Another Common Trope


paulson_icon.gif veronica3_icon.gif

Scene Title Another Common Trope
Synopsis When thrown together by bad luck, Agents Sawyer and Paulson discuss their conflict and their pasts — Hell has frozen over.
Date May 6, 2010

His ears are ringing.

Bleary consciousness comes through wearily, and sparks coming from overhead flutter and crackle where loose wires sway from side to side. The sound of his own breathing is loud in his ears over the tinnitus ringing, and everything is sideways in blurry contrast of black and slate gray tinted blue. Rows of faux-leather upholsterd seats hang from the wall to the darkly-dressed agent's left, while the ceiling to his right is concave and ridged.

Something warm trickles down the side of his face, and fingers paw tenderly at a cut on his forehead. Sparks flash to life in the darkened interior of the subway car, and he can feel the cold air slithering in thorugh broken windows that littered glass on the wall that now doubles as a floor. Everything is sideways.

Pulling himself to his feet, one hand clutching the side of his head, there's a croak of a name on his lips. "Sawyer!" Hoarse sounding, the man staggers a few steps forward, dress shoes scuffing over flexing windows and twisted metal. Breathing in deeply, he stops, spotting someone laying face down on the ground, a sharp piece of metal sticking up and out through their back.

Sucking in a sharp breath, he hustles over to them, seeing where the aluminum frame from the window broke away and where it punctured in through his chest. Blood drips off the jagged end of the metal, stains dark the camel-colored suit he wears. One hand moves to the dark skin of the injured man's neck, and eyes drift down to the reflection of a spark off of a familiar helical necklace, resembling half a strand of RNA.

"Sawyer!" he cries out again, looking around from where the wounded man bleeds, heart racing and eyes wide with panic, trying to call out for the other agent that he can't find.


Twenty Minutes Earlier

Fort Hero, Railway Platform

"Sawyer." The way Albert Paulson delivers the name in greeting is a little tense. Standing on the edge of the subway platform just behind the yellow line, the agent turns at the waist to regard the brunette coming from the escalator, the only other person down here in the cold depths of Fort Hero at this ungodly hour of morning.

The last few hours have been frustrating ones for Veronica Sawyer, beginning with an early waking and ending with an assignment in Midtown to check up on the crew gathering intelligence at Batsu's last known hideout. With communication lines down from the storm, face to face relay of intelligence is all that there is left. "Did you hear we're going to have a third with us?" Paulson asks with a lift of one brow, shifting his weight to one foot, winter jacket folded over one arm. "I guess Crowley doesn't trust us together."

The strain shows on her face — transportation, though convenient, is never easy in New York, but add to the intricate and complex transit system the cumulative snow and ice of several weeks of a neverending winter, and it's a nightmare. A very cold, very tiring, very frustrating nightmare that is wearing on the native Southern Californian heavily. The fact that Crowley once again paired her with Paulson is no longer surprising to her, and the irritated expression on her face is one of fatalistic resignation.

"I'm not sure why he seems to think a third party will help. You seem to almost die every time we go on an assignment together. Is that par for the course, or am I somehow special?" she tosses back, adjusting a blue scarf around her neck, making sure it's tucked into the coat so the vicious wind doesn't rip it away once they are above ground and outdoors again.

"Maybe he wants a new partner," Paulson snips back at Veronica, lifting one brow slowly, "I think he's sending backup with us because it worked so well the last time the three of us were together." The sarcasm in Paulson's tone is to the point of sneering in quality, but when he hears someone coming down the escalator, walking ahead of the moving stairs' slow pace. Paulson turns to look over his shoulder and past Veronica, spotting the tall and looming figure of the Haitian making his ambling approach, the camel colored suit contrasting in odd compliment to the sky blue dress shirt worn beneath. It's no surprise that he has a fur-trimmed winter jacket folded over his arms. One they get out of the subway train it's going to be miserable, and they've a long way yet to go.

With the Haitian in approach, Paulson turns dark eyes back to Veronica, even as the distant screech of an approaching subway train draws closer. "We're heading out to Flushing, there's a helicopter that'll be waiting for us to take us into Midtown. I tried to argue with Crowley to get a direct lift from the base, but Dalton shot him down. The no-fly rule around here's still in effect… guess they really do want to keep this place a secret."

Shifting his weight to one foot, Paulson looks back over his shoulder to the Haitian, nodding his head once in greeting and finding the same affect returned in like kind. As he turns to settle a look back on Veronica, the noise of the approaching train heralds the emergence of a two-car miniature subway coming shrieking out of one of the tunnels, grinding to a halt with a hiss and a scrape of metal, doors sliding open slowly. "Your chariot awaits."

"Things may have worked better if one of the three of us learned to clear a room back in training," Veronica says coolly, before she turns to regard Rene as he approaches, a sincere smile bestowed upon the oldest of the three. The smiles reveals dimples that Paulson never gets to see.

"As far as why Rene, given what we know about Ichihara, I certainly don't want him to have a remote control on you with your power," she says dryly, before her eyes narrow. "Actually, it might be an improvement." The weather's effect on her already snippy temperament is making it hard to even feign civility today.

"With the cases I have right now, Rene's lucky I don't demand him to be with me 24/7. I certainly wouldn't mind, but he would probably find it tiresome after a while," Veronica says, the words more directed to the Haitian among them, her tone a touch teasing, almost flirting, before she steps into the waiting subway car.

"Tiresome?" Paulson mumbles with a raise of his brows, looking up to the Haitian, and trhe pair of them just exchange a blank stare before Paulson looks away and starts walking, shoulders rising into a shrug as he does. "I don't know what she means…" The Haitian silently arches a brow as he watches Paulson walk ahead of him towards the parked subway car, then when no eyes are on him slowly shakes his head and rolls his shoulders into a sigh.

Aboard the two car subway train, there's little distinction between the Company's camouflaged transport and an actual New York subway car. Cigarette adds up on the slides by the ceiling, hand rails and contoured bench seating, equally grubby and grimy like the remainder of New York's public transit system. Admittedly no other subway systems are up and running during the weather, though it's likely credit of Fort Hero's private electrical grid is what is keeping it mobile, and probably why it's only headed out as far as Flushing.

Stepping in to the rear car, Paulson's brows furrow, his head shakes after his eyes track Veronica's movement and he moves down to take a seat on one of the benches on the opposite end of the subway car from her, laying his coat across the seat beside him. The Haitian lifts one brow, looks down to Paulson and moves a few seats forward and comes to sit silently.

It's going to be a long, awkward ride.

The youngest of the three is used to silence when working with Rene, but Paulson choosing to shut his mouth and keep his sarcasm to himself? That's something new. She arches a brow as he takes a seat on the far end of the car, but shrugs. Silence is golden when it comes to Paulson, after all, in her mind.

The agent busies herself with pulling out her Blackberry. It's not like there's a chance of connection, but she has notes saved on the device in her own strange shorthand that only makes sense to her; these she reviews silently, thumb scrolling the rollerball once in a while. Now and then she adds some information, the quiet clicking of thumbnails on keys lost in the rumble of the car as it begins to move.

It's that uncomfortable and awkward silence that permeates through the train persists even as it pulls away from the rail platform. There's no announcement from the driver about where they're headed, the COmpany employed rail operator needs not to inform the agents, and needs not to ask questions about their destinations. He knows where the stops are, and presumes they know when to get off. The ride out from the subterranean tunnels leading away from Fort Hero takes just under ten minutes, with the underground passageway that the subway takes being clear of snow and ice entirely.

When natural light finally floods the subway cars, all gray and muted, the landscape on either side of the cleared tracks looks something like the Antarctic wastes Veronica nearly lost her life in trying to save the world. An ever-shifting sea of snowy dunes, freshly falling snow and the rumble of the subway car cutting across tracks.

It's another half an hour to Flushing from this far out on Long Island, but the landmarks anyone could use to recognize distance are long since swallowed by the ice and the snow. At the fore of the vehicle, the subway driver quietly attends to his work, hand resting forward on the accelerator, a literal dead-man's switch. If his hand is removed from the accelerator, the train comes to a halt. That halt, though, is never immediate.

Visibility slashed by the driving snow and surging winds, it's too late when the driver notices a black shape ahead of him on the tracks. A garbage truck, lost in the snow, stuck on the side of the road over the tracks, abandoned by whatever driver was unfortunate enough to get stuck in the weather. There's a scream, not from the driver but from the subway train the moment his hand comes off the accelerator and he applies the brakes.

Lights flicker in the subway car, Paulson's head jerks up from a near dozing state of slumber, and when his eyes meet Veronica's is the same moment the impact happens. The front of the train implodes like a crushed beer can when it collides going nearly forty miles an hour against the side of the garbage truck. Glass shatters, metal folds and flexes and one by one in rows down the sides of the subway car windows explode in showers of glass and fracturing metal.

Gravity upends, the world spins, and the last thing Veronica Sawyer remembers seeing is the glow of her blackberry as it slips from her hand, the train car spinning around her as she tumbles thorugh the air, and then an up-close view of the ceiling getting closer at a rapid pace.

Then darkness.

And silence.

…And Now.


The screaming voice is muffled sounding, her ears are ringing. Bleary consciousness comes through wearily, and sparks coming from overhead flutter and crackle where loose wires sway from side to side. The sound of her own breathing is loud in her ears over the tinnitus ringing, and everything is sideways in blurry contrast of black and slate gray tinted blue. Rows of faux-leather upholsterd seats hang from the wall to the darkly-dressed agent's left, while the ceiling to her right is concave and ridged.

A Blackberry glows lonely where it is half buried by snow invading thorugh a broken window on what is now the floor of the subway train. Sparks flicker and flash overhead from loose wiring, the interior lights strobe erratically like a tachycardic heartbeat, and Veronica Sawyer can barely make out the silhouette of Albert Paulson kneeling down over someone's prone body. He's screaming for help.

Veronica brings a hand to her spinning head, feeling the sticky blood in her thick hair, assessing clinically despite the pain the size of the cut, the amount of blood, feeling for cracks in her skull — it's just a cut, and the dizziness that makes her vision cloud and whirl suggests a concussion, but the fact that she can self-diagnose means she will live. Or at least, the head wound won't be what kills her. Her mouth full of a sharp tang of copper, Veronica leans to spit out some blood. A roughness on the inside of her cheek suggests a cut there, likely from her own teeth when she was thrown. Her gloved fingers reach up to touch the outer side of her cheek where a livid purple bruise is already blossoming. Arms, legs, everything else seem to work, if numb from the cold that enters through that broken window.

Finally, she hears Paulson calling and she moves toward the voice, crawling on what was the wall of the car and is now the floor, until she reaches his side. "What happened…" she manages, her husky voice thicker, rougher than usual. "What did we hit… Is the driver…?" She can't seem to make her words work, but her hands are already at work, looking at Rene's injuries. "Don't remove that… it might be all that's keeping him from bleeding to…"

Oh, God. The reality and peril of the situation is starting to settle in, like the pain at the base of her skull. They can't call for help. "The helicopter pilot knows we're coming?" she demands, trying to decide if it's best to make their way to safety or wait.

The expression on Paulson's face when he sees Veronica is one of relief mixed with something more overwrought. It's hard to tell exactly what's going on behind the telekinetic's eyes, but what she sees on his face, aside from the still tender marks of microwave burns, is something other than ire at the moment. "He's— breathing," Paulson looks down to the Haitian, swallowing tightly as he does, trying to clear his head. "I— I dunno about the driver he, we… we hit something, I think." Pressing his bare hands around the exit wound of the piece of jagged aluminum, Paulson looks down at the Haitian in silence, then up to Veronica.

"We're miles away from Queens, I— I don't even know where the hell we are. They're expecting us in— in like an hour. If the train doesn't show up, maybe.. another half hour before anyone realizes anything is wrong. Satellite communication between the chopper and Fort Hero, probably." There's a squint, and Paulson looks down to the blood staining the snow coming up through the windows red.

"They follow the— the tracks… find us," dark eyes lift up to Veronica, "hopefully we don't freeze to death first." Way to think positive.

Veronica bites her lower lip, brows knitting together as she stares down at the Haitian, once again ruing her lack of medical school — though if she'd been to med school, she wouldn't be here. "Keep applying pressure," she murmurs. "I'll go check on the driver… and maybe… maybe he has flares or some communication or something." She sounds so much less certain of herself, and she hates the weakness in her husky voice.

She stands slowly and begins the difficult walk toward the front of the car, to make her way to the driver's cabin if she can. She has to step over or duck under the poles, normally vertical, but now horizontal limbo sticks. Her boots crunch on broken glass as she makes her way forward, slowed not only by the dangerous rubble but by her own aching bones — nothing's broken, but everything is bruised.

The lead car is an absolute mess, dislocated from the rear car, wheels up and laying at a 45 degree angle over the top of the garbage truck that was crashed into. There's a few sparks flashing thorugh the broken windows that Veronica can see from the sideways door she's peering out of, some twenty feet of snow and ice between herself and the upended car, and judging from the way the front has been crumpled inwards like a smashed beer can, the driver hopefully died on impact, because anything short of that would be a horrible way to go.

"What do you see?" Paulson calls ahead to Veronica, his hands soaked red and fingers pressed down around the exit wound, trying not to wiggle that spear of aluminum that lances through the Haitian so cleanly. The silence after Paulson's question is accompanied by the whistle of the frigid wind blowing thorugh the shattered windows of the train car.

With wide eyes, Veronica turns back and gives a terse shake of her head. "There's no way he survived… and no way to get in there safely, I don't think, for supplies. Hit a garbage truck on the tracks," she says, reaching to steady herself on a sideways seat when a wave of dizziness crashes over her. Her eyes close and she breathes deeply for a moment or two before she begins the slow journey back to where Paulson presses his hands into Rene's wounds.

She kneels, wincing as glass crackles beneath her knees. "Best to stay put, then? Unless one of us goes to find help, but it's a wasteland out there." She exhales, a shuddering sigh, before lifting her eyes up to his. "I don't know what to do." It's hard to admit this to Paulson of all people, and her cheeks flush a little as her pride bruises along with the rest of her.

"It's almost fifty below outside," Paulson admits quietly, reluctant in the way he looks up from the Haitian to Veronica, "by the time we got our bearings we'd already be hypothermic. Plus— " he looks back down, "we can't move Rene in his condition." Lifting up one bloodied hand, Paulson looks down at his fingers, then shifts a wary glance over to Veronica, then back down to the Haitian. "The… the cold will slow his blood flow," brown eyes shift to the side, settle on the glow of the Blackberry he caught in his periphery.

Even during the confrontation with Luke in Midtown, Paulson never looked this haggard, never looked afraid like he does now. He grows silent, leaning to the side to stretch over to his jacket, dragging it over to himself before looking up to Veronica. "Put pressure on it, I— I need to get my coat on before— we freeze to death in here." No heat, no containment, and only shelter from the wind to help them; it's going to become uncomfortable quick.

The younger agent nods, putting her hands where Paulson's were, to help staunch the bleeding. Her eyes look up to skim the car for anything useful, but there's nothing she can find that will help ward off the cold, to give them added protection from the bitter elements. She swallows, staring back down at Rene's face, as if willing him to survive. A single tear slides down her cheek, but she can't brush it away, as both her hands attempt to hold in Rene's blood.

"We can make a fire maybe… you don't smoke, do you?" she muses, not looking at Paulson as she thinks through possibilities. "The upholstery from the seats might burn."

"I used to…" Paulson admits distractedly, shaking blood off of his hands, wiping it across his slacks before sliding his jacket on, zipping it up and lifting the fur-trimmed hood. "They made me quit, for my— " there's a wince of regret at those words as Paulson moves to shakily stand, "for my cover." He doesn't continue on that train of thought, instead moves across the windowed floor towards where Rene's jacket lies, going through the exercise of bending down and picking it up by hand, when he could have just as easily picked it up from across the room.

"The seats are vinyl and plastic, probably. Synthetic stuffing, the fumes would probably kill us." Lifting his eyes to the ceiling, Paulson squints at the broken windows, then looks to either side of the train car. Something crosses his mind, but he doesn't yet speak up about it, only turns slowly, eyes still at the windows, before finally pulling his gaze away.

Walking back over, Paulson's shoes clunk and creak against the metal siding now underfoot. The jacket is handed out to Veronica, "Here." Paulson looks away, down to Rene, "you'll need it more than him right now. The cold's what'll keep him alive." The wind howls through broken windows, strigging Paulson's eyes to the 'ceiling' again. "I could bury us."

That's comforting.

"Snow," Paulson's dark eyes drift back down to Veronica, "cover the… windows. Like an igloo, but…" brows furrowed again, Paulson looks away nervously. "I don't know."

Taking the jacket, Veronica glances at it, and then down at Rene, before taking it, her bloody glove streaking the garment as she tucks it around her legs, as her core is kept warm by her own coat. She looks up at the windows, squinting a little as she considers the plan, brows knitting in worry an indecision.

"I … I don't know. They might not find us if… wait. We can put something out there, a flag or something, a signal that we're inside. Something…" her hands go to her scarf and she tugs it loose. "Too bad it's not orange or red, but I didn't plan. Next time I know better, right? Don't go out in blizzards without hunter orange scarf…" She hands him the scarf, and she turns, hands still putting their pressure on Rene's wounds. "Can we dislodge one of those poles — make it a flag pole?"

"Maybe," Paulson offers quietly, shoving ungloved hands into his coat pockets. "I… I probably could," his attention shifts down to Veronica, wordlessly, and then back up to the holes in the ceiling. He stares for a long moment, up there at the broken windows before looking back down to Veronica, then to the floor, watching a narrow line of blood fill in a goove in buckled metal. "I'd have to use my power," is said quieter than conversational tone, and it's almost as if he seems nervous about the prospect.

"Look," comes sharply delivered afterward from Paulson, jaw set and head turning away as his brows furrow. "I was never supposed to work with you. They kept me out west, and Crowley— Crowley didn't know." Dark eyes level back to Veronica, and it seems like Paulson has finally bumped into the elephant in the room that's been following these two around.

"He didn't know until I told him." Paulson admits with a slow, steady shake of his head. "We weren't supposed to meet. You— " there's a wince from Paulson as he steps away from Veronica and Rene's prone form, "already know who I am, don't you?"

Veronica's brows furrow when he mentions having to use his power — how else is he planning on making an igloo of the subway car? She shakes her head slightly, to show she doesn't understand why he's warning her but then —

But then. Everything that has been unspoken and unsaid, everything she's been holding inside for the past several months is brought to the surface, scratched until it bleeds. She gasps slightly and looks away, mouth parting as if to speak, and then closing, jaw tensing.

Not looking at him, she nods. "I know." The words are quiet, her affect as flat as she can make it. "I thought Crowley knew," is an afterthought.

"Only four people in the Company knew, Crowley wasn't one of them." Paulson states quietly, looking for something to sit on, but with the chairs on the walls he's stuck with lowering himself down into a crouch. He's in no hurry to go outside and plant that flag, especially not with his head throbbing from what will likely wind up being a concussion. "Bishop, Dalton, Petrelli and Goodman," the last name on the list is one that has a strong application to Veronica, especially considering she was largely responsible for his death.

Paulson withdraws a hand from his coat, looking at the blood caked on his fingers and knuckles, then closes his eyes and tucks the hand away again. "When Crowley and I first came out to New York, Dalton took me aside to tell me who you were. I don't know if the Cowboy who was in charge before Crowley took over knew… he never said anything."

Paulson's eyes open to vacantly stare down at Rene'a motionless form, stare drifting from side to side as Paulson's shoulders roll forward and he tries to make himself small to stave off the cold. "I was… I was a kid. It was my first assignment, I— " there's a click of Paulson's tongue, and the telekinetic slowly rises up to stand, head shaking.

"I'll— go outside." A hand is held out to Veronica, "give me the scarf."

Veronica looks down, staring at Rene's face that seems gray with the shock and blood loss his body is going through. There's a slight flinch at the name Goodman. What could things have been like if Goodman hadn't dropped that bomb on her? Ignorance is bliss — she clearly doesn't have the courage or callousness to avenge her father's death, and yet it is this open wound that aches and stings, both Sawyer and Paulson alike.

His first assignment. She was shocked when she saw the face of her father's killer — someone who looked barely older than her. Paulson was a kid, just a handful of years younger than she was at the time. It was never the face she envisioned in her mind when she imagined the man who killed Keith Sawyer.

Veronica doesn't say anything, but lifts her shaking hand to pass him the blue scarf, purple in places where Rene's blood has stained it. "Be careful," she murmurs thickly.

Paulson's response is awkward silence, watching Veronica's dithered shadow on one of the cold metal walls. Blood stained fingers wind around the scarf, and while Paulson doesn't need to go outside to attack the flag, it's more comfortable in the arctic chill than it is in close proximity to Veronica at the moment. His footsteps clunk noisily as he makes his way to the far end of the train car, hastily opens the door and then disappears outside befor ehte door clangs shut.

The sounds of Paulson's feet crunching in the snow outside grow distant, and it's only the groan of bending metal and the way the telltale hum of his telekinesis echoes thorugh the hollow of the toppled subway car that indicates to Veronica he's making good on his promise. There's a sharp snap of metal, a scraping noise, and then silence. For a long while, nothing but silence.

Not long afterward, there's a noisy clang above Veronica, and a slap of metal coming over one of the windows, then another, then another. Stripping pieces off of the other traincar, Paulson lays bent and twisted pieces of aluminum down over the blown out windows, followed by heavy layers of snow that drop down with muffled clunks as the subway car is — window by window — sunken into darkness.

Light only comes through the far door now, and glows brighter once Paulson re-opens the door and hustles in. His hands are shoved into his jacket pockets, shoulders hunched forward and face buried in the collar of his coat as he hustles across the floor with noisy, clanging footsteps. She can hear the sound of his breath, see the steam, practically feel his teeth chattering from the cold.

"It's— it's up— up there— " Paulson nods his head twice to the ceiling, indicating their makeshift flag. "It— it's cold— colder than— " words aren't coming easily, and he just gives up, just stands there and shivers in silence.

In the moments of solitude, Veronica stares up at the ceiling, lost in the memories of the lies of her past — everything in her life changed the day Paulson was given that fateful assignment. The loss of her father spun her world off its axis — everything that was laid out for her fell away when he took his last breath. Medical school, her lifelong dream, seemed pointless. Her mother, a brilliant scientist in her own right, slipped into a haze of drugs and alcohol. Keith Sawyer was the anchor of his small family — without him, Veronica and Alma Sawyer were lost, adrift.

When Paulson enters, she drops one hand from Rene's body to pick up the coat that's on her lap, holding it out to Paulson. "Thank you for going out there," she says, the words polite, though flat, her eyes not quite meeting his.

After a few seconds' pause, she sighs, heavily, and brings her gaze to his. "How did it happen?" she asks. She does and doesn't want to know, but maybe it will help her understand.

"I— bent off a piece of frame, t-tied the scarf to it, and stuck it between the roof and a window," is Paulson's answer to the wrong question, words still coming out chattery from the cold. Paulson doesn't stay still, just paces back and forth across the floor, keeping strides long so as to not walk on the intact glass of windows that didn't shatter on impact and also to keep moving to try and keep his body temperature up. He knows what she wants to know, but the answer isn't something he's proud of.

Looking over his shoulder to her, he says nothing, not until his eyes aren't on her anymore. "Does it matter?" Is the hurt response he gives, that same wound, scratched to bleeding, opened up after all these years; shame a bitter salt in it.

Her eyes drop as he paces, and she stares down hard at Rene. There are very few situations worse than being stuck in a sideways subway car in -50 degree weather; being stuck with Paulson and having this conversation is one of them. Veronica swallows, and shakes her head. "I … I don't know," she whispers, brows knit together in anger and hurt and fear. "You're the last person who saw him alive…" Her voice chokes on the words and she closes her eyes to dam up the tears that rush up to blind her.

"I don't know if you know my history. They lied to me about what happened — when I was a kid. Of course they didn't say there were powers involved. I thought it was just … an angry patient. Then they lied to me again when they recruited me. They used the situation to get me to join the Company," Veronica murmurs, her words quiet and steady, though she keeps her eyes closed. "I guess I… the truth is horrible and it hurts, but it's something that I don't know. Just what's in the report, and that's probably not true either. God knows we don't always tell the truth in our reports."

Paulson's stare is distant, unfocused and directed vaguely at the wall beside him. In that silence, he has little to offer to Veronica, but the look on his face he hides from her due to some sense of misplaced pride belies his feelings to the snow and the cold. "I didn't know…" Paulson offers in cold comfort, "I didn't even know you were recruited until I came out east and… things were explained briefly to me. The Company covers up a lot of things it isn't proud of, hell… we were headed to one."

Turning around, Paulson wraps his arms around himself, looking across the furry fringe of his hood to Veronica, then down to Rene. "Can you imagine the lies he's kept secret?" There's a hint of heated resentment in Paulson's voice at that, but it's quick to cool. "I don't remember everything that well— what happened." Furrowing his brows, Paulson turns away again, slowly, and looks down to his feet.

"I was at the hospital your father worked at, running my first assignment as part of a recovery of a former bag and tag recipient. We were there for Ted Sprague, radiological manipulator…" Paulson's eyes close, brows furrow and his head shakes slowly. "Sprague's wife was being treated for cancer by an oncologist named Robert Fresco. It was supposed to be a simple in and out assignment, bag him in the hospital room with his wife, wipe her memory and pull him out. Bennet and Rene," Paulson nods down to the man Veronica is beside, "were with me."

Walking a few steps away, Paulson's shoulders hunch forward, chin tilts down and eyes focus on his reflection in cracked glass at his feet. "Sprague… I don't know, we spooked him. Sprague attacked us, I— tried to stop him…" Paulson's mouth presses down, lips work from side to side and it's clear he doesn't like the way the story tastes on his lips.

"I missed." Paulson admits wearily, "I missed and I— " his voice hitches in the back of his throat, "I killed an innocent man, I— had never— do you have any idea what it's like living with that? Knowing that his family was never going to know what actually happened to him?"

When Paulson turns around, Veronica can see that guilt hanging on his face, in the tightness of his throat and the way his brows furrow together. "The— Company protected me. I was the one at fault, not— " one hand goes up, moving bloody fingertips to pinch at the bridge of Paulson's nose. "I've… been with the Company since I was six years old. The only reason they gave two shits about me, was because I was an investment."

He looks away, turns his back to Veronica, and walks distance between the two.

Hypocrisy. The anger she has held on to for so long, the anger she has let build for Paulson, for Montgomery Biard, is a hypocritical one — for she does the same job he does, and she might have made the mistake — maybe not with telekinesis, but with a gun. She's certainly injured people in her line of duty, and most of the time, it didn't faze her — all in the line of duty. The logical part of her usually logical mind knows that Sprague was a danger to everyone in the hospital and its vicinity — the aftermath of his power is still visible here in New York today, indirectly.

A tear slips down her cheek and splashes onto the gray face of Rene as she stares down at him. Her hands come off the wound and she inspects it, finding it mostly clotted. She wipes the palms of her bloody gloves on her pants, and then reaches up to use the still-clean back of one hand to wipe her face.

"Bleeding's stopped, but we need to keep an eye on it," she whispers, before standing.

"Six years old?" she repeats, a shake of her head. None of the children raised by the Company turn out all right, that much is clear. They are a lost generation, though their legacy is a long trail of corpses rather than poetry or novels. "I … I don't know what to say. You made a mistake. If it was just some guy… it wouldn't bother me. I wouldn't even care. If you were partnered with me, and you told me you killed someone innocent in the line of duty, I'd just say that's life." She gives a bitter laugh. "For whatever it says about me."

Veronica sighs. "How many lives have they ruined? In the line of duty… My whole life is a lie." Her voice cracks and she turns to face the other way, wrapping bloody hands around herself.

"Maybe that's what Batsu thinks…" Paulson murmurs in response from the distance he's placed between them. "You saw the files he had, the things he had to have known about. What do you think that does to a person? Working for the Company like that, learning all the dirty little secrets, and then— what? It just doesn't affect them? Crowley told me that Ryans and Ayers both came to him with proof that Batsu is agent Ichihara's father."

Paulson turns slowly, brows furrowed, head shaking. "Maybe… somewhere in all this mess, this is what hes been trying to do; show us what the Company is on the inside, make us doubt, make us…" as he trails off, Paulson's eyes shift from side to side, a vacant stare at dead space.

"Maybe there's never just… some guy?" Turning Veronica's words on their ear, Paulson meets her stare, starting to walk back over to her. "Every single life we screw up, every accident, every person we hurt adds up. There really is no some guy, it's just a matter of agents like us being ignorant to the pain we cause. If the Company never had taken me from my parents when I was little…" Paulson's head shakes slowly, "you'd still have a father, maybe— maybe the whole damned world would be different."

"Batsu… Ichihara… he's not going about it the right way. If he just kills agents, there will always be new agents. Or even worse. I mean… the Institute… is it an improvement?" Veronica says with an angry shake of her head in regard to Batsu and his assault on the Company and anyone affiliated with it.

The rest makes her more somber and she swallows hard, staring down at Rene rather than the vacant gaze of Paulson's eyes. "No. You're right. It's never some guy. It's always someone's father, someone's husband, someone's son or daughter or sister or wife. Which … I'm a hypocrite, you know? They used a Persuader on me… I don't know how long that lasts, before the doubts come back — if the doubts would have come if I didn't learn the truth in snippets here and there, chipping away at whatever idea they planted in me back at the start." She reaches up to scrub at her eyes with the back of her glove.

The fact he was taken — that this wasn't a life he chose — reminds her of Brian. Of Gillian. Of Elle. People whose paths were chosen for them.

Of herself.

"Maybe. But then, it might have just been someone else. Or … or the good things you've done," surely there have been some? "wouldn't have happened, and … Who the hell knows." Veronica kneels beside Rene again, shoulders slumped and head down. It feels strange… she hasn't spoken the words of forgiveness or apology, but there is the lack of hatred in her chest, and it's exhausting.

Who the hell knows?

It's an appropriate enough commentary on this whole unfortunate situation. Paulson's nod is visibly delayed, whatever else is going on inside of his head is keeping him from focusing properly. "Get up," Paulson states confusingly at first, turning towards Veronica again and making path back to she and Rene, "get up and walk around, it's cold, you need to keep moving." There's a shift of Paulson's eyes down to Rene, and he slowly folds down into a crouch, then settles his knees somewhat uncomfortably on the makeshift floor.

It's not that Paulson wants to be here, not that he wants to take turns watching over Rene, but that he wants to give Veronica an opportunity to stretch not only her legs, but her own tightly wound mind as well. They have a long enough wait ahead of them, and as far as he's concerned, they've said enough to one another to last a lifetime.

The crouch brings him to her level, closer than they have been since he left the car to make their "igloo" and plant their flag, the blood-streaked scarf a morbid cry for help. Veronica nods, bringing her eyes up to meet his for a moment, and for once, brown eyes fall on brown with something that is not hate within them. Sympathy — no, empathy — in her warm brown eyes that threaten to spill over in tears again before she stands and turns to walk the distance of the car away, boots crunching on glass and snow. She paces a few times, and then, despite the fact Paulson is done talking, asks a question she's asked herself so many times before:

"Why don't you quit?"

It's softly spoken, for all that she knows the answers are likely as complex and un-answerable as hers.

Paulson is quiet, solemnly so, hands tucked under his arms, rocking slowly back and forth to try and keep up some movement to stave off hypothermia. Veronica's words may as well have been a verbal logic problem for the way Paulson's taking his time to answer, though his expression looks more searching than ponderous, a vacant stare leveled down somewhere past Rene where broken glass meets snow. It's a good question, one that Paulson doesn't have an answer for, not one that he— or Veronica— would accept.

He just doesn't answer, just as she likely wouldn't if asked the same question. They've both been through a great deal in their time with the Company, and yet here they are, still. Tenacity or something like it, maybe just stubbornness or the comfort of familiarity.

He doesn't have an answer, so he doesn't talk; Not now, nor when rescue finally comes.

He just searches in quiet.

No answer to find.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License