Holiday Disappointments
Roleplaying Log: Holiday Disappointments
Participants
IC Details
Synopsis:

In which Gwen and Carolus chat about breaches of trust, and the consequences of Warren's return to this reality.

Other Characters Referenced: Archangel, Dazzler, Moonstar, Tony Stark, Dr. Strange, Cameron Hodge
IC Date: December 22, 2019
IC Location: A New Address, Jersey City
OOC Notes & Details
Posted On: 26 Dec 2019 04:03
Rating & Warnings:
Scene Soundtrack: [*\# None]
NPC & GM Credits:
Associated Plots

* OOC Time: Sun Dec 22 21:36:52 2019 *

* * *

New "Everything Is Legal In" Jersey

Carolus Sinclair has communicated a change of address to Ghost Spider, justified by the simple explanation, 'Relocating to a spot with occluded ownership.' The actual change in address wasn't terribly drastic for somebody who can fly, as the address is directly across the bay from his prior home of Brooklyn.

A tall, relatively narrow two-story house with a grey face and many windows has replaced his apartment. Five windows cross the face of the house, three atop and two below. A black wood double door with silver knobs occupies the lefthand face of the house.

Light grey walls are accompanied by white trim and windows, and darkwood floors. Beige blackout curtains are drawn in the front and sides, but left partway opened along the back, allowing some natural light through in the waning hours of the day.

The house is not fully furnished, but isn't entirely absent any sort of furnishings. Two comfortable leather recliners with a small end-table is between them in front of the fire, and a wood kitchen table that seats four is set up alongside the kitchen.

The doors are locked, but the upper floor windows aren't.

Carolus himself is suspended from the ceiling just behind the two chairs, not-actually-watching a television that is mounted above the mantle. Some popular film or another is playing.

The smell of recent (or ongoing) cooking — ham, prominently — is thick in the house.

With a certain amount of trepidation and irritability that has nothing at all to do with what he's actually doing, he brings up his messages.

SPOOKY

Hello.
How are you holding up?
9:36 P.M.

* * *

Gwen 'New York, But Not THIS New York' Stacy A.K.A. the mysterious Ghost Spider had been back in only one layer deep of alternate universe for the better part of a week. Enough time to decompress, return to her new team, crash into a shower and soak while running up their water bills for an hour, get some real sleep, get some 'real' food, and take stock.

The experience had not been a great one.

EARLIER:

A montage of Ghost Spider punching undead mutant techno-zombies. Blue juice splatters across every frame!

A panel of Gwen in silhouette snapping her head around in surprise with action lines in halo around her brow as the wall leaks pure white.

An 'oof' panel, as a person-shaped black silhouette cracks into the white costume of the Spider, sending her tumbling right into the path of the DANGEROUS WHITE.

NOW:

Gwen rubs her temple slowly, remembering back to the events of the ship - where she had caught herself in the worst way, the remainder of her time in Apocalypse's ship a painful migrane of Spider-Sense battling with impaired reality, of sore arms and strained legs.

Her phone buzzes, and she checks it one-handedly, typing a response.

MOTH
Hey.
I'm fine.
Did you get a new place? Your old one's empty.
9:40 P.M.

Upon foisting an address off on Ghost Spider, Carolus gets a visitor at his door. His front door.

And a doorbell buzz.

* * *

SPOOKY
Rent in Brooklyn is actually insane.
Probably didn't need to tell you that.
9:44 P.M.

Half of the people Carolus knows would just come in through the windows, including himself a good quarter of the time. He's actually not expecting the doorbell, but the scent of the woman beyond it is enough to assuage any worries he might have. He descends from his partially enclosed cocoon and pockets his phone, unlocking the doors and pulling them open with a wave from his auxiliary left hand.

Once she's inside they're shut and locked again.

"Sorry for the limited seating. It was a bit of a hasty relocation. I am not feeling particularly accommodating towards unwanted guests at the moment." Which, Carolus didn't feel the need to add, happened to include his other comrades for a little while at least. The thought elicits a momentary flicker of annoyance across his features, but it doesn't linger long.

"Feel free to help yourself to the food by the way."

Which might be his way of indicating, apart from the whole giving-her-his-address thing, that she is not unwelcome. The moth man meanders off to the side to stand next to the fire, folding his auxiliary arms across his stomach.

"Sorry about the mind control." He adds, breaking an increasingly aggravated silence in which he had /clearly/ wanted to say something, but wasn't entirely sure where to even begin.

* * *

Ghost Spider is recognizeable by scent, of course, but another feature: The top two thirds of her mask, rolled up across her nose and cheeks, so her mouth is visible, as are a few tufts of blond hair from under the mask material.

Beyond that, she wears a jean jacket over a hoodie, a skirt over naturally distressed jeans, and a pair of beat-up snekers. A scarf tumbles around her neck and down her front with the two draw strings of her hood framing the hanging tail.

"Hey." She greets, as the door opens.

She lifts a half-full and highly beat up plastic water bottle up to the moth-man. "If you want a last memory, this is my last water bottle from the trip. I refilled it in their canteen. So, you can toss it or drink it or…"

Gwen trails off. "Ritually destroy it in effigy? Something metal album cover." She decides, with a shrug and a slosh of the bottle for emphasis.

Once inside, she takes one quick scan of the room with her hooded lensed eyes, nods, and spins a chair around before collapsing into it. "Yeah. I'm real sorry about it too. How'd you know it was me at the door, anyway? I was sort of trying to surprise you, but you blew right past it like I'm the kind to use the front door."

* * *

Brown eyes flick towards the loose hair. Carolus is sure that she's been this exposed before, but he doesn't recall taking note of it. The clothes also earn a quick flick of his eyes. The only thing that comes to mind is that…

"This is very you," he gestures broadly at her clothes, "and I do mean that as a compliment."

He can't shake the suspicion that Ghost Spider is shopping exclusively at thrift stores, though he thinks better of remarking on it. If that's how she wants to budget herself, that's as good a practice as any. There's nothing wrong with used-but-still-good.

Fake used-but-still-good is also acceptable.

Carolus takes the offered water bottle, his expression wiped clean by the explanation of what it's about. He has conflicting feelings about it, but as much as it brings him down right now he can think of a future where it mostly just entertains him.

"I'll do something special with it. Ask me about it in a couple of weeks. Finish it off yourself, if you like." He sets it down on the mantle, obnoxiously obscuring a tiny portion of the television screen. When she pulls up a chair, he remains where he is, taking a couple of steps towards her to stand on the opposite side of the fireplace.

"You /did/ surprise me by approaching from ground level," Carolus admits, tilting his head to one side and twitching his antennae deliberately, "but my surprise pre-empted your ringing the bell. My sense of smell is extremely exact."

* * *

Gwen smiles - and her cheeks light up with warmth as she does - at the compliment. Well, 'compliment'. "What, the costume isn't?"

She raises up a wrist, and as the sleeve falls around her wrist, one of her webshooters reveals itself, a small contact button resting in her palm. "Some days I surprise myself by checking the mirror without a mask on."

In no hurry for half a bottle of questionable Bustbird resyk water, she retains her smile when she settles into the chair, legs crossing left over right as she leans on her right palm with elbow braced on the arm of the chair.

"You know, you said something like that before. So you really can smell people that specifically? If I was in a crowd or at the store, you could hunt me down?"

There's not too much suspicion in her tone - merely a conversational curiousity. "Is that why I don't see any video cameras, or did you just hide the well?"

* * *

"It is," Carolus cedes, "but costumes never count. Almost everyone in superhero shape looks great in them. The exceptions tend to involve things like stupendous obesity as a superpower." He doesn't elaborate on that at all, leaving the questionmark hanging in the air on purpose.

He glances towards the exposed webshooter, "I suppose that one's own face becomes less familiar when making the effort to keep clean associations locally. But I think perhaps you ought to be a little more free for yourself in complete privacy if you're not just joking."

There's only a /little/ bit of real concern there, as if Carolus can see Ghost Spider actually disassociating herself /too/ hard from her identity, but isn't sure she's actually doing it.

Both sets of hands come together at the fingertips in what is very obviously a nervous gesture when Gwen makes further observations about his sense of smell. Carolus looks away, antennae bobbing again, and nods, "That is correct. It is a combination of sensitive olfactory senses and smells being more sharp in human memory than most others. I would hazard to guess that my ability to identify somebody in a line-up is more accurate by smell than any ordinary human being could manage by sight."

"There are no cameras because I haven't been here long enough yet. I will probably install some to establish my times of entry and exit for legal purposes, at the least. But I doubt that I would be able to hide them from you." He adds, re-focusing on Ghost Spider properly.

* * *

"I don't know, that can't be a rule. Let me think…"

Gwen remembers Red Robin's butt in his full predator gargoyle squat, identity obliterating cowl leaving little to hook on — except the booty of justice.

Gwen remembers the skintight uniform of the X-Men, and all the pretty and myriad X-People.

Gwen remembers… Starfire.

"Ok, so maybe I cut a fine figure in custom skintight material, that doesn't…" She snorts, her smile impossible to hide. "That doesn't prove anything."

She has totally been gotten got.

"It's just effort. If people cared, they know. You care, and you know, and you probably didn't really want to try. There's no malice, you're not trying to get me. You just know. But, well, at least I can do this." Gwen reasons, bringing her hands up. Fanning her fingers up and out, she unseats her hood from the crown of her head, leaving her white-masked dome open, and with hooked thumbs, peels off the rest of the white material, the lenses travelling up to reveal the rest of her nose, her intense blue eyes, and blond hair.

Lots of blond hair. It's shocking how much she stuffs into the mask and gets away with it, and the Spider-Woman takes a few moments just sweeping it back and down her neck with raking fingers, adjusting a black hairband to sit better on her head, and stuffing the mask in a pocket of her jacket.

"There. Now fair's fair, I guess."

There's a flicker of worry that passes across her eyes, a tensity that rolls through her lashes and flashes across her brow.

A fear.

A universe the blond considers, prepares for, as if expecting to be hit or shouted at, and a prepared defiance. Her fingers close around the mask stuffed into her pocket, not releasing their prize just yet.

* * *

"It's the same principle as tights or stockings, really. They're meant to accentuate the form while downplaying the deficiencies of… said form. Although truly, I do not think that many of 'us'," Carolus smiles thinly, "really have need of that specific quality of them. Being baseline formatted to a specific physiological band usually involves… optimization that leads to what most would consider an ideal form."

Regarding the effort of pushing beyond a mask, Carolus hums thoughtfully, his wings twitching and buzzing lightly simultaneous with the motion. He's just about to say something when Gwen decides that the mask is just Coming Off.

His wings settle abruptly, head tilting slightly. It isn't really the reaction that he's come to expect from people, especially privacy-minded people, who get a thorough explanation about his sense of smell. That's why he was nervous about it, and of course the more /extreme/ band of response there, is…

"Thank you for not regarding me as if I spent every waking moment grasping at each stranger's hair and smelling it like some sort of grotesque stalker." Carolus says, his voice measured and slow. After a moment of awkward but intense eye contact he looks away, "And thank you, also, for trusting me. There are ways in which masking yourself in my presence still occluded you from harm, even if they did not occlude you from me."

"It's not that I wouldn't want to know," he says, "what you looked like, or anyone else. I just don't want anybody to get hurt because of my curiosity. It is… something that the school impressed upon me as important to respect, a long while ago."

Less seriously, he adds, "You are not a plain jane, Spooky."

A little hesitantly, Carolus steps off to one side, into the kitchen. It's not so distant that he can't talk while doing whatever it is he's doing— the gentle clatter of a plate being set down on the island resounding throughout.

"Please pardon my forthrightness," he carried on, "but I was wondering what you're doing for Christmas. I am staying well away from my family for the foreseeable future, and…"

"… And I don't feel particularly inclined to take up the company of the X-Men at the moment, even if they had no plans of their own." Carolus returns to the sitting room holding a plate with a fork laid across several slices of ham, accompanied by mashed potatoes. He offers the plate to Gwen.

* * *

"I really don't want to think about my hero mentor hooking me up to a costume intended to make my butt look great. I know it almost certainly does, through no effort of my own, but that's the sort of thing I really want to dwell on!" Gwen snorts in laughter as her voice rises in a bubbly laugh pouring unbidden from the deadpan humour of Carolus. "But I guess you called my form ideal, so I have to say thanks. So: Thanks."

She raises a finger, waggling it like a tisking instructor. "And honestly, people have powers! I'm sure your psychics are all 'sheesh, who's that idiot dying of identity nervousness in Warren's office' since I can't keep psychics out of my head, and for anyone who has the magic-" She doesn't seem to ever call them mutant. "-power of seeing through spandex or smelling through deodorant, they'd know it's me. Heck, I bet Tony Stark could build a 'figure-out-Ghost-Spider's-identity' computer out of a coffee cup, two sticks, and a convenient fusion reactor. So, it's not a big deal."

"You probably don't need a sharp nose to tell I'm scared out of my mind, but it's… good."

"It has to be good. To trust people. People worth trusting, you know?"

Gwen's eyes slide away, off and down Carolus like water poured onto his collarbone, dribbling on the floor with a saccade drift. "It has to be. Trusting people has to be worth it, real life has to be worth it. Plus, you understand. The whole… hero-ing thing."

"Also, you could smell my hair from across the room by breathing in hard enough, but it's really all in the nose and being a creep about it, not… smelling, I guess?"

Gwen's raze remais downcast but her body rocks with a single humored snort. "I don't wear cheap strawberry shampoo just for me, yanno. It's not about being able to notice, really, about anything like that."

Her eyes finally drift back up. "It's really just not being a creep about everything. And you've got that down."

The 'Plane Jane' comment gets a full rack of snort-laughter that turns into squeaks lasting until she takes the plate, fingers tapping the back of his hand as the tradeoff happens. "Compared to you? I'm plain. It puts into context how meaningless lots of differences are."

"I'm…"

Gwen looks down at the ham. "I don't know. I wasn't really thinking about it."

"I was kind of checking in, or getting ready to, for the next step, you know?" Gwen sets her jaw, placing the plate in her lap. "When are we going to take down that Cameron Hodge guy?"

* * *

"… Well, you see, I hadn't actually thought of it that way, since my school simply assigned people into training squads. With uniforms. That are like that. But now I have to." Carolus says, once again only half-jokingly. He'd say that he trusts the instructors not to get into shifty situations with the students, but sometimes things happen. Like every other expensive private school, they tend not to talk about those things.

"Ethics is a mandatory class for psychics. They are most likely not examining your feelings unless they possess involuntary empathy. Which, yes, does occur. Regardless, I think that it bears mentioning that they have a very different perspective on the behaviors of people when they /are/ the nosy type."

"They see people through a more honest lens. I like to think that it gives them a brighter opinion of people. Everyone has their… /stuff/. And… I can tell that you are putting off certain chemicals, but my dictionary for pheromones isn't quite so instinctive as that. I have to learn what things like that mean."

Smiling less reservedly now, Carolus replies, "But I appreciate that you are comfortable saying so, in the hope that it is because you feel something approximating safe in dealing with me, and not because you think that it merely does not matter. And yes. It is the difference between looking and ogling. I do not deliberately ogle uninvited, and you have my gratitude for acknowledging as much."

"But let me tell you," he moves 'round to the other chair after the plate leaves his hands, sliding onto its edge, "that when I was first getting used to this, I didn't really have good control of it. I would smell things that I very much did not wish to. We had a class for that sort of thing, too— learning to tune extraordinary senses."

Slowly, Carolus reclines in the chair. It doesn't look comfortable with those wings, but he seems to be able to get passably situated in spite of it. One set of arms rests atop the other, the lower set drumming its fingertips against the leather.

"I am told that I am pretty," he cedes, "but you are pretty, too."

Carolus makes /that/ sort of face the instant the topic switches to Cameron Hodge. He squeezes his eyes shut, inhales deeply, and exhales sharply in a way that speaks volumes of the unpleasantness to come.

"We did. I didn't have time to call you, when it happened. I still have some residual Warren in me, so when he had a particularly murderous flash I went chasing him. There were a fair few of us— Stark, Moonstar, Alison, I'm sure I'm forgetting somebody. Warren came inches from just taking him to pieces."

"Instead," he sighed, "they sent him to that other dimension we visited. I protested, but one vote is one vote, and nobody had any confidence that he would not simply return from the Raft. And… I might have had the strength to credibly challenge any one of them, but it wouldn't even have been a contest against the whole lot of them."

"But honestly, I didn't even offer the shade of properly contesting their decision. I didn't really know what to do, and if I am being entirely honest it made me feel a failure. That's… why I don't really want to see them right now." He finishes, grimly.

* * *

"Yeah, you're welcome for that." Gwen returns about the All-New, All-Spandex X-Buldge.

The topic shifts on, and with an 'oh, huh' nod-and-unfurrow-of-the-brow Gwen acknowledges the Psychic Ethics Classes. "Honesty, huh? I guess. It'd be funny to see what's in some of my friends' heads, but like you said - everyone has stuff. Maybe not Emjay, but…"

Gwen shrugs. "Maybe I'll be happy in my own head for a while. Getting knocked out of the driver seat was… an experience. Still get tingles."

She smiles at his compliment of her looks. "Yeah, a steady diet of radioactive spider venom is my dieting plan. That and kale, unless they've decided that some other super rawfood is the best."

The answer on Cameron Hodge earns the exact tense of being verbally struck earlier as she had been half-braced for minutes earlier. It works through her like a wave, eyes dialating as they widen, a betrayed cough hanging in her throat. "You what? You… He's gone? Warren comes back, and spins around and tries to kill him? And then everyone just goes along with it? After the kumbaya in the forest?"

Gwen takes a moment, focusing solely on the way the mashed potatoes sit like a steamed snowdrift dotted with chives. "I don't really know what to say." She mumbles towards the plate on her lap, adjusting to sit flat in her chair with uncrossed legs. Her shoulders drop down with a clear slump - either a release of tension or a conscious effort. "That sucks, Carolus. Is this how it always turns out in this universe? Things just getting a little worse?"

* * *

"Everyone." Carolus reiterates insistently, unsure of who "Emjay" is but presuming that she is somebody who has cultivated an image of divine perfection.

On the subject of her mind being tampered with, he replies, "I wish that was something I could help with. I cannot say that I can presently recommend a psychic therapist that I would implicitly trust to handle the issue, or else I would produce a card for you. That is, of course, its own set of landmines anyway."

"I haven't the foggiest," he admits, "my dietary requirements are bespoke."

"Gone, alien power armor and all, with a note attached. I am certain that Magneto will handle him, however— I do not approve of making him that universe's problem. That's the thing."

"It not only wasn't an… /X-Men/ thing to do, it was directedly cruel to people who are in a considerably worse position. I… understand, not being able to look past Dazzler's reaction to Mr. Hodge. I even understand not having faith in the legal system to handle the matter."

"The Kingpin got out. Hodge could have, too. But that specific solution…" He runs a hand through his hair, staring out towards the fire, "I'm not crazy, am I? That isn't, and shouldn't be normal. Should I have fought them over it, even though the possibility of success was infinitely close to zero? What should I do about it /now/? And I don't know. Maybe. I hope not."

* * *

* OOC Time: Mon Dec 23 21:17:00 2019 *

* * *

Gwen sits and processes, her fingers pressing into her bangs as she runs them gently past her temples to cradle her skull, eyes fully downturn. Carolus explains how the deed was done. Ruminates on it. Ghost Spider is quiet.

She remembers standing in front of Titans Tower, talking to Starfire about what the Tamaranean's line was, when it was crossed, and what she did to every single person that crossed it.

She remebers sitting on the roof with Red Robin, talking about this very topic - about the line that heroes cross.

Lines in the sand. Between the two, she knew which side she fell on… But it was her responsibility to try as hard as she could to be on that other side.

"I can't blame you for what happened - I sort of wish I was told before now, that some sort of process was followed, but…"

"I don't really blame Warren for wanting to kill Hodge. Heck, if you said 'Spooky, Hodge was killed' I'd probably just nod and be sad. Some people you can't let get away. Some people just are too dangerous, or have done too much. Protecting people means taking them down. You can't protect 'everyone'. But you've got to try."

Gwen looks up, eyes trailing back up to Carolus' antenna-bobbing face. "But that's not what we said we'd do. Not what we went there for. I guess…"

Gwen half-smiles, a weak and wan show. "It was only us and Moonstar that said that. Warren and Alison were being evil at the time. And Mister Stark wasn't there. Still…"

"This is kind of the worst of both worlds - literally - isn't it?"

Gwen rises, balancing the plate of food on a splayed set of fingers. "Magneto shouldn't have to kill anyone else. Not /our/ problems, too. I don't think you doing that would have mattered, but… I guess I feel like you should feel guilty about it either way."

"I would."

* * *

"I got in touch with you today /to/ approach this topic. It would've happened without your prompting, but I was not… I was not eager to talk about it." Carolus ceases to drum his fingers abruptly, "But I am sorry for stewing on it for so long as this, Spooky. I have been thoroughly critical of others for failing to bring their problems before their peers for resolution. Bearing all the weight of it like an unfeeling marble statue, as if it was my problem alone."

"The thing that makes me want to confront it the least," he continues, "is that the people who are most directly responsible for this course of action are also the people I would have sought out for… advice. Reassurance. Stark was a stranger before all of this, and I thought better even of him."

He lapses into momentary silence, resting his thumb against his chin and staring at the fire.

"Warren and Alison have returned, changed. Cameron Hodge has mysteriously disappeared, possibly to be accused of their attempted deaths. Possibly to simply be quietly erased from history, a casualty of some unknown… /whatever/. I don't know which it will be right now. But I think we both know how it will be interpreted."

"So yes," he agrees, "it is the worst of both worlds."

"And yes, I do feel guilty about it."

"Do you think…" Carolus raises his hand to splay out across the side of his head, "that I should contact Doctor Strange and see what he thinks— whether or not there's anything I can do?"

* * *

"Sorry. It's not really fair of me to pin you with the whole blame-needle for not telling. At least one other person has my number, and another is Tony Stark." Gwen admits. As Carolus glances at the fire, Gwen finds a fork and starts shovelling food in her face.

It will not be described, because Gwen eats, at best, like the rabid, starved offspring of a grad student and a racooon.

It is abrupt and brutal, and there are no survivors.

Daubing at her mouth with the edge of her sleeve and index knuckle, she joins Carolus looking into the fire and sighs.

"I think, and this sentence is pretty stupid, that Doctor Strange was the least harmful and most honest person we dealt with on this last trip, and I think he'll at least point you straight."

"And you know…"
"That's saying something.
"… With the dark dimension thing."

* * *

"It's… fine. I did delay, more than I ought to have. I needed time to cool off, and I am sorry that it was at your expense. It was not deliberate, but intent and outcome are often not coincident." Carolus says, with a wave of two hands.

He doesn't watch Gwen eating because he is, as previously observed, not some weirdo creeper who does things like that. As this is the wind-down of a major crossover though, there is a percentile die chance that the Jackal is looking through the walls with x-ray binoculars by a freak twist of fate.

The mothman's mood picks up considerably when Gwen weighs in on the subject of Dr. Strange, his antennae actually perking in a fairly noticeable way.

"There are arguments to be made about his lack of directness as to the consequences of consuming that mote of Warren, though I think them mildly disingenuous. Nobody could witness what happened with him and think that things were liable to be a walk in the park."

"In fact," he says, "I was thinking of taking some kind of thank-you gift regardless of further professional inquiries."

Seeming resolved to the discussed course of action, Carolus leans over to pluck a remote control off of the side table.

"Well, that's several bandaids ripped off sequentially. Would you like to put this out of mind for a while with a stupid movie?" He asks, his tone drifting — but not quite back to — proper geniality.

* * *

"I wish he didn't have to do it /that way/ but I don't think he did us wrong, no. Unless my spider-sense was lying to me: he wasn't dangerous - where we were was." Gwen agrees, and that seems to be the quorum of two on the topic.

"Do you think he likes chocolate? I can't really think of what's good to get an old wizard." Gwen decides, and the mood brightens as the fire crackles.

"You were going to show me something about elements and the guy from Die Hard?"

Gwen inadvertently takes the Movie Masterpiece's name in vain.

* * *

"Food is… yes, I think that's the right idea. I'm not certain about chocolate, but a variety ought to do the trick. That stuff you brought kept me from hating every waking moment, by the by." Carolus says, properly reclining in his chair.

"Sure. The Fifth Element works. I would hesitate to call it /stupid/…" And away he goes, calling up Whichever Service happens to have it available at the moment.

* * *

"That's chocolate's superpower." Gwen smirks, tapping her temple. "Cheaper than drugs."

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