Once More


sf_asami2_icon.gif sf_faulkner2_icon.gif sf_nicole2_icon.gif sf_valerie_icon.gif

Scene Title Once More
Synopsis Whether they like it or not, it's time to stage their escape.
Date March 18, 2021

Art Studio - Petrelli Mansion


No Mister. No Isaac. The whisper from afar is meant to get his attention without him feeling as though he's been snuck up on. Hopefully, anyway.

The study converted as Jac's art space no longer scattered with shattered glass from paintings and broken jars both. There's no sign of the blood that had spilled here. It's almost like it never happened, except it did.

Asami appears in the open doorway slowly, without offense, and without stepping in just yet. Her look is different, her eyes hardened, demeanor distant. She's neither the woman he knew, nor the woman who attacked him. Someone between, someone certain of herself even if she's not certain where she stands.

"Can we talk?" Asi asks, looking not directly at him, but taking in the room as though it's her first time seeing it too. Only after she's looked it over does she look back to Faulkner.

Isaac, staring at the place the glass had been — the place he'd had his brush with death — gives no sign of having heard the whisper… unless you count the subtle tensing of his shoulder blades, hidden with all of his politician's craft.

At her spoken question, however, he looks up, regarding Asami mildly from the corner of his eye before turning to face her. He says nothing for a moment, merely regarding her with that same impassive expression; the things that go unsaid in that moment of silence are obvious enough that, for the moment at least, he feels no need to give them voice.

"If you wish," he says, in a mild tone that matches his expression, without emphasis.

Asi accepts the concession with a nod, posture squaring as she finally enters. There's something distinctly trained— military, even— about her bearing now. Her hands come to a clasp behind her back as she pauses halfway through the room. "If you don't want to talk, that's fine. All I need you to do is listen, and consider."

"What came for us, I don't know if that's the end," she leads with quietly in an observational deadpan. "Or even if that's the worst we'll see in the system's attempt to contain us. I know… that what happened is difficult to look past, and I'm not asking you to. But what I am asking is that you consider traveling together." She looks up at him directly, expression steeled. "Not every one of us can fight, or wants to. The abilities among us can help us, but not save us, individually. Together, we stand more of a chance, even if the threat we pose stays relatively the same."

"If we travel together," she proposes calmly, "You have an advantage gained from that. You can use me as a shield. The one benefit I've gained out of all of this is the flexibility to be one, and it's a role I'll gladly fill if it keeps you safe. You, Nova, the kids… all of you."

"I'm not a leader. I've done a piss-poor job of controlling the impulse— the infection that drove me to wake all of you from the system's control, and I'm not sure anything I say or do can undo what I've done. But you, on the other hand…"

Her brow lifts. "You are a leader. And I'm fairly sure all of them trust you." Asi lifts her head slightly. "They might follow you if you call for unity."

Even compared to her impassioned plea before the ceiling came down on their heads, this is a different tenor from her entirely. There's a weight in her gaze as it settles on his eyes. It comes without whispers or other signs of trying to influence him with the abilities at her disposal. "Will you consider it?"

Isaac regards her for a moment in silence. "I will give it consideration," he says, and for all the political phrasing he actually means it. For a moment, he lets it sit at that — watching, considering. Then he speaks again. "Were I to venture objections, would I be wasting my breath?" Again. Still, he does not say. "If so… we can leave it at that."

The echo of what he said before isn't lost on her, a flicker of something in her eyes. "If you'll permit me to play Devil's Advocate?" The moment when she snapped, when everything changed between them. The depths of her reaction to that memory is hard to read in this new person she's becoming.

"I have no intention of repeating past mistakes," Asi answers plainly, gaze refocusing. "This arrangement won't work well if we can't work together." Her hands remain clasped behind her back but she gives a slight dip of her head to gesture him on. "So, please."

Isaac lets out a single humorless laugh when she says that this won't work well if they can't work together. "Yes. That," he agrees.

His gaze sharpens. "You recognize your past… failings. Well enough; I won't belabor them." God knows, his own fuckups have certainly played a part in leading them here to this; he could have ended this at the fucking start, if he'd just set Yi-Shan on the matter at the start. That's his failing, he supposes — he always seems to botch things on the followthrough.

He takes a deep breath; everything about this mess pains him, to be honest, but right now all he can do is swallow his pain and his pride and move forward. "My concerns are about the future. And all I ask is that you… take them under consideration," he says, lips twisting into a grin of sour amusement — he's aware that he's echoing her words.

"Let's start at the bottom of this. Your premise — the premise you're basing this whole Vegas Road Trip on," he begins slowly, "is that this world is a simulation. That there is, in fact, another world beyond this one, and that all of us originally came from there. Correct?"

"So, for a start… how did we get here?" he asks. "Perhaps more importantly, why are we here? I can't imagine shoving people into immersive simulations is easy, or cheap, unless technology is significantly more advanced in that other world than it is here," he supposes, watching Asami out of the corner of his eye. "And I do seem to recall you mentioning the possibility of brain damage, so clearly even if money isn't an object, this probably isn't something that's done lightly."

Reasonable questions, certainly. And Asi doesn't let whatever she hears in Isaac's ruminations influence her answer in the slightest. "We're here, in this simulation, because we were abducted." That's the easy part. "Minions of a corporation known as Crito Corporate appear to be responsible, based on what v.iris told me after I woke Nakamura. We were taken and are being held captive while they use this, this simulation," one hand parts from the fold behind her back to gesture around them, "to occupy our minds while they map our neural pathways and use our Expressive abilities— our superpowers— against our will, for their purposes."

"Technology is advanced there. The psychopaths who want to control us are interfaced directly with our brains thanks to ports they've installed in the side of our heads to give them direct access. I…"

She falters in speech pattern, eyes narrowing slightly. She looks slightly off from him. "I… woke up, for just a moment when we were on the bus, and I saw it. The cables out of my head, connected to something above me. I doubted until that point, too." Her hand twitches for a moment by her side, like she means to reach for the phantom wound in the side of her head but she closes her hand into a fist instead. "Now I'm convinced; and learned that they're terrified of us waking up."

A blink later, she mellows and looks back up to Isaac from where her gaze has strayed. "Which— you should also know the ability you have here is not likely the one you have. In the real world, I don't do what I can here. Kaylee is a telepath. It's Isa who controls fire, not Gillian. But you, I'm not sure. We've not met before."

"I'm not American, though, with very limited experience in your country," Asi adds with the ghost of a smile tugging the corner of her mouth. This is a joke at her own expense, however subtle and dry. "So that's not surprising."

V.iris. There's a hot button subject he'd suspected would come up, oh yes, but as much as he wants to pursue that target, she's said enough other things that are relevant to slow him down on that.

First, she's finally given answers as to who and why, even if much of it means little to him. Second, she's mentioned that these abilities exist there, too; that's a detail that Nicole has mentioned.


She doesn't know him either. Just as Nicole hadn't; Nicole, who apparently had been as close to Daniel Linderman in that life as this one.

Asami's small joke is recognized for what it is, but Isaac, lost in mulling implications, has no laughter for it; he only nods slowly. "Yes," he says slowly. For a moment longer, he's silent. "What of Nova?" he asks, in a tone too carefully nonchalant to be anything other than vitally important to him.

It's one she tries to take care with, to avoid crushing his hope. "The only people I really know are those I've consulted with or been in the company of. Yamagato and Raytech Industries… the mercenaries of Wolfhound." Asi cants her head to the side delicately as she points out, "All of you are very much real, even though we don't have personal overlap. In fact, it's surprising that…"

How to put this. Asi frowns for a moment. "The only reason I know the likes of Gillian Childs, Kaylee Thatcher, or Nicole Varlane is because those were names involved in the Second American Civil War, in some capacity. They're well-known, interconnected persons. Isa is an employee of Yamagato, and wields her power dangerously as though she were involved in the war, too. Those aren't people you can easily get the drop on, myself included— which is nothing to say of the security measures used by Yamagato to protect their employees. They employ AI for security monitoring."

It's then she realizes this is a lot of information, and none of it immediately pertinent. She makes a gesture of lifting one hand to signal for pause. "My hope is this is information you start to remember, too. But reflecting on it now doesn't get us any closer to crashing the system and waking up."

Which leads her to segue, "Whatever it is you can do, I'm hoping it will help us in overpowering the scientists looking over us long enough to formulate a plan of escape." Asi lets her hands fall back to her side. "I don't know how long we've been down for, though. What kind of shape we'll be in when we get moving. v.iris disappeared for two full months after getting me out of the Linderman Building before appearing again, but according to them, it was barely a quarter hour in the real world."

Her brow knits, feeling as though somewhere in her explanation she's set up a scenario that could make escape sound fruitless, or even impossible. The road ahead is certainly rough, but: "I'm not going to give up in trying to get back, no matter what it wakes us up into. I refuse to give in to whoever is trying to manipulate us into accepting this sugar-coated poison of a reality so they can use our gifts for their own purposes."

All of you are very much real. It's that statement that sees Isaac's expression tighten, but he remains silent until she's done. "No matter what it wakes us up into," he repeats grimly, nodding. "Even if it's… say, a nuclear apocalypse, or a viral plague zone, or any number of other ends of the world," he says, holding Asami's gaze. "Even if it's a situation that it's impossible to survive in." Then, slowly, he nods. "Alright. Fine. We'll leave that for now. All I will ask is that you… consider it," he says, and here his lips twitch slightly into a ghost of a grim smile as he makes a tiny joke of his own — an echo of her own request.

It doesn't last, though. It can't. "Nicole and I spoke, you know," he says, his eyes drifting past her. "About her… memories. She said she knew Linderman in that world, as well. That he… had a gift. Similar to mine," he admits, not without some reluctance. "Or… similar to the one I have here," he amends, frowning.

"But the point here is this. She knew you. She knew most of the others. She knew Daniel Linderman in that world, just as she did here. But she didn't know me. Or Nova," Isaac reveals, sighing. "You say, Asami, that we are all real as though it is a self-demonstrating or self-evident truth… but this entire world is fabricated. What's real and what's fake isn't so easy to distinguish," he says firmly.

Faulkner lets that sit for a moment; when he speaks again, his voice is softer. "So. What do you have to back that up?" he asks quietly.

Asi has to bite back defense of the other world and its state. Isaac will take things at his own pace. But she can't get away with not at least saying, "It's a tenable world. One not at its end, for all its other faults." He says he'll consider it, and that's really all she can hope for.

She exhales long after that, sitting through his doubt about his existence long enough he finishes airing the thoughts aloud. Her eyes soften a shade from dark steel as she reflects, "It's funny. The person you've been built up as here, I would have expected unquestioning insistence that it's you that's unique in the sense you're above this all. Blind belief that it makes sense everyone else is fake in this."

She lets that sit for a moment before shaking her head slightly. "I know you're different because I walked the streets of New York and stared into the eyes of thousands of people, and only a handful of times did I see someone who was something more than they were at face value. Everyone else, everything else is shallow and susceptible to being rewritten. Those of us who aren't the system notice the things that don't make sense— Justice Quinn's disappearance, Nicole and Zachery's spontaneous children. We see the gaps and aren't inclined to say doesn't look like anything to me."

Asi begins to turn her head back toward the door, hearing either footsteps or other more subtle sounds of movement nearby.

Isaac considers Asami's comment for a moment, about her assessment of his reaction, and is forced to conclude it's a fair assessment. Not long ago, perhaps he would have insisted upon exactly that. But…

"We all have our… illusions. The stories we tell ourselves. Maybe… maybe I've lost a few of mine, lately," he admits, shrugging. Self-introspection is not his native mode, though, and is also not the most beneficial use of this time; he doesn't let himself navel-gaze too much.

"But…" he falls silent for a moment, trying to think of how to frame his question. "Right now, it appears that you're sorting everything into two categories. The first: fake. Simulations, programmed to react within narrow parameters. The second: real. Self-aware entities who therefore exist in the… analog, as well, for lack of a better term."

"It's that therefore that I'm unsure about," he says, regarding Asami. "So. A thought experiment for you — and I ask that you give it your honest consideration." He pauses for a moment to let those words sink in before he continues. "Given everything… would you say that it is impossible for there to be a self-aware entity without an analog version?"

Her response is harsher this time in tone, with all the intent of being firmer. "Your name was on the list of victims v.iris transmitted to me. All of ours were. Down to Nova, down to Brynn, who's equally a cipher to me, and young besides." Asi only then looks back to Isaac with the beginning hints of a frown, her voice raising slightly to lend her clarity in message. "This isn't part of what's up for discussion. I won't debate this, because even if you don't have a personal connection to the other victims, it does not mean you're not real."

"You're not an AI. And if even you were, you don't deserve to be tied to a diabolical system like this," she insists flatly.

Before Isaac gets to respond, the door to the room is pushed open, a touch roughly as if the opener for a split second forgot their own strength. It bounced off the wall, but didn't close, being caught by the person coming through.

“So, have you two come up with a plan yet?”

The voice is distinctly Kaylee’s, but something about it is off. The words are blunt, full of disapproval, and very Valerie. “‘Cause the longer we sit here while the two of you get your shit figured out and hug it out, the sooner those things find us.” She’s long since ditched the designer suit and now wore something very not her. Jeans, a white button up and a brown leather bomber jacket. She takes a moment to pull her long curls into a ponytail watching the pair.

“That happens, and the kids are put into further danger, I’m going to kill both of you.” It’s hard to tell if Valerie is being honest or trying to make a bad joke.

Isaac's eyes narrow the moment she says that this is not up for discussion. "I see," he says flatly.

He holds Asami's gaze for a moment longer… and then Kaylee, or Valerie, or whichever the fuck personality is in charge at the moment makes their entrance and their threat, and whatever else he'd been about to say is lost.

"I have a plan, yes. Now, if you'll excuse me," Isaac says smoothly to Valerie, straightening his shoulders. He glances to Asami. "Good day to you, Asami. I'm glad we had this discussion," he says politely, and turns to take his leave.

"Valerie, please," Asi answers the question and threat both, in a thinner, more tired quiet. She takes a step to the side out of the immediate path of the Petrelli matron out of instinct more than anything else, disgruntled.

By the time she looks back to Isaac he's already on the move again. "Fau— Isaac," she tries to interject, kept in place by her promise to not do anything more rash. "Wait."

As Faulker moves to exit the room a blur of white barely misses hitting him, followed by the rather loud boom of an impact that literally rattles the walls of the mansion. He finds himself facing a closed door and there might be a spiderweb of cracks crawling across the walls to each side of it. Would the door even open now?

“Oooooh no, pretty boy. No more of this political sleight-of-hand, stick-up-your-ass, bullshit. We needed a plan yesterday.” She glances from him to Asami and back, before crossing arms with a creak of newer leather. “So cough it up, because it is in our best interest to be on the road before morning.”

Faulkner pauses at Asami's plea, starts to look back — and then the door slams shut in front of his face.

Asami can see his eyes go dead in the moment before he looks back to Valerie. "I would advise," he says slowly, "not taking my bus. It might… draw attention."

His eyes meet Valerie's, unblinking. "There are still cars in the garage, yes? If not, you'll need to rent some. Or go steal some, if you're so inclined. Rip the doors off, maybe, but that wouldn't be terribly practical; it might get drafty in the mountains."

"Leave at different times. Go separately. Take different routes. The system's eyes are blinded, which means it will have a hard time tracking us… if Asami's right, anyway, and of course she is because the voices in her head tell her so. Meet at…" There's the barest moment of hesitation. "…the Corinthian, in Vegas. I can take care of the room reservations once I get there… which will require me getting there, which means I have to leave the room in order to get started."

"Honestly, I'm surprised you couldn't work this out, Kaylee… but then, you're not Kaylee right now, are you? Too bad. She might've been able to actually do something constructive to help, instead of… swaggering around, drunk on your own strength," he snorts.

"Now. Did you have any further questions? Or are you going to pry the damn door out of the wall so that one of us, at least, can actually do something to help?"

With the slamming of the door, Asi gapes openly, robbed of words. She stands in silence behind Isaac for a moment before she finally breathes out, "サコより動力コントロールできへん1…" Her ears ring in the silence that feels like it should follow such a crash.

The former Senator's deadened reply, which she knows from experience will grow cutting and sting by its end, is one that takes her surety in her being and rattles it out of position. It's Asami who has those experiences, and Asami who is being called out by name. As a result, she lapses back into silence, one hand at her side closed into a fist while she struggles internally.

At least he's convinced of the need to go, she tries to tell herself. She disagrees that separate travel will find safety, but she's not in a position to argue. Convincing them all of the danger and the need to leave New York had been a tall enough challenge, one that might've been botched if not for the attack that was carried out.

That stray thought furrows her brow.

"His strategy to rouse as little notice as possible isn't a bad one," Asi says before silence or worse can fill the space after Isaac's snap. The authoritative confidence in her voice is returned, hoping to snare Valerie's attention before it can claw into Isaac. She takes a step toward them both to try to double down on calling her away from anger— as much as to prepare to physically intervene if needed. "We'll just have to hope that enough of us can escape and make it that far. You and the girls— you'll be fine." What with Valerie's protection, at least. "It was them I was worried about."

Asi glances sidelong at Isaac, a complicated emotion in the dark of her eyes.

If there is an expression that Kaylee doesn’t use, it’s the sneer that Valerie has, baring teeth not unlike a predator. This one was dangerous and nothing like the soft spoken and gentle woman they know. Fingers curl into white knuckled fists, though something keeps her from reacting to the outright attack on her character.

Maybe she doesn’t have as much control as she thinks of this body or she is smarter than she acts. Valerie did get him to lay out his plan after all. Asami pulls her attention away from Isaac when she speaks up. Her jaw works a little before, some of the tension bleeds out of her and she finally addresses Isaac again, gruffly. “You know damn well she wouldn’t get rid of all his shit.” Nathan’s that is.

But then Valerie stabs a finger in Asami’s direction,“But I’m traveling with you. Gillian can take the girls.” If there was anyone that she trusted more with her girls, it was the woman who was almost her sister-in-law. “Kaylee trusts you, but I am not there yet. So better hope those voices are right.”

Valerie moves to yank the door open and it pretty much comes off in her hands. Dammit. She glares at both people in the room with her to not say a word before she places it against the wall. “People can take their pick, the Jeep’s mine,” she adds in an effort to distract.

On the other side of the door stands a startled Nicole Miller, holding as still as a doe who’s just heard a branch crack. That door being yanked open is more like an entire tree coming down, admittedly. The hesitation in her address is only so she can draw in a breath to speak. “Valerie.” She doesn’t step to one side or the other, but she does let her eyes pan side to side, bringing the scene behind the blonde into focus.

Faulkner knows the placid look on his assistant’s face. She’s concerned without indicating it. And it’s a look Nicole has carefully cultivated for years.

Apparently satisfied by what she can see, Nicole steps aside enough for Valerie to exit past her, if she decides that’s what she wants even after the politician’s arrival. “I couldn’t help but overhear some of that.” There’s no apology in her tone. “Can we talk?” Her gaze flits around between Isaac, Asi, and Valerie as well. She knows better than to be dismissive of her. And she should have just as much say as anyone else in what they do, shouldn’t they? While they can’t all be organizers, planners, masterminds, they’re still equal partners in this mess.

Faulkner meets Valerie's sneer without flinching; she can dislike what he has to say all she wants, but refuting it is an entirely different matter… and besides, going in hard had been her play, not his.

Well, whatever. She's opted not to murder him, which speaks in favor of her ability to use restraint, at least… and he supposes not being dead is a good thing.

And as Valerie opens the door… there's Nicole. Faulkner's expression remains detached, impassive; he even bites back the jab about eavesdropping that his mind rushes to supply. "Nicole. Excellent. I assume you heard the plan?" he asks, his voice smooth and carefully practiced; faux-conversational.

Nicole meets Faulkner’s gaze evenly, but he sees just the barest flinch, shown only in her eyes. God, she taught him well. Still, her outward composure remains, no matter how pieces of her crumble inside the cage of her ribs. “Move in smaller groups, scatter ourselves to make it more difficult to track us…” Her head tilts to one side slightly before coming back to center, a shrug without her shoulders. “It’s a good plan. But everyone needs to ride with a protector.”

Blue eyes shift to Asi, then Valerie. “You two traveling together makes sense.” The Swiss army knife of a woman can be where she needs to be anyway, can’t she? “Gillian with the girls… Yes.” Nicole understands the importance of validating the plan as it’s been presented, but her lips tighten just the smallest bit — this tell visible to anyone who wants to look for it — before she turns back to Faulkner. “I’m proposing that you and Nova ride with me and Zachery.”

A quick shake of her head prepends her caveat. “Potentially Zachery.” Her fingers curl into fists at that being up in the air. The question of whether the two of them are intending to bring their children. “Because I remember… I remember the other world, I remember I—” Taking a breath to release her frustration, which she finally lets show on her face and in her posture, she finally spits out what she’s trying to say. “I fought in the Second Civil War. I can protect you two. Please let me do this for you.”

Asi reacts to the jab in her direction with a heightened defensiveness, eyes flashing back to Valerie, but she says nothing, opting instead to look to Nicole when the door is yanked away to reveal her. She's unsurprised, and it shows in the way she finds the arrival to be a non-event, turning to the side and placing her hands on her hips, tongue pressed hard into the back of a canine.

Gillian with the girls makes no sense to Asami, but her job is to go with the flow here. Keep people safe as much as possible but not cage them in any one direction. They were trying to escape the cage after all. And Valerie was right that the pyrokinetic cop could guard the girls.

"I don't hear voices," is the most she's able to contribute now, done in a quiet snap. None save for the thoughts of others, anyway, which she bites her tongue against passing commentary on. The last thing Nicole surely needed was Asi's input on the disagreement she and Zachery were having. She sighs out, distracted, "If you all want to talk, I can go. Get a bag together for the trip, so…" Asami doesn't seem to note how she trails off.

Nicole gets a flat look since Valerie didn’t ask for opinions in her choice. She holds her tongue at least. It is the woman’s comments about the other world that receive a weird look and loosens her tongue. “Second Civil War?” she huffs out a laugh in disbelief at the ridiculous notion. Then again, she doesn’t have the same insight as the other two.

The idea of the country going to war with itself is asinine to Valerie, as is the idea of Nicole being able to protect anyone.

Asami's interjection surprises Faulkner, just a bit — he hadn't even been trying to get under her skin with that, as much as it had been an idle barb thrown out of sheer frustration with her outright refusal to entertain any possibility other than the truth she's settled on.

For a moment he entertains hope of trying again… but no. Faulkner is good at talking people around, but he doesn't have the power to make someone think if they refuse to do it on their own. And so, here they are.

And here's Nicole, who wants to chaperone. Oh my god no — wait there was a Second Civil War? And once again Isaac's reservations about the place Asami is dragging them off to intensify… but he doesn't let himself dwell on that. Instead, he forces himself to try to look at things from a rational perspective — benefits against liabilities.

The scales still come out the right way, though, thankfully. "I… appreciate that," he says carefully. "But I think you've already got a lot on your plate." He looks at Nicole, and beneath the facade of concern he wears is at least a thread of actual concern. "Have you spoken with your husband yet? The last I saw of him, he was refusing to leave the bus. And then there's the matter of your children…" That topic sees his concern grow deeper still; as much as his relationship with Nicole Miller can be thorny at times, he definitely has a soft spot for the twins.

Faulkner shakes his head. "So… no. Thank you, but no. I appreciate the offer, but Nova and I can handle this; your husband and your children need you."

But that's probably not going to do it; Isaac Faulkner knows Nicole Miller well enough to know that she won't rest until or unless she can make herself believe that she has in some manner Done Something to positively affect the outcome of this situation, so if he wants to avoid having a chaperone on the End of the World Tour 2021, he's going to have to get out ahead of that. "I do have some ideas to run by you as far as logistics, though. It occurs to me that we might be able to coordinate some hard to find supplies without delaying our departure unduly," he says, and for all that his tone is innocuous there's a gleam in his eye that Nicole knows well.

“It’s complicated,” Nicole admits to Valerie. “Short version is that I fought in a war to keep the government from doing what’s being done to us right now. I fought to keep us from being wiped out.” She shrugs. “We all do what we have to do.” And she could throw lightning from her hands. That made things significantly easier there, too. What she wouldn’t give to do that now.

A look is flashed Faulkner’s way after briefly alighting on Asi — No. Asami. Maybe her explanation makes the idea of it easier to swallow. A necessary fight that it looks like they could face here, too, if they can’t manage to escape to the real world and have to make a stand. Nicole would much rather not.

Whatever she’d been preparing to say, whatever assurances were about to be offered, pleas to be made, they never make it past the staging area of her mind. Nicole goes very, very still and uncharacteristically quiet, given her ingrained tendency to direct Faulkner’s life from childhood to the senate. For her to have nothing to say on the subject of his travel arrangements is unheard of.

Instead, all Nicole does is nod her head numbly. “Supplies I can procure. Easily.” Brushing a strand of dark hair from her face, she provides a weak, somewhat conciliatory smile to Asi. “If you want to help me, I wouldn’t mind the assist. But I know you have plenty of preparations to make yourself. I’m more than capable.” Back to Isaac, she’s looking a little more herself, brows lifted and already conferring a sense of expectation on him. “I brought Gabriella. Make sure we’re keeping eyes on her. She’s understandably overwhelmed, but we can’t risk her rabbiting again.” You understand? is the unspoken addition there.

The doubt and skepticism regarding the place they're supposed to return to isn't a thing Asami can handle with any more grace at the moment. Even memories of her steelier self have little to offer here in the way of help. She's used to delivering on hard-hitting asks and requesting favors in return in both places. She's not the type of person who…

Or at least she tells herself there's nothing more she can say here that won't make things worse. She continues to rock on her heel for a moment, arrested in indecision for moving.

Answering Nicole's ask is easier done. "Sure," she says. "And… just let me know when everyone's leaving. I can try and cause a distraction. Draw fire, so to speak, so maybe there's less focus on everyone else breaching the border. I…"

Asami shakes her head, showing more nerves than she means to. "Yeah, I'll—" She takes a step for the door. "I'll be downstairs." After which, she vanishes from sight, footsteps heavy on the ground the first few strides.

Valerie still doesn’t seem fully convinced, as apparent by the press of her lips and the way she eyes Nicole, but she doesn't it push further.

What they can't see is Kaylee watching Asami’s departure from the mirror with a worried look, hand pressing against the glass. Once her dearest friend is out of sight, Kaylee turns to Valerie and pounds a fist against the mirror. Let me back in! I need to talk to her. I need… The words die on her lips as Valerie looks at her, leveling a cold stare at the trapped woman. After a few ticks, Valerie looks away without a word.

Kaylee made her choice and now she’ll have to live with it.

“Check the armory, it’s off Nathan’s study.” The blonde points in the direction of the study in question. “She never touched any of it.” Kaylee was a bit of a pacifist, where it was clear that Valerie mostly likely has no qualms. “It’ll get us by. The rich men and their hobbies…”

Looking out the door, Valerie says, “In the meantime, I’ll show Gabriella the cellar. Maybe a few glasses of a ‘47 blanc will relax the stick up her ass.” Without another word, she slips out the door on her own mission. She may sneak a few bottles out to the man stubbornly sitting out in the bus still. Not anything the man’s wife needs to know.

Isaac can hear the standalone ellipsis Nicole responds to his travel plans with; it's clear she's not convinced, but is apparently deciding not to press the issue at the present time. Fine and fair; that could only lead to an argument right now, and they don't have time for it. Faulkner is less enthused about being relegated to babysitting duty, but it's the fact that Nicole is having Asami to help her on business matters that really cuts deep. But of course she would, right? They worked together to rope him into bus driver duty so Asami could get a clear shot at Nova, so why wouldn't she trust Asami with this?

And apparently that's it, meeting adjourned; the important person here has left and the business she's dictated to be relevant has been addressed, huzzah, hurray. Fucking Christ. "I'll have a word with Gabriella once Ms. Petrelli's said her piece," Isaac says evenly; there's a barb ready to follow that up with, as instinctive as breathing, but he swallows it instead, ignoring the burning he feels in his guts. "Check in with me before you finalize the arrangements on the care packages, if you would. I have a few thoughts on how some of them might be tailored." He shakes his head. "Now if you'll excuse me; I've got to go see if Nathan had an atlas, then I'll be joining the ladies to make sure our intrepid reporter doesn't flee the country while you're not looking."

He doesn't wait around for goodbyes. Without seeming to hurry, he's nevertheless out the door and striding down the hallway in very short order; restraining his own worst nature is a strain sometimes, especially with Nicole, and right now he'd just… rather not go there. Not right now. Luckily, Faulkner doesn't have to think about where he's going; he knows the Petrelli house nearly as well as he knows his own.

So why do I feel like a stranger here now? slips into the darkness at the back of his mind before he catches it and crushes it out of existence.

It's only when he's sure he's alone that he lets his steps slow, lets the weight he feels bow his shoulders. Doesn't anyone else have concerns about this? Doesn't anyone else see? He hangs his head for a moment, letting out a shaky breath as one hand rises to cover his face, to hide it, to make sure that no one sees the expression on it. The look of tiredness. Weakness.

But it's only for a moment. He's still Isaac Faulkner. He's not beaten. He's not… alone, surrounded by people who used to be his closest allies but… aren't, anymore. And even if he is… he is Isaac Faulkner still. His shoulders straighten, his expression smooths, and he strides forth once again.

He has work to do.

“Save one of those for me, would you?” Nicole murmurs to Valerie on her way past, regarding the vintage wine. She could use a whole bottle right now. Especially given the way every little microexpression Faulkner’s just made is now burned into her memory and she’ll never, ever be able to forget them in this moment.

And she braces, because she knows the knife is coming to slide between her ribs, to find the soft parts of her that Isaac is so intimately aware of and knows so, so well how to strike where it will leave the least visible damage, but cause the most pain. Her hand is shaking where she’s clenched it into a fist beneath the tugged-down sleeve of her cardigan sweater.

“Naturally,” Nicole responds to Faulkner with too much practiced ease. She gives a dip of her head as he steps past her as well. And the knife never comes.

Or does it?

As she steps further into the studio space, Nicole feels as though she’s oozing life from herself and leaving bloody footprints all over the floor as evidence of it. Only when she’s sure there’s no one lingering does she let out a shaky breath, letting it slice through the quiet of the room. Lifting one hand, she covers her face, her head dipping low when she allows herself a single sob. Then it’s a deep breath and back to neutral. As has been the case for her since she was younger than Isaac is now, no one’s served by her need for assurances.

There’s too much work to be done.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License