Opening Moves
Roleplaying Log: Opening Moves
IC Details

Suspicions on what sent Warren out to Ossining bring Alison to the door of Cameron Hodge.

Other Characters Referenced:
IC Date: February 28, 2019
IC Location: Worthington Tower, NYC
OOC Notes & Details
Posted On: 28 Feb 2019 06:51
Rating & Warnings:
Scene Soundtrack: [* ]
NPC & GM Credits: Cameron Hodge emitted by Warren.
Associated Plots

Worthington's fortunes have been on somewhat unstable ground ever since the announcement that its favored son was in fact a mutant. Warren has made strong moves to retain control and a sense of continuity even through the changes, up to and including taking over as chairman of the board, but the sentiments of the masses still find some reflection in the way WI stock has been up and down for the past few months.

Nothing devastating, really — not yet. A conglomerate like WI doesn't rise and fall just based solely on one man, even if that man's surname is all over the tin. It's attained enough of a life of its own that it might well be able to survive fine without a Worthington at the helm, by this point. Most would consider this a suboptimal outcome, of course, but… not everyone.

The recent attack on Warren is indication enough of that.

Life at Worthington Tower goes on, however. Alison is by now a rather well-known face in association with Warren, which — combined with her own fame — could have been a headache in terms of 'coming to the Tower without him' if not for the fact that Kiff recently took her aside and gave her a keycard to easily bypass the many eyes of the front lobby, and go straight to the elevator up to the executive floors. "Just don't lose it," he'd said dryly. "We'll have people coming up to abduct him out of his office, next."

Alison has been up to this floor any number of times now, though usually she's been getting in directly via Warren's wings and the skylight into his office. It's rarer that she's here without him, and the walk from the elevator takes her past the offices of a number of other high-level executives, including that of the CEO, a man by the name of Cameron Hodge. Recently appointed, and by a motion pushed forward by Warren himself; they were old college roommates at Harvard, so no wonder. Before this appointment, Cameron was in PR, and to hear people tell it, he was good at what he did.

His door is open, so the strains of his voice can be heard, patient and reassuring, as he plies his trade on a call. "I don't think it's the right move to take Warren out of exposure in upcoming press releases. Makes us look like we have something to hide. We want people looking at him, getting used to the — the wings, acclimating to the fact mutants are at all levels of society now…"

Kiff received a hug for that keycard, and probably for reasons he still hasn't quite figured out.

The first is the strange, if sentimental, grounding it gives Alison: like another ephemeral root she's planted in New York City, better to make her feel like she's truly making here her home again — and a nice offset to the fact her father still won't return the messages she leaves with his assistant. Once ever two weeks, after she's had a deep glass of wine to settle her nerves, and still no reply.

The second is the ease the keycard grants her; this is the first time in a decade that Alison Blaire has forsaken an official security detail, and the reason being not that she trusts her own ability to defend herself (she has advantages, but nothing someone trained or prepared could think through), but that she can rely far more on bending light to disguise her appearance in public.

Truth of the matter is: when alone, Alison Blaire rarely ever wears her famous face. Not to leave her apartment. Not to call a cab. Not to complete any daily errands. It's enough to trigger her paranoia that she needed to be recognized to enter Worthington Tower, but now, she can be any suit-wearing, nondescript whoever to slip in, use the executive elevator up — and let go the hologram with a relieved sigh.

Even with daily practice, she finds little advancement in her ability to hold it. Bending light has always been the most complicated trick in her photonic repertoire, and even at a full charge of music screamed into her ears for an hour, it drains her like nothing else.

Shaking off that empty sensation of her field — it always feels like she's forgotten to wear a layer, exposed and oddly vulnerable when she's dry of sound — Alison checks her watch as she crosses the hall. Early for lunch with Warren. She may as well order something up, surprise him when he comes in, and catch them both up on Aegis work.

Only a voice stops Alison, trickling out through a doorway she's rarely seen open. Cameron Hodge. A difficult man to catch, as she's found out — she's been intent to speak with him for days. She has time.

And this is important.

Out of nowhere, Hodge's threshold fills with the Dazzler, herself, dressed in a tailored pantsuit, and looking as impeccable as any of her old magazine covers. She says nothing to interrupt the call, but smiles, the expression tight and polite on her mouth.

Most people would wait for an invitation in; a woman of humble beginnings, one would expect same of Alison Blaire. But she hasn't waited for invitation for over ten years, and does the same here, letting herself in, finding a seat, and crossing her legs. Her body language cuts with patience — please, continue — but the look off her blue eyes expects service.

Kiff knew at least some of the reasons for the hug. He might not be aware of the details of Alison's personal life, but he is a perceptive man and has guessed at most of the reasons which relate to Warren, and to the general trials of being a famous person engaged with another famous person. He also said nothing about any of it. He is paid well for a reason. He is very good at what he does.

High-profile people eventually reach a point in their lives when they just want privacy back, is the crux of the matter. They also, eventually, reach a point where they can feel quite entitled to service from lesser beings, which is some of the motivator behind Alison's choice of approach when she finally finds Cameron Hodge's door open and the man himself behind his desk.

He glances up when movement at his periphery reveals the Dazzler in his doorway. Her polite smile is returned, and there's nothing tight or perfunctory about his expression, nor even all that put-out. The expression is warm, with a genuine note of apology. He seems to take being walked in on in stride; a total indifference to the necessity of asking permission is a rather common behavior among those of considerable wealth, privilege, fame, or all of the above, with whom Cameron is very accustomed to dealing by now.

He finishes his call. It takes a minute or two, which is time in which Alison is able to assess this man who Warren counts among his closest friends. It's not hard to see how he got into PR; his demeanor is overall appealing in that gentle, everyman sort of way, and his curling brown hair, intelligent hazel eyes, and dark-framed glasses gives him an air of competence. He hasn't got Warren's looks — who does? — but somehow he doesn't seem as if he would be as effective if he did.

"Apologies," he says, after he finally hangs up the call. Those hazel eyes turn to Alison. "I'm glad my call didn't bore you away, Miss Blaire. I'd been meaning to have a word with you — and with Warren, for that matter — but schedules being what they are, it just hadn't materialized up until now. So pleased that you have dropped in."

His head tilts. "How is he doing? We've talked since then, but not really… talked, like we used to." A faint, rueful smile. "Not enough hours in the day — and he was always too headstrong for my coddling, anyway."

She waits for Mr. Hodge to finish his call, and express his courteous apology.

"Alison," is the first word out of her mouth, by way of greeting. The famous Dazzler matchees it with one of her most polished smiles. "None of that Miss Blaire nonsense. It's unforgivable enough we're only meeting now after so long, and I won't have it burdened with any more formalities."

All practised behaviour, on her part, meant to charm and disarm, though there is the slightest asymmetry between it all and the direct, watchfulness of her eyes. By trade, Dazzler had the unsavoury reputation of being exacting and demanding, less that of a diva and more that of an uncompromising business owner. She ran a tight ship; perhaps it's only inevitable that the bored celebrity, less her livelihood, has come to muscle in and make demands of the corporation.

Certainly have been some of the whispers among the staff — those less starstruck by Miss Blaire — at her frequent presence at the Tower. Aren't Warren Worthington's women advised that there's a time and a place, and that any "help" should remain in the bedroom?

At the least, there's no immediate, barked directives; nothing, really, more than the pensive air of someone multitasking thinking while she takes in Cameron Hodge, for the first time, in the flesh.

The question after Warren is the only anything that breaks her gaze away, perhaps not meaning to, by the way the gesture reshapes the framing of her face, expression drawing as she flashes memory on Warren's half-severed wing. "Better," Alison answers. "Almost back to normal. He's not enjoying the wait to mend — but he's being patient." She is quiet a moment. "Headstrong is a good word to describe him. And you would know it… he speaks quite a bit about you. All good things, I promise. How many years do you two go back?"

"Alison," echoes Cameron. "Well, then of course you must call me Cameron. It //is/ /unforgivable it's taken this long to meet, but things are moving so quickly on the registration front there's barely been time to breathe." A delicate pause. "That, and I think the two of you… your partnership was a bit spontaneous, wasn't it? A meeting of two old friends, a coincidental meshing of life paths, and… there! The dread specter of registration risen up for you both to take on. As you do, you begin to work closer and closer together, up until what was once thought of as just business is something more… you're having to think about 'meeting his friends…'"

His hands spread in a 'bam' sort of gesture. "And there you are! Quite a story, actually." Cameron laughs, amiably pleased with his own painted depiction. "Picture perfect, just the kind of thing people love. You know Warren's history — God knows most of the world does — and people are always tickled by the story of a wild young heir finally tamed by just the right woman. Quite easy for me to work with, really, despite a certain opposition to it from certain corners. People whisper — though I'm sure you're already aware of that."

Cameron adjusts his glasses, leaning back. As stated, he does not seem to feel the need to elaborate. Some people have certainly not acclimated to thinking of Alison as any different than the countless other women Warren has played around with before — women who were always decorous enough to keep quiet and in their proper place, not flaunting around at his side.

He seems more interested in asking after Warren's health instead. The answer brings him to frown, though his eyes watch her changing expression. "Patience was never one of his hallmarks," Cameron ruminates. "This is certainly not the first time I've turned around to find him up to his neck in trouble before I even knew he'd gotten a hair up his ass about something." His faint smile widens into something more committed. "If you'll pardon the French of a fond, but exasperated friend. We're all breathing a sigh of relief — me, Kiff, the board — if your good influence is finally managing to temper it out of him."

How many years do they go back?

"Oh… this will be the eighth, now, I imagine," Cameron says, after a moment of mental math. "We both started at Harvard in the same year. He decided to actually board at school housing — one of the apartments — which everyone thought was a bit of a shock. As he told me, he wanted to be among the community, not too far removed. Lucky me was his housemate." He chuckles. "We got to liking each other enough that I consented to keep staying on with him, but that first year… oh, he was absolutely useless at anything domestic, and of course that was when he was hanging around Tony Stark all the time, so you can imagine what a headache that was on top of it."

"A pleasure, Cameron," Alison returns, determined to rent the last formality between them. Two facets of Warren Worthington's life, come together. The past and the present. The professional life met with the personal.

The CEO makes his inference, too, on her side of things — speculating the spontanity of their 'partnership,' which could now be multiple meanings of the word. "That's a way to put it," she replies, amused. "And you'd almost think so… but, I've come to question whether any spontaneity was involved." Her smiling goes a little secretive, ruminating on a memory just hers, alone. "He seemed to have me in his sights the second I landed on American soil."

'Quite a story,' Cameron calls it. Alison meets the theatrics with her own patience, well-used to people at this point rephrasing her everyday into some sort of narrative that can be resold. Nothing in this world is picture perfect, she knows; but she is happy to do the work to keep up the fantasy. "Whatever lightens your workload, honestly. Warren keeps you busy enough that I couldn't sit well with you be burdened by any publicity with me in the picture." She is quiet for a moment, and comes as close to apologetic for the first time, when she adds, "And I'm well-aware of those things."

The opposition.

The pensive moment breaks like sun through cloudcover. She smiles after mention of Mr. Worthington's missing patience. "I'm not sure about tempering," she answers with a laugh, metered with just enough self-effacing humour. "Maybe applying the thumbscrews when needed."

Navigating small-talk easily, Alison seems to know these rounds well, and her manner gentles as time goes — though she never loses the focus from her eyes. There's something left unsaid, even as she carefully asks after Warren and Cameron's shared, substantial history.

"I… have an idea," she answers, eyebrows raised, and not just with expressive sympathy. "I wish I could personally apologize for Tony Stark, but since God hasn't yet stepped down to do so — I won't dare."

Ever and ever, Alison's eyes watch. Her smile comes and goes on the tail of her joke, and she walks a few moments more of silence. That left unsaid — she needs to say it.

"To be honest, I've been meaning to see you, and not just to chat." Alison's gaze tilts away briefly, crossing the art on Hodge's walls, as her hands briefly twine their fingers together. "I've been going over this in my head, relating back to Ossining — knowing Warren for eight years, how could that ever have been a good idea?"

Cameron keeps smiling, but there's a rather frozen quality to it for half a moment as Alison's own smile turns inward and secretive — as she speaks of Warren having had his eye on her ever since she returned. It's gone a moment later. "Oh, that's just like him," he says. "Once he gets an idea in his head, nothing will distract him from it. Hearing you were back… well. I was witness to some of the process there. He saw something he wanted, and by God, he would go get it." He looks over his glasses at her. "Warren always did get more obsessed with anything if it was a bit hard to get."

He leans back in his chair. "Not that that was all it was, mind," he is careful to add.

As far as his workload? Cameron laughs at that. "Well, nothing about my workload will ever be light where Warren is involved. He's always been a magnet for attention and trouble wherever he goes. I doubt it's a conscious thing — just part of his being. I don't think he would know what to do if all eyes were not on him." He turns his pen absently between his fingers. "But no need to fear. So far you've been very easy to work with, Alison. More people are enamoured with your story than otherwise. Two outed mutants — " his hand stops, gripping the pen still, " — just trying to make their way against the tide of persecution."

She's well-aware of the opposition, she says. "Are you?" Cameron asks, tilting his head. Light glints off the lenses of his glasses, then passes, revealing concerned hazel eyes. " — I don't ask that to be snide. It's a genuine question. I've known Warren eight years, and I've come to know… certain details about his personal life. I think you should be aware of them, if you're going to be close."

His fingers resume turning the pen. "You know about what happened to his parents. That's really only the tip of the iceberg, unfortunately. A family like that… wealth like that… it brings out the worst in people. His uncle was not the only one who felt the Worthington name was better carried by… other shoulders. His father had other siblings with… chips on their shoulders."

But of course, Alison wants to drive to the heart of the matter. How could talking about Ossining, knowing Warren's nature, ever have been a good idea?

"It wasn't a good idea," Cameron sighs. "I should have controlled his access to that information better. If he'd stopped long enough for me to make the arrangements to make a formal trip of it, with proper security, the works… but I should know by now that — as I just told you, in fact — he's intractable once an idea gets into his head. But that's extra risky right now, especially… given what I've just told you, which I ask doesn't leave this room." His eyes crease a little with his faint smile. "It's… a private family matter. I tell you mostly because I hope to enlist your help in keeping him safe from such things. He's so oblivious, at times."

He sighs, looking away. No art on his walls, oddly. Only his diplomas. "We all were, in a way… not realizing just how much the game has changed in these past few months." His hazel eyes return to rest on hers. "It's not a mistake that will be repeated."

That secretive smile yields into something else, but it never leaves Alison's face — Warren would recognize this smile, were he here. He detests her using it; one of her armors, the expressions she's long fortified as the walls to hide other things.

Such as the way she feels, to be casually offered a different, possibly superficial, side of Warren Worthington's obsession. Alison doesn't expect it at all, small-talk with a veritable stranger hitting bullseye into one of her worst doubts.

One, Alison reminds herself, is only her own insecurity talking — this isn't ten years ago for either of them. She knows this is too soon after Roman, and she still hasn't even sorted though those hang-ups — but she's just so tired of biding, abstaining, denying. She plays everything so careful, and with Warren, she just wants to — trust. Trust someone again, before every last bit of her goes cold.

Either way, she's grateful for the topic shift.

"I know how to play the game," is all she says, on the grand story of her 'mutant outing.' Something about the phrasing doesn't sit right — makes her feel oddly exposed — but it's no new feeling where the Dazzler is involved. People love to dress up her life in fantasy, and it isn't her place to correct them. "So I don't expect to burden your plate."

Perhaps a little too laissez-faire with the fantasy, Alison breezes through mentions of the Worthingtons — only stopped by Cameron's gentle question. She can feel it in her voice, a plea to scent the danger in the air, and not stay blind to what lurks in Warren's pedigree. Alison's attention fixes back on Cameron, her body language drawing in, her eyes watchful: it's there, lidded in her expression, a reflexive guard-up at someone pushing too hard, too fast, into her personal life. Even worse, making assumptions, or dispensing advice, on her brand-new partnership with Warren. One of her lines is close to being crossed.

Still, she cannot deny that Cameron Hodge is a wealth of information, and not one she should quickly alienate. He's also Warren's best friend, and is probably well-entrenched in the habit of confusing Warren's personal life with the professional. The unfortunate breaks when friends do business.

Either way, Alison looks far more comfortable to speak — or interrogate, in her case — about Ossining. Especially at the detail Cameron has to offer.

The reserve dies off her face; she's already forgotten her discomfort. "It absolutely won't be repeated," she agrees, asserts. "I'm no security consult, but when you spend your entire life in liaison with the business — you pick up things. Every bit of this rings of someone who knows Warren. Intimately. How he works, how he feels about his employees, how he travels, how he prepares. Not the sort of things you read in tabloids. If you even have a bad feeling, I need to know. Would you put this past them?"

Cameron's hazel eyes watch Alison as her smile attains an automatic quality. He regards her, something gauging in his gaze that perhaps isn't too surprising. Just as she's assessing him, he is assessing her. Isn't he, after all, Warren's best friend of so many years? He must be trying to look out for his friend, too, just as much as she is for… whatever Warren is to her now.

A few moments pass, and then he lets the topic go, too. He's accomplished what he set out to accomplish, there.

He turns instead to the subject of Alison's… marketability. She knows how to play the game, she says, perhaps a little defensive. Cameron clears his throat, his gaze averting as if embarrassed by what he's going to have to bring up next. "Yes. I did say 'so far,' though," he mentions, apologetic. "You've played the game well enough to pivot even career suicide around into something useful, certainly. But the game has… changed, now you're both up front with your abilities. No doubt it's freeing to be able to exercise them, but we're not quite at the point yet where you can afford to be… careless. Light burns leave such distinctive marks."

He inclines his head. "Don't worry. I've smoothed it over. It won't hurt either Warren, nor Aegis."

Onward. Cameron's voice, leading from topic to topic, is subtly guiding. Now, the family. "Ah," Cameron says, at Alison's discomfort at the topic. He scents the line he's nearing, and steps back. "My apologies, I'm getting much too personal. That's between you and him, of course."

He sits back a little at Alison's sudden transition into surety, when it comes to the topic of Ossining. This rings of someone who knew Warren, she insists: knew him on a personal level, down to how he conducts his business, how he feels about his people, how he responds when he feels himself to be needed. Would he put this past them? She needs to know.

"His uncle murdered his own brother," Cameron says flatly. "Then poisoned his sister-in-law when she was not… cooperative with his intentions. I'm sure you're familiar with the depths to which people will sink when money is in the picture. Not even shared blood matters at that point." He looks down at the polished surface of his desk. "I don't like distrusting them," he admits, "but I can't… rule it out."

He shakes his head. "Warren's mentioned to me that some of his relatives are back in the state again. I believe his paternal aunt and a few cousins. They all share right of residence out at the family estate in Centerport, though obviously they don't flock there at the same time, they… it's all rather seasonal, how they live." Cameron grimaces. "Warren might feel obligated to pay a call. I'd try to go with him, if he does. I don't have much other advice for you which you don't already know well for yourself, but… look after him." His gaze returns to hers. "And be careful who you talk to."

Light burns leave such distinctive marks.

Alison Blaire goes still at those words. For many moments, she doesn't even remember to breathe. Without thinking, she knows what Cameron Hodge, gently, warningly, is implying.

Truth be told, she has not spoken aloud once of two Purifiers, alive, but permanently crippled from injuries received in Ossining. One, minus an arm without a drop of blood loss. The other, suffering moderate brain damage — impairment that may leave him bedbound for the rest of his life. She has not spoken aloud, but she has thought significantly about them. She sees their faces the most the nights she spends alone, eyes up on the ceiling of her yet-unfurnished bedroom —

Playing the memory over, again and again, whose images burn against the backs of her eyes. She didn't feel anything at the time, save for the urgency to make it all stop. Now she feels — not regret, not truly, but shame.

Too ashamed to mention anything to Warren, afraid he may judge her, or worse — look guilty, or pitying. Too ashamed to do anything but continue to avoid any conversation that may lurk with the rest of the X-Men. None happened in the frenetic aftermath of Ossining, and perhaps to her advantage.

Even more surprisingly, she'd not received backlash from the authorities when they took control of the scene, and placed the Purifiers into custody. Alison awaited a call from — anyone. The police, the DEO, the Office of Public Safety. Some perfunctory call for her to go in and have her abilities reassessed. Nothing.

She supposes she should thank Cameron Hodge. But for someone with a three-octave range, she cannot seem to find her voice, and sits there in uncomfortable, guilty silence.

It's more than enough to command her obedience for all what ensues, seated and silent — perhaps even off-balance enough that Alison questions what should long be obvious to her. That, or she may like to think the best of family, besotted with the idea of it for all she was never able to have for herself. Unfortunately for the Worthingtons, the poison in their bloodline did not seem to end with the uncle. Her eyes hold Hodge's; the deadly seriousness of his expression, of his mild words, is not missed.

"I intend to stay close to him," is her short, sparse promise, though Alison's voice weighs with intent. She pauses a moment, and remembers her discomfort. "I shouldn't keep you any longer, Cameron."

Rising, she turns — and pauses, mid-step, with a final glance turned back on Warren's CEO. Alison considers Cameron Hodge in one long, pensive look. "I can tell you're protective of him," she dares admit. "And I know I must look like discord in the order of things. But, I hope with time, that we may be able to become friends."

Cameron Hodge doesn't really need to elaborate here. Warren Worthington, it seems, is not the only one who can pull strings and make things simply… disappear. So many of those Purifiers were found in so bad a state, and yet so little fuss was made about it.

How did he do it? Does it really matter?

Cameron does not seem interested in talking about it himself. Blunts a little bit of the magic, if you tell people how it's done. He just watches her discomfort a few moments longer, before he adds gently, with the air of a shared secret — a shared conspiracy — they will keep for Warren's peace of mind: "Warren doesn't know." His mouth quirks with an understanding half-smile.

It leaves Alison off-balance for the remainder of their brief conversation. Cameron takes deft command of it therefore, steering it to a deadly-serious warning about Warren's avaricious family. Alison promises to look after Warren, to stay close, but it's transparent that she's off-kilter and now wishes nothing more than to leave.

But not without a few final remarks from the man whose den she has bearded.

"I am very protective of him." Cameron's hazel eyes are level, serious and assessing… and then they crinkle a little at the corners with his smile. "But, I sense… so are you, and in my estimation, Alison, that means we are already friends."

His eyes half-lid a little. He has never hated anyone more than he hates Alison Blaire, in this moment. "I hope you will think of me the same way."

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