Be Honest


rickham_icon.gif steve_icon.gif

Scene Title Be Honest
Synopsis President-elect Rickham reunites with his assistant. Steve is suitably impressed.
Date January 2, 2009

President-Elect Rickham's Home

"…I'll have to defer to Agent Parkman on that, I already gave a full statement when I was brought back in." Weariness hangs in an old and tired voice, mixing with the sound of creaking leather in a dimly lit office. "No, I appreciate the concern though, and I apologize for being so formal about this, but there is an ongoing investigation." Tension in his voice, it's palpable enough to be as bad as the tension in his body. Leaning back into his old, comfortable chair, Allen Rickham closes his eyes as he keeps his cell phone held up to one ear.

"Yes, of course. Well, hopefully I'll get to tell him that myself." There's a bit of a wry smile that crosses his lips as his free hand rises up to rub against one side of his face. Soft, not steel. It's refreshing. "Of course. Yes. Thank you Senator Mitchell, I look forward to seeing you next week." The phone flips closed before he fully listens to the farewell of the voice on the other end, and it's slapped down onto his old desk with all of the frustration that has been pent up since his return.

A grumbling sigh passes out through Allen's nose, and he brings thee hand once holding his phone up to his face as well, breathing another sigh out through his fingers as he leans forward, letting his elbows come to rest on his desk, head in his hands.

It's been a little over a week now since the debriefing on what happened, since he and Parkman got their stories straight, and since he was allowed to return home to Manchester. Everything spun out of control so fast, and now to be back in comfortable and familiar surroundings, weighed upon by the weight of his impending position, and the rumblings of displeasure from the Hill about both his mysterious absence and his very inauguration… life for Allen Rickham has gone from hard, to harder.

The door to his office cracks open, followed by the quiet voice of a brunette woman who leans in through the door, "Honey," She says in a hushed voice, trying to do her best to sound supportive, to not sound terrified. Rickham looks up from his hands, face half-illuminated in the light of his desk lamp, a light snow falling outside of dark windows.

"Miss Caiati's here." For all the years she's been with Allen, his wife Marie has been the anchor of stability in his life. From raising their son, to standing by his side during his presidency. But there's some things not even she can know, secrets about who and what her husband is.

"Oh I…" She's early, but it's welcomed. "Send her in." For all that Allen Rickham loves his wife, there is something more familiar, something comfortable about Stephanie Caiati. Not that he'd ever tell either of them.

All this time spent as Allen Rickham's assistant, and Steve is still instructed to wait out in the entry hall until it's been confirmed that her employer does, in fact, wish to see her. It's not terribly unexpected. At least her coat and purse were taken at the door, so she isn't left holding them while she stands around. Restlessly, she smooths out a wrinkle in her black pencil skirt and absently slides her hand between the waistband of her skirt and the silk of her blouse at the small of her back to ensure everything's still tucked in properly. Times are difficult, to be sure. Naturally Marie Rickham would want to ensure her husband is up to seeing guests. All the same, Steve sort of resents being left to wait like someone showing up unannounced.

Once ushered in, however, the annoyance can only fade. Steve can't be upset when she's around Allen. She'd never admit just how close to him she feels. Sometimes, she feels as though she was born for this position. To help him with this campaign. It's as though she's discovered where she fits in the puzzle of life. "Allen," she murmurs gently, hands clasped in front of her. "May I sit down?"

"Of course, of course…" There's a light laugh in the President-Elect's voice as he rises up from his desk, slowly making his way over to where Steve has made her way in, reaching out one weathered hand to rest on her shoulder, giving it a bit of a squeeze. The silence and uncertainty that lingers there lasts for only a moment before Rickham steps forward, wrapping his arms around her like some long-lost daughter, "You… have no idea how worried I was about you." The bittersweet smile on Allen's face speaks as much as his words do, and the embrace is one he doesn't break, one of reassurance that the woman here is the real Stephanie Caiati, not some psychopathic impostor.

"While everything…" He hesitates, he can't tell her everything, can he? "Parkman kept me safe, but there was no word about you. No one told me you were safe, I didn't even — " He grimaces, letting his head give a small shake. "I was worried."

Steve returns the embrace tightly. "They wouldn't tell me what happened. They said you were alive. But that didn't mean much." She pulls back only enough so he can see her smile. Her pillbox hat hides the stitches from where she had been hit. "Oh, I got clubbed pretty good, but you know I don't give up that easily." She returns to closer proximity before she lets the smile fade. "It was more embarrassing than anything, really. They found me handcuffed to a radiator in nothing but my underthings and a bathrobe, trying not to get blood on the carpet, lest the hotel charge the us for the cleaning costs." She chuckles softly, attempting to lighten the severity of just what happened with humour.

For all the seriousness of the story, Allen can't help but laugh at the way Stephanie recounts the story. "You know," He leans back, letting one hand come up to brush a few fingers across her temple, moving some hair out of the way, then using his fingertips to lift up the edge of her hat, "I think we could've covered the bill. " His fingertips lightly touch the stitches before his hand lowers back down, and he finally relents from the embrace.

"I…" Allen's eyes move to the door, noticing it's open just a bit too much as he circles around Steve to close the open side with a soft click. "I was surprised." A hint of another smile tugs at the corners of his mouth, "When you said you were going to come by," Tired eyes track across the room, settling first on his desk lamp, then on Stephanie again. "Was… there something that couldn't wait till morning?" He'd never tell her not to come over, but the weariness in his voice is indicative of just how unhappy his New Year has been.

"You're back. You're alive. You're in one piece." The worlds spill out from Steve's lips faster than she can control the thoughts that spawned them - and perhaps articulate better. "Seeing you whole could not wait until morning." Dark brows furrow, almost upset that he wouldn't realise how important this is to her.

Being whole, being in one piece as opposed to a gory heap on a library floor. The thoughts cling to the back of Allen's mind without sign of letting go, a constant reminder of the distance he must force between himself and his aide. "It…" There's a wry smile, and the President-Elect's tired eyes betray the cracks in his stoic exterior.

"I could say the same for you." His smile for a moment reaches his eyes, giving a measure of truth to the expression, even if it is swallowed soon after by the tired look of guilt and doubt. "I… I thought you might — That something might have happened to you." His pause is momentary, and he lets slip with enough information, what he could plausibly have known without needing to go into detail on where he was. "It was Sylar." He looks away from her, to the darkened windows and the snow outside. "Sylar." It's like some alien word, one meaning death or end or something equally final and weighty. "I thought you were dead."

"I was lucky," Steve admits. "He only wanted my identity. I suspect it could have turned out very differently." Her eyes search his face for a moment, apprehensive. "How did you… He wanted you dead. He didn't care what happened to me. How did you manage to get away?" Her hands come up to trace his weariness, as though examining for injury or truth in the garden-grey pallor of lines across his face. "Your security detail is good, but they aren't that good."

"Matt Parkman is that good." The tension in Allen's face and at the corners of his eyes that accent his crow's feet is a telltale sign he's being dishonest. He's too tired to hide his facial tics, and Stephanie is too keen not to pick up on them even if he tried. "He… Did what he does best, protect people." There's a weighted sound to those words, as if they found some measure of difficulty leaving his mouth. Marbles of lead amidst a silver tongue.

"We're both alive, that's what we should be focusing on." Rickham's lips crook up from a wry smile to something more mirthful, "Now all I need to do is see if I can survive a political assassination." The way he tries to brush off the events so casually is common, using an off-color joke to sidestep a serious discussion he doesn't wish to have. Thankfully he was weened off of the technique for the debates.

"Don't do this to me," Steve pleads. "If you can't be honest with me, who can you be? Something's wrong. Tell me, Allen." Her hands fall away and she takes a step back. It's as symbollic as it is physical. "I thought you could be honest with me. Was I mistaken?"

"It's…" His eyes close, heavy with fatigue and regret, "It's not an honest world." When his eyes open, it's focused on the door to his office. For a time there's a silent regarding of it, followed by slow and patient footsteps that finally breaks the proximity he shares with his aide. Moving to the door, one cold hand turns the lock with a soft click. Turning, Rickham regards Stephanie again, hand still on the deadbolt to the office door, "It doesn't leave this room. It doesn't leave your lips. You, and only you, and only part. I — I can't tell you everything, it risks more than me."

Steve nods her head slowly and takes a seat, sinking down into the comfort of an oversized chair. She lifts the hat carefully off her head and sets it in her lap, toying with her fingers around the rim. "I've always kept your secrets, Allen." Political and otherwise. "I won't tell a soul."

Even as he's turning to face Stephanie more fully, there's a visible change in the texture of his skin in the dim, yellowed light of his desk lamp. Where once was merely weathered skin, soon bleeds out into the pitted texture of rough iron, dark and gray with a dull, matte finish. The transition is swift, like water seeping through cloth, and even his eyes change to dark orbs of hematite beneath rough iron lids. His suit remains untouched, even though his hair has shifted to thin metallic filament that crinkles with every motion he makes.

"Matt Parkman is good," His voice has a hollow, metallic tone to it, and while he dares not take a step, the floor still creaks under his sudden accumulation of weight and density. "This is what saved me, from Sylar." Eyes without pupils peer unblinkingly at Steve, like a bronze statue come to life. "No one can know. Not my wife, my son. No one."

One delicate hand comes up to cover her mouth, clearly shocked at the change. Steve takes in several slow, deep breaths before she manages to find words. "That's… amazing." Her tongue darts out between her lips, attempting to banish the dryness there along with her confusion. "I'm suddenly feeling a little mundane."

Her reaction is as close to expected as Allen could have wagered, and as his physical form slowly shifts back from its metallic state, he begins to walk towards her. Dark steely-gray evaporates away from his skin to reveal the fleshy hues of skin. "If anyone were to know, to find out about this… After I — " His words are cut off, guarded and wary. "Parkman knows," he doesn't elaborate on his former-terrorist companions, "But this, on top of what's boiling in the Senate right now… I can't risk eexposure. It would ruin me."

Steve nods. She knows this. "I would never tell." She reaches out to take one of his hands. "Never. Thank you for sharing this with me. I know, it's… a difficult…" She's at a loss for words. "Thank you," she settles on. "I… Allen? Could I ask a question?"

For a while Allen is just silent, his gaze distant and unfocused in its lingering stare out the dark windows to the lightly falling snow. His eyes close, arms folding across his chest as his silent nod is all the approval she needs to ask. In the time Stephanie has known the President-Elect, she's see this stoic facade he wears, almost as steely as his revealed alternate countenance; a protective shell he withdraws away in when he feels threatened, or uncertain. It's a hard thing to see in him, not because he hides it, but because it's been so much more frequent as of late.

"Did you think I had betrayed you?" she asks of him. "Even for a minute?" Steve can't help but ask. The man took her identity - he took her freaking BlackBerry! "Did you think it was me?"

The question hurts as much as the act did, "For a minute." It's an honest answer, as honest as he can be, anyway. "For a minute I did. It was your face, your smile, your…" He shakes his head, trying to stop words from flowing over themselves and leading the conversation somewhere outside of professional boundaries. "You don't have laser hands, though." He adds with a sardonic smile, letting his gaze finally pry away from the windows to settle on Stephanie. "That… settled it for me."

"I don't know," Steve teases, "I could." She smiles and rises from her seat, fidgeting with her hat in her hands. "Okay, so I don't. I'm not sure if I could find a practical application for those anyway."

Allen cracks a smile, this one a bit more honest than the last, "Be handy for cutting the Thanksgiving turkey." His brows raise, as if looking for an appraisal of the utility in all seriousness from the younger woman, before letting it go with a crooked smile and a shake of his head. "I'm glad you're back… that you're safe." For a moment Allen looks as though he's ready to rise from where he leans against his desk, but there's hesitation, and eventually resignation from the notion, and his gaze goes distant again.

"I'm going to need you for the firestorm that's going to come down on my head from the Talbot scandal, I…" His tired eyes settle on Stephanie again, "I need to know I have people around me I can trust."

"You can trust me," she assures him. "I swear, I would never…" But Sylar's broken some of that trust he had for her, hasn't he? Even if they both know it wasn't her who tried to kill him, it was still Steve Caiati's face. Her smile. "I promise," she insists.

Allen's shoulders slouch some, and his eyes divert down to the floor. Even for a man of iron, the weight of his life can press heavily on him. "Promises…" He mumbles to himself, thinking back to the promises made to the young leaders of Phoenix, younger than his own son. Rickham closes his eyes and gives a small shake to his head before turning to stare up at Stephanie quietly. For now, there's peace; a calm before the storm.

"Stay… for a little bit more." It may be one not even a near indestructible man can weather.

"What a silly thing to ask," Steve chides. "The only place I belong is by your side." Her smile is sad as she comes to lean against the desk next to the President-Elect. "I'm here. I will be here even after you've told me a thousand times to go."

For all the time they've spent together, professionally and comfortably, there's always been a gravitation from Allen Rickham to the woman too many years his junior. But he has a family, a son, a career. No matter what he might have felt at some time for Miss Caiati, those things have to be as repressed and hidden as his ability, they have to be secret. Even from her, or in so much as he thinks he can keep it from her.

"I know…" He adds in a humble tone, "That's why you're irreplaceable. When I thought I lost you…" He manages a faint smile, "I didn't know what to do. I don't think anyone could ever truly cope with losing you." Rickham's smile turns into a faintly teasing smirk, and he motions towards the window.

"The snow stopped." His eyes drift to the window panes, no more flakes falling against the black of night, "Looks like the storm's passed, for now."

"From someone who's lost much, I appreciate the sentiment, Allen. It's nice to know I'd be missed." Steve bows her head. A moment of silence for her parents. She glances out the window at his indication. "Hm. For now. But there are always dark clouds on the horizon."

There's a clink from some of the ice-cubes in the lowball glass Rickham had set down on the desk before Steve came in, ice cubes settling abruptly to punctuate her statement. The noise draws Rickham's eyes to the glass, and he nods in silent agreement to her sentiments. There always are.

January 2nd: Foxhole
January 2nd: The Corpse of Josie McCallum
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