Roleplaying Log: Coda
IC Details

Alison goes just a little too far down the rabbit hole, and finds Cameron Hodge waiting for her. Aka, 'Warren's No Good Very Bad Day.'

Other Characters Referenced:
IC Date: October 21, 2019
IC Location: Warren's 5th Ave Apartment
OOC Notes & Details
Posted On: 21 Oct 2019 22:43
Rating & Warnings:
Scene Soundtrack: [* ]
NPC & GM Credits: Cameron Hodge run by Warren
Associated Plots

Things are not so bad as they were — but there are still many unanswered questions.

The plant incident at Worthington Tower, at least, is not one of them. The cause was pretty immediately apparent. In fact, it seems to have served a positive purpose in being the catalyst that woke Warren up in a way that nothing else has to date; that, and the recent reports of murders and potential Purifiers on the loose. Unsurprising, really… one of his core traits was always valiance, and he finds it exceptionally hard to sit idle when he knows people were — and continue to be — in danger. Slowly, haltingly, he has started to take a vague interest in things again, though his mental recovery promises to be a long road.

It really can't happen too soon, though Alison would be the last person to rush him. The strain of managing WI, the Institute, Aegis, and the X-Men all at once is monumental; especially when WI in particular is crumbling like a sand castle at high tide, and especially when no one in the company is taking kindly to 'Warren's washed-up blonde Beyonce girlfriend' trying to take charge in his absence.

The investors are nervous. Leadership is stressed and angry. WI is dropping in the markets like a rock, new contracts are proving hard to close, and popular opinion has long since turned against the company. Warren is shirking his duties, there's no kinder way to put it, and the beleaguered company is starting to look for solutions. For other leadership.

It is an opportune time for Cecilia LeFrak, nee Worthington, to start speaking up: her son Hunter at her side. They are tactful about it, discreet, and apologetic, but — well — unfortunate as Warren's circumstances are, they all have to think of what is best for the company, as well, and perhaps in the end it would be best for Warren too. He clearly needs time to focus on himself and recuperate, and running a business isn't compatible with that.

Talk of voting Warren out starts up.

It is in this uncertain atmosphere that, one day, Alison receives a communication from an unexpected source: Cameron Hodge, who has been intensely busy, and with whom she has accordingly had very little interaction ever since that fateful day in the hospital. It is even more unexpected because it is handwritten, tucked into a file folder, which he gives to her with a vague smile and a remark about these being 'the invoices she was looking for.' There are invoices in the folder, certainly, but also a succinct note:

I have found out some interesting things about what happened at the hospital. Talk at Warren's 5th Ave apt. Don't know who is listening but they won't be listening there.

The dark nights have not yet ceded to a hopeful dawn… but things are not what they were. And for that, Alison Blaire is thankful.

No longer are those gut-wrenching hours of helpless waiting whether Warren will survive or succumb in his hospital bed, or helpless watching whether Warren will crack under the grief and pressure of his loss, and in a moment she's not there, do something that he, in a sound mind, would forever regret… no longer are the moments of desperation where she looks up at the sky and considers a deal with the devil just to see him feel like himself again.

There is still no end to his pain, his anger, and his grief, but there is at least a foundation to it… some footing for Warren to stand, were he to take his first steps down a new road. Alison is still not certain when it may happen, and were that path shall lead, but she promises Warren she will walk it with him.

And so she does. The next several weeks are this harried, exhausting routine, and as Warren struggles by the day to find himself, Alison extends herself to keep his neglected life held together. She knows it a patchwork job; despite her best efforts, she is not him, doesn't have his talent, formal training, and years of expertise — she learns quickly, but she's been long running on fumes, and it takes her hours what he'd normally accomplish in minutes.

Even then, she will not rush Warren. Even as shades of his old self give colour and texture to what was once lifelessness, Alison needs only watch him to see how fragile his recovery is. One wrong reminder about the Institute, or the team can and will set him back. One too-clear media mention of himself, or his missing wings, regresses progress in an instant.

And, sometimes — there is just nothing left in him but to wait his days on the deck of his anchored yacht: a man adrift, even if he has not yet lost himself to sea.

Alison watches him, sometimes, when he distances himself to watch the sky. It emboldens her to keep working. That when he decides which way he shall go, she will make sure he has something to come home to.

The Institute is taxing, but workable; Moonstar's efforts are transparent, and they lighten Alison's load. Aegis is a full-time job, and many eyes are looking at her with talk of the upcoming lawsuit, but she knows its direction and how to stay the course. Worthington Industries is… a different story. Both inexperienced and woefully underqualified, Alison's fame and intelligence allows her so many steps before she ultimately hits a wall. The pushback is intense no matter what she does, even though her solitary function now is to remain Warren's eyes and ears.

She is scheduled around, avoided, and left out of communication. Of what work Warren chooses to do, Alison cannot petition anyone to listen. His orders are ignored, and in their place, new decisions are made. His multi-billion dollar company can only wait in the wings for so long, and it certainly pushes aside the laughable merits of a washed up pop star. Alison is warded from the meeting where Cecilia LeFrak begins the executive sea change; but she recognizes Hunter at her side, and intuits well enough.

If there is not enough already, Alison also maintains her clandestine meetings with Vange, who has begun her own efforts prying into the unanswered questions behind Warren's injury, and this abrupt doubt of his leadership…

She cannot yet tell Warren. Not of WI's proposals to votes. Not of those unknowns. Alison is afraid he couldn't take it, though he needs to know… he needs to know soon, before time runs out.

She spent near thirty years doubting every decision made of her own life, and now she's supposed to make the same for his?

The point of no return draws sharply closer. And as Alison thinks that today, yes, she will tell him, today she will tell him he needs to step foot into Worthington Tower in the flesh and fix this — she receives a text. A text from the last person in the world whom she'd expect.

Alison's stomach drops out to read it.

What happened at the hospital. What is she supposed to think? What is she supposed to do? Why would Cameron Hodge, of all people, call her? Has he been running his own investigation? Of course he has, of course he would, seeing his best friend lose himself without his wings. And who is listening?

She needs to tell Warren, but Alison knows, with same immediacy, she cannot.

Heading there.

She tells Warren, with some guilt, that a meeting has called her into the city. Watching him, Alison thinks: the world can only see him for how much else he stands to lose. Is it his family, fighting like starved dogs for his control of the money? The less he knows, the safer it will be. When she learns more, when she returns, she will explain it all to him.

For now, she will do as promised. She will protect him.

With a kiss and a promise to be home in a few hours, Alison drives herself into Manhattan. She parks the car at WI, goes through the routine, and somewhere between blinks… looks forgettably like someone else. She is no one as she takes the train to the Upper East Side. It eats at her charge to hold it, though the constant roar of the 6 on the tracks provides just enough sound to maintain it. She exerts herself to cloak herself into Warren's familiar building, bending light to render herself invisible, but it allows her secrecy to use her key in his private elevator.

Whomever is watching him may also be watching her, but Alison knows her own tricks.

The elevator doors slide open, and she lets her cloak drop, exhaling with its strain. Stepping in, high heels clicking against the marble floor, Alison stops. She can't help it; she looks up at the skylights, and takes in the familiar, empty sight of Warren's penthouse. Their penthouse. She'd not laid eye on it since…

Warren is peaceful, tending a few late-blooming roses in the garden, when Alison comes to tell him that she is driving into the city. Peacefulness is not a common state for him these days, not when the wounds are still fresh enough that even small reminders can cause him to spiral, and so the moment is one to be treasured… a moment where, even if only briefly, he resembles the man he was before he lost his wings.

Still, stable moments like these are more common state than they were a few days before. Oddly, the sea change seemed to happen after he took a long drive, by himself; perhaps he had a Moment, along the way, which helped him accept what has happened to him. He never said much about it, if he did.

He is absorbed enough in what he is doing that he doesn't think much of Alison's remark that she's driving out and will be home in a few hours. Returning her kiss absently, he gives her that smile which haunts his features these days — a smile that doesn't much touch his sad eyes — before turning back to the roses. A thorn pricks him as Alison walks away, an accident born of momentary carelessness; Warren frowns at the spot of blood, but it heals over within moments, and he forgets it.

The drive in is as uneventful as a drive into the heart of Manhattan can be, with no apparent eyes on her movements. Her subsequent trip uptown also seems to go wholly unnoticed. To her knowledge, no one follows her as she heads into Warren's familiar building. Lucky for her the keys all still work; they hadn't gotten around to even talking about whether to dispose the apartment or not. More pressing matters at hand.

Still, it's been weeks since she's been here, and the last time she was was under considerably happier conditions. It's enough to give anyone pause, stepping in. It's no wonder Warren didn't want to come back here; even the smell of the place is a painful reminder of what they once had, and what is gone forever. The constant sight of the skylights would have been torture…

"Thanks for coming," interjects a familiar voice, as Cameron rises from the seat where he has been waiting. "I know we are not on the… best terms, but I think we can agree on a mutual interest in Warren. I thought this time…"

He gestures for Alison to join him. "…this time, I would start to communicate earlier. I… wanted to know why the wings were disposed of so quickly, and so…"

He pauses, and looks troubled. "No one saw you come here? I understand there are… concealment aspects to your… 'abilities.'"

At times, Alison wonders what happened on that afternoon Warren took for himself. Almost immediately, she saw the difference in him.

It was neither positive nor negative; it simply was — a change. A ratification of himself, whatever that may be, and the dreary acceptance that his life may never be what it was. Someday, she may feel brave enough to ask about it. For now, Alison simply gives Warren a safe, loving place to reach these decisions for himself.

Some part of her simply takes his peacefulness at face value, even though she knows things are rarely what they seem. Alison is just so tired, and it feels so good to just see Warren smile.

Not smile the way he used to, but smile nonetheless.

After all, she may return with something that may keep him from smiling from some time again. Keeping those troubles from reaching her own eyes, and biting the truth from her tongue, Alison promises him her quick return.

"I'll bring you back a present," Alison calls as she backs away, beyond the garden and down the path. "Tonight, you're trying hamburger helper. We're going to scandalize your entire family line."

With a flash of a smile, tender, hopeful, she is gone.

Into the city she goes. And, changing faces along the way, Alison chases a path back to her own beginning.

Even she is certain no one follows her. She's done this before; she's savvy, resourceful, on home turf advantage, and frankly good at it. Bending light is one of her newest breakthroughs, but it's a skill Alison works at every day, and one of her most obligate talents: so incredibly useful, when your face has been long sold for public consumption. Such a relief, if just for an hour or so, to be anonymous again.

Unfortunately, it's not a well-developed skill, and Alison can feel her photonic charge draining. Even the busy clamour of New York is barely — just barely — enough to sustain the constant pull, and she has to be exceedingly quick to reach the familiar penthouse. When she finally drops the illusion in the elevator up, she is already shaking with the strain, her charge bottomed-out to near nothing. Just enough of it to ward away the sensation of cold.

When the doors slide open, Alison is herself again, dressed professionally as if to work, a different, distant look on her face as her head tilts back to look up on the skylights. The sight of it takes her briefly away.

So away that she doesn't notice Cameron is already here. Her head turns to the sound of his voice, surprised — but, at the same time, not. She's never known as unobtrusive a man as him.

The sight of him holds her eyes, as Alison goes still. Hard not to forget their last confrontation, and even harder to forgive — there are things he's done, decisions he's made, she doubts she'll ever accept. Not on the best terms, he puts it diplomatically, and her expression tightens.

For a moment, she holds herself in reserve. The text is one thing. Seeing him is another. Alison visibly struggles with the question whether even to trust Cameron after last time… but, as she recalls catching the way he looked at Warren… There was no doubting the care there.

She exhales out that restlessness. "No, I appreciate it," Alison says, without furor. Setting down her handbag, she steps into the penthouse, her eyes on Cameron, attention turned onto his words. She crosses her arms uneasily, sitting down at his side.

Talk of the wings furrows her eyebrows, but Alison is unsurprised, as if already aware of this —

"Ah — yes," she says instead, to Cameron's question. There's a pause there, Alison unused to discussing her abilities with anyone outside the team. "I made sure. No one knows—"

And with barely a pause, and not even time to take a breath, Alison turns on him: "Tell me you got evidence. On his family. I know they want him dead. I've been chasing all these leads — if it's as deep as I think it is, tell me you have it."

What happened to Warren was the death of his last, wildest hope — but he doesn't share that with Alison. He may never share it with anyone. What happened was that he sold the last piece of integrity he had to sell, and he received nothing for it. Nothing except a dire confirmation: this is his fate.

In all the iterations of him there ever was or will be, there is one unyielding constant: he loses his wings.

A man attains a certain peace after having their last hopes stripped away… if the peace of complete resignation. With his last fanciful hope of seeing his wings restored gone, he has nothing left but to try to accept his new life. It is hard, and that reflects in his empty smiles, but — at the least, these days, he smiles.

He gives Alison one before she leaves. "You've already long since scandalized it," is his gentle rejoinder, before he resumes his work.

Once Alison is gone, he receives a call. But that is neither here nor there — for now.

For now, there is only the familiar, desolate sight of the apartment Alison once shared with Warren — and the foreign sight of Cameron Hodge within it, waiting patiently for her arrival. A man as understated as Warren is flashy, he seems accustomed to not being noticed until he speaks, judging from the patient way he stands through her startlement at his sudden voice.

He's a master of understatement, too, which becomes abundantly clear enough when he walks carefully into the topic for which he called her. If her unease at taking a seat near him bothers him, he makes no indication of such, simply resuming his own seat. He seems to only be listening with half an ear to her answer regarding her abilities, and the precautions she took not to be seen.

He only looks up, his eyes a little more attentive, when she jumps straight into those demands. "I know you've been chasing these leads," he says eventually, after she finishes. "Took me a while to realize it, but — if you have enough people looking at the same things, they'll realize they're on the same paths eventually. Yes? I was wondering, myself, if you'd found anything conclusive."

Reaching forward towards a file folder, he pushes it towards Alison. "That… family has not approved of Warren for a long time." His gentle brown eyes are heavy-lidded, watching her. "A lot of people didn't find his coming-out stunt so amusing as he seemed to."

So many emotions cross Alison's face at first sight of Cameron Hodge. It's hard to decide how she feels about him.

For a time, she blamed him for everything. Truth be told, she still wants to; she still wants to believe, whether ignorantly or not, that she could have saved Warren's wings — fixed all this. But what if this was orchestrated with far more intricacy and malice that Alison's good faith attempt would have done nothing at all? What if Cameron's decision did save Warren's life?

She does not offer an apology for their last exchange in the hospital; she does not wear penance on her face, if she feels it at all. But rather than any show of guilt, Alison instead shakes off some of her reserve, and moves toward an uneasy truce.

Whatever she thinks of him, whatever he thinks of her in return — a mutant extremist in hiding, he'd accused her, with clear disgust in his voice — Alison is willing to put it aside. There is no doubt in her mind Cameron loves Warren.

Warren always spoke of his friend as family — his only family, made all the more apparent the more Alison has learned of his own flesh and blood.

"You know?" Alison asks, though she doesn't sound too surprised. Whatever she's ever doubted about Cameron in the last few weeks, his intelligence was certainly not part of it. "The wings are what tipped me off. I shouldn't have let the hospital. Shouldn't have given them an inch. But —" Her strained words knot up. But Warren needed her more. Or she needed him. If not her, he needed someone — someone there — and she just didn't have the time, or the focus, and all she could think…

She rubs her face, frustrated, underslept, exhausted, racing against time. The gesture may be answer enough for Cameron's question. Alison, this desperate, would have already acted if she could. Instead, here she is, at this last ditch, clandestine meeting.

"It's…" she starts to say, but her words lose themselves as her attention rivets on that file folder. Alison accepts it, leaning back against the couch, opening it up to scour the contents. "There's so many disparate events over a short amount of time. Things Warren and I shrugged off as symptoms of being public. Being mutants. His family are such the obvious target, like it's practically Shakespeare — so, why not use the most likely target you can think? Something even more painfully obvious..?"

Her words wane as she begins to read. After a beat, she asks: "What is this?"

Cameron's features are not similarly expressive, his face its usual veneer of cool professionalism. If he still holds those feelings he so briefly expressed at her in their hospital shouting match, they have been pushed aside for the time being in the face of something much more urgent: the fact that they both love Warren.

He doesn't look like he expects an apology, nor that he is up to giving one himself, either. He just moves directly into business. "You needed to take him out of there," is his succinct reply when Alison speaks of her regret in leaving so soon. Especially when that surgeon admitted that the wings had been disposed of so quickly. "He would have caused a scene if he stayed, and then everything would've been worse for him."

He doesn't talk further on how he knew Alison was investigating, or how much else he knows about the other people chasing leads. He just pushes forward a file for her to read, and then listens as she thinks out loud.

"Well, you know," he says eventually, with a rare hint of dry humor. "His family is already the plot of a Shakespeare play. His uncle's original plan was simply to dispose of his brother, marry his brother's wife, and gain control in that way. It only turned into double homicide once the pieces failed to cooperate." He tilts his head. "Did Warren tell you? Maybe not. He doesn't like to talk about it much." His gaze averts. "He's always someone to look forward, not back. And so… I think, in time, he will recover even from this."

There is a long, pensive moment of silence, as Cameron thinks about that.

The file folder, as Alison opens it, turns out to be a profile on Doctor James Stuart. A venerable old physician, he was a good friend of Warren's father and has been the family's personal doctor on call since before Warren's birth, which he oversaw. The first page simply comprises those vitals; as Alison turns to subsequent pages, however, it turns into records of phone calls made by the doctor to shot-callers at the hospital, placing pressure on them in order to forego retaining the wings for medical research.

It turns, in short, into a picture of how Doctor Stuart pulled some strings to ensure those wings were incinerated fast.

A page after that, it starts to detail some thin but troubling evidence that the doctor has been in contact with an anti-mutant hate group. It's dense material, none of it a direct smoking gun and all of it requiring focus to read between the lines; at some point, Alison might realize that Cameron has risen, standing behind her in order to point out the connections he has already made. "There's no hint of which group, exactly, this is…" he says, leaning forward to indicate a highlighted portion with one hand.

A sharp, odd sensation prickles Alison's back for an instant, in the muscle beside her spine. Maybe a lingering hurt from her injury there? Her back hasn't hurt a whit since Warren's healing, though, and it's so thin and pointed and evanescent, almost like the brief lancing hurt of a flu shot…

"…They were pretty careful," Cameron finishes, as the fast-acting sedative starts to work.

Alison's uncomfortable silence answers Cameron's question.

Did Warren tell you?

She is aware of enough details — those that were long ago released by the media — without Warren ever mentioning them aloud. At the time, she was there to help see him through the grief of his lost parents, not to discuss the particulars of their murderer. And many years later, in her reunion and building relationship, the topic of his uncle is not easily broached.

One of those things one does not try to ask questions. One of those things that, knowing Warren, would avoid ever bringing up.

Her silence ensues even as Cameron muses, perhaps hopefully, on Warren's recovery. Alison might be here, might be willing to discuss with Cameron these suspicions, but to talk about Warren, talk specifically about Warren's recovery after losing his wings on Cameron's order —

Still too raw. Topic's not on the table.

In lieu of that, she reads. Her eyes scan the pages, and for several beats, the only sound in the too-silent, too-empty penthouse are the crisp rasps of shuffled paper. She follows the timeline of this trail, knowing it well to connect the dots — she knows the times between Warren's last surgery and the emergency procedure to remove his wings. She knows, with a nauseating familiarity, every minute of that night.

At some point, her focus on Cameron waves; Alison does not even notice him move, shocked by the evidence on the page. Thready, but enough for her. "Jesus Christ," she utters, horrified. "He's known Warren since he was — "

That outraged thought twists into something that she has to force down, suppressing the anger. It clears in time for Alison's eyes to cast where Cameron is pointing. Her gut intuits the rest. "Purifiers," she declares. "They've been on him for months. They —"

Something stings her back, sudden enough that it nearly disrupts Alison's train of thought. Feels like a mosquito bite, or a tailor's pin left in her hem, or one of Warren's pin feathers stuck invisibly in the sofa fabric — all things that happen to her on a daily basis. Could just also be her nerves. She shifts, but forgets it, needing to talk, have this be heard. "They wanted his wings from the start — I can't explain why or how this conspiracy happened, but they're the most obvious suspect."

His fucking family. His own fucking doctor. Is Warren even safe right now? Alone in that house, presumably being watched, spending weeks avoiding the one place that could ensure his safety…

"We have to tell Warren," she decides. It's going to destroy him — again — on top of everything, but there's no waiting. Alison's eyes run the rest of the text, though its facts seem to be lapsing, the words bleeding into each other — too worried to keep it up, too worried to stay here.

"I have to get back. I have to call him," Alison says aloud, as she closes the folder, rising to stand. Something hits her on a wave, and she reels, setting her feet before she staggers. She presses her hand to her head, thoughts swimming.

He's known Warren since he was —

"Since he was a baby," Cameron confirms quietly. "And, well — given Doctor Stuart's status in the family, he was perhaps one of the first people to know about Warren who wasn't his own parents. He's had a long time to think about his friend's son being a mutant. A long time to think about what that'd mean for his friend's legacy. Warren hasn't always behaved well with it, even before he started flashing wings on national television…"

He shrugs. "There are plenty others in the Worthington family tree who agree with him, though they've been quite quiet about it."

At some point, as Alison absorbs herself in the shocking revelations on the page — in her own mounting outrage — Cameron rises and draws closer. At some point, a slight sting hits her back. It's so brief that it's hard to pinpoint what exactly it was. She moves, restless, uncertain — and Cameron points at the page, his voice low, drawing her attention back to the page. "I can't prove it's the Purifiers," he says. "But I'm close to making the connection. See? They always hated him for how he looked. He was an insult to everything they believed. He violated everything that they loved."

He draws back, a moment later. Alison declares they have to tell Warren, and Cameron nods slowly, his head held at a tilt. "You weren't the only one I called," he says. "I called him too. He's on his way. Should be here in less than an hour. He'll be just in time. Not too late… and not too early, either. We have some other things to discuss before he arrives."

Alison stands — and staggers. Cameron smiles passingly.

"You don't look so good, Alison," he says. He rarely addresses her by name. "The shock, I think. You should lay down. Warren will be here soon enough."

"This is the game they want to play," Alison says to all of that — to Cameron, to herself, to the enemies in Warren's life, to the world. Is this what they truly want, to break a man down and strip him of everything he was, feeding off his corpse like vultures? If this is what they want — so be it.

"We don't have a lot of time," she continues, closing the folder, clasping it in her hands. "Until they clue in on how much we know, how much we've been digging. We need to hit while they're pushing the vote… make them show their god damned hand. Make them…" Somewhere, Alison's voice loses its careful, moderated quality of before — it's like she's talking aloud, giving a rambling voice to her own thoughts, to better keep them straight in her mind.

Panic hits her: the reality of it all. The reality of Warren potentially being under some form of surveillance, or perhaps, even in danger. Family of their means could have hired anyone, anyone, capable of doing countless things. He's pushed the X-Men far from his life, kept them from being at easy reach —

Standing, something hits her all at once. A wave of dizziness, crashing over her, reels Alison on the spot, bidden to press her fingers between her closed eyes.

"It's fine," she answers breezily. Not the first time in the last weeks she's stood up to some heady tilt of exhaustion or insomnia. She doesn't have time for this. "I can…" Wait. "You called him?"

Alison glances back on Cameron, irritation and confusion in her glassy eyes. "What — what the hell? Why…? What if they're —" The words slip out-of-reach. None of this makes sense.

Cameron's face slips briefly beyond focus. She struggles to hold onto him. What the hell is going on with her? It's not exhaustion, it's not her, she's horrified, she's pissed off, and…

Alison stares through Cameron's next words. At first, her face is tabula rasa, blank, calm, unreachable. Her eyes blink to hold their failing sharpness. Warren will be here. It hits her.

Sudden, terrible understanding opens every last inch of her expression. She does not speak, does not warn, just summons forward her charge, ready to flash-bang Hodge blind and helpless —

Her light never comes. Barely a charge, not with no feed other than ten minutes of Cameron Hodge's too-soft voice, and no focus to hold what she has. Her field sputters, unable to manage more than a weak, hazy glow off her skin.

Alison staggers forward. Phone, phone, phone, she thinks. Where did she put her bag? She takes one step, and folds, crumpling down dizzily to the white marble floor.

To break him down and strip him of everything he is. Yes. It is what they want. Or — it is what he wants.

A very certain someone.

A very certain someone who even now is looking at Alison mildly as he tells her Warren will be here very soon. As he tells her he called him. Why would he? Unless…

Horrible realization lightning-strikes across her face, and she tries to summon her charge forward — to blast him. Nothing happens. Cameron's gentle, quiet voice would not be nearly enough feed even under normal circumstances, and with the sedative in her, she's even more helpless to summon anything other than the smallest glow.

He smiles, faintly, to see it. The smile lingers on his features as she crumples to the floor. He leaves her there, heaped, like the animal she is.

"You must not mistake this for anything personal," he says. "It's nothing about you, in particular — though the average woman Warren fucked back in the day would have been a lot less of an obstacle than you. Always interfering, asking questions…" He laughs, distantly. "You know, you helped sour people on Warren a lot faster than we could have done alone. Nobody likes a woman like you telling them what to do, especially in business. Were I to have given you actual advice, based on my expertise, I would have told you to stay behind closed doors, where people expect you to stay."

He shrugs. "I do confess that the fact you're a mutant counts as an added bonus for me," he says, though without much heat or inflection. He speaks with that same patient calm, as if to a dog. "But otherwise, you are only an example of the bigger problem… and a means to an end."

His dark eyes watch her, half-lidded with the patience she's always seen him evince. "A piece in a story I have to tell."

He consults his watch. "I called him not long after I called you. Knowing him, he will be much more direct about coming here than you were."

Tilting his head, he considers briefly, before he stoops beside her. "Still, I like to take precautions," he admits, before he produces a long needle. Touching her gingerly, he turns her head enough to carefully perforate her left eardrum. Half the world goes muffled, quiet.

"That should be sufficient," his voice echoes distantly, as if from far away. "For now."

No, thinks Alison. No, no, no.

She needs to get up. She needs to get out. She needs to warn Warren. She needs to focus her light, but she can barely feel her field — barely focus it through the haze.

With just enough cognizance, she sieves her thoughts to just one thing, wavering in-and-out of bleariness: her handbag, lain where she left it, on a table by the elevator doors. Her phone. She just needs to get it, and call him…

Alison tries to stand, but cannot seem to find her feet, collapsing back down again. The floor is a too-cold kiss, but not cold enough to wake her up. The world tilts and pours before her vision, and her racing pulse cannot hold against the torpid slowing of her heart.

This was a mistake. This was her mistake. How could she not… how could she…

Bracing herself by her arms, head spinning, Alison hears — something. Cameron Hodge, speaking like thick glass is between them, his too-soft, tinny voice chiding her from some place distant. The words come through, though it takes her seconds longer to process them through the fog.

Everything she did. Everything she is, to a man like him, watching her for nearly a year from the sidelines.

She does not try to answer. Instead, Alison tries to refocus her strength back to standing up. She can feel her legs, but they have no strength in them; it is like those dreams, needing to run, unable to, in full sensation and awareness of your body as it inevitably fails you.

Warren. His best friend. His family…

"Why…" Alison slurs, because the question needs to be asked, because it needs to be begged out of this world. What has he done to deserve this? Why does the world keep taking more from him?

Her glassy eyes find Cameron through the haze. There is little left of her, and she's losing more by the second, losing all of her clarity, her control, her dignity to that drug. But there is just enough left to scour him with that look. "You…" she utters, certain of this more than anything. What he told her is a bold lie. "Thiss… is personal."

Her eyes flutter. Warren will be here. She has to stop this. She has to fix this. Fix this, as she promised him. Fix this, Alison.

Somewhere through the fog, she feels strange hands on her body. Alison murmurs, trying to struggle free, but her movements are few and painfully weak, and her light glows innocuously off her skin, flickering like a candle at its millimetre of wick. When she cannot move him, she tries to move herself, reaching along the marble floor for it to help.

Her resistance is over within seconds. Alison murmurs something unintelligible, and it's almost begging — please don't do this, stop, you don't have to be this way — before her eyes see the needle. Panic overtakes her, though she cannot do anything for it, cannot stop it, cannot run from it, cannot…

Reality slips away like a pulling tide. Then it returns, sudden, in the form of searing, blinding pain, the worst pain she's ever felt, driving all the way up into her head. Alison hears something, maybe her own screaming, as her hands fumble on and slip against the marble.

Why? she asks.

This… is personal, she answers her own question, a moment later.

Cameron looks pensive. At first, it almost seems as if he didn't hear. His hands pushed in his pockets, his stance slumped, he does not look like a man who is taking especial interest or pleasure in her struggle, her fear, her self-reproach, or her desperation. This is transparently just a stop along the way to him; a setpiece to arrange, in preparation for something more meaningful to come. He stands like a man who is just…


"…well," he eventually answers, rousing briefly out of his reverie as if just remembering she's there, "You mistake me again. It truly isn't personal — when it comes to you. If he had taken up with someone else, it would have been someone else."

He steps closer, his quick and efficient movements distorted in her drugged eyes. "I suppose you're right about one thing, though. When it comes to him and me… it is very personal. All those years I stood beside him, and he never saw me at all…"

There is a brief silence. "But that's a story for him, not you," he shrugs. And he won't let her disrupt his intentions, it seems… judging by the careful way he turns her — touching her as if she's dirty — and lances her left eardrum with indifferent efficiency. The scream that splits out of her blinks his gentle brown eyes. After a moment, they crinkle in a smile.

"You shouldn't struggle," he says, speaking a little louder now for her benefit. "I didn't dose you enough for unconsciousness, but I can make no guarantees if you keep your blood pumping like that. And you do not want to miss…"

The distant sound of the elevator doors opening stops his voice and lifts his head. Alison won't hear it, not with her injury, but she can feel the vibration of those doors opening and closing up through the floor.

"Ah," he says, as Warren's distant voice carries down the hall. Calling for Cameron. "Now, we'll finish this."

The extremists of her kind say mutants are born of miracles.

And yet, in one, short subterfuge, with one, simple aspiration of a syringe, so easily is one taken down. The Dazzler, pushed well enough, can permanently ruin eyes, welt and char flesh, sever limbs in one raking draw of her light… but without that light at her call and control, here and now, she just looks painfully human.

With all those disposable miracles at her fingertips, there is nothing she can do but collapse to the cold ground, trying and failing to fight the drug. It is a disgusting substance in her blood, offering no dreamy peace or endorphin rush — only dizzy nausea, a pressing heaviness like her thoughts have glued together, and weakness in her body. She can feel everything but move so little, her fingers curling clumsily yet without the force to grasp, and her field — a distant thought, lost past her will. No matter how Alison despairs, she cannot control her light.

Somewhere in her periphery, Cameron steps closer. Alison understands enough to react, trying to pull herself away, struggling in vain on the white marble, her breath escaping her in roughened gasps. She's frightened. Of this. And now, of him.

His words come down on her like a rainfall. She hears, she does not. Somehow, she understands. Everything Cameron Hodge pretended to be, everything he never was. And everything he has chosen to become, looking down on her with something in his eyes she will never forget. So gentle, even now…

She murmurs in dismay when she feels him touch her. Her hands want to fight him off, but there's nothing there, no strength, no coordination, no way left to move her arms past enfeebled fumbling. No, Alison wants to say. Please don't, she wants to beg.

No words happen. Only tortured screams, when he ruptures her left ear, and she cannot even summon the power to jerk away against the agony. Only lay there, crying in pain, as sound muffles out, replaced only by a distant, shrill ringing. Something warm runs down her face; blood, welling from her ear, spilling over.

There is no reply for Cameron now. No brave, condemning words back. Only Alison Blaire, weeping only as much as the drug allows her to give voice, unable to stand, unable to touch her own bleeding injury, unable even… to hear that they are no longer alone.

Not until something reverberates through the floor, and then, sound close enough cuts through the ringing. Alison fears the worst, even in her stupor. Warren, she wants to scream. Warren, don't come in here.

After, Cameron does not even turn Alison so that her bleeding ear can drain. He leaves her as she is — perhaps all the better to refrain from touching her any more than he has to — even if it means the blood flows uncomfortably downward farther into her ear and across her face.

He doesn't want to disguise the injury. He wants every bit it to be seen.

And despite her wound, Alison can hear the approach of that intended audience — can feel his familiar steps through the marble of the floor. "Cam?" Warren calls again, closer, his voice shaded with concern. Sounds like Cameron made the phone call an urgent one. "What…"

He rounds the corner. Warren's eyes have always been extraordinary. The scene only takes him a second to absorb.

Warren transparently forgets Cameron, rushing immediately to Alison's side, his expression opening up in dismay and growing horror as he registers the extent and nature of her injury. Cameron, forgotten — and quite aware he's been forgotten — watches in the background, his features a blank and tense mask. "What — what happened?! Who did this?! Ali — can you hear me?"

He turns a frantic look up on his best friend. "What's wrong with her? Did you see what happened? Who — "

Cameron steps closer, then, stooping down, resting a bracing hand on Warren's left shoulder. The gesture is a familiar one, between them; since they met, Cameron has always been there, silent and supportive, in the background of Warren's flashy, erratic trainwreck of a life. "Stop, Warren," he says, his voice low.

His other hand levels a small pistol at Alison's temple. One of Warren's own weapons, obtained in recent days for concealed carry, but forgotten in the apartment when everything came crashing down. Warren notices it instantly, notices the gesture, but he transparently can't — process it at first. He stammers, staring up at his best friend, before he rocks back on his heels. The impulse to attack doesn't even fire; he has never associated this face with that emotion in his life.

"There is nothing I need you to do here except listen," Cameron says quietly. The pistol presses Alison's temple hard enough to bruise, betraying a hint of his true sentiments under the glacial calm. "You know how, don't you? To listen? Try doing it for me… at least once. Just this once."

"Cam…" Warren says, his hands slowly lifting in a transparent quelling gesture. "I don't know what this is, but — "

"Stop," Cameron interjects. His voice, finally, for the first time since Alison has known him, starts to shake. "You aren't listening to me. You used to. And then you stopped. You used to look at me… and then you looked at everyone but me. It… confused me. It broke me up. And then I realized why. You were one of them."

He is pale, his eyes fixed on Warren's face. "You told everyone but me. I was the last to know what you were."

A scene that takes second to absorb, and possibly a lifetime to forget.

Alison Blaire, even at her most despairing moments, never looked like this. Always a dignified, self-possessed, careful creature, she endlessly suffered for the ideal she wanted the world to see; only a rare few, less than the fingers on her right hand, have ever seen her vulnerable. Not in a million years would she ever let herself look this, be this.

It is wrong, the way she sprawls askance along the floor, strewn like she collapsed there, hands slightly curled like her last movement was reaching for something that never came. She can barely move, barely lift her head to try to see, and her hazy blue eyes reflect a deep place of suffering — her ear overflows with welling blood that pools down her face and throat, staining her yellowy hair red. Tears have found her cheeks as well, crying, even as she labours to try to make a sound.

But she is alive, and she is still cognizant — at least enough that her bleary eyes find Warren, recognize his face, and beg him a hundred things in just one look. Her expression does not flicker even through all his words. She doesn't hear him, one ear flat on the floor, and the other ruptured beyond saving, filling with blood.

Her mind reels, and Alison struggles to see him. I'm sorry, she tries to say. I'm sorry, I'm sorry for all of this. I just wanted to fix it…

Then Cameron lowers into her field of vision like an approaching eclipse over Warren's sun. That daze breaks, and her breathing quickens, no power or control over her body save to hyperventilate in terror. Warren, don't let him, she tries to say. Warren, get away. Warren, Warren, fly away.

Her lips twitch, but no sound forms. She whispers nonsense, barely sounding like herself. Her head throbs with agony. Warren, Warren…

Cameron Hodge pulls a gun. Alison cannot quite see it, but she seems to know enough from the look on Warren's face. The way his hands upraise. The way he leans away, confused, gentle, tractable.

She feels cold on her temple. It digs in, painful, pushing her head cruelly flush to the marble, and turning her head hurts so much she shudders in torment. Somehow, Alison realizes what is happening, what is against her head, what this has become. The ringing in her ear is deafening.

Warren, get out. Why can't she find her voice? Why can't she make the sound? Just focus, just force it out, just sing.

"War…" she struggles on the syllable.

The scene is so wrong that Warren struggles to even comprehend it. Its many component pieces are all familiar, but they are posed in horrible and alien manners: looking ways they never have, and doing things they never should.

Alison, always so concerned with her image, always so pristine, laying strewn across the floor, bleeding and limp, without even the strength to do anything but weep and look him in the eyes. Whatever her gaze is pleading of him, Warren doesn't seem to understand. Where is the danger? his eyes ask back, as he rushes towards her and turns his back with full trust towards the answer to his question.

Cameron doesn't like that turned back. His presence returns, stooping nearby, and the sight of him turns Alison's eyes with transparent, hyperventilating terror. Eyes like Warren's can't miss that, and the beginnings of a horrible understanding start to fit together in his gaze… yet even now, his conscious mind struggles to find some way to deny what all her body language screams.

It is just not comprehensible to him. Not within the realm of his understanding. Not until Cameron Hodge, his best friend, the man who stood unfailingly beside him for the past many years of his life, pulls a gun and puts it to Alison's head.

Then Warren understands the 'what'… even if he still does not understand the 'why.' He leans back as if struck, shocked beyond easy words, lingering confusion mingling with unwilling realization in his face. Even now there is no impulse in him to attack at all: not even from Warren, the impulsive — Warren, the aggressive. There is not a single glimmer of hostility to him at all; only the pleading look of someone who is sure this is a mistake, or a nightmare, or a savage joke, and that soon Cameron will put the gun down…

Cameron's sharp words slap that feeble hope out of his face. "Cam," he starts, his voice strained, "If I've done something, let's talk about it. I'll stay, and listen — just like you want — just let Ali get up, and leave — "

"No." The reply exhales out, thready, thin. "I already gave you everything. You never noticed? I followed you around like a fool from the first minute I met you… and you never… you…" His composure cracks. He chokes on the syllable.

"I gave up so much for you," he finishes, presently. "Everything I understood about myself, and who I was. Everything I thought my life was going to be. I decided you were worth throwing it all away… and what did you do? You hid everything meaningful about you from me. Those disgusting wings… your real life flying around with other mutants… everything that mattered to you, you shut me out of knowing. All you left for me was the part of you that liked to fuck whores and leave messes for me to clean up…"

The blood has drained from Warren's face. "Cam — "

"Quiet," Cameron says, the single word twisted with pain. "You've always won, Warren. Everything you ever wanted, you got, and you never saw anything you didn't want to see. You never saw me, even when I was right there." He laughs, sharply. "You were always stupid, that way. The one way you weren't perfect. Well — you've taken enough. Now I want to see you lose."

His gentle brown eyes are riveted on Warren's face, watching. "I took your wings. I will take your company. I will hunt out and take every one of those genetic abominations you cultivate at that school. And I will take this."

The gun presses harder. He pulls the trigger.

Blood still runs thick and dark from her ruined ear, sluicing down the the line of her jaw, dripping off the hollow of her throat. The current only changes when Cameron nails her temple down with the barrel of a gun, forcing her head at a painful angle, and running her own blood along the corner of her mouth, into the twitching reflex of her eyelashes. Her only movement are the indistinct twitches of her hands, like she wants to reach out — reach to Warren.

Fly away, begs the look on her face, straining past the pain and the daze.

Drugged as she is, tortured as she is, Alison still understands. She knows what is pressed to her head. She knows what can be taken away in one trigger touch.

And she's terrified. There is no peace here, not on her: no shock to numb her, no final acceptance. She's afraid, and she doesn't want to die. She's not ready to go, not now, not like this, not with her unfinished life and list of regrets: she never got to find her mother; never got to speak with her father, one last time; never got to sing again; never got to make up for her selfishness, her cowardness, and finally commit to something; never got to fix all of this for Warren, and give to him all that was taken away, and tell him it was not just his wings that made her happy.

She doesn't know where she's going to go. Into the dark? Into the cold? She doesn't want to go there alone. She's been alone so long, and she doesn't want to do it again.

Alison cannot hear what is being said; she can barely pick up Cameron's distant, soft-voiced confession much more than a muffled murmur beyond the ringing, but the gutted-out, devastated look on Warren's face speaks volumes. She wishes she could touch him. If she touched him, he would listen. She can barely move her hand.

Run, she wants to beg. Please run. You are running out of time. Run, and go somewhere safe. I should have done better. I'm so sorry. I'm sorry I came here. I'm sorry I let this happen. I'm sorry I didn't figure out what I should have. I'm sorry you look this way, because it's breaking my heart.

Alison cannot hear, but she can feel… and her eyes flutter as the gun presses down to her head. Within that heartbeat, she knows. Her pleading eyes never leave Warren.

I'm sorry I broke my promise. I told you I'd be there—

The gun discharges violently. Blood splashes Warren's face. Its spatter covers him, head to toe, with shining pinpoints of red — stained now in what Alison used to be.

Just like that, she is gone.

There is no last breath, no final twitch of her hand. There is no slow, lingering good-bye. Head rolled from the impact of the bullet, hair winged away from her face, she lays there, silent and boneless, the light gone from her blue eyes. Blood spreads, seeping out from the hole blown through her skull, pooling still-warm along the marble. It will cool within minutes. So will she.

So little of what Cameron is saying is registering with Warren. He just — cannot comprehend it. He still cannot understand these words — this malice — rolling out of his best friend, spoken with that same slow, gentle cadence which he's always had.

His eyes, his attention, are only for Alison. Alison, bleeding there on the floor. Alison, pleading him with her agonized eyes to run — fly away.

I couldn't even if I wanted to, his own eyes answer. I can't fly away anymore…

The lack of attention Warren pays him, even now, seems to snap something in Cameron. His hand shakes as he pushes the gun harder against Alison's temple. "Even now," he says, broken-voiced, "you're not listening."

Warren's own infamous temper snaps. "I heard ENOUGH," he rounds on Cameron, though the fury in his voice doesn't match the gutted betrayal in his blue eyes. "You hate mutants. You've hated me for — how long? How long have you felt this way? How long, and you never said a god damned word?! You just — stood there — making me believe — and then you took everything from me — "

And he's going to take this.

Warren finally lunges forward — whether to attack Cameron or throw himself over Alison, will never be known — but his earlier trust cost him too much time. He has enough time to look into Alison's face a last time, to promise he's going to get the gun away from Cameron, that he's going to protect her, that it will be okay —

— and then he doesn't. And then, it's not.

He is inches short when the gun discharges, and Alison stops being Alison. The gun eradicates her, inches away from his shocked eyes. The ruined remnants of her cover him, his body, his face. It gets in his eyes. It gets in his mouth. The smell stamps itself into his memory, burnt there in a lightning-flash that will never fade.

He looks into her eyes, and she's no longer there.

He doesn't make a sound. He just throws himself bodily, full-force, into Cameron, flinging them both back against the far wall. Something breaks on impact — Warren has no idea whether it's in him, or in Cameron, or both — and Cameron isn't screaming in pain to help him tell the difference. He's laughing instead, laughing in that broken way men do when they've gotten what they've wanted and worked for for years — and still don't feel a thing.

"Stupid," Cameron hisses, choking on his own laughter. "To the end, you're still — "

The gun fires again, and the bullet shreds right through Warren's heart.

Two bodies lay on the floor. One cooled, long ago.

The other writhes periodically, suffering, dying far more slowly than he should as the blessing of his own healing blood turns into a curse. It is not strong enough, not fast enough, to heal the massive damage done to his heart… especially when most of it has gouted out uselessly onto the floor, spreading in a vast pool across the marble.

That blood can't help its owner. Not outside his body. Not so far away. But his fading blue eyes watch desperately to see if it will help another, as it rolls across the stone.

It comes close. Its borders spread, and spread. Inches short of Alison's cold body, it stops.

A low, harrowed sound escapes Warren, carrying with it so much of his last vestiges of life. The noise disturbs Cameron's peaceable silence, who looks up from where he stands, nursing his bruised ribs, near the far wall.

"Yes," he says. He's on the phone. Has been, for a while, as he watched Warren bleed to death on the floor. It's taking more time than he expected, but he is patient. "I'll let you know when to send the crew. You know how to make it look."

Warren's slow, agonized movements finally draw to a stop. His still-open eyes fix on Alison, and the blood that never reached her body.

"Ah," Cameron says. "You know what? Actually, send them now."

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