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This... had been a bad idea.

Maybe the worst he had had in years.

Professor McCormick would definitely not agree with that evaluation of whether or not this had been the Hedonist's worst idea in years.

Worst idea in the recent past even.

 

But by  all means it had been a bad idea.

At least that much was sinking in.

 

A little too late, maybe, after all, he had come to New York, found the right apartment, had gone there, had gone up to the right floor and had rang the bell.

 

"I'd slam the door in your face, but that'd probably break the door, and knowing you you wouldn't leave anyway," Downfall growled looking the outrageously unexpected visitor up and down like something nasty. "So what do you want?"

"An opinion," the Hedonist stated matter-of-factly.

Downfall leaned against the doorframe, arms crossed and brow quirked.

"And you come to me? Wouldn't that be a job for one of your many admirers? They'd line up to..."

Hedonist raised his hand, shaking his head. "On a very... delicate... matter. And I need this opinion from someone who won't sugarcoat things."

 

Downfall narrowed her eyes a little, before grabbing the other hero by the arm and pulling him in.

"You have some nerve coming here if this' about what I think it's about."

"It is," Hedonist said, dusting off his coat and unbuttoning it. He looked around the apartment. Three doors (not counting the main one), the one to his left leading to the kitchen open. Right ahead by the window a sturdy table, a bookshelf in the right corner, a wall with a simple opening to the left separating that area from the living room.

A few cacti on the shelves.

"Very... spartanic."

Downfall looked at him unimpressed. "Flattery will get you nowhere here."

The Hedonist smirked, absentmindedly rubbing his arm.

 

"McCormick kicked your ass?" Downfall asked as blunt as ever, taking some books off the table at the far end of the room. "Did Tolly finally give you the slip?"

With a frown the Hedonist turned, about to just leave again.

Bad idea indeed.

"What? You of all people running away?" Downfall teased, making him stop dead in his tracks.

"I don't need your mocking."

"But you want my advice," Downfall stated and put a bottle of whisky on the table. "Go, sit your ass down. And be lucky I'm in a good mood."

She headed into the kitchen, leaving the marble-skinned hero to himself and thus marginally lost.

Ultimately he shrugged dramatically, hung up his coat and sat down, pouring himself a glass.

"To answer your questions," Hedonist called, watching the golden liquid for a moment. "Yes, if you have to put it like that," he sipped on his drink. "Oh, this is a good one. I would not have deemed you..."

"You think I'd give away intel about me like candy on Halloween? Really? Now back to the second question", Downfall called back, and with a huff the Hedonist took a longer sip, frowning a bit.

"No," he said. "For good reason. They can't afford to lose yours truly."

"They can't afford to lose more than half the faculty. Don't flatter yourself."

 

The half-empty glass in one hand, Hedonist drummed the fingers off the other on the table, causing a deep, rumbling sound.

"And stop that!" Downfall barked from the kitchen. "You know I know you can."

Stopping mid-movement, the Hedonist looked up. "Pardon?"

Downfall leaned in the doorway, chin raised, arms crossed. "Making yourself heavier than you actually are. Parts of you even." She clicked her tongue with disdain. "The chair's not breaking, so you weight what? 200? 215? Do me a favor and make your fingers fit with that. The rest of you in fact."

The Hedonist glanced at her, brows furrowed darkly. Then he downed his drink and rolled his shoulders, his features becoming marginally softer.

 

One had to look close enough, though and for an awkwardly long moment, but it was there.

 

He frowned, ran a hand through his hair and continued his nervous drumming, the sound soft and light like raindrops now.

 

With a few wide steps Downfall was over, grabbing his wrist.

"Good. But that doesn't mean you can continue that annoying drums-session."

She leaned back against the table, pouring herself a glass. "I dunno what you want to hear? You should be in jail for what you did."

Hedonist quirked a brow at her. "But I..."

Downfall sipped her drink, before looking at him over her shoulder. "Again. You're here, aren't you? So all this 'but I never forced them' crap is just you trying to convince yourself of some-?!!" Suddenly her eyes widened, and her glass hit the wooden floor. In one swift move, a dark, irregular cloudy pattern appearing on her skin, she pulled the Hedonist from his seat, slamming him to the floor, the lamp overhead shaking.

"Tell me you didn't touch the papergirl!" She barked, holding him down, fist pulled back.

"Wha-..." at least he was quick on the uptake. "God above. No! I had the feeling something was off. From the start. I'd never. Never!"

He felt his breath quickening, and not in any way he'd have liked.

Downfall loomed over him like an angel of judgement, eyes narrowed and teeth bared.

"I swear!" He managed, while Downfall glared at him, her eyes finding his.

"I should still punch your face in for the other kids. You'd deserve that." She rose, leaning back against the table, while Hedonist sat up, rubbing his shoulder.

It was one thing being unbreakable. But to have to face one's own abilities while in a weakened stage was something else entirely.

And as much as he had on his mind right now, it was hard to run at full power.

"I never laid hands on Origami. From the beginning I felt something was off with her. I couldn't name it... until it was too late."

"Could have asked me," Downfall said matter-of-factly, pushing the broken glass to the side with her foot.

"Pardon?"

Downfall wrinkled her nose. "Oh, don't pretend you don't know. Savior wants me, you know what I can do."

 

"Oh, right," Hedonist exhaled and rose, dusting off his shirt, necessarily for once.

While he did not have access to all details, he knew Downfall could not just copy someone's power set, but also get a sense of the Zenith's experience and potential, and...

Wait a second...

"You KNEW and you still tried to tear her apart?!"

"Villains wouldn't care either," Downfall retorted, instantly yanking her head away, lips pressed together, and silence fell.

Both heroes stood there, the unspoken truth looming over them.

"...yes... we saw that..." Hedonist finally breathed, slinking back into the chair and pouring himself another glass.

Downfall just nodded, flexing her fingers.

"Astonishingly sturdy." She ultimately murmured, picking up the fallen glass, inspecting it against the overhead light.

"So what's your plan?", she said after a moment, and sat down opposite of the other hero.

 

The Hedonist looked at her, head tilted slightly. What an odd thing to ask now of all times. Nevertheless he sat up straight and cleared his throat, "We will use the time until May to..."

Downfall snarled, cutting him off with a wave of her hands. "Not about the Manipulator. As important as seeing to that bitch is, I mean you. You said it yourself. Y'wanted someone who won't sugarcoat things. So what you gonna do next semester? Lemme guess. Keeping your door open, no lunch with students yadda yadda," Downfall frowned, leaning back in her seat. "The usual."

"You say it as if these measurements would be pointless."

"Sure, sure, cut off the dead toes instead of cutting out on smoking."

Hedonist furrowed his brows, gazing at Downfall over the rim of the once more half-empty glass. "That's one peculiar idiom."

"Did you at least get it into your head what I mean?" Downfall frowned, poking her index finger against the marble-skinned hero's forehead.

He gently but annoyed swatted her hand away. "Not much that can be done additionally," he frowned and downed his drink, immediately refilling his glass.

"You could turn yourself in. You *should* turn yourself in," Downfall shrugged.

"You sound as if you'd rather tear me limb from limb."

"You know I could, you know I would, and I hope you know I should. But let's face it. Guys like you always get away with a slap on the hand."

With a small huff (with a slight wince underneath if one listened closely) the Hedonist sat his glass down.

 

'Guys like you'... he knew what that meant. Had he not always done everything to avoid exactly that?

Always taken a no for a no?

Always...

 

He frowned again and rose.

"This has been a bad idea..." he announced in a mumble and turned. Maybe if he hadn't have caught Downfall's glaring gaze as he did so he would have left.

Convinced himself that everything was not that big a deal, that he wasn't...

But he did catch her eye.

The anger, the disgust... the disappointment.

 

"You... care?" He murmured, staring at her uncharacteristically dumbfounded.

Downfall just huffed, nodding him to sit back down. He didn't.

Instead he just stared at her surprised.

"You're here, aren't you?" Downfall finally said. "Means you care. You said it yourself. Someone who won't sugarcoat things. That's more than most assholes do."

Hedonist tilted his head. "I..."

Again Downfall nodded him to sit back down. This time he did, again clutching the glass like a lifeline.

"You could've went to one of your admirers to ask them- shit, you could've asked that California douchebag."

"He's not that bad."

"And yet here you are, talking to me rather than him. Why's that?"

Hedonist fell silent, staring into his drink.

"Tell you why," Downfall said, shaking her head at him. "Because there's a snowball's chance in Hell he'd tell you what you need t'hear. What you want to hear, sure. But not what you need."

With a long, heavy sigh Hedonist nodded, resting his cheek on his hand. "I guess you're right."

"Of course I'm right. So," Downfall folded her hands and knitted her brows, "What's your plan?"

"I will..."

"And I mean *your* plan. You as you're sitting here before me."

Hedonist blinked, the glass on his lips again. "Pardon?"

Downfall rolled her eyes hard enough that one could almost hear it. "I know enough about Savior to know their little... thing. Had friends who went there. Saw what happened to them."

With a huffed chuckle the Hedonist downed his drink. "I don't know what you mean."

"Oh, you do."

Another huff. "It's a measurement of efficiency. Ms. Salazar..."

Again Downfall rolled her eyes. "And you actually believe that shit? That putting everyone in a neat little box is good?"

"Prestige isn't different, is it?" Hedonist frowned, filling his glass for the... fifth? Sixth?... time (he had honestly lost count, but damn this was a good whisky), "Rows and rows of good little soldiers."

"Zenith soldiers. Taking down villains so civilians can go about their lives peacefully is done more efficiently through discipline. Prestige's not out to make everyone fit in a little box we think best for whatever."

"And yet th- Wait. Did you say we?"

"You're quick today," Downfall smirked. "Yeah, it's been a bit of a surprise, but just when I got back here they approached and hired me." She shrugged. "But that's not the topic right now."

The Hedonist frowned and rose to take off his jacket. Downfall watched him go, maybe a little amused upon seeing he was getting a bit uncertain on his feet, his motions a bit less precise.

Yet he managed to place it neatly on a hook by the door before strutting back to the table.

Sitting down, he started drumming his fingers on the table again. Maybe it was the alcohol, but he did not manage to pull his hand away in time to avoid Downfall grabbing it.

"What did I say?" She scowled at him.

With a dark and annoyed growl the Hedonist twisted his hand out of her grip and leaned back in his chair.

"Can't answer that?" Downfall mirrored his reaction. "Or don't wanna?"

"I already answered it. There is nothing..."

 

The punch was, looking back at it seconds later, not unexpected.

The cloudy pattern of marble still swirling on Downfall's lower arm, she stepped around the table, pulling the hero back up after the impact had sent him tumbling over.

Hedonist batted her hand away, rubbing his cheek.

"That actually hurt," he said, glaring.

It was a glare more directed at himself than anyone else.

Had the alcohol gotten to him that much that he had become... Not vulnerable. Attackable... maybe?

No, he hadn't drunk that much.

Had he?

He looked at the glass and the bottle, and back at Downfall.

"It's far less than what you deserve," she growled back. "And now spill. I want to know what you intend to do," she prodded her finger hard against his chest, "and you have three seconds. One..."

"I don't know," came the sudden, angry response. "Happy now? I don't know what I will do. I don't even know why you try to make such a distinction between things. There's only me."

 

The alcohol was definitely getting to the Hedonist now, as he failed to prevent Downfall from grabbing him by the waistcoat and pulling him towards herself, noses touching, her teeth bared.

"That's one load of bullshit, and you know that," she growled, letting go of him. "That act the Smarts designated for you... would that guy care? At all?"

Hedonist straightened his shirt, looking at her questioning, and she just shook her head.

"For fuck's sake, Hedonist, stop being such a stubborn ass... For once," Downfall frowned, rubbing her forehead. "Again, you already came here. Means you care. Shit, why do you keep trying to convince yourself otherwise?"

He looked at her blankly, his mind racing.

This had been a bad idea...

 

No... no it hadn't.

 

It had been a good idea.

 

He sank back into the chair with a heavy sigh, had resting in his hands. Downfall sat down on the other side, pouring him another glass.

He quirked a brow. "Are you trying to get me drunk?"

"You'd have refilled it in a moment anyway."

He frowned softly, downing the whiskey in one go and licking his lips.

"Look at yourself," Downfall frowned, now drumming a finger on the table herself. "Where's your blasted cockiness? That overflowing confidence? You sit there drinking for drinking's sake. No savoring the moment, not even trying to enjoy it. Where's the pleasure in that, huh?" She picked up the now empty bottle. "Well, gratulations, driving's out of the question now."

"I didn't drive here."

"Is there a legal alcohol limit for navigating the Zone?"

Hedonist quirked a brow, and looked as if he was genuinely pondering the question. "Not yet," he said.

"Now, don't you dare giving Booksmart any ideas."

Slyly Hedonist looked around, maybe a little paranoid, and chuckled behind his hand.

"Ahh," Downfall smirked "I think we're getting somewhere."

The other hero cleared his throat and leaned back, arms crossed.

 

"You want the truth?" He said, had tilted back, loosening his tie with one hand and unbuttoning his collar.

"The entire time already."

"Truth is... I don't have a plan," Hedonist sighed heavily and full of sorrows, turning his head to look out the window. "This is the first time it's come to this."

Downfall's face twisted in disgust, but she motioned him to continue.

"You're right... It's...," he took a deep breath, and fell silent.

"What? Did that bitch just shut you off or are you waiting for her to do so?"

Hedonist knew he should take offense to that. But all of this, all of what happened...

He felt overwhelmed for the first time in... a long while.

And numb at the same time.

 

Then again, maybe it was the alcohol.

 

No.

No, it wasn't.

He knew how he fared with alcohol.

This was different.

 

"No... and yes," he finally said, causing Downfall to harrumph in disdain.

"So she can pull that shit," she growled.

"I thought you knew," Hedonist retorted, locking eyes with her.

"Wasn't totally certain. It's despicable nevertheless. Now listen up, 'cause this is the last time I'm saying this: You came here, that means you broke through your programming or whatchamaycallit. Now spill."

For a moment silence hung in the air.

"It's not so much programming. It's... an act. You said it yourself. One trait, two traits, blown out of proportions. Makes finding one's place in the grand scheme of things easier." No, this wasn't right. "It makes it easier for Ms Salazar to assign a place to one in the grand scheme of things. But that's a good thing, isn't it?"

Downfall just shook her head.

"Yes... you're right... It isn't. Not with..."

"Not with what happened. If she tells you that shit you pulled is alright because of what she deems best for you... fuck her. Look at yourself, you're a wreck 'cause of this. You came here 'cause you knew you wouldn't get any help from your wonderful Smarts." Downfall snarled and got up, pulling another bottle from the cupboard, thumping it onto the table.

"You wanted an answer. I'll give you an answer," she said, pouring each of them a glass. "Riddle me this: How much is act, how much is you?"

The Hedonist raised his glass, gazing wistfully at the liquid again.

"I've always been quite the bon vivant, quite hedonistic," he said wistfully, slurring his words ever so slightly, "I won't deny that the name fits. Seeking out life's pleasures, true pleasure, joy, the nice things, can you blame me for that? There is something outstandingly poetic, something incomparable to finding it. It can be a good meal, a soft bed... sex, yes. I always took care that it was always mutually beneficial when it came to the latter. It's what hedonism is, isn't it? Pleasure without pain, to put it outrageously laconic."

"Pleasure without pain for one alone. It's a self-righteous thing that bites off all its legs but the one stuck in a trap."

"That's... oddly philosophical of you."

Downfall shrugged. "Spent my dear time in doctor's offices with some peculiar readings."

Hedonist chuckled briefly, smiling softly.

"But you're saying it yourself, Hedonist. You always cared for the others involved."

"Yes."

"Gonna tell you something. You're a cocky, pompous asshole, but for crying out loud, you have your heart in the right place," Downfall huffed, watching the other down his drink. "Most of the time."

"That's awfully kind of you t'say," Hedonist sighed wistfully, ignoring half the sentence, "I like the Speck Students. Not like that. Well maybe you-know-whom. I mean I care. More than I should. I know that. But..."

"But what?"

Hedonist fell silent, shaking his head. Downfall quirked a brow.

"Something you can't tell, won't tell or don't know?"

"...yes."

Downfall frowned, pouring him another glass.

A little groggily and slower than he'd have liked Hedonist looked at her, finding he had to squint a little to get her into focus.

"Really now, Hedonist." Downfall shook her head at him. "Cards on the table. You came here 'cause you don't know how to deal with your actions having unpleasant consequences. I told you what I'd do with you. There. But as that's not an option to you..."

"They need me."

"They need someone they can trust!" Downfall finally shouted.

"They can trust me."

"No they can't. Not when you're all offended by stuff like keeping your door open and..."

"Am not!" Hedonist now shouted too, jumping up from his chair. "I though that much was clear! Y'want to know the truth? I don't know what to do. I don't know. I don't know. I don't know! This has never been a problem before. Even though..." With a defeated whimper he sank back down. "Even though it shou've been," he whispered, head his hands, words slurred slightly. "A part o'me always knew 'tis wrong. A part that... wou' have been a hindrance to the greater..."

"If you go and say 'the greater good' I swear to God no one will find your remains."

Eyes lowered unto the table, the other hero fell silent.

"Ask yourself something, Hedonist. Is your heart made of stone?"

His head shot up. "What?"

"You heard me. We are moving in circles like a fucking merry-go-round. And all because you cling to that stupid act and can't get your loyalties in order. I'm not gonna tell you to abandon Savior, as much as that'd be the right thing, but I am gonna ask you to get your shit straight. Fuck, I probably used up my year's worth of patience on you."

"Good thing there's a new one roun' the corner."

Downfall tilted her head at him, looked at the almost empty bottle and back at him. There was the faintest rose-golden shimmer on his cheeks (so he could blush, who'd have thought), his eyes were half-lid and distant, and he looked utterly exhausted.

In short, he was completely plastered.

"I'll make this short and easy," she said with a scowl, "Probably should have from the start. No one's blaming you for seeking pleasure. But you use really shitty means and that's the problem. That's the part you need to come clean about. And where you need to do better. Much better. Again, you're already far ahead of those assholes that don't know what 'No' means."

"And I ask."

"Yes. But cut it out when it comes to the students. If shit's not connected with school, that's something else entirely. But for fuck's sake, Hedonist. Powerstructure is a thing, and if the robotic bitch tries to convince you it's O.K. cause that's your role, just throw her off the Golden Gate Bridge."

Downfall looked at him again as he ultimately emptied the rest of the bottle. "Is any of what I'm saying even getting into your head?" She said and rose, walking around the table.

Hedonist just nodded.

Downfall nodded back. "Good, but I think talking right now won't cut it. Also, you might work on your asking too once you're done with the more important issues. Some of your stuff sounded like the verbal version of a cream puff."

"Huh?"

"Sweet but empty."

Hedonist chuckled, swooning a bit in his seat.

"Y'know," he slurred, smiling up at her, "I was serious 'bout lovin' to have you. Not jus' at Savior. Each time."

Downfall tilted her head. "Tsk, You really think this' the right moment to talk about that? Also each time that came up, you only talked about your pleasure. And what was it you said? 'She pleasures him nights on end'? I say again what I said all the times before: There's nothing in that deal for me, so no." She leaned forward, patting his cheek. "Also, you're too shitfaced to get anything up or done anyway."

He narrowed his eyes at her, looking seriously offended. "I'll gladly take y'up on that challenge."

"It's not a challenge," Downfall countered. "Here's an important lesson both 'bout consent and pleasure. If one's as plastered as you are, they can't give either."

Hedonist glared at her again, though not at all effectively as he was, obviously now, having trouble focusing.

Downfall looked him up and down, before gazing out the window for a moment.

It was getting dark. She shook her head and looked back at the marble-skinned mess. This wasn't at all optimal. She took a deep breath and let out a long sigh:

"Know what? You can stay here for the night."

"Hah, so you are invitin' me t'your bed," Hedonist declared triumphantly.

Downfall harrumphed. "Don't push your luck. You get the couch. Gonna love seeing you hungover in the morning."

---

Said morning came far too early. At least in the Hedonist's opinion, and especially since the predicted hangover came with it.

"Rise and shine," Downfall hollered, pulling the curtains open and watching with delight how the other hero squirmed in misery. "It's past noon."

"You let me sleep that long?" Hedonist asked and tried to sit up, immediately holding a hand to his forehead with a groan.

"Ugh... I feel like my head's about to burst..."

"Hold on, I'll get a dustpan."

Downfall grinned and marched off into the kitchen with meaningfully heavy steps.

"Coffee or tomato juice?" she called.

Hedonist didn't respond, only cringed, pulling the blanket over his head, causing a broken piece of sturdy looking wood to fall off it. He blearily turned, picked it up and blinked confused. Said confusion only lasted until he spied the broken off hammerhead at the end off the couch.

He shook his head bewildered.

"Did you try to take a sledgehammer to my legs while I was asleep?!"

Downfall peeked round the kitchen door. "Had to see how good your defenses are when you are like...," she gestured at all of him, "that."

"I believe we talked about this the first time you tried that!" Hedonist howled indignantly, though it faded into a low yowl as he fell back onto the couch, holding his head.

"You weren't drunk then," Downfall stated, putting a cup of black coffee onto the table alongside a plate of lemons and pickled fish. "There. Eat."

Hedonist sat up with the speed of a continental drift and laid his face in his hands, elbows on knees.

"...thank you," he murmured.

"How did you sleep?"

"Like a stone."

Downfall actually laughed at that.

 

"You planned this, didn't you?" she asked after watching him eat for a while.

Brows furrowed again and the cup on his lips, the Hedonist cast her a questioning glance. "What gives you the idea?" he countered, setting the cup down after taking a long sip of much too bitter coffee.

Downfall crossed her arms and sat down on the coffee table, nodding at his clothes hanging neatly over another chair nearby. "Don't think I can't tell a less-than-600-bucks outfit when I see it."

Hedonist chuckled, swallowing the bite he was chewing on. "Well," he shook his head. "I..." he smiled wistfully, closing both hands around the cup. "Not directly. Only expected you to..."

"Trash your ass?"

"That's one way to put it." He sat back on the couch with his legs pulled up.

"Y'know I could still do that?" Downfall smiled mischievously.

The Hedonist smiled back in the same manner. "I'm aware. But you haven't yet, so I presume you thought a bit about my words."

"I have."

"And?"

"I decided not to repeat them to you. Not a chance I let you pretend you didn't forget what you said." Her smile grew more smug as the marble-skinned hero wrinkled his nose ever so slightly in response.

"Very rude, even by your standards," Hedonist said, nibbling on some pretzels.

Downfall harrumphed, the smirk only leaving her lips the moment she uttered her next words:

"Well, do you remember?"

Hedonist nodded. "As drunk as I've apparently gotten, I do." He frowned softly, rubbing his face. "I do care for the students. Their safety, their welfare, but..."

"But what? If you're torn between Speck and Savior now..."

"A bit. I mean..." he took a long breath, "I told you I never had to face this situation before. I understand how wrong it is that that has even come to pass. I... I want to do better."

"The first intelligent words I hear from you."

Hedonist quirked a brow at her. "You're very rude."

"How are you surprised? But banter aside. If you want to do better, that's a start in the right direction."

"I am at a loss as to how to proceed. What happened happened. I can't undo the past..."

"And you think people don't know that?"

A heavy sigh. "You're right, but..."

"But what?"

For a long moment there was silence, only cut by the muffled sounds from the world outside the window.

"We both know there's a storm brewing, don't we?" The Hedonist ultimately said. "If you're with Prestige now..."

"You should stop talking to me?"

"...I should," he took a deep breath. "But... I don't want to." Shaking his head almost violently he down the coffee, coughing a little.

"Heh, if you choke now, that'd be the easiest solution to the matter."

Hedonist cast Downfall a nasty look, nose wrinkled. "Rude."

Downfall just leaned back with a smug grin. "Alright, Mrs Robinson,..."

"Really now?" putting the cup down the marble-skinned hero shook his head. "I know what I did. McCormick might think I don't, and, truth be told, I can't blame her. But I do care for the students. To be honest, I might care for them more..." he noticed Downfall's quirked brow, "No, not like that. I told you. I care for them more than some of my students at Savior. The kids at Speck... There's something to them that," Hedonist laid his head back, looking for the right words. "I can't really name it. Something that ..."

"I know what you mean," Downfall murmured.

"Do you know how in books and movies there's this moment were this one character finds they started to care, much to their dismay? That happened."

Downfall snorted, "Listen here, Bernini, that's not a bad thing."

"I know, but..." another sigh. "As I said, I know I can not undo the past. But can I build a future?"

There was no response. Downfall just looked at him. Her arms crossed, the chin raised in challenge. Hedonist furrowed his brow in thought.

"Of course I can," he declared, sitting up straight and rolling his shoulders. "I made a mistake. A grave mistake. But I would be a fool to not learn from it. I wouldn't be who I am today had I never learned from my other mistakes. Not that there were many," he puffed his chest a little. "The students trust in me and God knows I won't let that trust be misplaced. I can't undo what happened, but I can... will do better," a wistful smile crossed his lips and he looked at Downfall. "Thank you."

"What for? For not punching your face in?"

"Oh, you know you couldn't," he grinned, leaning back as if to present himself, then smiled unexpectedly softly, "But no. For setting my head straight. Truth is, I haven't felt this much like myself in... years."

With a dramatic shrug Downfall rose. "Just make sure you stay yourself." She picked up his clothes and threw them over. "Cause I tell you something. If I hear that shit happens again..."

"No one will find my remains," Hedonist frowned, catching his clothes without even looking. "I know."

"Yeah. And I'm sure McCormick would be keen to lend a hand," Downfall grinned at him and pointed a thumb over her shoulder. "Look. If you want to take a shower, you saw where the bathroom is."

The Hedonist rose with a nod, and about half and hour passed.

 

"You're being uncharacteristically kind," was his first comment as he returned to the living room, buttoning his double-breasted jacket.

"And you're uncharacteristically sympathetic," Downfall countered, drinking coffee by the window.

With long steps the Hedonist stepped next to her, looking out onto the streets below.

"Again, thank you."

"Eh, don't say thanks till it's over. You have a long road ahead of you, Hedonist."

"I know. Still, I thank you. For not sugarcoating things."

"Hah, there are people who'd think me listening to you would be sugarcoating by my standards."

Hedonist chuckled. "I know. Under other circumstances I'd be one of them."

Downfall flashed him a smirk, "Whaddaya know, me too."

 

For a moment they stood there, before both chuckled softly.

"Well, guess I should speak to McCormick again. Get some details ironed out," the Hedonist turned and strolled towards the door, picking up his coat.

"Hedonist?" Downfall called, just as he was slipping the garment over his shoulders.

"Yes?"

"Good luck. I think you can do better. And Happy Holidays." Downfall met him at the door.

"Thank you. Same to you."

 

"And hey, if you find yourself falling back into that shit behavior," Downfall said once he was out on the corridor. "Ask yourself if your heart's made of stone," she gave a last curt nod and closed the door.

 

Hedonist smiled lopsided for a moment. "You can answer that better than I," he whispered, turning away from the door a little wistfully, hoping the turned-up collar of his coat would be enough to hide the faint rose-golden shimmer on his cheeks.

 ---

“Hey!”

The Hedonist had barely stepped out onto the sidewalk, when Downfall’s voice from above called him to attention.

He stopped and turned, admittedly surprised.

Downfall leaned in her open window, grinning down.

"What's your plan for the holidays? ‘Side from the important bits?" She called down.

Hedonist cocked his head. And grinned:
"I take it you're asking me to spend them with you?"
Downfall picked up snow from her windowsill, throwing it his way. He sidestepped it.

"Not if you be like this" Downfall huffed.


Nevertheless she nodded him to come back up.
Hedonist chuckled, and headed back into the building, not caring anymore about the shimmer he felt spreading.

 

Fin