Off the Record
Roleplaying Log: Off the Record
IC Details

Warren reconnects with Alison… by interrupting her super bad date. A pact is made on how to face registration.

Other Characters Referenced: Jean Grey, Bobby Drake, Scott Summers
IC Date: December 10, 2018
IC Location: Del Posto, New York City
OOC Notes & Details
Posted On: 10 Dec 2018 06:49
Rating & Warnings:
Scene Soundtrack: [* ]
NPC & GM Credits: NPC: Kiefer Kassmeier, the only personal assistant who can tolerate Warren Worthington.
Associated Plots

Two weeks ago, Alison Blaire stepped foot on American soil for the first time in over three years.

The entire world watched it happen.

Hardly the covert affair; TMZ, and every local paparazzo in town, made good work of that. The Daily Mail recirculated the video, shared off of thousand of twitter feeds: the same image of the Dazzler, her eclectic make-up and skin-tight suits left behind, dressed in greys and blacks, looking smaller, withdrawn, and human — walking out past airport security, and turning her head away from the initial flashes and lights off flaring screens.

On the video, her name is called — both of them — and she is called to, asked questions, haranged every step of the way. JFK's security tries to keep up with her quick pace.

"Alison!" is repeated endlessly, heralding in the demands: "Are you going back on tour?" "Have you registered?" "Can you show us your powers? Give us a show, Dazzler!" "Why were you hiding, Alison? Will you tell us why?" "Are you visiting home for Christmas?"

The last question earns a twitch of her head, a quick glance before she catches herself. Those thick sunglasses are walls to disguise how her eyes must look; after a beat, the Dazzler answers with a brief, cramped smile. She says nothing.

Security shuffles her into a car, and she disappears from the cameras. And for the past many days, out of the limelight, Alison struggles to remain.

A couple days later, she calls a back, private line to the Westchester mansion. It's none of her people on the line — no assistant — but her, souning warm, receptive, and jet-lagged. And hoping to catch up.

She goes on with her life. New York never sleeps, and neither does the ruined, atomic winter of the Dazzler's broken career. She spends most of her time playing back-and-forth with her lawyers. Their bills add up.

Her manager drops her. She's known her since she was twenty-one. It feels like the day her grandmother died.

But there are so many loose ends, and Alison cannot remain frozen in place for long. She paints her face, pulls out one of her best, white dresses, and accepts an invitation for lunch. He's an investor from Miami, visiting New York, and wants to meet her — wants to talk about the recovery of her image with careful charity work, helped by one of his organizations.

It's a mistake. A mistake two minutes in, when Alison lets the people in the expensive Del Posto take her coat, and her date takes in the sight of her like she's his first course. "Actually," he proposes, "are you sure you don't want to try the restaurant back in my hotel? I promise you it's better than this."

Alison insists to stay, with a winning smile on her face, not a bit of it betraying the way her stomach crawls. So it's that. Nothing new.

Nothing new, as well, in the looks other patrons give her, as she sits for a light lunch. She keeps up appearances, makes sure to keep up her smiles for accidental pictures, and plays the oldest sport any woman knows in the biz: keep away. Keep away from the wine her date keeps plying her, keep away from the constant attempts to capture an pet her hands. Alison laughs at terrible jokes she's not even listening to, laughs at how this situation came upon her when she really should know better, laughs at how she's lost absolutely everything, and yet some things still persist to be the wretched same.

That last cramped smile Dazzler gives the cameras has a recent twin: the tight smiling Warren Worthington, too, had to give the media, from beneath the shadow of his own spread wings. He recognizes as much, when he flicks through the evening news and sees that look light up his screen. It is familiar in more ways than one.

"It's news two weeks old, Warren," Kiefer says, cocking an eye at his employer — his friend — from the driver's seat. "You're really losing track of stuff, lately. Did doing the reveal rattle you that badly? She called the Institute a couple days ago, and you missed that too." A pause. "I didn't tell you, because you seemed to have enough on your mind."

"Probably the right call, Kiff," Warren replies, though his silence after is a little long, and certainly uncharacteristic. Kiefer half-nods to himself, knowingly, when Warren eventually finishes, "What did she say?"

A few hours later finds Del Posto gently buzzing during the spare two-hour window allotted for weekday lunch. Most of the engagements during these hours are business meetings, and the tone is correspondingly sedate — if punctuated by the periodic uproar of laughter from a table of finance bros or already-soused lawyers. It is the kind of ambiance that does not provide much cover or distraction for a young woman cornered and uncomfortable by her 'date.'

That is, up until there is a sudden commotion at the front door. It's hard to hear from the second level, where Alison and her companion are seated, but it sounds a lot like generalized obsequiousness. As the commotion proceeds farther into the actual restaurant, the noise resolves into half-heard words.

"Mr. Worthington — been a while — pleased to see you again — wanting a table?"

That much, at least, should give Alison ample warning for when a singular figure reaches the top of the steps and turns towards her, striding along with the sort of confidence that is born of believing — to the last ounce of blood in one's veins — that one is truly entitled to whatever they might want… and entitled to be wherever they might choose to be.

The latter seems to be 'standing over Dazzler's table.' The former seems to be 'Dazzler herself.'

"I think this is my table," says Warren Worthington to Alison's date, sparing him a blase glance, hands hooked in his pockets and his wings furled at his back. "Though actually — " his wings rustle with thought, " — no, I don't think I want this one. Not private enough." He turns his head — not enough to see the hostess hovering anxiously at his elbow, but enough that she gets the picture. "Gattinara will do. Do you open it for lunch? Oh, well, there's always a first time."

He looks back as she hurries off — and seems surprised to find himself still regarding Alison's date. Said date receives the patented 'you're still here?' look, eyebrows raised. "Lunch," he muses, with polite disbelief. "He's not even springing for dinner? Alison, this is practically a rescue. Come along."

It is a Pyrrhic victory, at best.

Alison artfully blocks another generous refill of her wine glass; it works, but her uncoordinated date spills some expensive red over the back of her hand.

She laughs it off, but he has already spun the faux pas to his favour, brandishing expansive apologies and stealing her hand to carefully clean it. Even when that is done, he is not quick to release her, and lets their vitello tonnato warm as he applies an awkward massage to her knuckles.

"You should join me in Miami," he urges, all smiles. "Safer there for your type than here. I can give you a personal tour of operations. All cutting edge. No one has our Executive Success Programs. All it needs is your face. I can help you, and you can help others. Dazzler, you — ha! Alison. My apologies, Alison. I keep using that name. Hard to break a habit. Do you have any habits?"

How badly does Alison want to cause a scene. There's just enough background din that she could burn him on contact. It would be so fast; most people would think the photon flare like a flash of a phone camera.

Too dangerous. Too risky. Too many eyes on her. Too many whispers. Too many late-breaking tabloid stories; Dazzler attacks date. No, mutant attacks human. She won't survive the publicity nightmare. No control left over her brand, her name, her face —

Alison's thousand-wattage smile conceals every last dark thought. "That's so kind of you —" what is his name? A beat. "Alan. I hate to decline you, but I have to. My business is here. My home is here." Her words pause, then re-assert. "My family."

Are they, though? Closest to family she's had, but even that was years ago. Years, and before her cowardly retreat out.

"One week," still he presses, both his hands tightening around hers. "That's all I need to convince you. I'll set you up at my beachfront — "

And then, there is a third.

A shadow descends over the table, tall and impeccable, and framed wider at the shoulders than any human man should be. It's the voice, more than anything else, that draws Alison's nearest eye —

— she heard that voice on constant, ten years ago, first having come save her life, then assist her many times more to save the lives of others —

— she heard that voice at her back, bidding her good-bye, as she turned her back on the Institute, on the empty void Jean Grey's death left them, on the spectre of mortality that come to haunt them all: she died, and the rest of you will follow

— she heard that voice on television, weeks ago, on record after her last show in Prague; she was pouring coffee as her past spoke up loudly from her turned back, and there was Warren Worthington, stripping for the international media, and giving to five billion eyes all sixteen feet of his unfurling, widening wings. Alison's overfilling coffee burnt her hand, she dropped it all, and sputtered at all of it: MOTHERFU

— she hears it now, descending over her like a funeral shroud, and arrested in place, all Alison can do is stare. Ten years of show business lapse; her practised smiles do not exist here. Only the shocked, unprepared look of askance to see Worthington — and his wings — and back to Worthington — in public. The incoming tide of whatever that is stops whatever she may have, might have, said, as just like this, her date is commandeered, and she's given standing orders to accompany.

"Warren?" is all she can ask. "What are you —?"

As for her date, he goes still, tenses up, and seems insistent to ignore this interloper away. Not one for open confrontation. That is, until his shrewd eye strays up, and he recognizes all-at-once who's come barging. "Warren Worthington?" he declares, surprised, dubious. Restless, he seems to want to get indignant, but he's not that brave. "You two know each other?" Then it seems to hit him. "Like a mutant mixer deal?"

Alison might not want to cause a scene, but here arrives someone else ready and happy to cause a scene for her.

His shadow falls over the table, accipitrine, like the shadow of a descending hawk. It's not even just a simile, either — the shadow has wings, albeit ones quite neatly folded at the moment.

Still, folded as they are, he's never been able to simply walk about in public with them before — she's only ever seen him with his wings exposed while they were suited up, on a mission — and the sight of him wearing civvies with them is incongruous as hell all on its own. Even before one gets to the long stretch of years, between the last time they saw each other and now, which makes them almost strangers to one another now.

Not that Warren acts like a stranger. He's already commandeering her date.

Alan looks like he wants to object, but doesn't quite have the spine for it. Warren eyes him with the head-tilted, aquiline stare of a man fully aware of that internal struggle, and just waiting to see how it resolves —

Like a mutant mixer deal?

"Yes, of course we know each other," Warren says. The slight bristling lift of his feathers belies his genial tone. "I don't seem to know you, however. I'm sure I could change that, if I cared to."

There is a moment of frosty, cordial silence.

"Mr. Worthington," comes the timid voice of the hostess, who has returned at this exact and opportune moment. "The room is ready."

"Thank you," says Warren, turning his back on the man. His wings smooth back down into sleek unobtrusiveness. "Bill… whatever this was to me, and see the gentleman to the door."

He offers Alison a hand up. "If you actually want to find out the answer to your question, you're going to have to let me spoil you for an hour. It'll be painless." A pause. "Especially after this."

It takes the Dazzler a heartbeat's time to recover. Blink through the initial shock, and that quick flutter of surprise and something else, to see a face of her past rise up, and reclaim standing in whatever's become of her life. So much, in so many years, come full circle.

Ten years later, and Alison Blaire both looks like and isn't that girl they first found on stage, singing her heart out into the underground club scene, brandishing her mutant powers for no reason but music and counterculture revolution. And Warren, to her, is both and not that boy living in the shadow of a great empire; the crippled prince in stifled hiding.

Memory trips her up for that moment. And then it's over.

Little by little, Alison's free hand creeps up to her face. She veers dangerously toward the territory of pressing fingertips to her temple; the action smooths itself over with the careless brush of her hair from her cheekbone.

Swear to God, she promises herself, if Warren Topless Worthington gives her a lick of bad publicity —

Her mouth opens, no doubt to try to wave Worthington off, and save them all the horror of a worsening scene: fortunately, or not, Alan speaks first.

Warren chills over. Alison just goes silent.

"The door?" suddenly interjects the Dazzler's ex-date. "How dare you! I'm a paying client, and we're having a —"

Alison snatches her hand back. "Lunch was fantastic," she lavishes, though she's no longer even looking the man's way. "Please call my people with your address, and they'll send you a signed photo! Good day, Mr. —" what was his name? "Whatever!"

Offered a hand up, Alison levels Warren an unreadable look; it might be wryness, but it might also be gratitude. Who knows with her. She takes it, and the clear rescue out.

"Dazzler!" barks the ex-date, already forgetting her real name. "I'm offering you an opportunity out of this! And you're going back to it?! Where's the manager in this —"

The man in question seems to pop out of nowhere, on cue. His face is impenetrable. Steel smithed and gated with Worthington dollars. "We all hope you had an unparalleled dining experience. This way."

Thus endeth the lunch date.

Alison is quiet a moment, pensive, as she's duly lead away by a man with wings. "I didn't recognize you for a moment, Warren," she says first, sotto voce. "Wearing a shirt, and all."

Warren 'Topless' Worthington, so christened, is at the least experienced when it comes to dealing with publicity. With the aplomb of long practice, he balances on that precipice between causing 'enough of a scene' and causing 'too much of a scene.' After thirty years of wielding uncountable wealth, Warren knows exactly how far it will get him, and the bounds of where even it will stop working for him in any positive way.

Swiftly, accordingly — he pays off the outstanding bill, and has the other man seen politely off.

Creepy Date summarily banished, Warren leads Alison off. Midway through their stroll back down to the main level, he lets go her hand, and offers her the crook of his arm instead. His wings are kept to himself; he is a gentleman. "As far as 'opportunities out of it,'" he remarks, after a moment of silence, "we can do better than that." Warren knew what that man really wanted. It came off him like a stink.

Alison's quip breaks the momentarily somber tone. Warren laughs. "I know, it's hard having to cover my most striking features all the time. I should get an exemption to the no shirt, no service rules," is his reply. " — This way."

There's another flight of steps, these leading downwards from the main level to what appears to be a wine cellar. The lights get low, provided now primarily by candles in deference to the exacting requirements of wine storage. It's a bit cool, too, but for his part Warren seems entirely indifferent to the temperature.

Gattinara turns out to be a private room in the wine cellar — because of course private rooms in places like these need to be named — and Warren sees Alison to a chair before taking his own. "Pick what you like," he says. "I actually don't know what's good here, I haven't been in… ugh, ages."

His wings furl to either side of his own chair as he takes it. There is a level of graceful comfort in his movement that he never had before, in public; having to hold his wings in for such long periods of time often left him stiff, awkward. The sommelier comes by, but doesn't get far into his spiel before Warren picks something strong and red for the table, and sends him off again.

"Alison," he finally says, "What happened?" Of course he knows what happened, or as much as anyone who follows the media can, but there is an extra dimension to his question.

Similar protocol dictates Alison Blaire's next minute: the moment is quiet enough to be quashed in Del Posto's white noise, and whatever potential stir is carefully ministered by management's hands. Even less of their desire to bring publicity to famous clientele, is their desire to do wrong by someone of Worthington's standing.

However, it cannot stop all nearby eyes from watching them — following the exeunt of heir and celebrity as Warren leads them off. Alison keeps her eyes forward, her expression untroubled, and her body language a cool neutral. The less the gossips have to work with, the better.

Not that there won't be gossip. A powerful man guides a famous woman off to a private lunch — more than that, mutant leaves with mutant, their status, much like the rest of their lives, on public record. There are murmurs. There are chasing glances.

Her management would crucify her for this, if they saw — if they hadn't already dropped her. But when Alison glances at Warren's offered arm, it looks like the safest thing that's come into her frenetic life for some time.

Alison hesitates a moment, then accepts, her hands light on his arm.

"For the record," she feels inclined to mention, "I had that handled. You don't get to add another notch to your chivalry belt. It's actually poor manners to interrupt someone's date." Something haunts at the corners of her mouth. "Not that it was one. It absolutely — absolutely — was not."

Then his shameless retort to her quip has Alison laughing before she can remember herself. The tepid mask slips a bit. "Oh my god. You do that, Warren. They won't need to serve meatballs ever again, when you're the biggest one here."

Entertained, she lets him guide them both down to the exclusive Gattinara, which Alison approves of with slight yield to her bearing. Seated, she rhymes with the atmosphere, looking every bit someone well-bred and at ease with opulence; she pushes it just enough, legs crossed, one arm braced back against the chair rest, testing protocol without ever crossing it. Dazzler must have been a hit at those stuffy parties.

"Then I'll order for us," she smoothly interjects. "I remember how you like things."

She orders them both light fare — heaviness in a meal won't do for a man who needs to fly: an autumnal salad; delicate pasta with duck sausage.

It is not polite to stare, and Alison does not; yet, she cannot help the look that comes at seeing Warren's wings open, and relax. Certainly not the first time she's seen them, and the familiarity brings a here-and-there thoughtfulness to her face. Still, it is the first time she's seen them now displayed in public. How things have changed.

The ten year divide stands even more prominently with Warren's question. It quiets Alison, looking down, running fingertips over the handcrafted plating on her silverware. She comes back with an apologetic smile. "You know. Bad business decision. He was… the first person I ever told. First human. But it's all right." She pauses. "Speaking of that — are you mad?! Tell me someone tried to convince you out of stripping on television!"

Warren feels the eyes on them as they leave. The incident will be in the papers before day's end, no doubt. Certainly the tabloids — and with all manner of additional fabrications cooked up about it, to try to entice nosy readers. It's been a constant of both of their lives for years. But lately, with registration looming and their very privacy and livelihoods already at stake, Warren finds himself caring about doing the careful dance for the press less and less.

Perhaps he might have cared more, when his father was still alive. But the ugliness and greed of fame and wealth claimed his parents, too, and Warren finds himself even less inclined to pay the culture any respect because of that, now.

Lack of respect doesn't mean lack of indulging, however. Warren learned to turn wealth to his own purposes a long time ago. It's useful, for example, in situations like these, where a lady needs rescue from the predations of the music industry's ugly underside. Not that Alison seems to appreciate the rescue quite the way she should.

"I feel very chivalrous right now," opines Warren, "so it's on my belt regardless. I'm sure you had it handled, but I just did it — faster." He slants her an askance look. "Besides, manners stop mattering when the date — or whatever you're calling it — is that bad."

Her shot about the meatballs is very primly ignored.

Settling at a much more private table, Warren orders the wine — and, amused, lets Alison order the food. "Do you?" he says, when she comments on remembering how he likes things. "I commend you on your prodigious memory; that's a lot of information."

He seems to approve of her choices, or perhaps more to the point truly meant it when he said 'pick what you like.' His blue eyes, more thoughtful now, are certainly not the eyes of a man thinking about the food. It leads him to his question for her, the question of the hour. What happened? He got the general idea from the news, but he knows better than anyone — the media lies. "It's not all right," he says, his voice low. "Just say the word. I'll drop him from a couple thousand feet up." It's probably a joke.

His brows raise as she turns the question back on him — an obvious indication he knows she's deflecting — but he lets it slide. "Kiff tried, God love him," he says. "But you know how successful Kiff ever is at that. He never takes my advice. And it wasn't stripping. It was just the shirt."

There is a long pause. "Had to do it, Alison," he says, more serious. "March 1st is closer than it seems. I needed to get started early."

"Warren Worthington the Third," replies Alison, with the dramatic intone of someone declaring some ornate epitaph plating a greater legacy, "'He got things done really fast.' That's profound stuff. It'll be chapter five in the history textbooks."

She can barely suppress her smile at this point; how she missed things like these, and all that's been lost by the years — simple things like teasing the Worthington heir when he got a bit too pompous. Her intermittent time spent with the Institute was one of Alison's first and most polarizing realizations: she'd never known what a family felt like, before them.

Her hand tightens briefly on his arm, and without even her realizing it.

She looks up, meeting Warren's eyes as he expounds how even manners have their time and place. "They always did for you," she answers, matter-of-fact, and her words conceal no criticism or further tease. It could almost seem a compliment. Her smile haunts back up, there and gone again.

Seated to their private meal, and freely handed some autonomy, Alison — within moments — looks nothing like that creature he glimpsed on that mezzanine level, backed into a corner under the burdens of her service, and captive to her public audience. Here, she is freer —

But still, in many ways, the same old Alison. Reserved, unsure of her feelings to display them, and still certain strength is measured in untouchability.

Alison almost gets there. Her eyes betray her, turning toward Warren when he declares it not all right — and makes a violent proposal that may or may not be a joke. Better to think of it as a joke.

Probably even worse, by that measurement, to feel touched by the declaration. Perhaps because it's the first anything Alison remembers offered to her — that does not come with expectations, quid pro quo, or a price. "There's no need, Warren," she answers. "Though I'm sure your investors would love that."

And it is a deflection; deliberately so, in Alison's case, as she tries to smile through the rock weighing down her stomach. Still raw, and she didn't come home to have her old friends see her get teary. Wouldn't that be the perfect final course to all this?

Instead, Alison quips: "That poor man. You hired Kiefer to be smart and reasonable. Of course he wouldn't take your advice." But that long-suffering amusement does not last long on her face, and the more Warren speaks, the more her features freeze into seriousness.

"It was still dangerous, Warren. You're wearing a target sign! You put yourself in the line of fire — and if all this gets worse, you're going to be the first they turn to. Turn on." Her eyes search his. Alison's lips press; she's not finished.

"But," she continues. "I watched it happen. You took your life into your hands. It's brave. I should've done the same. Taken a stand — taken control." Alison glances down on her own hands, twined together in her lap. "How is everyone?"

He got things done really fast, Alison eulogizes. Warren grins, the expression familiarly rakish. "Not everything."

Some things REALLY don't change.

Thankfully he leaves it at that, especially at her next remark. It's an ambiguous statement, which of course means he takes it as a compliment. It is one, in the context of Warren Worthington. He was never one to let decorum, propriety, or 'what will the neighbors think' hold him back from protecting somebody or doing what he thought was right.

Today Alison stands as the beneficiary of that fierce gallantry. Reward enough, for Warren, is seeing her relax now that she's away from that mortifying situation.

She's still as reserved as ever, though, even now, and that reserve deepens a little at his 'offer' to take care of Roman Nekoboh. The offer in and of itself, though — it warms her, an declaration made from a man who needs nothing from her, expects nothing from her, and asks no price for the service. Odd as it is to imagine, a man like Warren can afford that one thing which has been in short supply, in Alison's life: ungrasping sincerity. "I suppose I've already given them enough heart attacks that a little light murder needs to be off the table," he says regretfully, pouring them both full glasses of wine. "How we'd fall in the stock market then." A pause. "Or maybe go up. You never know. Humans are fickle. They get fascinated by the strangest things."

He tops off Alison's glass, a slight roll of his eyes given at Kiefer's failed attempts to be the voice of reason. "I hired Kiff to keep track of my appointments," he corrects, though there is a deep affection in his voice to speak of his assistant. "It's not my fault he decided to overachieve."

Seriousness cloaks back down, however, as she turns the topic to his recent… 'expose.' Warren gauges her a moment, then lets her, sensing that certain topics are just a little too raw right now. "It was dangerous," he admits. "But you know me. That never stopped me." His wings rustle at his back, the pinions stretching. "It was deliberate, anyway. I want to be the first they turn on. I can actually defend myself." Unlike so many others, who do not have even a fraction of his means.

His eyes turn wistful, as he takes a sip of his wine. "I know how I'm best equipped to help," he says quietly, his wings shuttering behind his back. "This is how."

He puts his glass back down, frowning, as Alison says she should have done the same — taken control of her own life. "That choice got taken away from you," he says. "But you can still take control of the fallout, and what you do after."

It's a neat segue into her question — how is everyone? "A lot of people are doing the same as you, honestly," he says. "They've all been painted into corners, and they're deciding what to do to respond. Most of the teaching faculty, the young ones, they've been sent to the satellite campus in San Fran. There's talk of some other locations, too. Whatever we decide, I'll keep the lights on for them all."

He hesitates. "Most of the old guard, the older students, we're sticking it out in New York. Carry on what the Professor wanted us all to be doing. Everyone's doing well, considering. Being busy has a way of focusing people."

Not everything.

The remark earns an airy, noisy sound from Alison, somewhere between aggravation and deep suffering. It also brings a bit of colour to her face. She imparts his arm a light smack and absolutely does not laugh, because laughter is known to only encourage the Warren.

"Good to know you're still thirteen," she sighs back, unable to disguise the amusement entirely from her voice.

It folds back into her bearing, neat and tidy, like unseen wings of her own. Old habits are hard to break, and Dazzler had to practise an important one for every moment of her public life: careful, constant control. Every glance, every look, every good and bad angle of her body, every word out of her mouth. All could be turned back on her, used as weapons. And it was.

Her reserve holds strong, and Alison fortifies it with a careful sip of her wine. But the clues are many, palpable, read off her by an eye that knows the woman — the turn of her eye, the busy way she tends to get, to distract away from a perilous conversation. The way she smiles it off; Dazzler's smile, the same one in that video, that offers patience, acknowledgment, apology, and never happiness.

Careful, cautious little Alison is heartbroken. Betrayed in the worst way imaginable to her, one that has taken any last safety of her private life, and displayed for the greed and gluttony of the public. She'd never even told her father about her secret; he found out the same way as everyone else.

And here she sits, in one of her best dresses, putting up the show to pretend nothing's wrong.

It adds layers into the way she turns momentary disapproval on Warren; he admits to risks, and Alison frowns. Years of memory burden the press of her mouth. How she remembers. Remembers, even if she can no longer count, past instances he nearly gave her a heart attack. But she says nothing; conversation turns serious, and as he shares the present shape of the Institute, she listens.

"I'm relieved they're safe," she says of the students. "It still floors me to imagine it. The Institute always seemed so — huge. So unshakable. I didn't think anything could touch its mission. I was so young then."

There is a moment's pause. And Alison, letting down her guard just enough to look pensive.

And then come unlikely words: "But, you're right." Her eyes turn on him. "It is on me — us, everyone, to choose what we do after. I've been running for a long time, Warren. Hiding, too. Doing my fair share of both. It was, frankly, what brought me back here. I wanted to hide in the Institute. Bury my head, and… I don't know. Sometimes, I feel that's all I've ever been good at."

They are tired, bitter words, and do not emulsify whatsoever with the self-deprecating smile on her face. It haunts her still, until Alison casts it away, taking on serious to mark her next words. "Let me help you. If this is what you intend to do — and it's valiant and stupid — you can't possibly do it alone. It's deadly. I have no more secrets left in me. I can do this with you. If you guys will have be back."

The blush brings Warren to laugh outright, though he gets slapped for it. Worth it. Alison is wise not to betray any laughter herself; it seriously only makes him worse.

"I like to stay young at heart," is his rejoinder.

He settles to watch her, however, as she sits across from him and holds herself in a familiar, self-aware reserve. He has literal eagle's sight, able to read the pages of a book from two miles distant, and his gazes sometimes reflect that; his stare is at the least thoughtful and not predatory, however. And he doesn't need all that acuity to see past the careful veneer of her necessary lies.

For how she holds herself with all that controlled smiling, she is not happy. "I know that smile," he says. "I wish you wouldn't use it with me. It's not necessary, and I see it often enough in my daily life."

Still, he lets it happen when she deflects, if only for her comfort. The topic is relevant to them both anyway. He tells her the circumstances of the Institute, how it's all had to change because of registration. "I know," he sighs. "The Professor, the Institute… both seemed so foundational to me, when I was a boy. Like they'd always be there. But… I don't want to think of either of them as being gone. They're not. The Professor's still here in a way, in his continued dream and mission. And the Institute's still here, even if it's having to change and diversify. We'll make it work, with whatever comes."

He falls silent, though, as Alison's expression finally betrays something real. He knows enough not to interrupt this — a more candid moment from a woman trained to hide everything. He doesn't say anything, in fact, until she's done.

"I hid all my life, too," he says. "Dad, Mom… they didn't want me to have my wings out. I didn't want me to have my wings out, either. By the time I was able to run to the Institute, I'd bound them for so long they didn't work, at first. I was afraid I'd ruined them permanently."

Gingerly, careful not to knock anything over, he spreads them. As much as he can, anyway; sixteen feet doesn't even fit in the room. "I'm glad I didn't.

"Jean said to me… we can't let them make us less than we are, just for the sake of their fears. And I agree. This feels like a turning point. We can't just coexist by hiding and pretending to be what we're not. Not anymore. We have to gain acceptance for what we truly are." He leans forward. "And we'll do it together. You didn't even have to ask if we'd 'have you back.' You were already always welcome."

There is a pause, a moment of silence as he quietly folds his wings back in, with the same care with which he opened them. "Besides, I need some babysitting," he winks at her. "I am valiant and stupid, after all."

He knows that smile, he tells her. It is a bold proclamation, and one whose gambit bears immediate reward — it earns Alison's blue, canny eyes.

She listens to Warren's gentle rebuke — she needs no guard here, with him — and absorbs same with her customary facelessness. Also something that hasn't changed about her. It's a surprising facet of Alison Blaire, and not one most expect of her: a woman, shaped by music, and a composer of sound, lost of all her careful artifices and armors, is actually very quiet.

Very contained. Very introspective. Called on her guard for what it is, there is a real risk she closes up all the more.

Much of her life is being pressed to smile on command. It's a relief to be told she — doesn't need to, here, and with him. Her expression eases out of that careful neutral, and as invited, she lets that smile go. It is less serenely beautiful, Alison far more weary, and tired — but it's far more real.

"After all these years," she says to that, "and you still think you know me." It's not phrased as a challenge, or a taunt. If anything, Alison looks amused — getting called out.

Nursing her own wine, she leans back in her own chair; Alison looks in that moment like someone's spoiled, expensive cat, polished and refined now, when, ten years ago, there was that less-coordinated girl: in over her head, already, and loving every minute of it — so lost in the love of performing to even realize what it may, someday, do to her.

Warren reveals a similar sentiment, and Alison listens. Her hand tightens on her glass as he admits how he feared he crippled his own wings — she cannot even begin to understand that kind of pain. Her manifestation was so different. Something she could hide, always, with ease. Something that let her live a lie years too many.

As he spreads those impressive wings, she looks; hard not to. Hard not to want to, even, as they eclipse the small room in a wreath of white feathers. The little space brings one limb close, and the urge compels her; she reaches just enough to run an index finger over the primary feathers the same way she has the keys of a piano.

You were already always welcome.

This smile of Alison's is different, a little less practised, and a little more crooked — and seems to mean something enough that she turns her head, as if to bashfully hide it. The relief staggers her enough that she needs the moment of composure; the guilt of leaving them, years ago, still haunts. The question: did they think her selfish? As selfish as she felt, some days?

"Good," she says to that, simply enough, even though her voice comes too-soft. "No one can bear the public alone. Not even you, Warren Worthington."

Even now, that little voice is rebuking her — what about her career? What about her life? What about all she knows? There's dangers in committing. Look at Jean, who died for it —

Alison ignores that pang, because the guilt otherwise — much worse. Especially faced with Warren, who has sold every last bit of his privacy to shelter others. He says he needs babysitting.

"Hey, you said it, not me," she declares, playful, indolent. "Thank you." A pause. "Did you come here for me?"

It is always touch and go, to tell a woman like Dazzler that she does not need to hide. Sometimes it works… and sometimes they withdraw more.

It's a relief when this time it turns out to be the latter. Warren smiles over his wine. "I only presumed to know the smile. I wouldn't presume to know you," he says lightly. "It's dangerous for a man to know all of a woman. You only need to know 'enough.'"

He sobers, however, to talk of their respective choices. His wings open in a physical demonstration of his own. They can't spread their full width in here, which means they curve gently around the table in a feathered arc; Alison, like many others, cannot resist the urge. She reaches out and runs her hand along the primaries of one wing. The vanes are vanishingly soft under her hands, the individual barbs separating as her fingers pass. Warren watches her, with the head-tilted care of a bird watching its most important appendages be touched.

He takes them back, soon enough. They fold down, and Warren takes his own turn to feel a small pang of guilt when she tells him more pointedly: not even he can bear the public alone. It gives her offer a dimension beyond just rejoining the X-Men, a more personal one, and he is briefly silent.

Warren could have stayed in hiding. It would have been painful physically to continue binding his wings, but he could have. He has bound them for fifteen years already. He has so little privacy left in his life, because of who he is; all he had left that was personal, the very last private corner of his life, was his mutant nature and his identity as 'Angel.' The safety of being thought to be 'normal,' like everyone else.

He could have kept it. But it would have come at the potential cost of his company, his charities, his ability to direct funds as he saw fit: many of those funds to the Institute, which needs them now in its transitional phase. If he were to be found out, they would tear him to pieces — and everything associated with him would be torn apart too, casualties brought down with him.

It only took him a few hours which way to decide. The one thing which Warren Worthington was never short of was courage… and part of courage is knowing when to walk unafraid into a necessary surrender.

"If you choose this," he finally stresses. "Don't do it just for me. I've been dealing with this nonsense for years."

Did you come here for me?

"It was on the way to a cake boutique," Warren says, straight-faced, lounging back in his chair. "They make the most amazing layered crepe cakes there." He swirls his glass of wine. "Yes, it was for you."

And then he impresses on her a woman's healthy sense of mystery. He only needs to know enough.

"Smooth words, Worthington," Alison says to that, with some brevity to kill some of her seriousness. Her smiling crooks up into a brief grin, and she bites briefly on her lower lip, chin leaned amiably against her curled fingers. "Did you pick those out yourself? Or does someone lay them out like your morning outfit? I'm impressed."

He's not permitted to deliver lines like that, and go unsassed.

But the barbs are without candor, and gentle on their stings; Alison's bearing yields, her guard let down just enough that her blue eyes turn on the opening of Warren's wings. It would be for the cooler, untroubled Dazzler not to mind much of them, or even pretend they are there —

But Alison Blaire cannot help but look, and let herself be quietly captivated. To see, again, their vast span is like going back years in her memory, and her eyes soften in as much wonder as reverie. And she, who never even had a father to hug as a child, ends up reaching for things a little impulsively. A brief gesture, before she can remember herself.

His feathers run gossamer-soft under her fingers. In turn, Alison is as vanishingly gentle, in her way — her skimming touch so careful as not to disturb the vanes, or as much as disarray any one of the quills. It's so quick and light, it may not have even happened.

He makes no comment of it; Alison is silent, just as well. She takes a mouthful of wine. Women and their mystery, indeed.

They retreat both to a beat of silence. Warren, to a pang of guilt; Alison, off to somewhere pensive — never too many steps away from her thoughts.

Only Warren's next words draw back her gaze, as he delivers either a warning, or a plea — possibly both. Alison considers him, then sets her wineglass down.

"Warren," she begins, her words slow at first, "they're going to watch you for the first hint of weakness. But you know this. You're prepared for them. You know when to hold strong, and when to bend. But should things worsen, they'll double down, and hit you for things even you haven't anticipated. They'll dig and find weak spots in those close to you. And if they can't find, they'll manufacture. They'll bait you with half-truths, until you react."

She looks down, briefly, at her own hands, and twines their fingers. "And you know all this, as well. That's the thing — it doesn't matter. You can be dealing with it your entire life, but you'll get worn down. You need a second body there to support you. And I need —"

Alison descends into a stony silence, fighting herself, perhaps to say no more. Something gives. She brushes back her blonde hair, and yields with a sigh. "I… hate that I ran away. I know you're going to say you did the same — you went back. I've been doing things for me for a long time. And maybe it doesn't make a bad person, but it also doesn't make me a great one. I should've been there. I tried to be — I really did. But I never was, not like you, or Bobby… or Jean.

"It's for them," she confesses, in this window of frankness. "It's for you. It's for me, too. I was about to come crawling back with all my baggage. Maybe. I called — I've been stalling. I didn't want to bring my crap to the Institute, and that target sign I've got painted on me. But maybe this is a way I can make something of it. Like you said, it's my choice what to do going forward."

Her lips almost quirk on habit with the Dazzler's restless, unhappy smile; Alison checks it, this time. Instead, something compels her — to put Warren on the spot with a question.

He answers. Frivolously at first, and so straight-faced, she's almost taken in; a punishment to be asked such a thing. The correction turns her eyes.

The ambiance changes in the room for a moment; in a power surge flickering the lights. But it's not Del Posto's power grid; this is Alison, who sometimes halos when she's not maintaining control. When she forgets herself, in little lapses.

"You should have just left it at 'smooth words,' Alison," Warren says, miming hurt. "I was fine with stopping there. I do sometimes pick out my own clothes, for your information. Sometimes I like a change of pace in my morning routine."

The back and forth dies briefly, however, to the way Alison reaches instinctively for one of his spread wings. He lets her, perhaps realizing this is a glimpse of something more candid from her. Alison as she truly is, beneath all the shine and glamour of Dazzler.

It is a brief moment of vulnerability for them both, and soon passes into something more grim. Warren is silent as Alison speaks, again letting her talk to her conclusion before he draws breath to answer.

"Then let me support you back," he says simply, "because they will do the same, point for point, to you. If you step up beside me, you have that same target on your back." He looks down into his wine. "We are both equipped to do this, though. Probably better-equipped than most of the others. A lot of them are just kids. Most of them have never been under public scrutiny like this." We can shield them, is the unspoken conclusion, which goes without saying.

Perhaps it's the fact she's offering this, now, which makes him visibly impatient with her talk of having run away, of never feeling like she did enough — never feeling like she was truly present. "We all ran away," he says, and just as she predicted. "And we all — we're not as great as you paint it, either. None of us were ever wholly selfless. We all have our frailties."

He tips his wineglass at her, in punctuation of his next statement. "It's your choices now that matter. I just don't want you to be choosing them because of some perceived 'past failure.'"

As if in retribution, spontaneously she sees fit to put him on the spot. He answers in typical Warren fashion — flippant at first, but then dead serious. She glances at him, and —

His eyes blink against the flicker of light. There is a moment of silence.

"You firebugged, Alison," he observes, an arch smile daring his features. "Do I have such an effect as that? I'm flattered."

"I'm teasing, Warren," consoles Alison with faux diplomacy, unable to hide a smile at Warren's witty return — that, and the mental imagine that comes with, of poor, put-upon Kiefer trying to choose shirts for his recalcitrant boss, who just shirtlessly rebels and swoops out a window. "I know all that nonsense that comes out of your mouth is one hundred percent you."

The simplicity of back-and-forth with Warren Worthington, like the old days, does wonders for gentling Alison's guard. She's had it up for so long that it's an alien sensation to just relax, and no longer rack her mind to carefully choose her words, and never lose face —

But here, now, surfaces so much comfortable memory. Dazzler loves her music, loves having her outlet to share it, loves seeing how it affects the world around her; but, Alison loves this too, right here, right now.

Two worlds constantly at odds, pulling her heart in two directions — and now, in the worst way imaginable, they seem fit to collide. And Alison seems equally fit to take the reins of her run-away life, something crystallizing in her eyes the more Warren speaks of his own duty — his choice — to be the public shield to help those under the Institute's protection. To help the teammates he loves.

Next to such a vow, her fear seems so — ugly. And for that reason, Alison's eyes hold Warren's as she lists her reasons. She cannot speak for future regrets, but she can speak for what feels right to her — and it's enough, now, to break even her habit of prudence and caution. Her instincts beg her to take it back, the proposal; Warren will forgive her, maybe even look on her pityingly. He will not judge or think less of her. But she will think less of herself. And then, do what? Go back home to her empty hotel suite? Go back and accept another slimy date, and let strangers feed promises into her ears? Perhaps, one day, let herself believe them?

Her fingers rest at the stem of her wineglass; her legs remain crossed. Her body language is still, solemn, but Alison is all nerves, waiting whether Warren will accept her help. He may just say no.

He just requests she let him reciprocate. Relief touches her blue eyes, and her expression softens. "Then it's a deal," she tells him. Let the rich and the famous be a shelter.

Of course, Warren doesn't let Alison's reasons off entirely without rebuke; he doesn't call himself, or the X-Men eminently selfless. She does not answer, and her eyes linger momentarily on her wine. Unconvinced, and not entirely in agreement, either she has them on pedestals, or thinks unkindly of herself. Perhaps both. Arguments for other days.

For now, she turns truth back on him — the reason he appeared, out of nowhere, on her date. Back into her life, without even a moment's warning. Alison seems to anticipate many answers, but not one made in frankness and seriousness. Warren may have the angel's wings, but Alison stole their halo. She warms the room in white, incandescent light, burning gently off her skin. Even worse, she doesn't seem to notice — attention on other things.

Leave it to Warren Worthington to bring it up for the both of them.

The light stifles immediately, pulled in with quiet embarrassment. Alison Blaire goes still, wide-eyed, colouring at the cheeks. "You're seeing things, Worthington," she grumbles, suddenly very interested in her wine. "I think your collar is cutting off your circulation."

"'Nonsense'," repeats Warren, cut to the core. "You wound me even more."

But the slight smile on his features belies his words. He seems to be enjoying this as much as she is, and for many of the same reasons. It is exhausting to constantly put on a show for the world, whether a literal one or simply the show of a sculpted public face. What people like Warren and Alison need, at the end of the day, is an outlet to be candid.

And Alison is candid. About her fears — about her offer, despite those fears.

Warren knows what a leap it is for her, and indeed there is no judgment in his eyes to know what a leap it is for her. He has always been lionhearted himself, in that way that sends him straight into danger without thought in order to protect others, but he has never expected anything similar out of anyone else. His nature makes him the willing shield for those who cannot do such things themselves. He would not say a word if Alison were to back out.

Yet nonetheless, his eyes soften with gratitude when she seals the deal. It's still hard, sometimes, to go it alone.

She has a question, though. Why did he appear now? Did he come here for her?

His answer lights the room — quite literally. A halo for a lovely woman, Warren thinks, but actually comes out of him is a quip.

Her reply brings him to laugh. "My eyesight is fine, thank you, but now that you mention it this could use a little loosening." He undoes the top two buttons of his shirt, almost threateningly, but then puts his hands up in a mock gesture of surrender. Perhaps in anticipation of being laser shot.

"Hand to God, I'll go no further," he promises. An ominous beat. "Not today. I will be serious. Let's discuss a plan of action instead…"

In a world where it has nothing but judgment for Dazzler, for Alison Blaire —

— here is a brief, beautiful sanctuary. She can barely describe the relief to simply look on Warren, and see he is not measuring her, weighing her, and submitting her to the scales for a pass or fail.

So many others do. Especially Alison, and the way she looks back on herself in the mirror: the worst culprit of all.

To the Worthington lion, proud, staid, and watchful, she is more like a deer: quick and restless, in a constant state of flight. Choosing no existence past the next step forward, so long as it keeps her outstepping the fear that drives her on. No glance back to know how far behind she's left her home — if she's ever had one, at all.

But now, something centers Alison's next smile. Warren's look of appreciation is like horizon point she can focus — a star farther than the next step on. One direction to a future she finds herself drawn to walk.

Not that seriousness takes its turns with them; always has. Alison, a little off-balance by her own honesty, turns the tables back on him. The reason he's here.

Warren expertly retaliates. And in reward, for the first time in years, he gets to see Alison glow.


She sits up straight, indignant, ruffled, as he calls her on it, the colour in her cheeks coming close to rhyme with her red wine. Alison empties it stiffly. Pops her retort.

In answer, Warren pops a button or two.

It works. Alison's eyes widen, and she flushes, pointing a warning finger in time for him to laughingly lift his hands in surrender. "You even try," she sputters, "I will write Scott's name across your chest in a sunburn. It'll stay there for months!"

Her other hand lifts to her mouth. Don't laugh. Don't laugh! Serious! Not today, brings the flush of scandal back to her face. Alison sighs, amused, exasperated. Content, believe it or not. "You're going to be the death of me, Worthington. Even worse when the tabloids are going to say we're dating."

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