After Hours
Roleplaying Log: After Hours
IC Details

After the Ladies' Night for Charity at Luke's Bar, Warren and Alison head home — and further develop their plans to face registration in the public sphere.

Other Characters Referenced: Sharon Carter
IC Date: December 12, 2018
IC Location: 902 5th Avenue, New York
OOC Notes & Details
Posted On: 19 Dec 2018 06:21
Rating & Warnings:
Scene Soundtrack: [* ]
NPC & GM Credits: NPC: Kiefer Kassmeier, best personal assistant.
Associated Plots

The night goes well, but it is not too long before Warren begins to nudge Alison in a rather meaningful way: he needs air. He may look like an angel, but his mutation has made enough of his physiology birdlike that his behavior often strikes more distinctively avian.

And birds do not like enclosed spaces.

The relief is palpable in him once they take their leave and step back out into the chill of the open winter air. His head lifts, blond hair ruffling back from his features, as he surveys the sky. Clear and cold, and the air is so still it feels frozen.

"A bad night for flying. The conditions aren't quite right," Warren concludes, without any immediate explanation of what conditions are required. "I would suggest we walk, but it would take us an hour, and you would freeze. Kiff is on the way; we may as well meet him partway."

He offers her his arm to start leading her down the sidewalk, with the easy matter-of-fact grace of a young man who has no idea what it is like to be refused.

"— You are coming to stay over," he adds, with a tone of finality and a raise of his brows. "It's quite late. Where were you even staying before?" A pause. "Not with your father?"

The night goes exceptionally well, and the Dazzler shines brilliantly through every moment.

She agrees to every request asked of her, signing napkins, taking photos, listening avidly to stories by friendly fans, all the while never losing her smile. It is a success because of it; perhaps, even more so, when occasional glimpses of Alison come out, in the hopeful smiles she flashes toward Danielle Moonstar, or the earnest way she promises Tabitha that they will catch up soon.

Every so often, she fields glances back on Warren Worthington, who owns his own significant real estate in public performance. He, his face, his name, his manner, and his wings, have many women besotted.

Eventually, she catches a new rigidity holstered in those same white wings. He gives a nudge, and she needs no more cues. Alison graciously announces their gift to the charity drive, offers thank-yous, and slips them both out in a tidy exit.

The atmosphere in the bar still lingers on her, minutes into the cold; those newly-made, hopeful memories provide their own warmth. Though, never for long. New York's wet chill hits hard, and she turns up the collar of her belted coat, also pulling free a knitted hat from her handbag and slipping it up, and tucking in a few yellowy tresses of her hair.

Gloved hands stuck into her pockets, she blows out a visible breath of air, lingering in place — a little awkward. Is this where she parts, bids him night, goes home? Warren, on the other hand, suggests flight.

Alison gives him a side-eyed look, amused and bemused at the same time: it's been years since she's flown in anything but a jet, and, well — one gets rusty over time. "I didn't realize you need conditions," she remarks. "Like a runway, I guess? Maybe you should buy LaGuardia."

But he offers an adequate — and astoundingly normal — alternative to flying by birdwing. Alison takes it with a laugh, perhaps even relieved. "You know Uber is a thing. I'd suggest we try a train, but I have a sinking feeling you'd get yourself stuck in a turnstile. I mean, I could —"

He's already offering an arm. Alison considers, sighs a cloud into the night air, and accepts. She really doesn't want to leave the either of them alone, just yet. The crash after a party — that quiet — always aches.

And then staying over. She shoots him a look, caught off-balance. "It's not — that late. Now is usually when the party starts." Alison's smile is tired just remembering it. "I'm at a hotel downtown — the Walker. Looking for a place, when I find the time. There're some nice lofts." Still reticent to live at the Institute; now, more than ever, she brings attention with. There's a time and a place.

He mentions her father. Alison's response is to go sombre. She smiles, not the Dazzler's smile, but something far more awkward; smiling, because she doesn't really know what else to do. "No. We don't really talk." Her hand pats his arm once. "Where are you at, these days? Converted the Statue of Liberty into your boudoir yet?"

To be a public figure is a performance art. The Dazzler knows this as a result of her chosen profession. Warren Worthington knows it as a result of breeding and upbringing. Since a young age he has known what it is like to always be watched for weakness — to always be judged on his presentation in the eyes of the media.

For all Alison's jokes about offering him a brand, 'Warren Worthington' already acquired one of his own long ago… and in this public appearance of theirs, he plays it to the hilt. For this short time, he is the beautiful, angelic young heir he has always been for the cameras — and he pays especial attention to the women, because he is supposed to be that too. A youthful love for chasing skirts became part of his 'image' a long time ago, and brands cannot change as fast for the famous as they do for the average private individual.

Sometimes even Warren himself isn't sure where his maintained habits end and his true impulses begin.

It's easier out of the crowded bar, at least. One thing that has always made sense to Warren, without ambiguity, is the sky. Momentarily lost in a reverie to look up at it — gauging the wind speed, temperature and other basic flight variables instinctively as he does — he doesn't actually look back down at Alison up until she suggests he should buy LaGuardia if he needs a runway.

Then he looks at her with a vengeance. "Bite your tongue. It would at least be JFK. Though if I wanted a private airstrip, I'd just go home. We've got a perfectly lovely one there."

His eyes turn inevitably upwards. "You do need conditions, though," he says, as he offers her his arm and starts to escort her down the street. "You want to conserve energy as much as possible. Wind speed, direction, sources of lift, that all affects it. Sometimes I actually prefer flying here to flying back home. The wind right off the Atlantic is erratic, and you don't get steady rising thermals there like you do here, where there's nothing but concrete and glass baking in the sun all day."

He cocks an eye at her. "It's much preferable to Uber or a train. I've never been in a subway, and never care to."

He falls silent as she speaks of partying — with a tired glint of remembrance — and then answers his question on where she is staying and where she plans to stay. A neutral noise escapes him at the idea of her 'looking for a place when she finds the time.' "I'll make a few calls," he says, with the tone of a man who has already filed it irrevocably into his to-do list.

Her topic change on the matter of her father draws his gaze more directly. He considers her, before he glances away again. "I see."

Warren lets it go. Not the time or place, indeed. "I leave the Statue to the actual birds," he says instead, with vanishingly dry humor. "Too drafty. I closed on a place on Fifth Avenue a few years ago, after the Chitauri business brought me back to New York. It's closer to all the things I need to keep tabs on — ah, here's Kiff."

The car that pulls up is nondescript, black: there are times for flashy cars, but far more often for Warren these days, there are times for privacy. Warren nudges Alison over and opens the door for her, before settling in himself.

"Hey guys," Kiff says, from the driver's seat. He's not very formal. He tried to be at first, but that only lasted a week or two before Warren told him to stop because it was giving him a headache. "You chose a good time, the roads are finally clear enough I didn't want to kill myself getting up here."

There are many times when Alison turns an eye back on Warren Worthington. It was as she realized: some things never change. They just age, like a wine, and at times threaten even to become interesting vintages.

With someone whose life is artistry and pageantry, she can appreciate watching a good show. As the famous Worthington turns his considerable charms on unprepared woman, they are lost within moments: hard not to, when a literal winged angel has eyes that make you feel like the center of his universe. Alison nips briefly down on her bottom lip to hide a smile, though her eyes betray their easy amusement.

He's gotten even better at it as the years have gone. Even then, he was a natural. Some things in life are just so unfair.

But even apparently out of his 'element,' and in her sole company, Alison finds Warren at a different sort of ease; she does not remark on it, perhaps because of the familiarity it strikes. She may already know the answer.

Still warm from the laughter and friendly faces inside, and face flushed from her last beer, Alison answers Warren's LaGuardia-related outrage with an unguarded laugh. It mists the chill air in a brief cloud.

"Of course you do," she huffs aloud at his ownership of an air strip of all things — rich people! Alison Blaire is not short on money — ongoing lawsuits nonwithstanding — but Warren takes social stratification to an entirely different level. "Forgive me, I forgot you Worthingtons have your own zipcode."

Taking his proffered arm — and ignoring some guarded voice telling her she shouldn't, she should really just go home — Alison concedes to Warren's escort. The dark night awaits her in eventuality; better draw out the time she can get with an old friend.

Even if said old friend is currently giving her a walking lecture on aerodynamics.

"Hm," is all Alison says of that, a small, neutral sound, perhaps listening, perhaps just enjoying the timbre of his voice and forgetting the content as it comes. Her head leans briefly to his forearm to facilitate her own glance up at the sky: starless, as expected. New York persists in her many ways.

"Congratulations, Warren," she says, "on being the only New Yorker ever who loves the wind tunnels." Her lips quirk with a quick smile. "And you've never taken a train? Not once? Oh my god, you sad little budgie. It's a rite of passage! Like getting drunk. Hell of a fun time, and with so much regret. One of my first concerts — I commandeered the 39th station in Queens for one of my first concerts, when I couldn't get a club to book me. Cops raided us and everything. We even tried another on the 6."

Alison tells the story with a faraway smile. Good memory. Good time. Simpler back then.

Brought back to the present, she implies she's still living out of a hotel; Warren Worthington, however, appears not to be having any of it.

"Calls?" Alison repeats, suspicious. "Warren, that's — you don't need to take care of me. Your ideas might be a little beyond my budget, in any case. It doesn't stretch far here."

But doesn't she have options? Family to stay with? The implication threatens to cool the rest of Alison's good mood. Years ago, mention of Judge Blaire brought bitterness and defiance out of the younger Alison — now it's only distance, and a subdued sense of longing. Eyes cast away, she doesn't seem to notice him watching her. Nonetheless, Warren drops it. Retorts, again, on her lighter digs, and her pensiveness clears to another one of her smiles. "So long as you don't have Stark's eyesore in your view, I'm sure it's beautiful."

The car pulls up, distracting Alison from her next thought; her expression opens up with transparent delight. "Kiefer!" she chirps, hustled into the backseat. Unable to hug in the confines of a car, the poor driver/assistant is consigned to a tipsy pop idol squeezing his shoulders. "Oh my god, it's been too long! Tell me he hasn't been working you too hard."

Warren Worthington has certainly aged like a wine; which is to say, he's gotten better and more refined. In his younger days he was more shameless, more brazen, more flashy about his displays… but nowadays he's got more of a sedate air to him, the sort of self-assured and timeless class that people instinctively associate with blue-blooded old wealth.

He's found this works even more well on women than the showy zeal of his callow days, and that knowledge has just made him more dangerous. It also doesn't help that he knows exactly how to use his looks, down to the glamour and myth that come inextricably associated with those white wings.

And it's all a show — a performance, as Alison's practiced eye can easily see.

A few minutes alone with her, out in the cold, and all of that slowly fades away. The charming, seductive angel facade drops, and while all of the same beauty is left behind, it now wears a much more unguarded, plain look. There is a wistful way he looks at the sky which reminds that he is as much bird as he might be angel… and a bird's instinct is always to be up in that empty air.

Only Alison's teasing brings him back down. "We do, actually," he muses absently on the matter of the zipcode, though he doesn't clarify.

He just offers her his arm in escort. The night is still enough the cold is not too oppressive — not that cold tended to bother Warren — and he talks lowly as they walk, largely unaware that she is drinking in his voice. He notices the lean to his shoulder, though he pretends not to; half a smile crosses his features.

It vanishes immediately at 'little budgie.' There is an ominous rustle as the feathers of his wings raise in an indignant flare. "We've talked about this budgie thing," he grouses, though her subsequent story seems to smooth those literally-ruffled feathers back down again.

As far as 'not needing to take care of her?' "If you insist. It will not be me taking care of you," he explains, matter-of-fact. "I just happen to know some realtors that could arrange things to your needs and your satisfaction much more quickly." He learned long ago not to fling his wealth too heavy-handedly, after too many incidents of hurt pride and friendships broken by greed.

The mood threatens to dip even further with that venture too-close to some personal issues. Warren withdraws; Alison makes a joke. "God, no," he says, of Stark Tower views. "I'd move if that were the case. At any rate, you'll see for yourself quite soon."

Kiff's arrival is a welcome sight, after about fifteen minutes of walking. Hugging is indeed possible, but Kiff tolerates the tipsy semi-hug Alison can manage around the seat back with good humor. "Lovely to see you again," he says, as he pulls back into the sparse traffic. "Maybe your good influence will do me some favors in that regard. His very existence works me too hard."

"We talked about your overachieving, Kiff. You'd have a much more relaxed job if you didn't keep trying to make a decent man of me," Warren says, not looking up, already distracted looking at his phone. Important emails, no doubt. "And you — " obviously to Alison, " — you're always happier to see him than you are me. Why is that, exactly?"

Entertaining as their night was, Alison Blaire seems content to leave it behind. All its performance, all its practised smiles.

And while she found the Angel on show amusing in his own regard, this she seems to prefer, stealing a look of Warren taking a coveteous look up on the sky. Birds are never meant to be kept in cages.

In her own way, sound is Alison's sky. The more Warren speaks, on any topic at all, the more she seems to relax, losing herself to the careful arches of his tones, the measured rhythm of his intonations. A living transducer, she drinks it in her many ways — one of them a physical necessity. Sound to fuel her. Sound to ground, center, and keep her.

And, in particular, his voice has always been a delicacy of its own. Not that she's ever admitted it; the last thing Warren Worthington needs is a dessert mint on top of the feast of his ego.

But it yields Alison, softens her, settles her head to Warren's shoulder and lets him guide her on in many ways.

He can feel her smile as he takes offence to 'budgie.' Alison has no limits to her amusement. "We did," she replies diplomatically to his mention of 'a talk'. Not implied: it fixed nothing. "You should be flattered," she teases. "I love budgies. Always singing."

Her favourite childhood pets. Made her cold, empty, quiet apartment seem warm.

The cold presses on, but she seems not to mind nor notice, enjoying their leisurely walk; at least, until it hits inevitable snags. A question about her father comes and goes, with little resolution. And Warren Worthington expressing to help —

She responds. He does not press. And the seconds go on, uncomfortable ones, leaving Alison sure she overreacted.

A visceral reaction on her part, come with a surge of uncertainty — the fear of someone taking care of her. She let Roman, and how that ended. To repeat it —

"I don't mean to dismiss your help, Warren," Alison braves after a beat, repentant. "I'm sorry. I'm acting like a jerk."

Thankfully, Kiff comes to the rescue, and she seems relieved for the natural distraction he serves — as well as a returned, familiar face.

Climbing into the car, she subjects poor Kiff to a few moments of her awkward fussing, before she arranges herself in. With a never-forgotten familarity, she sits mindfully forward, perched near the edge of the seat, allowing the space behind her for the length of Warren's wings. He needs the extra space; he's endured cramped conditions far too long.

"Good influence?" Alison repeats back, awed, of Kiff's words. "See, did you hear that, Warren? I'm a good influence. This was verified by a third party."

She laughs aloud at the back-and-forth between the two men — whatever their roles, the true foundation of the relationship is transparent: they are close, bound friends.

Her eyes cut aside to Worthington beside her, at his last question. Alison looks at Warren; Warren looks at his phone.

Easy enough answer: seeing Kiefer is a delight, because it means Alison knows Warren has eyes on his back.

She reaches over to put her hand over the screen, not to take it away or tap errant manipulations into his business life, but simply block it from view. To make him look at her. Alison teases instead, unable to suppress her smile, "Haven't the slightest."

The last thing, indeed, Warren could ever need is anything that would inflate his ego even more. 'Budgie' does a lot to counteract that, at the least; his feathers fluff a bit in outrage, remaining so even as she tells him he ought to be flattered.

He mollifies a bit to being told she loves budgies, though with a grumpy warning, "Trust me, you do not want to hear me sing."

His offer to help her with her housing dilemma is taken a little less well. Warren goes quiet at her response, easily sensing the trigger of — something. Hurt pride, bad past experience. He's heard such tones before. He doesn't press, but the silence grows a little awkward, up until Alison's halting apology.

"They'll help as much or as little as you want them to," he says. "But I wish you would just let me handle it. You didn't ask to be crucified by the whims of society, and it seems a better use of the resources than getting myself another few cars."

Speaking of cars, Kiff pulls up at this opportune moment. Warren hands Alison in first, though he certainly notices when she automatically makes room for his wingspan. "You may sit back if you want," he says, though a muted appreciation sits couched in the tone of his voice. "You needn't make room for them." Though one of his wings is already stretched into the space behind her. Was she just invited to sit back against it? He isn't taking it away.

Kiff eyes them in the rearview mirror. He seems to know something, because he gives Warren a roll of his eyes before returning his attention to the road.

"Verified by a third party well known for undermining me at every turn," is Warren's rejoinder — he saw the look — "so you'll excuse my continued lack of belief on that count." He's looking at his phone now though, distracted by a series of messages. Warren is remarkably well-behaved for a young man of his privilege, but even he has his lapses.

Whatever he's doing is soon enough covered by Alison's objection to his distraction. He chuckles and sleeps the phone, his blue eyes turning up to hers. "I see you consider yourself a higher priority than my CEO," he says. "Well, I imagine there's nothing they can burn down too badly before opening bell."

Kiefer groans good-naturedly. "All right, we're here. Get outta my car, I want to sleep sometime before 2 AM."

It is remarkable how much New York can change within a short fifty blocks. The more residential character of Harlem, with its lower-slung buildings, has given way to the towering and almost cold facades of the buildings along Fifth Avenue. This time Warren leaves the car first, if only to hand Alison back out; cool lamplight, thrown from the wall sconces of the building in front of which they're parked, beams out against the relentless darkness of Central Park across the street.

"Here we are," Warren says, wherever 'here' is. Honestly, it looks like a hotel — an upscale one. From the outside, the building already breathes decadently of pre-war Art Deco, its double-height foyer staffed even at this time of night. "Mind the step," he warns Alison, even as the doorman gets the door with that certain level of excessive, trained solicitousness which most outside Warren's social level just find immensely awkward. Warren doesn't appear to notice it. "I keep tripping over it and they'll do absolutely nothing about it, it's a travesty."

You do not want to hear me sing, warns the Worthington patriarch. To Alison, it just sounds like a dare.

"Of course I do," she laughs along. "You still won't do it for me."

Her mood remains that way — gentle, playful, and warm — until conversation tenses her into an immediate, kneejerk response. Alison rejects Warren's bid to help, fast and final — and seems to regret it immediately.

Not her best first step, trying to catch up with old friends she'd left behind; reacting sorely to the most generous of them trying to assist her. Still, the thought of letting go makes her stomach do a nervous flip; while many mutants base their life on values of restraint, moderation, and control, hers was authoritarian self-sufficiency. The only way she became successful on her own terms, and had the Dazzler born of her values and goals, was through a day-to-day micromanagement of everything.

So many greedy people were waiting on the wings, waiting for the turn at the reins — fighting her for control every step of the way. Alison Blaire could never drop her guard — could never let someone steer her life for her.

Until she did. And it cost her nearly everything.

Warren's innocuous sooth to 'handle it' is salt on a still-raw wound. Even knowing he'd never do anything malicious to the people in his life — never has, she doubts he ever could — Alison still fights against a circling fear to give up control.

"Let me think about it?" she offers. "I appreciate you offering. Some busywork actually sounds pleasant, even if it's househunting. If you have a free evening, I'll even let you come with. You can judge my choices."

The car eventually pulls up, and Kiff's staid arrival rescues them both from the cold. Alison is back to spirits, flushed against the warm change in temperature, meeting the revered assistant with one of her brilliant smiles — while nimbly making space for Warren's wings. He still notices, and nonetheless, invites her to sit back.

Much like Kiff, Alison also notices the feathery wing unfurled behind her. Unlike Kiff, she doesn't roll her eyes. Her lips press, not unhappily, but in that familiar way she does when she's pensive, weighing something over with that mind most do not expect her to possess.

Carefully, perhaps afraid to pinch any of his feathers, Alison leans back. She is a lean, light thing, and even through her coat, radiates warth. Probably her field.

Despite that act of bravery or familiarity or both, it leaves her momentarily quiet. Not awkward, but a close sister to shy, brought to a needlepoint sense of situational awareness — hypersensitive of everything in that moment. Especially the wing beneath her back.

Manhattan winks a thousand running lights past their windows. She spends much of the ride in that strangely-peaceful silence.

Fortunately, it doesn't take long for Alison to regain her footing. Especially with Warren sassing her close-by. She covers his phone, and he relents. "Your CEO can take a night off. —You too, Kiff," she intones, apparently commandeering a violent takeover of Worthington Industries. She reaches to touch his shoulder good-bye. "Thanks for the ride. Get home safe."

Accepting the hand-up out of the car, Alison tips back her head to feast her eyes on the building, the stately line it carves up into the uptown skyline. It's breathtaking, as anticipated.

She both minds the step and smiles at the doorman — a bourgeoursie habit she can't shake, despite living the migratory high-life of her own — and steps into the elaborate lobby. Her heeled boots echo against the marbled floors.

"Absolute travesty," agrees Alison, stricken, unable to hide her smile. "They're not even segwaying us to the elevators. How you've endured this squalor, I don't even now."

"For good reason," is Warren's grim answer. "You don't know what you ask for, Alison. Leave it buried, where it belongs."

His offer winds up being an apt distraction, though Warren feels a little guilty at the memory of hurt it seems to inspire in her. He regards her quietly, blue eyes considering. He is not quite sure of the shape of why she refuses, but too much of a gentleman to press too far given that she has refused. Let her think about it, she says, and he inclines his head when she offers a compromise.

"I have a surprising amount of free evenings," he says. "So consider it done." The accompaniment — and the inevitable judging.

Conversation lapses, briefly, though it is not an uncomfortable silence between the three. She makes room for his wings; he accepts, but invites her not to put herself out too much either. Invited to lean back against one of his feathered appendages, she will find it infinitely soft — and more sturdy than she might expect. There is a strength couched in it that, in retrospect, is not surprising given he flies purely by his physical exertion.

It is warm. It also curls slightly about her reclined form. Kiff sighs with a knowing air.

The ride is not long. Soon enough they're being dropped off, Kiff nodding a farewell to Alison's thanks and well wishes. Warren leads Alison promptly up to the door, the only thing breaking his stride his notice of her smiling at the doorman. It seems to remind him the man exists, though it's parsed only as a moment of vague surprise before he ushers them farther into the elaborate foyer. It is a place meant to overawe: polished marble, expensive furniture chased with inlays, finely-drawn geometric detail on every wall and surface. Warren doesn't seem to notice any of it as he guides them past the general elevator banks, and towards a separate one at the back of the building.

He notices Alison's sass, though. "Don't talk to me about segways," Warren says, as he calls the elevator. It arrives promptly, and it only goes to two floors: 19 and 20. Warren picks 19. "There were some people at Harvard who — but never mind. I don't want to relive it.

"We should discuss our next moves instead," he says, looking more somber, as the elevator rises. "Charity appearances are well and good, but bolder steps seem called for." His flicks mentally through the faces they just met. "I think a few appointments are in order. Sharon Carter was a terrible little girl — " he is ignoring that he was probably also a terrible little boy — "but presumably age has improved her."

The elevator hisses softly to a stop, letting them off at what turns out to be a duplex penthouse. Despite the darkness of the overcast night, there is still an immediate distinct impression of light and airiness to the space. Perhaps it's the minimal furniture and the sparse clean lines of it; more likely, it's the fact that it seems to be nothing but floor-to-ceiling windows, most facing out over the dark body of Central Park. A bird needs his constant views of the sky, it seems.

"Get you anything?" Warren inquires. Interestingly he seems to navigate his own space like a stranger; at the least, he spends some time contemplating his own kitchen as if it were a surprise to him. He opens a wine cabinet experimentally. "…At least, I'm pretty sure there must be something in here from the last time I was here."

International celebrity has its boons.

Though many of her assets are now frozen, locked in trust to the deluge of incoming breach-of-contract and liability lawsuits, Alison Blaire is a woman of means. Considerable means, at one time, that afforded her a great many privileges, and an eager world laying its wares to curry her favour. She lived out of hotel rooms for her past many years, but they were the best hotel rooms, ones that let her lean back, or sleep, on some of the softest chaises, sofas, and beds she's ever known.

None of them hold a candle to this wing.

Infinitely soft, and holding in warmth like a goose-down blanket, Alison fights a losing battle against her last nerves. She yields, relaxing, and it curls to chase away the last of the lingering winter chill. For a moment, she forgets she's even in a car — with Kiff long-sufferingly enduring it all.

Let out, and seeing off Worthington's sleepless assistant, Alison makes acquaintance with Warren's current home.

The detail lost on his social sphere seems to captivate her, a woman who grow up on the comfortable side of the middle-class — but nothing that comes close to this. First, the doorman earns a grateful look — that civil apology for making him work at this hour. Then, Alison's roaming attention wonders, down to the mirrored polish on the black marbled floors; she pauses, tilting her head slightly to the sound her shoes make against it, tasting the fusion of reverberation and echo.

She likes it.

She runs a hand over the bone inlay on the furniture. She touches the handcrafted teak accents, scripting the whitespace of the walls. Alison appreciates it all. Art is art, to her eye.

Her eyes turn at that Warren's great, millennial despair — his world, besieged by segways. Alison covers her mouth to hold in a laugh; she's far more careful with noise she makes, in here. "I feel I should comment that there were no segways at NYU. Superior school to Harvard? The logic is sound."

As she joins Warren on the elevator, and conversation inevitably shifts — so does Alison's playful mood cool to something more serious. "No, you're right. Appearances will be important, but we're going to be squaring up several weight classes ahead of us. And I like Sharon. And not just because of the stories I'm going to make her tell me."

The doors open with a flourish, and open Alison Blaire's world to — the absolute architectural marvel that is Warren Worthington's home.

She has visited, partied, and dined in some lavish places. And yet, at first look, this place brings a momentary hitch to her forward step. Wow.

"Warren," she says, and it's telling that, in the few moments Alison takes to form words, none can form to tease him. "This is unbelievable." What compels her first are those windows, drawing her to look out on Manhattan's lights through the glass. "You're atop the city. That's no small feat."

Disengaging from the view with an amused exhale, she finally unbuttons her coat and removes her hat, meticulously hanging them up. And back to business, Alison declares without warning: "We need to create a foundation. Safe, solid, separate from all else, and transparent. From there, we can attract investors, and form a lobby. However we tackle this, I think our destination will take us to the same place."

She looks over her shoulder, her blonde hair framing her canny blue eyes. "Politics. I've been thinking it over, and I can't see it any other way. We hand-select our perfect candidate, and get our interests into Congress."

Alison's eyes hold Warren a moment more, perhaps now noticing him, wings and all, standing like a shipwrecked man in the sea of his kitchen. A smile creeps back to her mouth. She comes toward him, in that same black dress from their evening out. "Do you need help?"

Warren may not notice the splendor, per se — creatures do not take especial note of their native environments — but he does notice Alison's fascination. He watches her from the corner of his eye, something rather indulgent about the way he watches her.

That look transforms to slight puzzlement as she implicates NYU as a superior school to Harvard, due to its lack of pretentious segway people. "NYU," he says, vaguely. "Did you go there? I've heard the name, I think. It's not a city school, is it?" Is he trolling her? It's very hard to tell.

In the privacy of the elevator, however, his mood turns a little more serious, as he watches their reflections in the mirrored sheen of the cab's interior. "Everyone has an opinion, I suppose," he says of her liking of Sharon 'Sanctimonious' Carter. "I wouldn't bother digging for stories. Our childhoods were very boring. All yachts and country clubs, and the droning of the old and calcified. A lot of blathering about trusts and money. Always money." A pause. "A lot of ridiculous behavior that you would no doubt find unfathomable and strange. It's certainly… a culture."

There is a vague pang of dissatisfaction in his voice, a slight dusting of sadness, and a sharp barb at the center that might be anger.

He moves on. Physically, as well as conversationally. The sweep of the apartment is enough to silence her back down to sincerities, though Warren presents no pretentions nor preenings about the space. "It is nice," he says instead, in simple agreement. "I have particular needs," and indeed, some of the skylights seem to be hinged to allow exit by wing, "and am not hindered by any desperate desire to prove something by stamping a certain address on my cards. I find the squabbles over owning at 740 Park a little gauche — and that building does not have a view like this one."

Hanging up his own jacket and loosening his tie, he starts over towards the kitchen in the interests of being a proper host. Her remarks draw his eye, halfway. "That's simple enough," he says. "Pick a name and we can begin the paperwork. Draw up something separate from the existing charitable foundations I have." A pause. "I may even be able to get those tax breaks under the law. That would be nice."

He stands a moment in the kitchen, a little bemused, before he starts rooting through the wine cabinets. His wings spread a little in counterbalance. "Politics and lobbying is rather new to me, but there's a first time for everything and I imagine I'll have to learn that side of things sooner rather than later."

His fussing lasts a little too long. Noticing, Alison stifles laughter and approaches for the rescue. " — no, I'm fine," Warren insists. "Here we are. I knew it was in here." He steps aside to let her view the selection. "Pick what you like," he says, opening another cabinet. "Or ask me for something else. I'm not in a wine mood, personally."

That appreciation for art is Alison Blaire's only slip in her practised, public face; inside the apartment foyer, and surrounded by old money, she is careful not to portray herself too loudly, too boldly.

She waits for the elevator without much fanfare; is she taking pains not to have her visit draw too much attention to Warren Worthington?

When the elevator doors slide shut behind them, and they are safe from others' eyes, Alison relents. She goes as far as slipping out of her heels — her feet are killing her — and taking her shoes loosely in hand. Down to her stockings, the action loses her an inch of height — and even more than that, when she leans back, propped against a wall.

Warren's dig on NYU earns him a flat look. Alison considers him for a beat, two beats, a real battle reflecting against her blue eyes. Trying to weigh him for sincerity. Can a single New Yorker exist without ever hearing about NYU? It is Warren —

Her mouth crooks, wry. "You're making fun of me."

And that wryness yields as Warren goes on, painting a brief, yet complicated picture of his childhood. Listening, it brings a distance to Alison's face, no doubt far-reaching to imagine it. "Sounds like one big, elaborate, over-dressed headache," she says, with no small amount of sympathy. Emotions noose knot after knot into his voice, enough that it earns her full attention, careful, considering. "I'm glad you made your place among it. It didn't stifle you."

She pauses a beat, then adds, with a pensive smile, "I admit, when I saw you strip your shirt on camera, part of me felt relief."

Fortunately, the duplex penthouse what awaits constitutes its entire change of conversation.

There are things in this world that can stun anyone — even people prepared for it. Dazzler, who likes to ground herself by admitting to like simple things, is absolutely besotted with the place. Space and decoration are things she appreciates, but even more importantly, it's the steep cost one pays for privacy — privacy with new sense of confinement or exposure.

It is why she's lured foremost to those windows, tilting her head to angle a look down on Park Avenue below. Warren's mildly-spoken confirmations only make her smile, briefly, privately. "It's classy. You did well."

Alison glances back, however, as she segues into seriousness — answering Warren's question with a clear plan. That much is certain: she's been thinking about this. Without her career, and her music on hold — it may just be the only anything in her life to absorb her runaway energy. "Surprisingly simple. We'll establish it as a private operating foundation. I think asking for public funds invites negative press — frames the issue like it's an incurable disease."

The thought of that averts her eyes, uneasy. "We manage it as transparently as we can. Publish our accounting, even private. Hire a small staff. I will insist on a strong focus in charity, and I want your input on what endeavours we make our focus. Assistance for mutants? Assistance for educational programs? Helping without alienating."

Probably the most Alison has ever spoken at once, or at length — and absolutely at her most free. "The name is the most important part, and… I'm honestly stuck on that. It needs to be clear, simple, and… something the Professor would say." Her eyes gentle. "Something about unity, or… oneness. I just know how to name song tracks."

By then, she seems to pick up that Warren's lingering a little too-long in the kitchen. Sensing the possibility of rescue, she disengages from the window, and tracks back. "As for politics, it'll be new for both of us. I had tastes of it when I was young. Every few years, when my father faced reappointment at the bench. Songs and dances. I think you'll do well at it."

There could be further words, but Alison loses herself to the sight of Warren Worthington, defeated by wine selections. She bites her bottom lip through a half-smile, eyes on him. They cut back to the cabinet, which she views with appreciation. "Been a while since wine. Had to swear a lot off in the business," she remarks. "Drying on the throat."

Alison's eyes half-hood thoughtfully. "But if it's the case, something else. I want what the host's having."

If Alison is being circumspect in order to avoid drawing too much negative attention, it is something Warren appreciates. Since youth the concept of privacy and individuality have been alien things to him. There was always Family, and what was best for the Family, and what They Might Think.

The press has already caught whiff of something happening between the young Worthington scion and the singer known as the Dazzler. It is not a fitting match for a young man like him. He's already gotten some disapproving remarks from his relatives… various cousins, aunts, and uncles of the cadet branches who fear what he might do to the Worthington name, now his dearly departed father is no longer around to guide him.

Or who smell an opportunity to take him down and wrest control of the family and its fortunes from him. That, too, is a thing that happens among old money.

All things Warren finds infinitely tiresome, even as they continue to shackle him in many ways. Alison's discretion is appreciated — and so too is her sympathy. "In its most benign form, it was 'a headache,'" he says, his tone of voice briefly an echo of what it was on the day of a certain funeral, a few short years ago. "It did stifle me for a long time… but I mean for that to end."

His first step? Stripping and baring his wings on camera, apparently. Half a smile crosses his features. "No one felt more relief than me," he says. "My wings had been pinned for almost twelve hours by that point."

He never does answer whether he was making fun of her or not.

Instead he allows the penthouse to distract her; instead he allows her to settle into what, it rapidly becomes obvious, is a rather personal space for him. Perhaps one of the few locations he can have some true privacy. Certainly the Worthington estates back at the North Shore offer no such thing. He listens quietly enough to Alison's plan; half because he is a good listener, and half because he's currently struggling with an ordeal: where is all his shit?

Finally finding it, he stands aside to give Alison a view. "You seem to have a good game plan, for someone who just knows how to name song tracks," he says, amused. "Yes, a private foundation would be preferable. No 'donating to cure mutancy.' I can easily seed the endeavor. Perhaps begin with a focus on outreach towards young mutants? The most tense times for a mutant are when they first manifest." His eyes go briefly distant with the memory of his own. "The name will come."

He turns to a different cabinet with a sigh. "Ah, well. I suppose I couldn't avoid politics forever."

Alison decides that she does not want wine, however; she wants whatever he is having. Warren laughs. "Clever. I hope you have a taste for scotch, then. Is that any better on the throat, really?"

He picks through a few bottles. "Or shall I make a hot toddy of it for you? Perhaps bourbon instead, then. I am not mixing any of my scotch, not even for you."

It is not a fitting match; this, too, the canny Alison Blaire seems to know.

Celebrity has opened countless door to her, and allowed her esteemed access to the upper rungs of a world denied to most. However, every now and then, she would be reminded of her position — of her place. Of her role among them, and performers were never meant to wear the crowns of kings. The greatest reminder was how easily she lost it all, and how her privilege was a kingdom built on matchsticks.

There is stability in old money, and fortitude in legacy — but both seem to come at a steep price. Alison listens to a few of them.

Twelve years of pinning his wings. An agonizing cost just to be a Worthington. Alison's eyebrows furrow to take that in — she knows it, remembers the harness, but how he says it encapsulates the ordeal into terrifying brevity. She struggled with her mutation, but suppressing it comes with no pain. Focus, yes, to hold in her light, but no more than an actress pays to moderate her voice or watch her posture when eyes are on her.

She meets his confession, his half-smile, with a long, meaningful look. She says nothing to it, because there's little to say to that — she has no idea how it even begins to feel, pinning your limbs painfully for almost half your life. Her expression speaks well enough for her: sympathy and pain for what was, relief for what is.

Thankfully, business is a far safer discussion, one that Alison engages quickly and readily. It feels like a solution to imagining Warren Worthington, a boy, suffering the pain of his bound wings crushed to his back. The hope no one else will ever have to do the same.

"Good idea," she says of his idea — the outreach. Alison turns a glance back at that, unable to miss the distance in Warren's eyes. "There is how we'll begin."

Him in the kitchen draws her over; Alison Blaire to the rescue, common-born and probably more adept at finding glassware cabinets than he is. Her smile lingers back on, measured and thoughtful. "With what we want, it's on the horizon. The Professor would have been a natural for it. But he had too much to lose."

She pauses a moment. "Not that I'm pushing you to politics. If you'd rather I focus on the lobby, you on the charity — don't be afraid to ask. You have so much on your plate."

Alison tilts her head. Her voice couches with amusement, looking on as Warren Worthington burdens himself under decisions. "Such as this."

Her hand rests briefly on his closest arm to stay his fussing. "Whatever you're having, seriously. I'm curious to experience the Worthington poison of choice."

Famous as a performer can become, monied as they can become, in the end —in the eyes of old blood — they will still always remain what they are: a jumped-up creature of new money and no breeding. No one has said it outright to his face, but the implications have come after he first reunited with Alison in public: it is not fitting for him to be seen out with some singer like Dazzler. If he is to want someone like that, it should be done decorously in private, the woman kept behind closed doors as a side piece to someone with more pedigree.

Warren finds the pretentions tiresome. Worthington Industries is a company, he has said often enough, and not some goddamned monarchist country. None of them are royalty to have to put on airs as if they were; they're all only where they are because their ancestors decided to start selling assorted goods 150-odd years ago, and wound up doing rather well at it.

This opinion does not go over well with his family. Fortunately, even at his young age, he is the patriarch of it — for now.

On top of that, he's free of the restrictions which have bound his wings for so much of his life. It came at the price of his last shred of privacy, but at the same time he no longer needs to hide. There are plenty of signs to indicate tacitly what an effect it had on him, to bind his wings, and what a change it is for him to be able to keep them free. His wings are a highly-expressive part of him, mirroring so much of his moods, constantly rustling in motion to reflect his thoughts. Some people talk with their hands; Warren seems to talk with his wings. It is hard, seeing him this way, to imagine them having to be caged and silent against his back.

Even now, Alison can read his mood by how they're being held. They're slightly lifted, the feathers slowly on their way to an agitated puff. Something is annoying him. Not her — judging by his favorable reply to her plans. "Oh, we can do both," he says. "I've never done politics before. It seems like a thing to try in your life at least once. The trick seems to be getting out before all the scandals start breaking."

He gives her a too-searching look. "It's not just the Professor. A lot of people have a lot to lose."

Finally finding where all the liquor is stashed, Warren's irritation abates; and accordingly, his wings smooth back down into folded placidity. He offers Alison her pick of the wine… but really, the lady is only interested in what he's drinking. He cocks an eye at her.

"I have a lot of poisons of choice, and you will find I am not pretentious about it in general," he says, amused, as he reaches up and takes down a bottle labeled Macallan 25. "But I'll start you off on the easy end. I've been meaning to crack this one anyway."

He pours two glasses, two fingers in each glass. "Not pretentious at all," he muses, as he does. "Had one of the best nights of my life after too much cheap tequila." A pause. "Worst morning after, though."

The shifting and lifting of those feathers aren't lost on Alison; the quiet flexing of those great wings is a distant hiss on her ears, though she can recognize it the moment she hears it.

Literally wearing his heart on a sleeve, she thinks, with no small amount of amusement. She makes no comment, either way; most people don't like being reminded of emotions in the body language — and she would hate for Warren to feel self-conscious. Even more so, hate for him to stop doing what he does, and what comes naturally to him.

It's also a little adorable.

"So long as you're comfortable," Alison says instead, regarding Warren Worthington's future foray into the political theatre. "But I think you're similarly ready for it. Might not be too different from the airs you've had to put on in the past, and doing that tired old thing to make tired old men feel more important than they are." She leans briefly against one of his kitchen's marbled counters, looking on Warren's feathery back as he searches. "There's a greater demand for accountability, both professional and personal. You become a servant, in a way, and must humble yourself to let the world rip you apart — and feel honoured every time they insist to do it." She thinks a moment more. "And, possibly, the most annoying point of all: keeping your values close to your chest, save for the platform. Unless you're one of the lucky few the public loves for being opinionated."

The latter Alison struggled with, personally — too indecisive, too afraid to make a stand in public. Too afraid of it backfiring. Until it did, in any case, in the end.

She lingers closer, increasingly curious of Warren's wine cabinet struggle, only pausing when he glances at her — insinuates many more than Charles Xavier have a lot to lose. Alison answers it with a small, yielding tug of her lips. "They do," she agrees.

However, she strays off seriousness as Warren contemplates drinks — and, to Alison's opinion, seems to be going far out of his way to host her. She's admittedly curious about the scotch. It's her first real opportunity to try something of its like; it's not like she's going to be singing any time soon. Time to at least get savour some of the things she's long-denied.

She glances at the bottle; it means nothing to her, she's clueless when it comes to spirits. His story is far more engrossing, earning a quick turn of Alison's eyes. "I've never seen you drunk," she realizes aloud. "I bet you turn into a woo girl."

Warren does not even appear fully aware of the breadth of his wings' expressiveness. Perhaps he just doesn't think about it, or perhaps they were pinned so long that he forgot how they would naturally behave; either way, he seems oblivious to the birdlike way they reflect his moods.

They're currently ruffling in pique.

The feathers smooth and settle when Alison starts to speak of the political theater, and all the trappings of it. Midway through her speech, he starts to get the sense she's not just talking politics. "Hmm," he says, as he finally gives up on the wine — she doesn't want it, anyway — and straightens back up. His wings tuck neatly at his back again. "That all sounds similar enough."

A pause. "Except for the part about humbling oneself. I'm not very good at that part. It'll be hard."

With a passing smile to edge the remark into the realm of a joke (probably), he starts to break into the scotch. Alison's passing somberness about people with a lot to lose is noted, but allowed to pass like water under the bridge. He does not feel like that's a conversation she wants to have just this minute.

Instead, he just opens up the whisky, deftly pivoting to a dumb story as he does. These conversational pivots, too, are important skills in society. "You mostly saw me while we were required to be at least semi-professional X-Men," he says, amused, "and so that is why you did not see me drunk. I can tell you that flying drunk is an extremely bad idea. Everywhere else, though…"

He slides her her glass. "There's a drinking culture in most other arenas of my life. The cigar-and-scotch culture among the old men, or the desperate binge drinking you get in corporate, or just the high society drunks who can't seem to function without at least two glasses of wine, and frequently go beyond until they embarrass themselves."

I bet you turn into a woo girl. "Wouldn't you like to know?" he says, with half a sly smile. "The answer is no, however. The circles I was raised in, everyone drinks. Those who can't hold it don't survive."

Definitely not just politics, and definitely not just with a small amount of bitterness.

Alison never could figure out the wax and wane relationship with her father as a girl — not until she realized the more he resembled warmth to her, the closer he would be approaching reappointment. She found herself both hating and craving those governors' parties every five years; in public, they were a happy family, and for that night, she loved him acting as a parent to her. It turned off the moment they got home.

It was one of the last things she ever told him, nearly seven years ago: it was never her mother. She learned how to be a performer from him.

Judge Blaire did not take that well.

Alison banishes away the memory with Warren's difficulties claiming modesty. She answers it with an amused half-laugh. "You may be able to get away with it," she offers, amused. "Stay sassy and they'll love you."

He switches lanes in their conversation deftly and tactfully; she keeps up without any trouble, perhaps even appreciative that Warren does not cede to linger in sore spots for too long. Landmines for other nights.

Tonight, Alison seems content at playing halfway-normal after a month of loss, and distracts herself — reaching to arrange a couple out-of-place feathers on Warren's closest wing, disorganized by that recent ruffling. Her hands are careful, though the action itself is mechanical; the fussy side of Blaire leeching in through the artifice of the cool and unconcerned Dazzler.

Warren sees them both some of that high-priced scotch whisky. Alison accepts her glass, tilting it curiously to swirl the ambery liquid. Its colour gilding under the low light, in particular, holds her eye.

"Sounds familiar," she answers, wry, to Warren's John Attenborough-esque summation of High Society Livers. "Same thing in the business. The wine flows. I ended up becoming boring, in comparison to most of them — you really need to keep your head in those circles." Her lashes lower for a beat, recollecting, before the memory is cast away. Her smile returns, sharp. "I got the unsavory reputation of being a hardass by the label bigwigs. They don't like that from women. But they couldn't touch me — no one could, save the fans."

Any sort of conversation that strays to the past — Alison touches, threateningly, on here-and-there shadows of past miseries. Layers to a life, much like his, that is far from its shiny, public surface. But while some of it is raw, the rest — she seems to have filed it to its place, warnings left for others not to repeat her mistakes… but things not enough to dampen her mood.

Not when she can, instead, lightly ring her glass against Warren's. The sound it makes pleases her. "Then," she toasts, "to surviving. You have no idea how nice it's been seeing you."

Alison holds Warren's eyes for a beat, then, a little quickly, tries the scotch. First contact writes itself expressively over her face. She swallows it down, eyes wide, exhaling against the first, searing bite. "That's — wow," she says, amused, maybe even a little intimidated. "This even tastes rich. I feel like my esophagus is being judged."

"They loved me sassy as the 'Worthington heir,'" Warren says, his arch voice making a mockery of the very idea of 'the Worthington heir.' "That's practically my brand now, if I've got one. I believe they'd be more shocked if I changed my plumage now all of a sudden, than they would be if I just kept playing that to the hilt."

But with the deftness of long practice, Warren pivots them from sore spot to sore spot. He is a good conversationalist, it is plain to see, well-versed in guiding an interchange between the shoals of too-serious topics, and staying safely on the harmless side of any given issue. It is not the time for them to speak yet about more serious matters, and so Warren keeps the conversation light — for now.

His wing does twitch when she touches it, though. It would be hard to imagine it not reacting in some way. A glance up at him would reveal one blue eye watching her, a bird instinctively watchful of its most important appendage being touched. The look lasts only a second before he returns his attention to the bottle he's opening.

He lets her keep his wing. In fact — "You want to hook the barbs the other way," he says, after a moment. "Pull it — yeah. Align it underneath." He slides her glass over to her, looking wry. "If you're as interested as that, you should help with the coverts right between the shoulderblades at some point. I can't reach those as well."

Not now, though, judging by the way he turns after giving her her glass, leaning against the smooth countertop of the kitchen island to listen to her speak about 'the business.' Only the fans could touch her, she says, and Warren examines the liquid in his own glass. "That's impressive enough, I think, given all I have heard of that business. Usually few performers ever manage to achieve that kind of pull."

There is somewhere the conversation could go. Warren is not the one to push it there. Instead he just meets her toast with a ring of glass on glass. "It has been too long," he agrees. "You've always been a bit of a stranger, Alison." His gaze is briefly serious. "There's no need to be."

That seriousness abates as her watches her take her first taste of the scotch. He laughs outright at her reaction, reaching out to quell her with a hand on her wrist. "Easy there, sport," he says. "You have to take this slower, in sips. It's not a shot. Taste it properly." His grin widens. "Give it time to thoroughly judge you."

"Wit's an artful dodge," Alison says to that — to Warren Worthington's brand insolence. "And why I don't think you have too much to fear. We'll be prepared. And should they hit hard, I won't let you bear it alone."

And that seems to sum up her thoughts on their eventual lobby — the end game that will see the first, visible mutants, making a public fight right into the heart of American politics. Alison knows it will be unprecedented; she also knows it terrifies her.

Does it similarly scare Warren? He holds it all so close that not even she is sure.

Nevertheless, he dances them between seriousness and not, and multitasks that deft, conversational two-step with pouring their scotch. Alison finds herself with a spare moment, enough that something is bothering her periphery — feathers shuffled out of their usual, avian arrangement.

Perhaps testament of a moment's contentment, she loses herself to reach out and tidy the disorganization. The wing twitches under her fingers, and Alison stops, her first instinct something all mutants cannot totally shake off, and always fear — a kneejerk worry she may have hurt.

She looks up, and meets the watch of Warren's closer eye. It sobers Alison, who seems to remember herself, and realize what she's been doing. She comes close to taking back her hands, embarrassed, only locked-in when he gives helpful direction to her fussing.

Alison closes her eyes for a beat, the time it takes one to mentally kick herself, and mea culpas weakly, "Old habit. From wardrobing. Contrary to common belief, very little time spent actually singing — just… fixing costumes." Heat lingers at her cheeks as she straight-facedly tucks the barbs as so. "I've driven people crazy doing this."

Once down, she tactically retreats, good-humoured about Warren's teasing, but still appalled by her own potential impropriety. He eases it by playfully suggesting she help preen him later, and Alison takes it gracefully with a turn of her eyes and a laugh. "So that's why you brought me up here."

Composing herself enough to accept the scotch, Alison smiles to his assessment — his compliment. "It was grueling work. But thank you. Same extends to you, Warren. Playing their game is exhausting enough — and you're turning it around to make it yours."

She toasts to that. And to his gentle chide. "I know," she answers, equally serious. Alison meets Warren's eyes. "I don't think I knew what I wanted. Most of my decisions were made for me. As you may find familiar."

It's past time to try this so-coveted scotch, that cannot be mixed with anything. Alison reveals she is the furthest thing from a seasoned scotch drinker, by the way she takes nearly a third of it back, fast. The liquor punishes her for it.

That hand on her wrist earns her eyes, and Alison meets it with innocent surprise. That deer look of someone who has never had time, opportunity, or trust to do this before. "…Oh," is all she says to that. "I've killed the fantasy, haven't I. Intimate drinks with the mysterious Dazzler."

I won't let you bear it alone, she says. "Neither will I let you," is his answer, a reminder couched in his voice. No lone martyrdom, Alison Blaire.

But it's hard to say whether it does frighten him. As she observes, he holds his cards close to his chest. Warren Worthington has learned to wear masks from an early age out of sheer necessity. The one he wears now — of unruffled humor, of deft conversation, of patrician reserve — is one of his most-practiced, and one that tends to claim his features automatically in moments of thought or distraction.

It only breaks when he feels something touch his wing. Instinct governs the twitch of his response, the watchful turn of his eye… though he's soon repentent for his reflexive guardedness when he sees the embarrassment on her face. She reached out because she was comfortable; he doesn't want to deter that.

He gives her back his wing. More than that, he gives her the smooth-over of a few helpful instructions on how to properly arrange the feathers — and a sly invitation to do a far more difficult-to-reach set of them later. "Of course that's why," he says, arch, at her jest about his ulterior motives. "It's not something you can ask Kiff to do. And I assure you — you will not drive me crazy doing it. The maintenance required is far more than people expect."

His expression turns more thoughtful when she returns his compliment with one of her own. "I find that either you turn things around and make them yours… or else they eventually break you. I know which I prefer. Yes — I have had more than enough of having things decided for me, over the course of my life." His blue eyes are momentarily hard. "I make the decisions now."

That moment is brief. There is little about Warren that truly reads 'cutthroat.' It helps that he's fully distracted when Alison commits a scotch crime. He reaches out without thinking, quelling her with a hand on her wrist before further atrocities can be committed. The contact does not occur to him until after the fact, when she looks up into his eyes.

A moment passes. Then he applies a little pressure to ease the glass back down, and lets go. "Are you sure the fantasy isn't 'intimate drinks with the mysterious Warren Worthington?'" he says, a playful smile crossing his features, playing off the awkwardness.

A pause. His gaze turns away, eyes seeking their periodic look at the sky. "That's also one where the reality doesn't quite mesh up either, isn't it? Less glamour, more game plans."

He glances back at her. "To speak of that, there's some ball we should probably attend." He makes a face. "…It sounds so fifteenth century when you put it that way."

The reminder earns Alison's eyes.

And despite all the questions hanging silently in the air around her, the Worthington reserve a palpable atmosphere despite his charm and impeccable manner — that little bit of honesty eases her to a place she'd not let herself feel in many months. Enough that Alison loses herself in a bit of fussing, when otherwise she would be carefully towing the line between friendliness and mystery, and spending far more time preparing her words.

She talks as she tidies his feathers. It used to drive one or two ex-boyfriends mad; adjusting a tie, or smoothing a suit pleat away.

When Warren tenses, however, the old habit breaks. Alison seems to realize, all at once, what she's doing; neither does she miss the watch of his eye. In a split-second, it takes her back years — that black week where he survived the murder of his parents. Does it come from there? She would never ask, but some part of her twists under haunting familiarity.

Not even she can ignore paranoia. It drew her into some of her most desperate relationships — like Roman — in a stand not to be left alone. You cannot shake off the feeling of eyes on your back. And, worse, in his case — to lose his parents violently, targeted for that same lifestyle and power the son now holds?

Alison is not certain that is the case here; nonetheless, she is horrified to think she compelled a protective response. She takes back her hands, stops herself just short of apologizing aloud and ruining any hope to salvage this, and wonders if some greater force is so gracious to just let the marble floor open up and swallow her before this can get any worse.

But Warren smooths the moment away as deftly as she smoothes the ruffled feathers on his wing; he tempers it with an invitation (she still doesn't know if it's serious), for which Alison is grateful. Colour still lingering at her cheeks, she laughs back lightly, "I don't know. I can sure imagine the look on his face if you did ask him, though."

She grants him his space free of her tidying, not wanting to push should he be humouring her.

Talk recurves back into seriousness — at least, back to unmasked truths. I make the decisions now, declares the surviving Worthington scion, and Alison meets it with a look, one without worry or judgment. She says nothing; sometimes words are not needed, and this is one of those occasions. Her eyes say it all: Good.

She ends up mishandling the scotch, just a little — but little well enough that Warren arrests her with a hand on her wrist.

It merits a second draw of her blue eyes. For a moment, he catches her in a true moment, expression open and guard down, a little flushed at the corners from the heat of the whisky. Alison looks both and not Dazzler, all her tidy fumbling not yet turned on her own face — catches and breaks and frays and imperfect smiles. She seems to switch back-and-forth from her tired wisdom to lapses of innocence: someone who has never had the father, or let herself have the trusted friends, to do something simple like learn to drink a hard liquor.

For now, he holds her eyes, and in that same moment, she has equal trouble looking away. Alison only does when he gently directs her to set her glass down; she does so without resistance or complaint.

Warren looks to the sky; Alison glances somewhere else, her hand briefly at her locket. She lets it go. "Glamour gets tiring," is all she says to that, voice couched with good-humour.

And speaking of glamour — mention of a ball. Alison meets Warren's glance. "If it'll help," she says, "then absolutely. I trust Harvard taught you how to dance."

It is not a topic he would ever humor even if she were to ask, or bring it up. Some topics never become easier to discuss, not even with time, and fewer than five years is certainly too soon.

It was not any single day that it happened. It was not any single week or month or year. It was the cumulation of a lifetime of greed and resentment, of a younger brother's desire for what an older brother had. When Warren's uncle set out to arrange his own brother's death, it came from a place that had been brewing for decades, and it was done deftly enough that there was little suspicion up until Burtram Worthington became overzealous, and the autopsy of Warren's mother turned up tiny, trace amounts of the poison he had slipped her when she refused to accept him in his brother's place.

It nearly ended in his death when his nephew found out. Ultimately, he was sent to prison instead, which was all the better, for it kept Warren's own hands clean of what could have been a rather inconvenient rage killing.

Perhaps that is one of the reasons he is so careful of being touched. Perhaps it's really just the instincts that come with the wings. Either way, he regrets the standoffish response quickly enough, smoothing it all over with what could or could not be a joke. But once she finishes straightening his feathers and retreats, he does not pursue her for more.

Instead, he offers her the promised alcohol… only to reach to slow her down when she takes it a bit too fast. There is a brief, guileless moment where there is no Dazzler, no flashy stage presence singing out to a crowd of thousands, no idol propped up for the adulation of others; just Alison, flushed and imperfect, caught somewhere between the worldliness her profession has brought her, and the odd innocence she still wears as a result of same.

He looks away, as if to collect himself, and he brings up something else instead. A ball seems like a safe topic.

"It would certainly not hurt," he says, nursing his own glass. "You spoke of politics; here is an entry point. Councilman Jennings has been exceptionally vocal as of late — and he's gotten the death threats to match. It would be worth learning more, I think."

He affects half a smile. "This is my very inelegant way of asking you to be my date," he informs her. "You will have no complaints about my dancing. The training began long before Harvard."

Neither it is a topic that, even if she wanted to bring up, Alison knows it is ever in her right to bring up.

This goes far beyond her own more-than-healthy-respect for privacy; there are some boundaries one does not breach. There are some things one does not push, linger at the threshold, or even test its locked door — you wait, whether years or lifetimes or forevers, for the other to decide to speak on it first.

She can still recall, years ago, when she learned it happened — she was not with the X-Men, but had heard the news. Heard, then, about the funeral. Alison cancelled the next few weeks of her tour, travelled quietly home, and attended without much fanfare. She barely even exchanged words with Warren Worthington, on the few times he tolerated visitors — just stayed close for as long as he wanted, talked her nothings, and sometimes sang to chase the quiet away.

A terrible tragedy to grant Warren his added complexity, one not lost on Alison; he reaches out to everyone, equally fiercely, to pull them into confidence, into trust, into knowing what it is to be a cared for by a family — but, conversely, he holds up his own wall. That twitch-tension as she touches him.

Someday, she may talk to him about it… but not now, especially as Warren eases himself in Alison's presence. She seems grateful for it — but does not bother him overlong with her fussing, perhaps afraid his humouring is purely because of his bleeding heart.

Not that Warren entirely holds himself back, either —

Wrist taken, she meets his eyes, and does not look away. The surprise-stillness of her joint gentles under his fingers, and she allows him to guide her without complaint. She just looks at Warren; usually, Alison's eyes are studied, watchful, reflecting a mind that's always-thinking. Now, they are something else.

Then, Warren looks away, and so does Alison. Back to politics. She leaves her scotch behind, and rearranges herself to lean against the counter, facing forward, tucking a lock of her hair behind an ear. "Works for me," she says. "We need to start building an addressbook of allies."

But he doesn't just stop there. He could. They could. It could be a business function. They could remain business partners. She has already agreed it's a smart step. No more needs to be said.

But it is.

Alison looks on Warren as he asks her on a date. She thinks. No, she is certain. She is quiet a moment. "Yes," she decides. "Only if you keep up the inelegance. I'd like to see more."

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