sf_faulkner_icon.gif sf_nicole_icon.gif

Scene Title Shadowboxing
Synopsis This victory would never have been possible if not for the lessons that came from crushing defeat.
Date September 1, 2020

The Linderman Building

Rain pelts the floor to ceiling windows that overlook New York City’s skyline. The sun still shines in spite of it. One of those sunshowers that makes the pavement shine like it’s awash in gold. It’s beautiful.

Nicole Miller stands shoulder to shoulder with her protégé, as if surveying their kingdom. The crease of her brows seen in the muted reflection of the glass. “All those people down there,” she begins in a quiet voice that lacks no confidence or conviction, “will be looking to you to represent them. To uphold their best interests. To protect them.”

The golden city of New York loses focus like bokeh photography in favor of blue eyes settling on the shape of Isaac Faulkner, indistinct in the glass.

Like a shade.

“We’re in the homestretch now,” Nicole tells him. “You’re polling favorably. But now is the time where your opponents — the PACs — are going to start slinging every fistful of mud they can find.” And there is, unfortunately, mud to be found.

Seven Years Earlier

Nicole tosses a pair of boxing gloves and padded headgear to Isaac, unconcerned about whether or not he’s actually going to catch them, or if they’re just going to bounce off his chest.

At least this explains why she told him to dress appropriately to meet her at the Linderman Group’s private gym facilities. She followed her own advice, dressed in a pair of compression shorts and a sports bra under a short-sleeved hoodie — all black. Like how she takes her coffee. Or her soul. Whichever joke they feel like making today.

Given Isaac’s current state of wounded ego, he’d probably lean toward the latter. That’s to say nothing of the other more physical wounds that have only just healed to the point where it isn’t ludicrous to suggest that engage in this sort of activity right now.

Digging into an equipment locker, Nicole comes away with a matching set of gear, blue to Isaac’s red. She pulls the helmet on over her head, tugging her dark ponytail through to swing freely behind her.

“Glove up,” she tells him tersely.

It's a mark of just how deep that wound runs that Isaac doesn't offer a smart ass comment, an insult, or a barbed quip. He tries to snatch the gloves and gear out of the air, doesn't quite make it, but catches them before he can drop them to the floor. His lips draw tighter as she tells him to glove up; his eyes narrow for a moment.

Alright. Fine. Seems he's not done paying for that mistake.


He sets the headgear on, making sure it's tightened, then, as the lady says — he gloves up. "Fine," he says aloud, once he's got his gear in place, dark eyes never leaving her blue ones.

“Good.” The gloves go on next, then she makes her way to the ring in the middle of the floor. Sun glints off the windows of the other skyscrapers and bathes the city skyline in gold. Nicole’s silhouette against it looks almost angelic. Beautiful and terrifying.

“You fucked up,” she says plainly. There’s no sugarcoating it, but then again… She’s never been one to do that in the six years she’s been his mentor. “But you’re the one still standing.” Which is to say she’s pleased, even if it was a very near thing. Something that wouldn’t have happened if not for the intervention of others.

Isaac Faulkner isn’t alive today because of who he is, but because of who he belongs to.

“We both know you aren’t going back to Rapture.” Nicole lifts her left hand and gestures for Isaac to join her in the ring. “For one, management has been told to bounce you if you do anything beside beeline for the bar, the VIP section, or the men’s room.”

Would he even want to show his face again after all that anyway? Nicole is betting not.

"Through no virtue of my own," he responds smoothly. His words are nonchalant, almost airy, and without any trace of apparent care… but oh, the flicker of fire in those dark eyes tells a different story.

At her followup, his eyes narrow again, a more intense scrutiny falling on Nicole. It is one thing to decide that you don't want to go to a place, it is another to be told that you are not to go to a place.

His gaze lingers for a moment longer as she beckons him to the ring, and for a moment he doesn't move… but every moment he dallies here is another moment he doesn't get back. Besides, it's not like she's likely to be worse than Zarek was. And if she is… well, fuck, that solves all of his problems anyway.

That thought deepens the scowl on his features and galvanizes him into motion. He steps into the ring.

“You’re holding back.”

Nicole fixes him with a look. A quirk of a brow and an upturned tick of one corner of her mouth. Daring him to contradict her.

He won’t, of course.

“Ever since you got back up again, you’ve been holding it all inside. Everything.” She lifts her chin, scrutinizing him in that way she’s always done. Like he’s twelve years old and she’s inspecting his face for traces of dirt before she’ll let him enter the main hall. “You’re losing your fire, Isaac.”

All the while, Nicole has been stalking forward, a slow prowl like a jungle cat assessing prey. Not yet ready to pounce, but no less a threat for it. She comes to a stop in front of him finally, close enough that he can smell her perfume. Close enough to convince himself he can feel the vibration in the air of her voice when it slides into a low purr befitting this predatory image she projects.

Give it to me.

Is that what she wants?

For a second, Isaac remains unmoving. Still. Silent.

Two seconds.


Whatever game she's playing, she's stepped into the ring with him. His lessons might not have been enough to give him the edge over Zarek, but Isaac Faulkner knows how to box.

His left foot slides back, right arm unfolding into a jab snapped at Nicole's temple.

She wants fire? Fine.

Nicole’s head snaps to the side and she goes staggering off a few steps, half slumped over by the time she manages to catch herself midway to falling. For a second, he might think she’s about to tell him she’s thought better of this little exercise — whatever it is.

You’re holding back,” she repeats, straightening up. This time, she lifts her own gloved hands. Apparently, the first one was free.

Isaac's eyes are wide now, wide and dark and glinting like obsidian. "So are you," he hisses. "Whatever it is you brought me here for, let's get this thing over with." Maybe not smart words for someone who's recently convalesced from being beaten most of the way to death, but if she wants fire, she shall have it.

He raises his right arm to guard his face and extends his left hand — absurd, perhaps, to offer to touch gloves after unloading with a suckerpunch like that, but she had quite literally asked for it.

That she did. Nicole grins back at him when he accuses her of holding back just as much as he is. She reaches out and touches gloves, because this isn’t about hurting.

It’s about healing.

Lighter on her feet and slighter of frame than her opponent, judging from her stance this isn’t the first time she’s boxed. The private activities of Nicole Nichols are a mystery indeed. Most of her life is lived very purposefully in the public eye. Probably to make the moments like these even more surprising.

“Tell me why you would go to Rapture in the first place,” she demands just before she darts forward with a swift right jab.

She knows what she's doing. Good. He nods once as he sees her settle into stance, eyes still glinting darkly.


Wrong question.

He sways a bit as she throws, slipping the blow; her jab tags him a glancing blow, but it's robbed of most of its force. "Because I wanted to," he answers, his own right hand lashing out again, one-two, with a pair of jabs of his own at Nicole's face. "It's exclusive, and it's swanky, and if you're going to go have some drinks, you should do it in style," he snaps, and here comes the finish to that combination; Isaac steps forward with his left foot and throws a hard left at Nicole's body.

Having her gloves up to block the first to blows aimed at her face leaves her open to the one that hits her in the ribs. Nicole goes staggering back, a gleam in her eyes. This is what she’s been wanting from him.

“Why did you need to, Isaac?” This isn’t about what he wanted. He needed something, and Nicole’s going to tease it out of him. She darts back in going for a triplet of swift blows to his midsection.

What kind of question is that?

A good one, apparently, because while he's trying to dissect it she's sinking a couple of solid hits into his ribs. He grunts, expression twisting with pain, and brings his elbow in, tightening his guard and stopping that third punch from landing.

"Could've been anywhere," he growls, stepping back on his left foot and throwing out a quick right jab at her face — he's not actually expecting to land anything telling, but she's got a pretty solid punch and he's not about to let her hammer him without trying to do something about it. "But if you've got a name, prestige — if you've got power," he growls, throwing out another right jab…

"You should use it," he says, and now, as he pulls his right hand back in, he steps forward and brings that left in again, throwing a looping hook aimed at Nicole's midsection, followed by a hard right straight punch.

“That’s right. Anywhere.” She’d been expecting that response. It’s like she’s only asking questions she already knows the answer to. She expected the blow to the face, too. It glances off her headgear as she rocks back to avoid the worst of it.

And use his power he does. His left hook hits her hard enough to knock the wind out of her briefly and leaves her vulnerable to the next hit. That sends her staggering back and to the ropes behind her, which catch her from falling.

He gets the distinct feeling that she’s still holding back. “I think I almost see it,” she grins. Leaning back into the ropes, she lets them haul her back up again, using the momentum to carry herself forward and back into range of him again.

“You don’t need Rapture. You don’t need the base debauchery of those beneath you,” she tells him. “You never did. You need this.

Now he sees her. Nicole ducks his next punch easily, her left fist going for his side even as she rockets back up, with an uppercut from her right.

She slips Isaac's jab; he sees the left coming, rolls with it —

— and takes the right on the chin.

The force of it snaps his head back, sends him reeling a step back, two —

— and he catches himself, his foot hitting the ground, his stance lowering, tightening — going from a full upright stance to something lower. More compact, more tightly wound.

"There you are," he murmurs, lips curling into something that might almost be taken for a smile.

Then he laughs. "What, getting punched in the face?" he says, stepping back in and snapping off another quick right jab — only that, though. For now.

She laughs even as he sends her rocking back a couple steps with his retaliatory blow. “No.” Nicole shakes her head, closing in again but pivoting on her left foot at the last moment to avoid the next jab. She’s putting him on the offensive now and taking a defensive stance herself.

“A controlled environment.” She ducks and she weaves effortlessly, like she could have choreographed his movements. How many of his fights did she watch before she decided this was the tack to take with him? “You’re angry, Isaac.” And she aims to make him angrier still by continuing to evade him. “If you bottle it all up inside, you’re going to explode.”

Nicole keeps pressing. “To no great effect. Without purpose. Impotently.

No counterpunch forthcoming. So be it. He's got plenty of jabs in him; Linderman hadn't bought his adopted son boxing lessons for him to be bad at it. "Nice theory," he growls, snapping off three quick punches — high-right, low-left, high-right again — a textbook combination, met by a textbook evasion as she slips all three.

Before his encounter with the recently deceased Zarek, Isaac might have doubled down in blind irritation, poured on more punches, tried to bog down her footwork and bury her.


There is nothing like a close encounter with death to inspire caution, and as much as Nicole's words gouge that already sore gaping wound that Zarek carved into his ego, there's some prickling little sense at the back of his mind that keeps him on guard. "Am I getting lectured again?" he growls, dark eyes gleaming brightly as he throws another combination. Right, left, left again, snapped off at Nicole's face. "What, exactly, are you trying to say here?"

“You have the advantage.” There’s an edge of frustration in her own voice. “You’ve learned prudence.” It’s the greatest lesson he could have been taught by his mistake. Zarek learned his own about being incautious with disastrous consequence. “You’re in a place now where you don’t need it.”

Again and again, she avoids his punches, though this time she drops back a half step, giving more ground than she intended to when she drops to avoid the blow to the face.

“You’re larger than me,” as if he needs the reminder. “You’re stronger than I am.” Nicole dances back several steps so she can have the space to open her arms wide and invite his next press. And pose her next question: “Why are you afraid of me?”

Isaac lets her drop back, doesn't pursue. Until that last question.

Eyes widen. Nostrils flare. His stance tightens. He rolls his neck, tilts his head, as if to say, good question.

Then he comes forward. He leads with a right jab to the face, but even that punch, carrying the momentum of his forward movement, has some power to it; he follows it up with a body blow from his strong left hand, the opening of a relentless barrage. Right, left, right, left, right, going after her stomach, her ribs — there are many sayings in boxing, but one that Isaac has found particularly true is this: kill the body, and the head will die. Or, more to the point: no breath, no fight.

He drops low after that last right, left foot sliding back, left fist drawing back… and then rocketing upward. A beautiful left uppercut.

There you are,” she echoes his earlier words as he makes his advance.

The next sounds that come from her sound an awful lot like regret once she finds herself finally misreading him, stepping the wrong direction and dodging not away from but into his gloved fist. She hisses at the first blows, building into grunts of pain and finally a cry that’s cut off when his fist connects with her jaw.

Nicole is all but lifted off her feet from the force of it, her toes scraping the mat before she topples down in a heap. She makes a show of hitting her glove against the ground. Tapping out.

Although she curls in on herself and reminds herself how breathing is supposed to work, she looks up at him with a gleam in her eye.


Isaac breathes heavily, regarding Nicole with a slightly sour look… though he can't quite keep his lips from trying to curl into a smile.

He hesitates for a bit longer, then pulls his left glove off, extending a hand.

Her own glove is tugged off and tossed carelessly away so she can reach up to take the one offered to her. She finds her feet easily enough with his assistance, throwing aside her other glove in the opposite direction once she has. Her headgear goes next, dropped at her feet before she reaches out to start to assist Isaac with his.

“That was good,” Nicole praises, a slow smile spreading across her face.

"Wasn't bad," he agrees, not without his own degree of pride. Hadn't been enough for Zarek, but —

— but that hadn't exactly been a controlled environment, had it? Of course it hadn't been enough for Zarek; that had been bringing a knife to a gunfight. He hates it when she makes a good point like that. She does it often. He lets her fuss over his headgear.

"So now what?"

Now,” Nicole begins, “there’s just one more lesson I need you to learn here.”

Once she’s tossed his helmet aside, Nicole settles her hands on either side of Isaac’s face. When her lips part around her smile, her teeth are tinged pink. Likely from that last hit to her jaw. She makes sure he’s met her eyes before she speaks again. This is important.

“I am the last person you need to be afraid of.”

His eyes narrow a bit when she grabs his face, but he doesn't try to squirm away. He holds her gaze for a moment, lips tightening…

Then one corner of his mouth curves up into the barest hint of a lop-sided smile. "Alright," he says quietly. There's still a tension to him, but he nods his head once, shallowly.

Nicole taps his cheek lightly with her right hand before she finally lets him go. She gives him her back then, gesturing for him to follow her as she climbs out of the ring, turning her head to one side and spitting blood onto the mat before she ducks through the ropes.

She doesn’t stop until she approaches the floor to ceiling windows, waiting until he’s joined her before she speaks again. “This is… This is Daniel’s city,” she tells him, like she believes it. And is there much evidence to the contrary?

“Someday, it will pass to us.”


“But we’re going to have to fight for it. Fight to keep it.” Nicole doesn’t like talking about this eventuality. That someday, Isaac’s father will be gone, and his kingdom will be inherited by those closest to him. “The vultures will come.”

Nicole turns then to look at Isaac properly, rather than just to his reflection. “You’re already strong. You always have been. And you’re smart.” That is a point of pride for her. She saw to it that he would be smart. That in spite of everyone’s instincts to coddle the Linderman heir, that he would learn to think for himself. To do for himself.

Self-sufficiency. Self-reliance.

“You know caution now. And…” Her throat is tight suddenly, evidenced in the way she tears her gaze away from him and swallows down a hard lump before it can finish forming. “And you learned that in the worst way imaginable.” Hers had been one of the first faces he’d seen upon waking. He’d seen her terrified, crying when she thought no one was there to witness it. And she doesn’t know that he had.

“But you can be fearless and smart.” Nicole looks at him again, so horribly sincere. “I believe in you, but that’s not enough. You need believe in yourself. So let go of your doubt. Let go of your hesitation. Let go of your self-reflected anger.”

Nicole falls silent then, her eyes holding his for a moment before she turns her face back toward the skyline.


There's a flicker in his expression at that. A hint of something distant, troubled, like the barest hint of a stormcloud on the horizon.


But she's right. When the kingdom is inherited, there'll be work enough to keep both of them scrambling to keep all the wheels Linderman has spinning in motion. Because the second they stop…


Anyone who thinks they're hard enough is going to step up to take a swing, to try and take a bite out of the empire Daniel Linderman spent his life building. The only way to keep them out is to make them stay out. To show them that no matter how hard they are, there are others harder still.

He lets out a long, slow breath, and tries to let his anger go with it. "Yeah," he says, turning to look back at the skyline, gleaming in the sunlight.


Someday this will all be mine.

Seven Years Later
Present Day

Nicole’s eyes lift from the line of buildings to the sky they cut into. “They’re circling.” It’s an omen, but a metaphorical one. There’s clouds in the sky, sure, but no buzzards.

A grin is slanted to Isaac as she finally turns to look at him properly. “But I’m going shoot them out of the fucking sky. And you’re going to cross the finish line unharried.” Nicole reaches out and rests a hand on the junior senator’s arm. “Just remember, every one of those little pebbles they throw at you… They are nothing. They’re an annoyance, but nothing more than that.”

Her head tilts back to indicate the ring behind them. “When they become too bothersome, you call me, and I meet you here. And then… you remind us both of your strength.”

Isaac Faulkner stares out at the skyline, hands clasped behind his back; such unusual surely is an omen of some sort, but it speaks to him. And… despite everything, even now, he still finds this view beautiful.

It's only when Nicole's hand rests upon his arm that his head turns to look at her. That grin is met with the same grin he'd given her seven years ago — lopsided, not without a certain tension, but with something real to it, even so. "Yeah," he agrees.

The notion of getting back into the ring provokes a slight widening of that smile, though. "Do you think that's a good idea? Might not be good optics if the paparazzi spot you with a black eye." His eyes narrow a bit, a gleam of subdued humor in there. "Or if I show up to a debate with one, either."

His mentor chuckles, a throaty sound that’s genuine in its mirth. “When have I ever left a mark on you?” Nicole asks, brows lifted. She knows better than to mar his image, proverbially or physically. “I play lacrosse on the weekends.”

Does she? Surely not. Where would she even find the time? His campaign and his interests keep her plenty busy.

“I’ve certainly looked worse.” Her mirth fades. It was a long road to get back to this place. To feel comfortable in her own skin again.

“I keep telling you to take up polo,” she reminds him, tone lighter than her heart feels. Or at least to pay someone to say that he has. The kinds of sports indulged in by rich people — like them — tend to make convenient covers for other less savory activities, it happens. Though Nicole would argue there’s nothing about their activity that qualifies as unsavory.

She's not wrong; she most certainly has looked worse. Faulkner remembers the sight of her laying in that hospital bed vividly, and even the memory of it evokes… complicated emotions. Faulkner nods somberly, trying to exude the practiced gravitas that Daniel Linderman had carried so naturally at moments like these.

He likes to think he's gotten pretty good at it, these days.

She moves on without missing a beat, though. "Polo," he echoes, grimacing. "It just seems so…" he trails off, grimacing more intensely. It is a sport played by rich people — like them — but it just seems so ridiculously gauche that he's never really been able to find even a shred of interest for it. No, he'd much rather be working, accomplishing something.

I know.” Because she does. They’ve discussed pros and cons before, and there are definitely more tallies in the cons category as far as he’s concerned. Nicole gives his arm a squeeze, her smile fond. “I’m not afraid of a few bruises. I’m just asking you to remember that if…”

She sighs and lets her hand drop, like the subject, turning away from the window now so she can really look at him. “Daniel would be so proud of you,” Nicole tells him, and it’s clear that she is proud of him in turn. And that she wishes his father were here to see him on the edge of this new triumph.

The pad of her third finger is pressed to the corner of one eye, then the other, warding off the threat of tears. “Damn rain,” she mutters, as though that might be where the damp came from in the first place.

“Come on. We have lunch reservations, and you’re going to tell me all about what you and that charming Leverett girl have been up to.”

Would he be? If Daniel Linderman knew all that his adopted son had done? That's usually more a thought that Isaac indulges in the dead of night… but now, at Nicole's comment, he ponders.

Would he be?

He muses for a moment longer… then he lets out a breath, and lets his doubts and anger go with them, just as he had seven years ago.

Isaac glances at his watch, then back to Nicole, and smiles. "Right enough. Let's go, then."

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