A Memory Of Blood


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Scene Title A Memory Of Blood
Synopsis After her capture by Shedda Dinu, Claudia Zimmerman reunites with Niki and reveals a dark secret.
Date February 13, 2020

Claudia Zimmerman has not blinked for what feels like an eternity.

Illuminated by afternoon light spilling through the windows of her prison-come-apartment, she stares in silent and stoic uncertainty to the setting sun just starting to touch the western horizon. Her face is cast in extremes of light and dark, and the sunlight is reflected on tears wetting her cheeks and smudging her mascara. In one of Claudia’s hands, rests a single penny minted in 1983. It’s turned a dirty green over the decades, but its value is so much more intrinsic than the metal it was minted from.

Swallowing down a lump in her throat, Claudia finally blinks away the tears in her eyes and reaches up with her unladen hand, using one of her nails to carefully swipe tears away from her eyes and to make an attempt at salvaging her eye makeup. Her attention now turns to the man in the room with her, sitting hunched over on the couch opposite of her, his face too cast in extremes of light and dark. There is no light in Claudia’s eyes when her stare meets his. Just contempt.

“What the fuck did you do?” Claudia asks in the most sharp, accusatory tone she can manage.

You son of a bitch.

One Day Later

Praxis Ziggurat
Praxia, California Safe Zone

February 13th
9:38 am

The sound of a doorbell snaps Niki Zimmerman to from a daydream. Water has been running in the sink for a while now, dishes half finished, soap still on her hands, fingers wrinkled from the water. Cartons of takeout from the Taiwanese restaurant on the ground floor litter the counter space beside the sink, wine glasses and an empty bottle too. People here genuinely seem to care about her, want to know who she is as a person, engage her on levels that — after the war — seemed mostly to exist at arm’s length.

The expression on Niki’s muted reflection in the soapy sink’s water can’t tell her otherwise.

The doorbell chimes again.

“Oh, shit,” Niki breathes out in a sigh. “Shit.” She looks around the space and feels a sense of dismay. How did she let it get this bad? Even living alone — even after Tuck left — she was better about keeping her place tidy. “Just a minute!” she calls as she turns off the tap and grabs a dirty tea towel off the counter to wipe her hands on.

She catches her muted reflection in the glossy black door of the microwave and shakes her head reproachfully at herself.

Hastily, she gathers up cartons. After she has an armful, she steps on the mechanism at the bottom of the trash bin to open it and dump the contents. Dusting off her hands, she finds a smudge of — soy sauce? Szechuan? — something dark from the boxes leftover on her cream colored top.

“I’ll be right there!” she shouts before the bell can ring again. She’s stripping off her shirt while she hurries to the bedroom to find another one. Her tongue sticks out between her teeth as she turns back toward the front door, making her way toward it while she buttons up a clean shirt.

She’s not noticed she missed one in the middle when she finally opens the door. “Sorry to keep you waiting, I—”


Claudia Zimmerman stands with her expression twisted into a frustrated line. Her loose black, floral-print blouse doesn’t look like it comes from her usual closet. Her hair isn’t quite as perfectly coiffed and she’s missing half of her jewelry. Several steps behind Claudia, Sabine Hazel keeps a vigilant watch with her hands folded behind her back.

“Hi Niki,” Claudia says with a reluctant smile. “Can we…” she motions with her chin into the apartment.

Niki looks at her mother, stunned, then past her to Sabine with confusion. What the fuck is this, then? “Y- Yeah,” she stammers, stepping back and off to the side to give her mother space to enter her messy space. “If I’d known you were coming…” She’d have cleaned up.

The joke falls a little flat, but there it is. “Can I— What can I get you, Mom?” The question of what she’s doing here and how she got here will almost certainly be answered without her having to ask it out loud. Instead, she tries to make this as normal as possible.

Something’s fucked up. Business as usual, right?

“Unplanned trip,” Claudia says with an irritated look over her shoulder to Sabine. “If you have a Scotch I’ll take it,” she says as she makes her way past her daughter into the apartment, “but at this point I’ll settle for a shot of fucking turpentine.”

Sabine does not enter the apartment but instead lingers in the hall. “I’ll be here when you’re done, Ms. Zimmerman,” she says in her usual, clipped tone. Claudia flippantly waves a hand back at Sabine over her shoulder, leaving Niki to be the one to close the door. Sabine merely nods to Niki, then steps away from the door and walks a few paces down the hall.

“Un-fucking-believable,” Claudia says with a hand placed at her forehead. She turns, looking back at Niki with an assessing stare. “Have they done anything to you? I swear to Christ if he’s harmed so much as a hair on your head I’ll break both his fucking legs and throw him down a well.”

Niki steps back into the doorway to catch Sabine’s gaze and mouths a thank you to her. For bringing Claudia to her, and for giving the mother and daughter some privacy. With a short nod, she shuts the door and turns back into the apartment. “Come on, Mom. You’re too dignified for that,” she asserts as she makes her way around her kitchen counter and to a cabinet that’s been devoted entirely to liquor.

Plucking a glass out of the dishwater to scrub out quickly with a rag, she rinses, does a passable job of drying the exterior, then pours in a generous amount of scotch into the glass before handing it to her mother. “I take it you had to take the long way here,” Niki infers from the state her mother appears to be in. “Are you hurt?”

Niki’s lack of an answer about her treatment makes Claudia bristle. Her eyes wander the room, looking for some sort of obvious listening device, then chides herself for thinking it would be so simple. She moves to close the distance with Niki, but never quite steps into her personal bubble until she takes that glass of scotch.

“The pink-haired young woman that blew up the Yamagato Fellowship building brought me here,” Claudia says with a flat tone before taking an immediate sip of her drink. “Adam sent some of his flunkies to pick me up from the Clocktower. Alice… was working with him all this time. I don’t know for how long, or if Charles even knew. I managed to send Aria away before things escalated. I’m— ” she looks down into her glass, “fine. Physically.”

Claudia doesn’t seem eager to explain what she means by that.

It doesn’t occur to Niki that her lack of an answer isn’t taken as lack of damage until she sees her mother’s face. “I’m fine,” she’s quick to assure, reaching out to rest a hand on Claudia’s shoulder after she no longer has the glass in it. “But maybe we break Alice’s legs and throw her in that well,” she counters. She’s practically a mirror of her mother when she bristles in kind. Knowing that there had been someone in their inner circle that had been in on this the whole time?

“And that would be Val.” A name offered to match the pink hair. “She… All things considered, she doesn’t seem all that bad.” Maybe she finds it hard to fault someone she sees as just a kid for getting wrapped up in all of this mess.

With concern etched into the lines of her face, Niki gestures to the armchair in her living space. “Sit down. I’m going to fix myself a drink.” That is, she’s not dismissing and she’s not going anywhere. She’s just going to match her. “It’s good that Aria’s out there,” she murmurs absently as she searches through the cupboard, trying to decide what her poison is at the moment.

There are so many options.

Claudia has mixed feelings about the word good, but as she moves over to the armchair her right hand loosely unclenches from the penny held in her palm. When she sits down, it’s with a slow, tired energy. “I always knew Alice and Adam had a history, she told me how he saved her from Coyote Sands when she was a child. I never realized it went any deeper. I’m not sure if she knew or if the redaction…” Claudia closes her eyes, looking fatigued. She never looks fatigued.

“God, I was so worried when you disappeared from the police station.” Claudia’s eyes follow Niki, brows knit together in worry. “I had everyone I could looking for you, I had Bluthner interrogating the cops that had you to see if anything would come up. Nothing. It was like you just…” she lowers her head into one hand. “I’m glad you’re alright. Barbara’s been a wreck.”

Fingers dance over glass and labels, red-painted nails scraping softly over surfaces as she decides which bottle to take down. In the end, it’s her old friend Jack that makes the grade. She briefly considers adding some cola to cut it down a bit, but the sight of the penny in her mother’s hand has her deciding against it.

By the time she returns with her drink, Niki has the good sense to look guilty about the hell she put her mother through when she disappeared. She settles down into a less plush but perfectly serviceable chair across from her mother. Mention of Bluthner has her jaw setting a little tighter, but she’ll circle back around to that topic later.

“I’m sorry. He had Green pick me up. I didn’t even have a chance. I’m sorry that message was the only clue you had.” She could have done more. Identified her kidnapper before she killed the call and tossed her phone.

But without her ability, without Jessica, Niki felt scared. Like the days when she was worried about Linderman and his goons. “He said he’s protecting us. I don’t know if I believed him, but… I thought if I could just get here, I could find something out. Get it back to you.”

Turns out, Niki hasn’t been able to learn very much at all. Well, not anything of any use to anyone but her at any rate. Her gaze tracks to the penny finally, to address the elephant in the room. “What’s that?”

“Everything,” is Claudia’s uncomfortable answer as she looks down to the penny, pinched between her fingers. “Close to ten years of my life, condensed into copper and steel.” She leans forward as she accepts the proffered drink and sets the penny down on the nearby coffee table at the same time, then sits back against the chair. “That’s what it looks like when the Company takes everything you were, and replaces it all with a lie.”

Claudia drinks for a long, pained moment. “Adam handed it to me after I was brought here. Ever since I touched it, things have… been coming back in fits and starts. Especially when I’m asleep.” Claudia cradles her drink in both hands, mindful not to rush herself with it. “It’s all true, whatever he’s told you here. About us.” It pains her to admit that like a knife in the side. “We were together, not married. I think we were both too bohemian for that. But we had you…” she looks up to Niki. “You… weren’t an experiment. But you were planned.”

Tears well up in Claudia’s eyes. Her jaw tenses, throat works up and down. “Then they took it all away. Jonas was a lie. Our marriage was… was a sham. A fiction created by the Company. Niklaus isn’t even my son.” That one hurts her even more, and there’s a croak in her voice when she says it out loud for the first time, shaking her head from side to side in horror and disbelief.

Niki sits in silence, letting her mother work through this, to find the words that explain everything that’s weighing her down. She’s stunned when it’s over, she realizes. Stunned that someone’s life could be distilled into something so small and so simple. That decades of lies could be fabricated so easily.

To know that she wasn’t an experiment - that she had been a product of love - is what hurts the most. All her life, she’d believed she’d been unwanted. Given up for adoption, hated by an alcoholic father and an indifferent mother… Even her own partnership with D.L. had been some sick orchestration.

The drink is thrown back in a single go. The way it burns its way down her throat and into her stomach, spreading like a wildfire through her, is its own sort of painful comfort. “I wish I could burn it all down.” Maybe that’s what she’d ask Hiro Nakamura for, if she’d ever had the opportunity again. A chance to go back and torch every fucking thing the Company represents.

The thought brings at least a grim sort of satisfaction. “I don’t know what to say,” she responds honestly, a little helplessly. Nothing can bring back the years they lost. In spite of herself, she feels a sense of mourning for the paternal relationship she was robbed of as well, even if she spent years resenting who made up the other half of her DNA.

“It’s been a lot to absorb, and I don’t… have one of those.” Niki gestures to the copper coin. “He said you named me Nikolette.” She smiles faintly, trying to lighten the mood in at least some small way. “I like that a lot better than Nicole.

“Nikolette,” Claudia agrees, an emotional smile cutting across what is normally a stoic face. “You wanted to be called Niki,” she says with a hitch in her voice. “When you were four.” But she hadn’t remembered that moment, in a Midtown apartment on Niki’s fourth birthday, with both of her sisters at her side. Niki, still, has no memory of it. It is a story about someone else’s life she’s hearing for the first time.

Claudia swallows down a lump in her throat, using her thumb to dry her eyes without worry of smudging her eye makeup. “Adam thinks I’ll be targeted by the thing Charles and the others failed to stop all those years ago. He wanted to get Barbara here too, but it just didn’t work out. I’m… I’m sick to my stomach from all of this. I feel like I’ve been— ” she hesitates using a strong, horrible word. But she feels it deep down inside. “Robbed,” is close enough. But it will never fit.

“It’s overwhelming,” Claudia agrees, getting to that point in her own way. “But in spite of all of this I know he’s keeping something from me. From us.” Claudia’s blue eyes, rimmed red with emotion, square on her daughter. “Why separate us? Why lock him up? Why the lie about the Shanti Virus?” It tastes bitter in her mouth, suspicion and resentment, layered over a distant echo of a sentiment so horrific as love.

Robbed is the closest word Niki has for it, too. Her eyes get a little glassy when her mother recounts a memory she doesn’t have. Had she been so headstrong as a little girl to tell her parents what she would be called?

But none of that matters, because Claudia’s just presented something Niki hadn’t thought of herself. She’s always been a bit more of the blunt instrument to her mother’s sharp intellect. But there’s no confusion in the way she lifts her gaze to meet her mother’s. “Why would they have separated all of us? Why wouldn’t they have at least given all three of us to you and Jonas?”

And why would Adam be erased from their narratives entirely?

“Maybe I’ll ask him myself,” Niki posits.

“I don’t care what cool dad attitude he puts on here,” Claudia says with all the sarcasm she can muster, taking a swig of her drink, “Adam Monroe is a snake. He always has been, he always will be. I…” she struggles with the assault on his character, conflicting against emotions that feel like they belong to another person. “I have spent years studying him. Why would Charles Deveaux make him a monster if he was always some kind-hearted hippy?” Nothing of this works in Claudia’s mind. None of it tracks.

“Charles Deveaux was a pragmatist. Yes, he’d burn down a city block to save the city, but he never did anything out of spite.” Claudia looks at her drink, rotating it in her hand. “To think that he’d split us up, lock up Adam and throw away the key for more than thirty years while at the same time painting the inside of Adam’s head in all the colors of Charles Manson’s rainbow…” she shakes her head, angrily. “I don’t buy it. I don’t buy this changed man skin he’s wearing.”

Claudia finishes her drink and then noisily sets the glass down on the coffee table beside the penny. “Something’s rotten here, Niki.” She grimaces at the sentiment, looks nauseous. Not from the drink. “Alice was with the Deveaux Society for decades,” she says in a low tone of voice, “I don’t… why would Charles keep her from Angela? Why would he make Angela think her own sister was dead?” Nothing about it makes sense to Claudia. “She was there… in the redaction.”

Eyes distant, Claudia swallows down bile in the back of her throat and looks around the room. “One more concrete-walled cell. It’s like he never escaped Level 5.”

“Adam Monroe has no interest in being my father,” Niki refutes immediately. “He told me straight away that ship had sailed.” She snorts and stares into her empty glass, willing it to spontaneously refill itself. When no such ability manifests, she looks up again. “And why would he? He's got all those perfect little daughters with their bright and shiny powers.”

And for the first time, Niki realizes she's bitter about that. “As soon as he found out I lost my ability at Sunspot, that was it. I'm just a glorified nanny to Jacelyn at this point. Someone she can imprint on who might be less likely to convince her to walk away than her mother would.”

With a sigh, she shakes her head. “You're not blind, Mom. And you're not stupid. If he was those things before… You would have seen it.” She would had to have, wouldn't she? Niki feels at a loss. She wants to convince her mother that the man she loved was who she thought he was. For her sake.

But she doesn’t have the answers. Not a single one of them. Her mother’s frustration is felt so very keenly. “It feels like it some days.” Level 5. And whatever Adam Monroe may have been years ago, before their lives were stolen from them, it doesn’t change who he is now. And who he is now… does not look promising.

There’s one thing that gnaws at her. Something she doesn’t want to admit to, let alone even acknowledge. “Do you ever get the feeling this was all set into motion all those years ago? That someone was just biding their time and waiting for all of this to converge like this?”

How many times had she seen it in the way Nakamura would zig-zag through time and space, setting pieces on the proverbial chessboard? Hell, Richard had done it, and he didn’t even need to leave the present to do it. Excepting maybe that one time.

“I hate this,” Niki pronounces bluntly, pushing up from her chair to gather her mother’s glass with her own and get them both refills.

“You and me both,” Claudia says as she tips back her drink like it was a shot, downing all but the two sips she’d already taken in one swallow. She lingers on the notion that she’d have seen it coming, that she wasn’t stupid, but the feelings Niki has were what Claudia wanted their enemies to feel. She spent decades arranging for a moment in time in which she could seize power in the United States, supplant the corrupt leadership and try to turn the nation into something its citizens could be proud of. But all this time, after all this work, she’d been blind to Alice Shaw sitting under her nose the whole time.

Alice’s betrayal has bile rising up in the back of Claudia’s throat. She grips her glass tightly and looks down into it with disdain. Between me, you, and Adam’s listening devices…” she says with a sneer in her tone, “I think you’re right. That we were all played. And even with all this laid out on the table…” she looks up to Niki, brows furrowed. “I couldn’t tell you by who.”

It only takes a gentle tug to free the glass from her mother’s hand and alleviate her concern that Claudia might break it and injure herself in the process. Niki bends down to press a kiss to the top of her mother’s head before she moves back to where the liquor bottles still sit on the counter, waiting to be called to serve once more.

She has no answers to the questions they’re facing, but she does have further points of doubt of her own. Ones that she’s certain her mother can elucidate for her. Claudia’s daughter stands in front of her with a fresh drink, held out beneath the cage of her fingers. “How long have you known Peter Petrelli is alive?” Adam’s listening devices be damned.

If you don’t know, now you know.

Claudia’s brows furrow, lips part, and a look of confusion crosses her face. She has only one answer for her daughter:

“What the fuck are you talking about?”

No answer at all.

Niki can’t help but laugh at that, a quiet, breathy sound. She makes sure Claudia takes her drink before she steps back to settle in her own chair. “Rhys told Gillian Childs that Peter’s alive. A year ago.” Another chuckle sets her shoulders quaking for a second, maybe two. “I would have thought you’d known.”

And the fact that she didn’t know, apparently, that keeping that information from Niki wasn’t her call, gives the betrayal a different flavor of sting. “He tells Gillian, but leaves me in the dark. If I ever get my hands on him, I’m going to wring his neck with his own polka-dotted ascot.”

There is always, of course, the possibility that Rhys was lying. But it doesn’t seem in keeping with the style Niki had come to expect from the most fashionable agent in her mother’s employ.

Claudia’s eyes slowly narrow, her head angling to the side. She looks her daughter up and down, then slowly sits forward.

“That’s not possible…”


November 8th


The city is on fire. Not from an atomic explosion, not like it could have been, but with the growing surge of violent protests in the wake of the Cambridge massacre. The city is dark, lit only by firelight. Manhattan is a haunting picture of the end times, with the power grid knocked out by Peter Petrelli’s sacrifice in his battle against Sylar.

Headlights track down the street, bright yellow against the dark. Thick, sturdy wheels of a military Humvee roar across the asphalt, engine growling against the cries of riots spreading like wildfire. The vehicle comes to a stop near the heart of Midtown’s ruins, where the listing silhouette of the Deveaux Building cuts a dark block against the firelit skies. The rear passenger door opens, followed by booted feet stepping out into the dark of night.

Two private security officers file out of the Humvee, body armor as black as night, helmets strapped to their heads with brow-mounted cameras tracking their movements. “Sixteen meters,” one of them calls out, holding a handheld radio isotope tracker in one hand, a pair of angled antenna on the front flickering with LED illumination. A pulsing tracker on the screen beats with a steady rhythm.

One of the other security officers checks his watch, a wrist-mounted Compass technology typically employed by the Commonwealth Institute. The two soldiers track through concrete debris with rifle-mounted flashlights as burning embers drift all around them. “Eight meters…”

As they approach the stoop of the Deveaux Building, a dark shape comes into view, leaned up against the stone archway in front of long-destroyed doors. “Target spotted, moving in for visual ID.”


Peter Petrelli sits in relative silence, eyes halfway-lidded, lips parted and blood dried on his face. Burns mark up one side of his body, still-wet flesh on the side of his face is traced with the pattern of radiation burns. That he was still alive was nothing short of a miracle, not after the battle he’d faced. Peter blinks, slowly, and looks to the glow of flashlights in the distance as the soldiers approach his position.

The lead soldier comes up to the base of the bottom stairs, training his rifle and flashlight on Peter, who struggles to raise a hand and shield his eyes against the light. “Peter Petrelli?” The soldier asks, lowering the light down to Peter’s chest.

Wh— Yeah.” Peter weakly answers.

“Ms. Zimmerman?” The second soldier, further in the back asks over comms. “We have him. He’s alive. Orders?” The soldier nods in response to instructions. “Affirmative.”

Both soldiers raise their rifles

and fire.

Present Day

“…I saw his corpse.”

Niki’s brows furrow, confusion writing itself into lines that will one day be present on her face without needing such expressions. “He was vaporized,” she insists. “I— I looked for him. There was nothing—”

How many times had she put on protective gear and waded out into the exclusion zone looking for salvage, but really just looking for some trace of him? Something to bury. “You… saw his corpse.” Niki repeats, voice pitching low.

That means more than it could possibly represent on the surface. The glass in Niki’s hand trembles. After a moment, she notices and stills it. A year ago, the liquid inside would have been bubbling. “I loved him, Mom.” Her voice is thinner now, more emotional. “How could you keep that from me? You had to know I’d want to see him.”

“Do you know why they have closed-casket funerals, Niki?” Claudia looks away from her daughter, to a point in space a thousand yards away. “It’s to spare the grieving the horrible truth of what happened to their loved ones. Yes, I knew you loved him, and that didn’t stop me from letting you believe he…” she finds a poetic note in the distance, centering her focus back on Niki, “became one with the universe. But the universe is cruel, unforgiving, and a bitch. He was too strong to die like that, and I was shielding you from the useless, disgusting truth.”

And Claudia still is.

“Peter Petrelli is dead. Whatever delusions Rhys thinks he may have seen… god, I don’t know why he’d even say that to Gillian, of all people.” Claudia exhales a sigh and shakes her head. “If that boy cared about you, he’d never have let you go to Manhattan with him.” Her jaw tenses. “You’re lucky you survived.”

I cared about him,” Niki insists. “Peter knew better than to tell me what to do.”

If there’s solace in the bottom of this glass, then Niki aims to find it in short order. There’s no attempt to hide the hurt her mother’s actions — however well-intentioned on her part — have caused her. “I didn’t get to bury my son,” Niki says quietly, her glass held against her sternum. It’s her turn to stare off into the distance that seems to grow between them. “I could’ve handled…” A tear slides down her cheek and she lets it go.

Her focus returns to Claudia now, voice thick with emotion. “You can’t make those kinds of decisions for me. I’m not your employee, I’m your daughter.” That seems to be what finally breaks the dam that was holding back her overwhelming feelings. Niki sniffles loudly, reaching up to wipe her face as she presses her lips together. Tipping her head to the ceiling, she admits, “God, I miss Barbara.”

Her sister would understand.

Claudia looks down to the floor, exhaling a sigh through her nose. She was never good at moments like this, not with Niklaus when he was young, not with Niki now as an adult. She doesn’t reach across the divide, doesn’t lay a comforting hand on her daughter’s shoulder. None of that would feel genuine, no matter how much she cares. She misses Barbara too.

“I get to make those choices because I’m your mother, Niki.” Claudia’s voice is clear, though tinged with discomfort. “There wasn’t time to hold a funeral, to grieve more than you already were. The world thought he was rendered to atomic dust, and so did you. That… was honestly a better funeral and final memory than Peter Petrelli deserved.” She clears her throat, looking down to her lap.

“Niki, the world was on fire. I had to make terrible choices. You, more than anyone else, know what it means to do anything to protect your family. We’re not all that different in that regard.” Claudia admits, only just now realizing it.

“You didn’t even know him.” Niki’s words don’t snap, but there’s an edge to them all the same. There’s an unfathomable sorrow in her eyes when she defends the man she loved. “Peter was a good man. He deserved better than to be…”

Mirthlessly, she laughs and sniffs again, the tears already starting to come under control again. “You already planned to lock me away for the duration of the war. I had all the time in the world to grieve. You could’ve let me have that.”

“Sometimes good people do terrible things,” Claudia says with a look down to the floor, a weight heavy in her voice. “It’s in the past now. It was a choice that I made and whether I regret it or not won’t change anything.” Claudia finally closes her eyes, pinching the bridge of her nose with forefinger and thumb.

“For what it’s worth I’m sorry,” Claudia says after a moment of silence, only to undermine her apology by adding, “not everyone gets to grieve.” There’s a hint of personal pain there. A hint of something that was at once painful and fond. “I wish— ”

A knock on Niki’s door makes Claudia grows quiet. She opens her eyes and turns a suspicious look to the door, only to hear a familiar voice call through it. “Sorry to cut this visit short. Adam needs to see Ms. Zimmerman,” is Sabine’s voice.

Claudia exhales a suffering sigh, then look over to Niki. She starts to say something, but then is lost in a memory and looks away again with a shake of her head.

Niki sighs, giving up the battle she’s been trying to fight. There’s been enough concession made, and there’s no changing it, as Claudia says. There’s no point in arguing that they’ve both had their lives stolen from them. It doesn’t matter.

She gets up from her seat and relieves Claudia of her glass after a brief squeeze of her hand. Niki deposits both glasses on the counter and heads to the door to slide it open. “You know,” she offers to Sabine mildly, a faint smile of amusement on her face, “we’re both Ms. Zimmerman.” Not that she can’t infer.

Of all the things, it’s that which brings at first a smile to Claudia’s face and then a genuine laugh. Niki isn’t sure she’s ever heard her mother laugh like that before, but frayed nerves and anxiety does a lot for Claudia’s appreciation of any scrap of humor she can get her hands on. She fixes Niki with a serious look after composing herself, then slowly rises from her chair and moves to stand beside Niki.

At first Claudia simply lays a hand on Niki’s shoulder. Then, leaning in, she places a kiss to the top of her daughter’s head and lifts away ever so slightly. “No matter what happens, no matter what Adam does…” her voice is tense, and this close Niki can see the emotion in her mother’s eyes. “I want you to know I love you.”

Niki doesn’t let it go at that. Her mother’s laughter softens and erodes the wall she’d put up between the two of them. She pulls Claudia in for a tight hug, uncaring that they’re both supposed to be tough as nails. But Sabine is like them, too, and deep down, Niki expects she understands their need for connection right now.

Her chin is hooked over her mother’s shoulder after pressing a kiss to her cheek. “I love you too, Mom. I missed you so much,” she whispers into her hair. Maybe things will be alright now that they’re together again. Maybe they can figure all of this out. What’s important is that they have each other. The bond of their blood is stronger than the time that divided them.

Claudia lingers in the embrace, eyes closed for want of not crying in front of her daughter. She nods a wordless agreement, and only when she feels Niki’s arms loosening does she start to pull away. One hand remains, gently cupped to Niki’s cheek. “I missed you too, dear.” Her smile is a sad one, bittersweet for lack of her other daughters to be here with her as well.

“I’ll be right back.” Claudia says. “And don’t worry…”

“…we’ll have plenty of time together.”

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