nicole_icon.gif rhys_icon.gif

Scene Title Skein
Synopsis A foretelling, a foreboding, a forbearing.
Date February 12, 2020

It’s been a stressful fucking day. After the events of the previous evening in Kansas, everything is complete and absolute utter fucking bullshit. It’s been nearly a month since she last heard anything from Peter and it’s making her more anxious than usual. Everything seems to have her more agitated than usual. While the evening ferry docks at Fort Jay, Nicole hits send on a message she’s been debating all day.

NV: Don’t ghost on me. At least send me a sign of life.

She expects she’ll receive nothing in return, so she doesn’t bother playing the waiting game by staring at her phone screen. Instead, she tucks it away inside her purse and waits her turn to board with the other workers done for the day.

Not that the work is ever done. But other people need to sleep once in a while.

“Bluthner!” Her voice cuts across the quiet murmuring of people chattering, the sound of gulls overhead and water lapping at rocky shoreline and ferry’s hull. Enough to be heard, but not enough to demand everyone else stop and give her their attention. Quick strides carry her across the deck to where perhaps the only agent with better fashion sense than she stands.

The smile she offers in softer greeting doesn’t have her heart behind it. Given the stress of the day, that probably isn’t unexpected. The ship begins to move across the water and Nicole turns to stare out at the bay. “I need to pick your brain about something. Can I buy you a drink?” The smirk that follows contains more genuine mirth. Or at least that cynical sense of humor she tends to engage in. “I pay for my intel.”

“I don’t kiss and tell,” is Rhys’ charming greeting, accompanied by a curl of one side of his mouth into a smile. He keeps both hands cradled around the last cup of coffee he’d absconded with from the break room before hitting the ferry, chin tucked down inside his patterned scarf to help mitigate the bitter chill in the air. “Also,” he arches a brow, “aren’t we coworkers?” His implication being that you don’t pay for what you can get for free.

But Rhys’ question was a rhetorical one. He jerks his head toward the heated cabin in the middle of the ferry, already filling up with employees taking benches. “Why don’t you tell me what’s on your mind, and we can discuss how many bottles of wine it’ll cost you later.” Gallantly, he extends a crooked arm for Nicole so as to politely escort her inside.

Nicole chuckles quietly and takes Rhys’ offered arm. Even through her coat and the blouse beneath, he can feel she’s warm. But she always is when her eyes are glowing that bright. And lately, they’re always glowing that bright. “This is why you’re my favorite,” she pronounces. Possibly even truthfully.

Inside the cabin, Nicole is quick to find a place to set her purse and shed her coat so she can drape it over her arm. “I may have made a reservation in the hopes that you would say yes.” Her head tilts to one side, brows lifted and mouth pulled into a half-frown. “Please don’t make me drink wine by myself.”

Cutting to the chase, however, Nicole exhales a sigh. “I’m looking into one of our colleagues.” That is a regrettable state of affairs, certainly. And it explains why she wants to have the conversation off-site. “The file comes up clean, but…” She smiles and gives him a look. His talents turn up more than even a government background check at times.

“Everyone who works for SESA goes through a thorough screening process,” Rhys says with a concerned look. He lowers his voice before he continues. “Employment records are cross-referenced with the national archive in KC, it’s as much as we have left of the criminal database. That’s given a double-blind check against the Deveaux Society’s archive, which is…” he bobs his head around a little, “substantial. Finally, I do a low level sweep to look for anything out of the ordinary that’s worth flagging. Non-admissible, but I can influence hirings.”

Rhys leans up against the interior wall of the cabin, tucking his hands into the pocket of his winter coat. He runs a little cold, unlike Nicole. “In case you’re worried, I don’t discuss anything that isn’t immediately concerning. Everyone’s skeletons are safe in their closets, the most I do is recommend or decline hirings. I don’t disclose. That said,” he looks down, brows furrowed, “sometimes the shadows are indistinct, or I miss something. It’s a lot.” He looks back up to Nicole. “Who’re we talking about?”

“Right.” Nicole responds simply. “I get all of that. Trust all of that.” It’s an interesting insight into the process that she wasn’t wholly aware of, and it’s filed away. She expects what he said about skeletons in closets was meant to make her feel more secure about her own connections. It doesn’t.

“But what if they get into some shit after they’ve been hired. We screen for points of weakness. Financial instability, family medical situations… Things that can be used to bribe or blackmail. But… That doesn’t screen out someone who was good until someone came along with an offer.” How many of those checks did she sign in a previous life?

Unbidden, she finds herself chuckling. “Look at Petrelli. Not… the fake one, obviously, but when you were just a kid, he was a good man. Sure, his dad was crooked, but you throw him a big enough campaign donation, and suddenly…” Nicole’s hand lifts and makes a languid motion toward the window. “Watch that integrity soooar away.”

Her lopsided grin doesn’t fade. “And he’s not unique. So, what if one of ours had something like that come up? I think I’ve got a lead on the trees, but… it may be that I’m just barking up—”

Nicole bursts into a fit of nervous giggles. “Oh, no. That was entirely unintentional. The stress is getting to me.”

Rhys cracks a smile, but it doesn’t linger. Worry creases his brows at the implications of what Nicole is saying. “There’s privacy concerns,” he indicates. “I think there’s people on personnel or IA who handle reviews. But leadership doesn’t ask that of me unless there’s already suspicion. People who know what my ability actually is are already nervous enough around me.” The smile Rhys struggles to maintain turns a little sad there.

“What’re you getting at?” Rhys asks with a motion of his chin toward Nicole. “If this is about Sandoval, I already checked him out. Inconclusive at best. We had him on undercover work. I see connections, not context.” But Rhys isn’t convinced this is about Sylvester. He hadn’t come up on SESA’s radar in over a year since he’d come back from his undercover work and Rhys has no reason to suspect he’s connected to the tree case. This felt like something else. It leaves a stone in his stomach.

The mirth fades as Rhys lays out all the reasons why not. “Look… I get it,” she begins to counter. “You know I wouldn’t ask if—” Nicole cuts herself off and closes her eyes, giving her head a small shake. “Shit.” Her fingers flex at her sides as she looks out the window rather than at his face. “No, you’re right. You’re one hundred fucking percent right. I’d fucking hate you if you did that to me on someone else’s request.”

She’d get over it because she likes him, but she would hate him for at least a little while.

Nicole has the grace to look apologetic and sincere about it when she turns back to him. “I need to do my own damn job. Paper trails and… All of those things. Just because you can doesn’t mean I should take advantage of it.” There’s a soft sigh then, shame clearly etched into her features. “Please, just let me buy you a drink to say I’m sorry and make up for this. It’s not about me, but if it was about me, it would make me feel better.”

“There’s a difference,” Rhys says with a shake of his head, taking a step closer to Nicole. “You’re doing the work, you’re investigating a case. You think one of our agents might be a suspect?” One of his brows rise sharply. “That’s cause for concern. But you can’t take that straight to me…” he looks out the window to the ruins of Liberty Island, “officially.” When Rhys looks back, there’s a seriousness in his eyes.

“If you have a hunch on this, and you want me to do you a favor,” Rhys says quietly, “I will. You know how this works, you know the risks involved. Hard knowing that I did what I did. But nothing I see is admissible in court; whether I’m on the books or otherwise. You’d have to keep this under your hat and have a story for how you connected the dots. Unless you go through proper channels.” Which it sounds like Rhys is fine with doing the right way or the quick way. But he isn’t going to make that choice for Nicole.

Nicole takes in the weight of what Rhys is suggesting. It’s the same direction she’d been leaning in the first place, but there’s just something heavier about hearing it from him like that. “I do have a hunch on this,” she confirms grimly. “The problem is that I’m not sure.” Which is the problem inherent with hunches. If there was certainty, it wouldn’t be a hunch. “It could be nothing. And if it is…”

Sure, nobody needs to know either of them looked into it this way, but they’ll both know then that she resorted to this when she didn’t have enough to go on. The next time she gets a hunch, she’ll be gun shy. He almost certainly won’t feel as charitable as he’s feeling now.

“Let me think about it in the car. I don’t want to make the wrong call.” Nicole offers a twitch of a smile and reaches out to squeeze Rhys’ arm briefly. “You’re a good man. Someone absolutely chucked the apple from that tree.” The only betrayal of the laugh she has to stifle after that is a small huff that puffs her chest out for just a moment.

Rhys laughs, awkwardly, and shakes his head. “We’ve all got our demons, Nicole.” There’s a sad smile on his face when he looks back up to her, then over to the gradually approaching shoreline of Red Hook. “Some more than others. But…” Her attention levels back at Nicole, awkward and sentimental. “He’s changed.” It sounds hard for Rhys to say that, not because he doesn’t believe it, but because he always believed it. Rhys, more than anyone, always wanted to see the good in the father he can never legally avow. The father whose temporal infidelity allowed for his very existence.

“But take your time,” Rhys says, returning the gesture of a hand at Nicole’s arm. “You know how to get in touch with me, and you know I don’t get any real sleep.” The ferry punctuates Rhys’ statement with a single horn blast; halfway to shore.

That was unfair of her, perhaps. But if anyone understands complicated paternal relationships… “No, you’re right. I’ve seen it.” She gives him a small smile at that, tinged with regret. It isn’t as though she mourns what could have been with Rhys’ father — because there was never hope of anything — but it’s a connection she didn’t maintain. Doesn’t take someone with his ability to confirm that.

“Sleep is overrated,” Nicole agrees with an easy feline smile and a glimmer in her eye. “Wine is not.” As the ferry pulls into the harbor, she links arms with him. When they disembark, she leads him to her car. “Make sure you buckle up,” she tells him as they pull out of the parking lot. Such a mom.

"You know, Varlane, you really should get one of those Yamagato vehicles instead of this old thing."

There wasn't anyone in the back seat when they got in. The voice, though? That's familiar to Rhys.

A glance in the rear-view window will show a pair of sunglasses and a slight, infuriating smile. "The electric batteries really are state of the art. Kimiko had one sent over a gift after the expo, an Altum? Honestly, the suspension on those babies is worth gold with all the potholes in this city. I can drive through Jackson Heights? Smooth as silk, like driving on a cloud."


“You know I have an office door,” Rhys states flatly, looking into the rear-view. “You can just… walk into Fort Jay, any time. Dirk misses you.” He casts a sideways glance to the unsurprised Nicole in the driver’s seat, then back over to Richard’s reflection in the rear-view. “I could even have a coffee ready for you, little whiskey or a touch of bourbon…” Rhys exhales a sigh. “But you’ve got to have a dramatic entrance like Batman cutting a wrestling promo.”

Rhys twists in his seat, looking back over his shoulder at Richard. He has a fear about what this is in regards to, but what happened to Claudia hadn’t hit the news yet. Instead, he tenses and braces to the answer to the inevitable, “Why’re we meeting like the Montagues and Capulets, Richard?”

But Nicole is not entirely unsurprised. She startles at the voice in her backseat, hands coming up off the wheel a brief moment as she gasps. “Jesus Christ!” she squeaks as her foot hits the brake a little faster and harder than intended when she gets to the stop sign at the exit of the car park. Everybody jerks forward a little bit, but that’s what the seatbelts were for. She’s just glad she was in the driver’s seat this time. Her right shoulder is still a little sore from the crash in December.

“I don’t recall saying get out of my dreams and into my car, Richard.” Regaining her composure, and entirely undeterred, Nicole fully intends to make her reservation. There’s steak to be had, damn it. “And I like my Buicks, thank you very much.” Though she could save a ton by being able to charge the battery by herself. Then again, maybe that’s precisely why the electrokinetic doesn’t want an electric vehicle.

“Because I trust Voss slightly less than you do,” is Richard’s casual observation, a single brow arching up over the edge of his sunglasses as he regards Rhys with that same faint smile, though his tone is serious, “And I didn’t exactly want to walk in and say ‘Hey, can I go ask Bluthner about all the things he didn’t want to tell his boss?”

He leans forward a bit, regarding the man over the edge of his glasses, “I was thinking about you, really.”

Leaning back, he adds cheerfully, “Have you been dreaming about me, Nicole? That’s sweet.”

“I trust Kristopher,” Rhys says matter-of-factly to Richard. He doesn’t quantify why. “What I don’t tell him is personal information that isn’t requested. I’ve been around long enough to know what gets told to who.” Rhys angles a look over to Nicole, then back to Richard. “Speaking of, this is… “ he glances at Nicole, then back to Richard, “you need to be aware, Claudia Zimmerman disappeared last night.” It’s an internal situation at SESA right now, the news hadn’t yet been made public.

“There’s footage of her leaving the Clocktower Building with Alice Shaw. We identified the other women she was with as Aislinn Graves, an employee of yours, and a known associate of Adam Monroe named Isis. They walked right out the front doors, though Isis seemed to be in a state of distress, but knowing what we do about her ability we think she may have swapped with one of the two women.”

Rhys looks back, briefly, to Nicole, and then returns his focus to Richard. “They drove to a pier on the north end of Jackson Heights, that’s where we found her car. No sign of where they went. We took her driver Emanuel Calavera in for questioning and released him, he had the day off and an airtight alibi. He’s not a suspect. What worries me is Aria left the building shortly before all of this, and she hasn’t shown back up either. Same with Alice’s assistant Zachary Stone.”

Rhys shakes his head and looks down between the seats, then back up to Richard. “Monica’s fine, she wasn’t in the building when all of this happened. We received confirmation that Ms. Dalton is well, but she’s not even in the US anymore. We don’t know what’s going on, but the entire organization is working on this.” Rhys’ jaw sets. “Tell me you have some smoking gun evidence as to where she is.”

At that news, Richard’s eyes widen slightly in surprise, and then horror as he sinks back against the seat. “Fuck,” he breathes out, one hand coming up to rub against his face, fingers sliding under the sunglasses in the process, “Fuck. One of the things I was coming to you with was intel on Shedda Dinu — we were trying to corner Graves but she’s been elusive, and we didn’t want her to rabbit on us. Fuck, we took too long.”

He closes his eyes, drawing in a slow breath, “I don’t have smoking gun evidence on Claudia or— all that. But I do know where Shedda Dinu is working out of. I’ll have the list of known members— “ Slightly edited, “— and the address sent over to your office.” He doesn’t say where he got it from, and Rhys probably knows better than to ask.

“We’re too far behind their timetable. Damn it! Outpaced again,” he growls, sounding more angry at himself than anything.

The look Rhys gives Nicole is returned with a shake of her head. “Look, he just shows up wherever he pleases.” Stopped at a light, she twists around to look into the back seat directly at Richard. “How the fuck did you get in here anyway?” With a little shake of her head, she dismisses the question. If breaking into cars isn’t on his criminal resume, she’ll be incredibly shocked. Should’ve looked for the remains of a wire hanger.

Conversation moves forward. Rhys tells them about the abduction and she misses the light change in her surprise. “Manny?” Nicole blurts out even as she’s rolling down her window to stick her hand out the window in a one-finger salute to the car behind her that just laid on the horn.

People are under a lot of stress.

“You know,” Nicole begins tersely as she pulls off to the shoulder to let the car behind them pass, that finger of hers passing from back to front as they go, “maybe if you let us worry about your hunches once in a while..” The window is rolled up again and when there’s an opening, she pulls back into traffic to continue toward their destination.

“This is a relay, Richard. You’ve got to start passing the baton.”

“SESA was fed intel on the Times Square Building by Wolfhound,” Rhys explains, though it’s a cold comfort. “That said we don’t have an accurate head-count of their membership. If we had known about Graves ahead of time we could have prevented her from getting into the Clocktower building.” He exhales a sigh through his nose and brings his fingers up to his brow.

“There’s a joint government operation to move on Shedda-Dinu at the end of the month. SESA, the FBI, and DHS are coordinating on this. Rochester PD is on board. We’ve been staking out the building for a week, making note of comings and goings. We’re going to be pulling Wolfhound in since they’re right across town.” There’s a little exasperation in his tone at that coincidence.

“But Nicole is right,” Rhys notes, looking into the rear-view mirror. “We need more handoffs. You knew about Graves, Richard. SESA is only as good as its intelligence is, and we have an entire country we’re trying to manage while incredibly understaffed. We have interns on major operations because their Expressive abilities are critical.” There’s discomfort in his voice at that.

Rhys looks over to Nicole, then back to Richard. “Everything’s coming apart at the seams, everything we worked for, everything we built, sacrificed, and died for. If we don’t come together better than we’ve been doing, it’s going to be all our asses.”

“I know. I fucking know, you two! I’ve been behind on all of this, but it hasn’t helped that every time someone at SESA works with me they get fired,” Richard replies flatly, hands spreading in the back seat, “And every time I’ve reached out to the Deveaux Society they told me I was untrusted and wouldn’t give me the intel I needed.”

“This isn’t a one-way fucking street. I’m not my evil damn twin, and if you all would stop acting like I was, maybe we could actually make lines of communication work a little better.”

He glares back at Rhys, “Not to mention the fact that I was just kidnapped and murdered.”

That last bit of information is not a revelation for Nicole. Maybe it should have been. At any rate, she has the grace to look apologetic when she glances at the vehicle’s third passenger through the rearview mirror.

She also has the good sense to know that either one of the men in her vehicle can out her for potentially knowing more than she’s let on. “It would help if the people I trusted didn’t defect,” Nicole murmurs in lieu of something better to say.

“We’re too compartmentalized all around,” spreads some of the blame around at least. “We just… If nothing else, the three of us should try to fix that.” Nicole would be surprised if not everyone in her car had their fingers in other pies. Staying on their lane is not their forte.

“This isn’t about him,” Rhys says with a shake of his head. “It’s about you. It’s about the people you surround yourself with, Richard. I knew you had Price hidden with you, I didn’t tell a soul. But I advised against sharing intelligence with you because I don’t trust her. Not with her history of switching sides when it’s immediately convenient. Maybe now she’s changed, but…” Rhys shakes his head, “between her and Sheridan? That’s a lot of risk. It also isn’t always my decision, or Claudia’s, either. The Deveaux Society is run by a triumvirate, and if they don’t reach a consensus…” he shakes his head.

“And Kenner went out of bounds with Looking Glass,” Rhys adds, his voice smaller. “He never had authorization for Sunspot, and when agents died in the field… he got held responsible. It was Claudia that shielded you from any investigation after the fact, it was Claudia that shielded RayTech from an audit of their technology to ensure no LookingGlass technology was in civilian hands… and it was Claudia that made sure your mother got left alone.” Rhys looks down to his lap, shaking his head. “Not everything happens in the open, because not everyone in the government is on our side. Hell, not even the people on our side can agree what that side is.”

Wringing his hands in his lap, Rhys struggles with his thoughts on the matter. “The fact of the matter is, nobody knows what Mazdak is doing. I see Baruti Naidu,” he looks at Richard’s reflection in the rear-view, “and I can see the shadows of his accomplices. But it doesn’t give me context for what they’re doing. It takes months to filter intelligence requests to the CIA and get actionable data back, and usually we’re months too late to do anything.”

Rhys rakes a hand through his hair. “After Tetsuyama was accused of murdering that minister in Tokyo, Naidu popped back up to the top of our radar. We interfaced with Japanese intelligence to start looking there, and by the time we started rounding up Naidu’s sympathizers, he hit Liberty Island.” He spreads his hands, exasperatedly. “It’s like he was five steps ahead of us the entire time.”

Then, Rhys rests his head in his hand. “And god fucking knows he probably was. But we don’t know what we don’t know. If something happens to Claudia and Alice, the entire Society is going to be thrown into chaos. SESA will have to appoint a new secretary and nobody trusts Voss enough for that. He has too bad of a rep. Bad in terms of being like us.” Rhys notes with a look in the mirror, then over to Nicole.

“If they have to appoint an interim Secretary, it might be Farah Namann, the head of HUMINT at the CIA. I can tell you she’s a classic spook, Richard. The kind of cloth Epstein and Kershner were cut out of…” Rhys looks up to Nicole, then turns to look back at Richard over his shoulder.

“Why are we having this conversation?” Rhys asks Nicole, then glances back to Richard. “Festivus was two months ago. It’s too late for the airing of grievances.

There's silence from the back seat for long moments.

It's silent, because Richard is suppressing the rage building behind his sunglasses, fingers twisting into a fist atop his knee. If one were to look in the backseat, they might notice the shadows back there deepening, their edges threatening to grow smoky in a way that nobody wants to remember once they've seen it.

Not even him.

"You are sitting there," he finally says, his voice flat and hard as he stares back at the man in the passenger seat, "Complaining to me that I didn't share enough intel with you… when telling me that you advised against sharing any intel with me? Asking why I haven't given more information to the government while saying not everyone there is behind you? I don't blame you on that last one, since I know you have at least one human trafficker with SESA that's still pulling a paycheck, Bluthner. No, I think this is the exact time for the airing of the grievances."

"So let's talk about Price, shall we? When she was with me, she was working on cures for paralysis due to spinal damage. Sheridan? She's working on curing burn-out damage from Evolved ability over-usage. They're harmless projects— the opposite, really, they're both humanitarian projects," he observes, his tone never changing, "So, when your people picked up Price and put her in their little scientist prison, was she working on humanitarian and medical work?"

"No. She was building bioweapons for you stupid fucks."

His hands lift, waving expressively in the air before dropping back down, "And he was seven steps ahead of you. He has a probability analytical of some sort. Someone like Edward, I don't know who it is. Maybe if you could see through all this— " He waves a vague hand at himself, "— bullshit that's probably around me you could find out who, if it didn't give you a fucking aneurysm trying."

"I've been working mostly in the open. I've been working with your people this entire time, while all you've been doing, Bluthner, is actively undermining me and you've admitted to it. Hell, you just admitted that if it wasn't for Claudia, my mother - who hasn't committed a single crime - would've had the government crawling up her ass. Why don't you tell me why I should trust the government so much? Because all the evidence suggests that Raytech is a lot more trustworthy and competent than SESA right now, and I'm including Graves going all terrorist on us."

"And for the fucking record, Kenner was doing the humanitarian thing, and you condemning him for that is one of the shittiest things that's ever come out of your mouth. I'd fucking vote for him if he ran for anything, he's one of the few government appointees that still had a soul."

As Richard starts to speak, Nicole’s glances into the rearview mirror get more and more frequent. Those shadows are deepening, aren’t they?” Her foot gradually presses down further onto the accelerator. There’s a parking lot just up ahead, and she has a feeling she needs to get there now.

Richard,” she interjects tersely, a warning. He doesn’t stop, though. His anger steamrolls over her initial attempt to defuse the powder keg she’s starting to notice they’re sitting on.

Lawful Good Driver Nicole, who only two weeks ago put her blinker on to change lanes on a deserted highway while a madman sat next to her with a gun, doesn’t bother to pull into a parking spot proper once she’s turned into the lot. She does turn to Rhys with a worried look before she pushes the shifter into park and undoes her seatbelt, throwing open her door and stepping out of the Buick.

“Get out of the car, Richard!” Nicole demands. She’s torn between loyalties here, standing with a foot planted firmly on either side of the line. “Now.

Rhys sort of flaps a hand at Nicole, it’s an informal shush now gesture that he usually reserves for Raquelle but he isn’t thinking clearly right now.

“Two way streets aren’t always fair, Richard,” Rhys says with an angle of his head to the side. “I don’t care what miracle cures your Operation Paperclip scientists were working on. I didn’t trust them. And I wasn’t the one that made calls about what was done in PISEC. That came from somewhere so high up even Claudia had to crane her neck to see it! No one knows how to stop Monroe, so everyone is panicking on how to keep him dead. Does his regeneration work like Claire’s did? Can they burn it out, is it really regeneration? Nobody knows and everyone demands an answer.”

Rhys swallows, wiping a thumb at one of his eyes to be mindful of his minimal eye makeup but also stop that tear from trickling over the edge. “You want to talk about stupid? Stupid was keeping Price from anyone who could do any good for her until it became a federal case. What happened in that court could’ve happened years ago, and maybe she wouldn’t have wound up at PISEC. Maybe PISEC never would have been assembled, I can’t see the god damned future!” Breathing in sharply through his nose, Rhys waves a hand at the car window.

“If you’re so much smarter than all of us how’d you wind up— ” Rhys bites his tongue. The word dead almost comes out of his mouth but he stops himself, lips pressing into a thin line and one hand coming up to pinch the bridge of his nose. He swallows, tightly, then exhales a sigh through his nose. “I’m sorry.

“I’ve done nothing but protect you from oversight,” Rhys says into his hand, head down. “You still don’t get it, do you? We can’t keep fighting the system, it doesn’t work. Did Kenner do the right thing? Of course he did, Jesus. Did he do it smart? No! Neither did you! Neither did I!” His voice cracks. “Do you know about the fissures Looking Glass caused, the anomalies out west. Not just the time we opened it, but the one that opened at Geopoint, the one that opened at Natazhat, the one that we tried to open at the Deveaux Building, it just kept punching holes in reality.”

Lowering his hand, Rhys’ face is beet red. “We let that thing out, Richard. We rushed because we were afraid of failing. I was behind you every step of the way, and we fucked up. There isn’t a minute that goes by I’m not haunted by what happened at Sunspot and I know you too well to know you aren’t too.”

Swallowing down a lump in his throat, Rhys rubs at his eyes with his gloved fingers. “I’ve always kept your secrets, Richard. But it doesn’t mean we’re always going to agree on what’s right.” Rhys opens his door, stepping out on his side of the street, then up onto the curb.

He doesn’t leave, but it’s clear that Rhys probably intends on walking the rest of the way to a bus stop.

The door behind Nicole’s shoved open, and with a hurt glare of his own Richard pushes himself out of the car as well. He straightens up, one hand coming to the side of his neck as he cracks it left - and then right.

“Don’t worry about it anymore, Bluthner,” he calls over harshly, turning to head the other way, “I won’t put you in the position of needing to protect me anymore. You’ve made your position very fucking clear. You want to deal with Monroe and the Dragon?”

He reaches out a hand into shadows and pulls out his cane, silver head gleaming as he walks, not looking back, “You’ve got it. Have fun.”

He doesn’t notice the weeds dying near his feet as he walks.

Nicole gasps and fixes Rhys with an incredulous look. Did you just shush me?! Then she’s turning back to look at Richard, then back to Rhys. She has stepped into the middle of something far more complicated than she had even expected.

Stop it!” she shouts in frustration. “A house divided cannot fucking stand,” she paraphrases so eloquently, punctuated with a loud pop of electricity that leaves the hair lifting slightly from her shoulders.

This is why women should run everything,” Nicole hisses between her teeth, probably too low for either of the retreating men to hear. “We are on the same team!” she insists, with more volume now. “Get your asses back here or—”

The hand Nicole was frustratedly gesticulating with closes into a fist, opens again, and repeats this motions several times, like she’s not just struggling for words, but maybe also struggling for breath. She kicks the front tire hard enough to send her hopping back a few steps with a muttered curse. “Rhys!” she calls to the retreating agent. She sighs heavily. “Chantal Horner.”

Sliding a tongue over his teeth, Rhys watches Richard departing down the street, then looks back up to Nicole with a thoughtful silence. He doesn't say anything, but Nicole has seen the look of frustrated acknowledgement in his eyes more than enough times. It's her original request, before everything happened. She sees his shallow nod, but also sees his retreat going to opposite way from where Richard is headed.

It was a bad evening for alliances.

At an even worse time.

Thousands of Miles Away

Somewhere in Iraq

Somewhere in the world, there is a quiet room.

It is silent for its remoteness, less so for its construction. Its walls are a dome, covered in crackling white plaster. Four round columns rise from floor to ceiling in the middle of the room, inlaid with tiles painted turquoise, vermillion, and bone white. The tiles on the floor have not weathered the years as well, and the sand that blows in through the open skylight at the top of the dome has long since ground away the mosaic represented in them. The tiles are now all brown and beige, scuffed bare of even enamel.

It is not sunlight that spills down through that skylight, however. But silvery light of the waning, gibbous moon far above. Seated under the shaft of moonlight, a lone man contemplates a length of fabric. He is dressed in shades of white and gold, fine silk and soft cotton. His keffiyeh is worn loose, draped down over his shoulders and shadowing his bearded face like a hood. He sits cross-legged on the floor, fingers working over a length of woven cotton, delicately tracing each stich with his bare fingertips. Blind, milky white eyes see not the fabric, but the pattern in the weaving.

Stepping out of the shadows, a woman roughly his age who has concealed the gray in her hair with dye emerges into the moonlight. The mekhela sador she wears elegantly is woven in shades of sapphire, crimson, and gold. Her dark eyes assess the man in front of her, the one that contemplates the skein of the fabric. "«Where do we stand, Ra'id?»" Her tongue is not that which she was born with, but an older one, long since dead. The language of Ancient Sumer.

Ra'id looks up from the fabric, the white swirling out of his eyes to reveal far darker eyes. He folds the cloth eight times over itself, until it is a small square in his lap. "«The appointed hour is upon us, the Red Bird stands in the field of ash, the flock is scattering.»" He watches her approach, curious of her ever move. "«Have you consulted the stars, Aida?»"

She inclines her head in a subtle nod, then offers a hand out to Ra'id, helping him up off the floor. "«The Flowers are in bloom, they will spread through the air, and wilt under the sun. The point of convergence is rapidly approaching, and the offering is ready.»" Ra'id drapes the folded cloth over one arm, then looks up to the waning moon visible through the long cylindrical shaft to the sky above, where sand wafts over the opening as though he were staring up from an ancient well.

"«We faced setbacks,»" Ra'id admits, reluctantly. "«But the river flows inexorably to the ocean. It was merely a matter of time.»" Aida steps closer, joining him in looking up at the moon. She smiles, laying a hand on the cloth draped over his arm.

"«The Resurrection is upon us,»" Aida says softly.


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