Before He Could Talk


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Scene Title Before He Could Talk
Synopsis Linderman and Nathan discuss potential implementations of General Autumn's pet FRONTLINE project.
Date October 12, 2009

Petrelli Mansion

Nathan isn't in the habit of talking to the comatose. His bedside manner, in contrast to Peter's, once upon a time, is somewhat lacking. So as he sits in the dimming light of the late afternoon, he remains silent. There's a tick of a grandfather clock nearby, and birds in trees outside, and silence that easily oppresses the thin reedy inhale-exhale of Angela's breathing. Her hand feels bird-like and delicate in his own, which have been rough and strong ever since he was a teenager and haven't ceased to be.

The future isn't written in stone. Nathan would have disagreed, a long time ago, but these stalwart sentiments were fairly scrubbed away after long years in jail and even now seem frivolous. What would a politician who can fly know anything about time and space?

He did for a little while, and misses it. But that's not really the point. The philosophy isn't in the fact he could once shape and bend space and time with his own hands, the one that clasps his mother's. That was Hiro Nakamura's mistake. No, on the topic of philosophy— well, if Nathan had been right, he wouldn't be sitting here. Altering the course of the world just by being, by being this arrogant. But the other guy, he knows.

He doesn't want Ma dead either.

Shoulders slouched, and dressed in comfortable clothes not of a President but of a man tending to his mother, Nathan doesn't bid her to wake up. Whatever she dreams now, he can hope it's not what he dreams of. Waking up in cement cells, ones he built himself, to nothing but forever.

In the doorway of the bedroom is a broad-shouldered shape clothed in dark fabric designed to make his build appear slimmer and more youthful than his fifty-odd years. Very rarely does Daniel Linderman have the privilege of being in the company of someone more powerful than he, though there's nothing about his posture or the expression of his face — half-covered in the shadows cast by the door's ornate wooden frame — that suggests he views the man at Angela's bedside as his superior. Nathan will always be to him a boy of five or six with a shock of dark hair and eyes just a little too bright for his father's liking.

As he watches mother and son, Linderman's mouth is set into an anxious line that causes the wiry hairs on his upper lip to bristle with visible but quiet consternation, and when he moves into the room to join Nathan's silent vigil, his footsteps are heard by the virtue of his weight bearing down on the floorboards under his polished leather shoes. The house is old, older than even he, and not much has changed in the many decades it's been in the possession of the Petrelli family. If it weren't for New York's broken skyline framed by the window looking out over Central Park, curtains rippling in the afternoon breeze, it would be easy to mistake the mansion for Nathan's childhood home.

Only Nathan isn't a child anymore. He hasn't been for a long time.

"This is more familiar than you know."

The creaking foot steps heralding Linderman's approach don't have Nathan looking up, at first. He breaks his gaze from his mother's peaceful face, casting down towards where her thin fingers tangle between his thicker digits, nails long and clean. Running his thumb over her knuckles, he waits for Linderman to speak first before casting a gaze up. There's none of the worry that a man watching over his elderly, comatose mother should have, not expressed in his face anywhere near the clarity of scars from long ago written into his jaw and chin.

As expressive as his face could be, eyes too telling. That hadn't only been Arthur's lone annoyance. Nathan shakes his head, takes the bait presented to him. "How so?"

Linderman offers Nathan the glimmer of a smile as he comes up alongside the younger man and reaches down to brush a strand of dark hair behind Angela's ear. "Too long ago for you to remember," he says, and although his eyes have settled on the Petrelli matriarch's face, cheekbones even more gaunt and pronounced than he or Nathan remember them being, his words are intended for her son. "I think it was seventy, seventy-one. Before Peter was born and you were still small enough for your mother to carry you on her hip. It started with a fever — most of these things do. I remember being on the phone with your father when the doctors gave them the diagnosis."

Linderman sinks down to take a seat beside Nathan at the bed. "Bacterial meningitis. I don't think she knew what that was, but she knew she might lose you, so Arthur flew me out right away. She was sitting here, right here, as you are now, clasping your little hand in hers."

Nathan watches Linderman watch her, and eventually, he rests her hand back down upon the bedsheets, which are ever whiter than her parchment flesh. His own come to join together so that he might rest his chin against tangled fingers, eyes shielded by heavy hoods and eyelashes before switching back up towards the white-whiskered man. "Our family has always owed you," he says, and it's not with a wistful tone, or one of affection.

His voice is coarse, if not aggressive. Ragged at the edges. "Hell. I've always owed you. Even before I could talk." The comfortable bed with the broken doll form of his mother is no kind of desk, but still, his clasped hands come to rest on the edge of it like it might be, his back still slouched but the angle of his head is attentive.

"You wanted to see me?" Half a beat. "Daniel?"

"You could stand to humour an old man, Nathan," Linderman says. "It won't be long before you're one yourself, remember. That handsome face you see every morning in the mirror aside." His tone, in contrast, remains steady, amiable; except where Adam Monroe is concerned, there are very few things capable of penetrating his voice's accented polish. Calm, cool, controlled: these are the three c's that have made him what he is today. "I need a favour."

Back straightening, a visible manifestation of annoyance, Nathan keeps aforementioned face free of reaction and emotion. He'd gotten better about that, eight or seven years in maximum security has its own kind of education. He slants a glance towards the door, but Heidi doesn't make a silhouette in its frame to overhear anything particularly suspicious. Partially closed, it disguises the hallway, and it was really only Angela's special talent for moving soundless around the estate.

He levels a look back towards Linderman, cast him a smile that makes hard lines on his face. "I hope you don't think I'm ungrateful. What's the favour?"

Linderman exhales slowly, lifting his eyes from Angela's face to direct a steely gaze out the bedroom window. Birds flit between trees. Lingering droplets of rain from an earlier thundershower glisten gold on the glass, infused with sunlight. "The Flying Dragons have become more aggressive in the wake of your father's death. I thought I might try to resolve the problem by removing Liu and Song Le from its head, but I was only half successful in this endeavor."

He smoothes the palm of his callused hand along the bedspread, ironing the wrinkles from the pristine cotton sheets, the thread count of which is outrageously high. "The longer this conflict continues," he says, "the more destabilized the situation becomes. It would be to your benefit, and mine, if FRONTLINE were brought in to address the threat Triad Refrain dealers are posing to the civilian population."

"My benefit."

Nathan's smile remains where it is, only occasionally showing glimmers of politician white teeth. "You and Ma, always the better judge of that." His hand closes again over her's, cupping rather than gripping, and watching more the indistinct rise of sheets over her body than her gaunt features. "Ever since— this. This second chance. I can't help but wonder sometimes what everything would be like if done differently. If I could have gone further back while I had the opportunity. Decide who I needed to benefit and how. You and Ma. Peter. Myself. Save the world."

His hand comes off her's around the same time Nathan is levering himself to stand. His shadow falls across his mother's form as he turns towards Linderman; raises a hand and gestures towards where doors open slightly into a different room. "Follow me."

"You can still save the world," Linderman reminds Nathan gently as he too rises from the bed with more reluctance, though this hesitation has nothing to do with the thin form of the graying woman beneath the sheets. As the weather continues to sour, temperatures dropping, the pain in his joints grows more intense, his arthritis severe. "Why not take your father's place, hm? Issue in a new era of light. You've seen it can be done."

As he speaks, he follows Nathan out of the bedroom several steps behind, one hand behind his back and resting just above the tailbone, the other curling loosely at his side. "You have the power, too. Resources that weren't available to Arthur. No one has to take the fall for what happened in Midtown."

He walks ahead of Linderman, and the creaky way with which the older man rises gets a shifting, quick glance before it goes ignored to the point of Nathan keeping his hands to himself. Pushing open the doors, the sitting room is sparsely furnished, underused, but not neglected. There are chairs, a table, surfaces clean and polished, and the curtains are opened wide to draw as much of the dying light in as it can, like the way eyes open in the pitch black in an attempt to capture what light there is and see.

"I intend to save the world. I intend to save it from what I could do to it."

And there are paintings on the walls, although they are not every image Nathan had been given courtesy of a prophet. Only two. An eclipse glows its curve, all black and red, and this Nathan passes by as he comes to stand before the shape of coastal Staten Island. Buzzard helicopters arc their flashlights like swords slicing through the darkness.

They are black and unmarked, which its own kind of uniform. "Staten Island is going to be retaken. I don't need it to be painted to know it will be successful. You want me to lend you FRONTLINE and break up this little mobster war you got going?"

Linderman's gaze shifts between the paintings, but his weathered face utterly fails to reflect whatever visceral thoughts their imagery inspires. The hand at his back drifts down to join the other at his side. "Think of it as a test run. As it stands, your team lacks real field experience. This isn't Iraq, and this isn't Afghanistan — this is the United States of America, and unless their files lie, none of your men have operated on American soil prior to the incident at the Metropolitan last month."

He reaches up and runs the tips of his fingers through the silver of his beard. "The Flying Dragons are the worst of the worst here in Manhattan," he says, "but even the Le family refuses on principle to participate in the rights violations occurring across the strait. You've heard the rumours, I'm sure. Human trafficking. Evolved cage fights. It's my understanding that Humanis First might even be using it as a base of operations as well. If I was in your position, I would want my people to be prepared."

Nathan studies the painting as he has so many times, his back soldier-stiff beneath his shirt and his arms folded across his torso. He listens, which is all rather the point - he wants to listen, has always wanted to listen. And when it comes time to talk, he allows thoughtful silence simmer for a moment before angling his attention back towards Linderman.

"I'll put in a call to General Autumn. Let him know that FRONTLINE needs to be on a hairtrigger if anything to do with the Flying Dragons reaches a boiling point. He'll get it done."

His eyebrows go up, as if to ask, anything else? But Nathan doesn't let it lie like that, his hands shifting into the pockets of his slacks as he quietens his voice and says, "I never really thanked you for standing by me. It would have been easy— natural— not to."

"I've known your father since the war, and your mother even longer than that," Linderman says with his chin in his hand. When he shakes his head, the movement is so slight as to be almost imperceptible. "Aside from my Zoe, I never had any family of my own, and perhaps that's my own fault for the choices I've made." Another smile, and unlike the tentative one that he showed Nathan when he first entered Angela's bedroom, this one doesn't just reach his eyes.

It fills them.

"I don't regret it, mind. I enjoyed watching you and your brother grow, and would be no friend to this family if I didn't stand by it in times of need."

Times of need. Nathan shifts a look back towards the image of the future, his expression as ever one that could be chiseled from granite, solid and solemn. Eventually, he reaches out a hand; it grips Daniel's upper arm, below the shoulder, although he gains no smile. The Petrelli family had always been better at communicating with their hands, anyway. Smiles had been a mask.

He steps away, moving back for the doors that open directly into Angela's room to continue his vigil. No invitation for Linderman to join him, or polite reassurance that the man can see himself out. It is as much Daniel's home as it is his.

Perhaps even more so, when you look at the facts.

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