrite; welcoming him to do what is similarly so hard for her to do in front of others, even him. Her father intimidated all her tears away, dried her up, that she's no longer sure she really can cry — but she comforts him as he does, brief as it is. She closes him into her arms and lets her eyes slide shut, and then it is over — and then he does not even wish to speak of it.

She shifts minutely, but allows it, not wishing to chase away this rare glimpse of Warren. Alison pets through Warren's hair as she obliges his small-talk, stupid little jokes that mean nothing after what happened to him. "Not the only oddity I've seen here. There was an entire plated roast turkey — out of nowhere. I think it judged my outfit, too. Surely too pedestrian."

But just hearing that light laugh out of him isn't enough — as Alison detours into seriousness. Into her softly-voiced promise. In answer, she feels Warren tense. It bemuses her, her worry knotting on itself when he speaks so cavalier in its stead… does he not believe her? Does he not want to believe her?

His question earns a distracted pause, but Alison slowly deigns to answer. "Nothing too extraordinary. End of month expense reports. Some new amendments on the tax code, which change a few trust accounting rules."

'Also Aegis' role in the announced metahuman lawsuit,' she wants to add, but that's too much, too soon, too close to heart.

Instead, Alison circles back to her worry, pulling on her like a deadly undertow. She can't seem to let it go. What did he mean, somewhere interesting? Is he worried she will abandon him unles she's properly entertained? "Warren…" she begins, voice trailing searchingly. "You know I'm with you. I'm yours. You're mine."

Whoever keeps providing the meals does not seem offended if they're rarely finished. They're always cleared away anyway, and a little while later, there's always another. Sooner, if Alison wound up purging the previous.

Not that Laurie ever comments on the purging. Not her place — and she's well familiar by now with that tendency among visible, celebrity women. Alison is not the first woman of her type that Warren has 'brought home' — though she is the first singer, and perhaps the first of her type for whom he actually cared — and the habits of aspiring starlets and models are known to her. Also well known to her is the requirement placed upon them that they look beautiful for the man they're accessorizing. It reflects poorly on him if they are anything but, and then why would they be kept?

A poisonous way of being — and yet, the way of things in these environments. Alison has been through years of this. She is old hat. Not that there is any need for it, with Warren — he has never demanded anything like that out of her — but old habits die hard.

These little hints of his home life as a child, however, show Alison more facets of why he was such a spoiled brat as a teenager… and why ultimately, once given the correct guidance, he grew up into a man: one capable of the most selfless and protective acts. The understated tenderness from Laurie, who has spent thirty years an employee of the family and seen him grow up; the abandoned toys she finds tucked carefully away in storage one of the days she gets lost; the dusty stacks of books in his room, which remind her how Warren talked of his busy parents still finding time to read to him… all these things paint a picture of a young man with a charmed life, well-loved and lacking for nothing in particular.

Perhaps that's why he took his parents' deaths so hard. Perhaps that's why he is taking this so badly. How can someone with every advantage in the world wind up losing so much of what is truly important, so early? Maybe it is that selfsame selflessness to blame. The direct cause of his loss, after all, was his instinct to shield a child.

He never evinces any sign that he regrets that fact in particular. Looking through his affairs makes plain why; his self-identification as a protector and provider is written all over his work. It is an eye-opening look into all the ways he has materially sheltered everyone in his life… even down to a girl he met once, on a dark night in Mutant Town.

That man seems gone, along with his wings. In his place drifts a kind of Warren that might have come to pass without the X-Men: languid, indifferent, and dreaming alone in the midst of his inherited wealth. Perhaps he does not even see himself as a mutant anymore, without his wings; perhaps that is why he never speaks of going back to the Institute, to the X-Men, to his work with Aegis.

Perhaps it's just that the agony of standing outside staring at the sky for hours at a time, unable to reach it, is too great, and that the Institute holds far too many memories of fledging and flying.

Sometimes Alison will catch him looking at her, almost apologetic. Maybe he feels he failed her too, by no longer being able to show her the sky as he once did.

That he eventually lapses enough to cry in front of her, as he does now, is clearly taken as another failure, judging by the way he cuts himself off so sharply. It is the first time there have been any tears in relation to this, and even then it lasts less than fifteen seconds before he is silencing himself and retreating into light-hearted nothings. It is a familiar defensive tactic from him, by now; he would always push off harder emotion by trying for flippancy. Warren Worthington III is cavalier and careless and suave and fun, and he is not allowed to be anything else.

He does grimace at the turkey anecdote. "I told them to stop with that. There's no one here to eat those kinds of things." Just me. "It's a waste."

Alison turns the conversation back to serious matters, however, and his resistance to that can be felt in the way he tenses up in her arms. He attempts another dodge, another classic tactic — talking about work — and she slowly obliges him at first. "I'll go over those amendments myself at some point," he says, scrubbing a hand over his face. "Those could have a significant ripple effect. More than seems obvious at first."

But Alison just can't let it go — that promise to stay with him, no matter what. Her searching words tense him further in her arms, his shoulders sagging as if a great weight of responsibility just settled upon them. He has no idea where his path goes, and now it will drag Alison down too.

"Please…" he says, shivering despite her warmth. "Not now."

Sometimes, Alison catches those apologetic looks. They break her every time. Why should he apologize to her? Why should he tell her he is sorry for becoming less of whom she fell in love? Why should he think such a thing… though she knows, deep down, he believes all of his work, his victories, his worth, tied to the power and use of his wings.

Would she not think the same of her voice? When all loved the Dazzler, and so many more abandoned Alison Blaire?

How does she make him believe otherwise? She isn't sure. It wasn't supposed to be this way. Cameron Hodge was supposed to wait for her…

But with no words or way to fix this, all Alison can do is just be here. This is what she does now, encircled around Warren since her first glimpse of his tears, trying to give him herself to fill the void lost in his own person. She's not sure it's enough — no, no, it will be, if she works hard enough, gives hard enough, tries hard enough.

Like now. There's no denying the tension in him. Alison does not draw away, does not hesitate even when familiar, old doubts begin to prickle; her arms remain sure around him, one of her gentle hands lost in some absent movement, brushing rhythmically through his hair.

Warren speaks of work, wanting to press his own mark back on it, and Alison is of two minds. She doesn't want him to assume responsibility he doesn't feel ready to take on, but she also doesn't want to keep him away from the routine, which can sometimes be helpful — be healing.

However, she cannot find much healing in tax code amendments. Unnecessary details that chase him farther from the heart of what he's ignoring in his life. "I have it handled," Alison counters quietly, and though her voice is sure, it is still gentle. Trying so very hard not to cage Warren Worthington into any corner he does not wish for himself. "I'm not unfamiliar to intricate work. I actually studied tax law, god rest my soul."

Not a lie, either; Alison Blaire, headed to become a steely, unfeeling attorney — until it all became too much. But she does not say more; all those light-hearted avenues lead to the same dead end, and she doesn't want to think about her father here and now. "You're lucky that I'm a lot smarter than I look."

An undercurrent of humour stirs through her voice, some gentle part of her desperate to return what Warren gives — speak those meaningless, inconsequential things, if it might make him smile, and forget the sixteen feet missing from his back.

A brief feeling, certainly, one Alison cannot deny — but also one she cannot as easily maintain. Not when Warren speaks of something that rings such discord through her heart that Alison cannot bear the thought of him… existing that way, thinking those things, circling them over and over through his head until he believes it.

She presses — just a little.

And he tightens like smithed steel inside her arms.

Unwilling to be spooked away, not when she knows she's helped him before, when she's felt Warren take something good from the feel of her hands, or being held against her body, Alison holds onto him. Her head tilts, and she curls him into he cradle of her body; he can feel the distant draw of her eyelashes as her lips come to rest close to his temple.

Please, not now, he says. He begs. Alison nearly obeys. It would be safer to. It would be the cautionary choice, not to try to reach for the hidden parts of him, and only accept the superficiality he seems only sure to give. But it scares her too much to imagine him hurting, and her negligence complicit with his pain —

"If not now," Alison answers, after a beat, "then when?"

She is quiet for a moment, then tells him, low, raw: "If all that mattered to me was somewhere interesting, I would have gone there with you ten years ago." Her forehead presses to his crown, and her eyes shut. "I don't want to be anywhere but right here."

Warren didn't just love flying. He loved sharing it with others who could not. Above all, he loved sharing it with Alison — it always made him smile to show her sights she would never otherwise see — and he seems to take the fact he no longer can as a failure. Perhaps a small one, in the scale of things… but still a failure.

She could reason with him that he wouldn't think any differently of her whether she could or could not sing to him… but she knows the sort of 'it's not the same' look he would give.

Not that he's giving her any kind of look right now. He's avoiding her gaze, in fact, still keeping his face averted in the wake of that brief loss of control. Transparently uncomfortable with his own display, with being so fragile as to need to be held and tended, he tries to push matters back to a sphere he understands and is comfortable with: work. A sphere in which he has control.

Alison humors him, briefly, with a sitrep. But he wants to know more — wants to look personally — and when she tells him she 'has it handled,' he flinches in her arms as if the remark hurt. Perhaps it does, in a way. He's not so old-fashioned as to object to the idea of a smart woman handling business, but having someone take over and seamlessly do the work he has always done — edging him gently out of the way — transparently fills him with a brief sense of uselessness.

He is not even competent to work.

"Ah," is all he says out loud. That momentary animation he had, talking about work, breathes out of him like an exorcised ghost.

The tension leaves him. He doesn't push her away, letting her stay close and hold him as she wants, but he doesn't really respond much either. Especially not to her desire to reassure. Not now, he pleads instead. If there is nothing he can feel in control of, then he will just sit. Sit — and not talk. He just does not have the emotional reserves to do this talking now.

When? Alison asks.

Warren doesn't answer. It gives Alison time to speak on, promising that what matters to her is not how interesting and fun he is, and promising that she doesn't want to be anywhere but here…

It might have worked, if 'her abandoning him because he was no longer fun' was precisely what he feared. It is her following him wherever he might go — no matter how dark — which is a problem.

"Later," he finally answers her question, inconclusively.

Gently, but insistently, he stands up. His injury didn't do any harm to his strength — even if the powers of flight which that strength was intended to support are now gone — and so the fact she is hanging onto him isn't much of a barrier. He quietly detangles.

"I'm going to go find something to do," he says, and that's also gentle… but audibly riddled with exhaustion. "I should go check the hull for any leaks. That sailboat's been in storage a while. Thanks for making this — "

At least he takes the sandwich with him.

There is little denying it happens; Alison can feel that hitch up through her hands.

Unwilling yet to let Warren go, she remains silent and attentive, but does not immediately speak — perhaps not yet understanding why. Even she is new to this, supporting someone grieving as deeply as he is, fractured in such a fundamental level that his own identity feels like shattered glass at his feet… and all Alison has is to do what feels most true to her. A control freak of her own kind, especially when it comes to work, she wants to manage it all, do it all — stop feeling so damn helpless.

Give him freedom from the responsibilities that even she is surprised to count in full, so many duties he endured to keep the people he loves safe, protected, comfortable — would he not want that? Just some time to worry about nothing but his own healing?

Alison's mistake is that gentle push-back against Warren's reach for what's familiar. She doesn't realize immediately, hoping his returned silence is one of relief — as he's been so far, when she's assumed his life for him — but then he makes that small, unmistakable sound.

It's neither consent nor argument. It feels like resignation.

That bit of renewed spirit leaves him, and Alison bites her own bottom lip in a brief pang of shame. Wouldn't she want to work? She doesn't know. She feels foolish trying to imagine herself in his place, because she's never lost anything as vital as this. Her career, sure, that she sold herself, worked herself sick, bled for ten years to build from nothing… she lost that in a heartbeat, and it guts her out every day to live beyond her music, to taste every note in her mouth like ash, but a career is not two limbs on your own body.

She wishes the Professor were here.

But he is not, and here they are… here she is, and she needs to work with what she has. Do good by Warren, try as best as she can, and… not leave him in what feels like the dark, thinking she will only stand by his side for as long as he is that gilded figure, winged and proud and untouchable. Though she found him as equally beautiful as everyone else, equally strong on the battlefield, there are not the reasons she chose Warren, and he needs to know, she needs to tell him —

Also a mistake, when Alison pushes just a bit too far.

His answer pauses her for a beat. She holds him closely enough that he cannot see the look on her face — something Alison is grateful for, in her unceasing worry that she may make this about her, or become the burden she so fears.

She half-anticipates whether he'll lose his temper on her like he has nearly everyone else, the man shaved down to mere, thready splinters that the smallest weight can snap — but he does not. No anger, no frustration, no last-shred indignation at her pressing too hard —

It's something else. But still something that pulls him from her arms. Alison tries to hold on, just an instant too long, but between his strength and her desire not to hurt him, she lets go.

Warren stands, and suddenly feels like he's miles away, for all Alison can feel now is some wide berth too vast to cross. It's in his gentleness, his peacefulness, his… nothingness, that she holds breathlessly still, keeping her palms flat and her face emotionless, while she figures she's lost him for good.

So many mistakes. So many wrong turns. He's telling her, in the most kind way possible, that she's not enough. Or Alison tells herself, because it's no different now from her mother's absence, her father's denial, even Roman's straying attention — there's something missing in her, made wrong, that just can't let her be what others want.

In Warren's wake, Alison remains still. She barely moves, but she does acknowledge him, and her reply chases his exit out: "OK."

She remains that way for some minutes, long after he's gone. Then, silently, she cleans up after herself, and goes back to the routine. She heeds his wish and does not bother him for the rest of that day, though Alison does leave an apology in the form of a tablet and a neat pile of documents on his desk: unfinished WI policy changes for him to finalize.

In the ensuing days, Alison Blaire remains as staid as ever, ever-ready without a hint of hesitation to help Warren with whatever he needs. When work does not call her away on long, lonely car rides which she now drives herself — needs the time to herself, these days — she is on-hand, and attentive to him. She brings him more work from WI, and takes care of the rest, usually nearby, or a room away.

Visits happen to break up the monotony. The attack on Worthington Tower steals her away for the longest time yet, and it is not until the early hours the next morning that Alison returns, her clothes a little dishevelled, but promising that the damage was minimal and the casualties none, with a tired smile. She settles herself and attends to some of the labour following that, usually on a laptop a room away.

She does not go too far, but she does not come too close either. Alison talks about the little things, questions about work or little anecdotes to share, and does not hover with disapproval when Warren drinks too much. She cleans up after him patiently, and permits everything else. She always has smiles for him, sincere ones that touch her eyes, but it is not like before — the comfort is gone, replaced with a very strained sense of excessive care, a woman afraid that any misplaced word or touch will unravel what's left between them.

She doesn't try to sing to him any more.

Warren spends the next few days mostly in isolation. Occasionally he asks for Alison's help, or accepts it, but otherwise he fends for himself as best he can. He works on the small sailing yacht, aimlessly; he works on things from WI, much more attentively; when he isn't doing either, he's spending long stretches sitting out in the garden, out on the marina, or in some darkened room or another of the house.

He does little, and says even less, when he's just… sitting like that. Wrapped in a blanket, he simply huddles and stares up at the sky with fixed longing.

One day, he finally takes out one of the small private planes, and goes up. He's not up for long before he comes back down, and afterwards he goes to his room and does not come out for hours.

He doesn't try to go up again. He goes back to his empty routine. His drinking, which had slowed, resumes with a vengeance, and there are a few tiring days where Alison returns to the sight of him sodden in a chair, unmoving, his sharp beauty softening around the edges from alcohol… and has to pick up after him.

Alison is not ever chased away — but she isn't invited close again, either. He is absently gentle with her when they do interact, courtly and kind in a familiar way, but he is empty. Fortunately, they don't interact often; it is a big house, and they do not have much occasion to meet if they do not make it happen.

It is a slow climb out of the shocked, self-centered stupor which claimed him, in the first few days after the removal of his wings, but it is one he makes slowly and haltingly, with numerous metaphorical stops to rest along the way. One day, he wakes up as if out of a long sleep, looks around, and realizes his company has just been attacked.


And where is… Alison…?

When she returns, it is to find Warren more animated than he has been for many days, agitated and fretful and apparently sitting up for her return. He asks questions — damage? casualties? costs and timeframes on repair? — though the burst of activity seems to tire him. Not so much, however, that his sharp eyes cannot pick out something troubling during their conversation.

For the first time, he seems to notice that there is strained fear in her eyes when she looks at him.

Two days after the attack, when Alison gives him his work in his study, Warren takes it — and her hand with it, preventing her from leaving. His eyes are exhausted, still sad, but clearer than she has seen them since the amputation.

"I told you 'later,'" he says. "Not 'never.'"

He searches, briefly, for what else to say, and how.

"Stay," he settles upon.

In one off-key note so far muffled by his waking fog, is a distant truth — Alison Blaire is really, really good at this.

Good at adjusting, functioning, living the way they do, over these few, too-quiet days. She is there but not, allowing Warren his isolation, but always within reach the moment he needs something. She is mindful and attentive, but never overbearing. Her words are few, her presence is minimal, and her care is all for him. She knows how to exist in her own, separate space, and does not cross over to bother his; as he grieves, as she helps, it even feels as if they occupy two different worlds.

If she feels anything, she is careful not to impress on him the burden. She lives as carefully and inoffensively as possible, and does so with a masterful skill… because she was raised this way. This was Alison's life under her father's hand, and for twenty long years, she learned to be a careful daughter and unobtrusive woman. Old habits creep back easily, and as the days pass, she remembers how to be a dutiful partner.

Even as every look on Warren worries her. When he goes up into that private plane, Alison frets and cannot rest. It's absurd for her to be concerned, she knows, since his very element is the sky, but as much as she once trusted his wings, she cannot trust a machine as easily to keep him safe.

But he returns, and admits himself into his own solitary confinement. Alison dares not broach it.

She only attends, and with a same, deft skill, cares for him when he's drank too much, and cleans his messes with a practiced patience. She's done this before, many, many times, with countless ex-boyfriends drugged out of their minds. She does it again.

Alison knows she could be enabling something far more dangerous. She knows for practically anyone else, she would confront these behaviours, but it sickens her to imagine doing same to Warren. Not in his state. Not with his hurt. And, selfishly, she fears it would be the death blow on their relationship, with no reason left in the world for him to tolerate her. It would end like the others did before, tired of this, tired of her. And when he pushes her away, who will Warren have left?

The attack happens, and after long hours of her silence — broken phone — Alison returns. She weathers Warren's concern and questions with patience and good news: no casualties, minor damage, contractors already called to begin a week's of repairs. She is infinitely patient to discuss every detail he requests, with near-seamless hitches here and there — struggling to choose the right words, or confirming what best to do with her hands — until he fatigues and until she retires to shower.

The shock and adrenaline arrest at some point Alison is numbly unbuttoning her blouse. She struggles to peel it off her body, where the long line of her back already smears purple. She hobbles herself beneath the hot water and lets it rain down.

Alison hides those bruises, along with whatever else goes on in her heart. At times, the hurt is a palpable ache in her chest, and she feels selfish just to feel it. This is not about her. This is beyond her comprehension, because it's just as Warren implied days ago in the garden: she could never know how to go through this, because she spent her life for herself, in hiding.

Now, she repeats the routine of delivering Warren his requested work. Already turning to leave, surprise stops Alison, but it's really Warren who roots her into place, his hand closed around hers.

She meets his eyes, puzzled, before his next words open her expression. Searching Warren's face, she says nothing.

Stay, he asks of her.

Alison does not speak, afraid to weigh him with more words. Instead, her hand shifts in his, fingers curling slightly to grasp back.

For several days, Warren thinks about nothing but himself, and Alison silently, seamlessly… adjusts to support his selfishness. This is familiar to her, after all. She lived it with her father. She lived it with all those past ex-boyfriends, who one day lost interest in her even after all their fervent promises.

She lives in the house with him, but everything they do and everything they are — everything about their existence together — is governed solely by his mood. She is always at hand when needed, and scarce when she is not.

He does not seem to notice her obedience and unobtrusive support. It is uncertain whether he would notice their absence, either. Day by day, he goes through the motions, working blindly and sitting aimlessly as his system struggles to recover from the utter shock of the sudden realization that things can not go his way, and that they can fail to go his way in a way that cannot be fixed.

Hard as it was, he understood losing Jean. He understood losing his parents. How, though, do you understand losing yourself?

The one time he tries to reach for the sky again, he isn't up there long. He is shut away in his room for so long, afterwards, that Alison might start to fear for his safety up until he emerges — silent — and starts to drink. His constitution is capable of taking a great deal; that evening, he stresses it beyond even its endurance. Alison puts him to bed and cleans up after him when the worst is over.

He does not start to rouse from his dazed, waking nightmare, up until there is a sudden gap in Alison's attentiveness. It seems he did notice her tending, because one afternoon, while laying blankly on the roof of a car that — before today — had not been driven in years, he suddenly realizes something is missing.

His foggy brain struggles to recall what… and then he remembers. He picks up his phone and finds tens of messages. A few are from Alison. No others, not even the ones later in time, mention her.

He calls, and she doesn't answer. He calls again, and then again.

By the time she returns, he is sitting up by the front doors, nervous and restless. He asks the requisite questions about the team, the company, the employees, but his eyes appraise her. He lets her go after his inquiries, for the moment, but his eyes continue to follow her as she leaves to take a shower. Silver linings: bathing here is a luxurious experience, and the hot water is infinite.

For the next two days, there is a change: his eyes continue to follow her when she is within sight, instead of fixing on the sky or nowhere at all. And at the close of those two days, there is the biggest change of all; when she brings him his work, he asks her to stay.

Her wordless answer half-lids his eyes, the blue of them veiling under his long lashes. He puts the sheaf of work aside and takes both her hands in his — hands which have cared for him for weeks, belonging to a woman who has promised to be with him, no matter what. He holds them wordlessly a moment, before he turns them and leans down, leaving a kiss on the palm of each, one after the other.

He straightens back up in his seat. "You got hurt in the attack," he says. His voice is still a faraway, faded thing, but now there is a faint hint of his familiar strength waiting at its wings. It's a bit chiding. "I was watching you walk."

Truth be told, the day Warren Worthington returns to the sky, only to find it has been truly taken from him for good… terrifies Alison beyond belief.

He comes back different and so beyond reach that she fears he left his soul up in the air, and what remains is a shell, a walking corpse that should have died a week ago — something beyond her, or anyone's, capacity to help. Even when Alison Blaire found Warren broken four years ago, trying to destroy himself out of grief of his parents, there was still the core of him beneath all that rage and pain.

Now there is nothing.

He spends so long closed in his room that Alison's underslept, anxious mind begins to imagine the worst — thinking up nightmarish imaginings of opening the door and finding him…

He would never. Would he? Can any man or woman be pushed past the limit?

At some point, she haunts like a ghost outside his door, careful to be breathlessly quiet. Alison could always localize sounds easily in silence, and her gift saves her then: hearing subtle sounds, and a body's slow breathing, keeps her from bursting in on him.

Warren eventually returns, not for her or anyone else, but to fill his own hollowness with drink. Alison watches him imbibe bottle after bottle of alcohol, worried, and perhaps too much a coward to beg him otherwise. Even though it let her faith down once before, she tries to trust his constitution, and is thankful once Warren passes out that she can remove the rest of the poison beyond his reach.

She caretakes it all with silent forbearance. She cleans his mess, cleans him, and stays up the rest of that night, vigilant against the signs of alcohol poisoning. Those hours are one of the rare times she can touch him in the past week, as Alison brushes Warren's hair from his brow.

Fortunately, his body navigates him through the stormy seas of that day, though Warren's shattered soul and restless mind cannot be so easily healed. Alison does what she can, maintaining a station nearby that is so constant, so staid — that while he never sees her when she is there, he notices the absence when she is gone.

The attack keeps her from him for the longest time since he lost his wings. Though social media shares the stories of WI employees, many thanking the Dazzler for helping them get out, there is no word from her for hours. Even the team lost contact.

In some turn of fortune, Warren does not have to wait significantly long; in the wake of a full employee count and emergency assessment of Worthington Tower, Alison appears to have driven directly home, her clothes stressed and ripped at the joints. She apologies profusely for her deceased phone, and delivers him a full sitrep of his company — safe, thanks to the team.

Alison assures Warren against further worry, and with a smile, sees herself away for a shower. Whatever is on her body, she keeps from him.

The days pass, she returns to her own status quo, though her movements are slightly more stiff and slow than before. In her attentiveness — Alison notices those looks Warren now imparts her. Though she tries to hide it, they worry her. That doubtful voice in her head tells her nothing bodes well in those silent glances; he is reassessing her value to him, mentally scripting how he'll tell her it's time to go.

The thought returns, unbidden, when Warren now takes her hand. Alison stands silently, looking down, confused, alert, and conditioned to anticipate the worst.

So it hits her harder when, instead, he asks her to stay.

Hope wellsprings warmth up through her chest, and she reamins very still, afraid movement may take it away. She does not trust her words not to tire him, so Alison says nothing, answering in the tightening of her hand. Always.

Her grip loosens only when he turns her hand, and takes the other, and they open obediently to Warren's ministrations. Alison watches and feels Warren anoint both palms with the stigmata of his kiss, leaving behind a phantom contact that curls in her closing fingers to savour it. She remains calm, composed, though her blue eyes sting slightly brighter.

Encouraged by his connection, Alison half-steps closer, and turns one hand to brush back a lock of his hair. It is a brief, careful touch, but one that steeps in tenderness. She has missed him.

Perhaps not anticipating much more, especially not Warren to keep speaking, Alison lifts her eyebrows to his next words. Surprise sunrises across her face, before her expression twists into something just short of apology. So he saw, somehow. "It's really minor," Alison finally speaks, sheepish. "I didn't want to worry you with something like that."

How long can a man stay steeped in suffering, especially with such unfailing support?

Perhaps in another life, another reality, things would have gone very differently. Perhaps he would have had no one. Perhaps he would have been alone in the hospital when the time came, and the slience would have driven him to run. To try to fly a last, fatal time.

Here, simple things keep him grounded. The sight of a blue sky made of paper over his bed, when he wakes in the morning. A little plush bird in a paper nest, sitting beside a plush caterpillar of many colors, and two unopened bottles of Coke. The silent — or not-so-silent — support of those who helped take the burdens his shoulders have dropped: those who brought attempted solutions, engineered wings, even if they were not what he wanted.

And Ali, taking him home, taking care of him, staying by his side, and taking it in compassionate silence when his pain spilled over and turned him into someone cruel, petty, and violent. Who has never walked away, nor answered anger with anger, nor asked anything of him when he did not have anything to give.

There is one kiss for her faithfulness, and another for her forbearance.

He lets that, and her tender brush-back of his hair, end the matter. There are some ways in which he is vocally eloquent, and emotion was never one.

He shows things in other ways, like the insistent way his eyes turn to her injured back afterwards. It's really minor, Alison insists. She didn't want to worry him. His gaze flints in answer, with a distant echo of his familiar demand, before he tugs her wrist in a clear prompt for her to turn around. "I could use something new to worry about," he says, his voice soft and toneless. "Something I can actually fix."

He picks at her blouse, where it tucks into the waistband of her skirt at the small of her back. The fabric pulls up easily, revealing the bruises still welting up her spine; his touch against her skin, as he traces the scope of the lingering injury, is cold.

"Let me do something that makes me feel like a mutant again," he asks, his voice hushed almost to nothing.

Watching Warren in pensive silence, Alison knows better than to think this some breakthrough — some turn-around, or cure for all his pain. No such thing is possible, not when this accident means his life is forever changed, and an integral part of him now forever lost.

One cannot simply decide strength and walk freely from that anguish without a look back.

But it's the first look on him in weeks with something more than glassy emptiness in his eyes. It knots her up with something so immediately desperate that Alison has to hold her breath to push back against the recklessness — some surge of irrational something that wants to pull him from the fog and make him remember the man he was — the man she believes he still is.

The signs are palpable on him, however, that this is a struggle, but Warren still tries — tries for her. In return, Alison can impart him as much strength as she believes she is capable, down to the careful, minute way she answers his kisses with a brush-back of his hair.

Imparting strength, right now, means not troubling him with more than he can take, and so Alison shifts, intending to step back… but Warren insists her to remain in place, pin-mounted on the spot by his telling remarks. Best as she could hide anything from him, his eyes have not lost a bit of their acuity.

And Alison's gentle demurrals meet Warren's familiar, unrelenting refusal. She looks like she wants to speak, but her deliberate care in choosing words these days gives Warren ample opening, and he turns her to bear him her back. She doesn't struggle — she's never struggled against any of his touches — but she exhales thinly, the sound soft and doubtful whether this is for the best.

Her thoughts are on how Warren doesn't need to see injuries on her so similar to where his wings are missing on his own back — she's so nervous of triggering him.

"Warren," Alison says, somewhat feebly — her voice knotted, a turn to the second syllable that offers him a wordless way out of doing this. That it's all right. That he's allowed recuperation without needing to offer himself as a healer —

He lifts the back of her blouse, and the action reveals the line of her, smeared a sick black and swollen up the spinal column, the deep skeletal bruising even — consistent with a forceful collision, or a heavy fall. Her breath catches when he touches her, not because his hands are cold — but because it hurts.

However, there is no tension. The argument goes out of her at Warren's last words, his too-soft voice like a punch to the stomach. His entire identity as a mutant in ruination… Over the rise of her shoulder, she slips him a searching look.

Silently, Alison answers him in the decided way she unbuttons her blouse, pulling her arms carefully from the sleeves to better give Warren her back.

It is already a mark of strength — and the support he has received — that he's starting to pull back together into some semblance of coherency so quickly at all, but the new clarity to his eyes is not a clarity of remembrance for the man he was, but the beginnings of acceptance for the man he now is.

There is no returning to what he was. There is only figuring out what he might become now that everything has changed.

Not that the man he was is entirely gone. That much is clear in the way it becomes obvious one of the reasons he came back from his dazed stupor, was the sight of Alison's suffering. Both physical, and mental. The physical was the first thing he noticed, it must be admitted — his eyes have a great deal in common with raptors, and they are naturally tuned to notice prey movement, injury, and weakness — but after he watched her disguise her limping for a few days, he started to notice the bruises on her soul as well.

He started to think back more critically over the past few weeks. All the ways in which he was short with her. All the ways in which he ignored or brushed her off. All the ways in which he was so absorbed in himself that he did not notice her…

So when she tries to demur again and pull away, he stops her. When she tries to say her injury is nothing, he turns her and looks anyway. Another thing that never changed about him — his total lack of experience with the idea of not getting exactly what he wants. The sight of her bruises doesn't seem to bother him, at the least; not beyond the way he intakes a breath in a way that sounds with self-reproach.

She tries to say it's all right, that he doesn't need to offer anything of himself right now. His answer is that he wants to — needs to — in order to feel like the man he used to be.

That destroys her resistance. Yet still, Warren is very gentle as he pulls her blouse away — now quietly assisted by her acquiescence — to get a better look at the injury. It's extensive, but his blood never needed widespread application to work. Just to mix in with someone else's, and briefly infuse them with his own gifts. That in mind…

"I have to do it this way," he says, low, apologetic. "But it'll seal itself back up."

The sharp, metallic smell of blood follows, as he cuts deeply into the palm of his right hand. Then Alison will feel his left hand brace against the curve of her side, before a cold moment of pain heralds the small knifeblade slicing into the small of her back, above the bruising. The hurt lasts only an instant, before it's covered by the wet warmth of his bleeding hand.

A few more patient moments later, the pain starts to ease. About a minute passes before he finally draws his hand back, still sticky with blood, leaving behind a matching print of blood on her back — but no incision or bruises.

"This, at least, still works," he says, leaning his forehead tiredly against her shoulderblade.

Her demurs exist as countless detours Warren can take, if at any time his care is too much to suffer; Alison ghosts with tension under his hands in those moments, nervous against the idea of triggering him, being the reason he could again retreat back to those dark, harrowing nights of closing himself up to solitude, to drinking himself to death —

However, his insistence wins. It usually does, between them. Warren admitting his desire — almost pleadingly — to be useful again breaks the last resistance in Alison's heart. Unable to deny him anything, wanting to help him in every way possible, she relents, and slowly divests of her blouse.

Carefully, she pulls her hair away from the considerable bruising. It is an ugly thing on her, considering the discordant paleness of her skin, and the meticulous care she gives her body — any scars she wears are faint, thready things, barely-seen relics of fights of years ago.

"I trust you," she answers Warren, shifting unconsciously against the apology in his voice.

Always a calm, reserved woman, one who learned her lessons never to emote too expansively or irresponsibly, Alison remains peaceful even now.

When the blade passes through her flesh, deeply enough to well with blood, she does not even twitch. Alison's only reaction is a covert one: the brief way her eyes close.

She keeps them that way, shut, to better perceive the weight of Warren's hand, his split palm sealing down over her wound. For an instant, there is just the coolness of his hand, and the sting of her worried cut, before a warmth prickles through her skin and rushes through the blood beneath. It is a heat so different from her field — not warming her from the outside, but the inside, a druggy rush that slows her heart and flutters her still-shut eyes with a rush of endorphins.

Moments again, he would not have been able to press weight to her spine without Alison shuddering with pain. Now, the blackened contusions fade, and the swelling recedes, her bruised bones whispered back to health. Alison breathes in, feeling to telling ache against the movement of her diaphragm — first time in days — and exhales with palpable relief.

The weight of his forehead, heavy, fatigued in every way, troubles Alison's healed back. She tries to look at Warren past her own shoulder.

Within a beat, she shifts gently, turning around to face him. She does not even take the moment to consider replacing her lost blouse. Alison's face still mirrors with his last words, and all the sadness and desolation they reflect: a man who lost so much, and no longer has the buffer of shock to pretend otherwise. His life is forever this, as he must confront it. As he must find whatever use in himself to salvage his severed identity.

Alison knows there's no one way around it, and no way she can fix it in a few words or one too-long look. Not all things can be so easily healed.

"Thank you," she murmurs, yielding to draw him into her arms, one of her hands finding his — the right hand, to cover his bloodied palm with hers.

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