Kites II


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Scene Title Kites II
Synopsis Together, Faulkner and Nicole try to hatch a plan to protect their legacies.
Date March 3, 2021

It's 3 am, and Isaac Faulkner finds himself now in a place that he has only heard about before; a place that he's always thought only happened to other people. Not him. Never him. But now? Now, it is him. Leta Darlow and her federally funded friends have managed to shake his house of cards, and the damage is still playing out, and now Isaac Faulkner finds himself reduced to this: sitting incognito in a Denny's at 3 am.

New York City
North Corona

3:04 AM
March 3, 2021

How the hell did it end up like this?

He adjusts his glasses — a pair of brown-rimmed John Lennon spectacles — and tugs at the sleeves of the grey, formless hoodie he's wearing, poring over the menu again and reminding himself that this is probably still better than his attempt at cooking dinner would have been.


Nicole’s attire is subdued; a dark heather grey cardigan over a silk camisole with a lace neckline, and black skinny jeans with chelsea boots. A herringbone overcoat is already draped over her arm by the time she arrives. The deep purple of the cloche hat on her head is the only pop of color to her ensemble. The black ribbon tied around its band holds in place a beautiful peacock feather and a fuchsia plume of marabou.

It doesn’t take her more than a moment to find her protégé, even disguised as he is. Who else would have taught him that? Her accent may seem ostentatious to him, but it will be a smattering of feathers anyone who may be curious will remember, not the woman wearing it, or the comparatively bland man she converses with.

“We have a lot to discuss,” Nicole remarks without preamble. With her this close, he can tell she’s been crying, and hard. In addition to the sleeplessness she’s been “enjoying” since her power was awakened. “You first.”

Nicole's a disaster; he wonders about that for a moment, but doesn't ask yet. Business first.

"It's not about Asami anymore," Faulkner says grimly. "I got Agent Darlow started monologuing. She caught herself before she really got into it — more's the pity — but she said plenty. The DEA's involved. They've got a warrant for our financials and they're conducting a full forensic audit." His tone is calm and even, his expression impassive, for all that he's laying out a nightmare scenario made real.

"Davis and Fulbright were waiting in my office, to talk about my future with the Group; Fulbright's always been a rat, but Davis was a surprise." That betrayal still stings, but so it goes. "Also Doris was 'unavailable'. They've seized my personal workstation but haven't gotten in yet; they also tossed my office, though at least they did so nicely. I swept the place for bugs three times after they left."

He takes a deep breath. "Finance is sealed off; they've sequestered everyone inside. Also Darlow's planning to make this a very loud, very visible spectacle." Isaac considers for a moment, then nods. "That's my day. Your turn."

Isaac isn’t saying anything Nicole hasn’t already sussed out on her own, but he’s filling in the details in ways she wouldn’t have been able to. The hows of the whats. While he gets her up to speed, she teases her tongue along the tip of one canine. It’s a thoughtful expression she only engages in around those she’s comfortable with. That list is a very short one and growing shorter every day, it seems.

Nicole lets out a hard breath, one corner of her mouth pulled upward as if by hook. Incredulity, but also she’s impressed. Someone’s truly managed to give them a run for their money after all these years. Figures it’d be the biggest criminal organization of them all. But if they think they’ve won, they have another thing coming. Her mouth works around the words she wants to form, testing their shape until she finds just the right ones:

“I’m going to feed that bitch her own fucking liver.”

"Shame. She'd have gone far, if she'd been working for us. The sharpest knives are the most likely to turn, though," he says, deadpan.

He mulls for a moment, then looks back to Nicole. "We need to find out what they know, and how they know it. Who they've turned. We should still have a palm or two that can be greased in the DEA. I need this yesterday… and I need you to handle it personally. The fewer links involved, the better. Keep Zarek out of it." His gaze is sharp on that one. "At least until we know she had nothing to do with it. Also Doris, obviously, but since she's apparently still in the Financial Campout Zone, that won't be a problem."

His expression turns distracted for a moment as he remembers that odd phone call earlier… but whatever the deal had been with that, it's not something he knows enough about to make heads or tails of at the moment.

"Muldoon I think can be trusted, at least," he says, grimacing. "Now. Your turn."

There’s a tip of her head to the sentiment of the kind of career Darlow could have enjoyed in the tenure of the Group, agreeing with the assessment. All around. It’s when Faulkner takes the reins that Nicole sits up a little taller, shoulders back, spine straightening. She looks at him almost as if she’s not seen him before. Or… not for a long time at any rate. To the mention of James Muldoon, she only nods her head. Cop wife or not, he knows which side his bread’s buttered on. He has to know what happens to him if the whole organization crashes down on their heads.

But it’s her turn, and her mouth twists into a frown. “The board wants to call for your removal.” That should come as little surprise. “I’m inclined to support them.” One word from Nicole, and Isaac’s birthright is lost to him. Everything he’s feared since his father died. “It’s the best way to protect the Group. The optics are pointed at you. Isaac Faulkner on the take. We take a stance against that, we force you out, we save face.”

Nicole pushes up her sleeves. She is hardly finished. “Publicly, we’re able to state that we’re investigating your actions, but you’ve been removed until such time as you can be exonerated. Privately, it gives me more space to maneuver. Davis and Fulbright—” The name seems to catch on something in the back of her throat, and she lets out a quiet chuckle. “If they think I’ve sided with them, that I’d toss you aside like dead weight holding me back…” This is a strategic treachery she’s suggesting.

“And it gives you an excuse not to be floating through the offices like a fretful ghost. I’ll handle this, like I always do, and I’ll take care of you in the meanwhile.” Finally, Nicole looks uneasy. She believes in the necessity of what she’s suggesting, but that doesn’t mean she has to like it.

And none of this answers the question he put to her. Nicole presses her lips together after a heavy exhale. She can’t meet his gaze anymore, staring at some unfixed point past his right shoulder. “My sister…” She named a foundation for her. Raised money for countless children, so they wouldn’t be taken from their families the way her baby sister had. “She’s alive.”

Her expression indicates that this isn’t something she’s celebrating. Quickly, she paws at tears, hoping to wipe them away before they have a chance to be noticed. “She’s alive, and she wants nothing to do with me.”

Isaac is silent for a moment. Two. "It's the smart move," he says at last, and Nicole Miller knows him well enough to know exactly how much it costs him to say that. To give his blessing to this.

But desperate times call for desperate measures, and in the end, he has two choices — crumble beneath the pressure, or rise to the occasion. Be damned if he's going to fall apart. He isn't going to give Darlow the satisfaction.

Nicole's personal tragedy blindsides him, though; his eyes widen, then his face twists into a sympathetic grimace. "God, what a… okay. Shit. I'm sorry," he says, rubbing at the bridge of his nose. "How's… how's the rest of your family?" he asks, looking for something bright to try to touch on.

Nicole’s looked broken since her plan was tacitly accepted. There’s so much happening at once, and she’s being destroyed bit by bit. The question about the rest of her family sees her gasp for a breath and even she is taken aback by the sharpness of it. How immediate the tears are to form and to flow. “I had just finished listening to Colette’s message when ‘Ella called…”

There’s a thunk when her elbows hit the table and her face is buried in her hands. “She’s sick again, Isaac. Avery. They had to call an ambulance for her. I—” Nicole shudders, sniffling wetly. “They let me take her home, but…”

Worry creases her brow, confusion, when she lifts her head again to look across the table at Faulkner. “That’s not how your ability works. Daniel healed people for good. They didn’t relapse.”

Faulkner's expression is one of subtle shock. "I… but…"

Nicole's taking care of his dazed ranting for him, though, so he trails off, falling silent as he stares off into the distance. Because… she's right. That isn't how it's worked. He hasn't started spontaneously bleeding out the neck again — not even when he'd met with Mrs. Muldoon. Nova's wrist hadn't rebroken… so what the hell is going on?

"That… that isn't how it works, no. She was cured. Her heart… it was fixed. The infection in her lungs, it was gone. She was healthy, dammit!" he exclaims; it's an effort to keep from actually shouting. He scrubs both hands down his cheeks, then looks to Nicole and passes her a napkin for her tears.

"Why her?"

There are other things to be addressed — the specifics of his terms of exile, as it were — but this is what he's stuck on at the moment. Why had this happened to Avery?

The napkin is taken with a quiet hum that passes for her gratitude. She dabs away the moisture and sweeps carefully under her eyes to avoid smudging the make-up she’d so carefully applied to help hide the fact that she’s been doing so much of this in the past twenty-four hours.

“I don’t know what’s happening. It’s like something’s keeping her sick.” She’d ask how fate could be so cruel to a child, but she asked that question when she was ten years old. Lived it. Now it’s like she’s trading Avery’s life for Colette’s and—

Nicole’s eyes grow wide, a silent need to break herself out of that line of thinking before she can fall prey to it. In another life, wouldn’t she have gladly sacrificed anything — anyone — for Colette? The guilt is suffocating, even if she knows this isn’t that. There was no deliberation in this. No intent. No exchange proposed. Still, she frets.

“I don’t know what to make of it,” she admits once she’s found her voice again. Once more her features school themselves back toward neutrality. Or at least a form of it with an acceptable tint toward something on the cooler spectrum. She shakes her head quickly, downplaying the importance of her personal struggles. “We have to find our rat. We need the stability of that answer.”

"Yes," Faulkner says quietly. "We find the mole. We find out what they know, and then we can do damage control."

"But there's one thing." Isaac says. "It can't just be you taking care of everything, Nicole; we need to work together if we're going to save the Group," he says, peering intently at Nicole. "There are still things I can do."

The smile shows in Nicole’s eyes before it reaches her lips, even if the slope of her brow still conveys some of her pain. “Yes, my boy.” In that moment, she sounds like the man who mentored them both. “If I thought you were incapable or useless, I’d have exercised this ability long ago. Nothing’s changed in the last five minutes,” she assures him. “There is plenty I need your help with. Plenty you’ll be able to handle outside of the office that I will not have the freedom to do.”

Nicole gestures across the table to him, as though extending an olive branch. “I assume you want to tackle something in particular. Tell me.”

"Simple enough. While you're focused on keeping the Tower standing and keeping our houseguests from eating everything in the pantry… I'm going to take advantage of my upcoming suspension to focus on digging and damage control. We need to know what they know, and we need to contain any security risks before they lumber in and start excavating. I can do that," Faulkner says, clasping his hands. "The issue is going to be doing it without anyone catching on. I think I know someone who can help with that, though," he says, fixing his gaze on Nicole.

That has been the catch, hasn’t it? If they’d known this was coming, they’d have been able to keep up the façade of still being of opposing ideals. It wouldn’t be difficult for Nicole to engineer a situation where they wind up having a private dust up turn very and quite unintentionally public, but would that be enough?

Between herself and the booth, Nicole tips her purse onto its side sifting through its contents with a casual disdain. She comes up with a compact mirror and a rectangular tube of lipgloss. Rather than begin to fix up her face, Nicole meets Faulkner’s gaze. “So far we’re on the same page. Who did you have in mind?”

"I can only think of one candidate, and you're probably not going to like it," Faulkner says, his expression grim. "But given how restrictive the criteria are — and given the need for swift action — I'm hard pressed to think of anyone better we could recruit."

Faulkner leans forward. "We need someone who is both absolutely trustworthy, and someone who has the ability to slip past intense surveillance. Under other circumstances, I'd know someone who would fit the bill… but the sensitive nature of this means it has to be done neatly, and that's going to be a hard sell using conventional methods."

"So I was hoping to leverage a more… unconventional ability for this. Your husband's."

As Isaac beats around the bush, Nicole’s head tilts to the side, curious, and her eyes narrow the longer this carries on. When he leans forward, she does the same, her mouth turning upward at one corner in a conspiratorial smile. The more he continues, the more he piques her interest. He draws her in the way she often draws others toward her.

Then he drops his bomb.

“Absolutely not,” Nicole pushes back to an upright seated position, her hands on the edge of the table. “He’s not— He’s not built for this. He’s not like us, Isaac. He doesn’t—” The words die on her tongue, suddenly troubled, gaze shifting to somewhere beyond the space and time they occupy. He recognizes the hitch in her breathing. She used to have many moments like this before. It breaks off with a scoff, her attention coming back to Faulkner with a roll of her eyes. “He won’t even let patients die on the operating table.” That leaves a bitter taste in her mouth, and it carries on her tone. “I’m not sure he has the stomach for this.”

Isaac blinks. Nicole thinks Zachery won't let patients die on the operating table? She can't be serious. He has; she has to know that, right? Of course she has to. Just bę̵̜̹̹̳̱̲̗͓͚̗̣̮͚̮̰̫̥̩̔͌ͬ̓̾̇͌̎̄͆͟ͅc̵̷̳̼̫͍̹̮̦͈̊̐͗͆̈́̏͐͒̅̔̾ͯ̎ͦ͘ä̅̌͆̀̓̈́ͭ̓̇ͩ̍̔͝͏̴̵̬͓͉̲͇̳͚̳ṻ͆ͯ̃̓ͭ̀̎̐̔ͣ̐͂͋̇ͬ̃̽҉̸̶̼̳̞͙̖͙̫̱̹̼́͜ͅş̶̡̭̣͈͔̫̞̪̘̥̮ͫ͒̅͆̀̌̔̂̓ͤ̓̚͘͝e̷̤̙̹̬͇̘͉̙̱͎̦̘̥̪͎͐̏͒͐ͮͮ̽ͧ̆͢͡

That thought is effaced before it can even finish articulating itself.

In any case — she has a point, as she often does. Even though Zachery had technically murdered a number of people for the Linderman Group over the years, there's a distinct difference between having an oopsy at an opportune moment and sneaking around a building full of Feds.

Faulkner sighs. She does have a point… but it's a point he's already considered. "He has done that very thing on our behalf," he points out mildly, "and for quite awhile at that. Not for quite some time, to be sure…and I admit, there's quite a difference between that and this," Faulkner says. "Unfortunately, I can't think of any better option."

"We need someone absolutely trustworthy, and that, right now, is a very small group. The good doctor falls there for the same reason that I think he'd be able to handle this — he's got skin in this game," Faulkner states. "After all… even if I fall, Darlow isn't going to stop. She is very much the ambitious sort, and it's not hard to figure out who she's going to come after next. And she's already shown she's not shy about collateral damage. It's in his best interest for this business to get put away as quickly as possible."

"We also need someone who can move undetected, and right now he's the best we have in that field, as well. If this were something that could be handled less delicately, I could possibly send Yi-Shan, but into this?" He shakes his head; Yi-Shan is, quite simply, the best at what he does, but what he does tends to involve bullets and blood, and that isn't really a viable solution at this time or on that scale. Later, perhaps. When the investigation has stalled out.

Faulkner sighs unhappily. "The simple fact is… we need that information to control damage, and we need it as quickly as possible. We badly need to throw a wrench in whatever our guests are doing. They're moving far too openly," he says. He looks to Nicole, his gaze piercing. "Can you think of someone better suited to this? Someone who has a better chance of succeeding? Because try as I might, I haven't come up with anyone yet."

The name is on her tongue: Asami. To say it, however, would be an explosive argument she doesn’t want to have. Instead, Nicole rolls her eyes emphatically. “Why can’t we just use Redd like we always do?”


“I know he’s a fucking creep, and I know he’ll just sneak up on me when it comes time to collect his paycheck like he always has…”


“But Jesus, at least he knows what he’s doing.” Nicole pinches the bridge of her nose. “There’s a far cry from me wiring funds to the good doctor, and him doing… this.” Recognizing, yes, she’s well aware her husband has killed on their behalf before.

The armor of annoyance, incredulity, and skepticism breaks apart and leaves exposed the worry it was meant to protect. “What if he gets caught?” Nicole looks small, vulnerable. Her focus drifts somewhere far from the godforsaken Denny’s. “What’ll we do then?” A beat passes a moment taken to acknowledge the ache in her chest and correct herself. “What’ll I do then?”

Isaac's expression is carefully blank when she talks about Redd, but this unnerves him more than anything so far. Redd is a name he hasn't heard, and for Nicole to be suddenly talking about this… person… as a viable option in a time like this…

It is actually, legitimately frightening.

Not that he lets it show. Thankfully, Nicole moves on to other concerns soon enough — concerns that don't only exist within whatever… gift… Asami had given her, but concerns grounded in reality. Rational concerns. Concerns he is prepared to address.

"If he gets caught, he, more than anyone else, will have reason to be in the Tower — his wife works there," Isaac points out. "Unlike a certain someone else, whose mere presence would provoke an immediate firefight and bring still more trouble down."

Faulkner shrugs. "He can say he spaced out and the elevator took him to the wrong floor. Something like that. He is, as of yet, a respected member of society." His expression tightens. "Which is… another reason I'd like to act sooner rather than later."

Nicole lowers her head to her hands and rubs her forehead with her fingertips while she just tries to think. It takes a moment for everything to lock into place — flawless memory does not equate to flawless deduction or awareness — and she gives a long-suffering sigh, directed at herself alone. “I just mixed my memories together, huh?” She gives herself one more moment to wallow and chastise herself before she shifts enough to look at Isaac over the tips of her fingertips, elbows still planted on the table and chin in her palms.

“I’ll set up a meeting for you two. The less that comes from me, the better. If he does get grabbed — god forbid — he can say he was… I don’t know. That someone convinced him that whatever he was trying to do would help me. Maybe we throw Asami under the bus on that one.” Nicole sits up straight again, pushing her tongue against the inside of her cheek. “How does that strike you, kiddo?”

"You did," Isaac answers when she realizes her gaffe, nodding. Once, he might have relished the chance to sling some barbs at Nicole for such a mistake; now, though, he seems more than ready to move past it. When she moves on, he nods, considering her words.

When she asks for his opinion, Isaac remains silent for a moment… then he nods. "Workable," he says quietly. He looks back to Nicole. "This is a desperation play, of course… but it's not a Hail Mary. I think we have a chance — if we move quickly enough."

He musters a smile. "We haven't come this far to let it all come crashing down without a fight. Right?"

Little by little, Nicole rallies from the discomfiture that comes with her mistake, only too ready to move on from it herself. Lifting her brows to the Hail Mary, she cants her head to one side. Yeah, it is that.

When she smiles, it’s in that slightly sheepish way that she does when he’s managed to cheer her up in spite of herself. “You’re goddamn right. This empire doesn’t crumble on our watch.” Taking her compact and lipgloss, she slides them back into her purse. But as she withdraws, something hits the floor near Isaac’s feet.

Nicole taps the table with her nails to draw his attention. She waits until she has his eye before she speaks. “I think I dropped something, honey. You wanna pick that up for me?”

Three straps of bills. Two violet around the twenties and one yellow around the tens. Five thousand dollars all told. “Buy yourself some candy or something, okay?”

Isaac's eyes flicker to the deliberate drop, then back to Nicole's eyes. "Sure," he says, leaning over in an effortless movement and scooping up the drop. Five thousand; decent funds for a rainy day. "Or something," he agrees nonchalantly.

Then, more seriously, he glances back to Nicole. "Let me know when he's got time, and I'll drop him a line." He hesitates for a moment longer… then nods, once. "I leave the rest to you," Faulkner says somberly, and the words almost physically hurt. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and this is most certainly an hour of desperation.

"And with that said… I think I'm going to have some breakfast," Faulkner says, with the expression of someone who is most definitely not looking forward to food at the moment. "Will you be staying?" he asks, even though he doubts she will — she, too, has a great deal to do in the days to come, but he'd be remiss if he didn't at least ask.

The temptation to stay is present, it tugs at Nicole’s heart and tries to put down stakes in the ground to hold her there. “I’ll let him know,” she promises and starts to gather her things. “I’d love to stay and join you, but we’d just wind up complaining about how the pancakes don’t compete with your father’s,” she teases, sliding out of the booth and coming to stand alongside the table. The reminiscence is more bolstering than painful as the years go on, but wistfulness is not an indulgence they can afford to spend their time on now.

“Besides,” she offers with a serene smile, “you don’t need a mother making sure you clean your plate.” At odds with the sentiment she’s just conveyed about him not needing to be fussed over, Nicole reaches over and brushes a strand of hair away from Isaac’s brow. “You call me if you need me, okay?” It’s always been as such, but it seems more important now than ever to remind her she’s still on his side.

Her hand settles on his upper arm and squeezes gently. Blue eyes that had been angled away as her body had started to do the same, come back to him, settle on his face. That look is one he’s seen on her face many times before, when she’s found he’s hidden something. It’s an acknowledgment, far from disapproving. Very simply, Nicole nods as if to demonstrate an understanding in some way.

Sometimes, Nicole Miller is every inch Daniel Linderman’s protégé, the way Isaac Faulkner is hers. There’s no waste of words, just the way her fingers trail down and away from his arm as she walks toward the door. That recalcitrant extrication of hand from arm says enough about her reluctance to part. There’s no further farewell that needs giving.

It’s like I know what he tells you
But I don't know why you believe him, won't leave it alone
It's just us in the end, walking home and dodging cars
The rest of the believers follow brighter burning stars

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