Questions 67 and 68


nicole_icon.gif f_rickham_icon.gif

Scene Title Questions 67 and 68
Synopsis I'd like to know. Can you tell me? Please don't tell me. It really doesn't matter anyhow… Nicole and Rickham come face to face with each other - both ghosts of their past lives.
Date April 29, 2009

Nicole and Colette Nichols' Apartment

The clunk of a car door slams shut, though the sound is drowned out by the rush of traffic at this late afternoon hour. Most people are returning from work, and for the woman stepping out of the black sedan parked streetside in front of a row of brownstones, that's entirely the same. Few people in the city — knowingly, anyway — work for Daniel Linderman, espescially to the extent that Nicole Nichols does. Up and off of the street she makes her way across the sidewalk, hair caught in the gust of cool breeze that drains away the beautiful and unseasonably warm weather that's been blanketing the city for several days.

Up the concrete slab steps to the apartment door, fingers fumbling with keys and one arm balancing a purse, she makes the assessment that Colette isn't home from the lack of someone meeting her at the door like a lonely puppy. Given that she's gone, it likely means she's out with Judah — there's just no way a girl in her condition can simply up and walk around wherever she wants, not without years of practice.

But something is immediately wrong when the keys hit the doorknob. Instead of sliding into the lock and rolling the tumblers, the key missed the mark by a centimeter, striking the doorknob, which pushes the unlocked front door out into the apartment, swinging wide before being caught on the wind to strike at the wall with a loud clunk. The door casing has been splintered, signs of a forced entry apparent even from the chain jingling on the door that swings loose, like someone just pushed the door in with one simple nudge.

Dread fills Nicole, settles into a cold, hard knot in the pit of her stomach and leaves her wanting to vomit.


The woman has to resist the urge to call out to her sister. Instead, she stands before the open doorway and listens, sliding her keys back into her open purse. Her hand lingers inside the tasteful black bag, fingers wrapping slowly around the handle of her twenty-two. The safety is turned off with a click that's muffled by the whistle of the wind and slowly, she moves inside.

Hopefully whoever did this simply took what they wanted and left. Hopefully her sister was out. Hopefully this will be as simple as putting in a call to Daniel in a few minutes and asking for a new lock and then a second call to Kain Zarek - to borrow Manny for the night.

Black, high-heeled boots click audibly - curse them - against the hardwood floor of Nicole's apartment. This is stupid. She should just call for help. She shouldn't go inside. But… Colette might be in there. Caution be damned.

Creeping into the apartment, it's like playing a match game — what's different from the picture in her head from earlier. A remote tossed carelessly onto the floor where it bounced off of the sofa, a nearly empty glass of orange juice left on the coffee table, a dog-eared and old red-covered book laying discarded on the floor. Nothing seems terribly out of place, and the electronics are all intact, everything in the apartment seems to line up properly with what lingers in the back of Nicole's mind. Even as she moves across the hardwood floor, her mind races to pick up a detail — any detail — that might stand out.

Sound, as it seems, is one of those details. "You can put it down, it won't do you any good." The voice is unmistakable, even when it sounds like it's being spoken into a tin-can by a man who smoked all of his life. The throaty rasp of Allen Rickham echoes with a hollow, metallic quality from the kitchen. Standing behind the island, shouldered up against the refrigerator, a tall man in a brown trehchcoat and gray hooded sweatshirt stand motionlessly, the hood pulled up over his head to shadow his features in the dimly lit apartment, trenchcoat pulled tightly with a belt around the waist.

"Why'd you change your name?"

The lack of anything amiss only serves to make Nicole feel sicker. If nothing's been taken, then it's information or her that the trespasser's after. The fear is only confirmed when that voice reaches her ears.

Everything clatters to the floor, the gun falling out of the purse and sliding across the polished wood. Nicole's mind races at breakneck speeds, recalling memories of a life that wasn't hers - but in a way wholly hers.

"Allen?" Blue eyes snap up to fix on the intruder in her kitchen. The last person she ever expected to see again. Even though Steve Caiati was a lie, the memories are real. The emotions. Everything floods back into Nicole's mind suddenly. She moves quickly back to shut the broken-in door. "Oh, my God. Allen."

The former President-elect's assistant moves toward the kitchen hastily. But something is wrong. Something is off. Her steps stop short. How much does he know? "Allen," she repeats numbly, "I can explain."

"Start trying." His voice is different, she'd heard him speak in that hollow and metallic tone when he revealed to her the monster that he was inside, but that still couldn't possibly account for the roughness and broken tones it has. Why not come in the flesh, instead of — "I'm listening." Moving deeper into the kitchen as Nicole looks at him, Rickham lowers his head and shadows himself more with the hood, only the gleam of light reflecting off of his hematite eyes meets hers, and the faint suggestion of the pitted iron that makes up his transformed body.

He knows more than she thought he would know, she's sure of it. Nicole begins to tremble. Even when he showed her his ability, she wasn't scared of him. Steve hadn't been afraid of him - she only loved him more for sharing with her. Nicole finds herself feeling no different about him now than she did then. But why show up here like this? Something is wrong. If he has come to her like this…

"My name is Nicole Nichols. I'm not from Baltimore, I'm from Boston." Never did she think she would have to explain this. Not to Allen. He was supposed to be out of her life forever. Or at least for several years. Years would have been enough time to come up with the right words. "I… became Steve Caiati after Midtown was destroyed." Nicole's tongue darts out between her lips to wet them as she buys time to think. "I'm not that woman anymore," is the only truth she can find for him.

"At least we have…" Rickham's words trail off, and then return with a more bitter edge, "something in common then." When he moves out of the line of the shadows cast by the setting sun that filters in to the apartment, Allen's face becomes partially illuminated; a scatted and pitted iron thing that looks to have seen so much damage, traced with paper-thin cuts, and some deeper grooves. His heavy, plodding footsteps take him around the island, towards the living room with his head bowed — not towards Nicole, but towards the exit. "I'm sorry for your door. Neither of us… are who we thought we were," there's a rattling clank of metal, something akin to a scoff, "it is fitting…"

"What happened?" Nicole's eyes get wide and for a moment, fear threatens to overtake her. "Why did you come here?" Memory and trust override uncertainty and she approaches the man slowly, reaching up one hand toward the hood. She doesn't remove it without his consent, however. "I never knowingly lied to you. Everything was… real. To me." She pauses and repeats, "Why are you here?"

Her words make Allen stop dead in his tracks, old and worn workboots scuffing the floor when he stops. Not turning though, Allen's hollow voice is like some cavernous cry for help, "Life happened, St — " not Stephanie, "Nicole." It rolls off of his tongue like some foreign word, like every phrase in Spanish he was forced to remember during his Presidential campaign, stilted and unnatural. "I don't know why I'm here…" he sounds lost with those words, "why any of us are here."

When Rickham finally turns, the creak of old and worn metal accompanies the first good look she's has at him. He hardly looks like the man she knew; thinner, more wrinkles, sunken eyes, with a further back hairline beneath the gray hood. His eyes are colder — even despite the inhuman state of them. "I shouldn't be here." There's more than one meaning to his words, though half of them are lost on Nicole, "I'm— this isn't my life anymore."

"You look older," Nicole states sort of dumbly. "What happened?" She gathers her courage to wrap her hand around one of those solid wrists. "Stay," she asks. "Everything was real… for me. Even if the life was a lie." She searches his pitted and ashen face, eyes roaming his features with a mixture of confusion and something undefined. "Stay," she entreats once more.

She keeps saying that, and every time she does, Allen's face twitches. It's a faint expression of discomfort — or pain — something that has become indistinguishable from the deadened sensation of his iron body, but made so much more stinging by who is saying it and why. "If I stay here, you'll…" There's a creaking shake of his head, Nicole's questions about his age dismissed with those words. "I can't. I shouldn't have come here in the first place, I shouldn't have— "

"You need to forget you saw me." There's that intensity she used to see in him so often on the campaign trail bubbling back, "forget it all. I— " he turns to look at the partly open door to the apartment, "this was a mistake." Just like a politician, saying one thing and meaning another.

Though Rickham isn't moving anywhere, he just turns to look up at her with halfway lidded eyes, those iron shutters covering dark spheres of hematite. "For what it's worth…" quieter now, still hollow and empty, but not as sharp, "I'm sorry. For giving up. For— everything."

"Allen. You… You came here. Why? Please, you have to tell me. I don't understand." Nicole tugs insistently on the arm she grips. "I can't forget you were here. It will eat me up. You know me." Despite everything, she believes this. "You know I will beat myself up if you walk out that door without telling me what's going on." Tears well up in those deep blue eyes. "Don't go. Please don't leave me again. Please… I'll make coffee. Or tea. I… I have scotch?" She's all but flailing, falling over herself to make the man stay.

A laugh shouldn't sound so mechanical, shouldn't sound so coarse, but coming from Rickham in his current state it's exactly what it sounds like; a horrible, scratchy and metallic thing, like bare wires scraping the inside of an aluminum can. "I wish I could have some," he mutters in that hollow voice, "I— " then he remembers himself, eyes downturning to her hand on his arm.

"I'm not the man you think I am." The words come as something of a double-meaning, like most everything he's said. "Ste— " he catches himself again, "Nicole." One cold, metal hand moves to rest on Nicole's, and it's only now she realizes that his hand is missing two fingers, sawn off leaving behind nothing but the texture of sheared off metal, rounded down on the edges form what looks like years of abuse on the iron surface, covers with tiny dents the way an old man's hand would be covered in liver spots. "If I tell you why I came here, I'd put you and your…" he looks around the apartment, as a gesture more than to find something, "family, in danger."

Nicole can't help but smirk ruefully at his warning, "I've been attacked by Sylar himself. I have powerful friends, and I'm a big girl. I can take care of myself and I can take care of my family." Something hardens in her eyes. She already has taken steps to protect the only family she has left. Nicole is most assuredly not Stephanie. "You don't have to call me Nicole," she says softly. "That name doesn't sound right on your lips. It doesn't sound right on my ears." Her tongue darts between her lips. "Jesus Christ. You're truly stuck this way, aren't you?" She doesn't miss a beat before assuring, "It doesn't matter. I don't care. Please, tell me. Tell me. I won't tell another soul."

"No one would believe you anyway…" Allen lowers his head, wondering about why he was even allowed to find out about this place, about Nicole. If only he knew more about just what kind of man Edward Ray is. "You — " he looks around, then moves his hand off of hers, motioning to the large chair across from the sofa, "fix yourself a drink, sit down." His fingers move hers from his arm, and he takes a few steps past her, smoothing one hand over the top of his head to shed the gray hood and let it fall down around his shoulders. Scrapes and cuts were just the beginning of Allen's scarring — one ear is missing entirely, leaving a smooth mark in its place where it should be. Deep lacerations cover his throat, inch and a half deep thin incisions that look like they were burned by something, like a welding torch or a laser.

"Close the door, too."

"My God," Nicole breathes out heavily, able only to stare for several long moments before nodding and shoving the door closed before moving toward the kitchen. She returns after a minute with a tall glass of orange juice, but the colour isn't quite right to be simply orange juice. "You look awful," she says softly. Lying was never something she indulged in around the politician. "There's no way all of this happened over the course of…" Dark brows knit together. "You're my Allen, but you aren't… I don't understand."

"I'm," it sounds so stupid, "I'm from the future." It sounds so stupid it makes him wince when the words come out, eyes wrenching shut as he gnashes worn down metal teeth over one another. Making his way to the sofa across from Nicole, Allen hesitates for a moment before deciding not to sit down on it and crush the furniture, turning to look back to Nicole, then to the glass in her hand. "I don't know how, really… none of it— it's complicated. I came here to stop something terrible from happening," his eyes wander away from her, down to the floor, "I'm not alone. I— this is stupid."

He doesn't think she'll believe him, and it's that disbelief that has Allen going towards the still partly open door he forced his way into the apartment from, "Just— just forget this, it was a mistake." Heavy, thumping footfalls make a slow retreat towards the door, eyes focused down on his hand missing two fingers.

Nicole stands up so quickly it sends her glass skittering across the coffee table, spilling its contents out onto the surface and the wood flooring below. "Allen Rickham, don't you dare walk out on me again!" Hurried steps carry her to stand between the door and the man. "Midtown was nuked by a man, who later stole my appearance. You can do…" She gestures both vaguely and wildly, "That. It isn't such a leap to think you've come from the future. You- You look it." Despite proclaiming that she understands, the confusion is still written on her face. "I don't need to know how. I don't need to know why. Just… don't go. Don't leave me again." She searches the face both familiar and alien to her for some sign of emotion. "Allen, I love you."

If this tin man has a heart, it's hard to find right now. His expression remains an unexpressive expanse of pitted iron and dark eyes, though when his brow lowers it's hard to tell if its from frustration or consideration — perhaps both. "You loved someone else, who's still out there. I'm— not him." It's a hard reality to face, all of the things Allen might have assumed over the time they spent together, but the hard reality of what Edward outlined for him here is difficult to ignore. He doesn't belong here.

"If you love me so much," he looks away, slowly, "maybe you should go to Anchorage. I could use someone to talk to," his eyes close with a faint grinding sound of metal on metal, "but I'm not here to relive the past. I'm here to change the future…" he turns, looking back up to Nicole, "…and now I know why he let me find you."

There's a ghost of a smile that creeps up on Allen's scarred, metal face, "To show me what I'm fighting for."

"Your wife is there," Nicole says softly. It's an excuse. His family is there. Her family is here. They can't be together. She and that Allen can't be together. "I still don't understand," she admits. "I don't need to." She swallows hard, uneasily. "You told me you didn't love me when you left. Was it true?" Is this a case of the passage of time skewing the memories of the heart of an aching man? Absence makes the heart grow fonder… Maybe that Allen doesn't love her. Maybe this one doesn't. Maybe it would be nice if something could just make sense in that head of hers, cluttered with a mixture of memories manufactured and real. "Is it true?"

He stops, maybe because of what she asks, maybe because of some misguided sense of being beholden to her for an answer he didn't give her ten years ago. "I couldn't love you then," he murmurs, iron fingers brushing over scarred palms, "and I can't love you now. I won't do that to you, not like this." Looking away from the door, Allen reaches up and pulls his hood over his head, brows lowering, "You aren't going to like what I'm going to have to do, and I won't have you associated with it."

He starts to walk, then stops abruptly, looking back to her once more, "Get out of New York. Get as far away from the city as you can… Stephanie." There's that ghost of a smile again as the hood shadows his features, "The others… they're more of a monster than I am."

"Don't you go!" Nicole begs, grabbing at fabric and metal skin for purchase. "Just for a few hours, stay with me. Please, just give me a few hours to be with you. I… I think we need each other right now." She doesn't budge from her place in front of the door, though she knows she's easily moved by the man of iron. "I won't ask you about the future. We don't have to talk about the past. Stay with me. Sit with me. Let me explain. I owe you something. The you in Alaska is better off not knowing about who I really am. But you deserve to know." She reaches behind her and turns the deadbolt with an audible click. It won't hold, she knows. One good gust of wind and the door will swing open again, but the action is more symbolic anyway.

"I already dwell amongst the monsters, and I am no angel."

The tone of her voice strikes him harder than most anything has in a long time; maybe the tin man does have a heart after all. "I— " He looks to the door, timidly, like for all his worth he were just a fragile old man, not the bastion of invulnerability that he is, like any word or look Nicole can give him can cut him deeper than anything that was done to him in the decade that has yet to be. "I can't. I promised Edward— "

There's a hiss, metallic and tinny; it's like the noise loose changes makes in a laundry machine. "I promised I'd be back soon. We— we have important things to do here, I— " he's making excuses, even after all he's apparently been through, she knows that face he's making. "Steph— N— I can't." His voice raises just a little, enough to ring off of the walls but not quite a shout, "Stop— stop trying to— you deserve better than— "

Rickham waves one hand through the air, trying to swat at errant thoughts, "Don't make this harder for me than it is!" Dark eyes narrow to metallic slits, and he looks to the door again, "You're better than any of us. Don't— sell yourself so short. Maybe… maybe if all of this works, maybe… things can be different for us."

It's nice to dream.

"When will you ever learn that I always know when you're lying?" Symbolism is abandoned this time as Nicole steps away from the broken door. She's wounded just as deeply as anything the man before her has sustained. It shows in her eyes and in the way her lips purse. How dare he do this to her? How dare he make this about… whatever it is that this is. "Whatever you're trying to do here, you're going to need help. I work for Daniel Linderman." The woman folds her arms under her chest with an expression almost like a scowl. "You know where to find me, so I'm sure you won't have any trouble coming up with my number. Call me when you realise that you still need me." Her eyes narrow all the more as the corners of her mouth tighten further. "Things will never be different for us if you keep making the same stupid excuses. Do whatever it is you came here to do. I assume it was to do more than break my heart a second time."

That, right there, changes everything.

"Daniel Linderman?" Rickham turns with a fluidic grace unbecoming of something so solid as he is, the creak and groan of old metal chiming out through the apartment. Now with his focus on her entirely, he begins to reconsider the why of what Edward sent him here for. "When did you— " his brow twitches with the clipped quality of his words, "How well do you know Linderman?"

Heavy footsteps close the distance between he and Nicole, hematite eyes reflecting her muted image in them. It's hard for Allen to imagine a time when Daniel Linderman is alive, let alone that someone like Nicole could possibly work for him. She can't have any inclination of the man he truly is, can she?

The part of her that desires so very much to be spiteful now overrides what remains of the woman's good judgment and the brain's cues to be fearful. "Daniel Linderman made me Steve Caiati and inserted me into Menke's campaign. It was a fluke, a stroke of absolute luck, that you decided to pick me up when the moron couldn't win the party nomination. I was supposed to put you in office, and then into Daniel's pocket - not that I knew any of that at the time." Not Mister Linderman — Daniel.

"Nobody counted on what happened. And nobody counted on me falling for you. Nobody knows about that little tidbit. I was supposed to remain detached so that when you won the presidency, Steve could be put to sleep and I could wake up and make sure you fell in line like a good little boy." The resemblences between Miss Nichols and Miss Caiati are starting to be less and less apparent. "It's fortunate for us both that you weren't able to take office. Saved me the trouble of having to explain to Daniel that you were far too virtuous and I was far too in love with you to extort you." So take that, you shiny metal jerk.

Rubbing one metal hand across his forehead, Allen steps away from Nicole and a wary look crosses his face, "Could you… maybe set up a meeting for someone with Linderman?" Dark eyes narrow slightly, and despite everything, Allen seems to be trying to focus entirely on business, instead of the more difficult to handle relationship issues that Nicole brings forward. He tenses up, as much as a man made of iron can appear to — more of a vestigial gesture than anything — and exhales a slow breath. "One of the people I— the guy who got us all here, he'd be really interested in being able to warn Linderman about some of the things happening."

Allen's eyes narrow, "Maybe if we save Linderman's life, we…" his eyes divert to the side, towards the door to the apartment, then back to Nicole. "Do you think you could do that, for me? I— I know it's asking a lot, with everything going on, but— we don't have much time. I— I have to make sure we stop that future from happening…"

Fear flickers in Nicole's eyes. Save Linderman's life echoes in her ears, nearly drowned out over the roar of blood she finds there suddenly. "Yeah. I can arrange that. But I'm going to be there for it." The woman retrieves her dropped purse only long enough to take out a business card and hand it over. "That has all my contact information. When you know if your man wants a meeting, where and when, call me. I'll make it happen."

Taking the card, Allen's face becomes something a bit more recognizable as a smile, folding the card-stock in his hand before sliding it into a pocket of his jacket. "That's fine… and," Rickham's metallic gaze sweeps over the room, then back to Nicole, "When all this is said and done, maybe then… there's be time for living. But right now, I have to keep moving, and do what needs to be done."

Taking a step away, Allen moves towards the door, brows lowering in something of a serious expression, "I don't want you getting mixed up in this, not… not if it can be helped. Knowing— knowing and doing," he opens the door with one hand, looking out onto the street before turning back to Nicole, "they're two really different things. Just… promise me you'll keep out of this as much as you can.//"

"I'll do what I think is best for myself and the man I work for. You know that." Nicole's smile in return is sad. "I'm glad you stopped by. Please… come see me again. Before… whatever it is that you're going to make happen… has to happen." She shakes her head. Stupid. All of this is stupid. This whole thing is stupid. "I'm here for you, the same as I've always been. Be careful, Allen."

"Be there for your family too, Stephanie." Something grounding, taking her back from the memories of a woman she recalls in dreams, "Don't make the same mistakes I have, because of all the things I've lost," he moves halfway out of the door, then pauses as he finishes his sentence, "I regret losing them the most."

The soft thunk of the door nudged closed on his way out is the quietest sound he's made since he was here, and now that Allen Rickham is gone, it leaves Nicole with a plethora of questions about exactly what is going on with her life, and what could possibly be endangering the life of Daniel Linderman.

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