Open Wallets and Open Bars


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Scene Title Open Wallets and Open Bars
Synopsis A gala is never dull.
Date September 2, 2016

Outer District

A few years ago, Labor Day weekend would have been a grand affair. People going camping, hitting up sales at the malls, pulling out their barbeques for one last hurrah in the last throes of summer. In the Outer District, these things… don’t really happen.

Except among the wealthy and influential, of course. But a cookout really isn’t the style these days either. New York, it feels, has always been about its galas. Some things just aren’t completely curtailed. While this isn’t a grand affair, the Haves are in attendance to rub elbows and pat each other on their backs as they open their wallets and give to the cause of protecting the status quo.

The bar, as it happens, is open too. Nicole Nichols stands there, dressed her part in an evening gown of shimmering green sequins, asymmetrically cut to hide her mechanical arm beneath a long sleeve, while baring the other arm and shoulder entirely, as well as a good portion of her ribcage. Entirely backless, with a slit cut down the long skirt from high up on her thigh to the floor, exposing long legs made to look even longer by strappy black heels. In her hand is a dirty gin martini, three olives. Around her throat is a necklace made of diamonds and emeralds, while a matching pair of earrings dangle from her ears. The jewelry sparkles when the light dances off its faceted surfaces.

The sequins shine as her armor. Light glints off the jewelry like a blade. Nicole is not fucking around.

This isn’t one of those engagements she can afford to extricate herself from after less than half an hour. Regardless of how late her keeper intends to stay, she will be on all evening, talking sweet to anyone and everyone with deep enough pockets to be deemed worthy of her time. Before the collapse of the country as they knew it, some of the people gathered here used to be her friends. Funny how she seems to have none these days.

"Look who's out of the closet," a voice purrs at her back, before slipping to her side. Here comes one such unfriend now.

Ace Callahan still is of light step even without his ability, though his mood suffers frequently for it. Despite all that, he cleans up well, and does an oh-so-convincing job of looking like he belongs here. Maybe he even believes that he does.

One of the Haves, rather than…

He finishes off the whiskey he'd been swirling in a lowball glass, depositing it without warning or apparent care onto the tray of a waiter making their way through the space. At Nicole's side, Ace gives her a cutting smile, the green-grey of his eyes looking her up and down with something that could be appreciation, if his smile reached them. "Good to see you, as always," he remarks with an appropriate amount of charm, reaching to take her hand and place a chaste kiss on the backs of her knuckles.

But it's the arm hidden by the eaves of her sleeve that his hand seeks, the palm his fingers find one not as soft as skin, smoother than that. And his smile cuts just a tad wider for it.

The voice at her back would be pleasant, delicious even, if only it hadn't been those words he chose to say. When Nicole turns her head to look at her new companion, it's with a mild smile and a lift of her brows, like this is just a congenial cocktail conversation. His appraisal is answered with one of her own even as she allows him to capture her free hand in his own and brush his lips against the backs of fingers that feel the feather-light touch, but not really.

If he thinks he's being allowed to withdraw after that, he is sorely mistaken. Nicole's hand stays at the level he held it at, reaching forward to rest against his shoulder while she leans in as though to murmur a secret to him. Her fingers don't stop there, finding their way to the back of his neck and curling upward around the back of his skull. Artificial digits click over his implant.

Now, she shows she can cut a slice across her face and purr just as well as he can. Up against his ear now: “You're a prick, Callahan.”

"Now, now," sounds a new voice, leisurely.

Dr. Zachery Miller is out of his lab coat and dressed in one of the finest black suits in the room, and steps into the light to claim a spot just beside Nicole. A glass of clear liquid is held in one hand, while the other adjusts a blood red cufflink. Against his black shirt, too, his crimson tie stands out as much as the glint in his eyes when he looks Ace over with a wide smile.

It is genuine — the face of someone visiting a new restaurant but finding a trusted favourite on the menu. He neither looks away nor is addressing Ace when he says, pleasantly, "That such a shiny collar could still be forgotten."

That intimate caress would be pleasant, pleasurable even, if only it hadn't been for that click on his implant. He offers no murmur in reply to hers, no witty rejoinder this time. Over Nicole's shoulder, Ace's smile holds but deadens in his eyes, something colder than before taking its place. Zachery's appearance adds something deeper and sharper still to his gaze as he pulls back from Nicole with all the motions of fondness, though his previous smile is little more than a press of his mouth.

"Yes, you wouldn't want to forget about your… patron." he remarks with false pleasantness.

He refuses to address that comment might have been meant for him. Besides, they were all playing at being nice tonight, at being civil. Who was he to ruin it by presenting with a foul mood?

What a game, what a dance, what a drama.

"Always a pleasure, Doctor," Ace asides to him without looking his way, his voice on the flatter edge of pleasant. This encounter's lost its charm for him. He makes no excuse for himself as he smooths flat his midnight grey tie and turns on his heel to head back to that bar. If nothing else, that's a luxury he has, to still be able to walk away, and he'll flaunt it. There's still time before his services will be required by his client, and he'll while it away with another drink yet.

And this one, he'll need rather than simply enjoy.

Tonight, Isaac Faulkner is dressed in black — black jacket, black pants, black shirt, black gloves, set off only by a white silk tie. It's somewhat more ostentatious than his usual choice in attire, but what is a gala if not a night for ostentation?

Image is important, after all. Even Doctor Miller is in agreement with that, from what Faulkner can see from here — he certainly seems to have cleaned up for the occasion, at any rate. But who had that been speaking with Nichols? The exchange had looked innocent, but the face had seemed… familiar. Someone he'd read about in the files — someone he'd read about in an attachment to Miller's file, he's fairly certain, though he hadn't gotten a good enough look to pin him down just yet.

He makes a mental note of it, and also makes a note of the rather unpleasant feeling he has about the man… and then laughs at the banal joke his current conversational partner had made — a satellite to someone more important, working as some kind of middling administrative functionary. She's not a particularly interesting conversationalist, but she's just important enough that slighting her could lead to headaches down the line… so he lets the conversation go on for another minute or two before he spots an opening to break away gracefully.

The familiar looking man is gone by that point; pity, but so it goes; Miller and Nichols are still free, though. He strides purposefully towards them, wearing his usual smile. Nicole gets a perfunctory nod, but it's Zachery who receives the majority of his attention; Isaac is well aware of who has the power in that particular pairing. "I wasn't expecting to see you here, Doctor Miller; what a pleasant surprise," Faulkner says, smiling pleasantly. "You're looking well."

Zachery has the power. Nicole’s just the battery. As she’s not addressed, she doesn’t offer more than a polite smile to Agent Faulkner. Which suits her just fine, because she’s distracted, her gaze having trailed off in the direction of Ace’s retreat, and it’s giving her time to work on that cocktail of hers. Should’ve ordered a double. But at least she gets a small bit of victoriousness in having taken some of the fun out of Callahan’s antagonizing.

A glance out of the corner of her eye to the man at her elbow reminds her who really knocked the wind out of his sails, however. She shifts her posture slightly, working her jaw from one side to the other in tandem with a deep inhale through her nose, all of which betray some level of agitation in spite of her neutral expression.

The martini is passed from right hand to left, hard plating on fingers clinking quietly against the glass’ surface. If she has to offer a hand out again, she won’t give an option to choose the one she’s already given up.

It isn't hard to read enjoyment in Zachery's expression when he watches Ace turn to leave, and he returns what passes for a greeting with a pleased, assessing glance. "Callahan."

Once he sees fit to lend his attention to the rest of the room again, he lifts his glass and drains nearly all of its contents in one go — it goes down too easily to be anything satisfying. Certainly, it doesn't motivate him to talk.

Until, that is, he sees Faulkner beginning to approach. Only then does he lean to the side, slipping a hand lightly onto Nicole's shoulder only to have it brush briefly against her necklace. Her eyes lid for the duration of the touch, however brief. A reminder. A smile surfaces on his lips as he plays the part of partner, business or otherwise.

"And you as well," Faulkner is told, Zachery's smile brightening, "I try not to get out too often, to keep to the stereotype, you understand," he jokes, angling his arm so that his empty glass is right where Nicole's free hand should could snatch it up, "but this social butterfly. She can't be stopped."

Faulkner laughs at Miller's joke, in part because it's polite but mostly because it actually is fairly amusing — well-tailored to his audience, too. He recognizes the lie in Miller's words, of course, but Faulkner is no stranger to wearing a mask in public, is he? No.

When Miller shifts the topic to his assistant; Faulkner's smile widens just a bit. "Is that so?" he asks, his gaze shifting to Nicole. He appraises her briefly, giving a slight nod. "You're looking lovely, Ms. Nichols; I can see you take your social butterflying seriously," he says. Then his gaze shifts, slipping off somewhere between the two of them, and he sighs, his smile taking on a hint of self-deprecation as he shakes his head. "It's always seemed more of an art than a science to me. Something I never quite got." For a moment — just a moment — there's a flatness in his eyes, something almost honest.

It passes. "But I like to think I do well enough," he adds, with another pleasant smile.

“You’ll wear the emeralds tonight,” Zachery’s reflection in Nicole’s vanity mirror informs her as he makes his meandering approach until he’s looming at her back, expectant that she’ll obey an unspoken command, and she does. With her right arm, she crosses to her left shoulder from the back, curling her fingers around the dark waves of her hair and draws it to the other side, up and off her neck.

Nicole doesn’t make an attempt to veil her contempt as he bends forward, snaking one arm through the triangular opening her elbow makes and letting his fingers brush over the skin of her shoulder and her collarbone as he drapes the jewels around her neck and fastens the catch in the back.

A most attractive collar indeed.

Nicole smiles easily, but much like the smiles of her new conversation partner, none of it reaches her eyes. “Thank you,” she responds to the compliment. That much she might even allow herself to believe is genuine. As much as she loathes being Miller’s favorite doll, she’s aware that she cleans up beautifully. That is a point of pride she can allow herself to maintain.

Her reflection stares hard back as she resettles her hair around her shoulders. But he hasn’t finished with her yet. After all, the emeralds are part of a set.

When he brushes his hand through her hair, carefully tucking it back so he can slide one post through the piercing in her ear as easily as he threads his surgical needle, her jaw starts to tremble. When he moves to her other side and repeats the process, this time letting his fingertip caress lightly over the shell of her ear, a tear slides down her cheek.

“Oh,” Nicole corrects, smoothly relieving Dr. Miller of his empty glass without shifting her focus away from the agent, “but it is quite the science.” There’s a twinkle to her eye as she engages in this topic of conversation. She is the social butterfly Zachery says she is, even if it’s part of an act. “It’s a social and political science.”

She leans in slightly, consequently away from the touch at her shoulder, drawing Faulkner into this conspiracy they’re sharing now. Nicole’s head cants to one side, and she’s expecting a slight mirroring of her own posture. This is what human beings do. “May I call you Isaac?” she asks with a slight lift of her brows, the curve of the smile on her lips like a secret passed between them.

The inky trail of mascara in the tear’s wake draws a smile onto Miller’s face that Nicole knows is genuine in the way that the fondness in his touch is not. “Now, now, puppet, you’ll want to fix that.” He gets exactly the reaction he desires when a shudder of revulsion runs through her and she flinches away from the reach of his hand, apparently intending to brush away the tear with the pad of his thumb.

The smile drops, but not the crinkle of crows feet at the corners of his eyes, relics of his mirth. “If you’re going to throw up, do it quickly. We leave in five.”

This is how she draws people in. Nicole Nichols is bewitching. And were Isaac Faulkner anybody else, it might actually work on him. If she hadn’t revealed previously just how much the two of them may be birds of a feather, he might think she’s expecting him to fall for that charm. Instead, the whole exchange could be taken as a primer on how she works.

An audition of sorts.

It’s only when he’s out of sight again, the door sliding shut behind him, that Nicole allows herself to physically react without holding back as she had. She draws in a sharp gasp of air, her shoulders hunching inward as she fights back more tears. Zachery Miller’s displays of affection are acts of terrorism inflicted on her.

The only truth held in them is the truth that if he actually desired to, he could make her living hell so much worse.

With shaking fingers, Nicole grabs a puff off the vanity and starts pressing powder to her face to hide the tears.

The empty glass of Zachery’s is rocked back and forth twice to draw attention to it. “Can I get you anything from the bar while I’m headed that way?”

His hand retracting from that shoulder, Zachery stands tall and lets Nicole speak in his stead. Not for him, if his complete lack of acknowledgement and glance to others in the room is any indication, but she makes for good background noise either way, and he knows she makes a useful focal point.

But something has his attention gliding smoothly back to Faulkner. Something unseen, something that adds a bit of sincerity back to his smile, even if it's still a cold thing on his face. "A refill," he answers Nicole simply, though his eyes don't leave Faulkner's face. Maybe he thinks it would be rude to interrupt with whatever thoughts have entered his head since the conversation started.

Science - be it social, political or otherwise - can involve some waiting, after all.

"Is that so?" Faulkner asks, his own head tilting, his posture mirroring hers ever so slightly. He's skeptical. To be certain, there are aspects of a science about it — cues that can be interpreted this way or that, like the posture mirroring he's doing right now — but there are aspects of science to, say, painting, as well. Color mixing. Shading. Perspective. A thousand and one rules hammered out with a precision bordering on mathematical, refined over the course of centuries of trial and error… and yet not one of those rules tells how to inspire. To uplift.

Still. There's hard evidence pointing to her expertise; skeptical he may be, but he's not about to ignore that. So when she asks if she can call him Isaac, he smiles in return, the pieces sliding in his mind like panels on a Rubik's cube. A demonstration, then. Intriguing.

"You may," is his answer, delivered warmly as he meets her bewitching charms with his own well-learned politesse. Her offer to fetch something from the bar is met with a shake of his head. "Thank you, but no." Not tonight. He has plans, later.

And as Nicole takes her leave, that leaves him alone with Miller… who, for the moment at least, doesn't seem inclined to say much. From the corner of his eye, Faulkner sees him watching; after a moment, Faulkner turns to face him. "I trust the party's been treating you well?" he asks politely.

"Not particularly," Zachery fires a reply back immediately, letting his unwavering attention cling onto Faulkner's face as he considers his next words. His shoulders momentarily push back in an idle stretch as Nicole takes her leave, and he draws a deep breath as though the air is cleaner for her absence. "But that's not really a party's job, in my experience."

Maybe with a drink worth having, but the doctor - while on the job or otherwise - has not been seen drinking anything but water for years now. Not that it looks like he needs the confidence right now, anyway. This might not be his preferred environment, but there is nothing held back in the way his smile widens and his chin lifts just slightly — as if it precedes an invitation to challenge his next statement: "Aren't the people who matter, after all, here to treat it?"

His stare holds.

Nicole inclines her head graciously when Isaac declines her offer to fetch him a drink. “Then, if you’ll excuse me. I’ll be back shortly.” She glances briefly to Zachery, making sure she acknowledges him as much as look for a cue that she’s not dismissed somehow. She is, of course, dismissed, because she’s being sent to fetch, and that suits her just fine in this case.

When she arrives at the bar, not far away but far enough, she turns a brilliant smile to the bartender. The last of her own drink is drained and the glass set on the counter next to the lowball that had contained water for the doctor. “I need another dirty gin martini,” Nicole instructs, pointing at her own glass as she fishes the skewer with the olives out. “Three olives.” Even if she’s just getting around to eating those olives now, they are a crucial element of her favored cocktail.

A glance at her side shows Ace Callahan is still lingering. “Better make that a double,” she requests ruefully. “And as for this one, I need vodka. Chilled, no rocks.” She doesn’t need to specify that it should be top shelf. This is one of those kinds of parties. “And please, take your time.”

While the tender is mixing her drink, she moves along the bar to stand next to where Ace stands, turning so she can watch the party with her elbows resting on the surface behind her, a casual affect. Most here don’t understand the hell her life has become. No matter how little Nicole and Ace get along, he does, and it allows her some measure of comfort to be near to him now, despite their previous posturing.

She doesn’t look over as she strikes up the conversation anew. “I’d buy you a drink, but…” The booze is free. “Would you care to dance?” Her gaze stays fixed ahead, past where Zachery and Isaac continue to chat, and to the raised platform where musicians are playing live music. “You seem the type who knows how.” And likes to show it off.

So there they are, elbow to elbow once again. Ace would arch an eyebrow at Nicole's choices, but to acknowledge them might be akin to giving them away. For as much as they grief one another, actively sabotaging the other isn't their style.

Except for the once.

Her offer draws him from that memory, his pointedly-away gaze still on the bar's selection rather than in the direction his head begins to turn. "Feeling a bit bold, are we?" he asks under his breath, looking in the reflective paneling behind the glasses, green-greys seeking out the outline of the doctor and his co-worker to judge how engaged with each other they find themselves. Is it enough? Not enough?

Ace's fingers curl around his drink with a little more tension. What should he care, he decides abruptly, and his mask slides back into place effortlessly. "I didn't realize this was a Sadie Hawkins event," he drawls at a more conversational level, eyes finally flicking to match the turn of his head. "But now that I know, it'd be uncouth of me to turn you down. Against the rules, even."

He draws himself up to his full height, tipping back the rest of his topped-off whiskey and turning to Nicole without smiling. Instead, he gives a gentlemanly dip of his head, hand offered out to her with his palm turned up. "Ms. Nichols."

"You know, we could do more boldly than this," Ace suggests to her in a lower tone of voice, a quiet dare to it. "We could do more than dance. We could leave, and see how far we'd get." He only has eyes for her in that moment, hand turned out at the elbow for hers. From the outside, it looks as though it's him doing the leading. Imposing on her for this dance.

The two of them know better. And maybe one other, but Ace tells himself that doesn't matter anyway, for all that it most certainly does.

There’s a genuine mirth in those too-bright blue eyes of hers when he teases. Sadie Hawkins indeed. Her refreshed drink is taken and downed in two neat gulps. Even before all of this, Nicole was a professional at a great many things, and drinking like a fish and holding her own at it was practically part of the job description.

One hand accepts Ace’s offer and the other scoops up Zachery’s drink. As they make their way to the floor, she hands it off to him with a winning smile. “There you are, Doctor.” From there, she continues to the floor with her most charming dance partner.

Once there, Nicole wraps her arms around Ace in the customary fashion, though perhaps stands just a touch closer than is expected from two people who don’t know each other terribly well. Not as close, however, as she dances with Miller when they do. There are rules and appearances to be kept up.

Those rules dictate her response to Ace’s query. “What? And see how long before he decides to play Marco Polo with us?” She means with her. Nicole trusts that Ace hasn’t forgotten their first meeting and how that went so very poorly for her. “Or before they activate those failsafes and all our troubles are finally over?” And their lives.

Still, there’s more thrill than there is fear. That’s a problem.

One hand clasped with hers, the other on her waist, Ace opts to keep their dance simple while the terms of it are still being negotiated. His side, his back offered and also blocking proper line of sight to Nicole's expression from Zachery and Isaac, he dips his head while he sways side to side with her. "That's not a no." Ace murmurs knowingly.

Then he parts from her to spin her, to show off that radiant green dress in this drab sea of black and white, eyes on her rather than on any that might be on them.

Faulkner lets out a single quiet chuckle at Miller's comment; he's certainly hit the nail on the head there. "I can't really argue with that," he admits. "If it were otherwise, I probably wouldn't be here. But… it's necessary work." If you want results, after all, you can't be shy about putting in the work. Even if it isn't something you enjoy all that much.

And here comes Nicole… but it seems she's not alone. She's picked up Mr. X again, and something about her seems a little brighter than it had before. Faulkner's usual pleasant smile is on his face and ready, as he studies Nicole and her dance partner, taking a moment to examine both of them as Nicole hands Miller his drink.

Then, as the two of them head to the dance floor, he takes a moment more; the smile remains, but his eyes are cooler, more assessing. They dance well, at least. Points for that… though Mr. X's face is still bothering him. "Seems she does take her social butterflying seriously," he murmurs, before his gaze shifts back to Miller. "Who was that, though? He looks… familiar."

As if Nicole had ceased to matter the moment she left his sight - despite her having brought him a drink - Zachery is already lost in thought, scanning the room's faces as if his mind is elsewhere already. Every party has its checklist.

But Faulkner's words bring him back into the present, and he shifts his weight before his eyes follow the other man's focus to the dance floor. He regards both dance partners calmly, clicks his tongue, and lifts his drink slowly upward. First, though — "Ace Callahan." The name is offered up sharply, and if it were a note he was slipping to Faulkner, it would be in cursive and underlined. "Once a man loyal to his country, and it - as far as I can tell - to him. Nowadays…"

He ponders the rest of his answer, smirking with some satisfaction over the rim of his glass, "He's proven useful enough to someone, and capable of wandering into appointments on time. Have you two met?" With the question answered and a new one laid out before them, he lifts his glass to his lips fully, tips it back, and promptly freezes with a mouthful of unexpected vodka. His eyes, unblinking, find Nicole's face amidst the dance, and he swallows with his jaw set tight enough to look like it could snap bones.

Faulkner knows that name, yes. Callahan. Nasty piece of work, that one. Has appointments with Miller? Interesting. And what, precisely, had been the nature of Nicole's interaction with him? He'd sworn there'd been tension there earlier, but now she's dancing with him. A demonstration, still? Or is something else afoot here?

He watches them dance for a moment longer. "No," he answers, his tone dark and distant. "I've heard of his work, though…"

Then he looks over to Miller… and his heart lurches in his chest as he sees the expression on his face. Faulkner's heartbeat accelerates, his eyes flickering from point to point as he studies Miller, looking for a cause. He sees Miller's baleful glare, his jaw clenched in a painful-looking rictus, sees the glass in his raised hand… shit. Had Nicole poisoned him? Miller's ability could potentially pick up on that after one gulp, maybe… but come on. At a party? When Faulkner would be the agent closest to hand? Worse, when he'll be close enough to potentially be a suspect?

God dammit.

Not that he's concerned about any chance of that sticking, but it's a potential problem, and he doesn't need to have any of those associated with the carefully polished image he has gone to such pains to maintain.

Or maybe he's misreading. Better to take a few seconds and be sure. And if it is some horrible, fast-acting poison… well. He'll cook those books when he comes to them.

"Doctor Miller? Are… are you alright?" Faulkner asks, sounding concerned.

After pulling Nicole back to him, Ace changes his step, beginning a slow rotation to it. He lowers his head to Nicole's, murmuring the new dance, shifting his hand from her waist to her back, tightening that distance between them ever so slightly. He looks up across the room toward Zachery and Isaac with a flash of his eyes, then they languidly move on as he turns his head to match the style of dance.

Perhaps this isn't the sort of event for a foxtrot, but that's never been one to stop Ace from doing something flashy.

"After all," he breathes somewhere between them, lips barely moving. "You've been privy to enough installments, enough calibrations to know just the right order to not set things off, don't you?"

Holding his arm and hers out as he turns his head again, beginning the next swirl of steps, Ace knowingly purrs, "Besides, you have to be close enough to hear the call of Marco to give your answer."

He trusts her ability to do the translation on that euphemism.

“It’s been a long time since I found someone who can keep up with me,” Nicole commends as they start this dance together. He draws her in closer and she allows for it. She shouldn’t, but she’s going to. The steps go slow, slow, quick-quick. It’s rhythmic, but with some illusion of variation.

“Has he figured out I switched his water for vodka yet?” she asks without even entertaining the notion of glancing in that direction. If she does, it’s all over and she knows it.

"Oh, most certainly," Ace breathes back, only barely resisting a smile.

“Mm.” Her arm wraps around his shoulders a little tighter. Running sounds like it’s perhaps not the worst idea after all. But there’s a — well, there’s several problems with that. “I’m not a medical expert. I’ve watched him countless times. I’ve assisted, but… I’m even usually on the other side of the table. I don’t see it like he does.”

She’s very serious when she tells him, “I could kill you,” in a voice barely above a whisper. “And not just because you got me locked in a fucking drawer for seventeen days.”

In case he was wondering how that went.

"I'm fantastic." Zachery replies through his teeth, where he yet stands beside Faulkner. His eyes stay on the dancing pair ahead and his expression remains much how it was — except for the fact that he does manage to unscrew his jaw enough to say, quite crisply at that, "Your concern is misplaced."

He stands, almost too still for a member of the living, with the rest of his drink still lifted near his chest. Waiting, patient, drawing this moment out a little longer yet. "Though I fear I may hear the call of socialising with the less interesting masses."

Hm. Not poison, then. Or at least, not something immediately lethal; it seems Doctor Miller will not be collapsing or foaming at the mouth or engaging in any other dramatics.

Faulkner's expression settles into impassivity as he studies Miller while the older man is busy glaring at Nicole. There are layers to Miller's statement — it is both an assurance that Miller himself is fine, and an implication, sharp as a scalpel, that someone else will not be in short order… and that gaze makes it clear who it's directed at.

Seems Nicole botched the Doctor's drink order. And not in an interesting way, either — no cyanide or arsenic or snake venom at all as far as he can tell, just that rictus-clenched jaw. He hopes she got something out of it, but if she did, he doesn't see what it is.

"That is… good to hear," Faulkner says, still studying the doctor, frowning. "You looked a bit… distracted," he says diplomatically. "Has something come up?"

"If you truly wanted to, you'd have done it already," Ace replies in a disaffected murmur, attention drawn to Nicole more deeply than it was before. Despite the etiquette of the dance, his head turns in her direction instead of away from it. The smile he wears openly now is false, pleasant, conversational. "You'd have done it the first time you saw me after that ordeal, or you'd have done it any time after."

Their swirl about the dance floor begins to slow, in time with the dying of the current song.

"If you had any sense at all in that head of yours, you'd do it now."

Perhaps she'd do it in such a way they could both take a last bow. He supposes he might not mind if it were here, under the gaze of so many. This stage was beneath him, but an explosion could certainly elevate it. It'd be delightful to ruin this polite affair. "We would be famous. That alone would be worth the pain."

"You're right," Nicole agrees. "If I wanted to kill you, I would have done." If she killed him trying to remove his implant, that would be an accident. Unlike some others in her position, she doesn't try to spread the pain around. He knows that well enough from their first meeting.

As he turns them around the floor, she catches sight of Faulkner first. She knows better than to look at the man she left him conversing with. There's no amusement in her eyes. No triumph. The small acts of rebellion are all she has. Her head inclines slightly to one side, maybe to shrug.

But she doesn't dare do anything less ambiguous than that. She's felt the weight of Zachery's gaze on her ever since Ace confirmed her little prank had played out. Steeling herself, she finally lets her gaze settle on Miller after one more turn.

Immediately, she's refocusing on Ace. "Only one of us is going to be in pain tonight, Mister Callahan." Nicole swallows uneasily. "You can go on with your life. Maybe you'll find someone brave enough to…" Again, she catches her keeper's eye. Her blood runs cold. "There's a fire escape on the roof." Her lips barely move when she says it, eyes fixed on Zachery all the while. "We could slip out that way."

There's the cue. Zachery lifts his drink, and just as before, downs the rest of its contents in one go. Maintaining eye contact past the glass all the while.

"Something has," he answers Faulkner stiffly, "but it's of no importance. It will, in the end, come back down." His free hand clenches into a fist at his side, before someone carrying a tray of drinks obscures his view of the dancers and the doctor's movements return to him all at once — he steps forward without so much as another look to the side, choosing instead to wander toward the more crowded side of the room where someone already appears to be waving him over upon catching him looking their way.

"I suggest you stick around for the dinner and show later, Mr. Faulkner!" He calls over his shoulder, pleasant and perfect smile already in place as he gives his hand a shake at his side, relaxing muscles. "I've got some treating to do, if you'll excuse the callback. I'll be around."

Faulkner frowns, tilting his head slightly. Miller's words are a further intimation of mayhem to come as much as they are an answer. That faintest hint of emphasis on show is ominous…

…but be damned if he's going to flinch. "I wouldn't miss it. Until later, Doctor Miller," he says mildly as Miller takes his leave. He watches Miller's back for a moment — just a moment — as the man walks away… then turns and glances towards Nicole, with the same bland expression. He holds that stare for a moment too long to be purely coincidental… then he, too, looks away and slips off into the crowd. That's all the warning she's going to get from him… and for what it may be worth, there is one point, unspoken as it may be, that he and Miller stand in agreement on: every party has its checklist. Faulkner has progress yet to make on his. This little bit of theatrics has added a new item to that checklist, something he's going to want to handle sooner rather than later.

Namely, finding a good vantage point. Preferably one near an exit.

The sudden shift in Nicole's treatment of the fantasy scenario snares Ace's attention instantly, pupils dilating to points. What made her change her mind? What had she seen? Murderous intent in Zachery's eyes?

The doctor exiting the floor merits a slight turn of his head to keep the event in his periphery.

"Is there some reason slipping out a less-difficult exit is out of the question?" Ace asks in a stiff quiet, glancing over his shoulder for his own keeper now, another one of the drinkers and minglers in the lake of well-dressed faces. Avoiding raising any suspicion would rely on playing everything smoothly, so he smiles at Nicole as the music ends.

Nicole catches Faulkner’s gaze again and dips her chin ever so slightly to indicate that she understands the warning imparted. “Less difficult exits are the obvious ones,” she explains calmly to Ace. “If you find yourself reluctant to keep your hands off me, we grab a couple flutes of champagne, and disappear into the stairwell, people will think we’ve just gone off to the gardens to fool around. We’ll be halfway across town before Miller realizes we’ve snuck out.”

This is not the first time Nicole has orchestrated an unexpected exit from a party like this. Even if she hasn’t done so since before the world went to hell, it’s not a skill that gets particularly rusty. His smile is returned easily. These are the roles they’re playing. “I think it’s our best chance.”

"And I'm not entirely certain we won't begin a game of Marco Polo as soon as you're out of his sight, no matter how unsightly it might look," Ace replies even as his arm tightens around her and he begins to slip them back into the sanctity of the crowd. Already, he's looking to intercept course with a waiter. "There's nothing he despises worse than losing."

But this is a Sadie Hawkins dance, and he's following the lady's lead.

"Are you truly ready to die tonight? Because that is the only guaranteed escape," he asides to her, cavalier as though they were talking about armchair strategy in a less-deadly game. He lets go of Nicole to have both hands free in whisking champagne off a tray, one held close to his chest while the other is extended to her. "And we don't need to even go very far to accomplish that."

“He might,” Nicole grants to Ace’s concern. She may only get as far as the stairwell before Zachery decides to dig the remote out of his pocket. But Zachery Miller is a strategic sort. He won’t want to jeopardize funding by creating a scene. At least, that’s what she’s banking on.

The glass of champagne is accepted and she meets his eyes. “I’ve been ready to die for a long time now.” The problem is that every time she claws her way out of the depths toward hope, she doesn’t want to die. She wants to live. “What about you?” Last chance to divert. She’s already looping her flesh and blood arm around his waist.

"I've never wanted to die quietly," Ace shares in a disgruntled quiet. Wherever they're headed, it's not likely anywhere he wants to be in that regard. No flash, no drama, no sprays of blood and looks of horror. No impact, aside to themselves.

"But I failed to keep my word once, and I like that even less."

His hand settles high on her back, curling around her shoulder in a move after that, fingers dragging. It's a clear indication of interest to anyone watching, though the brush of his thumb over her spine is a less obvious one. "And to be honest, I've given up on any kind of satisfying life. Might as well have some agency in how it ends."

Then he glances for the exit to the stairs he thinks she has in mind, dipping his gaze back to her and tilting his head in its direction. How about it?

“I feel largely the same,” Nicole admits, following the tilt of Ace’s head with her eyes, as if she might not have already known what he’s indicating, and nods her head. The brush of his thumb earns him the feeling of her nails applying pressure lightly over his back as she bunches up his jacket in her hand briefly.

The stairwell isn’t so arduous a climb - even in shoes that are made for milling about the floor rather than much actual movement. When she pushes open the door to the rooftop, Nicole gasps softly at the sensation of the cool early fall breeze on her exposed skin. It’s pleasant, as she always runs warm.

A quick sweep of the space shows no other partygoers present in the rooftop garden, unless they’re ducked behind a trellis or something. Nicole starts to make her way to the double railings that will lead to the descent to the scaffolding of the fire escape. She glances back over her shoulder once to Ace, excited and frightened all at once.

It's not that Ace means to dally, just that the drink in his hand needs disposed of first. The flute of champagne heralds celebration on a night otherwise not worth celebrating, a promise to make it exciting after all. He wouldn't dare leave his glass full.

Settling it down into the dirt of a planter after he downs its contents, he follows along behind Nicole, ears pricked for the sounds of other movement on the roof. He rolls his tongue against the inside of his cheek while Nicole beelines for the fire escape, decidedly less excitable in its pursuit than she is.

His eyes are half-lidded, green-greys reflecting the lights floating up from the city block below them. "Is it that important to descend back down into the filth and muck?" he asks, his hand lowering to the buttons of his suit jacket. They're twisted undone one by one with that single hand. Ace looks away from Nicole to admire the rooftop growth, unhurriedly now that they've made it to the roof. They have a few minutes, surely. Turning back to her, he opines, "It's nicer up here, after all."

When she realizes he isn’t following her as eagerly as she expected, Nicole turns back. Only then does she too tip back her glass and close her eyes as she swallows down the last of the readily available liquid courage.

“What are you—” Nicole sets her glass aside much the same as he did, looking up at him with confusion. “There’s no other way out from here.” She shakes her head quickly. There’s no telling how much time they really have, and yet… Yet she holds her ground and waits to see what else he has to say.

He speaks by showing.

Jacket unbuttoned, it's that much easier for Ace to reach and free the gun holstered at his back with fluid grace, rather than any brutish jerk. The silver of the weapon catches the low light, gleaming as he brings it forward. He lets his thumb off of it as he shows it out to Nicole, arresting the concern of immediately using it.

"I already told you. There's only one way out."

There's an emptiness to his eyes, his expression. Without any emotion at all, he repeats himself, at a volume that carries to her easily.

"Only one guaranteed escape."


Nicole stares down at the gun in Ace’s hand, then looks back up to him again. “I thought you were going to give this a go with me.” Her head turns so she can regard the fire escape, calculating the odds that she’d manage to make it down to the street and far enough away to be out of trigger range before her absence was noted.

In the end, she decides the odds are not in her favor.

“It is much nicer up here,” she belatedly agrees, a quaver in her voice. “I suppose that means we have a little more time to ourselves.” If they aren’t going to be trying to make the mad scramble to street level. Nicole takes a tentative step forward, mentally sorting through a list of regrets. She reaches out and rests her right hand against his cheek. Her skin is warm where her palm cradles along his jaw and her thumb brushes over the corner of his mouth.

Ace's brow twinges in a clear indication of dislike for that touch, but he opts not to lean out of it. Its novelty lends it that pass. It's been a long time since someone has laid that kind of hand on him. He can only imagine how long it's been for her. And if they're successful here, it'll be the last for them both.

So why not allow one last, little indulgence?

"Not enough time to make it satisfying, I'm sure," Ace agrees, quieter than he needs to given their presumed privacy. "But enough."

His head turns down to hers to better regard her, green-greys reflecting the electric glow from hers at this close distance. "I'll be right behind you. You won't be going it alone." That murmur is sealed with a kiss, even if it's stiff and lacking passion.

Once, he would have abandoned her without a second thought and made his own way, but that was before all this. Before, when without a doubt, he could have made it on his own. Now, Ace just might keep his word. And realizing it, his kiss deepens.

Might as well make this last dance a savored one.

What might have promised to be a tender moment is disrupted with a riotous crash of metal against stone. The door to the staircase explodes open with much more force than is required, and one Doctor Zachery Miller stands in the doorway with a flute of bubbly held close.

Somehow, since they last saw him, he's lost his suit jacket, and somehow mussed up his hair. He leans a hand against the door frame as if to steady himself, and only then moves forward. His eyes slide over Ace and Nicole in turn, a hazy sort of acknowledgement of surprise lifting his eyebrows.

"I see!" He proclaims, first, before the same words leave him again — this time in an unfettered lung-emptying laugh. "I see! It's — haaa, it's quite alright, I just…" He slurs the last few words, then lifts his drink to his lips and tilts his head back, pouring what champagne doesn't miss his mouth down his throat before unceremoniously letting the glass fall to the ground. It shatters as he lifts his hands up by his shoulders as if in defeat. Between them, he wears a wide smile on his face, struggling and failing to keep the cheer from his voice as he announces, loudly, "Don't mind me, sweethearts, I'm just here to claim what's mine."

And with that, he starts to advance toward Nicole with the crispy crunch of glass underfoot. His gait steadied by determination, and his eyes notably not participating in the revelry that still clings to his voice when he sing-songs, "I'll just be a minute."

Nicole trembles when Ace closes the distance and promises she isn’t going to be alone at their final destination. That is, in fact, of little comfort. If she had it her way, at least one of them would get away from this. But there’s nothing to be done for it, is there? Both her hands come to rest against Ace’s chest as he kisses her, allowing herself to enjoy this moment for what it is.

It’s the bang of the door to the stairwell that tells her instantly that this was a mistake. Nicole pulls away, but only just, eyes wide and terrified, locked on her conspirator’s. “You have to go,” she whispers. “He’ll be distracted by me. You can get away from this.” Already, she’s starting to push Ace toward the fire escape, finally turning to look Zachery’s way as he starts to make his way toward her.

This was a calculated risk. Her calculations were severely off. “Doctor Miller, I—” The crunch of glass under his feet causes her to freeze a moment, having expected a physical sensation to follow the sound. When nothing does, she does her best to straighten her posture and look the man in the eye. “This isn’t what it looks like.”

Still, she trembles.

Moments after Zachery Miller makes his horror movie entrance, another silhouette briefly darkens the doorway before emerging silently into the night blending in with the shadows as he nudges the door shut behind him. Agent Isaac Faulkner stands silently behind Miller, his jacket unbuttoned, a flute of champagne untouched in his right hand; he had curtailed his mingling after observing Miller mug divest a waiter of an entire tray of champagne flutes, clandestinely shadowing the doctor until he'd had an opportunity to slip after him relatively unobserved. It seems that Miller's promised show is about to start… and, as promised, Faulkner is here to see it.

The players: Doctor Zachery Miller, drunk and disheveled and, to Faulkner's judgement, not quite as in control of himself as he usually appears. Hovering at the back of the stage, Ace Callahan, looking for all the world like just another party-goer out on a smoke break… except for his eyes. Empty. Dangerous. Ace Callahan isn't here on a smoke break.

Then, at the center of the stage: Nicole Nichols, trembling like a bird caught in a cobra's gaze, but nevertheless moving forward to face her fear; is she trying to distract Miller from Ace? Absurd.

"Doctor Miller? Miss Nichols?" he asks tentatively, frowning. He looks to Ace, frowning further, but doesn't name him — better for Ace to think Faulkner isn't aware of who he is, and therefore of lesser concern. He edges to the side slightly, maneuvering to have a clearer line of sight, keeping his eyes on Nicole and Miller… and, incidentally, keeping Callahan in the corner of his eye.

Were it anyone else storming up the stairs and catching sight of the two of them, Ace would feel a rush of delight, pull Nicole to him that much closer. As it is, it becomes abundantly obvious it's Zachery trailing them from the sheer sound of the doorslam alone.

His gun arm stays wound around Nicole, heel of his hand at the small of her back, revolver hidden against the curve of her. The mess that is Zachery Miller is taken in with a sharp-eyed glance, fire welling inside him. The doctor's appearance in this secluded location, free of the back-up of any of his experiments, throws fresh tinder onto cinders he'd written off as dead coal.

It's not what it looks like, Nicole insists.

No, it most certainly is not. Not anymore.

Ace catches sight of Faulkner lingering in the shadows shortly after, his passion deadening to something more calculating. Unlike Nicole would like him to, he does not comply with her nudging toward escape. Unlike her, he had hundreds of moments daily where he could simply walk off and never come back. He doesn't need to capitalize on this moment in that way. He turns his head slightly in her direction, eyes not leaving Zachery.

"Not another word, Doctor." Ace orders crisply. He knows what the man can do with a word alone. And to that effect, he finally does slide just far enough back from Nicole so he's no longer pressed against her, but his arm remains looped behind her in the dark, providing the illusion they're still glued together. "Not another step." His posture visibly tightens.

Almost halfway to his destination, Zachery's steps slow until he's standing - one foot yet in front of the other - still. His hands stay where they are, and he cants his head as if he's about to look over his shoulder at Faulkner, but… he just can't tear his attention away from Nicole's face, where his focus sticks like flypaper, the vibrancy of his smile unaffected by her words. The best he can offer is a single index finger pointing upward over his shoulder, before he lowers his hands. As if to say, simply, 'Just a moment. I'll be right with you.'

For what probably feels like a longer time than it truly is, there's a silence in the open space, where the distant background sound of traffic all too eagerly filters in to fill it.

At least, until another laugh is pulled free from the doctor's lungs, loud and hollow with disbelief. Only once the sound has died in his throat does he roughly scrub a hand over his face and then up into his hairline, vanishing his smile and twisting his expression into a vividly unimpressed scowl.

His eyes snap to Ace's features, but only for a moment. His attention is already back on Nicole when he drags out a low and guttural sound from his throat, the only answer Ace's threat deserves: "… Please."

And he advances, gesturing Ace away as if he were no longer needed.

Nicole lifts her chin. At first refusing to look away from Zachery the same way he refuses to look away from her. Ace lifting his arm from her back saves her from having to take the trouble of physically nudging him away again. Fingers both real and artificial curl in toward her palms as she finally tracks her eyes over to where Isaac stands, shrouded in shadow.

“Agent Faulkner — Isaac,” is half greeting and half appeal. Whatever she might have said after that is cut off when Ace starts speaking. Her gaze shifts to him at her side, then back to Zachery when he starts laughing. “Please,” she whispers for Ace’s ears alone. “You don’t have to be part of this.” Whatever’s about to happen here, it can happen just to her. No one else has to suffer.

One foot in front of the other, she takes a tentative step toward her handler, if only to make sure there’s just that much more space between her and Ace if Zachery decides to trigger her ability. She’s careful to continue to obscure the sightlines of the man’s gun as best she can, hoping he’ll take the hint and tuck that arm behind himself shortly.

Faulkner watches silently as the scene unfolds. Callahan issuing his warning. Miller… not going unhinged, exactly. It is clear now to Faulkner that Doctor Zachery Miller started and finished that process long ago… just as Isaac himself had, come to that. No, what is happening to Miller now is something much simpler.

Miller is having a masks off moment.

Faulkner spies the gleam of silver in Callahan's hand, but does not tense. Faulkner may have spotted the ace (heh) Callahan is holding, but the odds of things going in a favorable direction go up if Callahan doesn't know that someone knows.

So Faulkner's gaze moves on. There is no tensing of muscles, no narrowing of eyes or twitching of fingers, no reaction at all to let on that the game is afoot. His eyes move to Nicole as she makes her acknowledgement and/or entreaty, but he only sighs and shakes his head, shifting another step to the side — still of course, keeping Callahan in the corner of his eye.

Ace's tension eases none in the intervening silence, the apparent compliance in his request meaning only that his attention slides partly to Faulkner to assess the threat he poses…

when Zachery begins to laugh.

Deadness returns to Ace's gaze, his arm beginning to shift. He would draw it free much sooner, but for Nicole— ah, Nicole.

Infuriatingly naive, hopelessly hopeful Nicole.

The gunman's brow twitches, tamping back that ever-present desire to engage an ability no longer at his beck and call, to step right through her and do her the courtesy of ending one source of her misery before putting her out of it entirely. Why, why did she have to do this to herself?

To him?

He had been so close to finally finishing that failed kill in the manner of his choosing.

No matter, Ace thinks to himself. He steps out to Nicole's side with a flourish of his arm, putting her slender form between himself and Faulkner while freeing up a clear shot on Zachery. He can no longer cleanly grab her and use her as a vest, but she can still serve as a shield in this way. The hammer of the revolver clicks as it's pulled back.

"Please," he purrs in reply to Zachery's scoff, eyes half-lidded to accent the dare of it.

Once again, Zachery's pace slows to a halt, but - this time he leans back on his heels, coming to a full stop. Not quite as still as usual, swaying ever so slightly to one side with the slack that's entered his posture. The gun earns his attention and his gaze.

He inhales through his teeth and holds his breath for the pause that follows. Letting his eyes slide slowly back to Ace, the doctor's expression slowly morphing into something other, still.

A genuine smile, ill-fitting for the unrestrained sincerity of it, but blossoming out in spite of it, teeth bared. His shoulders are pushed back and arms lift, slowly, the right one slightly more than the left in drunken disarray, that breath still held in his lungs as he offers empty palms out toward the threat.

Dr. Zachery Miller stays right where he is, as ordered, and he's quiet, as ordered.

Except for, just one more word, as his right wrist bends to let his hand fall forward with a lazy point of index finger. "Bang."

Nicole’s stomach drops when Faulkner shakes his head. Her heart hammers in her chest, and the worst of it is that she knows Zachery is so very in tune with her every reaction. For all that she’s deflecting and putting on bravado, he is keenly aware that she is utterly terrified.

When Zachery stops and lifts his hands, her eyes grow wide slowly. “No!” She may not have been present for the implantation of Ace Callahan’s trigger word — by Miller’s own design — but she recognizes that it’s about to be implemented.

In the space of a second impossibly spread out to infinity, Nicole considers her options:

  • The fire escape to her left.
    • Her skirt is too long for her to make use of that exit with any speed.
  • Retreat further behind her.
    • That will simply trap her on the roof and give Faulkner a clear line of sight to Ace.
  • See if she can literally manage to hide behind Faulkner.
    • That requires running past Miller, which seems remarkably inadvisable at this current moment.

Any one of these options can be too easily countered by the sound of her own damn name as well.

From where she stands, Nicole drops to the ground in a crouch, her arms flung up over her head to try and afford herself some protection from what she presumes is about to come next.

Miller's expecting something; judging by his bearing, it's going to be something definitive. Nicole is expecting something, too… but judging by her reaction, it's probably not going to be something from her. Miller's attention is focused on Callahan at the moment —

he'd mentioned Callahan being on time for appointments

— Callahan's had some special wiring done and that had been some kind of trigger word shit.

Faulkner knows a few things about Ace Callahan from what he'd read of the man's file; he'd been a nasty piece of work, a murderer (or suspected of it, at least, which probably means 'guilty as sin but not officially'), and a showboating asshole. Before that, he'd been a sniper. Altogether, this means that, first, that he's probably going to be going for headshots (because he's a showboating asshole), and, secondly, that he's probably not used to dealing with large corrections in terms of degrees of arc per second in his firing solutions.

Which, in turn, means it's time to move.

So he does. He lowers his head and throws himself to the side, trying to get as great a degree of separation between himself and Miller as he can.

There's a saying— curiosity killed the cat.

And in this case, Ace Callahan wanted the satisfaction of knowing what Zachery's last words might be. He had every confidence that whatever words the doctor might say, they wouldn't affect him.

He was wrong.

It's the shift of the light in his eyes that gives away the first sign of his panic, the slack that enters his elbow instead of the dramatic snap to it. "No," rumbles from him in a guttural snarl.

The revolver holds six shots. The first of them fires immediately and wildly, and the second pops with much more effort given to pulling that trigger as his fine motor function leaves him. "No!"

It's too late that he turns to Nicole, or at least it feels that way to him. She's ducked out of the swing of his arm, and he fires a third time, but it's at a body no longer at the height he expected it to be, in the direction Faulkner had been. It's with a gnashing of teeth that his hand shakes, every last ounce of willpower expended on the focus of his arm rather than the continued function of his legs.

Ace goes down in a crumple, but it's not without one last BANG! erupting from the revolver, a flash of light in the dark of the roof, one pointed directly at Nicole…

met with another glint of sparking light as his mark shields her head with her hand made of metal.

The worst part to the deadness he feels is it prevents him even from blinking. The world slips away from him, gone but not. Distant, yet close. Like a snapshot of a dancer midleap, he's stuck in a dramatic fold of limbs, head last to hit the ground. He can't move his neck, can't see entirely the results of his last labor, but Ace's unblinking eyes twitch. Even without the assistance of literally every other emotional indicator, it's impossible not to see the impotent id of his being in the nearly-involuntary jerk of his gaze.

"… Ah-…"

The drip of bright red onto the roof's floor tiles is sudden and generous.

Dr. Miller stands, his gaze on nothing, his hands lowered. Though only one of the shots fired in his direction is rewarded with the satisfying sound of impact on flesh, the other bullet still bites a chunk out of his right hip on its way into a wall. Just under his right clavicle, meanwhile, blood is absorbed hungrily into the fine fibers of his shirt around the new hole created in the fabric, blooming out where the liquid gathers against the sleeve he's quick to push against his chest.

Pressure as needed.

Not dissimilar to the pressure he exudes on himself when he straightens his spine with a shuddering exhale, reclaiming the poise of respectability. Recomposing himself while he finds his metaphorical mask again, securing it into place already by the time he lets his gaze float calmly back over to Nicole. It's a little askew, his stare a little blank with effort, but unmistakably there in how vacant his unblinking eyes are of understanding.

"… All this," he tells his assistant, his voice a practiced gentle over the undertones of thinly veiled pain and the buzzing effects of the alcohol still in his system, "because I simply wanted something returned to me. Agent Faulkner!" As he calls out the other man's name, the strain of his voice becomes more evident. Blood trails in lines over his wrist and knuckles, and finally down his fingertips. His eyes don't leave their chosen point of focus. "Are you alright?"

Ace, as far as he's concerned, may well have stopped existing at this point.

There’s a shriek from Nicole after the fourth shot, because she feels it hit her. Not in the way she would have if it were her flesh and blood arm, but she’s still aware of it impacting, even as it glances off. For a moment, all she can do is stay huddled there with her arms over her head, shaking with fear. But her eyes still roam, trying to assess the situation now. There’s blood on the ground in front of her. Miller’s. Faulkner is no longer standing where she last saw him, and Ace is crumpled off to her side, staring off in that way she sees so many other of Zachery’s assistants do.

She assumes, as she looks up slowly and meets Zachery’s gaze, that when he says he wanted something returned, that he means her. After all, Nicole is hardly a person as far as Dr. Miller is concerned. “I won’t go back,” is the only warning she supplies before she lowers her hands to the floor beneath her. Feet braced so she can push herself forward, she reaches out to grab hold of Zachery. It’s a repeat of a maneuver that failed years ago, but he was sharp then.

Now? He’s at a disadvantage, and she has a full charge.

Faulkner isn't fast enough.

Finding that out hurts almost as much as the bullet does as it rips into his leg, turning what was supposed to be a textbook dive roll into a rolling collapse. He does get his hand on his service gun, does get it pulled out from beneath his jacket, at least, but Ace is already down before Faulkner can shoot him.

He hadn't been fast enough. He couldn't have been fast enough, either; he hadn't known enough to be able to react quickly enough and in the proper manner. Which… isn't any comfort. It's Morton's Fork; he'd either been helpless or had failed, and both lead to the same result. Finding himself standing — well, laying, to be more precise — at the fork between those two, again, is a wound to his pride… and between the two wounds, it's no contest which wound bleeds the worse.


Neither one is fatal.

That's what's important. He can still move on from this. He'd considered the possibility that he might get shot, and now that it's come to pass, he can still make this work out, can still spin a narrative from this that makes him look good. Half of getting results, after all, comes ex post facto, in the polishing.

It's just there'll have to be a bit more red in this picture.

"I'm… fine," is Faulkner's answer to Miller, delivered in a tone of voice that, ragged with pain as it is, still seems like it would go perfectly with the scrape of an axe blade across a concrete floor. He isn't fine… but he will be. Oh yes. He can't see the others from where he's at, in the shadows behind the trellises of this little rooftop garden, but it sounds like Miller and Nicole are still mostly alright. Good. That leaves Callahan, who is down but presumably not yet out. Faulkner knows where Callahan's at, and he's going to have words with that sonofabitch.

He checks his wound; it hurts enough to draw a grimace to his face when he probes at it, and it's bleeding… but it's a slow seep, rather than the spurt of arterial blood; just a flesh wound, indeed. He'll deal with it later. Leaving blood here isn't going to be a problem, after all. He pulls himself to his feet, grimacing at the pain, then limps towards where Callahan had fallen. The sooner he gets to Ace, the better; shots have been fired, after all. They won't have this rooftop to themselves much longer.

The lay of the gunman is a deceptively peaceful thing, every bit of fight happening within to protest and overcome what's happened to him. It's a fight that happens within his own mind, save for those frantic twitches of his eyes— a sharp breath passing from him as he tries to will himself moving again. The process perfected on Miller's other subjects is less refined in Ace, muscles in his jaw straining as brain and body still refuse to cooperate, despite such strain to get it to do… anything.

Another short strain of breath leaves him before his body resumes its automatic, involuntary schedule of respiration designed to keep him alive. He pauses in his throwing his will against the bonds of all-encompassing incapacitation at the sound of nearing footsteps. Faulkner draws Ace's gaze upward, eyes still sharp for all that he is no longer a weapon.

Now he'll get to see just what kind of person this one is, after all. His mask's been ripped clean off.

And in that, Ace takes no small amount of joy. A stutter of a breath moves his chest just slightly— a failed attempt at a final laugh. He meets Faulkner's eyes directly, his own face an emotionless facade save for the expression in his gaze.

Though held upright by what must mostly be adrenaline and the knowledge that he has, at least, one other person on his side still standing, Zachery permits himself no expression of shock, no step back, no sign of things having gone awry as he watches Nicole's posture shift.

Where she is giving into her fury, he is living his, all the same.

But adrenaline will only carry him so far, and the blood that still leaks freely out of him is limited. After a wet gurgle of a cough catches in his throat, he lets his injuries, finally, bring him down - if only just enough. Offering his red-splattered arms forward in some twisted gesture of welcome, he falls to his knees and grates, through bloodied teeth, "Nicole."

Momentum carries the electrokinetic up and forward. A shriek pierces the evening air, enraged and anguished as she triggers her ability in spite of the pain it causes her. But before she can collide with the doctor, he starts to go down, meaning her grapple is aimed too high.

Then, he says her name. It's so simple, and entirely disarming.

Her power, her scream, cuts off abruptly. All the emotion drains from her face as she crumples, falling into Zachery's arms like a swooning lover.

Callahan's body isn't quite completely motionless when Faulkner reaches it — the stutter of breath, as his gaze meets Faulkner's, might be taken for a convulsion of fear.

But it's not.

No. No, those eyes tell a different story.

Ace's gaze, no less intense than Faulkner's own, even now, draws an involuntary chuckle from the agent. "You bastard," he murmurs under his breath… but the tone's not quite right. There's something in there might possibly be taken for grudging admiration for the man who just shot him…

…ah, but there's no time. For all that Ace is, at the moment, as docile as it is possible to be, there's no telling how long he'll remain that way. That and the impending presence of onlookers means that he doesn't have a great deal of time left. No, if Faulkner is to act here — if he is to alter the narrative that this scene tells, to pen an edit to the story — then he has work to do. Ace might call it art of a sort, though he'd surely point out — probably emphatically — that there are underlying differences in the nature of the arts that the two practice.

Not that Ace is likely to be making distinctions about anything at the moment. Or, depending on how Faulkner might decide to finish this little scene, possibly ever again. That's still up in the air.

Faulkner, though, would speak of it in terms of science — forensic science. He is intimately familiar with the manner in which a crime scene investigation is conducted, knows how law enforcement weaves narratives out of bullet holes and blood spatter and cold dead corpses… and knows as well the means by which that process can be deceived. Is deceived, and with some regularity, at that.

So much of it comes down to angles… but while Faulkner doesn't know all of those angles, just yet, he knows enough to be certain that those angles are going to require some oh-so-delicate adjustment before they'll be anything workable… and the shriek that splits the night air, cutting off abruptly as Miller speaks Nicole's trigger word — her own name! — suggests that some of those angles might yet be in flux. So he gives Ace a leer and gently, with an almost mocking delicacy, lifts the gun out of the sniper's hand, taking it into his own gloved one; then he takes a step to the side, pivoting so that he can keep an eye on Callahan and see Miller and Nicole at the same time… and aren't they quite the tableau.

"Callahan appears to be semi-conscious," he reports… but it takes only a moment or two to see that something isn't quite right about Miller and Nicole. "Doctor Miller?" he asks, frowning as he eyes Miller.

"Just a moment, Agent Faulkner," Zachery hisses out, teeth bared in a sneer of both pain and having to hold Nicole in his current state.

With a throaty noise of effort, he drags his feet back under himself, rising with the body of his assistant still in his arms like she's a particularly long sack of potatoes. With her legs bent awkwardly beneath her, strappy heels end up scraping over the floor tiles before he hoists her up a little higher against himself.

Limited time before more people arrive and before he passes the fuck out means he prioritises actions over chatting in this moment.

Only once he's taken a good amount of steps toward the fire escape does he speak again, in a displeased, drunken growl all too close to Nicole's ear. "Unfortunate, that, but not unfixable. In either of two distinct ways. I would advise—" Exertion cuts into his sentence, interrupting him as he thrusts Nicole onto the fire escape with a rattle of body against metal flooring.

He hovers over her, obscuring her deadened stare toward the sky. Fingertips are traced over her upper arm before they wrap around the metal of her prosthetic, and he gently lifts the limb by the hand while shoving his foot heavily against her side and keeping it there. "I would advise that if we do not take his life," he pauses, if only just to look over his shoulder at Faulkner and to abruptly twist Nicole's arm with a click of mechanisms coming undone. "We take his hands."

Whatever the fuck is happening, Ace Callahan can't see it. He's locked in place at the feet of Isaac Faulkner.

But he can hear, almost against his will. He hears Nicole's pitiful attempt at avenging herself, hears it fail. Hears the scrape of her heels. Hears— and sees, this time— Faulkner report his awareness to Dr. Miller. In his mind, Ace does something other than lay there. But alas.

The sound of Nicole's body dropped on the fire escape stills his eyes, more keenly listening… He would blink at the sound of hearing Nicole's arm disengage from her body— the sound unfamiliar, but not free of being understood— but his eyelids resist being told what to do.

However, maybe Nicole gets her freedom after all. The kind of freedom Ace had promised her. Perhaps he could be satisfied with…

And then he hears Zachery's suggestion for what should be done with him. On a sluggish delay, Ace's eyes widen, pupils dilating even in the dark. He resumes his internal kicking and screeching, fighting metaphorical tooth and nail for movement and feeling to return, without avail. All he has to show for it are eyes that have readily shifted away from Faulkner to focus on this frenzy-eyed effort.

No. No.

Faulkner watches as Doctor Miller staggers to his feet, a slightly puzzled, concerned expression on his face. Miller is bleeding. Miller also doesn't have any intention of waiting around for a thorough investigation, judging by the way he's scooped Nicole up and is heading for the fire escape. That is going to be awkward.

Miller's suggestion draws a raised eyebrow. That would.. certainly be a way to proceed forward from this scene, yes. He frowns and considers it for a moment… then a smirk spreads across his face. "Is that so?" he asks… and after a moment's consideration, an evil sneer crosses his face. "Ace 'No Hands' Callahan…"

He trails off a moment, considering the image… and smirks all the wider. "I was rather regretting not having shot him dead, Doctor Miller, but you have a way of putting things into perspective." He glances down to Ace, prodding him lightly with a toe. "Callahan seems to be excited about the idea…"

Still, he doesn't move right away. It's well enough to think about horrible things happening to people you don't like — and in Callahan's case, Faulkner harbors considerably more than mere dislike — but it's another to actually do them. Or rather, it's another to do them and have them not be immediately fatal. Faulkner isn't a fan of having enemies among the living, and leaving a loose cannon like Ace running around with a chip on his shoulder… well, it seems a good way to end up in situations like this. Bleeding and having to rearrange crime scenes, without a lot of actual gain to show for it.

Still. Time is ticking down, and if Ace's occasional twitches are any indication, he's trying hard to shake off whatever Zachery's trigger word did to him. Something is going to have to be done. Faulkner sighs, kneeling with a grimace as he grabs Ace to reposition him. "If you need to take care of Nicole, I'll handle things here, Doctor Miller. Though I do hope to see you again soon. As much trouble as Ace has caused us, I have a… request… I would like to discuss regarding Nicole, if you'd be willing to indulge me later."

If Zachery hadn’t perfected this process in his favorite subject, there would almost certainly be panic in Nicole’s eyes as well. Instead, they stare up at the star dotted expanse of sky above her without any signs of life. No acknowledgement of the precariousness of her situation.

How close she is, resting on the garden wall that divides life from death.

The mechanical arm is wrenched from its socket with no sound of protest from its bearer. No pain or shock, only a scrape of metal, a hiss and pop. Pulled through the arm of her dress, her sleeve hangs empty below her elbow, caught by the gust of wind that sweeps over the rooftop.

"Oh, I'm not going anywhere," Zachery answers, setting the mechanical arm gently down on the ground, where a small amount of pale, iridescent red liquid begins to pool below the detached wires ripped free from their connector. "Not after this struggle. Can't you see I'm—"

With the effort to stay upright ever more demanding, he takes one more risk - lifting Nicole again, a little more clumsily than he might like. "—Too distraught?"

Struggling, ugly and graceless but doubly determined, he loops an arm under her incomplete one, holding her up while her legs are forced across the railing and until they end up standing in a face-to-face embrace with only the metal between them. The toes of her pretty heels touching concrete, but only by virtue of having been left dangling there.

His blood still freely spilling out onto the front of her dress, by virtue of this whole situation being her mess.

He runs his fingers under her lifeless, in-tact arm next, guiding her hand into his. Curling her fingers into her palm and grabbing her tightly by the resulting fist before, ultimately, letting some slack enter the arm against her shoulderblades, with which he still holds her to the roof. Turning his unfocused gaze to hers and leaning heavily into the railing as he wills his remaining energy into keeping them both upright.

"That her guilt… over causing me harm should be too heavy to bear, and that she should slip from my grasp…" Alcohol and acid combined drips heavily from his slowing words. "Isn't it tragic? No, agent Faulkner… I am the victim here. I'm staying, right and… proper. Nicole, on the other hand."

And he waits, watching the face ahead of him, hand clenched painfully around her fist. One more win.

The touch to Ace brings his attention back to Faulkner, fury burning silent in his eyes. He can do nothing to stop the unwanted contact the same way he can do nothing to push Zachery right off the roof for his hubris.

At least… he can't.

Faulkner, on the other hand.

There's so little chance he'll read this correctly, but Ace makes the gambit of it anyway. He shifts his gaze hard to Zachery, who he can now see, and then back to Isaac, the slightest twitch of his forehead beginning to pinch his brows together. If Isaac can't get what he wants from Zachery…

Awareness abruptly returns to Nicole, signaled by a sharp gasp of shock, face contorted with confusion. It takes her a moment to realize what's happened.

He took her arm.

Which explains the phantom pain in her fingers, and the very distinguishable one at the joint of her elbow. Horror is the next expression to grace her features, focus now laser sharp on Zachery's face. She becomes aware of her fist curled in his hand.

So this is it, then.

Determination and anger come to her next. “I wish you would,” she sneers. All it will take is a little push, and her nightmare will end. Still, her feet scrabble for purchase on the concrete. For stability. Human instinct tells the brain to keep on living. It has her trying to work her fist open in his hand so she can grab hold of something.

Of him, probably. It would be worth it to drag him to hell with her.

The arm behind Nicole's back is slipped further away from her body, the hand around her smaller fist giving a tremble of exertion. There is a fading behind Zachery's eyes, of bloodloss and emotion both. Still, he manages to rattle air out of damaged lungs, angling his head just so, as if in pity. "Oh, puppet. Didn't you hear? Something's yet required of you."

But isn't anything near pity that has him pull his arm away from her completely, and it's something much colder that drives him to push that fist outward and away from the edge.

"This isn't nearly high enough to kill you." Finally, feeling the pull of gravity fighting for its prize, he relinquishes her to it.

Conviction turns to terror in an instant. "No!" Nicole gasps. "No, please!" Instinct sees her trying to reach out with her severed arm. Trying to grasp with fingers that aren't there.

The lack of resistance at her back has her bending at the waist, anchored only by the hand closed around her fist and the tips of her toes on the barest outcroppings of the ledge. Then…

Anchors aweigh.


With her now-free hand, Nicole reaches out for something — anything — she can grab hold of to stop her plummet. She screams as she starts to fall.


There is a slight tightening of Faulkner's eyes as he observes what Miller is doing; it seems that his crime scene cleanup isn't done, quite yet. He'd thought that Miller had intended to take Nicole and make an exit — not precisely good conduct or good news, but something that could be covered for. It seems, though, that Miller has additional crimes in mind for this night.

More and more, it's looking like Miller is planning on penning his own ending to the crime scene — and from the look of it, his prefered ending is positively drenched in red, to the point that even Faulkner's sense of decorum is becoming strained.

Faulkner's mouth twists into a frown… but Ace is twitching. Frowning, Faulkner looks back to him. He stares for a moment… then his eyes narrow, his mouth flattening into a thin line. It would seem he wants Faulkner to clean up his mess for him; a pretty audacious request, given that Ace had had ample opportunity to prevent this situation from ever happening.

Faulkner looks up… and sees what Miller is lining up. He comes to his feet, unease rapidly mounting —

— just as Zachery pushes.

His heart lurches in his chest, and from some place at the very back of his mind, buried beneath a mountain of relentless self-training, an instinct twitches — to spring, to dive, to try to catch Nicole before she falls.

But the ache in his leg arrests that instinct before it can make anything more than that single, feeble twitch — he can't make it. Even if everything else was in his favor (it's not), even if all the angles lined up (they don't), the fact is that as the situation stands, he's simply not fast enough to cover the distance in the time available.

He starts to walk towards Miller anyway, his expression empty… all except for eyes, as they remain riveted on Nicole, watching her trajectory. Calculating angles, even now.

Everything, for Nicole, seems to happen in slow motion. She sees that start of movement from Faulkner, and for a moment, she dares to hope.

It drops just as quickly as she’s about to.

One last act of defiance, then. Sucking in a deep breath, she takes one more shot at not dying alone. Or at least not suffering, if what he says about the fall is true. One last Hail Mary:


With a bullet in his body and blood rapidly filling places it shouldn't, Zachery's heart is beating like a drum in his ears, and a noose around his neck.

He doesn't hear the word Nicole says, his own eyes already trailing an absentminded path towards the sky above. He lets himself fall down a second time, but even now cannot relinquish control completely - turning to let the railing catch his back where he sits. The bloodied hand he lifts to press against the bullet wound on his chest barely even registers, the pressure a world of insufficient.

Ace, however, can not only hear it clearly, he can feel the prototype in his skull disengage. Removing pressure and reestablishing control as blood flow goes, once more, where it should.

Other than onto the ground, in Zachery's case.

Ace never knew a singular word could hold such sweet release.

The moment that Faulkner drops his limb, it falls back to the ground as limply as one would expect. But right after the agent begins to move in the direction of the roof ledge, the subtle twitches in the downed gunman's body become violent ones, unseen and silent behind him. Ace's eyes roll back into his head luxuriously as he leans onto one arm to begin to prop himself up, enjoying for just one moment, a good, long blink the likes of which he'd never thought he'd take again.

By the time his eyes open, fire is in them again. He comes to his feet swiftly— far more swiftly than Faulkner.

He moves— far more swiftly than Faulkner. Ground is gained. The wrist holding his gun is grabbed, twisted, made to drop the weapon, the arm yanked so Faulkner's head is near enough to Ace's mouth as he grins and wishes, "Eulogize me villainously." He doesn't throw the agent aside so much as simply let him go and keep moving. "Enjoy whatever promotion awaits you."

The far fall may not be enough to do Nicole in with how sturdy she is, but Zachery is a far more fragile thing. A wounded thing. One bereft of fight, where Ace has gained a second wind.

One hand covers the doctor's mouth by grabbing his head and painfully using his grip there and on the man's collar to haul him to his feet. Ace shoves Zachery back against the railing, torso a little too far extended, head tilted a little too far back to be comfortable. The world begins to precariously tip.

"Fancy a bit of your own medicine, doctor?" Ace asks with no small amount of glee. His leg comes up to vault the railing himself…

And viciously takes him and Zachery both over the edge of the building, headfirst. He's unable to stop himself from the laughter that escapes him, psychotic, mad, unrestrained. It echoes in the alley and out into the street.

The only regret Ace has now is he'll not be able to admire just how the blood will splatter away from their shattered skulls and bodies once they kiss the concrete.

Faulkner is in the middle of another step towards Miller when Nicole speaks that one last word. He's too far away to do anything to stop her fall — nothing can change that, now — but he's nearly close enough to Miller — the angles almost line up. A bullet from Ace's pistol, fired from the hip, would very nearly match the angle from which Ace had fired as he crumpled to the ground. Powder burns will be present, but minimal enough that they would be easily disregarded in the face of a clear narrative — the kind of narrative that Faulkner would be able to provide. All it will take is another step…

But then he remembers what that word was — what it had done to Callahan the first time — and it seems pretty reasonable to assume what Nicole's expecting it to do when spoken a second time. He has only a fraction of a second to consider when he hears the sound of a footfall behind him, and it's almost — almost — enough. He's already starting to turn, starting to bring Ace's gun up… but he can't shoot Ace with his own gun, that would throw off the narrative. That thought is enough to make him hesitate for a split-second…

…and that split-second's hesitation is a split-second too long. Ace's hand closes around Faulkner's grip like a vise and twists, drawing a hiss of pain; the gun slips from his fingers, clattering to the rooftop. Shit! He knows how to get out of this hold — the woman he trains with for hand-to-hand combat is one of the most knife-sharp people he's ever met, and even if he loses to her a hell of a lot more often than he wins, he learns something every time — but the goddamn bullet in his leg is going to make it tricky… but if he doesn't do something he's going to get murdered

— except… apparently he isn't. He hears Ace's request, delivered from uncomfortably close to his ear, and then, quite suddenly, he is released. Callahan slips away like an evil spirit, rushing towards Miller… and finally — fucking finally — Callahan does what Faulkner had halfway been hoping he'd do since this whole miserable trainwreck had started.

Goodbye, Callahan. Faulkner will grudgingly give the man points for style — anyone can throw a man off a roof, but it takes a special kind of showboating asshole to swan dive into oblivion with him. Bravo, Ace, and goodbye — you fucked up in the opening, but you at least managed to get it right in the end.

Goodbye to you too, Doctor Miller. It occurs to Faulkner that, out of everyone in the world, there is probably only one person who will feel even a single sigh's worth of regret for Miller's passing. Faulkner sighs, once… then turns his mind to the work that remains to be done. Callahan had cleaned up himself and Miller, but Faulkner still has to get down to ground level and see what he can do as far as first aid — hopefully Nicole's injuries aren't crippling or life-threatening — and he still has to hammer out a viable narrative while he's at it. He shakes his head and starts to hobble towards the fire escape.

Now it’s Isaac Faulkner left alone on the roof, only the whipping of the night’s wind and the terrible sound of bodies hitting the street below in this terrible moment.

Then, a gasp.

The sound of creaking metal.

A terrified scream splits the night.

“Help me!”

When he reaches the edge of the rooftop, Faulkner discovers Nicole dangling from the railing of the fire escape, barely holding on with her one remaining hand. Legs kick futilely in some attempt to get momentum to swing herself into a better position, but without another hand to grab on with…

One shoe falls off the woman’s foot, falling with a dull thud onto the broken remains of Zachery Miller.

Ace Callahan is nowhere to be seen.

“Oh god, please help!”

The sound of that voice stops Faulkner in his tracks… for a moment.

Then he's moving again, limping towards the fire escape as quickly as he can manage. It seems Nicole had managed to help herself — long enough for help to get to her, at least. Grimacing, Faulkner reaches out, wrapping a hand around Nicole's arm. "Got you."

Once he’s able to drag her up enough, Nicole throws her other arm around the bar of the fire escape. It’s enough to anchor herself so she can draw her knees up and get her feet under her again. Then, once Faulkner has a hold of her left bicep to ensure she won’t topple backward, she slings one leg over the rail to the fire escape, grateful for the slit in her skirt allowing her this precious mobility.

Once the other leg is over and she’s back on solid ground again, Nicole throws her arms around Isaac, first pressing a brief and desperate kiss to his mouth and then sobbing against his chest. She indulges in this for five whole seconds before she draws in a deep and ragged breath. Now is not the time for tears. Those will be needed later. Now is the time to clean up.

Not her face, no. She lets the mascara and the eyeliner and the shadow run freely, streaking rouge-tinted cheeks. Even though her legs are still shaky, she stands on her own and climbs back up onto the rooftop.

There, she rolls up her sleeve until it’s past the severed joint of her elbow. Marching over, she snatches her mechanical arm up from where it was left aside carefully by Zachery. It snaps back into place easily enough, even without assistance. The wrenching motion is a practiced maneuver. Once she assures herself all her digits are functional again, she pulls her sleeve back down into place.

Turning to Isaac again, there’s strength in her. Conviction. “Obviously, I’m distraught about what happened to Dr. Miller,” she says carefully. “I came up here with Callahan — at his behest, of course. Dr. Miller was concerned and followed after us. His concerns were obviously founded, because Callahan attacked us.”

Ace wouldn’t have taken her arm. It doesn’t fit the narrative.

“He threw me from the roof first, then he attacked Miller and yourself, when you came to back up the Doctor.” Nicole holds Isaac’s gaze for a long moment. “I obviously don’t know the rest of this story. I was just hanging on for my life.” The floor, now, is his.

Oh good. She's a quick study. There is hope that this garbage fire of a situation might — might — yet be worth it.

He considers her for a moment, his expression empty as he evaluates her proposed narrative. He'll give her points — her proposed narrative is nearly what he'd been considering… and the fact that she's reattached her arm is one last twist to the angles that makes the crime scene fit almost perfectly.

Of course, there are a few traces that don't line up: the bullet that Ace had shot her with, for instance, if it had passed through and struck the rooftop instead of lodging in the arm itself, any damage to the arm, the bullethole in her dress… but, like any minor inconsistencies that would have arisen from Faulkner shooting Zachery, they're all minor things, easily swept under the rug if the investigators don't press her hard right away. Faulkner has a feeling they won't — not after the loss she's just suffered, not if she plays her cards right. The other benefit of the story she's laid out, of course, is that it serves to remove her from the scene as a witness. Very good.

He suspects that her time serving in the laboratory of the late and mostly unlamented Doctor Zachery 'Crimes Against Humanity' Miller has probably given her lots of experience in avoiding witnessing things. Faulkner would file that under discretion and consider it a plus.

The only remaining potential spoiler comes from the implant recorded audio, but that doesn't get pulled often — it's not particularly clear, and there are still enough vestigial remnants of privacy laws to make pulling those logs a pain in the ass unless matters of national security are involved. Even if they do get pulled, though… he thinks that the dialogue that's been exchanged up here can be explained away in a manner to match the narrative. Even that last bit, when stripped of any emotional nuance by the poor quality of the recording provided by implants.

All of this, he processes in the space of a second. Then he nods. "Yes," he agrees, using his official tone of voice, his expression shifting from cold calculation to a mix of weariness and officious concern. "Perhaps you should sit down, Ms. Nichols, but try not to touch anything. I'm afraid this is a crime scene now." Masks on.

“Yes…” Nicole makes her way to a bench near one of the garden boxes and lowers herself down to sit in a fluid motion. “Thank you, Agent Faulkner.” One last sliver of a smile for their conspiracy before she settles into her role of shell-shocked and distraught.

Chin dipped in toward chest. Tears flowing.

This evening began with open wallets and open bars.

But it's ending with a closed casket.

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