The Devil Has A Face



Also Featuring:

aria_icon.gif asi_icon.gif cindy_icon.gif jo_icon.gif monica_icon.gif

Scene Title The Devil Has A Face
Synopsis Nia Dawson takes drastic measures to help one of her granddaughter's friends.
Date June 27, 2021

“We don’t have anything.”

Aria Baumgartner looks crestfallen as she makes this admission, sitting hunched forward on a stool in the kitchen of the Clocktower Building’s penthouse. Her half-finished glass of wine has gone forgotten. “It’s been almost a year now, and we don’t have a god damned thing.”

Across from Aria at the island, Nia Dawson looks on with a heavy heart. “Sometimes, those big secrets? The scary ones that can do the most damage?” She pauses with a frown. “Those’re the ones you want to pick at the most. But Aria, dear, you know they bleed bad when you do.”

Aria exhales a sharp sigh, nodding. She picks up her wine and takes a sip, then looks across the brim at Nia. “I’ve spent months tapping every resource I can think of, every contact we have, and no one knows a thing. It’s like whoever did this was a ghost or—or just doesn’t exist.”

“I doubt it’s that simple,” Nia says with a wry smile. “Ghosts would probably be pretty normal compared to the sorts of things we get on about, right?” That elicits a laugh, and Aria lets go a little in that amusement.

“Yeah,” she admits. “Yeah ghosts would be pretty normal.”

The nearby elevator doors open and Jo Bevilacqua steps out with a flip of one hand through her messy tuft of hair. She carries a briefcase that seems tiny in contrast to her statue. “Yo! Ms. D!” Jo calls out, hefting the briefcase up over her head. “I got what you asked for! Found a place in Bay Ridge that sold old—”

“Thank you, Jo!” Nia says with a flash of a smile. “You can set it by the elevator, I’m headed out shortly anyway.”

Aria looks at Jo, then to Nia with one brow raised. “Getting into trouble?” The telepath asks with a tilt of her head to the side.

Nia’s expression says don’t you dare without needing to say a word. Aria slowly lifts her hands in concession. No mind reading.

“If I were,” Nia says, sliding off of her stool, “I’d tell you…” She circles around the island, comes up to Aria and puts a hand on her shoulder,

“…once I was sure just how much trouble I’m in.” Nia adds with a wink.

Nine Months Earlier

Asi’s Safehouse
Phoenix Heights
NYC Safe Zone

September 30th

7:17 am

A small whirlwind of chaos has taken over Asi's apartment this morning. The kitchen, specifically. Monica, ahem, let herself in with a guest to help stock the apartment kitchen and cook some decent food. Real food. New Orleans food. It's the stuff that comforts Monica the most, although she's certain that is not the case for Asi. But by the smell of things, she's aiming to make it that way.

Monica is on duty for biscuits, which is where the whirring sound of a mixer comes from, ricocheting through the hallway like a jackhammer, considering how early it is. She's left Nia Dawson to handle all the cooking that takes actual talent. She could do it, but her Nana's food is just better.

Her phone is sitting out on the kitchen bar playing some early, New Orleans-born jazz. That's a nicer alarm clock, but not exactly gentle.

Music occasionally floated through the walls from Asi's neighbors, whoever they were. She's in such a state of sleep it barely rouses her.

The jackhammer of the mixer, though—

Maybe even that could be overlooked, if they hadn't come from within the apartment. But it doesn't, and it's confusingly loud noise that reads as danger since the space should belong to her, and her alone. Jolting awake, Asi's brain skips straight over groggy and into alert.

A gun makes its way into one hand. A knife slipped from between the mattress and frame slides into the other. Barefoot, she cautiously makes her way to the doorway, taking advantage of the fact that she's alone in the room to take her time in that approach. Her mind's jumped to all the worst possible scenarios, and all of them feel various stages of dreadfully right.

This might not have been the first time you were taken. This might just be the first time they slipped up.

Whoever it is in her barely-furnished apartment, she's ready for them. With a sharp inhale to steel herself, she snaps around the corner, sees no one standing in the living room, that she can see, and the bathroom door is shut how she left it. She walks the short length of hall until it ends, emerging into view of the open kitchen space.

Asi says nothing as she snaps her gun arm and torso between the two bodies in her kitchen, finger on the trigger as she whips her aim between them—

And hears the music finally.

And sees who it is.

Eyes widening, her finger slides off the trigger and she lowers the gun and knife braced under it, a bewildered expression coming over her. She looks to the older woman first, then snaps her attention back to Monica.

Still wordless— just confused now where paranoia drove her moments prior.

“My granddaughter broke into your home,” comes from the gray-haired Nia Dawson standing in Asi’s kitchen like it was her own. “I’m only here on account of needing to keep her out of trouble and making you a proper breakfast because,” she says with a gesture to the kitchen, “from the look of your pantry you weren’t doing a good job of that yourself.”

There’s sausage links for three sizzling in a cast-iron skillet, wilting collard greens in a light red wine vinaigrette beside them with minced garlic on top, and a half can of black-eyed peas sizzling in the sausage grease. Nia brandishes a spatula at Asi. “How do you take your eggs?”

"Hey, Asi," Monica greets, as if oblivious to Asi's current state, "good morning. Don't shoot my Nana, okay?" This is normal conversation, apparently. She comes over to Asi's side, a hand moving to her back to guide her over to the kitchen bar and stools. A glass is already sitting there and Moni steps away to grab a carton of juice to pour into it. "I B&E because I love," she says as her excuse. "And because your kitchen was just too sad to stand any longer."

She turns to Nia, her smile wider, "My Nana's the best chef in the whole world and she agreed to an exclusive in-house meal. Oh— uh. Nana, Asi. Asi, this is Nia Dawson, all around badass." She knows better than to interrupt the cooking, so she just gestures between the two across the kitchen space.

The expression on Asi's face is unchanging, save for it varies in grades of being overwhelmed by the circumstance she's woken up in. Surely she's not dreaming— but that knowledge makes this no easier to process, and now that her adrenaline is no longer needed, her mind is slowing back to a sluggish crawl.

She lets herself be navigated to the counter without argument, a weapon still in either hand. Her head goes to and Nia first, then to Monica, and with a baleful narrowing of her eyes at nothing at all as she looks to juice being poured. Reluctantly, she sets the gun aside first, and makes certain to soften the sourness of her gaze as she glances back to her new grandmother. "Medium," Asi says quietly. "Please."

Easing back onto the stool behind her, she holds up her knife, waggling the edge of it at Monica with a return of her soured expression. She sighs at first rather than say anything, finally setting aside the knife so she can rub her hand over her face and pull it back through her hair. Words are hard. Specifically, English.

"あたしなんか— いなかった場合あんた何をするつもりか1?" It's a thin argument to make, but she makes it anyway. Reproachfully, she grumbles, "今度電話しろうよ2."

It might be pointless, even rude, to carry on in a language neither of them know, but it's all she's got right now. And the growling whine of her tone speaks for itself. Asi mutters and runs her hand back through her hair, willing cylinders to start firing better. "I'm very lucky," she remarks begrudgingly, because she is, even if she's not awake enough to properly appreciate it yet. "Thank you."

"I am sorry you were robbed the chance for a better first impression, Nana Dawson," Asi goes on to say, slowly looking back to the kitchen with its wonderful smells. It's unlike any American breakfast she's ever seen. "I am usually more together than this."

“Oh it isn’t anything,” Nia says as she grabs a spatula and starts scraping out the eggs, beans and sausage onto a plate, “I actually prefer getting to know someone when they don’t have time to put on their face, so to speak.” She flashes Asi a warm smile, then hands that first plate over to Monica, because she knew how she liked her eggs.

“You get a more honest look at somebody when they don’t have time to prepare,” Nia explains, separating three more links of sausage to throw into the skillet along with already sliced onions and garlic. “Whenever I wanted to catch this one on her worst behavior and get an honest answer as to where she was,” Nia says with a motion of the spatula to Monica, “I’d wait up all night in her room for her to come in through the window or whatever smart idea she had at the time.”

Nia cracks a smile, spooning a heap of black-eyed peas into the skillet with a slab of butter and a dash of salt. “She’d be stammering this and yammering that.” Satisfied with herself, Nia looks over at Monica. “But she’s a fine woman now, knows better how to hide her real mischief from her grandmother so she doesn’t worry herself to death.”

Nia switches her focus over to the gun Asi set down, then back to her. “I get from this that you’re the kind who’s expecting a little trouble from time to time.”

Monica doesn't know exactly what Asi is saying, her Japanese is still rudimentary at best, but chiding crosses the language barrier just fine and she smiles over at her friend. "I'll knock next time, promise," she says, which isn't at all like an apology, "but it will ruin the surprise, just sayin'." She looks over as her Nana starts to lean toward embarrassing stories from Monica's youth, she doesn't seem to mind. In fact, her smile grows warmer as she listens. "See, this is my punishment, Asi. She's going to tell you about the time she scared the crap out of me when I was halfway through my bedroom window and I fell out and landed in her garden. I'm surprised I ever saw the sun again after that."

She smirks when Nia points out the weapons, coming over to perch on the stool next to Asi as if in solidarity. "She leads an interesting life, Nana." Which is exactly the kind of thing Monica always said about investigating crime in New Orleans or getting named a fugitive by the US Government.

It's impossible for Asi not to feel at least a little embarrassed when Nia politely addresses the fact she's brought a gun to the kitchen. She bends down while sitting— like she might have an itch— and deposits the knife that she'd brought with her quietly down to the floor where hopefully it won't draw further attention.

"I've had an issue recently with unexpected break-ins… leading to kidnapping." As Asi comes upright again, her gaze is on nothing in particular. The dissociation of it allows her to get through what she says next relatively smoothly. "I was a technopath until then. Whoever it was that took me also took my ability."

Swallowing away the bitter taste of that, her gaze slides to Monica and she allows a small smile to come to her. Monica told on herself technically with her anecdote just then, but she won't call her on it. She'll save that teasing for later. Quieter than before, Asi supposes, "So yes, things have been extra interesting lately."

Nia raises one brow, looking from Asi to Monica and back again. She keeps an eye on the skillet, but turns to face Asi at least partly. The smell of frying sausage, butter, and eggs fills the apartment now. “You lost your ability?” Scratching at her cheek, Nia’s brows knit together and a thoughtful look crosses her face. “Now, I’m not as up on these sorts of things as Monica is, but I have been around the block enough to know that’s happened to some folks before. But I only know two instances, and that’s from knowing my history.”

Nia gives the contents of the pan a little flip with a spatula, then looks back to Asi. “And you don’t look like you had the flu recently, so I’m gonna rule out that nasty H5N10 deal. The only other instance I’ve ever heard of was this fella named Tyler, who had red lightning that could move abilities around like a game of musical chairs. I met a few people who crossed paths with him in my time with the Deveaux Society. Don’t much know what he’s up to these days, or if he’s even alive anymore.”

Frowning, Nia scrambles the pan again. “But I feel like you’d know if you got hit by a carnation lightning bolt. So that makes this all a little troubling.” Lifting the pan off the stove, Nia brings it over to a plate she’d set out, scooping the scramble out. She returns the pan to the stove, then hands the plate out to Asi. “Better thinkin’ on a full stomach, sweetheart.”

It's pretty clear that Monica doesn't really know how to handle a friend with trauma. She only knows her own way, which is more of the… conceal, don't feel variety than actually… handling anything. But she means well. "I might kidnap you at some point, too," she says, trying her best, really, "but more for a… going to get ice cream style kidnapping than your traditional grab and go."

Her eyebrows lift when Nia starts to go over the options of what could have happened. Monica doesn't add the one she's skipping over, the husband erases memory and suppresses ability one. Like Grandmother, Like Granddaughter, as far as trauma goes. She also doesn't clear up the matter of Tyler Case with the red lightning, because— well, that's complicated. And Monica can't help a small, familiar worry creeping into her mind, that that particular gift might show up again, and that it might be his son who ends up with it. She pushes away her concern over Jonah and Peyton, instead refocusing on the present moment.

"Unfortunately," she says, "there are a lot of options for how someone might remove abilities. Personally, I think finding who did it would be better than finding what method they used. Get the answers from the horse's mouth." How she might go about extracting those answers, she also is silent on.

Asi levels some well-deserved side-eye at Monica when she threatens to kidnap her, no matter how light-hearted the elbowing. It's not without its slight tug at the corner of her mouth, the ghost of something that wants to be a smile. Her eyes show it more.

The plate from Nia is accepted gratefully with both hands out of a respect she shows for few, eyes on the prepared meal with an appreciation for it. "Words of wisdom," she says in thanks.

She's in the middle of turning the sausage links into more bite-sized chunks with the side of her fork when she pauses to hum agreement to Monica. "That is the million dollar question, isn't it. One we must find the answer to. If not for me, if not for the others, then so this does not befall anyone else."

With the beginnings of a frown, Asi sighs and drowns her doubts in breakfast. It's made easy since it's well-prepared.

“I take it the authorities are already all over this?” Nia says as she walks back to the stove, picking up a second cutting board to slide fresh onions into the skillet along with a large hunk of butter, making Monica’s next. “The Society will do whatever we can to help you out here, sweetheart, but our resources only stretch so far from the sound of things.”

Listening to the sizzling pan, Nia scrapes the onions around. “This is precisely the sort of thing SESA was designed to help with, and I can only hope they’re taking it seriously.” She tosses the onions, then adds a dash of salt and chili powder to them. “Now, you’re from Japan if I remember Monica telling me that story correctly. Have you reached out to anyone there to see if they can help? Your own country might not take too kindly to what happened, I’d wager.”

“I mean…” Nia says with a distant look in her eyes, doubt creeping in.

“I hope.

Nine Months Later…

The Clocktower Building
Red Hook
NYC Safe Zone

8:47 pm

“You need any help with that, ma’am?”

Jo Bevilacqua smiles enticingly at Nia from across the penthouse, eyes dipping down to the briefcase by the elevator, then back up. Nia smiles in a way that screams aren’t you sweet?

“No, dear,” Nia says, bending down to pick up the briefcase, “I’ll be fine. Only going a couple floors. I think these old bones will manage.”

Jo nods and scuffs a hand at the back of her head. “Well, if you need anything—you know where to find me!”

Nia flashes Jo a gentle smile, then steps into the elevator as the doors open. “That I do!” She says over her shoulder with a chipper tone of voice. “That I do.

As the elevator doors slowly close, Nia looks at the floor listing. Rather than go down one floor to her apartment, she presses the button for floor 3. Jo didn’t realize how honest Nia was being when she said it was only a few floors. The elevator glides into action, and Nia has but a few moments to wait before it stops again and opens into the third-floor residential level.

Stepping out of the elevator, Nia walks past a row of doors at her right, windows out to the night-time cityscape beyond at her left. She stops at the door to room 312 and brings her hand up as if to knock, then hesitates. Instead, Nia’s hand moves down to the doorknob. Locked. Her brows furrow and she presses two fingers down onto the knob hard. There’s a click inside the door as something moves, a few more clacks and then the door simply opens.

Nia slips inside, briefcase tucked to her side. She closes the door behind herself, eyes adjusting to the dim lighting of the studio apartment beyond. The glow of a television screen is the only source of light in the apartment, and Nia creeps down the hallway on soft-soled shoes in the dark toward that light source.

The decor on the walls looks rather stock-standard, somewhere between a pre-war hotel room and an actual lived-in space. In the foyer, Nia finds the source of the light: a television that is playing reruns of old pre-war television shows streamed off of the internet. A woman with auburn hair threaded with wisps of gray stares with a vacant expression sits in front of the television in a wheelchair, a flannel blanket draped over her lap.

Cindy Morrison.

Nia dawson raises one hand to her chest, as if to still her rabbit-beating heart, then tears her eyes away from the catatonic woman and brings her briefcase to the coffee table. Setting it down, Nia takes a seat on the nearby couch and opens the briefcase, revealing a single, VHS cassette sitting on top of a few miscellaneous pieces of paperwork. Nia picks the tape out of the briefcase, then rises from the sofa and walks to Cindy’s side.

Cindy does not react, does not blink, just stares at the television in vacant silence. Tears well up in Nia’s eyes as she kneels beside Cindy with a soft pop of her knees, then rests a hand on the catatonic younger woman’s arm.

“Hon,” Nia whispers. “I don’t know if you’re still in there. I don’t know… what hurt you’ve endured after all this time. But I need your help again.” Nia searches Cindy’s eyes. “I don’t—I don’t remember, not truly, what we all did to you. Asked you to do. But I saw how we did it.”

Nia lays the cassette tape in Cindy’s lap.

“Something evil is happening,” Nia says in a hushed voice, “and these children… our children… they don’t deserve to live like this. To have to make the same choices we did. To suffer like we did.” Sliding the VHS cassette into Cindy’s limp hand, Nia swallows back tears.

“Your daughter needs you.” Nia urges, taking Cindy’s hand in hers and squeezing it around the VHS cassette. “She needs to know who—”

Nia jerks, her back going rigid, eyes rolled back in her head. Cindy has turned her eyes down to the older woman, still vacant, still unseeing. But it isn’t her that needs to see anything, it’s Nia. The contact only lasts a moment, the reverie a moment more than that, but when Nia falls gasping away from Cindy’s wheelchair the VHS tape falls in tandem from her lap with a clatter.

Hand over her heart, Nia stares at Cindy and then reaches up to gently rub a hand around her throat as if she were short of breath. Her dark eyes track from side to side, reeling from what she had just been shown.

“Devil has a face,” Nia says in a whisper. “The Devil has a face.” She sits forward, grabbing the VHS cassette before pushing up to her feet. She swallows loudly, pushing back more tears and wiping those she cant from her eyes with the heels of her palms.

“I’m sorry,” she says to Cindy, hurriedly packing up her briefcase again. “I’m sorry for everything.

Moving to the door, Nia fishes her cell phone out of her jacket with a shaky hand. She stops just before leaving, haltingly thumbing in numbers for a cell phone. As it starts to ring, she brings it up to her ear.

“Is this Asi?” Nia says with a shaky voice into the receiver. “I have something for you.

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