Kites VI


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Scene Title Kites VI
Synopsis Trapped in the loops of her conflicting memories, Isaac tries to get Nicole to refocus on the here and worry less about the there.
Date March 17, 2021

Surveying the Kingdom

It's always colder in the heights.

At ground level, the buildings offer shelter, and the warmth of the sun radiates up from the pavement; it's not a lot, admittedly, but when you leave street level, when you climb to the rooftops… the difference is noticeable. The wind cuts like a knife.

The hour doesn't help, either. It's that gray hour that comes just before nightfall; the sun is low, the shadows long, daylight is fading but not quite gone. It's earlier than the last scheduled meeting between Isaac Faulkner and Nicole Miller had been, at least, but this particular building isn't quite as nice. It's one the Linderman Group owns, though only a few people know that, and actually proving that would take years and several hundred man-hours… ordinarily, at least.

Nicole stares out at the skyline. A skyline that should not be here. Standing atop a building that shouldn’t exist. Gleaming towers that have been rubble for nearly two decades. Her eyes shut tight and she remembers desolation and decay. Remembers a life, a lifestyle, and lives lost.

Opening her eyes again, it’s all back the way it was. The way it’s supposed to be.



No, no, no, no.


The creaking hinges of the door to the stairwell brings Nicole out of her reverie. It sees her turning sharply in that direction, her dark hair caught by the wind and lashing about her face. The blessed wind makes it difficult to tell if she’s been crying or not.

“Isaac,” his former assistant greets, her voice lifted enough to carry to him. She looks almost wary, although maybe it’s more accurate to say she’s apprehensive.

"Nicole," Isaac responds, his voice carefully neutral as he closes the door behind him. He doesn't lean back against the door itself, but moves a step to the side, putting his back against a solid concrete wall. He's dressed for the chill — a suitably nondescript gray coat, a knit cap, jeans, running shoes. "Have you found anything?" he asks, without preamble.

The new CEO can’t help but smirk faintly. She knows he’s incognito, but there’s something about it. “The casual look really suits you, doesn’t it?” The expression fades into something a little more bittersweet. Her own style has seen a shift as well. A black leather jacket that probably predates Faulkner’s birth serves to protect her from some of the wind’s insistence. It’s worn over a tee shirt for a musician he’s never even heard of, tucked into a pair of acid wash jeans cinched with a black belt. The jeans are cuffed, the ensemble completed with a black pair of Doc Martens. The plain black laces have been swapped out for an electric blue.

“Sometimes I wonder if I really did right by you.” Nicole’s eyes are filled with regret. The shake of her head may be in response to the question he’s posed to her. No, she hasn’t found anything. She doesn’t provide any words to suggest she has.

Isaac grimaces faintly; he's not particularly fond of this style. He's glad she thinks he wears it well, but he'd be only too glad to be back in his power suits. For a moment he debates if she's trying to rub salt in his wounds… but no. She probably isn't taking jabs… especially not dressed like she just came off the set of Escape from L.A.

Also not when she's opening by… opening herself up. For a moment, he isn't sure how to respond to that; after a moment's consideration, he opts to raise an eyebrow. "How so?"

“I… know you had what it takes to do what you do. You still have it. I know you had all that ambition and drive in that developing brain of yours.” Nicole smiles fondly. “Once everyone else was absolved of responsibility for you, you wrapped them around your little finger. You started so young.” The fondness fades to regret. “And I pushed you so hard. I encouraged you to see only the path from goal to goal, to use whatever and whoever you needed as a stepping stone.”

Nicole shakes her head sadly. “I brought out all the worst traits in you. You could have been anything. Instead, I saw someone who could follow my footsteps and fill Daniel’s shoes someday.” A bitter bubble of laughter carries on the wind from her to him even as she turns her face away for a moment. She wears a miserable smile when she returns her attention to him. “I molded you into the person I wanted to be. And I worry that I… That I didn’t give you a chance to be anything else.”

Isaac's brow furrows in confusion; he tilts his head, as though trying to decipher meaning in words he doesn't understand. Then, at last, he closes his eyes.

"Who else would I have been, Nicole?" he asks quietly. "You did your job. You did it well. I'm not a saint — not even close. But there's work to do, and it's important, and thanks to you and Dad I'm trained to do it." There's a flicker of weariness in him then, his shoulders slumping just the tiniest bit. "Even if I've fallen short, now and again," he says heavily.

Then he straightens. "If we can ever shake off the rats gnawing at the Group's heart… maybe we can go back to doing it." He falls silent again, staring out over the city, his expression shifting to one of melancholy. "He always said this world was sick… I just didn't think that the rot would be able to infect the Group, too."

“That’s the thing about rot, isn’t it?” Nicole’s head droops on the exhale, her gaze sliding to the asphalt roof at her feet. Neither of them are Daniel Linderman and this deck is stacked against them sure as if they were playing the house at the Corinthian.

“You… You tested your limits. You learned hard lessons. But you never fell short, sweetheart.” This would normally be the point where she’d step closer and put a hand on his shoulder or his cheek. Embrace him. Something. Anything. Instead, she turns and meanders with an aimlessness that isn’t befitting of her.

“It doesn’t matter which life I think about, you know. This one or the— the other one rattling around in my skull.” Her back is to him now, her eyes on the sky. “I made you into the person I wanted to be. I wanted to be Senator Nichols so bad I could taste it.” Nicole wraps her arms around herself, leaning to one side and rocking slightly. “I can’t keep it straight sometimes. What’s here and what’s there. What’s… now and what’s then.” Even without the benefit of the head-on view, he can perfectly see the sideways jut of her jaw that always shows her annoyance. “How am I supposed to find the rot when I can’t even tell what’s reality?”

Faulkner wants to ask if Senator Nichols is really that bad… but he doesn't. Because he knows the answer to that question, and asking it isn't going to win him any points. Looking back at what he's done over the course of his career — honestly, objectively — his hands are not clean by any stretch of the imagination. The Linderman Group's roots reach deep into New York's underworld, and far beyond the city's borders; violence, drug-running, money laundering… anywhere there's money to be made, the Group's roots have spread, and all the charitable donations and good causes that the Group supports don't change the fact that those roots are watered by blood. And while Isaac sincerely believes that things would be far worse without the Linderman Group reining those criminal elements in…

…there's still no denying the fact that no, his hands are not clean.

So all he can do is sigh, silently ceding the point. He remains silent a moment longer, trying to find the right words. "Then what are we going to do, Nicole?" Faulkner asks quietly. "My credibility's taken a beating to the point the Board's suspended me from my position. I can dig, but if you can't act…"

He studies Nicole for a moment, brow furrowed in frustration this time. "What are we going to do?"

Senator Nichols would be fucking amazing, thank you very much. A lovely first stepping stone to something like Secretary of State. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Isaac’s beliefs coincide with Nicole’s own, regarding the necessity of the Linderman Group for the stability of New York City. This alignment is what’s kept them in some semblance of harmony for so long. And she’s never been one to hide her soiled hands from him either. Not since he was old enough to come away with the same stains. How similar their souls.

“This isn’t even me talking,” she breathes out, astonished in some way. Awed in the way that the word was meant to convey in times past. The kind that denotes a certain sort of fear. “I mean, it is, but not this me. I am fiercely fucking proud of who you are. What you’re capable of. I don’t regret any of it.”

She can’t begin to address where they go from here, because she can’t figure out where here is. “But I’m also horrified by what I’ve done. To you, to myself.” Nicole grabs her head and she paces. “I can’t do this. I can’t do this. I can’t do this.” Over and over she repeats it to herself. Stuck in a loop like she was after introducing Faulkner to her children. The overlap is getting to her again. “I can’t do this anymore,” she tells him like she’s begging for an answer to a question she doesn’t know how to ask. “I don’t know what to do. I can’t do this.”

The closer to the edge of her sanity she seems to drift, the closer she strays to the edge of the roof.

Nicole is… coming unglued. The cracks that first started showing after Asami twisted her brain inside out have not, in fact, started to mend. They're getting worse. And if Nicole continues shambling in the direction she is, the cracks are going to be quite a bit more than mental.

The sense of alarm Isaac Faulkner feels at that is… a bit startling, honestly, thinking back. A few months ago, Nicole going insane and walking off a building is something he'd have counted as a flawless victory. Now… less so. And it's not even all because he needs her to help circle the wagons and cast Darlow out.

But Nicole is still turning and turning in her widening gyre, the cracks broadening as she teeters on the edge — an edge more metaphorical than literal, at this particular second, but…

Faulkner takes a deep breath. How would Dad have said this? he asks himself.

"The first thing you will do, Mrs. Miller, is stop. Stand still. Take a moment to breathe," he says sternly, giving Nicole that piercing look his father so often gave when in the presence of folly. He waits a moment, then proceeds with a calmer, more gentle tone. "Now. Are you ready to talk business? Or would you rather talk about something else, first? We have time. How is Dr. Miller? Pippa? The twins?"

It isn’t Danny’s voice she hears, but it is all the same. His inflection, his cadence, the way he captivates her with the crispness that eases once her attention’s been snatched. Her steps halt, the blood roaring in her ears and tinnitus ringing so loudly as to drown out even the wind.

And now that she’s stopped, she does take that time to breathe, ragged and shallow, trying to stem the tide of tears. Her gaze is distant, not yet directed at Faulkner. There are questions she’s been asked. Questions that she’s meant to answer. None of them are quite right in her ears, but it does what he wants. It forces Nicole to start thinking about something other than what she can’t do. Choosing not to answer this is a won’t.

“You know,” the woman says quietly, “I always liked the way he said my name.” Even if Daniel Linderman never knew her as Nicole Miller. “That’s strange, right?” Has he seen her this distraught since her accident, when she was rehabbing and afraid she’d never be strong enough to walk again? It’s easy to recall the days following his father’s death. The way she’d cry when she thought no one was there to see her. Or maybe she just didn’t care if he knew she was grieving.

“We have bigger problems than the Group and whether or not we retain it.” Even though she’s talking about letting go of their business, this is still Nicole talking just that — business. “Someone tried to kill Gabriella Milos a week ago in that shooting at the Times.” And that has her rattled. “She was working on a story about people like us, with abilities. She was going to blow the lid off the whole thing…” She shakes her head slowly, letting him take a moment to digest while she dries her face with a tissue.

Bigger problems than the Group. He's glad to see Nicole has stopped spiraling out into Dimension X, but what she just said is bordering on blasphemy. Isaac's eyes widen… then they narrow. He tilts his head slightly, as if he'd just heard something in a different language that clearly didn't actually mean the same thing he thought it meant.

He waits in silence until she's finished, and for a moment more… then he raises a hand. "Hold up," Isaac says. "Just. Hold up a minute here. Gabriella. Gabriella Milos. New York Times reporter. Covers high society for the most part, yes?" he asks.

"I understand that she's a friend of yours; fair enough. But if, for instance, Mrs. Milos accidentally said something unkind about some shithole that Logan likes," Faulkner supposes. "And if he — being the ambulatory clump of cat litter that we know him to be — should have, for instance, sent hatchetmen after her… that is a problem we will be far better equipped to deal with with the full resources of the Linderman Group, rather than, say, facing indictments. Wouldn't you say?"

"Because let's be fair here. This is not just about my ass. If they manage to scoop me, Darlow isn't going to stop there, and you know it. The ambitious types never stop with one, and Darlow's more than just ambitious; she practically sees this as a crusade. She's gonna come after you, Nicole, because you're next in line. And she's already shown she doesn't give two fucks about collateral damage. She's gonna do her best to get your family in the vise, too."

He lets that hang for a moment. "So," Faulkner says, doing his best to restrain his fury, "I invite you to explain to me exactly how hatchetmen coming after a Times reporter is more important than preserving Dad's legacy."

Nicole stares at Faulkner with a shock that has layers. There’s so much about John Logan that conflicts in her two sets of memories. She finally tilts her head, expression shifting to confused and incredulous. “Who said anything about Logan?” That at least has pulled her even further from the drain she was circling.

There’s a sternness to her when she continues. “I know I taught you to pay better attention than that.” As soon as the words leave her lips, in that tone, she regrets them and it shows in her face. That’s not the road she wants to travel down. She wants their days of animosity toward each other to be behind them. They’ve been making progress, haven’t they?

“I’m sorry.” She’ll say it first, to prove she’s not too big to apologize. “It’s just… It’s not society. She was going to run a story about people who can fly. Who can start fires with a thought. Who read minds. And someone tried to murder her for it.” Nicole shakes her head, moving closer to her protégé and further from the edge of the roof. “Everything she was working on was erased. The video, the notes, the drafts… Gone. All of it. It’s about all of us.

The flicker of emotion in Isaac's eyes when Nicole snaps at him isn't any of the usual shades of surly annoyance she might have expected; it is, instead, something much more out of character for him: relief.

"I did say for instance," he points out mildly, deliberately not going for the followup barb and asking which of us isn't paying attention now. That mild temperament doesn't last long, though, not once Nicole starts going into specifics. When she's done, he tilts his head, raising a hand. "I'm sorry. Hold on a moment. Information about all of us. Does that include names?" he asks.

The relief proves a source of confusion for Nicole, but it’s quickly eclipsed by her own annoyance at his quiet call out of the point she latched onto and how there were other possibilities presented beyond his single example. She hates when he’s right sometimes.

“Now, now. I didn’t say that either,” Nicole counters, lifting one finger to shift it side to side. It folds back down, pad to thumb, though she doesn’t lower her lightly curled fist. “I said she was telling a story about people who could do these things. I didn’t say she was saying anything about specific people. I didn’t get to read her article, but I doubt very much she had our names, because she had no idea about my having a power.”

With a shake of her head, she frowns. It’s easier to talk about Gabriella. She doesn’t have any memories of the other woman, like she has none of Isaac. But the moment she thinks about that thought, the moment her chest gets very, very tight. He’s real, she tells herself. Even if he isn’t mine, he’s real.

It’s easy to see she’s lost focus. Her eyes have gone to somewhere else beyond, her inhales are deep, but the exhales are tremulous. Distracted from the issue at hand, Nicole turns to look at the horizon and the skyline that’s all wrong again.

"That's reassuring, at least," Isaac says, frowning. "So… someone tried to kill Gabriella. That is unfortunate. Since you said attempted, I'm going to assume they failed," he says.

Then he spreads his hands. "So. What, exactly, do you propose we do about this?"

“Yeah,” Nicole replies absently of Gabriella’s status as still alive. “I set her up in one of the safehouses for now.”

While she doesn’t seem to hear his question at first, Isaac knows the signs that Nicole’s thinking. She takes a single step away from him. “I think,” she begins with careful deliberation, “that if I act with intent, I can find where we’re all meant to be.”

Acting with intent sounds like a chapter out of a self-help booklet, and it's vague enough to put Isaac on guard… especially since finding where we're meant to be sounds like some kind of Scientology cult bullshit. "I would say most acts do start with intent, unless you're a zombie," he says, taking a step — not directly towards Nicole, but forward and to the side, as though to circle her. "And I thought where we're meant to be was obvious — at the top. Isn't that what you've been gunning for, all these years?" he asks smoothly, with only the barest edge of impatience.

Nicole turns her head slightly Faulkner’s way, but still doesn’t look at him directly. “Do you feel like you’re on top, Isaac?”

"I feel," Isaac says, with a patience that is now definitely forced, "like that position is in jeopardy. I thought that was what we were here to talk about. Pulling what we've spent years working on out of the fire before the rats finish killing it and eating its internal organs. That's what I've been working on, and what I assumed you had, as well… but right now you're sounding like you're trying to get me to join a new religion, or a cult. So if there is a point to this, I invite you to get to it, because we do not have unlimited time."

“I—” Nicole hesitates. Why are they here? Why did she call him? Was it to talk about how they’re meant to reclaim their empire and cut out the rot that threatens the structure it’s built upon? That concern seems so far from her mind now. So far that it isn’t even hers.

“I have been working on it. But it doesn’t matter. None of it matters.” Nicole clutches at her head again, eyes squinching shut. “None of this is real.

Isaac stares in stunned silence… then he starts to laugh. He laughs and laughs and laughs

— until, quite suddenly, he stops. Like a switch being thrown.

"It's not real?" he asks, with an eerie facsimile of perfect calm, lips curving into a pleasant smile. "Then what is? That… other set of memories Asami crammed into your brain?" he asks, taking a step towards her.

Nicole isn’t the one usually on the receiving end of this side of Isaac’s persona. One eye opens a crack and she peers at him out of the corner. She’s already a wreck, but he can see that she’s scared.

Of him.

“Sh-h-h-he didn’t.” Nicole insists, stuttering on the sh sound. “How could she have put memories into my head that— Details that she had no way of knowing? That isn’t how this ability works.” Shaking her head, she goes on, “And she didn’t have any of her own memories of – of the other place –” if he’ll refuse to call it the real world, then she’ll meet him halfway, “– until I did. Asi doesn’t gain the power until she unlocks it in one of us.

Asi, not Asami.

For that one step forward he’s taken, she takes two steps back.

"The subjective nature of memory isn't exactly up for debate," Faulkner says mildly, shaking his head even as he continues his advance. "By your own admission, you have two conflicting sets of memories inside your head; one of them must be fabricated. And what on earth makes you think you understand how Asami's… whatever… works? Asami herself isn't in control of her own actions; if you have difficulty believing that, look at how much of a mess she's made of things," Faulkner says, gesturing expansively… but his eyes never leave Nicole's.

"Consider. She can put ideas into your head. Why not a set of memories, spun whole cloth from nothing? Why are you so certain that this set is false, and that one is real… unless, perhaps, you have been compelled to believe that?" he asks.

Then he sighs, stopping his advance. "Look at yourself, Nicole," he says, and now he seems… disappointed. "You're falling apart at the seams. This is what she's given you. You speak of acting with intent, but you're tangled in illusions. Wake up. Before it's too late. We have a legacy to save."

Fingers curl tighter into dark hair the more he speaks. He can tell she’s fighting with his logic, with her own. What’s real? What isn’t? That he keeps his eyes on her means she returns the favor, her hands slowly relaxing – although she’s still anything but relaxed – and lowering to her sides again.

One more step back.

Mouth made small by the strength of her emotion, she’s seething with it. But not with anger, no. She’s despondent. Nicole Miller is a broken creature that Isaac could easily take the opportunity to finally crush in his palm.

“This was everything I ever wanted,” she laments softly. “My parents love me. I remember my father giving me away. My mother cried at my wedding. Even you managed to look happy for me, as though we’d called a truce just for one day.” The happy recollection doesn’t banish the anguish. “I have fame. I have power. I have—” There’s so much that she has. Still, she insists it’s wrong.

“I know the other life is real.” The next breath drawn in is a ragged one. “Because if I were going to try and fool myself into believing that world was real when it isn’t – if someone wanted to entice me to abandon everything here to find a way there?

Blue eyes dart unfocused again to the skyline, but only for the briefest of moments before they come back to Faulkner again, sharp as a laser. “It would have you. If they wanted to trap me, that other life would have you.

Isaac sighs, and there's a difference in the quality of his disappointment now, a depth that hadn't been there before. "And yet… I'm not there," he says quietly. "You, who worked with Dad just as closely there as you had here… have no recollection of me. Just about everyone here, you recall in some fashion. Except for me. And Nova. I do so wonder what that could mean," Faulkner says blandly. "But then, if you're willing to go so far as to believe that an entire life — an entire city — could be fabricated… then it becomes obvious, doesn't it? That belief is, itself, an answer." After all… if entire lives could be fabricated, then why not entire lives?

Faulkner shakes his head. "Make your choice, and live with it. Maybe you can write this world, this city — your own children — off as fake. But for me?" He shakes his head and chuckles bitterly. "I think this world's still worth fighting for."

Now his expression hardens. "So either shit or get off the pot. You're the one in the office now; congratulations, long live the Queen. Now do your fucking job. I'll fight this war alone if I have to, with what I've got left." Both of them know how that will go, and how that will end… and with that said, Isaac Faulkner turns and starts to make his way towards the exit.

Now isn’t the time to point out that she doesn’t know Gabriella either. “I know you exist there.” But he’s already walking away, and Nicole feels her heart break. He simply turns his back and…

It never happened to her, but she’s heard the story of what happened to a version of her, less than twenty years from now. How her daughter would do the very same to her. Simply turn heel, and walk out of her life forever. This is how Nicole knows the other world is real. Everything she touches – every single fucking relationship – turns to shit.

“I’m going to fix this.” There’s no hesitation, no shortage of certainty, but there’s also a hollow quality to the voice that meets Isaac’s retreating form. “I’m going to find you and I’m going to free you. Nova, too. Everybody.”

Nicole turns to the roof’s edge and stares out. “I just have to believe I can do it,” she whispers to herself, then repeats with more conviction, louder, “I’ll find you. No matter what.”

Blue eyes squeeze shut one more time as she takes a deep breath, and…

Isaac is reaching for the door as Nicole speaks; from where she stands on the edge, looking out, she can't see the way his shoulders slump, and his sigh is lost to the wind.

His words, though… those the wind carries to her clearly. "You'll find me," he echoes softly, not turning around. Not looking back. "But what will you say when you run away, then? What will your excuse be? A new religion? Alcohol? Some plan to save the world that only you can carry out?" Once, those words might have carried a wicked edge, but now… now they're just tired. Bitter with the scars of a hurt that has long ago scarred over, long ago ceased to bleed.

"It's funny, really… for all you've taught me, you never seem to be able to accept the idea that I might have learned anything. That with what you've taught me, I might be able to see as far as you. But it's always been that way. Always Nicole knows best — no matter what I've learned, or done, or accomplished. Always Nicole knows best… and only Nicole…"

"How long have you been running, Nicole?" he asks, bitterness shading to an honest disbelief as he considers things in a new light. "Clinging so desperately to the illusion of control, to run from the fact that they aren't?" He pauses.

"Is that what I've been doing? All this time?" Faulkner muses aloud. "Maybe so," he admits. "No, no maybe. But not anymore. It's just a pity that when… when I need your help most of all…" he starts, some unnameable emotion making his voice quaver…

Then he sighs, shoulders slumping. "…that you're still the same old Nicole Nichols. Nicole knows best…" he says, that tone of old bitterness, of gentle disappointment, sounding in his words again.

He shakes his head. "Do what you have to, Nicole. If you want to talk business, you have my number," he sighs, shaking his head one last time, still not turning around… but still he hesitates, standing on the threshold.

Nicole practically feels her toes curl around the edge. All it would take is one hard gust, and she’d go over. Fortunately — depending on whether it’s Faulkner’s or Nichols’ perspective being honored here — the wind seems to want to push the would-be jumper away from that precipice of irreversible decision.

Everything he has to say is listened to without interruption. He needs to get his feelings out, and she owes it to him to listen. How, though, can he still be so blind to the fact that everything she does, she does for him? If she had any sense of humor left in her bones right now, she’d have to smirk at the knowledge that it’s because she’s been handling it in the background ever since she stepped into his life, quietly, unbeknownst to him. How could he know something she hides so artfully?

If she had any knives left, she might tell him so. Might explain that Miss Nichols knows best was about protecting him. How she used it to defend him, how she held her head high and proclaimed their failures as hers alone and bore the blows of those consequences alone.

It wasn’t always that way, of course. After her accident — while she was still fighting to get out of bed, get out of the wheelchair, get on crutches and learn again how to walk, then to be only on her two feet to walk alone — she realized she was going to have to become a hitter in order to protect her stake.

Isaac has the truth of it, of course. She needed that illusion of control that the occasional strike back at him gave.

Focusing on him makes it easier to see what’s here and what’s there. It’s clearer when it’s him, because… Because he’s not there. This time, it doesn’t make her want to take the leap of faith to the next world, to find him — going bareknuckle in the ring, if necessary — and to be his blocker once more.

Slowly, she turns around to face him without bothering to hide the evidence of the tears she’s been crying. He may not have spoken with the sharpened edges of a dagger, but he found the heart of her anyway. He always does.

“I know you don’t want my advice,” she calls to him, stepping forward without the intent of closing the space between she and him, but rather to put space between herself and the edge. “Cut a deal with Darlow. Give her enough of what she wants from you to keep her at bay while keeping your hands clean. She’s a shark, though. She’ll want more blood than you’re prepared to bleed.”

Cocking her head to one side, she smirks faintly, self-deprecating. “For that,” she makes a scoffing sound, “well—”

His mentor, his assistant, his rival, his side-piercing thorn is prepared to raise her mitts and make them work to take her down. To stand between Faulkner and those that would hurt him. Nicole will not run from this, regardless of how little control she has and how much that scares her.

Well, “—you’re no fool.”

For a moment after that, Isaac is still.

"I'm happy to hear you say that," he admits. Then he takes a deep breath and looks back, just a bit. The sight of the tears on her face makes his mouth tighten just a bit, but he swallows to choke down the lump in his throat, to keep the tangled knot of whatever it is he's feeling from coming through in his voice. You're no fool, she says; sometimes, lately, Isaac finds himself wondering. But he forces that down, too.

What she's talking about is going to be a fine line to walk, and there's going to be a hell of a lot of collateral damage. Silence stretches for a moment as he considers the plan she's laying out — not just the obvious, not just the pros and cons for Isaac Faulkner and his plans and dreams, but for the Group. For Nicole. She's talking about him cutting a deal with a shark… while she goes to stand in front of the teeth. There had been a time, not so very long ago, when Isaac Faulkner would have viewed that as an ideal outcome. Now, though?

Strange, how much things can change in such a very little time.

"There's someone on the inside," he says at last. "I chased down fifteen leaks — has beens and neverweres, every one. I used a soft touch — pretty sure they don't know I know. All of them have been seen talking to the Feds… but none of them had enough. Even all together, there wasn't enough for this. There's a spider at the center of this web, and whoever they are, they've buried their tracks deep."

He looks away again, letting out a faint chuckle. "I'll see about setting something up with Darlow. Just make sure you have that spider squashed before I'm finished, will you? However you want to look at it… I think you'll agree we have enough to deal with without having to add spider bites to the list." The last is spoken lightly enough that Nicole Miller is perhaps the only one who could hear the tightness and worry hiding behind that nonchalant manner.

Nicole wants to explain that it’s because this place is designed to frustrate them. To keep them working at this mystery and keep their minds off the way things will unravel if they just pick at the loose thread. But he would have to believe in that for him to accept it. And maybe he’s right. Maybe there is an answer, and maybe there isn’t anywhere but here.

It’s a hell of a gamble she’s taking here. It’s her life on the line if he’s right. Her freedom will be lost to her for sure, if he goes through with her suggestion. A few months ago, she’d have been certain that he’d go for it. Now, he might still, but for different motivations. If he lets the sharks have her, she isn’t sure she has some grand plan for after her blood mixes with the salt water.

“I’d have said Doris, but…” Casting her eyes down, Nicole shakes her head slowly. “Even with all her access to our schedules, she couldn’t come up with that much paydirt.” Her weight shifts, right foot to left, arms wrap around her midsection, chin lifts. “Have you considered the widow?”

"Yes," Faulkner answers simply. "I've had my eye on her since this started." Long before that, honestly; he's never entirely trusted Kaydence Zarek, viewing her as an unexploded bomb buried in the tower's foundation. "I'm glad that you're considering her, as well."

Doris, on the other hand… Faulkner frowns, remembering the strange phone call the two of them had received. Phone calls, plural — both from Doris. At the same time. But he doesn't let himself dwell on it. Not now. Nicole's dwelling on the weird stuff enough for both of them, and then some. "I'd say to have Muldoon look into it, but…" he trails off, because Muldoon is unavailable thanks to John Fucking Logan getting uppity.

Isaac sighs, shakes his head. "I'm counting on you to handle it."

There are a thousand arguments against even trying. What’s the point? The Doris angle is further support for her theory, isn’t it? But he needs to hold on to this reality. It’s what’s best for him. And she… She needs to look out for him, too.

Then why does it feel like defeat?

“I’ll handle the extermination myself if I have to.” A knife of a smile cuts itself across Nicole’s face just as the chill of the wind cuts through their jackets. “Just leave it to Nichols.”

Like I’m a shadowboxer waiting for the other girl to make the first move
And I’m a sad impostor
Don’t let the battles pick you
We never do go over, we always gotta go through
Lulled to sleep by the hum of the machine
Veins filled with grenadine, it’s just a fever dream to me
It’s just a fever dream

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