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Cross wants to clear the air with Ardette.


Initial Setting:

At the Conservatory.

Timeline:

Present.



Edit

<Cross>: cross why are you gonna go talk to her



Cross because i actually vanna know how she's doing since uh. zhe dance var?

Cross please? :l

Cross Will actually make an appointment first if that works better. Probably not though. ...would she even know his number? no.

Cross okay, evidently she hates him on principal, maybe calling first is a smart idea instead of showing up uninvited. that's usually funnier at parties



<Ardette>: I bet he'd have to try a few times. First because she's in a class, second because she's talking to a client, third because she just didn't feel like answering, fourth because she didn't reach the phone in time...

<Ardette>: Because she doesn't have a receptionist XD



Cross ugh this is probably just the front desk number too, but worth a shot, he can't find anything better to call



<Cross>: it's ok

<Cross>: i doubt he's gonna run outta patience

<Cross>: (psst cross you should run out of vibe and show up all :'C)

Cross (no)

<Cross>: wait shit i remember some ideas i had but they aren't applicable until a point at which he tries apologizing lol



Ardette excuses herself from her after-class chat with a small circle of UGs and trots to the front desk. Jesus, the phone's been going all day, they couldn't leave a message? She reaches across the front desk and picks it up. "Step Conservatory."



No, they could not leave a message for reasons unfuckingspecified. "...Ardette?" This was going to look weird with him acting one way privately and another publically - oh, wait. That's not new and it hasn't been new for a good many years. "Look, just - don't hang up yet, I just vant to... speak honestly fur a bit maybe." He can feel his vibe buzzing somewhere in his throat.



The second Ardette hears her name, in his voice, she hisses out a breath and presses the heel of her hand to her forehead. God damn it, Cross, no. No! No. "Have you been calling all day?" she says, the accusation clear and cutting in her tone.



"Uhmmm...." Wow, okay vibe, what are you even. This isn't even anything worth getting defensive over? The buzz feels pretty alright. A little distracting at worst. "Let's go vith 'ja'. I don't exactly know your schedule." He's got that blunt affect of someone who gives a shit trying not to sound like too many shits are being given



Ardette throws a hand up, a gesture flung to an empty audience, and slaps her hand to the desk. "What," she snaps. "What do you want?" The chatter of voices in the hallway has died down, now.



Cross can hear that slap, and then not so much any indicators of her surroundings. He thought he heard other people present. "Are you still busy? Like I said... I just vanted to talk to you. Like - " Old times were gone, don't bother making comparisons. He mills about his living room in uneven paces, "Like I said, just honestly. I never got to ask how you've been."



Ardette glances down the hall - oh, she knows they're listening, she knows this will just add to the myth and legend of Bombaerts the Destroyer - and shakes her head. "I'm fine," she says. "I'm golden. I'm hanging up, now."



Cross can almost see her shaking her head like a little 'no' opposing her words. It's just there somehow in the way the voice come through. He may not be entirely sober (how the hell could you expect him to be after a day of busy signals? He's drank for lesser occasions) but he is not dumb. "Hhhhhh... ja. Okay. Danke." He's not going to get pushy about it now that she's picked up. He knows he ought to feel worse about it right now, and he hopes something of that melancholy is reflected in his tone. Best he could do out of respect.



Ardette is about to take the phone away from her ear, but he sounds downright sad, and once that registers, she really goddamn hates him for making her stay on the line because of it. "Are you drunk?" she snaps, and then lowers her voice. "E-- Cross, no more of this. Please."



Well, what do you know? That actually kind of worked. Cross feels like a manipulative bastard even when he's trying to be honest. It's... probably a little gross but mostly he just feels numb to this shit. Nothing new, yet again. Did she almost call him Edmund? "Ahh, a little - I've cut back a lot though-" That uncertainty is genuine, "shtill trying to clean zhat up." He sits on the floor. "Are you okay?" he asks, rather than getting 'this' clarified. No more calling and no more drinking were both fair game he figures.



Ardette leans against her desk and drops her head, taking a deep, silent breath. She's a magnet for remorse, her students confuse her for a confessional, Reginald is... something, and now Cross is trying to play the regretful recovering addict with her? What the fuck is wrong with him. "You have my answer. I don't have time for this. Goodbye."



Cross scrunches his nose at a particularly harmless point on the carpet, arm draped over his knees. Right. She's got that wall up and he's not on the inside anymore. He has no reason to be surprised. "Okay. Bye." He lets a pause pass and if she doesn't hang up within that, he's doing it for her. No sense drawing this out if she doesn't want to talk. She was very good at not talking.



Ardette goes to hang up, but stops the phone an inch from the receiver. Where was this hesitation coming from, where was that one thread attached to him that time or principle hadn't severed yet? She sighs to the ceiling and brings the phone to her ear again. "Is it about Alan?" She says it quickly, as though this is the one thing she needs to get out of the way before she can hang up on him.



Cross had his thumb above the red icon on the touchscreen when the question shoos it away. Hmm. "No. He's been in school most of today... not about him." Good to see she still cared, if... evidently not about him. Or maybe she did and - no. No, he's trying to read into this and make sense of a person he hasn't seen in years. He knows that's dumb. "You can hang up now if you vant," his emotions unclear with the statement, like it were nothing more than a helpful reminder.



Ardette rolls her eyes in relief; good, she's not going to have the inconvenience of a little boy's livelihood on her conscience today, how nice. She opens her mouth, but any words stop in her throat. 'Goodbye' is too much like acknowledging that an actual conversation had taken place. 'Go to hell' is overkill; he already sounds like he's halfway there. She hangs up with a clck.



Cross oh thankfuckinggod

Cross drops the phone on the floor with an equally certain thunk and rubs his hands down his face trying to piece together what any of this really adds up to.

Okay. okay. so she's hurt about how things turned out, and he's... buzzing on his damn vibe again. It makes this feel kind of inappropriate, surprisingly enough.

Cross tries to stop it for half a moment and the result is... well. He isn't injured. He just feels horrible. Confused, he lets the protective sensation swallow him up again, and pushes the whole thing out of his mind. He needed to talk to her. At least to understand why she's like this. With details.



It isn't until a few days later that Cross gets the opportunity or the time to do so, and he's a bit smarter about it when he comes by. She needs the money so he's not bothering during operating hours. No drinking for this either, but like hell if he's putting off smoking. And he's been doing this more frequently, being out of 'uniform'. Wearing black after the loss of family (with a little f, thank you) was more than appropriate for a while. He was glad to stretch the gesture out as long as possible for reasons completely related to how much attachment he has to the big-F Family. He raps bare knuckles on the door. Suns still up, just.



Ardette is in Studio A when she hears the knock. She's sitting on the floor in the middle of what looks like a blast radius of papers, spread out all around her in a circle. Ardette almost doesn't hear it over the music playing, and the muffling effect of creative focus... but she's familiarized herself with the phantom noises of an old building, and the sounds of surrepticious activity happening just outside her walls. Ardette straightens a bit and hits 'pause' on the stereo remote. The room buzzes with silence. She waits for another knock.



The knocking comes again once a background noise he was unaware of ceases, yes, you really did hear that, no imagination tricks. No food bribes either. Okay, what was he even going to say. 'I'm sorry'? ...part of him immediately rejects the thought. A more honest part of him knows he might need to say that a lot if that's what it takes to get people on his side again. He lost more connections than he realized when he fell off the map. Mostly squares who resented him for showing up a year later in Purple. Couldn't keep any UG friendlies. This was not a lot different. Except here he's fucked up in ways that make regaining an ally incredibly difficult. Apparently. He tells himself it's about keeping allies, as much as he would benefit from a friendship with somebody his own age who isn't friggin' Claud or some shithead. Cross won't even let himself consider losing Phoenix, not openly. It's about allies.



Ardette squints at nothing... and then she hears another knock. She huffs and stands up, straightening her clothes out. Reginald is giving her her space, and she has no private appointments this late... Frowning, Ardette tip-toes between the sheets of papers on the floor and trots barefoot to the front entrance. She doesn't stand right next to the door, and she doesn't open it blindly, doesn't even put her hand on the doorknob. "We're closed," she calls out, looking down, as though this will help her hear through the door better. She always hated saying that; who's 'we'?



"Ve're avare ve're getting really annoying." Cross stamps his feet quietly, just enough to get clumps of snow to unstick. No tap shoes today. "But I hate not having any sense of closure here."

"Ve," he corrects, not even sure why he needs to play along with the plurality other than it just occurred to him while he was speaking.



Ardette stares at the door for a long moment, and it's like the thread of exhaustion snaps inside of her. She deflates and rubs her cheek under the curtain of her hair, eyes squeezed shut. She spends a moment cursing Cross up and down to high heaven, before lifting her head with a bracing sniff, and she opens the door a crack. She glares at him through the gap. "You're either very drunk, or very sober. Which is it?"



Cross opens his mouth and considers what he's about to say. "...The latter." Opting out of a perfect chance for snark ought to prove as much.

Cross looks at her, neither confident or nervous, an air of necessity at best being present.



Ardette looks him up and down, her expression rigid. "Are you alone?"



Cross nods with eyes closed, almost a small bow. Suppose he can't blame her for making certain, though if he wasn't and hiding the fact, she'd be wasting her time asking him about it. "I didn't vant to deal vith any customers."



Ardette lifts her chin in half a nod, peering at him. She asks what is probably the more important question. "Are you lying?"



Cross' eyebrows cinch a fraction lower "No. I seriously don't want to deal vith humanity as a whole, save a rare few right now. This street's qviet, I brought no-one with me." He tries with some patience to keep from making any flippant I'm-unarmed gestures



Ardette doesn't know if it's his expression or the cold that makes her relent, in the end, but she opens the door all the way. She looks positively digusted - with herself, with him, who knows? - but silently jerks her head towards the lobby.



Yeah, Cross doesn't like that look. Certainly if she's giving it to him, he's done something deserving of it. Even more certain that he needs to get old bad blood out and over with, and it's a bit soon to start asking about that. He gets indoors quickly and seems to settle at least partially in posture. Busy thinking. All the obvious ways to start talking revolved around speaking his mind or making hints he wants to turn grey again. He really saw no need to make this some kind of confessional. Even if she doesn't consider him a friend any more, he still wanted to know she was... okay, at least. "Ahhfuck. I got coming here and choosing my words in zhe wrong order. I'm trying to go sqvare again." If the conversation goes where he doesn't want it to, it'll be her and not him driving it, damnit.



Ardette stays frozen next to the door, now locked, arms crossed tight around her middle, and she stares at him. For a second she doesn't register the cold. "Oh, nom de dieu, homme!" she snaps, and she walks right past him. She has no destination, just needs to move. "Is that why you came here? Is that why you called?"



Cross turns, sensing he is going to tire quickly of keeping up with facing her in any static capacity. "Mmmostly. But zhe rest of everyzhing vould just be to dig up old hurt, and zhat's not my intention. Bothers me enough I do zhat just by having my face. I'm not asking fur your help, but I'd be a hell of a lot more confident moving back here knowing I've still got a friend."



Ardette turns on the spot and plants her hands on her hips. "I'm not your friend, and my studio just comes with the territory," she says, and then she smiles bitterly. "We promise we won't interfere with your stay."



Cross' attention sharpens, snapped awake by a thick ache that doesn't hurt. This was getting weird, ever since the flares it's been doing this so obviously. Maybe it's been since then that he's had his head clear enough to see what he's lost. He considers his words. "...I'm sorry you feel zhat vay. Maybe someday I can change zhat." This was stupid and pointless without addressing why the hell she's so mad with him.



Ardette exhales and looks down. He sounds so much like Edmund, it's insulting. And if she looks at him, she doesn't want to see the boy that sat by her hospital bed all those years ago. "And going Square is a good start?" She snorts and shakes her head. "I can't believe you."



"I don't understand." No, he ... kind of does. He's got the general gist of how things summed up to this but the inability to point a finger at any one solid reason for this right here was ugly. That old sullen expression is so dim when you can hide feelings properly.



Ardette grins sharply, closing her eyes and jerking her head as though she misheard him. "You don't-- understand?" she laughs.



Cross gives her a tired, wan smile; he's going to be patient if he has to be. "I didn't come here to get laughed at. I can do zhat at many a more convenient place." He looks about for someplace to sit, as standing here inside her studio's front doorway was inconvenient at best, and it would help him balance this weird place his vibe's at with trying to speak levelly. That safe adrenal buzz keep sitting in his chest - If she knew where he'd been these past years she'd realize how much respect it takes for him to bother trying. Thanks for laughing. "Vhat don't I understand?"



Ardette sneers. "Don't play dumb with me, Cross." Because it is Cross right now, not Edmund, because only Cross would be this callous, this awful, this willing to go this far to get a reaction out of her. "You've made your loyalty abundantly clear."



Blah, blah, loyalty, blah, blah, playing dumb. This told him nothing and she clearly didn't want to tell him anything. He sits cross-legged on the bench once he spots it. "You're not speaking directly. I have no idea how to take zhat. Vhat vould you have me do to prove zhat?" He's willing to listen, you know. Obviously not to just anyone, being known as an asshat was a wonderful cover he wasn't going to drop altogether. One more reason he made damn sure nobody saw him come by this way.



Ardette raises her eyebrows, eyes wide. "Oh! You want me to speak directly?" She points out the door. "Get. Out. Of. My. Studio. There's your goddamned closure."



Cross inhales, hands asking no-one specific for an appraisal of the situation, "Vhat did I do??" He can think of a lot of reasons for a 'holy shit you're still alive' sort of response, but not this. He doesn't argue reasons against her behaviour. Hasn't heard her side of the argument, he'd be dumb to step blindly.

Cross goes quiet rather than leave.



"You don't get to ask me that question!" she barks, slashing a hand through the air, and a row of books on her bookcase fall harmlessly onto themselves like dominoes with a thup.



Cross doesn't startle much. The reaction is on his face, but physically... he's definitely not on any sort of drugs, he seems clear-headed, standing straight (when he was anyway). "I'm going to keep asking because you're making less and less sense. I haven't even seen you in almost two years, I zhought you vere dead, and..." he gestures to the books on the floor rather than say things, lest that buzz get any stronger. "I honestly, truly, don't understand. Vhat do I have to do to make zhis clear." Nope, it did anyway. He tries to calm his thoughts for a moment. A few ideas floating in the back of his mind that he'd rather leave alone.



Ardette sucks in a deep breath and looks away. No, don't let him get a rise out of you, don't let him see that, don't let things go lax. She can feel the tension leave her shoulders, commanding it of herself after years of practice, and now that she's calmed, those books no longer neatly stacked stick out in her conscience like a pebble in her shoe. "You truly don't remember, do you?"



Cross looks very aware of how bad this is. It's strange to look at him sitting there in her studio. Edmund, you could always see some mix of the rational coming out loudly over top of the emotional, but both were always present. William here seems too capable of the distant, level-headed act for someone also sober and alert. "I make a habit of only lying to people I haff no intention of ever getting to know. So no. Zhat's why I came here." He's struggling with something else more cognitive, staring through those books without commenting on them.



Ardette narrows her eyes, and for a long moment, they just stare at each other. He really, truly, honestly doesn't remember? Oh, let him spew out his words and indulge his need to always have a comeback; she just laughs tiredly and looks down at her bare feet. "Oh... wow," she shifts her weight from one foot to the other, swaying when she doesn't allow herself to pace. "That must have been some excellent," she winces, an expression of grotesque satisfaction, "excellent fonk..."



The constant comebacks is as much defensiveness as inability to shush at times. At least some things don't change. "You're doing zhat talking around zhe subject again." The desperation is finally starting to peer through, as if trying to appraise how dangerous it is outside it's little hole in the floor. "...Bitte." it's worth a shot. He expects this to hurt.

Which really only means he expects to be buzzing even more in his damn chest, and it gives him an idea again. But that would be messy.



Ardette hates him for not remembering, she hates him for coming tonight, she hates that quiet broken plea. But this isn't a hate that makes books fall out of place or her collar come unstraightened. This is a fine, quiet hate, seasoned after years. What was the saying? Death by a thousand cuts? And Cross did so love his cuts... Biting hard on the inside of her cheek, Ardette sends the fallen books sliding back onto their shelf with a graceful sweep of her arm. The sound of them thunking into place gives her an idea. She flits her eyes to his sharply. She stamps her foot on the ground and swivels her heel forward. The bookcase jerks forward an inch with a muffled screech. 



That determination cuts through too clearly. Her mind made up but he isn't hearing an explanation. He still trusts her to make sense eventually, after they've thrown enough words out into the air to make it stale. His gaze is sharp too - entirely focused on that shelf. Something stirrs in memory. He thinks, he's trying to... but he can't quite grasp at it properly. "You're not trying to threaten me..." Obviously. He shakes his head and lets it hang sternly knowing he's 'failed' this little explanation. "Vhen did we ever fight violently?" His words are probably hurting her further right now, but if you gotta make it worse to make it better... He's good at making things worse.



"Oh, I don't suppose you remember that, either," she purrs, and then, with another step-pivot! toward him, the bookcase jerks forward again. "You know, I was hoping the first time we'd dance together would actually be a dance--" Another step, another heavy, book-laden inch.



Cross' vibe is rearing it's strange amber head from wherever it was sleeping, it and Cross both know he needs to keep his guard up. It's making this entire situation eerily lucid, and uncomfortable. He feels giddy and more than happy to fight this out and that is not how he wants to feel or deal with this.

"Ardette -- " okay fuck it. He shuts his eyes and tries to will his vibe to stop protecting him. It's fine. He's not entirely certain she wouldn't drop the case on him right... that's entirely the point she's making though. She's done this before. But when - the guilt was there before but the pain that would normally accompany it sweeps up so quickly it's almost choking. It doesn't have any idea when this happened before and nor does he! It just hurts, like the rest of the bruises he's gotten the past week. It hurts and he refuses to move until she fucking tells him or he remembers.



"Come on, Cross, dig deep, it's in there somewhere!" she taunts, and with every step, she pushes the bookcase between them closer and closer, remember, remember, you son of a bitch, remember. "You were standing very close to where you are now, in fact! And I was over there, by the hallway?" The bookcase screeches again. She chuckles low, as though this were a fond memory. "That was where your friend got me."



Cross feels cornered for reasons secondary to having an entire book case coming toward you like a patient bouncer. He can't just fill in holes in his memory on command. "My..." he mouths, uncertain, he's not about to gain her as a friend again, and this is just proving it. He's hunched over in a vain gesture of self-protection (one he seems to be fighting). "I vas here, and I don't remember vhy I'd ever be here. Ve never fought, you don't... vhy... who else vas vith me," he asks with hasty desperation to get this over with. What flicker of recollection he possesses is so vague he can't figure out how it fits in with what he knows.



He sounds desperate, now, earnest, young, but whatever glimmer of Edmund that Ardette hears in his voice is lost in the roar of her memory, of three silhouettes in the dark, or was it four, the creak of a door hanging off its hinges, papers scattered everywhere, every door to her studios flung wide open... "I wish I could tell you, but they never found them," she remarks, almost pleasantly, and one particularly rough jerk forward sends a book flopping to the floor in front of Cross' feet. "When they found me, they couldn't seem to find whatever it was that fell on me, either."



Guilt will always hurt far worse than anything physical. This thought comes to him easily like it has several times before. Not this strongly in a long time. Not since losing Phoenix... again. "I can't remember if you don't..." She blames him for whatever happened, he can't remember, and she was harmed without a cause? He tries to add this up, glancing from her to the book case. Whap! He looks to the book too. "...drop it on me." he requests. There's too many gears wheeling behind those eyes. "Do it."



The command makes her sick, but it's nowhere near as nauseating as when she meets his eyes - he looked up and they locked eyes in the dim, a scraggly tendril of white hair hanging against the bridge of his glasses, and it was like interrupting a wild animal eatings its prey, the way his head snapped up, the wires from Studio C's sound system hanging to the floor like entrails, they gutted the place, he gutted it, he gutted her -- with a vicious growl, Ardette lunges and flings her arms forward in a beautiful line, sending the bookcase barreling toward Cross. 


...it screeches to a halt an inch away from his knees; books topple from their shelves and fall all around him.



Cross bears his teeth, arms raise - so he did still have that instinct - he fights his vibe hard as he can, stay down. He needs to feel this if he's going to remember. He still felt pain back when they knew one another before. None comes. He still manages to look at her, how badly she could kill him right now. Hair in his face, he does remember something like this happening. "Zhis doesn't make any sense, I vould've protected you things from... it vas dark." It felt out of context and confused and so irrelevant. He's been in too many fights. But he has been here before. Hasn't he? Fuck, it was too addled. His eyes well up wet around the edges, the green stands out as he looks sharply at her. "I said hit me." If he's going to remember he's going to need a harder kick.



Ardette breathes deep, sauntering backwards a few steps, looking at Cross with the most utter disdain. Yes, protect her like he did from the Scientists, from the War, from the power of the Mafia. She doesn't know what's more insulting: the fact that he thought he could protect her from any of those things, or the fact that he thought she needed protecting at all. Ardette shakes her head at him, taking in his tears, and hating those, too. "Get out."



None of anything Cross could have done seems worth her anger, and it just makes him angry on top of everything. Or - frustrated would be more accurate. "Damnit, Ardette, I can't fix a mistake I barely remember making! Stop fucking toying vith me and either do it or tell me vhat I did." His vibe's crept back in, everything bad dulling and the rewarding hum of bruises shutting their complaints was - unasked for bliss. Maybe he can afford to sacrifice another longstanding friendship. The last one that came back from the dead just went off the deep end and died twice anyway. "Just fucking do it, maybe I'll remember better. It won't kill me anyway," he speaks quietly and stays still beside the threat.



Ardette freezes. Oh, the books all over the floor, the seeping burn of a bad memory, the inherent chaos that Cross brings with him everywhere he goes, it won't kill me anyways, he's always been so goddamned irreverent. He doesn't have to tell her twice. Ardette does a little agitated circle on the spot, and then strides forward. Fuck her vibe; she wants to do this herself. She lifts her leg, plants her foot flat against the back of the bookcase, and kicks it over.



Cross does only one quick maneuver, and that is to toss his glasses aside. The kick sends the case over with plenty of force to work with the weight of it. Whatever books are left on it topple all over cross and fights with his instincts - come on - he thinks, just remember something! Bashed sideways, he lands on his side and gets stuck under the shelf. It hurts too much not to mask himself again, this time, it's visible, and he nearly lashes out at it - and he stays silent. The pure high of damage turned harmless - it had been a while. Hold onto that feeling, he tells himself. Not the high. That instinct. He still doesn't remember very clearly but he had to have struck back. «I hit you, oh no.» He'd done the same to Phoenix, but they'd had an understanding that worked differently.


Ardette doesn't hesitate this time. She twitches her hair from her face and plants one foot on the upended bookcase, forcing some of her weight down on him. "Yes, Cross, you hit me," she says, draping her arms over her bent knee, looking down at him as though peering over the edge of a cliff. "Why did you hit me?" She tenses up her leg and gives him another punch of pressure, "Why?"


Cross feels like a squeezebox under this thing. He knew she had a mean side but... "HHh!!" Okay, okay! He tries again with more words, less wheeze, squeezing them through his teeth and a filter of vibe. "I don't zhink I meant to - hhh - I couldn't haff known it vas you at first." He attempts unmasking again. She wouldn't see it as such but if she's going to do anything resembling torture, it ought to actually hurt. It's a massive slap in the emotions for the first seconds, blotting out thinking before squeezing his ribs down.


Ardette eases up on him but doesn't move, keeping him pinned. Oh, it's a wonderful lie, he knew exactly who she was when they met eyes and it was like looking at a ghost, a changeling, something else in Edmund's body taking from her and it mocked her, but she didn't have much time to consider it when she was suddenly grabbed from behind and on something borne of reflex and panic and pain she made Cross disappear behind a bookcase -- "Because I'm just another Square when it's convenient for you, Cross," she leans forward, and her voice raises with every word, "I was just another Square when you were ROBBING ME."


Cross anticipated the pain might jog his memory if the masking didn't kick his head into high gear. Still in the end it took words. He got a hold of something expensive. "Audio hardhvare--" The speech is squeezed out of him like bad toothpaste, "ohgott zhe bandito hideout - I passed out after - Ineedair." He says it but he doesn't expect it. Part of him is perfectly content to stay right where he is until she feels a bit better about this.


Ardette kicks off from the bookcase and, with a fouetté like a whip, sends the bookcase upright and skidding, empty, back to its place against the wall, where it hits with enough force to send the picture frames swinging. She circles around him, glaring down at the heap of man on the floor. "My sound systems, my cred," she sucks in a breath through her teeth, "a door I could lock, my reputation-- my livelihood, Cross!" she shouts, beating her chest with the flat of her hand urgently. "You might as well 'ave killed me that night!"


Cross's body makes a couple of good pops as he rights himself, a flit of hairline fractures spider out over the backs of his hands, his cheek, like warm gold filament and gone again too quick to verify whether it had ever been there at all. Fresh bruises bloom in their place as his determination to keep his vibe at bay wins out. All this while she rails on him verbally. He soaks up her words too, trying to feel as much of it as he can. The memories come back soft-edged, the sound of breaking metal and yelling. Distant like an old jive nightmare. Would crying even do anything? Shut up. It's not about what works or what doesn't. You're too used to operating with people who aren't your friends. He knows she's important - she counts - because he can't look at her yet. He's gotten as far as lifting his chin, jaw hard-set, but his eyes won't look.


Ardette breathes slow and heavy, trying to iron out that knot of tension in her chest. She's above this, she's above him, even though she lives on Vendybars and wears the black mark of Neutral every day, she's above him. It's not until she sees Cross' bruises that Ardette even considers the fact that he could have fought back just now, he could have turned all that pain right back on her, just like he did years ago... But when she makes the decision that she didn't even care if he did, it's an easy one. Ardette exhales roughly and jerks her chin up. "Find your closure yet?"


Cross grimaces and the hiss is choked. He keeps his posture still - it hurts to consider moving like this. That's two times he's nearly killed a friend. His head bows to her and the rest of the tears that fall are silent.


Ardette deflates, and she can't even look at him. Cross' tears are bitter and grotesque, and she cannot fathom them. He never felt pain, he never felt guilt, why start now? Well... Ardette walks back a few steps (it's more of a measured stagger), and leans back against the sill of her observation window. Why not start now, when his face has been thoroughly introduced to her bookcase for the second time in his life? She drapes her arms over the ledge and looks down. "Go home to your son," she says quietly, and only has the energy to raise a single finger at him. "And stay away from me."


That subtle smack of lips that signals words to come, and of course they do. Admittedly, a little late. "Nur..." he almost-gestures with one loose hand and shells himself up in his vibe. The relief is almost instantaneous, washing over, practically mocking everything he was experiencing seconds before. He breathes, hoping she's seeing this. He was afraid of the emotional aspect that he'd only begun to acknowledge recently, and now he was hoping she would catch on to what that implies. He picks the blur off the ground and the world comes back into focus, his eyes still red-rimmed but flecked with maybe a little more of that ugly amber than before. She should know he never took making himself vulnerable like that lightly. Not publicly. And he will still do that to prove a point. "Thank you for telling me." He heads to the door. Sorry wasn't good enough.


Ardette doesn't look up, not when she sees the glow of his vibe, not when he grunts, finally picking himself up off the floor, and not when he thanks her. Because to see him battered and wretched is like letting him win a little. Seeing him battered and wretched will take this away from her, that brittle, ugly, righteous armor, built up over years of knowing she's been wronged. She takes a deep breath, and then sighs it out shakily. Another deep breath, another exhale, a little smoother. Another inhale, and when she exhales, her sigh is like a benign breeze that straightens the picture frames on the walls and makes the books on the floor twitch. "Lock the door on your way out, would you?" she says, staring at the books on the ground.


Cross nods quietly, feeling oddly invisible for a faction member. He was nobody to even nobodies, not allowed to comfort her (he's the problem). And you know what? He felt too distant to feel anything negative - hell, he felt good (that's wrong, that's cheating). This was just another day (until I have to sleep). "Of course." He carries the words with too much soft, submissive calm to imply any sarcasm. He makes quite sure the door is indeed locked once outdoors, back in the cold. The metal would be almost painful to bare fingers, so much colder out now that the sun's dropped below the ocean. He needed time to recover from what the hell just happened. He could always put it off. He had all the vibe in the world to wait.

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