Roleplaying Log: Hiraeth
IC Details

Backscene, 2014. In the aftermath of the murder of Warren's parents, Alison returns stateside to see to his state of mind.

Other Characters Referenced:
IC Date: March 23, 2019
IC Location: New York City
OOC Notes & Details
Posted On: 23 Mar 2019 05:49
Rating & Warnings:
Scene Soundtrack: [* ]
NPC & GM Credits:
Associated Plots

As funerals of the rich and famous go, it was pretty standard. The fact a murdered woman was being buried beside her murdered husband was even, tactfully, glossed over.

Warren Worthington III, only son of the deceased, inheritor of the Worthington name and fortune, took his first crowned steps in the unenviable role of having to represent the Worthington family at his own parents' funeral. Even though his inheritance was solid on paper, it was still not — for practical purposes — secure. Enough of his relatives were displeased with this "succession," He had to go through the motions nonetheless; to do otherwise would only weaken his position, and much as he did not want this particular burden — he wanted control passing to other members of his family even less.

It meant hours of standing expressionlessly through the services. Hours of speaking to all the important, boring people he could not avoid having to humor. Hours of playing the gracious host, thanking people for their condolences and support, thanking the staff for their work, making sure all the arrangements were taken care of. Without his personal assistant Kiefer Kassmeier at his side, quietly helping him with all the minutiae, without his best friend Cameron Hodge there to help keep the nosy, tactless media at bay, Warren might have gone insane.

As it is, once everything is over, he — snaps, and vanishes.

No acknowledgement for the fact that his raptor's eyes saw a familiar face in the crowds, towards the end of the service. None save for the fact that his eyes met hers across the room. She knows that he knows she was there.

He cannot seem to find it in himself to face her.

Once free, Warren does what he always does when reality has started to press in much too close, much too fast. He rips open his harness, unstraps his wings, opens them, and flies: high, and hard, and fast. It doesn't come easily at first — long-bound wings don't limber back up just like that — but Warren grits his jaw and struggles through the pain until exertion finally fades it away.

He normally hates flying over water — it is often hard, flapping flight, with no promise of a place to land if he exhausts — but this time he does not care. He crosses the Long Island Sound, flying at ten thousand feet, not stopping until exhaustion forces him to spiral down to a crashland somewhere in a remote part of Queens. No one is around to see the Worthington heir drop out of the sky, sixteen-foot wingspan and all, like the prototypical image of an angel kicked out of Heaven.

Nothing so romantic as a subsequent rulership of Hell happens to him, after. All that happens is that after some time, he sits up, straps his wings back down, and calls Kiff.

Hours after that, Kiff calls Alison Blaire and tells her laconically where Warren is. He doesn't have supernatural vision, but he notices much more than most people, which is what makes him extraordinarily good at his job. What also makes him extraordinarily good at his job is a recognition when he can no longer have an effect by himself, and he needs to call in the cavalry.

2 AM in Manhattan is a scene Alison has, no doubt, not seen in some time, but for the past few years — ever since 2011, in fact, when Warren fled from the horrified realization that his childhood friends could die — it has been the Worthington heir's staple. Prime fodder for TMZ trashfire gossip rag articles. It is perhaps why there isn't more substantial buzz around the tweets of Warren Worthington being sighted in the VIP basement lounge of a Chelsea nightclub, quote-unquote "all KINDS of fucked up!!"

Warren Worthington has been "all KINDS of fucked up!!" for several years, now.

Usually the exclusiveness would be a barrier to people, but the Dazzler's face opens all kinds of doors. It wouldn't be hard for her to get down into that lounge, and it would not be hard for her to find Warren once she does. He is at the loudest table, and he is the quietest one AT the table, because the tweets were fairly accurate about his level of 'fucked up.'

It was three years' deep into doing what Alison Blaire had been dreaming for a lifetime: finally living for herself.

What was before was untenable: her father disowned her, her label exploited her, her team courted dangers that killed Jean Grey, and her unknown mother never tried once to reach out and find her. Alison Blaire, pulled ten directions and owned by countless hands that didn't care — woke up one day, felt her own unhappiness, and left New York behind.

She lingered long enough to express apology for the X-Men. She confessed that it was too much, and she wanted to take back her life — wanted to try being normal.

Alison broke her ties, broke her affiliations, and even broke her contract. She fled America totally, desperate to but space between her and that old life, and reinvented the Dazzler from the safety of London and Europe. Within a year, she made back her bankruptcy, and more: she defined a brand, pioneered an emerging genre of music, and eclipsed many of her contemporaries in worldwide adulation and fame. By all definitions of the word, Alison succeeded, and she took her place in the light.

But even with all her professional ambition and forward momentum, it did not preclude the occasional, wistful look back. When Alison Blaire took stage to receive her first award for her self-producted album, wearing hopeful white and speaking softly, earnestly, she thanked first, and foremost, her fans. But, at the end, she asided to whom she called her friends: 'You know who you are,' Alison had spoken for the cameras, 'you all taught me every different kind of strength. I take you with me wherever I go. Thank you.'

They were true words; Alison thought often of the friends she left behind. They were not far from her mind. Her correspondence was, however, sparse, fragmented between her busy schedule, the demands of celebrity life, her natural reserve, and, much worse, the guilt she could never quite exorcise — that feeling like she abandoned everyone.

But, despite it all, she kept up a private watch on the team's lives from far across the sea. Some were harder to track through public record than others. Warren Worthington she never even had to try.

She opened her daily news feed to hear about his parents' murder. Devastated, Alison cancelled all of her next two weeks' appointments and performances, and under cover of her well-paid publicity team, snuck back to New York. For all the doubts in Alison Blaire's insecure life, there was no doubt about what she had to do here: be there for her team, when it mattered the most.

The service had already begun when another figure slipped in, quiet and unobtrusive, and took a spot away from the crowd in the back. Removing her sunglasses, Alison was not recognized, dressed in black, sombre-faced, and empty of the Dazzler's show. Hands in her lap, she sat, and listened.

Warren found her, looked at her. Alison met his eyes and looked back. Her expression, in the glance he gave it, conveyed little but one truth: she is here.

However, he was not.

Warren disappeared, and Alison did not risk the funeral procession to look for him; she did not want to bring added attention, or steal that away, from Kathryn and Warren Worthington II. She did not want their last memory to be poisoned with whatever tabloid rumour of her attendance. She retreats to her hotel, and sends a message to Warren: she tells him she'll be in town for a few days, if he'd like some company.

No reply back from him. Alison came to terms with it: he may not be ready to speak to anyone. Perhaps not with anyone on the team. Perhaps not with her, in specific, someone who had long run away for her own, selfish reasons. She still waited, just in case. She even tried calling her own father, unable to get the image of a casket out of her head. Carter Blaire never called her back.

But Kiff did. Alison sat after that call, deliberated her choices, and then — called her security team with a request.

They are good at their work, and have the Dazzler's name armed as their greatest weapon. It does not take much to have arranged the private entrance for Alison, away from the eyes of sidewalk crowds, and have one of the world's most renowned musicians ushered straight downstairs by its attendant, reverent staff. Clientele can barely pull out their phones in time to get a recording of the Dazzler, passing through, her austere escort barriering the clubgoers back.

Soon enough, she spots what brought her here; Alison lays a hand on her bodyguard's arm in gesture to give her space. Her entourage disperses, waiting on stand-by for her next call.

The loudest table earns an uninvited new member, in the form and flesh of the Dazzler. Dressed and arranged immaculately, she looks just as beautiful to the eye as on any of her shoots, armed with her mysterious smile and her half-lidded untouchability. A celebrity aware of every ounce of her power. "Good evening, my darlings," she says to those at congress, "if you could allow me a moment alone with Warren." Her smile is apologetic, but none of her sweet words carry a request.

Warren does not seem aware of the Dazzler's arrival at his 'court.' As much as whatever this is can be said to be a court right now. Maybe on the many other nights he's been out like this, the label would have been more apt — Warren always knew how to effortlessly dominate any kind of social setting — but tonight is very different, in more ways than one. Tonight, Warren is not controlling jack shit about anything, whether it is the situation, the people he is with, or himself.

The excessive number of empty bottles on the table would have been damning enough. The bloodshot look to his blue eyes, normally as clear and intense as their acuity would suggest, is just the icing on the cake.

There is a small crowd flocked around him. Whether they have gathered because they are interested in his money or his name or his body, it is assured none of them are there because they are interested in him as a person. Most are women who are certainly there for the last entry on that list; even after years of degeneration into the mess he currently is, Warren still has a ruinous beauty about him, his features still sharp and lovely as the faded image of a pagan god on an old coin.

There are a few men, too, likely more interested in plying him for some connection or advantage of a less carnal kind. These are the first to leave when the Dazzler shows up, though one of them does swiftly change tack to try to cozy up to her instead. "Hello, darling," he answers, sidling up. "Forget him, he's coked out of his mind. We could — "

It is unlikely he will get farther than that.

The women are a little harder to dislodge, though with some of them it is because they are now begging Dazzler for her autograph or gushing about her latest album. There is one lady in particular, however, dark-haired and dark-eyed, who seems ready to fight the Dazzler's intrusion into her forays on Warren Worthington. She's practically in his lap, and doesn't appear to appreciate the headway she's made being taken away from her. "Wait your turn, honey."

She is probably drunk — or at least very invested in this particular conquest.

Warren himself has very little input on any of this, save to turn his empty glass around and around in his hand, staring at it as if mortally offended that it's not refilling itself. His golden hair is straggling into his eyes, and there is a slight sheen of sweat across his brow.

The empty bottles. The pallor of his skin. The red in his eyes.

Alison knows enough in one glance; she could be looking back in a mirror, seeing herself, four, five years ago.

That reason alone does not budge her from the spot, looking down on the drug-addled last supper congregated around their close-to-overdose messiah. Alison waits to be heeded, her body language framed with the expectation and entitlement of someone who does not get told no.

Or, much less, anything beyond what she demands — what she wants.

Which is why, when one man dares close to her, he absolutely does not get farther than that. Alison remains still, eyes on Warren, unresponsive as if she never heard a word at all. Then, simply, her answer comes.

She lifts two fingers on her right hand in silent beckon.

Security responds like the hand of God, fierce and final, as her bodyguard interjects himself in between, and firmly guides the man up the stairs and away. VIP privilege revoked.

Her detail, helped by a couple of the club's bouncers, do the Dazzler's bidding without hesitation: it is simply a matter of importance, and in the entertainment business, celebrity is throned as an oligarchy of kings and queens, worshipped so that they may crown the club with their presence. Their demands are paramount, down to the last, little desire, and large men do the careful work of guiding and removing the starstruck group, ordered to keep moving.

The last girl in particular insists to take advantage of one of the Dazzler's few friends when he is in no position to consent. In any other place, any other position, Alison would be tempted to lightburn something furious across her face.

"Put it out," is all she says, instead. The club's bouncer obeys, and — carefully — removes the last, escorting her straight up the steps.

With Warren finally freed of his party, Alison lingers closer, inviting herself to sit down. Her eyes appraise him, concerned, as she reaches to lay a hand at his temple, gauging the temperature of his skin.

Her bodyguard returns. Alison glances back to him. "Get the car ready," she orders. Her face is serious, and her voice low. "Discretion."

The man leaves, and in his wake, she lets her hand lower, loose at Warren's wrist. "It's Ali. Come on, Warren. We're finished here. I need you to get up and take a walk with me."

At the least, Warren seems to have stopped some time ago, and is transparently in the comedown phase: sullen, sodden, insensate. He doesn't lift his eyes from the table at all; not when people leave willingly, and neither when they leave a little less than willingly.

The man protests, but lukewarmly, when he's removed. Warren doesn't react. The woman protests a little more vociferously when the bouncer practically picks her up off Warren like a cat and gives her the metaphorical boot. Warren still doesn't react.

In fact, he doesn't react at all until he finds himself abruptly quite alone — alone except for Alison, sitting down beside him and pressing a cool hand to his temple. His skin is equally cool, and he's trembling slightly, a fact she can detect once her hand is pressed to him.

His blue eyes look up at her, struggling to focus. "You're not supposed to be here," is all he can parse of the situation. "You left."

She declares them finished; they need to get up and take a walk.

The table pitches end over end as Warren lurches upright in a furious, spasmodic motion, flinging the heavy furnishing and everything on it aside with one arm. Still moody, apparently — and still deeply impaired. He would never make such an obvious display of his strength otherwise. "I'm not — finished," he declares, though he staggers when he tries to step away. "I don't want to go — anywhere."

You left.

The accusation flickers Alison's eyes in a barely-controlled flinch. He could have slapped her across the face, and it would have hurt less.

But it's true. It's what she deserves. And hurts as it does, it's not enough to scare her off.

The thrown-aside table is slightly closer, and the shock takes her hand away, freezing straight against the unexpected violence of it; Alison would never have expected that from Warren, but there's a first for everything, and he's drunk and high and coming down from his parents just being murdered.

The security on stand-by flinches and comes closer, already assessing and ready to deal with one VIP in dangerous, intoxicated, possibly hostile proximity with another VIP —

But Dazzler lifts one hand in silent motion to stop. Wait — just a bit. The last thing she needs is Warren being restrained for his own good, and the entire world ends up finding out he's a mutant.

Rising to a stand, Alison interposes herself back in front of Warren, trying to cut off his path on the tail-end of his declaration. Contrary to him, she remains calm, discreet, her voice pitched low, and her hands held up empty, and open. She doesn't dare make the mistake of trying to touch him again. "Warren, look at me," she insists, ignoring the basement's eyes on them both. Her expression is serious, and the look in her eyes final. "You're done here. Either you come with me, or I'm calling Scott."

Warren is pretty far gone, but not so much so that he doesn't notice the flinch at his accusation. One of the only things he was ever good at, as an X-Man, was seeing — it was that or just flying — and he's always made to point to see everything. To notice any detail that might cross his field of view. Shame and guilt flicker in his own eyes, flooding up from a quiet place at the back of his mind which reminds: you left, too.

Worse — you ran away. You, who were always first into any trouble. You, who Xavier always said was the bravest of his first class… who took that statement of praise perhaps a little too much to heart, because there was so little else you wound up able to bring —

The shame translates, very seamlessly, into explosive anger. Alcohol and God knows what else will do that to a man. The heavy table pitches across the room in a sudden fit of violence, Warren flinging it clear in a shattering spray of breaking glass. It's startlingly out of character for him — or at least, for what she knows of him. There are deep pools to what makes him who he is, which very few people have ever seen.

The security detail twitches, starting forward, seeing only a woman — a woman in their charge — too close to a violent and intoxicated young man. Dazzler holds up her hand — stop. Warren doesn't notice; not when they begin to move, and not when they cease. He doesn't notice the rest of the basement room, either, the few remaining people gawking: too alarmed and enrapt by this trainwreck turn of events to make any noise.

The only thing he seems to notice is Alison Blaire's slight form, when it interposes suddenly in his path. He sways in his effort to stop before he simply walks right through her, and his blue eyes struggle to focus when he looks down into her face. The finality there, in her expression, gives him pause, and uncertainty starts to bleed into his expression…

…but it's those last three words that really hit him.

Warren sways as if it were a physical blow. His golden head hangs. "…Don't call Scott," he says, his low voice desperate. The fight goes out of him.

There is no yield in any inch of Alison's face.

She stands there like a stone cutting through a river's current, unmoved by its violence — fixed in place for as long as she chooses. And Alison chooses not to allow Warren to be alone in this state. Not with the chemicals in his blood, or the grief in his heart — to go out and self-destruct, as the hungry world strips him of pound after pound of flesh.

She's been there, done that. She may have been a derelict team member for the last three years, and perhaps an even worse friend — but she knows she will do this much. She just hopes he will let her.

And so she invokes the name of a man she hasn't spoken aloud in a long time. And, to Alison's crushing relief, it works.

As the fight goes out of Warren, she yields, gentling to his concession. "I won't," she promises, voice softening as she steps closer. "Let's go. I'm taking you someplace safe."

With that in mind, Alison glances back to security. Her bodyguard has returned, and she meets the man's dark, stern eyes. "It's ready, Miss Blaire," he speaks, "follow me."

She answers with a tip of her head, before her eyes turn back to Warren. After a pause, she gingerly, carefully, reaches to touch his upper arm; Alison knows better than to attempt to touch his back, and the discomfort it might elicit. "Come with me," she urges. "It's safe. If you feel dizzy, lean on me."

And she will not hesitate to hold him if he sways; Alison has never been particularly strong, but Warren is, fortunately, lighter than most.

Security demands a clear path, and the gawking VIP clientele — in their own states of drunkenness — clumsily comply. Alison leads Warren not the way most come, out, upstairs through the main floor: discretion demands an exit for their types, and their clear demand of privacy, which delivers them out to an alley. Her security have a tilted-glass luxury Range Rover ready, doors opened, ready to assist both an uninterrupted drive home.

Her bodyguard speaks into a phone; communicating needs to the Plaza to have on stand-by.

"Just lay your head back," come Alison's few words, through the fog. The world tilts at each turn the car takes. "And close your eyes."

The hotel is ready to receive them. Like the club, the Plaza exists to provide the many needs of the rich and celebrated; private entrances, with the promise of discretion and turned eyes. There is little trouble for them to take a solitary elevator up to her penthouse level; Alison asks her security to stand behind. Her bodyguard is reticent, but she assures him with a patient smile. "Get some rest, Mr. Sinclair," she orders as thank-you.

There is a moment, as Alison faces Warren down, where there is a telltale strain in the cloth of his jacket, at his shoulders. She would recognize it well enough as the suppressed effort of his wings to break loose. Times like this, when higher reasoning is so impaired, only instinct is left… and Warren's instinct wants him to flare his wings out, full-span, to chase off everything which frightens and impedes him. Instinct wants him to open them and fly away. Instinct wants him to…

He doesn't do anything, and after a moment that strain subsides. As strong as that instinct is the ingrained lesson that he has learned, ever since feathers first started to force their way out of his splitting skin: above all, he has to hide what he is.

But he remains obstinate in other ways. Standing there, swaying slightly, staring down into Alison's face, he transparently considers shouldering her aside and walking past. Only a familiar name from the past stops him… the name of the one man he does not want to see him now, in this state. The man who was in turn his bitter rival, one of his best friends, his better…

Conflict spasms across his features, before he just slumps in defeat. Alison promises to take him someplace safe, and he lets her lead him with the grounded docility of a clipped bird.

She offers herself to lean on, but he does not. His pace is slower than his usual, and certainly lacking in his usual grace, but if there is one thing on which his struggling remnants of his pride seems set, it is walking under his own power. He does not, however, shake away the hand she places on his arm. If anything, he seems to rely on it as a guide as they retreat via a much more private exit.

"That'll be in the papers tomorrow," Warren sighs, voice blurred, as they finally get to the waiting car. He doesn't make it in on the first attempt — possibly because he's unthinkingly maneuvering as if trying to accommodate his wings — and his hand shoots out to steady against the doorframe for the second. "Fuck… me."

The drive back is rather uneventful, though Warren does repeat, "Fuck… me," and smear his hands over his face about five minutes in. He tilts against Alison with one too-sharp turn, and just opts to stay there.

His quick metabolism helps process out some of the poisons in his blood by the time they get back to the Plaza, at the least, restoring some basic sense of motor coordination. The hotel staff is accustomed to discretion, of course, so either way it would have been safe, but Warren is still regaining enough awareness to — realizing he is in public — visibly force a mask back in place even though it's constantly, visibly slipping.

Evidence enough of that when even he tries to address Alison's bodyguard, when the man is (understandably!) reticent to leave them to Alison's penthouse room — though he does so through one hand pressed to his brow to stave off the headache. "Leave us," he says. "I will not hurt her." Despite the habitual command of his tone, in truth he looks ashamed to even have to give the reassurance.

Even without preternatural senses, Alison can taste it on the air.

She knows, more than most, that instinct to bolt. Flee. Fly away. That barely-restrained tension radiates off Warren Worthington, and she does her part to soothe the ticking time bomb. He's already suffering the worst day anyone could ever ask a man; to be exposed as a mutant, here and now, would be one burden too much to bear. He wouldn't be able to survive it all.

So Alison stands firm and unrelenting, trying to stay the detonation she knows everyone treads so close. Every inch of her is careful, trying not to crowd or corner Warren to react the same way trapped animals feel — but to hold him to the gravity of this situation. And though she'd rather not, she pulls out her trump card to force his surrender.

It hurts to see him defeated this way, but it's for the best.

Anything, at this point, that will get Warren Worthington out of this club, out of the public eye, and somewhere safe until he can sleep the intoxication out of his blood. He does not lean on her, and she does not force him to; Alison understands public performances. She helps however she can, and keeps her guiding hand on Warren's arm. He just needs to feel her escort to follow.

She cringes silently at his false attempts to climb into the car, but lets him recover, exuding patience. She joins him in the back seat, if to keep an eye on him; Alison is quiet to hear Warren's recovering realizations, spoken aloud. The media will report, despite all her attempts to mitigate the situation. She says nothing, argues nothing, because they both know he is right.

Fuck me, repeats Warren. The timbre of those words bring a tightness to her eyes.

The car turns, and inertia tilts him into her. Alison accepts Warren's lean weight without complaint, content to support him. Her hand briefly touches his closest knee. The contact is a reminder: right now, he is not alone.

There are masks for all of them to wear; she commands hers, and the Dazzler takes a swift and formal lead, all the better to keep lingering attention off Warren Worthington. The Plaza's staff are well-trained, however, and know better than to fix the greiving heir with lingering looks. They do their job briskly and professionally, and guide the two, plus Alison's detail, in a constant escort to her elevator.

Her bodyguard joins them, also the consummate professional, demonstrating neither judgment nor a single, lingering look on Warren. His attention is focal on the woman who employs him, fixed on her body language: trying to pick up signs of discomfort, or tension.

His keen eye cannot find any, but it still does not stop him from trying to follow as the elevator doors open to her penthouse. Alison, however, begs privacy.

Warren Worthington promises he would not hurt her. Mr. Sinclair knows better than to frown, but the phrasing of that vow makes a muscle twitch in his jaw.

Alison seconds Warren's request with a nod of her head, eyes grateful, but still serious. She'll take it from here. Her bodyguard hesitates a beat, then answers with a complicit, "Yes, ma'am." The elevator doors close, and take him with.

All that is left is them, and penthouse suite, and the million lights of Manhattan flickering in through the floor-to-ceiling windows. And the silence.

Alison exhales through her nose. She sets her things down, and turns her attention on Warren. There is no judgment in her eyes. Only patience, sadness, and worry. "Take the bed. I'll get you some water, and something to take. You're staying here tonight."

Alison tries not to crowd Warren, and that is for the best; he has an even stronger aversion to being confined than most humans. There is evidence enough of that in the way his wings are already struggling to pop free. With an effort he restrains his instinct to fly, however… a restraint that suddenly becomes a hell of a lot easier when Alison pulls her trump card. Scott's name shuts off Warren's resistance.

He lapses into quiet, following her silently as she leads the way out, though in a last struggle to save his pride, he refuses to lean on her as he leaves. The media might understand, or it might not; it might speak respectfully of the difficult time the Worthington heir is going through, or it might mock and tear him to shreds for this latest public embarrassment.

It's always a toss of the dice. He knows that, judging from the few words he speaks in the car before the world spins a little too crazily, and he slides against her and slips into silence. Alison has no counter, because they both know — he is rather fucked.

It is something that can be dealt with later.

This late, the streets are a little less congested, but it still takes some time to get back to the Plaza. In that time, Warren's metabolism clears some of the intoxication, though not all: his accelerated healing is still a few years distant. It's enough that he can walk well enough under his own power, when they get back to the hotel. He sways a little during the elevator ride up, but remains upright.

The staff, Alison's bodyguard — none of them take notice, in the trained, professional way people accustomed to working among young men of Warren Worthington's ilk are. Warren, in turn, takes no notice of them. They might as well be coatracks for all he registers their presence.

He doesn't seem to register Mr. Sinclair's existence as a human, in fact, up until the man hesitates to leave Alison. More accurately, leave Alison alone with him. That gets a little bit of Warren's typical fire going, though his anger is mixed with shame to have given the man cause for any such concern at all.

He asks the bodyguard to leave. If Mr. Sinclair finds his phrasing suspect, Warren does not care.

Once alone, Alison sets her things down, performs a few other perfunctory home-coming gestures, and turns to find Warren — still standing where she left him, by the door. This in itself is unusual enough. The Warren she knew was always effortless in his ability to take over a situation and slip into his prescribed role, be it as host or guest.

"Did you come back just for this?" he eventually asks. "I thought you were on tour."

Something that will be dealt with later.

For now, Alison's only concern is delivering Warren Worthington to a safe place — let him be safe from those who would take advantage of his situation, let him be watched while he works the rest of those poisons out of his body, and from there, decide what he needs to do and where he needs to go.

She's no stranger to Warren's advanced metabolism; it seems to be in both their advantage, she notes privately, as he recovers enough cognition and coordination what would take most men hours to a day. Alison does what she can to streamline the process, if even it is to provide something for her old teammate to lean against, imparting him quiet, darkness, and close-by safety to recover. The drive back is soothing, the only white noise her bodyguard, in the passenger seat, speaking hushed instructions to the Plaza for their inevitable return.

Once back at the hotel, Alison reclaims the lead again, one eye back on Warren. She still seems adamant not to crowd him, but his residual swaying keeps her attention. All of this, however, rings of long-practised behaviour to her, collecting and shuttling others who may be under the influence of illicit substances. The Dazzler, with her celebrity life, seems an old hand at such things — an unfortunate function of the circles she keeps, the circles she travels.

The only one to question her unspoken authority is her own bodyguard: it's his job to focus on his employer's oversights, one being the danger of being closed in a room with an intoxicated man, who was not reticent to demonstrate aggravated violence back at the club. Between Warren's fierce, shameful assertions, and Alison's agreement — his insistence may well be skirting a boundary that could cost him this contract — the man relents.

Mr. Sinclair's face is ice, though skepticism still haunts his eyes. He grants Warren one last, appraising look, before the elevator doors close, and take him away.

Darkness and silence meet the heir and performer in a sudden denouement; it's a little startling for Alison, after so much activity. But it at least promises privacy, if not safety, and she'll take it.

Settling her things down, careful not to turn on any lights, save the sparseness of low-wattage lamps, she seeks to fill the ensuing void with her own fussy activity, metered in the echoes of her heels on the marbled floors. "There's a doctor on the premises if you need one. Or, if you want, I can call down for extra linens and clothes, and I can run you a bath. You definitely need to drink some water, and I can give you some quiet if you —"

Alison turns, her momentum breaking to see Warren lingering still at the door. It is unusual, and she quiets, perhaps concerned he may take off again, go back to resume that destructive spiral where she found him. Or, perhaps finding all of this too much at once.

Her expression searches, trying to think of something else to offer — to do — to help — to fix. "Or if you're hungry, I can —"

His question cuts through all that, and branks Alison silent. She looks away for a beat, hurt and guilty, as her doubt bleeds into the spaces through Warren's words: no one ever expected her to be here.

"Of course," she admits. As for the tour: "It doesn't matter."

Alison's eyes return on Warren. "Just tell me what you need. I'll make it happen."

Quiet and dark seem to be all Warren really needs right now. The birdlike aspects of him are never more pronounced than when his higher cognitive functions are a little impaired, and the insular darkness seems to have a pronounced soporific effect on him. He quiets down markedly, leaned against Alison, breathing slowly. His rapid metabolism, adapted for the rigors of flight, does the rest.

The light of the hotel seems to stimulate him back to some semblance of alertness — enough to do a passable impression of his usual self during the short time there are other eyes around to see him. The act disintegrates once they are in private, even the gentle motion of the elevator setting him to a slight sway that draws Alison's worried eyes.

It draws Mr. Sinclair's worried eyes, too, though for a different reason. Warren can feel the appraisal in the other man's gaze, and shame and his short temper drive him to words more curt than he would usually use. The lingering skepticism in the bodyguard's eyes, as he leaves, hurts worse than the headache ice-picking between his eyes.

At the least, Warren genuinely does not seem up for more of the sort of violence he displayed earlier. He simply stands in place as Alison fusses, visibly trying to regain some sense of equilibrium. He's still there when she finally turns around.

"No doctor," he says eventually, with an effort. And he asks her — did she return just for this?

The hurt look on her face confuses him, and he is too tired and fucked up to pry. He had not meant anything beyond a surprise that people would be there just for him — much less cancel all their engagements. Beyond the X-Men, his genuine friends in life have been very few. Most who hang around him show their true colors and real motivations soon enough, and it is rarely the pleasure of him or his company.

"I didn't mean for you to miss your tour," is what he finally settles on saying.

With that, he sits right down on the marble floor. His head bows, blond hair drifting across his eyes. "I just need — " he starts, before he begins to fumble at his jacket, stripping it off, then pulling off the shirt beneath to reveal his harness, and the many straps crossing his bare chest and back. His wings are scrunched, overly-folded triangles of crushed feathers against his back, tremoring a little from the strain of being held in. His hands are clumsier than usual, but he has put on and taken off this harness so often in his life that the motions are still rote.

"Need it off," he mutters, fumbling at the buckles. Enough pop loose that his right wing abruptly springs open, unfolding with a cathartic snap to its eight-foot span. The utter relief on his face is almost palpable.

"Don't let people see," is his only request.

"No doctor," confirms Alison, some reticence straining her voice — but, eventually, understanding the why. Difficult to hide wings from a physician simply doing his or her own job, and then, it's another person too many pulled into your secret. She just decides to pay some faith into Warren's body, and its ability to work through the drugs he took — and the hope he did not mix too many.

Feeling a little helpless, she fidgets, tucking a lock of her hair behind her ear. Her eyebrows knit, instead, at his next words.

"Warren —" Alison entreats, sounding a little stricken, and for a moment, poised like she means to say more. Instead, she repeats: "It dooesn't matter."

She attenuates to him the second she moves, still hovering in her way, worried about dizzy spells or falls — but does not expect, at all, Warren simply folding herself down to sit heavy in the middle of her hotel room. On the floor.

Alison frowns, stepping closer, hands outstretched like she reflexively wants to herd him away from doing something so absurd, and reorient him to the better comfort of a bed — but stops short as he begins the mechanical struggling of someone fighting with his constricting layers of clothes. She says nothing, her eyes still tight at the corners with concern; when he begins unbuttoning his shirt, she seems to remember herself, looking away shame-facedly to try to award him the barest right of privacy.

He is still a shockingly beautiful man, even in his grief and hangover; Alison doesn't even think once about it. It's not here, not available for her to recognize or realize — he's too vulnerable, too hurt, too much in pain. More important than that, he's too much a friend, and one who needs something that isn't another pair of covetuous eyes.

Eventually, she exhales. "I can —" give you space, Alison wants to propose, before she glances back, and watches Warren struggling with his harness. His drink-slow hands manage to unbuckle his own restrains enough that it frees his right wing, the limb opening with such surprising volume, demanding space of her penthouse. The look of it next to the left, still bound down to little more than a slope against his back, makes her feel sick.

"I can help," she offers instead. Her heels click closer, and she goes down to one knee, her presence hovering close to Warren's side. Her nearby voice is low, measured for the ache in his head: "Just close your eyes. You'll make yourself dizzy."

Alison's fingertips glow dim enough to help her find the residual buckles in the dark, insistent to remove them carefully, one by one. "No one will see anything. I promise."

It takes Alison a moment to track Warren's immediate aversion to doctors, but eventually she catches on. Any doctor performing even the most cursory examination would immediately find those wings on his back. He has a very short list of physicians he can see, each of them paid quite well for their silence.

What else about Warren's life has been markedly affected by the need to hide? How much harder might it have been for him if he hadn't had the fortune to be born into the kind of wealth that could easily hire private doctors, private tailors, private trainers… all very specific staff, and all paid to keep one immense secret? He's thought about it himself, on occasion, whenever his wings hurt particularly badly, and he felt the need to try to remind himself that he truly not does have it that hard. He is fortunate that he has been able to pass in society even this much… and he's been able to because of his privilege and his wealth.

Two things which still, in the end, do not stop the pain and frustration of binding… and which do not prevent him from just sitting down on the expensive marble flooring unbidden, too exhausted and dejected to want to bother with actual seating. It's a more stable position, at any rate, for what he starts doing next.

Under normal conditions, Warren would have been more cognizant of Alison's discomfort, her lack of knowledge what exactly to do to help, to mitigate, to support. Right now, however, he is intent only on one thing. Propriety forgotten, he starts to disrobe from the waist up. He does notice her looking away when he pulls off his shirt, however. A laugh ghosts out of him. "I don't care," he says, a rare bitter note to his tone. "You can look. Everyone does."

He tosses the garment aside, his head turned away. His profile is sharp and lovely in the dark, even in this dissolute state. The dissolution might even just add to his beauty, already so profound it sometimes aches just to look at him. His looks are one of the cornerstones upon which strangers — the whole world — has felt free to define him, and he knows it. "Plenty to see."

Vacillating between leaving him be and staying close, she finally determines to come help him with the harness after he only manages to get one wing free. He hesitates like he wants to chase her away, but ultimately his hands drop into his lap, and he lets her undo the remaining straps. The last buckle comes free, the harness sliding off his chest and shoulders to pool in his lap. His freed wings fan out completely, stretching their full sixteen-foot spread, the span of them making even this spacious hotel suite suddenly seem much smaller. His pinions brush nearly from wall to opposite wall. Relief saturates his features as he holds them open a long few moments, crumpled primaries straightening and fanning to their utmost.

Afterwards, they fold in, mantling around them both in a shading canopy of white feathers. The overarching ceiling of them blocks out what little light trickles in from the lamps and the distant spread of Manhattan, drowning them both in a shadow thinned only by Alison's dim glow. He is watching her, his eyes shaded nearly to grey by the dark, the blue of them only starkly visible when her light reflects from his irises. He does not blink.

"This is where I thank you for coming," he says, the perfunctory courtesy burdened by a derelict world-weariness of tone. "I have forgotten… all my manners. Will you forgive me?"

He reaches spontaneously for her, one hand touching her hair — before better sense aborts whatever he was about to do, and he simply pulls the lock of it over her shoulder before drawing back.

I don't care, he says, and the declaration draws Alison's eyes. She can taste the bitter poison in each syllable.

She knows how that feels, and intimately so; the weariness and exhaustion when the whole world feels itself entitled to pound after pound of your flesh. Face, body, voice, image — every last bit it designs to covet.

Still, it surprises her to hear it from Warren Worthington, who was always very adamant to display himself to the world — who was always the first to hold court for the indulgence of his vanity. A first look at a deeper layer.

"Not the first time I've seen you without a shirt, Warren," is Alison's answer to that, sharp and wry, though to catch a look at her face — her smile yields with good humour, perhaps even affection. "And probably not the last, either. I recall you using every excuse to strip it off. You've made it a little boring for me to look, these days."

She lowers herself down, expensive dress, heels, and all, to join him there — on the marble floor. "It's also what I didn't come here to do."

And true to her words, Alison averts her eyes to focus on other things — namely to help divest Warren of that thing that binds his wings away. She reaches, then pauses, sensing his hesitation, and allowing him that unspoken opportunity to ask for space, privacy, and autonomy. She understands well the value of boundaries. But, in the end, he does not, and she leans in to help.

Her hands are as patient as the rest of her, careful as she learns that restrictive harness, and begins the tedious process of opening the rest to free his second wing. Her fingers wink in a flickering, spectral glow, bearing light to help her gentle ministrations.

Eventually, it loosens enough to allow the wing free; Alison looks this time, not covetuously, but quietly awestruck at the sight of that great limb unravelling out of apparent nothingness, spreading so far that it casts shadow all through the penthouse — long, reaching spires cut from the shapes of his stretching primary feathers.

In doing so, Alison forgets that dim light still emanates from her hands; it casts her in its hazy light, and within that glow, she almost looks like some timeless, anachronistic reverie. She doesn't seem to notice Warren watching her, with her own gaze running the shapes of his wings, perhaps lost in remembering the sheer size of them —

So much she's forgotten, in three long years.

His voice brings her back. Alison goes quiet, stopped short by all of Warren's eloquent courtesy. She looks down, almost guilty, and reaches to remove the harness from his lap, setting it aside — out of sight, for the rest of tonight.

"You don't… ever have to ask me for forgiveness," is her answer to that. "I know I haven't kept in touch. But I've neer forgotten — I don't care about manners."

He reaches forward, and she does not move to stop him. There is a moment's question in Alison's eyes, until she feels the drift of Warren's fingers on her hair. Her expression softens, her gaze overflowing with things she wants to say — to express him, all at once, what has been circling her mind since the moment she heard the news.

For now, she holds still, some part of her desperate for the connection. Desperate to see him reaching out to anything. Whatever his intention, Alison does not seem to know, or have the mind left to guess. All her thoughts are on him, his grief.

Her voice drops to no more than a whisper, heavy, heartbroken. "Warren, I'm so sorry."

That bitterness is indeed a strange thing to hear from Warren Worthington — or at least, it is a strange thing to hear from the popular conception of Warren Worthington. Why would someone like him seem to object so to attention? He's always seemed to seek it out; if not purposefully, then as a simple byproduct of his showy, vain nature.

Perhaps it begins to occur to Alison that there are some habits which he has gotten into, which he does not know how to break, is afraid to break, and does not think he can break anymore without becoming something unrecognizable. Something that all the world would reject, because it is his brand, and they cannot accept anything new. Even he wants it, himself…

He's not ready. Not quite yet. Evidence enough in the way he lets it go, and just laughs shakily when Alison makes that wry remark, though the sound lacks in its usual warmth or strength. "It will not be the last," is his promise. "There are some habits a man can't break. Though maybe I should stop a while, if it's gotten that predictable."

A hesitation. "It's more comfortable, anyway, without one." Not hard to know what he means.

He lapses into silence after, not yet coordinated enough to actually talk and undo his harness at the same time. Alison comes in close after a moment of internal debate, ready to help when he only manages to get one wing free. He gives up and lets her take over after a moment, though under her hands he feels tensed, like a bird ready to fly at any moment. The glow off her fingers plays along his features, carving them into alternate areas of luminous light and deep shadow. It might take a while for her to figure the harness out. It is a complex system… has to be, and the reason is clear enough once the last strap comes free.

An elaborate system is needed to pin down the kind of vast wingspan that unrolls over both their heads, freed from restraint. The pure white of his feathers is mellowed by the dark, softly luminous in the deep shadows of the suite — and made more luminous by the faint glow still emanating from Alison Blaire. The look on Warren's features is almost euphoric, the level of relief he must feel plain in the sheer contrast between his wings when bound, and when free.

Eventually he sobers enough — in more ways than one — to remember his courtesy. His head bows and his wings droop in sympathetic echo, the wide span of them pulling in a little to mantle over them both. They still make the suite seem small; the room was never built to the scale of anyone with 'sixteen feet' as one of their measurements. Her answer brings him to laugh a little, his head still lowered. "Well," he says, his head finally lifting, though his gesture to reach out towards her aborts. "You were busy. And I was…"

He chokes a little on whatever he was going to say, and looks away. "Well, I did just throw a table at you," he says instead. "Perhaps I do have to ask forgiveness, a little."

He freezes up perceptibly when she offers a condolence. Even if it doesn't show on his face, it's obvious on his back; his wings pull in even further, the feathers sleeking down in transparent upset. "Ah, well." Two syllables to encapsulate losing both parents within a few short months. "I suppose tonight was a last hurrah. I can't do this anymore."

He presses the heel of his hand against his eyes. "I might have noticed more if I wasn't — out, fucked up all the time — I might have noticed — "

It's a bad joke on her part — more a barb, than a joke, but Alison's sense of humour has always been on the sarcastic side — but it brings Warren to laugh. It's a brittle laugh, as holed-open as the rest of him must feel, but she takes it with hope. It's a start.

With one last look on Warren's wings, freed from those barbaric restraints — they're a sight for sore eyes, and make her feel her first pang of homesickness since landing — Alison makes a quiet decision.

Rather than herding Warren up, free from the floor, instead she joins him, carefully smoothing down her dress and taking her place at his side on the polished marble. She kicks off her heels, and segregates them off to join his harness, uncomfortable mainstays of their normal, public lives, that do not need to be thought of until the morning.

Bracing her folded arms to her knees, Alison settles. Her habits want her to fuss at Warren, offer him food, drink, comfort until he resigns to take her up on anything — but those things might not be what he needs.

The break in Warren's words draw her eyes. Her expression gentles with worry, lacking even the smallest trace of judgment — even as Warren confesses throwing a table at her.

"Forgiven, then," absolves Saint Blaire. She pauses, then leans to bump Warren's shoulder with her own. "You don't scare me, budgie."

But all her affectionate lightness can go so far; Alison can cannot long outpace the reason she's here — and it feels wrong not to say it to Warren.

Only so far can someone pretend she's not here for the funeral of Warren's parents.

It is impossible to miss how he takes it. Hard. Harder than she feared, just to see Warren — someone she suspects has been running, avoiding, flying away, from far more things than simply the funeral.

Alison remains silent, listening without interruption. It's difficult to imagine how he must be feeling: other than missing Jean, she has no parallel. She's barely had parents to grieve their loss.

Pulled from reflection by the movement of Warren's hand, Alison's eyes follow its path to his face.

The words coming out of him. This was never her strong-suit: expressing, comforting… sharing. She was never a hugger. She was never good at this, even avoidant to miserable degrees that made Alison fear she was turning into her father. Jean was a natural at this. She'd know exactly what to say. And she's not here.

"Warren," entreats Alison's voice, out from the dark. There is a light touch, and it's her fingers, carefully but determinedly pulling his hand from his face, to hold it within her own. She tries to hold his eyes, and after a beat, shakes her head a silent no — a no to all those things he says.

Alison may not know what to say, but she knows what to sing. Her lips part, and the distance between them begins to carry her voice — low, soft, and raw, sound amplified under the hanging ceiling of his wings. It is not the Dazzler's songs, or even the Dazzler's singing, but Alison Blaire, bringing life to an old ballad. I'll Be Seeing You is what she sings, holding drifting notes like sand running through her fingers — and like a bittersweet reflection on life itself, it ends on one last, sighed breath.

It is a start indeed. The first genuine laugh she has heard from him ever since she first slipped into the service, hours and hours ago.

He does not seem interested in getting up off the floor, however — progress has not gotten that far yet — and after some thought Alison determines to just join him, shedding her own public artifices to settle at his side on the marble. He gives her a sidelong look, vaguely reproving, like he wants to chide her back up off the floor and stop her from wrinkling her pretty dress, but after a moment he just gives up and lets her do as she likes.

However, what she might like to do — as she swiftly realizes herself — might not be what he necessarily wants or needs right now. For now, he just seems to want a bit of absolution for — well, specifically for the table incident. Her easy forgiveness drops his gaze, but her follow-up —

Warren smears a hand over his face. His distinctly un-budgie-like wings bristle. "I told you not to — argh." Muffled, through his fingers, "I will take that as my punishment."

There truly is no escaping the reason behind all this, though, the lurking specter that still dogs his thoughts and keeps his proud head hanging so dejectedly low. With the kind of wealth the Worthingtons boast, the dynamic between parent and child always becomes a little strange to middle-class eyes, often diluted or even replaced by the hands of nurses, nannies, and tutors, but it's clear enough from Warren's grieving that the balance of it was positive. Far from the stereotype of the neglectful, abusive, or outright absent rich parents.

And he says if he had paid more attention — if he hadn't been so careless — he might have saved one or both of them…

It is a self-recriminating, grieving guilt spiral in the making… and Alison stops it. First with her entreaty; then, with her voice. Warren quiets instantly to the sound of it, his wings instinctively mantling in closer to hold it in in her own private acoustical shell. For the duration of her song, he's as docile as a bird in a covered cage. His golden head dips, almost into a dazed sleep, and his blue eyes shadow under the lowering crescents of his long lashes.

Even for a few moments after she stops, he remains quite still, as if mesmerized.

Then his head lifts. Very gently, he takes her hand in his, lifting it to leave a very light kiss on its back. He lets her go afterwards. "I've received a private performance from Alison Blaire," he says, with half a smile. He does not say the Dazzler. "What kind of price can be put on that? There is none."

He holds his silence half a minute. "Thank you," comes eventually, with his typical grace, and then he drifts back into quiet, his abstracted gaze staring off into some middle distance.

"My parents were busy people," he says eventually. "Of course they were. But my mother read to me as a child, and my father taught me everything he thought I would need to know."

Even bereft of the Dazzler's style, showmanship, and supernovae light bursts, there is little denying that Alison has a beautiful voice. All the more a gift, there are none other in the world who have ever hear her sing just like this.

She does not know what to say, but she has always known what to sing. And so, she lilts along each word, a melody plucked out as it amplifies within the closing curves of his wings. The song she chooses is an old one, haunting and nostalgic, but Alison never allows her drifting arrangement to wander too far into melancholy. It is one trait she and the Dazzler share: their constant reach for hope.

But there is none of the Dazzler's performance here. There is no underlying artistry that meters the cadence of her words; there is no telling foundation of practice that ensures she hits all the right notes. There is only a message: to her friend, Alison promises that there is nothing wrong in hurting, and that life has in store far more than the cycle of grief.

Eventually, it ends, and the air between them weighs with the coda; Alison turns her eyes on Warren, watching him with his bowed head and closed eyes. It's the first time she's seen him peaceful since — she cannot recall.

With time, he stirs, and Alison remains silent, unwilling to expedite the process along. Still with eyes on him, they squeeze at the corners with affection and gratitude to feel Warren confirm her song with a courtly kiss to the back of her hand. His compliment persuades her a shade closer to a smile, though her attention does not leave him: watchful as ever, and worried about her old friend.

Unwilling to push, and content to remain on her hotel penthouse floor, Alison settles her freed hand back to her lap. She sits there, billionaire and cultural icon side-by-side, shoulder-to-shoulder, giving no more than the simplicity of presence — willing to stay there in perfect silence if it is what he needs.

It feels right. Alison has never faced the grief of others in her life. She always grieved alone: first her grandmother, then Jean. She has, even less, the ability to conceive the pain of losing a parent. She never lost hers: they just chose to walk away, one sooner, the other later.

What little she does know, is that there is endless promise in Warren speaking aloud. Sharing something she'd honestly never known before. Never ventured to ask, not of a man whom, despite his easy flirtation, always mirrored Alison's own reserve back at her.

She listens to his story. Equally foreign to Alison, though she strains to imagine it: parents that, despite their obligations, always wanted to be with their child.

"Sounds like they were busy with you, too," she ventures back, voice warm. "They say you stand to inherit everything — all the work they've ever done." Alison shifts just enough to brush her thumb along Warren's cheekbone, pushing away a lock of his hair. "Don't forget that their best work is you, and inheritance also means preserving the memory — being that man they raised."

Don't waste away in those dead ends, begs the look in her eyes.

Warren finds Alison's voice even more beautiful without the showmanship. To someone who can have anything material he wants within moments, the ineffable things that cannot be bought are the most important, and a glimpse of Alison Blaire's genuine self is about as rare and priceless as things come.

He doesn't know he's the only person who has ever heard something like this. But he has a guess that very, very few others have.

So he is silent for the duration of her song, rapt, his head lowered, his blue eyes closed, and his wings mantled in a living screen overhead and all around. This, in turn, is something rare and genuine from Warren Worthington: a small glimpse of peace in a life typically lived at frenetic, self-destructive speed, beneath countless fake masks. Evidence enough of that in his closed eyes; he rarely ever closes them unless he feels perfectly safe.

A quiet descends. The silence is so complete that each breath he takes can be metered by the slight accompanying rustle of his wings, shrouded close around them both.

He lifts his head eventually — and her hand — to pay her a small gratitude for the gift. It's plain, however, that there is still plenty to worry about where his state of mind is concerned, even if her presence — her song — is proving to be a balm. He lapses back into a desolate sort of staring, his gaze abstracted… though after a few moments, he finally begins to speak. He talks of things he has never shown or discussed before, things he always hid behind a flippant reserve equal to her own. Perhaps her offered intimacy broke down a few barriers.

He paints a picture that is foreign to her — a picture of parents who struggled past the demands of their own busy lives to care for their only son. Alison's quip about them brings him to laugh, the sound short-lived and dwindling into thoughtful silence at the pass of her touch along his face. He does not resist her when she brushes away that fallen lock of hair.

"I was a good kid," he says. "Except the times I wasn't. My parents couldn't keep me out of trees. I kept falling out of them and breaking all kinds of things. I suppose it was foreshadowing." He exhales a breath. "I was perfect — everything was perfect — until these came in." His wings tremble a little, feathers rustling. "Then things were a little less perfect. But I always knew they still loved me. I'm glad I smoothed things over before…"

He trails off. Before this, it's easy to fill in.

His gaze finally turns towards her, the deep blue of his eyes shadowed in the dark, as she speaks about his inheritance. His eyes avert again when she reminds that he is their best work, and he cannot throw that away lightly, though likely it is simply to hide the emotion that comes and goes in them.

Then his right wing folds around her and pulls her against his side, across the sleek marble, in a brief and startlingly-strong embrace, exactly in the way a normal man might use his arm. Feathers rustle against her as the limb gives her a light squeeze, before — with a parting ruffle of her hair from the wing's wrist joint — it opens and lets her go again.

"I promise," he answers her unspoken look. "Especially if you promise to remember a few things, yourself."

"You weren't perfect," Alison is quick to correct, though her gentle voice lacks rebuke. "You were predictable. They had a plan for you. All parents do. Your ability set the plan askew, sure, but I'd bet my tennis bracelet that they never ever believed it brought imperfection to you. Parents can cling a little hard to the game plan. It's an adjustment when life gets in the way. Some out there never get over that."

There's a note of detachment that thin out her words; either way, Alison Blaire is a surprisingly studied opinion on the matter. But her eyes hold his, adamant to communicate her faith forward: she's never met his parents, but she believes in their capacity for unconditional love.

Before this, Warren implies. Their deaths — their murder — leaves a wide gulf, still heartbreakingly fresh, that it renders Alison silent for several beats. It still stuns her; the fact Warren can even speak to her… she'll take it for the absolute blessing it is.

Daring to venture into the widely-publicized future ahead of him, Alison implies a deeper inheritance Warren must accept and carry forward —

And he answers her declaration — her plea — with a smooth gesture of his wing. It surprises Alison, who, like most, expects one to use his arms before any other limb; it also surprises her to feel, after that initial brush of feathers, her weight sliding meaninglessly across the marble, guided with an insistent strength she'd never before realized. Pressed up against Warren's side, and duly hugged in a curving wall of feather and down, her breath hitches out of her in quiet surprise — before her expression gentles, and she yields to the contact.

Later, days from now — Alison will think back and wonder how any one thing can feel so incredibly soft.

For now, she chuffs faux annoyance when Warren musses her hair, though his next words has her forget the gesture within a heartbeat. He promises her, and Alison answers that with palpable relief: for as long as she lives, she never wants to find him, lost and despirited, in the seedy underbelly of a club, wasting away to the predations of greedy people.

"Good —" begins Alison, though her words cut short as Warren's promise comes with conditions. She's not entirely sure what he means, though any interpretation gives her a split-second rush of vertigo — does he, and the rest of the team, know something she never told them? — before she smoothes it over with a smile. "It's a deal."

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