Hard Lives, Hard People


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Scene Title Hard Lives, Hard People
Synopsis Desmond Harper has two things to offer Elle Bishop — truth and respect. It's a measured gift.
Date July 29, 2010

Financial District

The sleek black skyscraper towering over New York City's Financial District in defiant opposition to the Linderman Building just a few blocks away is an unadorned monument to New York's largest Private Military Company: Stillwater Security.

Typically, business for Stillwater is handled on many of the floors in the highrise building, with government representatives and liaison offices operating on several floors due to the close nature of Stillwater's association with the US Government. This building was, specifically, chosen for the meeting of the minds between Desmond Harper and Elle Bishop as something of a neutral ground. It isn't an Institute office and it isn't a Company facility, it is a place where the two can come to meet on a roughly even level to discuss the future.

Or at least discuss Agent Harper's vision of it.

On the 33rd floor, down gray tiled floors and behind a nondescribe faux-wood door marked DHS Liaison Offices, Desmond Harper patiently awaits the arrival of miss Bishop. Standing behind his desk, the youthful and darkly-dressed federal agent stares out through a wall of windows towards the ruined skyline of Midtown Manhattan in the distance. The vista from Harper's office shows the skeletal remains of skyscrapers eviscerated by atomic fire, shows the lightless heart of New York City under a sky of patchwork gray and blue.

Important decisions are typically made here in this office, today likely will not be an exception to the rule.

At first, it took a fairly large amount of debating with herself, once Harper expressed interest in meeting with her after her capture of Mortimer. Or Warren. Or whatever his name is now. However, that seed he planted in her that day was offered a nice little chance to sprout, given recent circumstances. Here, she just caught the man who destroyed Primatech Bronx. She would have at least expected some kind of reaction from her father. Instead, all she got was a dismissive, "That's nice," and nothing more.

It kind-of inspired a bit of a rebellious streak in Elle. First she went to see Warren yesterday after mysteriously getting a phone call, and effectively wrapped him around her little finger in the process. Now, she's going to meet with Agent Desmond "Dessy-poo" Harper about some matter that he seems to think is important. He certainly got her attention the other day…so she'll humor him, at least.

Stepping off of the elevator, Elle Bishop glances around, before heading toward that wooden door. Moments later, a knock sounds from that faux wooden door, before it opens to reveal the petite blonde. "Agent Dessy-poo," She smiles, waving to the man.

There's a grunt from Harper on hearing that nickname, and as he turns from the window to regard Elle, his lips are begrudgingly crooked up into a half smile. "Good to see you decided to make it," Harper notes amiably, motioning towards a low-backed leather chair opposite of his desk. "Go on and take a seat." As he makes the invitation, Harper is circling around his desk, coming to stand in front of it and then casually sit down on the corner, folding his hands in his lap.

"I'll admit, I didn't think anyone from the Company would really have the desire to talk to me, I'm not exactly popular around the office." There's a crease of Harper's brows, shoulders rising in a shrug before he unfolds his hands and claps them on his knees. "Alright so— I guess before I get to what I wanted to talk about, I thought I'd see what you think this meeting is about."

One of Harper's brows lift quizzically. "Might not be a bad idea to cut down any preconceptions before we begin."

Slipping in, Elle closes the door behind herself, moving to the offered seat and lowering herself down. She fidgets a bit to get comfortable, and then crosses her legs, peering across the desk at the man as he speaks. Quietly, she listens to him, a thoughtful smile upon her face as he firsts asks what she thinks this is about. She thinks about it for a moment, peering up at the ceiling.

"Well, I have my reasons to be at least a little interested in what you said a few days back. As for preconceptions, I don't know. Part of me is wondering if you want me to join up with the Institute. Then you said that you have something I might want to see, so…I'm really not sure what to expect in this situation." She leans back in her chair, steepling her fingers as she peers at him.

"I do," Harper admits, "want you to join the Institute. I think the Company is squandering a resource like yourself with the assignments they've been giving to you, and I don't frankly think that they appreciate the level of dedication you have to them." Clasping his hands together again, Harper bows his head into a slow nod. "As for what I wanted to show you…"

Twisting, Harper reaches back onto his desk and picks up a leather folio with a few manilla folders tucked inside. "It's not much of a well-kept secret that much of the Institute's ground-work was laid by the Pinehearst Company. After the US government appropriated Pinehearst's holdings, the sensitive materials went straight to intelligence departments for analysis. Now, Arthur Petrelli was a relatively good record keeper," Harper admits as he flips the folers open, looking down to the documents inside.

"Apparently, prior to the unexpected collapse of Pinehearst, he had been gathering intelligence about you, likely from his spy in Pinehearst, Roger Goodman." Harper plucks something from the dossier, holding it out and turning it around to Elle. It's a photograph of a woman in her early 50s, wavy blonde hair and crisp blue eyes, smiling cheerfully.

"Do you recognize her?" As Harper holds out the photograph, there's a conflicting feeling: Recognition and confusion. No, Elle doesn't recognize her, but at the same time— seeing that smile breaks her heart.

Elle was certainly expecting the part about him asking to join the Institute. And it's apparent that she's at least interested in finding more details about the offer to join the Institute. Certainly, it's something she'll have to think about…but a lot of this depends on his offer, too. Leaving the safety net of the Company…that's something big, even for the doubtful Elle. After all, leaving the Company would also be leaving Daddy…something that would be horribly difficult for her.

The folders are regarded with some interest, the petite girl's eyebrows raising as she peers across the table, listening as Harper explains. She's not so good at keeping up the masks these days, as confusion and curiousity are shown in those wide blue eyes of hers. Arthur Petrelli? Gathering intelligence about her? Why would he do something like that?

Elle certainly wasn't expecting the last part, though. As the picture is held up to her, she tentatively reaches out, taking it and looking it over. She wasn't expecting the sad feeling she gets, looking upon this familiar yet unfamiliar face. Her brow furrows, and she blinks quietly up at Harper. "No…I don't recognize her."

"Her name was Eleanor Bishop," which is to say Elle's full name, "and she was your mother." The words come like electric shocks, sending Elle's heart racing and fingers shaking without a conscious effort on her own part, subconsciously repressed emotions bubbling up to the surface like oil struck in a desert. "She was a researcher for the Company, a scientist. Eleanor was murdered, by the Company, and her death was covered up by membrs of the upper echelon of the organization."

There's no pride in what Harper's saying, just difficulty. Clearing his throat, his eyes angle down to his lap, hands wringing together. "She was part of research into the Formula, and was among the 34 agents and scientists who were killed in what was staged as an accident at the Hartsdale New York facility. When it was deemed the Company's research with the Formula was too risky," Harper's eyes drift up to Elle, "they ended it."

And for a long moment, nothing but silence comes from the petite blonde, her eyes glued to the photograph as Harper's words sink in. She just stares at the picture, quivering quietly. At first, the emotions are felt as if from a distance as they begin to bubble. Confusion. Anger. Hatred. Rage. Sadness. Betrayal. Pain. Longing for the mother she never got to know. It's almost as if the girl has turned into a statue for a long moment. But the emotions don't stop. They just keep coming, stronger and stronger.

Normally, she would not want to even think of showing her emotions in front of a man like Desmond Harper. He's from the outside, she doesn't know him that well. Normally, Elle would prefer to keep any emotions she does feel bottled up, hidden away where nobody can find them. Normally, Elle would only cry in privacy, where she could be sure that no eyes were upon her.

But this isn't a normal situation.

Suddenly, Elle gives a loud cry, pushing the picture away from herself as if it were burning her just to hold it; the chair scuffs against the carpet as she pushes away from the desk, drawing her knees up to her chest and hugging them as the unexpected tears spring forth. "They killed her?!" That's all she can say, her jaw working as if there's more, but it's not coming out.

The photograph flutters to the floor, landing face up. Harper is silent in his acknowledgement, just a nod as he slides off of his desk and crouches down to pick up the photo by one corner, then slowly rises to stand up. "Arthur Petrelli ordered it," Harper admits quietly, "unfortunately he's already dead and can't continue to pay for his crimes." Laying the picture on the desk behind himself, Harper stays quiet, then looks towards Elle with a shake of his head.

"When you found out she died," he explains in a hushed tone of voice, "your father ordered a mind wipe to be performed. You were young, this was before the testing. Charles Deveaux," Charles, "another one of the Company's higher ups performed it. He cleared away your memories of your mother, every last one of them, under the impression that it was sparing you the pain."

Frowning, Harper breathes in deeply and steps around his desk again, coming to stand beside his chair. "I thought before you made any kind of decision, that you should know the truth."

Elle certainly isn't use to the barrage of emotions that is attacking her at the moment, quietly crying into her legs. More lies. More and more and more, they just keep stacking up. First, the torturous first years of her life, the voltage pumped into her, the erased memories leaving little pathways for them to shape her personality. The treatment given to her by her father growing up, making her so damned dependent on both him and the Company. The fact that she's spent most of her life grasping for any form of praise she could get from her father, the hopes that always, always turned out to be false.

And now this. Now she finds that they killed her mother. They murdered her. And then, on top of everything else, they wiped her memories of her mom clean. There are no memories of pancake breakfasts or watching TV with mommy. There's nothing. And once again, it's Daddy. Daddy, the most important person in her life.

Daddy, the number one source of all of her problems, it seems.

She can't help but wonder what her life might have been like if she hadn't been born to Bob Bishop. If the Company hadn't stepped in and destroyed her life. What would it have been like to go to an amusement park with her mom and dad? What would it have been like to go eat breakfast on Sunday mornings? And what would life be like without Bob Bishop now? Would things get better?

After a long moment, she holds her hand out for the photograph once more, wiping the tears from her eyes with the back of her hand. "That's my picture. I want it." Her voice is shaky, and she's really struggling just to stop crying.

Harper's eyes angle down to the photograph, nodding once in slow fashion before sliding it across the desk and up off the surface. He takes two steps to clear the distance to Elle, then crouches beside her chair and offers out the picture to her. "It's yours," he confirms, holding the glossy white back up to her rather than shoving the face of her mother at Elle.

"I'm, sorry. Sorry you had to find out like this, sorry… for a lot of things," Harper's other hand reaches inside the ink black suit jacket he wears, withdrawing a white handkerchief and offering that out along with the photograph. "The Institute is different than the Company, and I think you can see why now. We're trying to undo all the damage they've done, and heal the world."

Harer's brows crease together and his eyes angle down to the floor, then back up to Elle. "If you want we can talk about this later, another time? I— can't really say I knw how hard this must be for you, I don't think anyone could sympathize with it. But if there's anything you need?" Harper's brows lift slowly, "Just name it."

Taking the photograph, Elle quietly slips it into her purse, doing her best not to look at it right now. She'll save that flood of emotions for later, when she's on her own and nobody is around to see it, let alone this relative stranger. The outburst of emotion is slowly pushed back down, the tears finally coming to a halt after what seemed like an eternity of crying, though it was really a matter of minutes. It takes her another long moment to simply compose herself, taking the offered handkerchief and blotting at her eyes and nose.

Finally, she turns to look at Harper, taking a few deep breaths. His words…they really do make sense. First, they told Warren about his past. Now, she's finding out about her mother…and the nerve of her father, taking her out to celebrate her mom's birthday, when he has absolutely no right to even celebrate her after all he's done.

Composure returning, she shakes her head. "No." She peers down at her purse, then back up at 'Dessy-poo'. "I want to know what the Institute has for me. My faith in the company is rapidly deteriorating…so what do you have for me?"

"Opportunity," is Harper's quiet, solemn answer. "Opportunity to do what you've done for the Company. To capture dangerous Evolved who pose a threat to society by being at large, but to do so with recognition and respect." Harper finally comes to stand up straight, moving back to his desk and sitting on one corner again, his hands planted flat on the desktop behind him this time. "Also, opportunity to make the Company pay for what they've done to you… make them be held accountable."

Elle's heard this song and dance before, though. The emotional content of what Harper's shown her has been painful and poignant, but she's been here before.

Or would have been, on the other side of this conversation.

Years into a future that can not never be, Elle herself was hunted down when the Company lost favor with the government. She, her father, and every other agent in the world were rounded up, arrested, tried and executed as enemy combatants. Elle had made an affirmation after learning about that potential future, after seeing it for herself, that she would never let that be her fate. That she would never go quietly into the night.

"We'd like you to, come September, join the Institute as a full-time agent. The administration has a great deal more respect for its agents than the Company does, and we think you'd excel." Is her pain so great that she'd betray the only life she's known to save herself, or to enact something like revenge?

Certainly, this is a matter that will require a large amount of thought. It's no laughing matter, to leave the Company. To…to make them pay. Revenge, perhaps? She would leave everything she's ever known. Certainly, the Company has always been her safety net. Having a father as one of the founders certainly has helped to create that nest of safety. But that won't last forever, will it?

Apparently, the job description won't change, save for the promise of recognition and respect, the two things she's always craved and desired more than anything else. She certainly doesn't get that over at the Company. Everyone thinks she's a nutcase. People avoid her. They don't even give her a chance any more. And Daddy…well, she's become fairly convinced that he'll never change. She would just have to leave that comfort zone, go some place new. Daddy wouldn't be there to back her up. But then again…Daddy wouldn't be there to constantly dash her hopes to the ground, to constantly overlook her, to lie to her with each and every word that comes out of his mouth.

Certainly, this will take a lot of careful thinking…but she's already made her mind up, hasn't she? It was one thing that they tortured her and took her memories of that. But killing her mother and taking all of her memories of her? That's quite another thing entirely.

Quietly, her eyes still stained red from her earlier outburst, Elle watches Harper. "And until then?"

"Until then you keep quiet about this offer, because I don't think anyone in the Company would understand, and I certainly don't want it getting back to them that I made you the offer." Reaching up one hand to scratch the side of his cheek, the Institute agemt glances askance at his desk, then back to Elle. "I'll let you know when we're ready to transition you in," which is a nice way of putting the upcoming situation, "but for now, business as usual."

There's a faint smile from Harper as he slides off of his desk, unable to get comfortable. Straightening up, he adjusts the collar of his shirt with one hooked finger. "Besides, you need time to think on this properly, you've… had a lot shoveled on your plate today, and unlike the Company… the Institute isn't going to force your hand."

The petite girl nods quietly, tucking her hair behind her ear as she turns her eyes down toward her purse, her mind on the picture within. How…how can she even enjoy her trip with her father to 'celebrate mom's birthday' with this knowledge? Is it just going to be more lies piled on top of lies?

No matter what, Harper's talk with Elle has had its intended effect. Mutinous thoughts are dancing through her head, of her father, of the Company itself. It's definitely not easy to learn that your entire life has been a lie. That the manipulation never stopped, ever, and that the life she's always known has pretty much been a lie. They took her life from her.

With another slow nod, Elle gathers up her things…before stopping, looking at the file that he pulled her mother's picture from. "…Is there anything else in there I don't know about already?"

"Nothing important," is a lie told to keep Elle from worrying, and it has Harper turning away from Elle and closing the leather folio, "but when you come to work for us, we'll let you take a look at the whole thing, just so you can be sure." It's a small, subtle measure of control that Harper applies in those words before turning to face Elle again. "Right now, just keep your mind focused on doing your job with the Company as admirably as possible."

It's the same thing he said before to her, as admirably as possible. Desmond Harper does not have a high opinion of the Company.

"There is… one thing, though," seems like a comment that comes with strings attached. "Did Wallace Ray get in touch with you?" Then, he adds "Mortimer?" just for clarity's sake.

The girl watches quietly as he closes the folio, frowning a bit; the frown lessens with the promise of looking at the whole thing. When she comes to work for them. She watches the man quietly, nodding the affirmative. She can keep doing her job for the company…masks are her specialty, after all, and it's easy to hide contempt behind bubbly smiles and cheer.

The same won't be reserved for Daddy.

His final question has her brows raising, her head tilted to the side. "Warren, Wallace, Mortimer, Alex…yeah, he got in touch with me earlier, actually." Such an interesting character. Wrapped himself around her little finger by himself. "What about him?"

"I gave him your number," is a little guiltily noted, "and I was wondering if… you might be able to do me a favor, regarding him?" It's an entirely rhetorical question, of course, because as Harper tucks his hands into the pockets of his slacks and starts to circle Elle's chair, he's already explaining the nature of the favor. "We have Warren on a contract-basis employment with the Institute, sort've… work placement?" There's a crackof a smile at that as Harper makes a full circle around the chair, then starts walking ot the windows of his office.

"He's unstable, though, I'm sure you're aware." It may seem as though Harper isn't watching Elle, or paying her much heed, but there's things about this agent's perceptions that are better left unsaid. "I'd like it if you could keep a close eye on him for me? Keep notes on who he talks to, where he goes, who he has meetings with? I think he's infatuated with you," this seems familiar, replace Desmond Harper with Noah Better and Warren Ray with Gabriel Gray.

"See if you can use that, and just keep his trust? I want to make certain he's a worthwhile investment, and not a security leak." Turning around to put his back to the windows, Harper's eyes settle on Elle. "Consider this a side-project."

There is little in the way of surprise registering on Elle's features as Harper explains the nature of his request. Her eyes remain on her purse in her lap as he speaks, her fingers playing over her lips as an almost nervous habit of sorts. Almost, but not quite. Her mind pounces on the similarities; though with this one, she's fairly sure she's not going to…become so emotionally involved. She doesn't plan on it, certainly.

It's not like she wasn't planning on doing some pretty similar things in the first place.

"On that note, I'm sure you'll be pretty relieved to hear that I already went to his secret base and somehow, he just kinda…wrapped himself around my little finger. Promises of all the gadgets I could ever want, and the use of his facility and men any time I need it." She offers a suddenly charming smile to Harper, though it doesn't come anywhere near her eyes. "So I'm sure I can manage such a thing. He's psychotic, enough to make me look sane…" She pauses, finishing that thought in her mind: but he's cute and fun to play with. "I'll acccept this side-project, then. I'm sure I can have a little fun with it…"

"You are sane," Harper says with a tone of voice that seems almost disbelieving Elle's own assessment of herself, "you've just led a hard life, and a hard life makes hard people." There's a little projection there in Harper's personal assessment of Elle. "I wouldn't trust you if I didn't think you were sane, Elle, and I wouldn't give you any responsibility." Offering a faint smile at that, Harper finally steps over to the chair behind his desk he's been skirting all this time, tiredly slouching down into it and sinking back into the supple leather padding.

"If you need anything from me, you have my number. Unless there was anything else you needed, Elle, I think you're all set here. Come the end of August, we'll talk more about your placement with the Institute. Until then," Harper playfully makes a zipper moution across his own mouth and arches his brows.

Elle returns Harper's almost disbelieving look at his assessment, before a slow smile winds its way over her lips. That's a pleasant change. Usually it's nutcase, sociopath, crazy bitch…sometimes, she feels like something is broken inside of her. But Harper…he sees things differently. In a light that she rather likes, at that. "Th-thank you, Agent Harper." Seems she's finally dropped the silly nickname. At least, until she's feeling snarky again.

She nods slowly, gathering her purse and mimicing Harper's zipper motion, smiling. "I guess…I'll see you come August." With a slow nod, she begins toward the door, her head cloudy with new thoughts and emotions that will take time to work through…

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