A Familiar Dance


gideon_icon.gif nicole3_icon.gif

Scene Title A Familiar Dance
Synopsis The intervening years have been kind to a pair of old rivals, who ruminate on the past and — more importantly — the shape of the future.
Date October 17, 2020

Arts and Entertainment District

On the boardwalks of the art district down through the avenues there is no shortage of eateries and bars; they pop in and out of fashion even now, in the early days of Sheepshead Bay finally finding its footing. A few manage to keep hooks in. The ones with money, or the ones who become lucky with patronage.

Though he himself claims over several such places in the Safe Zone already — Gideon d'Sarthe nonetheless explores what passes as competition on a regular basis. He doesn't always buy them out. He doesn't always ruin them. It's healthy for there to be variety. The open-armed and smiling Saint of Staten Island may be held aloft by the other rich, but he never forgets where he began.

In a place much like this one. Washing dishes.

He tips generously.

The catfish logo of Flathead fits the seafood-centric menu, while the sunny splashes of color in the decor are fitting for the twist of the American South. It's a popular location for those seeking out something with a little more finery than a fish fry hole-in-the-wall. Not a family-frequented place, but one with a subdued atmosphere and a clientele of all ages, couples, quiet parties. The deck is a touch louder, thanks to the riverside, yet even there, there seems to be an unspoken accord of behavioral standards.

Especially with the presence of an armed bodyguard lingering on the deck; any others are less obvious. For the sake of one gray-haired man, sitting alone, staring out over the water, red wine yet untouched.

“You look like you could use some company.”

The woman’s voice is not entirely unfamiliar to him, even before he turns to look at who’s brave enough to make their approach and address him directly. Her form is familiar, too, clad in a cocktail dress of green velvet. Despite the early fall chill in the air, she doesn’t wear anything over her spaghetti-strap clad shoulders, doing nothing to hide the scars from the war, and those more recent. A fading bullet hole in her left shoulder, surgical scars across her right collarbone, and the more recent evidence of the stab wound and stitches on her back from only months ago.

It should come as very little surprise to him that it’s the late Daniel Linderman’s personal assistant, Nicole Nichols — Miller these days — who has the temerity to make such an observation uninvited. She waits until he meets her gaze before she smiles. “Hello, Gideon.” Her own gaze dips only long enough to note the empty chair at his table. May I? She seems entirely unperturbed by the presence of his little entourage. Then again, that probably feels familiar to her, too.

Those various bodies looking out for Mr. d'Sarthe are readied until he lazily lifts a hand, then his raises his chin and angles around to affix flinty blues on Nicole Miller. Not many people would be so bold as to waltz up, and lo and behold, the bold. His posture remains as it is, leant back with one wrist glued to the top of the glass table.

Steel in his eyes fades only just, cooling into an observational stare which accompanies the faint twitches of the sides of his mouth. A smile, sooner than later, brushing the crow's feet at his eyes. Hardly a need to gesture, as Gideon opens a hand out to sweep it towards the empty seat; as it moves back to him, his palm idly smooths down the trim of silvery, well-kept beard. Closeness shows the subtle patterning along the threads of his dark shirt, sleeves tucked up and a matching blazer hanging loosely on the third chair.

"It's been a long time, hasn't it…?" Still seated in the way of an old tiger, unbothered by the intercession, another slim, sharper smile crosses Gideon's features. A soft laugh, passive appraisal, the gravel of his voice bookends, "War looks lovely on you, chere."

Thank you.” Were she still in possession of her ability, Nicole might let the light in her eyes flare. However, she has no such theatrics at her disposal. The only light in her eyes is what shows naturally from her moods, and so her expression remains placid as she takes her seat. “It’s been a very long time,” she agrees with an easy lift to her brows.

“I’d ask how you’ve been…” There’s a quiet chuckle, a tilt of her head to one side and a lift of that shoulder. “But I can see very well how the years have treated you.” No Civellas to contend with. The Triad has been all but eradicated, perhaps even folded into his own organization. Without Linderman to provide a balance of power, d’Sarthe is top dog in New York City. Even Nicole has to give a grudging respect for that. He’s worked for it.

“You practically own Staten Island these days. That’s impressive.”

"It is not as simple as that, but thank you." The woman's past aside, her words pull a small laugh from his chest. Amusement colors him going forward. "I know the opportunity to change lives when I see one. It will be a long process for the island, I'm sure you already know that much." It's a shithole. It will take time to put that paint and veneer up. "I don't have to sell you my pitch, do I?"

"The years have been kind because I was smart enough to get out." One silvery brow arches higher at Nicole. "Shame that more didn't take the hint."

Gideon finally seems interested enough in his wine to pick it up, allowing it to linger a moment before he carefully takes a small draw from it, patiently sitting with the taste on his tongue.

“It never is.” As simple as that. “But you’re welcome.” Nicole is surprised at the ease with which she’s slipped into this old skin of hers. The old role. This is a meeting that could easily have taken place ten years ago, when he first made his debut on this stage. She offers an understanding smile regarding his pitch. “Not at all. I see the value in the revitalization. It’s admirable even.”

Even if she sees it as building his bespoke empire.

He arches a brow and she laughs easily. “Really?” She knows what he meant, but she can’t help but tease. “From where I’m sitting, it looks like you’re the only one still left in the game.” A lift of her hand and a wiggle of her fingers is meant to summon a member of the waitstaff. The elbow of her other arm props on the table’s surface, her chin resting lightly on the backs of her fingers. Nicole leans in slightly, one corner of her mouth turned up. “What am I drinking tonight, Gideon?”

Revitalization helps more than one angle; the investment is for years to come. Currently, however, the edge that comes with pulling entire communities out of the mud is hard to beat. For every malcontent on Staten, there are nine more who side with his work, even if not him.

Nicole, as she goes about being her charming self, earns a more endeared expression from d'Sarthe; her efforts to be companionable aren't entirely in vain. This is a lifetime apart from the days before even the first bomb. When the table's hostess makes her way over, Gideon takes his cues from his guest and suggests something— likely confirmed in turn. Expensive, for the place, though not even close to the cost of finer things they once saw flowing at more lavish locations.

There's a reason he is here, and not elsewhere, somewhere that the gears are greased with gold. Gideon is not always Money. He knows where he came from.

"While I truly appreciate the company," glass down, blue eyes crinkle with what passes as mirth, "I can't help but wonder why I'm so blessed." There's always something, and yet — "If this is a social call, perfect! I would love dearly to catch up."

"If you're here to shake me down for something, though— " Which, in the past was a concern, "I'll have to pass." His hand lifts in an additional, dismissive wave. "I'm sure you understand."

In the end, a roundabout way of offering an olive branch. Bygones, bygones. The sidestepping conversation of a more warfarin nature.

The drink order is met with a lift of brows and an approving curve of her mouth. She confirms the selection and is content to wait for it to arrive, whiling away the time with their chatter. She didn’t come from money, either.

“Do I look like a shakedown artist to you, Gideon? You wound me.” Nicole presses her hand to her chest, leaning back with mock offense. She’s playful tonight. Having fun. Which is a shock even to her, considering she spent years hating him for the opposition he ran. The way he tried to ruin Linderman.

But time and distance, as he’s noted himself, have seen most of the bad blood washed away. “You see, I’m actually curious about what you’ve been up to.” Nicole smiles. “No tricks, no games, no blackmail schemes.” Her eyes get a little big on that last note. They can joke about old times, can’t they? “But we don’t have to play coy with one another either, do we? We both know where we come from.”

There’s a challenge in her eyes there, almost. Something like steeliness, but without any animosity. Also, an invitation.

When her drink arrives, Nicole is quick with a murmured thank you. They may not be in one of the finest establishments in New York, but people here know who he is. They don’t leave him — or his guest — waiting. “Leave the bottle,” she directs after her wine has been poured. “I hope to be here a while.”

"We'll see." For all that the response is nebulous, Gideon still adopts a wry little smile, hands linking on the tabletop and shoulders leant forward. Curiosity settles in rather than leaves, the indolent sort of energy given by their surroundings an addition to the lack of real animosity.

"Why, I think I might actually believe you." Shocking, isn't it? Nicole's candidness has so far worked in her favor, and he knows it. She was never exactly the type to get outwardly hostile in this setting, and it stands to reason she may still remember her dance moves. Blue eyes searching of hers before flitting away, Gideon's posture loosens by a margin; his mouth tightens to one side under the veil of his beard.

"You made yourself quite the reputation. A war hero, then SESA," He genuinely sounds impressed by her impetus. She never lacked it, but it so often went unacknowledged. "And now you're moving up again," d'Sarthe raises both brows, though his features remain fixed on the riverside rather than the woman sitting with him. "Or so I've heard."

“Somebody had to stay and fight. Reclaim the country so you could have all this opportunity to capitalize on,” Nicole reasons with a good-natured grin, lifting her glass for a taste. She mulls it over for a moment, eyes lidding until she pronounces judgement with a quiet hum of appreciation. “You have excellent tastes,” she commends as she lifts her gaze back to him, watching him watch the riverfront.

Some silence passes between them, a companionable sort of thing. Like the two of them might be old friends, rather than former rivals. An audible intake of breath signals the end of that silence after a minute or two has gone by. “You know,” Nicole muses thoughtfully, “I was always surprised — and, admittedly, a little insulted — that you never tried to poach me from Daniel.”

"I waged my own battles, I assure you." He may not have the scars — that she can see — yet there is something about his tone which speaks with something earnest. The silence after is more than welcome; even after Nicole breaks it, there is a moment more where Gideon frowns at the river before turning fully to her.

"You wouldn't have come, would you?" d'Sarthe laughs, a rasp in his throat and hand at the wineglass. "Daniel had you loyal, I'd be surprised if you did." Tongue moves over the inside of cheek before he takes a drink, brows meeting in a thoughtful crease.

"I can't help but wonder what you really thought —" Gideon's free hand raps fingers against the edge of the table, voice steady. "Think — about what went on between Daniel and I. Everyone already knows the end of the story, don't they…?"

Teeth and claws.

Nicole nods her head, granting that, yes, everyone fights their own battles. Even if his didn’t leave him with visible marks the way hers did. There’s so many more scars that no one will ever be able to see. On her soul and her heart. “Forgive me,” she murmurs. This isn’t a contest, after all.

She chuckles quietly at his supposition. “You know, actually? I would have. You managed to turn my friends. Zarek and Logan were both telling me it was time to abandon ship. And you’re right, I would have stayed and gone down with it.” For the most part, she did. If she hadn’t abruptly disappeared just before the events that precipitated the second civil war, she’d likely have been caught up in the same net that Muldoon had been when the Albany trials commenced. Linderman’s right hand did not fare well, and thinking on him always reminds Nicole just how lucky she is. “If he hadn’t gotten so sick… You could’ve had me.”

But he asks what she thought, what she really thought, and she responds first by taking a drink. Leaning back in her seat, she crosses one leg over the other and frowns thoughtfully. “It wasn’t so much, I realize now, that you were stealing from Daniel what I thought was rightfully his,” Nicole admits, swirling her glass gently. “It was that you were stealing what I had worked so hard to maintain. The Linderman Group was supposed to be my inheritance. My legacy.”

When did she begin to feel that way? Nicole certainly didn’t think that’s how she felt at the time. Now, however…

“I felt like you stole that all from me. You and I should have been having this conversation, levelling thinly veiled threats at one another. We should have been fighting for territory.” Nicole laughs, amused by the thought of running this town. Or at least a portion of it. “But… When you convinced my colleagues to turn against Daniel and support you instead… All of that was lost to me.”

There’s no bitterness toward him, however. “Daniel stole from me, too,” she admits easily. “I lost my sister because of him.” If Linderman hadn’t manipulated her into believing Colette had been killed in the Midtown explosion in 2006, she wouldn’t have let her entire history be rewritten — forgotten — to make sure his agenda was served. Colette wouldn’t have gotten lost inside the system. Wouldn’t have wound up adopted by her policeman father. Wouldn’t have gotten mixed up in freedom fighting. Wouldn’t have slipped free of her sister’s grasp. In many ways, Nicole never got her baby sister back.

One corner of her mouth tugs upward in a lopsided smirk. “So, I owe you a debt of gratitude, Gideon. Without you, I wouldn’t be where I am today.” If things had turned out differently, not quite like her grand notions of inheriting the keys to Linderman’s kingdom, maybe she’d be managing d’Sarthe’s new business enterprise on Staten Island. She’d managed Linderman’s restaurant after all. His nightclub wouldn’t be such a stretch.

“I gave the best years of my youth to Daniel for what?” Nicole shakes her head. “I hated you for a very long time. But you were not my enemy.” It had been the devil she’d known all along. The years have given her clarity on that fact, and Linderman isn’t alive to defend himself to his former assistant. “So if you asked me, yes, you could have convinced me to walk away from him.”

Her legacy. Big words. Gideon's features remain largely impassive, eyes scanning the shape of his thumb against the stem of the wineglass. Bigger feelings. No wonder she'd been the way she was. It is unsurprising, but also — a touch otherwise.

The rest, he is patient for, not taking his furrowed look from the curl of his fingers, the spark a distant one as he listens. Nicole's gratitude does cause him to look up once more, an honest moment of bemusement before she explains.

"Coming around is better late than never." Gravel in his voice, Gideon clears his throat, straightening in his seat and looking the younger woman over with a more critical eye. Not just the changes of her face, the visible scars as well. "I missed my window. 'C'est la vie. From what I hear you are well suited to your role today, so don't worry, I'm not going to try." A breath of air escapes in a small laugh, wine lifting.

"There are still a lot of people who would love to see me blunder. They always come up disappointed." Somehow. "Contrary to popular belief… I do have the interests of others in mind–" Both brows raise, Gideon taking on a more advisory tone. Which others, he fails to say. "–and I know that you do too, at least… in the end." d'Sarthe said he wouldn't try, and yet here they are, with his searching for something — someone — to connect himself to.

"It's something that I believe Daniel lacked… in the later years, moreso. I do what I must. He hoarded his privilege, high in that ivory fucking tower." The growl comes from nowhere and is gone just as quickly.

The notion that he might have some regrets about having missed his window of opportunity to recruit her is a gratifying one. “I’d be flattered if you did.” Try to woo her away from her new career path.

Even a year ago, that dig at Daniel would have gotten under her skin. Now, though? Nicole shrugs her scarred shoulders. “I’m not sure what motivated him anymore. I always felt like we were keeping something at bay. I thought it had been you, but… These days, I’m not so sure what it was, really.”

Nicole takes another drink from her glass and lets her gaze settle on him, casual. “You are fiercely intelligent, Gideon. And I do believe you think of others before you act.” She shifts in her seat, setting the glass aside and leaning forward, interest keen in her eyes. “So, I’m curious — purely for personal reasons and nothing to do with my professional capacities — what are your thoughts on this presidential race?”

"Something in his own head. I think that those last few years… perhaps he was fighting ghosts by then." Distance and memory flickers in and out of his expression, the lines of age seeming to deepen without the shift of light. "Personal reasons. I'm sure." Amusement plain, a smile twists itself onto his mouth in the wake of his drawl.

Gideon arches a look up as the hostess drifts into view, polite in her inquiry to him on whether or not he's decided to have a menu, or stick to the wine list. It sounds as if he was clear on his purpose to decompress before anything further, and before his guest

— all he'd wanted was to have a glass of wine and soak in something familiar. Now, however, he smiles the entire way to his eyes and accepts the offered leaflet; the swap between moods is stark, and as soon as the waitress steps away the smile drops, disappearing into the mask of silver beard.

"If you would like to stay and join me, I would be flattered." Despite the shifts, it sounds earnest; he rests one toughened hand on the leaflet, keeping it in repose. "Your question is a complicated one, isn't it? Digging right in, as always. I'll tell you the same as I tell others… None of them are perfect, not for me." But. "It does not mean that my opinion of any of them lies solely on me. I have family, employees, fellow man to worry about." Gideon's dryness moves into a similarly withered laugh.

Nicole mulls over Gideon’s thoughts on Linderman’s motivations. His ghosts. He could very well be right in that assessment. Distance and memory sometimes distort the past as much as clarify it. Nicole isn’t always sure what to believe anymore.

She falls silent when the hostess returns, but she returns the look of Gideon’s amusement with her own brand of warmth. They aren’t peers, precisely. They never have been, but the footing is somehow more equal these days all the same.

“Of course,” Nicole murmurs in acceptance of the invitation to stay and join her old rival for dinner. “I’d be delighted.” Her brows lift with polite interest when he begins to answer her question, but only to explain his own reasoning, not to actually express his preferred candidate.

But her patience is not yet worn thin in the least. “Commendable,” she responds with honest sentiment. “With that in mind then, who do you think best addresses the needs of the people you worry about?”

Momentary silence comes with the flip of the menu leaflet flipped over and slid to Nicole. Gideon appears to think more on the question than most would deem necessary, but even now, in a post-mass media world, his considerations are just as important.

"You really do want to know, don't you?" And as much as he dislikes the hustle, her pressures bring a twinkle to his eye. It's just like old times, one supposes. "Expecting you to let go of politics in favor of career and family, too much to ask. Like the adage of leopards and spots." d'Sarthe, still, does not seem particularly bothered. It comes off as— fascinating, apparently, to him.

"Off the record, then. Hesser's policies on personal freedoms and small government are wonderful in concept. For a man like me, especially." Gray brows arch up, a hand at his chest as he surveys Nicole's reactions. His voice stays at smoke and gravel, keeping the conversation subdued. "Proof of concept for all states… so much more difficult. But, for a man with a running mate like Dean attempting to move up in the world— actions speak louder than words.

"I know Dean for what he is, and he'd be a perfect Cheney. I would not have Hesser as Commander-in-Chief. High Cabinet, perhaps. In a perfect world, I'd be seeing a Harding-Baqri ticket. But the world isn't perfect, if that's even in the cards…"

He very obviously leaves Frederick Medina's name off of his tongue. Perhaps even pointedly.

The menu is accepted with a quiet hum of thanks. While he considers his answer, she considers her dinner options. When he asks that first question, her eyes lift from the leaflet and meet his own. “I do,” she entreats with a smile. And he’s right about her, of course. The political realm is one she can’t just leave well enough alone.

“On paper,” Nicole agrees, “Hesser would look very good for someone like you. But we both know he’s a pawn, and Dean is in control of the board.” Nicole rolls her eyes, “And he’s not nearly so good at chess as he thinks he is.” The menu is set down and slid to the middle of the table so as to indicate they’ve both decided what to order. “He’s a war profiteer anyway. And we’ve discovered war is very bad for business here in New York.” She expects that at least resonates with Gideon.

There’s a breath of laughter when he lays out his ideal ticket. “You would take Medina’s running mate?” Nicole tips her head to one side with a wry smile. “No, that tracks. I know you and Mr. Baqri go way back.” Kiran Baqri in any position of power within the government would be extremely hazardous to Nicole’s career, and her health.

“I suppose…” Nicole lifts her glass for a sip and takes a moment to appreciate the flavor again. “All this would explain why you’ve been donating to Harding’s campaign.”

"I also happen to have a thing against drones." Gideon adds, murmured in agreement against Dean. It's lingering on a polite venom, distasteful and simmering behind light eyes.

"Me? Hah, no…" The poisonous look dissipates somewhat under a feigned incredulousness. "I encourage a healthy respect for civil rights— so it wouldn't shock me to see those working for me having opinions either way. Civil engagement is important." Nicole gets a smile there, small though it is. "My personal expenses never go to public affairs."

That's one way of putting it.

"Baqri is where he is so that Medina looks palatable to middle-ground voters. The people who were caught in between…" Hand stroking down his beard, Gideon watches far away shapes on the river, mouth pressed to a fine line. "It would do the same if he were to work with any of them, to be frank. Dowe is… too much fire too soon. The picks reflect more on the candidate than policy, you know that."

“I do,” Nicole admits readily. “Dowe speaks to a desire to keep bad actors in check, I feel. Given she turned on the Department of Evolved Affairs when it would have been simple enough for her to keep her mouth shut…” She shrugs. “But that’s just my take on it. It’s the argument I would have put forth if I had suggested her.”

She also made an argument for Nathan Petrelli back when Allen Rickham was to take the presidency.

“Harding’s the right choice for the current climate.” Change her mind. “The bigots will hate him, and there’s likely to be more unrest before everything is said and done, but he’d be a step in the right direction.”

This all feels like slipping into an old, comfortable pair of shoes. Nicole shakes her head with a small shrug of her shoulders. “I hope I’m not boring you with all of this. I have to admit, it’s nice to reconnect with someone so like-minded.” Her brows lift, encouraging him to respond candidly. “I hope you feel the same.”

"You're not boring me at all." Gideon's quick response says as much — if he had felt inconvenienced she wouldn't have been invited to stay. "A portion better than sitting here with my own thoughts. I get enough time for that…"

Nicole can guess they must be heavier than 'which candidate do you like'; it's not surprising that d'Sarthe takes the chance.

"Reconnect is an interesting way to put it, don't you think?" His laugh manages to escape the vicinity of the table proper, low and contemplating. "I'm certain many of your underlings at SESA have similar tastes. That you find the opportunity to speak with me says more about you than your politics…"

"Don't tell me that you miss this?" Gideon's expression takes on a delicate kind of incredulousness. "This dance. Or is it just me, chere?" Bringing back that passing thrill of her yesterdays.

“Oh, the Hatch Act keeps us pretty quiet, actually,” Nicole admits with a shrug. Nobody with half a brain talks politics at work. She saves that for her brunches with Don. But… it means Gideon isn’t wrong. She does have an outlet for the political discourse that she craves. But knowing his thoughts on those matters… Well, that means something to her.

Instead, she grins and lifts her brows briefly. “You make such a lovely dance partner, Gideon. How could I resist this opportunity?” This conversation, his presence, it stirs something deep inside of her that she thought she had left behind long ago when Daniel Linderman died. When she had her baby and had gone to war. “So it’s a little bit of both.”

When the server returns to take their orders, Nicole allows her dining partner to go first, then gives her own order before refreshing their wine. This is going swimmingly. Might as well enjoy it.

“You must miss having a worthy rival,” Nicole posits once they’ve been left to themselves again. “And please don’t mistake that comment as a suggestion that I have designs on becoming one.” She laughs softly. “I’ve no intention of taking up that role.” There’s a light in her eyes then, interest sparked. “Tell me, old friend, what does this interaction say about me?”

Gideon seems unsurprised that it's a little of both; hearing her say it carries a certain definition alongside. It shows a lot more about her than it will him— not necessarily in a bad light. Once the server is gone and Nicole shoots a part of his own question back, he can't help but raise his brows and entertain a smiling laugh, mild though it is.

"It says that SESA isn't quite filling all of those old cravings. Not that your life is lacking thrill." He knows that far better than some would say he ought to. "Fulfillment?" Gideon quietly searches over the word, a hand smoothing the edges of his jawline. "Whatever the case, I don't profess to be a psychologist, but I know what desire looks like."

"My list of peers is long, and I don't lack for those. We all have a place that we've chosen, though, and these days crossing the lines of territory is a touch more… nuanced, hm? It's not like it used to be." d'Sarthe bookends his concerns with a laugh, shaking his head. "Or am I just getting old?"

“Not old, no. You’re a silver fox, as the kids say.” Edging toward thirty-nine, Nicole apparently no longer counts herself among the youth. With twenty-six years of age between them, she doesn’t seem to think that’s so much separation. “The landscape has changed. The rules of play are different. It’s not like Daniel’s reign. Like the last time you and I danced.” Her head dips slightly at that, ceding that his talent was the greater.

“There is something to be said about desire, isn’t there?” There’s much to be desired in Nicole’s life right now. To explain it would take all evening, and be far more personal than either of them would want to be. Besides, she knows he’s better informed than any other old acquaintance she might bump into. He’s Gideon d’Sarthe. It’s his business to know about the big events. Even the ones he ought not to be aware of.

“My ambitions aren’t paying off the way I hoped,” she says with a dismissive wave of her hand. As if that wouldn’t have a profound effect on someone as driven as Gideon knows Nicole to be. “But I’m nothing if not patient.” Given that her resume consists of more than a decade spent with the Linderman Group and nearing as long now with SESA, patience and loyalty are not virtues Nicole is lacking.

It seems that Mister d'Sarthe has no real input on Nicole's titling of his age; he simply presses his mouth into a tight smile.

"I am fortunate to have what I have. What I still have." The world didn't come out unscathed, after all. America the superpower in a civil war? Please. "But like you I have the patience. Less the time, given the silver." Gideon runs the back of a knuckle against the edge of his jawline, amused as his words pass.

"Ambitions change. I'm sure yours have, incredibly too. The ones you had before…" He pauses, searching for a thought, put mildly, "Even if they never paid dividends, you've always got more to invest. What do you have your heart set on these days?" A laugh, small but hearty, harboring a joke somewhere within. "Director? Secretary of something up on Capitol Hill?"

Now it’s Nicole’s turn to wear a tight smile. “Well, when Ray—” She catches herself, fingers splaying out in front of her briefly while she means to begin again. “When President Praeger didn’t offer me anything, I figured that ship had sailed.” There’s a moment where he can see the unhappiness and the pain this is to her. “Everybody involved knows I have too many skeletons in my closet to pull that off.”

Speaking of previous ambitions.

“I imagine I’ll be spinning my wheels from here on. Not much upward mobility for someone like me.” She lifts her drink as if to toast the stagnancy of her career. “Assistant to the Director. How prestigious.”

"Oh, I can see a little momentum still… Expansion is expansion, you know?" Gideon splits a smile before lifting his own drink to casually match hers. "That's why I'm here."

"I can see the potential here, just like I see it in you." Perhaps he always has, as his tone suggests. Both brows lift before he drinks that toast, "Skeletons and all."

“I appreciate you saying so,” Nicole responds with no lack of sincerity. Her smile relaxes by some degrees. “That means a lot to me coming from you, Gideon.”

That tightness returns, especially around her eyes. “I did the silly thing, I’m afraid, and married for love. A man sentenced at Albany — who served his time, mind you — for having fallen in with the Commonwealth Institute.” She lifts her brows. More the fool me. “I will never be promoted higher than I am now. In the game of politics, I am one hell of a hard sell.” There’s that pain again. “I wouldn’t recommend someone with my background to any of my candidates either. My status as a war hero,” spoken like she hates to be called such, “and recipient of a Medal of Valor can only carry me so far.

“And this is it.” The hand holding her drink gestures to encompass the nebulous this. “Final stop. All in all, not too bad for a kid from Boston who got her start fetching coffee, I suppose.”

"Marrying for love, now that's a fool's errand. I guess I was a fool once too." For her, a lingering look as he leans back in his chair, eyes finally shifting to study the placement of his skulking entourage.

"We all start somewhere. Be it personal assistant or dishwasher. If this is your final stop, then you're right. Not bad, for a kid out of Boston. You know your worth."

“Well, in that I hope you feel you’re at least in good company.” Nicole will drink to that, too. Her eyes follow the path of Gideon’s, newfound mirth finally banishing some of her gloom. “They don’t appreciate me being here very much, do they?” She’s not expecting an answer to that. Certainly not a serious one.

“I know I’m worth this, but also more than this.” But there’s no pain in that admission. That stands on its own as a fact, regardless of where she stands along the pathway of her career goals. “I should’ve been the Secretary of State,” Nicole jests, but may not actually be kidding. “Catherine’s mother would have been so proud of her.” She grins and sets aside her newly emptied glass. “I hope my father’s rolling in his grave.”

One of those skeletons is a very literal one.

Nicole leans forward then, crossing her wrists over her knee as she does. “I know it’s terribly forward of me, but would you perhaps consider assisting me in a small matter?” There’s a secret amusement in her eyes, like they’re both in on the same joke. “Maybe for old time’s sake?”

Even if they don't, the airs of the boss say 'fuck 'em'. Who are they to argue? There are few who would. It's difficult to tell his opinion on the Chesterfields themselves, though those eyes of his lighten here and there. Perhaps he agrees.

"I'm sure he is." Rolling. Grave. Father. "Hah," Gideon's gravel takes on an entertained quality, curious as he humors Nicole. "Asking me a favor, hm? Was this your plan?" It's clearly teasing — right? His laugh is heavier this time, more solid and real, up from his chest. "What would Daniel think? Scandalous.

"Let me hear it, and we'll see."

Nicole chuckles quietly, accepting the teasing for what it is. “I know it took me a long, long time to come around, but loyalty to a dead man’s a bit foolish, don’t you think? It might be different if he had a legacy still standing, but…” There is nothing left of Linderman’s empire. That she and John Logan escaped prosecution (and execution — may James Muldoon rest in peace) is good fortune that perhaps neither of them deserved. They certainly weren’t foolish enough to try and rebuild.

That d’Sarthe is willing to entertain her request isn’t so much a surprise, but it’s pleasant at any rate. “I’m looking for something blue. I could go my usual contacts, but I have no guarantee I won’t just be given something colored with Windex.” Nicole flourishes one of her hands out in front of her in an expansive sweep, a nod of her head. “And who better to trust on this matter than you?

This is a potentially dangerous ask for her, but Nicole relies on the notion that to tip off her employer would be a mutually assured destruction sort of scenario. “I’ll pay, of course. I’m not asking for a gift.”

It's a shakedown, eventually speaking. Gideon hates it when part of him is right, though he refrains from letting it show in this case. Normally…

"I didn't take you for the type these days," he soon responds, taking a longer drink before recentering himself on his seat to properly face her rather than the view of the bay. Despite the flatter tone he uses, there remains a lick of humor. Running fingers over his hair, a derisive little sound of amusement comes from the back of his throat.

"It's not a small price, but you know that." Gideon rests both hands on the table, fingers linking with a significant tension. "I can put you in touch with someone who can help you with what you want."

“Would you believe I’m asking for a friend?” Nicole asks with a sly grin. “It’s not for me. Never been one for needles if I can help it.” She can’t help but note the shift in his demeanor. “Please don’t misunderstand me, Gideon, I didn’t come here for this purpose. I approached you solely to see if we could find a connection after all this time. This favor is just that, a favor. If you don’t want to grant it, I’ll find another source and this will sour nothing on my part.”

It’s like sitting at the negotiating table all over again. Not that the two of them ever met for such purposes. Linderman and d’Sarthe didn’t negotiate, they took from one another and they fought to maintain or expand their borders. All while upholding the thin façade of a genial relationship in public.

“But if you mean it… If you want to help me, I will be grateful.” And while she hopes that by offering a fair market rate for what she’s requesting she won’t be owing a favor in return, Nicole isn’t so naïve. “I just need to make sure the product is safe — well, as safe as it can be — and I trust you will direct me to someone who won’t screw me. I’m not supplying to junkies. I’m not looking to make my own profit on this. This should be a one and done.”

Nicole tips her head to one side, fixing Gideon with a look that’s entirely guileless and utters the most important word:


"I'll take your word for it…" Gideon murmurs in return to the first placating question. A friend. Sure. He folds his hands on the table and leans forward to give her his undivided attention. Nicole's explanation and subsequent detailing of her requests comes and goes, meeting an impassiveness that speaks most to d'Sarthe's ability to absorb.

"It's expensive to be an addict these days." One brow raises, "Not that I endorse rampant drug use. Everyone has a vice, though, and some worse than others. Safety means much to me, whatever quirks someone may have.

"May as well be smart about it, hm?" Gideon finally reaches back with one arm to retrieve a sleek phone from the pocket of his suit coat on the back of his chair. "One and done. I will hold you to that, Nicole." The growl of her name is both familiar and drawing— a register which begs her to heed him. "If there happens to be a next time, I'll expect more than a cherry on top."

Deal? Deal.

The back of one finger passes underneath Nicole’s nose briefly, sating an itch. There’s a desire to lounge back in her seat now that she appears she’ll get what she wants, but this isn’t a conversation with a small fry or even a big fish. Showing deference to Gideon is more than just courtesy, it’s self-preservation. And so she holds her posture, but she does smile for him.

“Of all the people you could be seated across from, that could be having this conversation with you, who would understand these conditions better than I?” Again, there’s that little amusement. Not at his expense by any means, not even in the neighborhood of suggesting it, but it’s the delight of sharing the cipher of what hides between the lines. The things they don’t say that have even more import than the things that they do.

While he handles his phone, she plucks up a pen and scrawls a number on a napkin, sliding it across to his side of the table. “For you. My direct line.” As in not to hand over to whatever contact he’s about to facilitate a meeting with. It’s perhaps a little bit like agreeing that she may in fact owe more than just the cherry atop the sundae for this one. “Because I’m hoping maybe we won’t be strangers.”

Her reminders simply have him smiling, a private joke between the two of them that continues its tiptoe through the conversation. For as long as she remains, at least he'll keep his courtesy that far. Friends is dangerously presumptive, but good terms are not at all; Nicole earned those.

While she scribbles down her personal line, Gideon is jotting something away in a note on his screen, shorthand in his own way of it. Her napkin slides closer as his hand meets hers in the middle. A quick look is all it takes before he tucks it into the pocket along with his phone.

"Not strangers, no… we've gotten too old for those sorts of games, I imagine?" Gideon's features crease in a wider smile than the former few. "I would be glad to keep our working relationship. Ah, here," He cuts himself short, leaning back to regard the approach of waitstaff. "Just in time."

“My thoughts exactly,” Nicole agrees of their inclination toward games at this stage of their lives. Finally feeling the permission to lean back again, her gaze lifts to the server as their dinners are set in front of them. “Lovely,” she murmurs appreciatively, maintaining the façade of what this meeting is until they’ve been left alone again.

“What’s dead is dead,” is a strong statement for someone who looked like she would never allow certain elements of her past to stay buried. Now Nicole raises her wine. “Shall we drink to new beginnings?”

"Good to hear." Nicole's confirmation lifts a minor weight off of Gideon's mind, at least for the time being. In response to her, he cracks a smile that radiates a calm relief, like letting out a breath one has held for far too long.

"To new beginnings."

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