Still Here


cardinal_icon.gif jessica1_icon.gif niki1_icon.gif

Scene Title Still Here
Synopsis Cardinal and Niki find solace together in their grief. Then, she drops a bomb on him so devastating, it could have been mistaken for November 8.
Date November 18, 2011

Las Vegas, Nevada: Bang Bang

He wasn't planning on drinking, not with just Tuck around. Jessica's presence, however, makes him feel safe enough for that.

One dangling earring is seemingly fiddled with, the back pushed further against the lobe, but the woman is murmuring into the button that fastens her sleeve at the wrist. "Bring the Ducasse and two glasses. Leave the bottle."

Now, she's looking at him again. There's no concern in her grey-blue eyes that he can see, but that's never been Jessica's game. Concern is something other people engage in. "She'll be glad to see you, too." He should know what that means.

A deep breath's drawn in, and then Cardinal leans back again. A nod, once, to her words. Both the liquor and the mention of her. He's silent for a long moment, hazel eyes watching the wall as he tries to think of what to say next— of how to say what he needs to say next.

Finally, after he swallows, he looks back to her and says in carefully paced, quiet tones, "The Institute's gone. Ezekiel's gone. Dead."

Then his gaze cuts away, and he adds even quieter, "…Elisabeth's gone."

The Institute's gone. Ezekiel's gone. Dead. "Go—" The word dies in her throat when he drops his last bombshell. Elisabeth's gone.

Jessica's nostrils flare, and there's beat of hesitation from the scantily clad woman who approaches their table with a tray supporting two shot glasses and a tall, chilled bottle of top shelf vodka. The whole thing wobbles for one uncertain moment before the waitress catches herself and fluidly sets everything down on the table piece by piece.

It's a distraction Jessica is thankful for. The waitress retreats swiftly when there's no further direction given, and the blonde wastes no time opening the bottle and pouring their drinks.

"Fuck." Maybe concern isn't always for other people. One shot is slid over to the man and she waits for him to lift it from the table top before she knocks hers back in one very smooth, practiced motion.

Cardinal has never made the mistake of thinking that Jessica doesn't care. If she was as uncaring as she liked to act the part of, she wouldn't fill the role that she does - protector. As the shot's slid over, he catches it between his fingers, raising it up in a vague motion her way before tossing it back as well, eyes closing as the vodka slides down his throat.

"Yeah," he says, exhaling a long breath as he opens his eyes once again, "Yeah, that's… that's about my view on the whole situation. Sorry. Didn't think you'd— want me to sugarcoat it."

"You don't owe me any apologies. You were right." Her voice, already often pitched lower and raspier, is now thicker with emotion she doesn't try to hide from him. Not really. There's no time wasted in pouring another round, though she isn't quite so quick to drink it down this time. Instead, she takes it carefully between her thumb and two fingers, ring and pinky curled inward with the base of the glass settled against the side of that fourth.


Maybe that's a stupid question, but Elisabeth Harrison was one of the tougher women Jessica Sanders had ever had the pleasure to call an ally. It matters how she was taken down. It matters to her. She studies her reflection and watches the way her throat tenses as she swallows down a wave of tears. Her thousand yard stare is returned by watery eyes and lips parted around a mournful sound only she can hear.

The shot glass held between his fingers is offered out to be filled, as she does so, and he holds the glass up, considering it for a few long moments. Then he draws in a slow breath, exhaling it just as slowly as he gathers himself to explain what happened. "Cardinal… the other one, he," he pauses, swallows once, "He said something to Varlane. A— trigger, I'm guessing, something left over from Carmichael."

He rests forearms on the table, slouched forward a bit, the usual confidence of the man sapped out of him. "He turned into a fucking black hole. I was— the floor gave way under me, dumped me into the particle accelerator tunnels. Monica's arm was gone. He'd ripped Adel's powers out of her— Liz was all that was left. Guess she figured that if she didn't stop him, he'd take out the planet."

He closes his eyes again, "So she did."

There's a rueful huff of air that escapes the woman's lips when the explanation is complete. "Figures," Jessica murmurs sardonically. "Only a cosmic force of nature could take her from us." A black hole is just about the last thing she ever would have guessed, and so it somehow seems appropriate.

The faintest nod of her head is given to her reflection before she lowers the glass enough to tap it against the side of his. "To Liz. One of the finest fucking warriors this world has ever seen."

It's lifted as hers is, the soft click of glass on glass barely audible in the sounds of the club.

"To Liz," Richard replies with a slight hitch in his voice, swallowing to clear it for the next, "One of the finest warriors, and finest women, this world's ever seen."

It's knocked back, the vodka burning its way down, and he leans himself back in the booth finally. One hand loosely curled around the empty glass, he looks back to her with that weary hurt still in hazel eyes, asking quietly, "So how've you been? Last I saw you— Hiro'd wanted you for something."

The vodka is smooth. It still burns, but it's the good kind of burn. The kind of burn Jessica like to think reminds her she's alive. The kind of burn Niki likes to think can set fire to her pain and her memories.

It's Jessica's turn to laugh and have it edge on hysterical now. "He took us back to Moab," she confides, lips twisted in a smirk that contains no mirth. "In exchange, he let Niki see her son. And then he took her away from him again." There's a beat. "Pretty sure he's dead now." And there is no love lost for that.

"Fuck," she repeats, still visibly upset. "This is what happens when you try and save the world." There's no anger in that statement. While altruism for anyone but her mirror self isn't really her thing, Jessica knows that what the members of Endgame did, knows that Elisabeth's sacrifice, was the right thing. She isn't even sure she can say the same about the mission that brought her back into the fore of Niki's mind.

"She's a mess, you know."

"Aren't we all?" Richard offers a weak smile over, the sort of half-smile that you make when the only other option is to crumble. A hand lifts from the table, rakes back through his hair as he repeats on a heavy sigh, "…aren't we fucking all. The post-traumatic stress of a war most people won't ever hear about."

That hand drops back down with a slap of skin to wood, and he shakes his head, "Nakamura dead, though… shit. Much as we had our differences— another friend lost. List's getting long these days."

There's no denying that. Any of it. Jessica shakes her head. "If I let her out, I don't think she'll—" Her fist grips tightly around the empty glass. With her previous ability, it would have shattered before she had much time to think about it. While there are many, many drawbacks to the ability she possesses now, there are at least a few positives to it.

Glass hits table with a quiet thunk! barely heard over the music. She pours them another round, but leaves hers sit for now and pushes the bottle between the two of them. An unspoken invitation to outpace her and set himself up for another.

"Gina's gone." The admission is quiet, the laughter that bubbles up completely unbidden. Like she hadn't really thought about it since that day. It's only been a week. "Maybe I should let…"

Let Niki tell it.

It's not so unusual to see a little venue with reflective surfaces everywhre. It's a trick to make things feel larger, more open. But knowing what he knows about her, Cardinal has to wonder if the intent was simply aesthetic. Jessica shuts her eyes tightly, her lips pressing together in a thin and bloodless line.

There's something wrong. Cardinal can tell that even before she makes that admission; he's never seen Jessica this close to the edge, rarely seen her showing this much emotion outside of unbridled rage. The way she grips the glass, the way she cuts herself off in mid-sentence. Then she says what happened, and his eyes widen in both shock — and confusion. "Gina's… wait, how— how could that even happen? I…"

He cuts himself off this time, watching her in silence before reaching out, his hand brushing against her wrist in a reassuring weight. "Let her out," he says then, softer, "I get the feeling she needs to talk to someone too, Jess. I'll be right here."

"There was a grenade," that protector says quietly. "Just a flashbang." As if that's just anything. "It hit the ground at Niki's feet and she tried to dive out of the way. That's… That's normally where I would step in, but Gina —" That's the part unknown to Niki herself. The decisions made by her subconscious were just that. Jessica grinds her teeth, still unwilling to open her eyes while she speaks, explains all of this. "All Niki had was ringing ears and spotty vision. Gina had shrapnel in her stomach and broken ribs. I held her while she —"

All it takes is a fraction of a second. That head lifts, knowing exactly where to look, and the moment those eyes open, they make contact with the woman in the mirror and the transition is complete. Niki breaks down in racking sobs, sliding forward to rest her own forearms on the table now, and her head down on the backs of them.

Fingers curl around the opposite edge of the table, knuckles turn white from the grip. With the neon above spilling over her back, he can see the bandages on her back through the sheer chiffon. There may not be metal fragments in her abdomen, but she didn't escape the events of November 8th physically unscathed.

It isn't as if Cardinal'd met Gina more than the once - and that was an awkward scene, if a vaguely pleasant memory at times - but he'd always thought, always assumed, that it was just a personality shift. Psychological. Maybe the tattoo should've been his clue that it wasn't just that. The realisation, plus the obvious turmoil in the protector, has the hand on her wrist pressing more tightly in its grasp for a moment. Just a moment, before she looks up…

…and in her place, Niki breaks down.

His hand lifts - he spots the bandages, adjusts where he's reaching - and he wraps an arm around her, leaning in to press his side against hers, knee to hers, his head tilting in close. No platitudes of 'it's okay'. It's not okay, and they both damn well know that. Just there as she sobs against her arms, a companion for her grief and hurt.

Niki's sobs become a keening whine that causes the waitress walking past to falter - the same waitress from earlier - and reach out for a just a moment, as though to ask if everything's okay. If she needs to get security. But the women here know something about their boss: Ms. Hawke has everything under control. If she needs help - and she doesn't - she'll call for it. Like a deer in the headlights regaining its wits after the car has skidded to a stop, she shoots off again, drifting to the next table she's meant to service.

The contact brings Niki comfort, and after a long moment, she lifts from the table to curl against him. His arm fits comfortably around her shoulders, away from the worst of the damage on her back, and her head nestles against his shoulder. The tears that slick her skin soon slick his.

"Peter—" She can't get the words out without another sob choking her. This is the first time Jessica has let her out since that day. The first time she's been able to properly process the events with another human being outside of her own fractured mind.

It's good, she thinks distantly, that person would be Richard.

Richard's arm wraps about her shoulders there, his other hand lifting to brush tenderly against blonde hair as she soaks the shoulder of his t-shirt in those tears, as they kiss the skin of his neck as well. Wordless until she speaks, though despite not knowing what she's going through there's already a lump in his throat from it. It's bad, he knows, and it's probably more than just Gina.

"Take your time," he says softly when her voice catches on another sob, "Take your time, Niki…"

Peter. His estimations of how bad it is suddenly multiply geometrically.

Fistfuls of his shirt are gathered and she just quakes against him for the longest time, finding the comfort in his arms. Finding the permission to break down like this. The calm starts to come after a while, signified by hissing breaths between bared teeth and shuddering exhales, the space between each one becoming longer and longer until everything becomes softer. More still.

Finally: "The bomb… The second one." And the first, he had finally confided in her. The one that stole her son from her. Her voice is barely able to raise above a whisper, but he can hear it. Feel it against his skin. "It was Peter."

There's no pressure given to explain, to keep talking; he holds her, as if they were somewhere private instead of in a semi-secluded booth in a nightclub, and just lets her get out what she needs to. No words from him after that reassurance, just the warmth of his arm around her back, his other resting down on her upper arm. Cheek pressed to her hair, his own eyes closed, as his own grief and pain finds some solace in a companion.

When she speaks, his shoulders tense up - briefly - before he makes himself relax. "Oh," he says quietly. No surprise. He knew, about the first bomb. "Is he…?" Is he dead is the question, difficult as it is to ask. Or answer.

"He never did listen," Niki murmurs softly. Her voice is thick like Jessica's, but vulnerable in the way her mirror's never is. Except for tonight. There's a heavy sigh from her, lids closing heavily over her eyes as she lets the pain wash over her.

"The last words I said to him were don't die."

A sigh from Richard spills through blonde hair, and he rests his head against hers for a moment. "No," he admits quietly, "No, he never fucking did. Not once."

The man was infuriating, but Cardinal never wished him dead.

"We failed." Niki finally lifts her head from her shoulder, and she looks her former employer — her friend — in the eye for the first time since she's come back to herself. Helpless. "I couldn't protect them. Any of them. Not Samara. Not Nick. Not Molly." The name causes her to choke. Causes her to screw her eyes shut tight again as though she needs to squeeze out the tears welling in them. "Not Valerie…"

Ray draws back just enough to meet her gaze, though he doesn't pull his arms from around her. As if he could protect her, somehow, from the horrors she's dealing with. Then she explains, and the names are like a series of punches to the gut as they come one after the other. Samara, Nick - less personal, although he knows the names. Molly leaves him reeling. She was just a kid. A sweet kid, at that. She deserved better. "God," he breathes out, his shoulders drawing together, "I'm so— "

Then that last name's spoken, and it's like every drop of blood in his veins just froze. He stares at her for a long moment, trying to deny that she said Valerie. Then he verbally follows along, words tumbling over each other, "V-Valerie? Wait, Valerie— Valerie who?" There are lots of Valeries in the world. She can feel his hand shaky on her shoulder, now, before it tightens a bit.

His surprise, this instant emotion, catches her off guard. Niki blinks several times, studying his face, his posture, like she might divine some greater meaning from the rigidity of his musculature. There's nothing there, of course. She doesn't have the context. The expansion of Richard's family is not something she was a part of. She was long gone by that point, at Peter's insistence.

"Ray," she breathes out, realizing the importance of the name as soon as it leaves her lips, if not the connection. "Valerie Ray."

"No." Denial is, after all, the first human reaction to tragedy. "No, that's not— that's not possible, I— I sent her upstate, to Jared's cabin, I…" If it wasn't true, though, how would the woman in front of him even know that name? She was gone. Hiro swept her away, and afterwards she stayed with Peter. She never met her, doesn't know what she is to him. His pulse quickening, one hand dropping from her arm to slide onto the table, fingers curling in against the wood as if trying to find something solid to grip.

"She's not— she isn't— " Dead? That's the question he wants to ask, but he can't get the words out as his voice catches sharply. Sudden, stark fear behind his eyes, not for himself, but at the thought of losing someone else he loves.

Confusion swallows sorrow. It's a welcome change, even if it brings along dread. A cold, hard knot starts to form in her stomach. Realization comes along in the wake of it and Niki's mouth falls open. "Oh God."

The possibility is shut out only for the length of time it takes her to blink. She can't blind herself to the truth of the situation.

"He was looking for you. Peter went to the old Redbird building, and instead… She was there. Sent to him." Numbly, her head shakes back and forth. Each successive back and forth is a wider until her chin is almost wagging shoulder to shoulder. "No."

She had begged him, begged Peter to reconsider. They had been so short on allies and so short on time, and there had been a letter. "She's alive." But it doesn't sound like much of an assurance, delivered in trembling voice. "She was shot, but she's alive."

"She was… she was sent? She was sent and she got— " There's anger, now, blending with the fear in a tumult that leaves his stomach in an uproar. "— and she got shot?"

Of all Edward's sins, this one might be the one unforgivable.

The reassurance that she's alive has his shoulders sinking again, the anger sinking for the time being, fear rising in its place as he looks back to her. Hazel eyes glinting with unshed tears of worry now. "I… that's my baby sister, Niki," he confesses, his voice unsure, fragile, "I… tell me she's okay."

Grey-blue eyes roam the lines of his face, the anguish etched there, and she tries to determine if he wants her to lie to him. If she should lie to him. "Valerie is alive. She's stable, responsive, and she's going to keep on living."

But Niki Sanders cannot say that Valerie Ray is okay.

If there's one thing that Richard Cardinal has never appreciated, it's lying for the sake of his feelings. He's a man who gathers dark truths and unpleasant facts with the fervor of a collector, and it's no different tonight, even if there's a part of him that wishes she would lie to him. Her words are very carefully chosen. He can tell.

He closes his eyes, suppressing a shudder, swallowing hard as he forces a sob of his own back. Too much grief, too much pain, still not worked through. He nods, mutely, to her words. After a few moments taken to gather himself, he replies in a somewhat strangled voice, "That's something." He doesn't ask for details, maybe worried for his ability to handle them right now.

Slowly, carefully, Niki extracts herself from Richard's embrace. Scoots back on the seat of the booth far enough so she can have the freedom of movement required to gather up their glasses and their bottle of vodka. Whether they should have more or not, they're not done with this yet.

"Come on," she says, firmly and assertive. It's her turn to be the comforting force now. "Let's go to my office." Jessica has been concerned about staying where everyone could see them. Niki just wants to get the fuck out of the watchful eye of her — Jessica's — employees.

She wipes her tears with the back of the hand wrapped around the neck of the bottle, rising from the booth slowly. "We can stay there as long as we need."

The question of whether they should have more vodka is immaterial, and if anyone attempted to judge Richard for really wanting to be drunk right now they'd probably get punched in the face for their presumption.

As she pulls away, he brings a hand up to rub at his eyes - as if to brush away any tears that might have been threatening - and he nods as he does so, grabbing the edge of the table and using that leverage himself to push up to his feet. "Yeah. That's… probably a good idea," he admits, nodding again. "Lead on."

The place isn't large, but the mirrored glass on the walls and angled surfaces create a sort of disorienting quality. There's a bouncer standing near one panel near the bar, and with a nod of the woman's head, he's reaching to flick a latch in the seam between two mirrors. There's a pop, and then he's pulling open the recessed door. "This way."

The office is just that - an office. There's papers strewn about the desk, a bucket of long ago melted ice and an empty bottle of champagne resting in the room temperature water, a half-drunk glass with red lipstick on its rim still sitting there. The lighting in here is fluorescent rather than neon. It's almost like stepping into daylight by contrast. The lever of a dimmer panel built into the wall is nudged downward by the bottom of the vodka bottle until the lights are low enough to be less jarring in comparison to the club outside. When the door shuts behind them, the music is almost entirely drowned out, just a low rhythmic throbbing of muted bass.

The glasses and alcohol are set down on the red lacquered surface of a boomerang shaped coffee table and Niki takes a seat on one side of the overstuffed chesterfield sofa in front of it. She sinks easily into the white velvet upholstery. Slipping out of her stiletto shoes, she draws her feet up to rest her heels on the cushion, her chin on the peak her knees make beneath flowy black chiffon.

The change in lighting has him squinting for a moment as his eyes adjust - pupils still getting used to their new function in dilation and contraction - before his brow smooths again in acclimation. She slips out of her shoes, and he bends to do the same, tugging the laces of dirty boots free and pulling his feet from them one after the other. He only sways a little bit as he balances on one foot a few times, since he hasn't had enough vodka just yet to lose his balance completely.

Then he's stepping over to the couch as well, dropping himself down to sit on the other side of the chesterfield and sinking back into it, letting his head fall back, gaze on the ceiling. "Sorry," he says quietly.

"For what?" There's regret in her tone. For a lot of obvious things, but specifically right now for leaving the alcohol on the coffee table. She's comfortable like this, and doesn't want to move now. She shuts her eyes and shakes her head. "Nothing to be sorry for, Richard."

There isn't anybody left for her to make sorry in retribution for her pain. Nobody who's responsible for it, anyway. Niki tries to track her gaze over to where the man sits nearby, but only makes it three-quarters of the way before she winds up halting and staring blankly at the wall beyond. Tears slide down her cheeks again, but she's not sobbing anymore.

"I was supposed to be comforting you, is all, and…" A wipe of his fingers over his eyes, his face, and that hand drops down to rest on his knee with a light smack of skin on denim. He rolls his head to the side enough to look at her, forcing a bit of a smile, "You didn't know. I didn't find out about— all that until after you left, I don't think." Fingertips twitch on his knee, and then he reaches over, fingers brushing against her foot and ankle in a light touch.

"Hey," he says softly, trying to draw her gaze his way again.

It only succeeds at first in drawing her gaze down to where he's touching her, but slowly her gaze moves from knuckles to his wrist, glides up the length of his arm, follows the curve from bicep to shoulder to neck. Jaw. Mouth.

Stays there.

"I failed him," she admits. "We were supposed to… Do what we've always done: avert disaster. Hiro was supposed to stop the first bomb." Now, there's a haunted quality to the look in her eyes, which don't quite stare past him yet, but look like it's headed in that direction.

"We're still here."

As she speaks, he lets the details sink in, lets their implications unfold as he realizes what their plan actually was. The plan, he gathers, that got people killed. That got his sister hurt.

A plan that was impossible… but they had no way of knowing.

His jaw tenses, then relaxes, that lump rising up in his throat again. "It… yes, we are," he says quietly, "That's… that's not how time works, Niki. Time isn't a line. You can't go back, can't change everything, not for the people who've lived through it. The things that happened, they've… they've happened."

That refocuses her a little as she considers what he says. Understands the implications. "So, if we succeeded… There's a place, somewhere else, where my son is alive because of what we did." It explains it. Why she would have gotten involved with another of Hiro Nakamura's schemes. Why she would have followed Peter and dragged herself back from this normal life she tried so hard to obtain. It always comes back to Micah Sanders.

"It's just that I will never have him back." The realization brings more tears to her eyes. It snuffs out hope. Somewhere, a different version of her has her son, and while that's a comfort, it's just the smallest of one. Her son is lost to her forever. "I failed him," she says again, a whisper. This time she isn't talking about Peter Petrelli.

"Yeah," he replies gently, "Yeah, there is… some world out there, where you succeeded. Where you'n him are still together." It's small comfort indeed, he knows all too well.

Then he's shaking his head, shifting to scoot over closer on the sofa, reaching out a hand for her wrist, her own hand. "No. You did— you did everything you could, Niki. Everything. What happened to him is not your fault, and you know he'd say the same thing."

His hand is clutched tightly in hers and she finally manages to meet his eyes. She is so desperately sad, and it's no wonder. She's been through so much pain and had so much loss over the course of her life. "A- After he died, I guess I always went on living with the thought that someday I could put Hiro to good use and we could save him. But—" Niki shakes her head. Now she realizes it's impossible.

"What's left?"

It's the same sadness, the same madness, that drove his future self to the sins that he committed upon his loved ones and the world. It's a sort of broken that Richard understands all too well. His fingers curl around hers in return, a fierce grip, and he looks back at her and desperately wishes he could tell her that she could have her son back.

"You're left," he says quietly, firmly, "I'm left. And— Valerie's left, and Monica, and Peyton, and— Barbara and even fucking Tracy. There's— " He catches himself before adding a name that shouldn't be in there, someone who's supposed to be dead. "There's a library full of fucking penguins, and there's that asshole Tucker that just walked out of here. There's the rest of the world, and our friends, and our loved ones, and if we just give up then there's Heller, and Danko, and Linderman and Mitchell, and they won."

Her weight shifts subtly so she can first slide one leg under her, then the other, resting now on her knees, her sheer skirt tangled and pooled around her like clinging smoke from an oil fire. Her family, her friends, him.

Their enemies.

The urge had taken her to ask what good am I? Niki hasn't been able to save the lives she cares the most about so far. But if her existence can possibly outweigh the existence of one of those bastards, then that might be something worth drawing breath for.

And she does draw breath before leaning forward to crush her mouth against his in a kiss. Her eyes slide shut and her fingers lace with his tightly, her other hand comes to brace on the back of the couch over his shoulder. Desperation fuels need to seek comfort the only way she can think of now. That comfort won't be found in the bottom of that bottle on the table.

She shifts, and so does he, sitting up straighter and twisting his body to face hers. One knee slides up onto the couch between them, allowing him to face sideways without uncomfortable contortions. He meets her gaze as he speaks, as he tries to remind her of all the reasons to live, his fingers laced with hers in a fierce clasp. Maybe he's trying to convince himself the same thing he's trying to convince her of, the same hurt and loss echoed in his eyes that are in hers.

She draws in breath, he assumes to speak, and he waits— and then she leans in, and her mouth crushes to his like a match striking oil. His own eyes close, the hand that isn't desperately clasped with hers coming up to slide into her hair, to pull her head closer as he returns the kiss fiercely, desperately. It's real, she's real, and right now her idea seems like a damn good way of reminding them both that they're alive.

Blonde strands pulled tightly toward the top of her head loosen now as his fingers weave their way in. This moment is precisely what she needs. Precisely what Gina always tried to tell her she needed and what Jessica always avoids if there isn't payment involved. Payment, in this case, is solace.

Niki's free hand moves from the couch and slides between them instead. Red polish chips as she catches her nails on prong while she works to unfasten his belt one-handed. She's had practice. Thumb deftly works free strap and then fingers grasp to pull taut enough to loose prong from eyelet, then let it all snake free from the buckle to provide access to button and fly, which are next on the agenda. All the while, her hand still holds his tightly.

We're still here.

All the pain, the sorrow, the guilt that Richard's been carrying around since Alaska is thrown as fuel on that fire, to illuminate that simple thought. That they're still here. They're still alive. And as his fingers ruin her ponytail further, as her own deftly tug open the leather belt of his jeans, they both desperately reach for proof of that. The knee brought up on the couch shifts, his body twisting as he pushes himself more to his knees as well, the mere two inches of height difference between them not causing any issues in reaching one another.

Her hand's squeezed tightly, and then his fingers slide from hers — lifting up to brush against her cheek, to cradle it, the kiss breaking for a half-second for him to draw in breath, eyes only cracking open a little to watch hers.

With her hand free, Niki turns her attention to his shirt, fingers curling against the fabric to ball the hem up in her fists. The space opened up between them means she has the perfect window of opportunity to tug it up and off. Jessica would have torn the damn thing in two. Once it's pulled over his head, she tosses it over her shoulder and onto the floor on one side of the sofa.

"Don't stop." Her breath is warm over his skin, kisses along his jaw encouraging.

There's that moment where he doesn't want to stop touching her but the only way for that shirt to get off is for him to do so, and so with an irritable sound in the back of his throat he pulls away just enough to help peel that shirt up and over his head, surrendered willingly to her careless throw thereafter. The faded ink of tattooing, old scars from years ago, newer ones since they'd last met spread across bare skin now that it's bared, and he reaches back for her in a near-lunge of motion.

An intense sorrow only provides fuel for intense passion. There's nothing gentle about either of their needs. It's desperate and it's rough and then it's simply over. Niki is left breathless and staring at the ceiling through her tears. There's no warm afterglow to bask in, but the pain feels less distinct than it did before.

We're still here.

There's no shame that follows, no awkwardness. It isn't as though this is the first time she's done something like this, just the first time she's done it with him. Her hand comes up to cup his cheek and she brings her focus back to him, his face. Wordlessly, she nods. It's not better, but it's better.

Just as it isn't the first time that Richard has - just the first time with her. No shame, no awkwardness, not for a moment. She cups his cheek and he turns his head into it, brushing a kiss to her palm - drawing in a breath, exhaling it, a faint smile curving to his lips back down to her. There's still all the pain and the loss, but maybe it's not as overwhelming anymore. Maybe there's something left there beside those unseen wounds beneath the surface.

He brings up his own hand, brushing against her cheek gently before murmuring as if continuing a trail of conversation, "So that's something."

"Probably overdue," Niki agrees, then lets out a quiet breath of laughter. "Gina would be mad she missed this." A few rapid blinks shed the tears from her eyes and she pulls her hand away from him to wipe at her face.

She sighs and shifts herself subtly, signaling her intent to sit up again, slowly extracting herself from their tangle of limbs and pushing up to sit at the end of the couch, smoothing the long skirt of her dress back into place. Her ponytail's a complete mess.

While she mulls over what she needs to say, she starts tugging bobby pins free from where they hide in plain sight, setting them aside on the coffee table three to four at a time. "I… I have managed to help one person. But I can only take it so far." She picks up their conversation as if all of that hadn't really just happened. Or like it's just a normal segue. Maybe it is for people like them. "I was hoping you might be able to take it from here."

"Yeah, she would," Cardinal admits with a soft chuckle, a bittersweetness to it knowing that she's gone. Even if he only met her properly once.

She shifts, and he does, slowly untangling himself with her before settling back on the couch - stretching his legs out, fingers raking back through his hair as he reclines against the back of the chesterfield without particularly caring about clothes at the moment. Her words have him canting his head curiously in her direction, reaching over to idly brush his fingers against her thigh - over the skirt's fall - absently. "Oh? What did you have in mind?"

Pins out, elastic is tugged free next, and Niki's shaking out her hair. "I managed to get someone out of New York. I can keep them safe, but… Las Vegas isn't really a comfort to them." Her ward is not like her in the least. While she, in some awful way, thrives on the neon-bathed chaos of this city, it's not for everyone. Hell, it's not for most people.

"We have history," she admits in a quiet voice. "Not that kind," she's quick to add with a shake of her head. The hand on her thigh is glanced at, but not remarked upon. "I thought you might have a few more contacts than I do. Most of mine are the type of people you don't want to owe favors to." Present company excluded.

"I can… see what I can do," admits Cardinal, hand lifting back from her leg to scrub against the nape of his neck as he shifts to sit up straighter, his other hand resting on his knee as he leans forward a bit with a tilt of his head letting him watch her, an intrigued glint starting to show in his eyes. "So who is it, who's after 'em, and what do they need, really?"

He's not really in a mode to be helping other people - he's barely helping himself - but he's never been able to turn down a request for help from one of 'his' people.

And that's precisely what she's counting on. Niki may not be the most altruistic person. But if she was, she wouldn't be one of Richard's people. "Fuck, who isn't going to be?" After 'em. "That's why I need you to find someplace far away from here. I can't sit around my house all day with a gun waiting to see if someone shows up for revenge or justice." Obviously. She's here right now, isn't she? Working for a living. "I need you to promise me you won't be one of those people. I need you to promise you're going to try to keep him safe, and that if you change your mind, you hand him back over to me."

It's the sort of conversation that has just about every alarm bell in Richard Cardinal's head going off. But really, how could things get any worse right now?

He brings both hands up, rubbing them over his face, "…mnmf. I mean I can't promise until I know who it is you've got hiding in your closet— " He really hopes that isn't meant literally. "— so c'mon, Niki, this is me here. Talk straight."

His fingers part slightly, one eye peering at her, "…please tell me it isn't Nathan."

"He's not in my closet," Niki mutters half-heartedly with a scowl that isn't genuine. "I keep him locked in the crawlspace like a normal person." Jeez.

This calls for another drink. She fills both the shot glasses and passes one to Richard, keeping one for herself. "I said it wasn't that kind of history," she says of Nathan Petrelli. And if he didn't know, now he knows.

Glass clinks to glass, but she doesn't wait for him before downing her shot like it's the antidote to a poison she's ingested. Like it will save her life.

"Mohinder Suresh."

The shot glass is taken, and Richard brings it up to clink against hers. He does wait to down it, watching her face as she drinks hers, because he's pretty sure he's going to need a drink after she says whatever she's going to say next.

Then she says the name of the man she's hiding.

He knocks back the vodka in one swallow, leaning forward to thump the glass down on the table's surface. "…H Christ, Niki. Okay. Okay. I'll see what I can do. There's room for more than one on my flight out." He slumps back on the couch, closing his eyes.

"Jesus. Mohinder fucking Suresh."

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