Your Eyes Shall Be Opened
Roleplaying Log: Your Eyes Shall Be Opened
IC Details

On their way to an appointment to promote their new foundation, Warren and Alison find that a certain mutant-hating snake did not die when its head was cut off.

Other Characters Referenced: Xavier, Jean Grey, Scott Summers, Hank McCoy, Bobby Drake
IC Date: January 13, 2019
IC Location: New York City
OOC Notes & Details
Posted On: 13 Jan 2019 08:52
Rating & Warnings:
Scene Soundtrack: [* ]
NPC & GM Credits: Some Purifiers D:
Associated Plots

In the modern age, Worthington Industries is such a sprawling, diversified monster of a conglomerate that it is easy for most to forget how it began, far back in the mists of the mid-1800s: as a humble publishing and media company, owned by a man who just so happened to catch the right investment trains when railroads carried America into the Gilded Age.

Worthington Industries has grown since then, in the way most massive conglomerates do — by buying other companies to diversify into new fields, with the changing times. Its roots in fueling the railroads fanned out into divisions specializing in alternative fuels and renewable energy; its origins in railroad switches and control systems branched eventually into avionics, now one of Worthington's modern day backbones.

Nowadays, Worthington Industries even has subsidiaries that deal in some seemingly unrelated things as various consumer goods which do not even bear the branding of Worthington anywhere on them. It would be an overwhelming lot for any lay person to remember: all the ins and outs of a business that has long since gained a life of its own. Corporate personhood, and all that.

Warren Worthington III, however, was raised to know his own company inside-out. There is not a subsidiary under the wings of Worthington that he cannot name.

As of late, what with his determination to "come out" in the eyes of the world, he has been making the rounds at many of these subsidiaries, and he's been taking Alison with him, as part of their general plan to be public mutants — unthreatening and law-abiding — out in the eyes of society. It is also a good chance to start promoting the foundation they intend to establish and endow soon, for what better place to begin than with media outlets you own?

Few of these places have names that betray the fact that their parent company is Worthington Communications, wholly-owned subsidiary of Worthington Industries. Neither does the Guardian, their next stop — though the Guardian is one of the older periodicals still circulating in New York, and the connection is therefore rather more common knowledge.

Still, Warren does not look concerned as he walks Alison to the paper's headquarters, wings folded carefully under a coat. He had them dropped off a few blocks away to avoid attracting attention before they actually started wanting to draw attention. Some people, perhaps of newer money, like flashing their wealth and status around at every turn, but Warren's blue blood is old enough that nowadays all he wants is privacy — and a more calculated approach to any disruptions of said privacy.

"I thought the publisher at The Advocate was going to have an aneurysm when we actually came in," he's observing to his companion, as they walk down the sidewalk through a steady stream of indifferent New Yorkers. Commuter blindness. "Like as not, he hasn't seen a Worthington actually cross the doorstep in decades."

Today reminds Alison Blaire of one of her first forays into money, sophistication — privilege.

It was one of her first attendances at a finer restaurant — her first label took her to court her into a contract — where she learned about it at all. Surrounded by well-dressed men, all well-fed but still hungry around the eyes, she was presented a plating of… something. It was no more than a mouthful, delicately hand-made: something about pickled beets and zucchini what's-it. It tasted like brine, and she forced a smile around it. She remarked how it was an interesting first course.

Her party laughed, the sound of it mixing as effortlessly as the tastes lingering on her tongue — tart delight, with a bit of sweet-sour apology, patient and patronizing. One told her it wasn't a course; an amuse-bouche. Made for one purpose only — to be a taste. Nothing more.

And today is just that — an amuse-bouche. Worthington Industries, with all its far-reaching subsidiaries, makes Alison feel like she's standing at the gates of a grand empire, whose towering walls leave her guessing, and dreading, just how immense it is.

She truly thought, at some point, she earned sizeable wealth. Absolutely, the old label — before she curbed them — courted Dazzler with plans to build an empire around her brand. She stalled them off, and dodged the others who would follow. It never felt right, not to her, but dishonest steps what would take her farther away from the music. Roman was the one who came the closest, and broke her down to agree to his movie. And the entire world knows how that ended.

Still, they brought countless plans in to merchandize her, and even that feels like a drop in the water compared to what Warren owns. She had known for years he was old money, and his family's holdings were considerable — and yet. Today, alone, is not even the first course.

"Surprise visits from the boss at this time of year usually only mean one thing," returns Alison, wry, at Warren's side. Like him, she similarly disguises herself down to the light of day; for his concealed wings, are her oversized sunglasses, turned-up lapels of her coat, and knitted hat to bundle much of her blonde hair, stripping down much of the Dazzler's recognizable face to a here-and-gone-again glimpse of just another well-dressed young woman in Manhattan. "If it's not a personal invite to the holiday party, it usually means sudden layoffs." Her lips quirk up. "Of course he had an aneurysm."

Commuter blindness serves them well. Enough that the paranoia — which was steeping Alison well earlier today — seems to have gentled down, enough she's retired her gloved hands to her coat pockets, and insists on good-humoured smalltalk. "So — I have to ask. How many more stops after this? You own all the media in New York, right? Enough that Rupert Murdoch is holding a boom box outside your bedroom window?"

A hum overlays her next joke — the vibration of Warren's own phone with a rapid-fire series of texts. All from Kiff.

He just heard about it now, apparently, to tell Warren. A situation is underway.

"— Of course, he's like a hundred," Alison keeps talking, because you can't let a good joke die, "so it won't actually be Murdoch — he'll pay Tony Blair to hold the boom box. It'll be a very classic song. Like —"

Distant shouts cut her off.

A crowd, formed of the trickling commute, has begun to form around the front doors of the very building they seek. No police presence yet. People linger, some throngs so thick it's hard to see through, what is happening —

A man's voice is what first cuts through. "—CONTROL EVERYTHING, ARE WE ACTUALLY SAFE?"

There is an interesting contrast between Warren Worthington and all those other well-dressed, well-heeled men who have come in and out of Alison Blaire's life: there is no hungry look around his blue eyes. There is no rapacity or ambition there, not like she is used to seeing. Only the calm, steady self-assurance of a man who knows exactly who and what he is.

That look stayed seated securely in his eyes throughout the day, as they made their rounds. Really just a taster, as Alison observes — even Warren himself mentions somewhere along the way that he is only plying the most important players of the many under the Worthington name, for now. Even that does not put any preen or pretention into his demeanor; his carriage is perpetually professional as they move through their many meetings, a young man trained since birth to someday administer this modern-day kingdom with discretion and grace.

The difference between the flashy fame machine Alison is used to, and this uptight old money dance, becomes plain within only the space of a few hours.

Warren softens in the private moments between state visits, however. He seems to take a quiet pleasure in the anonymity they enjoy right now walking down the street, in fact: enough that he doesn't immediately reach for his phone when it buzzes. "Hmm. I hadn't thought about the timing," he muses, sounding concerned and surprised in only the way 'someone who's never had to worry about surprise boss visits" can sound. "Well, he doesn't need to worry — about either layoffs or having to deal with me at a party."

His mouth quirks with amusement. "Don't worry, the agony will be over for today after this one. I don't own all the media in New York, much as it'd amuse me to see that old fossil hoisting a boombox. We left some of the pie for others, and a lot of what we have is elsewhere too. We were some of the first to set up shop in San Francisco, for example…"

He trails off, because he's finally taken a moment to look at his phone. A frown crosses his features.

"Something's happening," he catches Alison up, before he starts to walk faster, shouldering his way through the crowd towards the Guardian's front doors.

There's a small group of people ringing the speaker on the steps, all grim-faced, many carrying signs with wording to the tune of "GOD'S JUDGMENT UPON DEVILS AND BLASPHEMERS." Warren's back stiffens perceptibly, his golden head lifting in a way that suggests this smells familiar to him. Familiar and unpleasant.

"Do you know who owns this paper?" the man is proselytizing. "What owns it? Open your eyes. A mutant devil pours his poison out on the world, and into your ears, through this godless mouthpiece! Do not listen to these demons and blasphemers; to this pretender to the visages of angels, who seeks to take our world and sink it in hellfire!"

Warren has not yet been recognized. It's probably just a matter of time, with him standing stock-still out in the open. "Heard it all before," he says, mostly to himself, though his low voice suggests that he's reaching the end of his patience for hearing it.

Right now is the farthest from any normal day the Dazzler has had in years.

It might be why she's enjoying herself so much.

The usual wall she has to keep up — both to hold in her own weakness or hold back the bleed-in expectations of the outside world — finds itself yielding, relaxing as the hours go on. There is no show she needs to feign, no command she has to prepare and administer, but, instead, simply remain in Warren Worthington's escort, and passively absorb the information he has to share. For the entire time, and without exception, he is in control.

It is a safe place to be at his side. And Alison appreciates that most of all. Today has been about business, about progress — a future she can see far more clearly now than she ever did for the longest time. She has not had to show up, smile, perform, and give herself endlessly over and over to each important face that would have her; all Alison needs to do, today, is be herself.

The commuter rush bleeds past them; not a single person, in the hectic Manhattan bustle, has time to linger long enough to recognize her. Alison is at the top of her spirits, enough that she breaks an old rule, and does something in public she rarely ever lets herself do.

She laughs. Warren does it to her, enough the sound comes sudden, and momentarily unreserved.

"It's not agony," she replies, voice softening. "At least not for me, if you're worried. I actually find this interesting, believe it or not."

Glancing back, Alison catches Warren looking at his phone — and in that single instant, she feels a sea change. "What?" she answers. "What's wrong?"

But Warren is already pushing ahead. She exhales through her nose, insistent to follow, though the crowd is less porous for the smaller Alison to push aside — unless she wants to use her power. And she very, very much does not want to use it.

She tries to keep sight on Warren, just out-of-reach — when it hits her. Localizing one voice among many, cresting high and filled with hate. Behind her sunglasses, she sees just enough to know. Her heart sinks. "Shit," she says to herself, sotto voce.

Come closer, one fact become salient quickly — the persons with signs, and the would-be preacher giving his hateful oration all wear the same, white, faceless masks. Just enough to conceal their faces, and identities, from the gathering onlookers — some already recording this on the screens of their phones.

Alison's first instinct is to grab Warren and convince them both to keep walking. The coward's walk, maybe, and something the Professor may not agree with. Would he? The X-Men acted only to unify, but it was under the safety of masks and distance; this is too close. This is his life, and they know this — they're setting him up to fail.

She pushes through the crowd to reach a hand for his arm —

— as the preacher turns his faceless head, and locks dark eyes on Warren Worthington, one gilded face among the crowd. "And here he is," he announces. The mask shows nothing, but inflected in his voice is a slow smile. "The serpent shows his face. As it is said: beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You shall not tempt more lambs astray, Worthington."

There is nothing, indeed, the Dazzler need do today: least of all put on a facade and perform. There is nothing she need do except shadow, and listen, and learn. This is Worthington ground, and within that empire Warren is in control.

That is, up until now.

What's wrong? Alison asks, upon seeing his expression as he regards his phone. The answer she receives is probably the worst answer anyone can receive in this business: "I don't know." He says no more after; he simply starts to shoulder his way up through the crowd. He makes better headway than her, and after a few moments it becomes evident enough why he wanted to stay in front — to go first.

Alison's first instinct is, perhaps, the smart one. It's certainly the one that has been drilled into Warren over the years. Back off, keep walking, let the professionals handle it. Let the people paid to curate Worthington image do the damage control. But for better or worse — often worse — Warren has always had trouble just walking away from evils and injustices which demand confrontation.

What would the Professor say? He isn't here to guide Warren now, and so the young man acts on his own brash instinct. Alison, perhaps the wiser of both of them, tries to get through the crowd to reach for his arm. She doesn't quite make it before Warren is recognized… and the would-be preacher says what he has to say.

There is a brief silence. It's imperceptible to most, but Alison might catch the slight shift of something under the back of his coat: the suppressed anger wound through his stance.

"Tempt them astray to what?" Warren says, rather shortly. By a force of will — long taught and trained — he holds the anger out of his voice, out of his demeanor. "To not live in fear? Not hide who they are?" He glances, a long glance, at the masks. "You'll excuse me if I continue. You'll also excuse me to walk by; I happen to be going in. You may, of course, remain out here. Stand around however long you wish and shout whatever you like. It's a free country. I mean it to remain that way."

He has, by now, stepped slightly apart from the crowd to directly face the preacher. With his wings covered, he looks less than he usually does, depressingly mundane: just a man, facing a whole lot of other men and women alone.

"Come," he says abruptly; without looking back, he reaches a hand out for Alison, in a beckon for her to take it and follow him. He seems set to walk them straight through the heart of the gathered 'enemy.' "We have an appointment to keep."

And Alison catches it.

The shift of those disguised wings, and all the meaning inherent in that action; it is the same thing what curls in the bottom of her stomach, that familiar, ugly sensation, hollowing her out save the hot burn of outrage. How dare Warren be spoken to that way? How dare this happen, again and again, to people who have done nothing save existing?

But even to her own flush of anger, something else roots her to the spot. Makes Alison linger the indecisive moments other would have taken fierce steps forward. She has faced terrifying enemies in her days with the X-Men, with Excalibur, and fought people with dangerous suites of abilities — she has seen even Magneto's own helm, chilling as it was, across the battlefield.

She acted then. But this?

People. Society. Their normal world turned on them — this scares her in a way that never has. She doesn't know what to do, other than to realize how deeply this scares her; to stand, frozen in the moments, and rack her mind how any of this can ever be fixed. But there's no solution to it, no matter how hard they try —

"Spoken of a demon who hides himself as we speak," calls back the preacher, his voice carrying over the building crowd — he wants to ensure all hear this. "Where are those wings of yours, animal? You expose your sin for all eyes to see, even the young and innocent, and still treat yourself to shrouds even now? Or does the devil amuse himself to play as a man?"

But as Worthington does not step up to the provocation, and expresses his freedom to enter the buildings he owns — the masked preacher looks down facelessly on him, for a moment quiet, discerning.

As the words burn, unspoken, on Alison's tongue. She holds quiet, caught between anger and fear, only broken from her spell the moment Warren reaches back for her. The bravery inside that single gesture touches her, and breaks some unseen lock holding her still.

She makes a decision, and takes his hand. With the other, Alison pulls free her hat and sunglasses, undisguising her face to all whom would recognize her. "Let him by," she seconds Warren's words, her voice tight.

The preacher looks between them; the mask does well to conceal his next expression, but not his gesture, as he motions the protestors with him to swarm the front entrance. If he wishes his way through, he will have to aggress physically on the human barrier.

"So the devil has chosen the whore?" announces the preacher. "You are not excused, Worthington. For any of your sins, the least of which bred you into the malformed thing you are. Your sin is this poison that stands behind us, your brazen Babel to pretend there is a voice for your kind, when there is none! Do the people know the mutants have turned their press into propaganda? Do they know what you've made of your dead father's empire? Did he know, Warren? Or did he lie with a beast, willingly, and know himself?"

If all this frightens Warren in turn, nothing of it shows in his stance, his face, or his voice. It likely does not frighten him in the same way as it does Alison. He was always, at core, a valiant sort of personality: whether it was his appearance subconsciously informing how he thought he should act, or whether he was simply lucky enough for his intrinsic nature to find a literal expression in his physical form. The fear he feels right now is not for himself.

It does relieve him, however, when he feels Alison's hand slide into his own. No one likes to face anything alone.

Especially not what the man has to say. Little of it is new, strictly speaking, to someone who looks as Warren does, but his secrecy up until now has spared him from having to hear so much of it so publicly, all at once. "'The devil' amuses himself to show the children you persecute that they can and will, someday, have a choice," Warren replies those hateful words, his voice cold in a way Alison has not heard it before. Coldness is not a typical hallmark of Warren Worthington. "The choice either to show or not show who they are, without the fear of being attacked forcing them into permanent hiding."

Leading Alison, he steps up closer, intending to pass. The protestors close ranks… and their preacher begins to escalate.

That slap in the face of his dead father and mother draws Warren up cold. The seams of his coat strain even as his head lifts, his blue eyes flaring. He lets go of Alison's hand, taking a few hot steps forward towards the physical barrier the protestors have formed… and then he stops. As few as five years ago, he would have already flown at them and scattered them like crows; but these are different times, the stakes are quite different, and many more eyes are now watching.

Still, it is a visible effort for him to control himself. His hands shake slightly as he steps physically between Alison and the line of silent protestors, and reaches into his pocket instead. There is a brief moment of silence, as he seems to gather himself.

Then he sighs. He takes out his phone. "You know you've escalated this to an actual crime. Not blocking entry is Protesting 101," he says. "I'm going to have to ask you to leave."

After a beat, the time to find her own well of courage — Alison's hand squeezes Warren's. There will be no one alone here.

She does not speak, as discomfort and unrest help bridle her — and the good sense not to rise up to the provocation all the more — and intends to follow his lead, moving with her head high into the building.

Not that the protesters deem to make it simple —

The shot on Warren Worthington's dead parents arrest him cold. The shock is enough it hits Alison just as well, stopped breathless with incredulous shock, before — no. She tightens her hand, but Warren is already shaking her free. Her insides do a flip, hurting for him — terrified for him. Terrified he may just forget himself one second to make a mistake against those not worth it.

"Warren," she urges after him, but her voice is small, and for a moment, she fears the worst. This time, the timidity escapes her, and she persists to follow, all the more difficult when his nature pits him to stay in front.

Still, Alison appears at Warren's shoulder, looking on him as he wrestles with control — as his hands shake to hold in all he denies himself. She says nothing, but lays a hand on his arm. He's not alone.

"Escalated into a crime?" answers the preacher, a loud laugh burning through his words. "What have we done? Other than converse with you? Deliver you the message when you've turned your backs? I just want a civil discussion. If you so wanted, you could pull out those wings and flap yourself right on away."

Through the slots of the mask, his dark eyes stare forward, intent, unblinking. "It's helped your kind so far, has it? Running. Hiding. Sheltering behind — what are you doing now? Calling for the police, on your beck and call? I bet they come running. I bet they earn every dollar you slip into their pockets. You want to speak about choice? What choice have your kind given us? We're forced to live among you beasts. We're forced to think the righteous as our neighbours, as they hide the sins beneath — as they can creep their things into our minds, break down our souls with no more than a whim… do what they will, because it is their choice, to exult as they see themselves so blessed."

With that, he begins to step forward, matching Warren's own initial steps forward; the crowd does not impede him, opening up, with different parts of intimidation, discomfort, awe, or revulsion. Knowing he has their eyes, the masked preacher continues on: "You tried to make us leave before. And again we rise, and shall rise again. Now is the time for our choice, and the good souls have spoken."

A few shouts rise from the crowd — a person or two breaking the silence by adding their yelled agreement.

But not all. "Let them go inside!" snaps up a faceless woman's voice, only to be argued by another. "They're just talking!"

Unrest brews. Arguments begin to break out among those in attendance.

The preacher's attention turns. He knows he's found a weak spot; hit it clean on mention of the dead Worthingtons. Knows he can hit it clean by turning an attack off Warren directly, and toward —

"What about you, harlot?" he asks Alison with the tone of a laugh between old friends. "You want to talk to me, don't you? Dazzle us a little with what you got to say? You know where lies get you, don't you? You should warn your friend here how the world deals with devils, or filthy whores."

Alison's expression tightens. A familiar look comes over her, someone who wants to say more. But she only answers, wan, bitter, "I pity you."

The preacher slips even closer through the restless crowd, and though his words direct on Alison Blaire, his black eyes are on Warren. "Pity me? You don't even pity the little girls you've made sick as you rut with the devil."

Mayhem happens, all at once. Someone's composure snaps, and they turn on the line of protestors, angrily fighting to wrench the sign from one's hands. The masked woman on the other side fiercely struggles back. It cues shouts and anger on both sides, as bodies weave around Warren and Alison, the latter who sees, all to fast, that they're in the middle of dangerous chaos. "Warren!" she shouts. "We need to —"

The preacher gives a look to his people, easily missed in the brewing fight. He makes a single move, not violently — but to try to close a hand over Warren's on his phone. Scars run up his flesh, zipper his wrist, and disappear beneath his long sleeve.

Alison does not pause this time. She reacts, putting hands on the preacher to begin snapping at him to back off —

Her composure slips. Light crowns out from her body.

"DEVILS!" someone shrieks. One of the protester's signs, swung, catches her in the face.

Likely Warren would have already reacted if not for Alison's bridling voice and hand on his arm. Under her touch she can feel him drawn up taut, rigid with the self-control it takes not to go off.

But he can hold it in. He can keep it under control as long as the man says things he has already heard all his life, has already been long-trained by the Professor to meet with grace, tolerance, and firm patience. The man continues his taunts, and Warren keeps his attention on his phone. "I will cite you the relevant sections of the Penal Law if you want," he says, his voice flat. "In the meantime, if you want a civil discussion suited for the children, maybe less of the 'whore' rhetoric would be in order."

His concentration breaks slightly as the preacher comes in closer. His eyes snap up, and he immediately interposes in front of Alison. "Hiding?" he asks, his voice heavy with incredulity. "How about you all take off those masks and say that again? Say what you have to say with your own faces attached to it. Or are you the cowards you accuse us of being?"

It's audible in his voice, how close his temper is to snapping — and the slurs on his murdered parents nearly make it break. That lets the preacher know, well enough, what will work and what won't on Warren Worthington, and his attentions turn on Alison. It is Warren's turn to take her arm with his free hand, to squeeze it in a wordless reassurance.

Even then, things might have stayed under control — but the agitated crowd finally boils over. Alison recognizes the danger immediately, and Warren's hand tightens on her arm. "Come on," he urges, starting to try to pull her through the crowd, but his attention is forced to divert when the man tries to touch him. Alison reacts defensively, and the light spilling from her draws a furious reaction.

Warren feels Alison's arm rip out of his hand as she is struck. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees blood fly, and his temper finally goes — along with his coat.

It shreds in half with the abruptness of his opening wings, the sixteen-foot spread of them sending people stumbling back as they scramble to get out of their range. They only have one initial target, however; within half an instant the protestor attacking Alison finds himself pinned flat to the ground under one of them. The softness of its feathers stands in stark contrast to the brute strength it is able to bring to bear; and for a dire few moments it presses hard, mashing the offender into the pavement, stressing his spine.

"Don't touch her," says Warren.

The pressure finally lets up when Warren straightens back up — and takes to the air. He doesn't fly the way Jean might, with the closely-contained grace of someone able to regulate their every movement with no more than the power of their mind; his method is far more visceral, far more ingrained in ancient mammalian instincts which still remember being prey under wide wings. When he takes to the sky, it is with a vast avian beating of wings that throws men back from the stirred-up gusts alone. It's fortunate, all things considered, that the violent wind off his wings flings people back out of the range of their cleaving strokes: each downbeat has strength in it capable of breaking bone into splinters on contact.

He rises, but he doesn't go far, staying in a close and furious hover immediately over Alison's hurt figure. He only goes high enough that everyone can see him quite clearly, white wings fanned out to their full spread in a purposefully iconic display.

"For such devout people, you've forgotten your Scripture. 'Do not forget to show kindness to strangers,'" he says. He doesn't shout, but rage has a way of making the voice carry. "Leave. ALL of you. Don't make me ask a third time."

For an instant, Alison sees only white-hot, searing light — blinded like her own ability had finally turned on her.

She stumbles, then drops, bracing herself against an upsurge of pain and nausea, face shielded behind her raised arm. Through the shock, she only has one thought in her head —

Hold it in. Hold it in, hold it in — don't forget herself, let go, and light up. They won't understand, and it'll only make them more afraid. It'll only make them more hateful.

So, eyes squeezed shut, hands shaking, Alison grits through the pain and does just that: she focuses only on pulling it all in, and holding it there, until those critical moments pass, and she can think once more. She still holds out her hand, readied in the expectation of more strikes, always fearing the worst.

Though, for once, the worst never comes.

Turning her eyes, straining them to focus, Alison soon sees why — from her spot, she sees nothing but the long, powerful line of primary feathers, their pinions flared like a cutting edge, terminating only where that outstretched wing nails a man straight to the sidewalk. He struggles like a pinned-and-mounted insects, trying and failing to fight against that limb. He can't make purchase against something so strong. It presses a point right onto his vertebrae, and the tension makes him go breathless. Prey animal still.

Then Warren takes to the air.

The wind shear off those wings catches and disperses the crowd. Those with the signs take the worst of it, the hateful messages catching the updraft like sails and spilling them off their feet. It carves a wide circle around the length of his beating wings — one marked in the same, breathless silence. There is not much to say when a literal avenging angel, furious and disapproving, crowns the sky in humanity's oldest icons — those white feathers.

Held in the eye of it, Alison remains where she is, safe from all those violent winds — though same lift and blow through her hair. Her arm lowers, no longer needed to protect herself, and she looks up. Blood runs down the right side of her face, her eyebrow split, the flesh opened from the strike. She doesn't seem to notice it, not yet, similarly lost staring at Warren's wings.

The preacher jerks backwards, carried by the wind, concerned foremost to keep the mask on his face than his own footing. He similarly goes down, but keeps his anonymity in the process, looking up with a focused silence on the undeniable image of some angel of judgment —

Come down to declare them wanting.

His jaw sets, his dark eyes are furious, but he remains silent. Perhaps what he wanted has been done. Warren Worthington, angel and mutant, flaring those wings as if they were — as if they are — weapons.

The warning is heard. Some of the crowd — mainly onlookers — find their feet and flee, friends tugging on others' arms and hurried warnings to leave before this gets bad. Still no sign of police — though knowing Midtown, it won't be for long.

"And hiding beneath his godly lies, the devil speaks threats," finally speaks the preacher, head turned to his hateful flock. "No longer can we DEFEND ourselves?! No longer is it safe for our dying kind to fight for our souls? Our war on evil is only beginning, demon."

Over the years, people have ascribed many traits to Warren, scion of the Worthington name. They've painted him as a spoiled rich boy, a sybarite, a shallow dilettante, a vapid skirt-chaser — and even worse. In turn, there've been a lot of traits ascribed to the X-Man known as Angel, too. Over countless missions, he's proven himself valiant, great-hearted, charismatic, and self-sacrificial, his very image — a beautiful young man in full flight — an icon embodying hope.

In all that time, no one has ever particularly ascribed anger and violence to either Warren Worthington or Angel. Yet that does not mean those things are not there. They always have been.

They show their face once Warren sees Alison's blood fly.

His temper — much shorter than most give it credit — snaps immediately, and a moment later he finds himself with both wings bared, one of them nailed down on the offending man who attacked Alison. His own breathing sounds too-loud, hissed through his teeth, mingling with the racing pulse of blood pounding in his ears. He realizes, slowly, that the wrist of his wing is pushed straight down on a point where an iota more pressure would see the spine snapped.

He recoils, and takes to the air instead. The wind off his wings does at least half the work in dispersing the crowd, sending people reeling or flying straight off their feet; his warning does the rest.

People start to get the hell out of dodge. Particularly civilians. Some, those who aren't filming on their smartphones, are already calling the police themselves. The preacher, however? He isn't so easily moved. He stares up, his hatred as solidly worn as the mask still on his face, and he says what he has to say — even up to the face of an angel hovering in judgment overhead. For of course, to him, that is no angel, but a demon in blaspheming, downfallen form. A pretender, who must be cut down.

"You call attacking women who've done you no harm 'defending yourselves?'" is Warren's rejoinder, his voice cold with anger and colder with disappointment. "The danger to your souls does not come from us, but from your own hatred. Recall this — " His gaze crosses the man's followers. "What measure you mete will be measured to you again."

He descends, but only to pick up Alison in his arms. A sharp turn in the air, and he bears them both away, flying straight up the side of the building and into the open sky at breakneck speed, before he forgets himself and does something he regrets.

He does not speak as he finally levels off — somewhere high above even the tallest skyscrapers — and turns northwards, winging straight back towards that apartment to which he brought Alison once before. Not until he's set that course does he finally ask, his voice still clipped from anger, "How badly are you hurt?"

And that anger — sudden, unexpected, and virulent — even arrests Alison.

Enough that she momentarily forgets the shock and screams of the crowd, bearing witness to the mantle of those sixteen-foot wings. Enough that she momentarily forgets the ringing in her own ears, the watering of her right eye, the pounding in her temple, and the blood pathing down her face.

She stares at the way his wing bears a man to the pavement; she follows the limb back, and lays eyes on Warren, seething with visible, audible rage — a razor's edge walk to keep it under control.

"Warren," Alison says, low, and so softly that no one could hear but him. She says no more than that, no time to, and not needed — ensconced in his name is more than enough. No pity, no judgment, no fear — but a simple plea that he hear his own name. Warren. He is Warren Worthington. He is better than any of them; he doesn't need to do this.

But he remembers himself. Perhaps feeling those hitched breaths of the man, reverberating up the nerves of his wing; perhaps feeling, even more keenly, the last degree of tension rebowing up from the spine — ready to snap like a wishbone if he so willed it.

But the avenging angel does not. With that, he takes to the sky, and the first beat of his wings splits the crowd like a Biblical sea, bodies pushed to either sides, and the initial making their retreat.

In that wake, Alison feels enough trickling, dripping warmth to clasp a hand to her face, her palm coming back with blood. The laceration bleeds excessively, so much so it feesls like it's everywhere — worsened when her eyes sting to the first light of phone screens, cameras turned, shutters closing. She turns her face away, her first instinct quiet horror, not wanting to be seen — not wanting to be published like this, bruised and bleeding, looking like some beaten animal — or, worse, a punished criminal.

The world will see it, and demand another pound of flesh off the Dazzler's back. Her few fans left will see it. Her father will see it.

And same of Warren Worthington, with his wings spread in threat — what will they say, too, of that?

Alison's heart twists. With that thought, she finds a buried vein of courage, and slowly takes her hand away, letting her face be seen to the day. With that, she rises shakily to her feet, standing beneath Warren's hovering declarations, lifting her head to let the world see the blood standing her blonde hair red.

She grits her jaw to join him in this silent stand, but even more so, Alison looks relieved when Warren determines it time to leave. She yields as he picks her up, curling an arm over his shoulders — tensing reflexively against the speed that hurtles them both up into the sky.

The preacher looks on them both, his eyes calculating from behind that white mask. Finally, his attention ends where it began — on the departing Warren Worthington. "Your threats will not deter us, demon!" he shouts after. "We are no longer afraid of you!" His voice lowers. "God has burdened us with a task. And so shall we purify —"

Sirens shriek from the street, and cut through his words. Police, bogged in midtown traffic, their lights flashing a block away, and within minutes of arrival. Quickly, he motions for his people to disperse.

The confrontation ends, just like that.

And in the sky, Alison hangs on in silence, clinging a little too-tightly at the initial ascent. It's been a while since she's flown in anything smaller than a private jet, with the wind in her hair, and inertia pulling at her insides.

When he levels out, the wintry New York below offers its own view, but Alison has little spirit to look at it. She keeps her head turned in, face to him, leaned at his shoulder — probably still in pain.

"It'll be fine," she says, and after a beat, turns up her face to meet Warren's eyes. Alison can hear that anger. "Does… that happen often? To you?"

Warren, Alison says. The tone of her voice is a tacit reminder. He doesn't react at first, but after a moment a shudder runs him, and he draws back. His wing relents and sees to a different purpose now instead: bearing him up into the sky, where he has always felt much more at home — much safer. The shear off his beating wings drives people back whether they want it or not, creating a small dead zone where Alison can slowly recover enough to regain her feet in a stand.

Phones lift, recording. Pictures are taken. Later, Warren will think about all those images — how they might be captioned and spun and twisted — and reprove himself. But right now?

Right now, he's just angry, sick to death of all of this, and he wants to make absolutely sure they know.

Some part of him is dimly aware of the dangers of lingering to be provoked further, however, and has enough sense to leave before he does something he cannot take back. Quick decision made, he dips to pick up Alison, letting her hook her arm securely about him to hang on, and turns to arrow straight up into the sky. He leaves behind the preacher's shouts, his threats… and that portentous word right at the end of his promises. It speaks of an old enemy given new life. Cut off the head, and the body does not always die, after all.

His arms tighten around Alison, thinking about it. But he doesn't immediately speak to it. He only asks, after a moment, how she is.

It'll be fine, she says. "Yes," he agrees. "It will be." He speaks with the certainty of an absolute, as if this were something he could ensure; clearly he knows something here that she does not.

He closes in on himself at her following question, however. Her upturned gaze would meet only his profile, his blond hair swept back in the wind to frame a completely impassive face. His features are lovely as ever, but something about the coldness seated upon them gives him a rather inhuman look. For a few moments, the only answer is the sound of his slow wingbeats around them both.

Does that happen often? "Yes. When people see me," he finally says. "All of me. Most people have always had strong reactions to how I look. Those particular people have… especially strong reactions."

He falls back into silence. Their flight path starts to slow and spiral downwards, as he angles down towards a familiar building. His apartment looks different enough from the air — to Alison, at least — that it's probably not until they're touching down on the wrap-around terrace that it truly clicks where they are.

In silence, Warren sets Alison down, ensuring she can walk under her own power before he unlocks the terrace door and lets them both into the dark apartment. "Sit down," he instructs, not seeming to care if she drips blood on his expensive furnishings. "I'm going to get something to take care of that."

With no further preamble, he heads towards the kitchen.

A single, damning word weighs down on them — burdened with old memory.

With a powerful push of his wings, Warren Worthington takes to the sky, and for now, leaves the past behind.

The world rushes past in a violent surge of acceleration. Alison shuts her eyes, holds her breath, and hangs on, feeling the swoop of force — letting it take her back, briefly, to that of years ago. It's not the first time she's flown by sheer mutant-power, but with her own mutation keeping her grounded — being a passenger up in a man's arms still has its novelty.

She clutches to him reflexively, less in fear than human instinct; truth be told, Alison wants this. Wants both of them to be taken far away from that, and there is no better, quicker rescue than by Warren Worthington's own wings.

Soon, his flight gentles from that initial ascent, his wings flaring out to sail on the updrafts that sigh up from the New York city blocks — convecting against the chill wind carried off by the sea.

There might be a time she would be compelled to look, and see the world from a rare perch denied of people, including even herself. Today, however, is not that time; no heart for it, no desire, and less strength, Alison keeps her face turned in, and her eyes down, her head leaned to Warren to suffer out its painful aching. She keeps her hand steady at her own temple, perhaps reticent to bleed on him.

She feels tired. She feels heartbroken. For him. For mutants. For the fight that has not even yet begun.

'Purify,' promises the least of what awaits them. But Alison cannot even yet think of the word that, in these moments, dogs Warren's thoughts. When she feels his arms tighten around her, her attention turns on him.

His answer bears her silence. Alison's eyes — the right squinting through her fingers — chase his expression. They do not flicker, even as the wind blows the ends of her blonde hair over her features, through her vision. It is not the wintry air, she knows, what chills his face.

She offers no reply. A moment later, her heavy head leans back down to his shoulder; Alison's arms tighten again around Warren, fingers curling in. This time is not her hanging on. She's so sorry.

Alison remains this way for the rest of the flight, partaking in that grave silence, no questions asked where Warren intends to take them. She trusts wherever he chooses to go; anything has to be better than what they left behind.

When he lands, she stirs, finding her own feet as he lets her down. Alison's initial step is shaky — adrenaline still hasn't left her — but she assures him with a hand on his arm, and soon finds her balance. As he unlocks the doors, she recognizes easily where they are — his place. Promised safety and privacy for both of them.

Let in, the first thing Alison does is drip blood on his marble floors. She inhales with aggravation and mortification, her bloodied hands trying to cup and catch the mess. "I just need a bathroom, Warren," she offers, voice strained.

Shame took a while to show up, but here it comes — a familiar reminder of a day some many years ago, when she crossed the Brotherhood alone, and he found her bloody with failure. "I'm going to mess up your things."

Being in the sky, at the least, seems to calm some of that anger Alison can feel circulating under Warren's skin. Part of it is the sheer comfort of a creature being right where it belongs. Part of it is concentration, because when you fly under your own power and fully compliant to the laws of physics, you need to pay at least some attention to it. His blue eyes are certainly searching for something; they track back and forth across the sky, parsing some arcane information invisible to the eyes of a grounded human being.

He seems to find what he's looking for, because he turns slightly. His wide wings beat steadily to either side of them, bearing them upwards purely by his strength until he catches the rising thermal pluming off the glass and concrete of New York City. The difference once he finds that updraft is palpable to her in his arms. A slight jolt shudders through him and transfers to her, as his spread wings catch the column of air like a sail. Turning in a gyre within that rising air, using it for altitude, he eventually levels off and fixes his wings in a wide spread, feathers fanned. It seems he means to drift in a soar all the way back to — wherever it is he's going.

Alison should probably ask… but she trusts him. She asks him something else instead. His answer, simple and stark, clings her more tightly to him: this time in empathy, and apology for a world which feels entitled to judge something so uncontrollable to him as his mere appearance. A world which finds a way to hate even something that looks like him.

She doesn't speak for the rest of the flight. Neither does he. There isn't much to say that needs to be said immediately.

Eventually they touch down, and she recognizes where he's taken them. Her first act, on entering, is to drop blood all over his pristine floors. He doesn't seem to notice or care, simply telling her to take a seat as he heads for the kitchen, yet she demurs anyway —

And will find herself interrupted. "You think I care about things?" A glance up would find him staring back at her with an aquiline focus. His charm and elegance, his patrician way of speaking that so typically characterizes him… all those things are temporarily gone, leaving behind nothing but — well, Warren Worthington. Just the man. Raw and bitter as a stripped wire. "I could have this entire place and everything in it replaced tomorrow, with one phone call."

He points at the couch — with a wing. Apparently, the more upset he gets, the more his true nature starts to peek out — and his true nature wears his wings as an integral part of his body, how he communicates, how he exists. "Sit down," he repeats, brooking no further protestations.

He turns and finishes walking into the kitchen.

The tension is, perhaps, broken slightly by the fact that the sound of several drawers opening and shutting follows. Clearly Warren continues to not know where anything is in his own apartment. Presently, however, he seems to find whatever he's looking for, because there is a brief silence.

Then Warren comes back into the main room. He is holding a paring knife and is walking towards Alison with distinct determination.

"It'll be fine in a minute," he says.

There are not words she can find to answer him — there are some horrible truths in this world that are unanswerable.

All Alison knows is that she will never know how it feels to wear her mutation on her back, outward on her skin, marked on her body as its own scarlet letter — something to damn her at first sight. She was always one of the luckier mutants, in its genetic roulette: able to hold in her light and play normally for as long as she wished, without any fear of society casting its judgment down before she felt ready.

There are few words she can offer; even less she finds she wants to say, with her head pounding, her heart hurting, and Warren feeling like tense, furious steel under her hands.

So even as he holds her in the air, she holds him back, giving back a bit of warmth against the windy cold. How much Warren held back of his life, part of Alison thinks — surely never his way to have others worry about him. Always his practice only to give.

When he lands, she finally releases him, and back under her own power — Alison seems to find a well of shame in trailing blood across Warren Worthington's penthouse floors.

She seems to expect him to lead her to a bathroom, and allow her time and space to clean herself up; it throws her, instead, as Warren directs Alison elsewhere, and retreats toward his stately kitchen of all places. Left standing, she tries to catch her own blood into the sleeve of her coat.

Glancing down, her eyes catch the mess she's already trailing in, spotting his floors. The shining marble reflects back some facsimile of her face, and Alison's heart drops.

It's a mess. She'll need sutures; she'll have scars. Her face will forever be marked by what was done to her. Every photograph ever taken of her — or stolen from her — ugly reminders of this.

"Warren," she begins to entreat again. She doesn't want to bleed all over his home. She doesn't want to leave even more reminders —

But his voice cracks up, carried on the high ceilings, and with such fierce, firm finality that it strikes Alison quiet. Every layer the world has lain on him, every armor he's picked out for himself — stripped away, pared down, to this. You think I care about things?

She looks after him, silent, but no longer offering her weak demurrals. Thready things are easily cut, especially under his truth: material things are meaningless to man like him.

Exhaling, Alison obeys, retreating tiredly to the direction of Warren's pointed wing. She carefully strips off her coat, at least, which wears most of her blood, to try to save his sofa from stains, and tenderly sits herself down.

There she waits, holding her right temple, the same eye shut near the pressure of her fingers. She hears the distant sounds of his kitchen cabinets, assuming he's searching for some medical supplies, or likewise —

— and turns her head to Warren's arrival. Nothing in hand. Save for a knife.

In his eyes, resolve. Off his mouth, a promise.

Moments like these are some of the deepest tests of implicit trust; trust that, at a sight like this, Alison doesn't tense up or fidget herself far, far away. She remains where she is, seated there faithfully, though with a look on her face like she's not sure she's concussed, because she's not connecting the pieces. "Warren? What's — that for?"

There are many mutants who have it even worse than Warren Worthington. Many countless others who never had the wealth and privilege to pay to hide their mutations, for so many years. Many countless others whose mutations are grotesque and painful, rather than beautiful and liberating. Most of the time, Warren counts his blessings. Most of the time, he even enjoys his mutation. It's given him the sky.

Sometimes, however, he wonders what it would be like to just — walk outside and vanish into a crowd, without preparation, without the pain of wing-binding, and without the everpresent fear of being exposed. To not have grown up with the pitying looks of people who, over the years of his secrecy, mistook the curve of his hidden wings for a spinal deformity. To not have to worry about the Russian roulette that is every single other human's individual reaction to seeing what he is. To not be labeled instantly 'angel' or 'demon,' and be seen only as a man.

He wonders, sometimes.

It is rarely something he's ever talked about, as Alison observes. Always easier to just hold it back — what right does he ever have to complain, anyway — and just enjoy the positives that his mutation does bring him. Always easier to just be what people expected him to be — the happy one, the blessed one, the carefree and debauched one — and to give of his own blessings to others without ever talking about his own worries and fears. He does it even now, in his choice to hold his silence rather than talk about what was just said to him.

He doesn't really speak again up until they're in the safety of his home, and Alison is trying to demur his treatment. He won't have it, he makes that perfectly clear, and — surprised — Alison retreats to wait. Warren doesn't keep her waiting long. Presently he returns — with a knife.

It says something that even now the expression in her eyes is not fear or distrust — rather just an innocent sort of confusion, a lack of comprehension of how this connects to that. Something about the way she looks, sitting there faithfully, snaps the last threads of his temper in half and blows the moodiness away. In its wake is left only a sudden stark guilt… and no small degree of shame.

His wings droop. Suddenly he's not angry anymore: just tired and repentant. "I forgot you didn't know," he says. "You weren't around when I found out about this." He thinks for a moment, trying to figure out how to explain without it sounding weird. There's no way to explain that doesn't sound weird. "Just hold still," he says instead.

Coming to stand in front of her, he turns the blade on himself and splits his own palm, cutting a deep wound with the small blade. His blue eyes tighten, but otherwise he doesn't react. He tilts his hand, letting the welling blood run down his index finger, before he reaches quickly to Alison's face and runs his touch down her open injury, tracing his blood down into it.

There is a moment of stinging pain, an odd sense of warmth, and then the pain in her face disappears as if the injury never was.

He brushes his thumb over the arch of her cheekbone afterward, his eyes smiling down at her. It seems to improve his mood to do something tangible for someone. "There," he says. The wound in his hand is already sealing as he pulls back. "I'm going to get a towel for — all this."

His silence speaks volumes; Alison can sense the shapes of what is left unsaid.

She doesn't push it. Tired and wounded, she lets it be, and answers his silence with her own. There's a ringing familiarity in it all, like her own life turned on her — silence, reserve, restraint are her weapons of choice. She's spent so many years deferring just the same, refusing to talk — that, even now, part of her isn't even sure what she could even say in return. She's impractised.

And mostly by her own hand; Alison spent most of her life surrounded by people she could not relate this side of her life — people kept permanently in the dark of her own mutant status. A manageable labour, easily transferred into the image of an overworked celebrity who was adamant to keep her professional life separate from her private. The worst of her boundaries were the loneliness inherent in them, like the graven rule of never sharing a bed — to never let anyone see her asleep, in the only time she is unable to hold back her light.

Holding back has always felt most natural to her. She does it now, if not her light, but her words. And it is clear, she can feel, Warren has learned the same habit in his way, for his reasons.

Alison does not speak, but she holds him a little closer. At the very least, she can remind him he's not alone.

Safe in his penthouse, she finds her balance, if not her center — far more difficult to reclaim, as Alison Blaire is left lingering. Her tracked blood horrifies her worst of all, and she faces it like some sort of faux pas she's made against him, here, or even herself: for someone who worked so hard to give her voice and music to the world, she seems reluctant to leave other, palpable marks, and exist as inoffensively as possible.

Warren, with no artifices left to soften his voice, his meaning, and his message, shuts it right down.

His fierceness stops her. And Alison cannot argue with the truth — Warren Worthington could repurchase any and all of his lifestyle without a flicker of an eyelash. Why would any sort of material value be worth a single thought in his head?

Resigned, she sits, stripping out of her coat, and bundling some of its heavy sleeve to catch her running blood. Warren does not leave her waiting long. He soon arrives, the intensity of his eyes paired with the knife in his hand.

Those that do not know Warren Worthington might have balked. Alison, however, looks up tiredly, trustingly, sure that through the pounding in her head, she's missed something important. Warren reacts to that; she takes in the drooping of his wings, and looks on him with wordless concern.

"What are you — Warren!"

Alison jerks awake, sobered out of her fatigue, the moment he turns the blade on himself. Dismay breaks out over her bloodied face. Her hands twitch, itching to reach out, terrified at the idea of having to stop him — but she freezes when his self-mutilation finds some end, stopped at the opening of his own palm.

Her eyes turn, and — she seems to quiet, lost watching the slow rivulet of blood down Warren's forefinger. The discordance there is how that action seems to stop her, calm her, the barrage of questions frozen on her lips. Her head lifts to meet their eyes, and she holds his as he reaches for her.

Alison lets him. No flinch, no lean away, she holds in captured, attentive stillness, anchored on place by his eyes. Her expression flickers to the touch on her wound, that initial sting — that soon mutates into a yielding warmth, drinking all the pain away.

The laceration closes obediently to the downward draw of his finger, and his blood washes the trauma away. Her lashes flicker briefly against his skin, though never do Alison's eyes close.

As he pulls back, she touches tentatively over her right eyebrow, expecting pain, and only finding healthy flesh — if still slicked with her old blood. No more wound.

"It's gone," she narrates aloud, shocked, blinking her eyes to test the loss of her pain. All gone. "You can heal?"

Alison's hand reaches to catch Warren's before it draws it back, concerned for and awestruck by his still-bleeding palm. "How long could you do this?"

Warren drops his artifices so rarely that it seems like more effort than he's willing to put in, at the moment, to hang them back up now that they've all come down. There is a brief moment where he does seem to consider hiding back behind his usual flippant geniality, but it soon passes. His mood transforms instead into a distinct guilt once he lays eyes on Alison sitting there, uncertain but trusting, waiting for him to explain himself.

He knows he's — not behaving as he normally does. As he normally should. He's not being what people expect him to be. He's being himself, and who in the world ever wanted that?

For the moment, at the least, there's an easy enough excuse for sidestepping the issue of who to be right this minute: the need to treat the wound cut into Alison's face. The means, apparently, is in mutilating himself. Warren opens his own hand with the small knife blade, turning it afterwards to let the blood pool down down his fingers, and once he has enough for… whatever it is he's doing, he reaches forward.

She watches him the entire time. It makes him think, of a sudden, of a memory from when he was much younger. He had found an injured stray cat lying near a road. Presumably it had been hit; it just lay there, breathing shallowly, too hurt to cry. The way it looked at him as he reached to pick it up reminds him of the way Alison looks up at him now.

He couldn't fix it then. But he can fix it now.

That power seals up Alison's wound like it never was, with a brief stinging burn that soon smoothes away into a soothing heat. There is a brief euphoric effect as his blood mingles with hers, and then — nothing. Just smooth skin, if slick with blood.

Alison reaches for where he wound once was, shocked. "Yes," he says, an answer to all her observations and questions. He starts to pull back, but her hand on his arrests him. His blue eyes turn back down to her, seeing the worry there, and he turns his hand so she can see his palm and reassure herself the gash is already pulling back together.

How long could he do this? Warren's eyes crease a little at the corners, in an expression too understated to at first be identified. "About two years," he says. "I could have used it sooner than that."

He tugs slightly, wanting his hand back, and that expression in his eyes suddenly becomes more decipherable with context: sadness. Two years was too late for him to try to save his parents with his powers, or any of the others they lost along the way.

Warren is quite a few moments more, before with an effort he tries to shake off his mood and regain some of his usual, more familiar flair. It seems a little forced. "Ah, well, the government has vials of my blood now. Who knows what they'll get up to with it."

Alison Blaire has quick, deft hands when need be — and she's not ready yet to let Warren go. Not when he had just mutilated himself to heal her.

His blood does its quick work, and the effects are instantaneous on her: beneath the drying blood on her face, her skin is intact, her face within insult — mended in seconds what should leave her with a scar. With that, so fades the pain, and the phantom concussion haunting her; the focus slips back into her eyes, her body reanimating from the dizziness and confusion of a head injury.

With that rebounding clarity, she steals Warren's hand before he can shy away — before he can finish reproving himself as some inhuman martyr and wear a painful stigmata for her sake. She's not about to let that become a thing, no matter what Warren Worthington's changing X-Gene asks of him.

Though they leave smears of her own blood, her fingers are gentle, tilting his palm to her, where she witnesses the slow closing of Warren's self-made wound — healing as if it never happened. It astonishes her. How so much can change in so little time.

Alison tightens her hands around his; her eyes flick up. Thank you, speaks the look on her face. She holds his gaze a moment, brought to a stillness by Warren's few, metered words. His power now, though he could have used it sooner.

She understands immediately what he means, and guard down, her expression shows every bit of her quiet heartbreak. She hangs on a moment to Warren, perhaps in some determination to try to make something of that better — just as he did to her — but she wipes a bit of her own blood from him, and lets him go under his insistence.

And there she sits, healed in flesh, if a little awkward around the corners — still in this devastating denouement of both of them being attacked on the street. Alison still wearing her drying blood. And Warren, trying to salvage it with the reapplication of his usual manner, joking away the registration law's mutant blood bank.

The attempt is forced; unfortunately, it misses the mark with Alison. She can see through the labour, and it looks too much like a mirror — the same evasions she makes. She looks a moment at Warren, not a moment missing the change in him, before she uncomfortably looks away, no stomach for lightheartedness. Memories rise of her own; they took her blood, too, the second day she returned to America. They made her exert her abilities. They fed sound into her. She tries not to think more about it.

"That was a lot," Alison says instead, grateful, "what you did for me. I should clean this mess up." She pauses a beat, and looks back at him, almost hopeful. "We should talk about what happened."

His healing finished, Warren moves to pull back. Alison's quick catch at his hand stops him, and he hesitates with an unvoiced question in his eyes that finds its answer when she turns his hand in her own, wanting to see his wound.

He lets her look. Even covered in blood as they are, even his hands are beautiful: it may be there is no imperfect part of him at all. Her concern about him marring that perfection for her sake is unfounded, however; in proof, his long fingers open, letting her see clearly where the injury is already sealing and smoothing over. No scar.

"It was nothing," Warren dismisses her unvoiced thank you, though his eyes are briefly both kind and sad. "You wouldn't have taken that hit if I had handled that properly."

Insistent to pull away, after a moment she lets him go. He recedes away into his apartment, his wings draped loosely about him as if to comfort himself, almost cloak-like. He returns a moment later with a pair of wet hand towels, and an attempt to regain his usual flippant mask and mood. It doesn't go over well, he can tell from his first glance at Alison's face.

She doesn't want that falsity, those same evasions she makes when she needs a fake face for the everpresent cameras. Not here, not now, and not from him. He looks at her a moment, before the attempt falls away entirely, the insouciant, flippant rich-boy facade dropping like a rock.

He hands her her towel, and paces a few steps away to wipe the blood from his hands with his own.

It's strange to see this hint of a more genuine Warren Worthington, after knowing him so superficially over the years. In her reluctant time with the X-Men, she's mostly just interacted with him at a distance, seeing only the layers which have been painted over him by the many roles he's had to play: the vapid socialite, the founding member of the X-Men, the beautiful angel, the spoiled rich boy, the confident young heir. And on, and on, and on. Seeing this hint of his real nature, under all that, is like scratching through countless shining anodized coatings and finally seeing the bare steel underneath.

That true nature turns out to bear a certain restlessness — an aggression that rhymes with the tense angle at which he holds his wings, and the avian way his eyes hold stares with a fierce forgetfulness of the necessity of blinking. Perhaps not surprising. His life has been repression, repression, repression… and when you repress that much, whatever's being bottled starts to build up a certain amount of pressure.

We should talk about what happened, Alison says.

Warren would have usually made a joke, or said something clever. Here and now, a brief silence greets her remark, before he glances over his shoulder at her. If it was not clear before, it is crystal now; he is pissed, and it is hard to pinpoint at who, or what.

"It was nothing," he says again. He tosses the bloodied towel onto the the surface of a coffee table that is way too nice to be so treated. "I shouldn't have responded. It's not anything I haven't heard before."

"Don't start that," warns Alison, though there is little candor in her voice. No anger, only the barest note of impatience — just enough self-awareness to know it's the sort of thought she'd turn on herself if Warren didn't go there first. "You're not going to take the blame for those assholes. You wouldn't let any one of the team say that and get away with it."

But with that rebuke, she lets him go, her bloodied hands closing at rest in her lap. Seated, she follows his retreat with her eyes, particularly watchful of the resigned bow of his wings. In that moment left alone, Alison touches again, tenderly, at her healed face, then turns her wrist to push her blonde hair back from her face. She exhales restlessly. It wasn't nothing.

Ever faithful, or ever exhausted, she has not moved where Warren left her, looking a shadow of that larger-than-life, untouchable woman staring back from magazine covers; behind the eclipse of the Dazzler's light, Alison sits small, bloodstained, and disappointingly real.

She accepts the damp cloth gratefully, though cannot do the same in turn with Warren's forced-on, cavalier joking. Her mind still replays the screams off those protestors; the backs of her eyes are still burnt with the hatred on their faces. Instead of engaging, she retreats a bit, taking the time to run the cloth over her face, intent to smear all that trauma away. True to Warren's ability, Alison's face cleans without the single, lingering trace of injury, her skin knit together as if nothing happened.

She wipes more of the blood free from her face, though she does not catch it all, errant spattermarks painting in and through her hairline. Alison looks down, eyes catching the way she's stained the hand towel red — the sheer volume of blood she was wearing on her own face. She turns the fabric uneasily in her hands, then determinedly cleans them too, just the same.

Warren fixed this, but she still can see her own blood. She can see so much beyond it; pressing uneasily on her: Alison knows it would be safer to shrug this all away, laugh it off as the joke their lives will become —

She can't do it. Not now.

With that, Alison — who rarely asks anything of others — issues that request. Her eyes hold Warren's, and watch as the charming mask drops from his face. Beneath, is a rare, direct look down into — not even she is sure.

"You're still framing this like you're the one at fault," she answers, eyes flickering, following the trajectory of that thrown towel. Hers still hangs loosely from her hands. "There was nothing you did, or felt, back there, that was wrong. You can't forbid yourself the right to face that shit, and feel something. Though if you really want to play the blame game, I'm the one who lit up. You just defended me."

You wouldn't let any one of the team say that and get away with it.

Warren looks momentarily doubtful, but the logic gets him in a sore spot, and eventually he concedes the point by just turning away and going to get some towels. His wings, normally held so neatly at his back, droop until the primaries nearly trail along the floor, a sure sign he is tired, or burdened, or both. There is a brief silence, and then the sound of running water. Alison, in this intervening time, is left to sit quietly and try to gather her composure again — and to touch gingerly at her face where a wound once was.

Nothing but smooth skin. It might be her imagination, but it even feels healthier than it was before it was split open.

Eventually Warren returns, damp towels in hand. They're white, and blood will stain them something awful, but Alison has only to remember his remark of a few minutes ago to deduce that he probably doesn't care if a few linens are ruined. He's wiping the blood off his hands on his own towel assiduously enough, leaving the soiled item lying on the fine wood surface of the coffee table afterwards. His indifference to the proper care of his very nice things might have been obnoxious, under any other circumstances.

He doesn't look at her — not after that initial look which took in her lack of desire for any fake faces or false fronts. Perhaps the sight of her — stripped down to her own true nature, beneath all the glamour and flash of the Dazzler — shames him about his attempt to hide his own real face again. There's other kinds of shame in his face now, too, after the adrenaline's drained away and rational thought has had a chance to return. All he can think is that he shouldn't have done that. Shouldn't have made a scene. Shouldn't have…

And yet, the anger hasn't burned out of him. Not entirely. The anger cannot make him fully regret. He doesn't answer when she says there was nothing he felt that was wrong; his eyes just crease slightly at the corners, for a moment.

His gaze turns towards Alison a little sharply, however, as she decides that two can play the blame game. "You wouldn't have, if the situation hadn't gotten so heated," he says. "I — don't know how the Professor would have handled it. He always had a way of figuring out what to say to defuse things. Not ramp them up. Maybe he would have just turned his back and let them rant."

He comes back towards her, if only to lean down, take the bloody towel from her hands, and pile it with the other one. "But… just walking away didn't feel right, either," he admits. "We all promised ourselves to stop just — standing back. To step forward and claim the right to exist, without hiding for the convenience of others."

By old instinct, Alison's fingers keep returning to her newly-healed face, testing again how the skin runs without inflammation, bruising, or even abraidment. At her temple, it feels even more softly than she's used to her skin — like his blood temporarily restored even natural cellular degradation.

It floors her. Healing blood — how could the world not use this? Especially from a man whom, she knows, would be all to eager to lend his plasma to mend wounds, or repair damage. They would never accept it. They would never, on public record, want mutant blood.

Her vanity assuaged — or, rather, her fear: fear of having her appearance altered, when all the world judges the Dazzler for her face — she lets her face go, and looks up in time for Warren's return. Alison quietly rubs the blood from her face, and does not accept to have some other mask painted on her in its place.

Warren tries to go back to their light-hearted climate, and Alison wants nothing of it. Just the topic of his registration haunts her blue eyes, as she no doubt remembers her own — all that had happened when Alison Blaire, public mutant, surrendered herself for government measurement, calibration, and stress testing.

The hand towel, once white, stains crimson within her fidgetting hands. She does not toss it away like Warren; she does not help ruin his expensive table with some added dismissal. She labourously folds hers, but keeps hold of it, stressing it under the compulsive tightening of her fingers.

"The Professor would have handled it differently," she replies, matter-of-fact, "because he can listen to a million minds at once. I can't see him ever expecting you to act just as he would. You're not him, or Scott, or Jean, or Logan, thank god. He taught all of us, and you, far more than that, to help guide your actions — not provide some sort of blueprint." Alison's voice undertows with bitterness, as she adds, "There's well enough people out there who want to tell us how to act, how to think, who to be. We can't start doing that to ourselves."

Her eyes avert, possibly turning away from some old glimpse on older memory, and slide back onto Warren. "Of course it doesn't feel right. What the Professor did teach you is how to protect others, to care for them, and to unify people. Not to be some passive receptacle of hate. It's a public relations hit. But it's not your fault."

When he comes close, her hands relent to give him the towel. With nothing left to absorb their fidgets, her fingers curl uselessly into her palms. Still, Alison holds Warren's eyes, to look in hers unusually intense — hoping he's listening to the point she makes. "It's going to get worse. It's easy to hide. It's — nice to hide, and they'll want to scare us back to that. Back to just wanting to feel normal again. You can't go on, telling yourself any of it is your fault. It's OK to feel all of this."

Warren tries not to think about what might be happening to his miraculous blood. It's certainly not any kind of marketable or usable panacea at the moment — its healing properties degrade rapidly with time, after it's left his veins — but that certainly won't stop people from experimenting on it to try to change that. To try, at the very least, to see how it does what it does.

Someday, they might come back for the source of it. This, Warren knows too.

It discomfits him to think about it, to recall the testing they already did right in front of his face… the measuring and prodding and pulling of his wings. It puts him straight into a mood. But a glance up at Alison seems to remind him that he wasn't the only one that suffered that indignity. She too, wears the memory of being dissected like a lab rat, all that she is and can do picked apart and written down on a government list. His eyes crease a little with shame; he thought he'd stopped being so self-absorbed, but it seems old habits die hard.

He tries to lighten the mood, but Alison isn't having it; he's swift to drop it, in respect for her desire to stay serious. She wants to talk, instead, about what happened. Warren obliges, but his thoughts on the matter tinge heavily with self-doubt. Self-recrimination.

Alison speaks to that, and he listens in silence. His eyes only turn to hers, and briefly, when she talks about how there's more than enough people who want to tell them what to be. "I never was the speaker the Professor or Jean were, anyway," he finally admits, his voice low. "Nor the thinker Hank was, or the leader Scott was." His voice skews a little bitter, but only passingly. "I'm not quite sure what I was, if I ever was anything."

There is a silent moment. Then he shakes his head. "You're right, though — I should probably figure that out, for myself. We'll have to face the fallout of this."

He distracts himself in coming to stand in front of her, taking the towel from her fidgeting hands and putting it away in order to have something to do with his own. The continued talk of emotion, of feeling — it seems to discomfort him on some level, past a certain point: a young man who has had to live life with his guard up to avoid being taken as weak. But he doesn't interrupt, and he seems to listen, even if his eyes on hers are a little reluctant.

"We can't go back to hiding, no," he eventually says, when she finishes. "We already set our course."

Then he leans down over her. His wings open slightly for balance, mantling with the slightest rustle of shifting feathers. His hand tips her face up, and without preamble he kisses her, with the matter-of-fact assertiveness of someone unaccustomed to being refused, and unused to finding his advances unwanted.

He certainly looks more 'himself' when he leans back, what with that playful half-smiling vaguely haunting his face. "There's other ways to feel normal again, though," he says. "At least, for me."

All of this strikes far too close to home — a home Alison Blaire left behind years ago.

It may be the first time Warren Worthington has heard her this passionate, words stoked with something that seems to want to court anger — only to yield to just enough patience, as she learned years ago, and smith and hone all that fury into something useful, less destructive: determination and finality.

But she lived twenty years in chains, and not even by society crucifying her for being a mutant: it was just one man, her father, putting Alison on a life-long, unending trial whether she should be convicted and sentenced for her mother's crimes. Every day in that house was stifling; every day, she walked on eggshells. Displease him once, was the unspoken threat, and lose his favour forever.

She can't abide this twisted reflection burdening Warren's back — not after it already suffered enough pains from binding his wings. There's no life in letting his wings free, only to bridle something else of himself in their place.

Warren's quiet, brief confession holds Alison's eyes — a direct look into her, in a moment like this, past the spotlight of Dazzler and to the heart of the creature she really is, quiet, introspective, and shrewd. His remarks bring a knit to her brows; hardly the thing one would expect from Warren. She wouldn't have guessed it, the way he acted ten years ago.

"I have an idea what you are," Alison replies. "But it might be one of those things you need to find out for yourself. All I'll say is you're not nothing."

He comes closer, as still she speaks — and in a moment of sobriety — realizes how fired-up she's become over her fatigue for enduring. Alison gentles, a little self-conscious, and similarly yields to allow Warren to take that stained, over-fussed hand towel away.

To speak of their course — "We have," she agrees, firm and terrified both to admit it. There really is no going back. Not just on what happened today, but all of it. "And so we won't hide. Not from ourselves. Not from each other. This will be how we win."

Alison's lips move, possibly compelled to say more — but there is no sound, and less thought, as Warren leans down. His mantling wings open and eclipse the rest of the penthouse, and all her world narrows to those white feathers.

He tilts up her face, and she looks at him with her blue eyes. He kisses her. Her eyes remain open a beat, surprised, before they shut. Something unknots deep in her chest, and Alison kisses back, something parched in her response — something relieved, after so much restraint, just to let go. She is warm to the touch, and he does not need long to know why.

When he leans back, Alison exudes faint, white light — glowing without realizing. Looking a little punchdrunk, she keeps her head tilted up one moment too long, a searching quality about her features — too much adrenaline, too little resolution, and the dawning realization how long it's been since she simply wanted something.

Warren calls it feeling normal. Alison watches him for a heartbeat. Then she seems to sober, and catching sight of her light, embarrassedly pushes it back down. Is he coming on to her? He did, ten years ago. She rebuffed him — would have rebuffed anyone of the X-Men, refusing to build any extraneous attachments, because she was having a hard enough time disengaging. There were always a string of women when it came to Warren Worthington, who seemed very content to have it that way.

He's not that boy ten years ago, much less Alison was that girl, desperate to be heard, to be seen, to be signed, to be praised —

"Warren…" she begins, voice softer, "what was that?" Her tone is everything: no demand, no accusation, only a sincere wondering. There has only ever been one reason anyone kissed the Dazzler.

The confession brings surprise to Alison's eyes. Why wouldn't it? Warren Worthington would be the last person anyone would expect to nurse doubts or feelings of not measuring up. He's certainly never presented that way, over the course of his life. Ten years ago, he certainly walked into her life with the attitude of a young prince, wholly accustomed to getting what he wanted, and wholly accustomed to being the absolute most important person in the room at any given time.

It was offputting. No wonder she avoided him back in the day.

Yet beneath the surface, as usual, lay something more complicated. In coming to the X-Men, in becoming part of the superhuman community, Warren went from being on top of the world to being simply 'one among many' — and not even one with the most impressive or powerful suite of abilities. He went from a cloistered little prince, to seeing real persecution and suffering every day. It was a humbling experience for him. It was a growing experience, too; Professor Xavier saw to that. Years of serving on the team matured Warren far more than he ever would have if he remained in his civilian life.

It certainly taught him to question himself. What did he bring, when money and fame were no longer relevant factors at play?

Alison says she has an idea, but it's something he needs to find out himself. The quiet words draw his eye, the young man briefly quite sober. He comes closer, after a beat, and takes the towel wordlessly, folding it and leaving it with the other. "I should really stop wearing the coat over my wings, then," he says, in an attempt at lightness. "It's… gotten to be such a habit that it's hard to break, even with our resolution. There's always that voice at the back of my mind, whenever I am walking with them out: everyone is looking, and something is going to happen." He quirks half a smile. "Even before the wings, I always felt — I always knew — everyone was always watching me."

We won't hide, she promises. Not from ourselves and not from each other.

In response, he leans impulsively down, his wings mantling slightly to cover them both, and kisses her.

As a gesture it rings more chaste than lustful: a simple seeking of closeness and contact, from someone who has lacked for intimacy of any true meaning in his life. After a pause, she reciprocates, and he feels her relax beneath him. He doesn't linger long, and it's only a few moments before he draws back and lets his wings fold. It reveals Alison — glowing. Just a bit.

"Oh good," he says, observing this, smiling faintly. "I've still got it."

He grows a little more serious. He calls it feeling normal, and Alison pulls in, uncertain why, or what he wants, with only his past behavior casually picking up and dropping strings of women to guide her. She is uncertain what he might want in return. They always want something in return.

What was that? she asks.

Warren lifts his shoulders in a shrug. He doesn't seem to parse her confusion or uncertainty at first, because for his part… there is very little ambiguity in the world of a man who can have anything he wishes in minutes. "I'm not sure yet," he says, candid and fearless in that way only men with a thousand safety nets to take a thousand risks can be. "But you said no hiding, and I… haven't had to, with you," he adds, coming to sit beside her. Mercifully, he keeps his wings to himself. "So, I wanted it. So, I did it."

Talk of putting his wings on show brings softness to Alison's eyes. It still breaks her heart to imagine that harness; how well it worked to confine those long, wide limbs down to an unmistakable shape against his back. She can't imagine the pain — she doesn't want to.

"You need to stay safe," she answers, ever the realist — before a pause silences her own words. "But, no, overcaution can be equally dangerous. And you're hearing this for me. I regret not taking more risks. We can stifle ourselves so much on the what could happen, that nothing ends up happening at all. The world will always be dangerous —"

Alison looks at Warren, to confirm his suspicions. "And people will always be watching you. Some of those reasons are beyond your control. But some others aren't."

She is quiet a moment, then adds, humour pulling through her voice in an undertow, "And some people are watching because they like what they see. Not that your ego needs that reminder."

He comes close, and she welcomes him with the touch of a smile, her blue eyes searching — hoping his gentling is sincere, and not another affected air for her sake. That anger she glimpsed was real and raw, and not the sort of thing meant to be bottled up, or worse, dismissed.

There's been more than enough repression when it comes to the X-Men.

As if to answer her, Warren leans down, closing the distance between their faces to little more than a breath. Not what Alison quite expected, here and now, she holds hers.

Surprise tenses her, though in reflex only; she has nothing to fear from Warren Worthington, and cannot resist the curiousity to meet his eyes as he tilts up her head. Distantly, she hears — absorbs — the sound of his fanning, mantling wings, making a screen of the rest of the world, until all she can see are those white feathers — and him.

He kisses her.

Alison stiffens up, but for only a moment; shock can only carry her for so long. All she has is to trust her first impulse, the first thought in her head, and to her own surprise, it is a simple thing. She likes this.

She responds. And when he pulls back, she glows.

Some would, knowing why and how Alison glows when she lapses focus of her ability, take pride and not comment on it. Warren Worthington is not that type of man.

His commend makes Alison look on him — still kiss-drunk — for a beat or three, notice the halo of her own light, and go beet red. She suppresses it back down. "Speak of your ego wildly out of control," she grouses, clearing her throat, though the words are without heat.

In reality, her mind is whirling. In the span of a heartbeat, he has crossed a bridge and changed everything. A boy who flirted with her once, as she saw him flirt with all girls who crossed his path — a given. A teammate. A friend, over time, as age calcified them both — and the murder of his parents took his youth with them to the grave, those halcyon days ended. A business partner, now. But what is this?

Alison Blaire, for all the worldliness of the Dazzler, asks that question with a frank, innocent confusion: what was that? She has been beloved, lusted, courted, coveted, but all things were steeped in fantasy, and came with a price. Does he want something, as well? Or simply to forget this afternoon with her?

His answer comes met with silence, a pensive one — Alison wasn't expecting an, 'I'm not sure.' She's used to grand overtures, or sweet promises — and there's something of a relief in someone acting on a whim. No expectations.

She smiles, glancing away, still a little bashful from the kiss. She tucks a lock of her hair behind her ear. "I recall you trying something similar ten years ago," Alison intones, but with a smile. Implied in that: she also turned that down, ten years ago. He deserves some teasing back.

But in her way, she draws in, thoughtful, her eyes turned on Warren as he sits beside her. She should turn it down again. She's lousy with relationships, never had a good record with them. Never turned out well. Never lasted. Best they stay professional. Safer they stay professional.

No hiding, he tells her. He hasn't had to. Why should she?

She's so tired of being safe.

Alison regards Warren in silence. Then she leans forward, and takes the second kiss for her own.

After his admissions, Warren stands in a brief pensive moment, his arms folded, his gaze angled up through the windows and to the sky beyond. His head only turns back, eyes finding hers, when she speaks on the dangers of not taking more risks — on how overcaution can stifle one out of any opportunity for change at all.

His eyes soften with a bit of humor. They both know how much of an 'and this is coming from me,' moment this is for Alison.

Of course, then she makes the mistake of stroking his ego. His feathers ruffle up in a self-satisfied sort of way. "'Some?' I'd say 'most,'" he scoffs. "Please, Alison. Don't sell me short here." He sobers soon enough, at least — but only a touch. "It's true, though. I already draw eyes, and the attention got tiring even when people still thought I was just like them."

He lets his tightly-folded wings relax, thinking about it. "I did promise, though. No more hiding. No more acting like what we are is shameful."

No more repression, either. No more overcaution. Maybe that's part of why, not two minutes later, he leans down and kisses her entirely on impulse. And entirely on impulse, shadowed in his wings — she reciprocates.

It lasts only a moment, but it's enough to get her glowing. Some would be chivalrous enough not to crow about that — Warren Worthington is not. Her grousing about his ego widens his smiling. "Come on," he says. "It's not wildly out of control. Maybe just slightly."

There is a mysterious cast to the amusement haunting his mouth, which doesn't help Alison any in deciphering his motives. What could they be? He's tried coming onto her before — over the years, she's watched him try to come onto anything female and attractive that came into his range, really — and was rebuffed then. Why try again now, after ten years have rolled so much water under the bridge? After ten years have changed them both so much?

She poses the question to him, prepared for some angle. His answer surprises her. He admits he doesn't know, and with that proves a total lack of agenda. Just pure whim, with no strings attached.

I recall you trying something similar ten years ago. "So do I," Warren says, his head lifting to an imperious tilt. He looks down at her, through his lashes, and for a moment he carries himself again as he did when he was twenty, convinced of his own godhood. "I recall because you said no to me. Only one other person had ever said no to me, before that."

His wings fold neatly, as he comes to sit beside her. "Are you going to say no again?"

She answers him without words. The second kiss seems to surprise him, for all his bravado, but he leans into it nonetheless. The adrenaline is still high, the ugly anger in him still not too far from the surface, and he wants something familiar to wipe away both. Few things are as familiar to him as the steps of this particular playful dance.

"We have a PR disaster to clean up," he says, ' — but that can come later."

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