Sympathetic Threads


nicole_icon.gif rhys_icon.gif

Scene Title Sympathetic Threads
Synopsis In search of answers, Nicole turns to Agent Bluthner in the hopes of a revelation.
Date October 26, 2020

“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us

with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads,

our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.”

― Herman Melville

When she’d pulled up the personnel file, Nicole’s jaw had gone slack, a heavy sigh expelled from her lungs. Staring flatly at the screen, her jaw worked one way then the other before resetting to neutral. “I don’t know what I expected,” she muttered, scrawling not an entire address, but just a house number onto a piece of scratch pad from her desk.

Bay Ridge
New York City Safe Zone

October 26th
5:42 pm

Rhys fucking Bluthner lives in her goddamn neighborhood. After work, she’d driven home, parked in front of her house, and simply walked to the young agent’s brownstone. Of course she had to pass by the Vault to get there. Nicole couldn’t help but look in the darkened storefront windows as she made her way past, only looking away when she caught sight of her own reflection looking back at her.

Checking the number written on the scrap of paper in her pocket, she steps up to the front door, takes a breath, and knocks. While she waits, she adjusts the hang of the deep designer bag hanging from her shoulder. A quick pat of her hand ensures that the package inside is still secure.

A barking dog immediately responds when Nicole knocks. Judging from the tone of the sound it’s a larger dog, followed by the clatter-scuff of claws on the other side of the brownstone’s door. She hears Rhys’ voice not long thereafter, too muffled to make out clearly but the tone is unmistakably his.

When it’s clear Rhys moves the dog away from the door there’s a long, awkward pause. She surmises he must have looked out the peephole, because she’s had this reaction to unexpected guests herself. The door opens, though only a crack. Nicole can see Rhys’ face, bandaged on one side still, as he peers through the door open only as wide as the chain on it will allow.

“You could’ve texted,” Rhys says with obvious stress in his voice. “What’s the matter?” He asks, exasperatedly. Behind him, a german shepard barks loudly, eliciting a look from Rhys over his shoulder. “Oscar I know. I know.”

Rhys looks back to Nicole, brows raised expectantly.

“It’s not much of a surprise visit if I text first,” Nicole responds easily, shrugging one shoulder. She shakes her head and does him the courtesy of looking apologetic. “I didn’t mean to upset you. I’m just trying to check in on everyone after…”

Well, that’s an obvious event that doesn’t need spelling out.

“I brought a peace offering.” She hoists her bag slightly to illustrate that whatever it is must be inside. “Well, it was supposed to be a get well gift, but you’re looking at me like I might need to make peace, so.” She can be adaptable. Nicole leans to one side slightly so she can get a better look at the excited dog. “Sorry, de la Renta. Didn’t bring anything for you today. Next time.”

She sees what you did there, Bluthner. That apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

“My therapy dog doesn’t need anything,” Rhys says with a tension in his voice. “Nicole, I’m— flattered. But I’m still on painkillers and—” and Nicole knows exactly what’s going on here. She can see it in Rhys’ eyes and hear it in his voice right before things get increasingly more awkward. She used to be quicker on the uptake on stuff like this.

Rhys, who’s at the door?”

Another man’s voice.

Rhys shuts his eyes, silent. His tongue slides across his teeth at the sound of approaching footsteps, and Rhys slowly opens his eyes and looks up at Nicole with a wordless expression. Oscar is gently led aside by his collar, and Nicole can make out the shadow of someone on the wall behind Rhys, cast by a lamp.

“It’s my coworker, Nicole. I’ve told you about her.” Rhys says, closing the door, unfastening the chain, and opening it. There is not but resignation on his face.

Well. This just got heaps more awkward. She had been prepared to roll her eyes and explain that she didn’t bring alcohol and this is really just about concern and does he think she’s angling for something here, but… She should have been better prepared for something like this instead.

Nicole has the grace to look sheepish now, dipping her head down and looking away politely. “Listen, I… I’m sorry.” Her head doesn’t lift when she brings her gaze back up to him in the doorway. “I’ve just had a case I’ve been waiting to get your opinion on.”

He knows that can’t be true. She’d never bring work to his doorstep. Not official work. He may have opened the door, but Nicole stays firmly on her side of the threshold until he explicitly gives her the invitation.

Like some kind of government vampire.

The man who steps into view through the doorway is a cipher to Nicole. He’s older than Rhys but younger than Nicole, noticeably taller than both but as thin as Rhys is. There’s something very Petrelli about the angle of his face, but maybe that’s just because of his stupid fucking floppy hair.

“Varlane, yeah?” Rhys’ company says with a smile that hides dimples behind a brown beard. “Come on in, don’t let grumpy here toss you out in the cold. I’ve got a corn chowder on the stove that’ll be done in fifteen, you can join us for dinner.”

All the while Rhys looks beyond embarrassed. What Nicole can see beyond the doorway is an immaculate apartment with clean, modern furnishings, though the building looks like an older remodeled unit that maintained some of the industrial revolution charm. It’s a window into Rhys as a person that Nicole has never truly had. Up until now he always existed in a liminal space when not encountered within the city. Here… here he’s painfully human and mundane.

“Nolan,” Rhys’ company introduces himself with an offer of a hand out to Nicole. “It’s lovely to meet you.”


I’m so sorry about this,” Nicole whispers under her breath to Rhys past a forced smile and the absolute barest movements of her mouth. When she turns her apologetic gaze away from him, she instantly brightens up as she reaches her hand out to accept the one offered by Rhys’ paramour.Hey,” she greets cheerfully. “Ah, Miller! Nicole Miller,” she corrects as she withdraws her hand from the exchanged pleasantry. “I got married earlier this year.” The urge to point out that someone missed the party is bitten back.

You’re welcome, Rhys.

It would just be rude to turn down the offer now. “Really, though, I don’t need to join you two for dinner.” She’s stepping inside anyway. “I just really wanted to make sure you were doing okay,” Nicole’s cheer fades to a sympathetic look. Rhys has seen far too much in his comparatively young years. Even if he rode out most of the war in relative safety, there was so much that led up to it and so much that’s come since.

What happened over the weekend was supposed to never happen again.

“Okay,” Nicole waves a hand in apparent preemptive dismissal of what’s about to transpire. “Don’t read into this. I’m not trying to be untoward. Please don’t tell Kristopher.” Reaching into her bag, she lets one strap fall loose from her shoulder so it gives her enough gap to maneuver out whatever that gift of hers is. “They didn’t have any of the rectangular boxes. They were all sold out.”

Awkwardly, her dull blue eyes angle away as she holds out a red, heart-shaped box of chocolates to Rhys. “It doesn’t matter how they’re shaped. They taste the same.” Her lips press together in the time it takes for her gaze to roam left, toward the ceiling, and then complete the circuit to land back on Rhys. “And if you don’t want them, maybe you can give them to someone as a gift.”

She definitely just discreetly pointed a finger in Nolan’s direction.

Oh my god,” Rhys mumbles as he reaches to take the candy, only for Nolan to instead.

“I’ll put these in the kitchen, he’ll eat half the box before the chowder is done otherwise.” Nolan flashes a smile and walks backwards away from Nicole and Rhys, giving a snap of his fingers to Oscar. “Come on Oscar, there’s some bacon in here.”

Do not give Oscar bacoh why do I bother.” Rhys says with one hand coming up to his forehead. He starts to walk past Nicole then stops, remembering himself and offers out a hand to her. “Can I take your coat?”

Since she’s staying.

“See, this is why I had to bring them here. If I took those home, I’d be dealing with an eight year old with a stomach ache all night.” Nicole follows Nolan with her eyes, shrugging to Rhys a little half-heartedly. “He seems nice,” she whispers as she starts to shrug out of her coat. “Takes charge, doesn’t he?


“Listen,” she raises her voice up to be heard enough by both of them, if Nolan wants to bother to eavesdrop, “Humor me with a cup of coffee or a glass of water or whatever. I won’t stay long.” Nicole sighs and drapes her coat over her arm. This gives him the opportunity to show her right back out if he wants to take it. “I will let you cherry pick your next assignment. Whatever you want, or don’t want.”

“If you think you’re getting out of this with a drink and dash you clearly don’t know Nolan very well,” Rhys says out of the side of his mouth on his way into the dining room. The table is galley style, dark-painted wood with detached bench seats, a very cottagecore vibe. Rhys sits down beneath the warm glow of the overhead lights, folding his arms in front of himself.

Nicole!” Nolan calls through the doorway from the kitchen. “Do you want something to drink? We just opened a bottle of merlot, or I can get you some water, tea?” This close to the kitchen Nicole can smell the aroma of the bubbling chowder and what smells distinctly like fresh-baked bread. It all stands in gentle contrast to the sharper details of Rhys’ facial bruising and bandages.

“Fair enough.” Nicole shrugs easily and hangs her own coat up like a polite houseguest. She makes her way to the table with the intent of sitting across from Rhys. “Oh, twist my arm,” she responds warmly to Nolan’s offer. “Merlot sounds lovely.” Her hands are resting on the edge of the table as she’s about to lower herself down to the bench, but she stops short.

“Would you like a hand in there, Nolan? Not to stereotype myself, but I’m actually handy in the kitchen.” Just the smell of the impending dinner is enough to fill her with a warm sense of nostalgia. Like afternoons spent standing shoulder to shoulder with Daniel, learning how to properly knead dough, fold a batter, separate an egg…

Her eyes find Rhys’ face and the smile she offers to him is colored with the bittersweetness of her memories. “Keep the ones that can cook,” Nicole teases him quietly. “They’re a rare breed.”

“You take care of your secret agent work,” Nolan calls back from the kitchen. “Too many spooks ruin the sauce or something like that. One glass of merlot incoming in a moment though.”

Rhys glances back over his shoulder, then looks at Nicole. “Well we’ve been together for two years so…” his eyes avert down to the table, admitting a secret that he has kept from his colleagues, revealing the partition between professional and private life that might as well be a firewall.

“You didn’t come here to cook.” Rhys says with a strain in his voice, eyes fixed on Nicole.

"If you say so," Nicole near sing-songs back to Nolan with more cheer than she truly feels. Finally she takes that seat she's been hovering toward, settling in and folding her hands together on the table's surface for lack of anything better to do with them.

There's less cheer now, but her smile is still genuine. "Good for you, Rhys." She means it. Having this seemingly stable relationship with someone who clearly looks after and supports him. It eases some of her worry over him.

He's an old friend's son. Nicole will always want to look out for him. She'd like to think he was her friend, too, but this little revelation has somewhat disabused her of that notion.

"I did come here to check on you. That… What happened out there…" Nicole shakes her head. "On top of the other weight you've been dealing with," she couldn't even find him for a time, and he wasn't returning her calls, "I wanted to see you in person, outside of the office, to ask how you are, and make sure you're getting the support you need. Whether that's through official channels, or…"

Sure thought he might be dead when she couldn't reach him.

"I care about your wellbeing, Rhys. First and foremost, I want to do what I can for you. Because you deserve it." On this fact, Nicole is resolute, and she will not budge. "Secondary to that, I'm hoping you can offer some help to me in return. But that's not conditional. You have whatever you need from me, even if you can't or won't help me."

But she hopes he will.

Rhys’ expression flattens, not into frustration but resignation. It doesn’t seem to matter with how much earnesty Nicole approaches his well-being. When it’s followed up by a request for help, it’s like a different Rhys steps in to take the other one’s place. He takes one breath, unable or unwilling to accept Nicole’s sincerity, and then exhales all of his frustration through his nose.

“What do you need?” Rhys asks, blinking a look up to Nicole with a furrow in his brows. He is resolute, in spite of his injuries, and lacks any of the awkwardness that there was a moment ago. Nicole confirmed she was here for business, and Rhys has — very much like his father — compartmentalized business and pleasure.

She immediately regrets her decision to explain this visit was meant to kill two birds with one stone. But would he have felt deceived if she’d led with the concern, then followed up with the ask? Perhaps there was just no winning this one. Unless she’d saved the business for another meeting entirely, but… Well, even she can admit sometimes that she’s selfish.

“I need to know what you see when you look at me.” She waves a hand around the vicinity of her head, like she imagines there’s little place cards and lines drawn between them, explaining who she is and who she’s connected to. “After the crash…” Nicole shakes her head, and she lets him see how rattled she is. “I’ve been trying to reach you for so long. To try and catch you before anything could get muddy.” She’s afraid it’s too late.

“I see a mess.” Rhys says with all the flatness his father might when cracking a joke at Nicole’s expense, except this doesn’t have that tongue-in-cheek delivery.

In fact, John Logan has uttered those exact words to her in regards to her countenance, her lifestyle, her existence. Nicole can’t suppress her wry smile.

Rhys sits back in his chair and runs his hands over his face. “Nicole,” he says into his palms, sitting forward. “I already inspected you. The day of the crash I was at the hospital,” he admits with his voice lowered. “After some things we’ve been dealing with any mass disappearance like this requires myself and another agent to investigate.”

This is all news to her and it shouldn’t be. Nicole’s eyes narrow faintly, her brows angling and lips pursing tight to signify that this feels like a betrayal.

There’s a tension in Rhys’ brow. Nicole can tell why. She was never told that he inspected her, let alone the other passengers. They were never told the results, either. “Nicole, this is so classified, I couldn’t even—”

“One glass of merlot.” Nolan says, leaning over Rhys’s shoulder to reach across the table and set the glass down in front of Nicole. He flashes a smile, looking between the two and then pantomimes earmuffs. “I didn’t hear anything,” he says with a grin.

Nicole is startled when Nolan appears, jumping just slightly in her seat and chuckling nervously. “Sorry. Work stuff. I get… really absorbed,” she offers in apology, answering his smile with one of her own. “I’m a workaholic. I’m sure Rhys has mentioned.” After all, he knew enough about her to recall her surname, however outdated. Pressing her hand to her chest, she dips her chin and leans forward slightly in a small bow. “Thank you.”

She waits for Nolan’s retreat before her attention returns to Rhys, her own brow creasing again. “You know—” Pausing, Nicole draws in a steadying breath. “Rhys, we’re both so wrapped up in shit that’s beyond the scope of what we’re expected to do. You know I’m good with secrets. I won’t even tell the others about what you saw.”

That dark head cocks to one side, expression suddenly curious, concerned, and uncertain all at once. “Who was the other agent?”

“Nicole, I can’t.” Rhys says in a way that is largely unlike him. “This isn’t about SESA or… even the government at this point.” Glancing to the kitchen, Rhys grows silent for a moment. When he returns his attention to Nicole, it’s with tension at the corners of his eyes that makes him look older than he really is. “There are some things you’re just better off not knowing. Trust me.”

Breathing in deeply, Rhys shakes his head and scrubs one hand over his mouth, looking troubled. “All of your tethers are… weird. I’ve never seen anything like it. My— my ability sees the interpersonal connections between others, more recent connections are clearer, more distant ones are faint. They appear as shadows, like a crowded room. I sift through them to find chains of causality. More people, more points of data.”

Rhys glances at the kitchen again, determined to keep Nolan out of this. When his eyes settle on Nicole again she can tell she’s working with a limited window of time. “All of your tethers are distant. All of them. Every interpersonal connection you have leading up to the crash is… faded and remote. It’s like someone had you in a box for a decade and you only came out after the crash.”

“I don’t know what it means, Nicole. It’s not helpful to you.” Rhys reaches out to take one of her hands, squeezing it gently. “Let this go, Nicole. Just— be thankful for what you still have. Let us take the risks. Because whoever or whatever did this to you is still out there, and I’m terrified what will happen to you if you get too close to this.”

“I’m not afraid, Rhys.” But she’s still squeezing his hand like she might if they were at the apex of a roller coaster and teetering on the edge of the drop. “If anything, whoever did this should be afraid of me.” The determination he sees in her is nothing new. It’s what elevated her to where she’s at in the first place. “It is helpful,” she insists. They were in boxes anyway, weren’t they? More and more, she has to wonder if her husband’s theory about them not being themselves actually holds water.

“You know I won’t let this go,” Nicole warns him. “You know I can’t. I’m going to keep digging. If you really want to protect me? You’ll let me in. You’ll help me make informed decisions, instead of flying blind like I have been.” And she’s noted the way he dodged her earlier question. “Who was the other agent, Rhys?”

“I know you’re not afraid,” is Rhys’ non-answer. “Is Pippa?”

"Don't," Nicole warns without any particular bite, but only because it's him. It doesn't matter how well-intentioned the invocation may be, she's never been very forgiving of using her daughter against her, or as an excuse for anything. "I'm not going to stop," she reiterates. "Maybe I'm a bad mother, but you won't stop me."

Her brow knits and Nicole leans in closer, "I have seen some shit, Rhys. Things no one was never meant to see. Things that were never meant to see the light of day. I've survived everything thrown at me. But this? Not knowing? Not having a way forward, to pick up a stitch…" Dark head gives a shake. "That's what's going to be the death of me. Help me, Rhys."

“I am helping you, Nicole.” Rhys says with a tightness in his voice and a furrow of his brows. “Go home and hug your daughter, kiss your husband, and be thankful you have that much after everything you’ve survived. Don’t go down this road, you’ve been down it before and you know where it ends.”

Unable to remain sitting any longer, Rhys pushes back his chair with his legs and abruptly stands. In spite of this, his voice remains quiet. “Be a better mother. You don’t have to fight this battle. Let me help you. Go home.”

“How can you say that to me?” When Nicole speaks again, it’s with a voice strained from the effort to hold back tears. It’s a battle she’s rapidly losing. “You have no idea what it feels like to lose what I’ve lost.” Her chin tips down, gaze sliding away to look somewhere past the table, processing.

Closing her eyes briefly to exhale heavily, she relents. “Fine.” Now she pushes to her feet and moves to retrieve her coat, pulling it on before gathering her purse. “I’ll keep looking for answers elsewhere.” She wants to believe if this shoe were on the other foot, if he were in her dining room asking her to let him be an active participant, she wouldn’t be turning him away.

“This is my battle,” Nicole insists when she stops on her way to the door. “They made it my battle when they took my babies. I could’ve handled it if all they’d taken from me was my ability…” She swallows hard, uneasily. “So either somebody killed them,” her voice breaks when she admits to that possibility, “or they’re out there somewhere. And I have to believe it’s the latter, or I can’t fucking go on living.

Through it all, she keeps the volume of her voice down, for Rhys’ sake. Even though she just wants to scream at him until he understands why she can’t let this go. As much as he’s hurting her right now — and this hurts like hell — she still respects him enough not to air their grievances in front of his partner. “Look after yourself,” she says stiffly, but not without genuine sentiment. “Extend my regrets to Nolan. He seems very nice.”

With one quick swipe of her hand over her face to clear the dampness of her tears, she resumes on the path toward the door. The walk home will give her time to calm herself, hopefully.

Rhys lets her go, and Nolan — as if he’d heard much of the conversation — only moves in to Rhys’s side after she’s left. He puts a hand on Rhys’ shoulder, a silent affirmation of support. “Dinner’s done when you’re ready,” he admits after in a hush. Rhys nods, but he excuses himself from the table, walking into the nearby office through a pair of French doors.

With a deep sigh, Rhys pinches his forefingers and thumb at the bridge of his nose, then goes over to his desk and retrieves a cell phone from a locked drawer. Keying in a number from memory, Rhys goes back to the French doors to the dining room and shuts them, then starts to pace his office.

«Bluthner. I thought you were off today?»

“Yeah, uh…” Rhys looks to the French doors, then cradles one hand around the receiver of his phone and speaks quietly. “Miller just came by. She’s…” he shakes his head and trails off. “We need to talk.”


Fort Jay
Governor’s Island

“Sure, do you want to meet in person?” The man on the other end of the phone asks, swiveling in his chair and eyeing the junior agents packing up for the night on the office floor. Rhys grows quiet on the other end of the phone.

«Probably.» Rhys says softly. «Yes.»

“Meet me at Eileen’s in Red Hook Market in an hour,” he says confidently, then looks away from the bullpen.


“Oh, and Rhys?”


“You didn’t tell her anything, did you?” The man on the phone asks, standing up from his desk. There’s more silence on the other end of the line, followed by a soft noise and a clarification.

«No, Sir.» Rhys lies.



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