The Painful Truth


barbara_icon.gif claudia_icon.gif niki_icon.gif richard3_icon.gif

Scene Title The Painful Truth
Synopsis A family dinner turns painfully revelatory.
Date June 20, 2019

Safe Zone

The table is set in Niki Zimmerman’s modest house in the Safe Zone. She could have chosen somewhere at least slightly more opulent to live in, but what kind of leader would she be if she didn’t live like the people she’s trying to represent? She’s not a politician after all. Although, with a council seat, perhaps that could be debated.

Candles burn in the middle of the table, even as the electric lights shine overhead - both a decoration and a precaution. The flickering light gleams off the mismatched plates set out across a table cloth in a rich cardinal red.

“The pot roast should be ready in about ten minutes,” the blonde informs her mother and her twin sister. “I’m really glad you came out tonight. I… I felt it was time we got together. And as lovely as Mom’s place is, I wanted to play hostess for a change.”

The sofa has been cleared of old magazines. A faded quilt is draped over the upholstery, probably to hide stains or damage. Most of Niki’s things are salvaged.

“Can I get you something to drink?”

Barbara is quiet as she looks down at the table in front of her, arms crossed. "Quiet" has been the description of both her and her life recently, even despite the… numerous amounts of upheaval that have been happening all around her over the course of the last few months. When her sister inquires if she would like some water, she smiles and shakes her head, still silent.

She sinks a bit into her chair, a motion that is definitely not common for her and indicative of the level of tiredness she feels at the moment. But still, she looks up at the ceiling and smiles. "I don't get to come by here often," she notes. "So I think this is a great change of pace."

Claudia is lost in thought tonight. But it feels like it's been that way for a long time with her. Ever since the war ended, it's like she's a rudderless ship lost in a storm. Standing by one of the windows in the living room, she keeps one arm wrapped around herself and the other idly threading a lock of hair around one finger for want of a drink to cradle. Niki’s question hits her belatedly, and she turns her focus to the dining room with a brief flash of worry in her eyes.

“If you have bourbon I'll take a glass, neat,” Claudia says as she makes her way from the window into the dining room, “otherwise a glass of wine would be wonderful.” There is something eternally matriarchal about Claudia, from the way she carries herself to the way that she hasn't aged a day in the last eight years. Her hair is still blonde, and not for access to hair dye, as evidenced by a few faint wisps of gray at her temples and nothing more. She barely looks older than her mid fifties, but according to her last birthday celebration she's seventy-five.

“This is… really lovely. It reminds me of this small place I rented in SoHo back in the mid 60s…” Claudia says with an earnest smile, pulling out a chair to join her daughters at the table.

Some of Niki’s self-consciousness about the state of her home melts away with Claudia’s comment. Barbara’s seen how she lives, so Niki is less concerned about her sister’s opinion. Or, rather, she already knows what that opinion is.

“You sure, Babs?” The blonde sister moves into the kitchen to fetch a bottle from a cabinet over her refrigerator. Splashing a generous amount of bourbon into two glasses, she returns to the dining space and sets one in front of her mother, keeping the other for herself. Someone’s off the wagon.

Dropping back down into her seat at the table after a glance at the time, Niki sighs quietly and offers a smile to the other women in turn. There’s a distracted sort of quality to it, however. Like something’s going on behind her eyes. “You okay, Mom?”

There's a small laugh from Barbara as she looks back up at her sister and nods, leaning back into her chair. "I keep a well stocked cabinet back in Cresting Wave, so I think maybe tonight I'll take a night off." Eyes flicker to her mother, offering her a smile as well. "Isn't it? It feels nice that all of us are finally in nicer housing." A not so subtle reminder of where she used to live, before the war, but not one meant to inspire guilt. Maybe something closer to accomplishment, in this case.

As Niki keeps a glass for herself, Barbara's eyes follow for a moment, before looking back to Claudia at Niki's question. "If there is, you know you can tell us, right?" She is all smiles, of course, even if this is perhaps a matter where she should look a bit more serious.

“There’s a lot going on right now,” Claudia says after a long moment of thought, cradling her drink in one hand but not committing to starting to drink yet. “It’s…” she looks down into the drink, then closes her eyes and shakes her head. “It’s just work. The country is held together with sutures and glue and it feels like every time I turn around someone is sticking their fingers in the wounds and trying to pry them open again. I…” Exhaling a heavy sigh, Claudia doesn’t wait any longer to take a sip of her drink. “I’m just tired.”

Looking up from her glass, Claudia looks at Niki and Barbara. “I’d much rather hear about how you’re both doing. Are you still seeing that Mr. Tucker fellow?” She asks of Niki, one brow raised. “And you,” she looks at Barbara, “how’re you feeling after the burnout you experienced?”

Niki’s expression is sympathetic as she listens to her mother wax poetic about the state of the country. She’s not wrong about any of it. The evocative imagery she paints is perfectly succinct in its explanation. She nods her head once. They’re all at least a little tired.

The blonde grimaces at the mention of that fellow she ought to still be seeing. “Ah, no. Tuck… He left. Some time ago.” Niki stares into her drink, feeling no small amount of revulsion reflected back at her through the amber liquid.

She drinks anyway.

“But I’m okay,” Niki insists with a shake of her head to ward off any concern. “It wasn’t like that between us anyway.” Whatever it was like, however, it’s sorely missed in her life.

Chuckling, Barbra shakes her head at her sister's comment about it not being like that. "I believe," she notes with a smile that belies the implication of her following words, "that we've found our teenage years again," she notes with a sip of her water. She lets that sentiment linger for a moment, eyes sliding over to Claudia for a moment before letting out a curt sigh.

"Tired," she echoes. "Even still. I haven't tried to make use of my ability since." She rolls her shoulders a little uncomfortably as she sits up in her seat. "I- don't want to strain it again." Like a muscle. "It's been a bit of a relief, to be honest. Not having everyone knocking on my door asking me to peer into this or that, or to try and find out the secrets they think things are hiding."

Shoulders rise in a shrug. "Not that I have ever minded, though people have a bad habit of not listening to what I have to say in the aftermath." There's a bit of smugness in those words, Barbara exaggeratedly rolling her eyes in a manner that echoes her teenage years comment.

“Sometimes I feel like we could all benefit from your hindsight, Barbara.” Claudia’s voice still has that weight to it. Perhaps more so now that she's had time to consider where her daughters are at in their lives. “Sometimes I feel like the whole world could.”

Taking a sip of her drink, Claudia looks across the table to Niki, brows furrowed. “Your talents are being wasted in that town council,” is the most opinionated thing Claudia’s said to Niki in their entire relationship. “You were a Company Agent for a time,” or at least Jessica was, but Claudia fails to distinguish between the two. They're both her daughter. Just different facets. “You could join SESA, or I could pull a few strings at the NYPD. Your ability is a less expensive version of that non lethal microwave weapon they spent a quarter million dollars on. You could do something… tangible.”

Even as that word slips out of Claudia’s mouth she's regretting it. Claudia has never been coy about believing her daughters — the ones she hasn't disowned — were destined for great things. Nor has she been coy about leveraging the influence and power she's attained in the new world order to find them those placements. Some have been more receptive to a hand up than others. Go figure it's Niki that's the stubborn one.

“It's not… that I don't think you're doing good things for the city,” Claudia says with a quick look to Barbara for help, then back to Niki, “it's just— you've accomplished so much in your life. You could be someone the world looks up to.”

Niki’s shoulders sag. Her mother’s words, meant to bolster, have the opposite of the intended effect. “My ability is gone, Mother.” She sighs quietly, shaking her head. “I’m not qualified for SCOUT like this.” A rueful smile settles onto her lips and she looks to her sister and mother in turn beneath a veil of lashes, almost apologetic for her momentary lack of faith in herself.

“I get what you’re saying,” Claudia’s daughter is quick to assure. “I’m not offended. I get… I get what you want for me.” What she wants from her. “I’m doing a lot of good with the Hands of Mary right now.” That strengthens her smile. “It gives me a sense of purpose. I don’t need a spotlight.” Maybe she has that in common with her estranged sister. She’s content to do things behind the scenes.

All the same, Niki seems to relent. “I’ll think about it, though. I really could use something better to do than salvage. With the reconstruction efforts, it’s not the business it used to be.

A coughing fit erupts next to Niki as Barbara almost chokes on her water. "Niki!" she hisses at the mention of her sister lacking her ability. This was something they had been keeping between themselves, after all. Though it had to come out at some point, and certainly should to their mother, this isn't the scenario Barbara had imagined it happening.

Responses on the matter of hindsight are tabled for the moment, hand raising to cover her mouth as she clears her throat and looks up to her sister. "Regardless," comes out a bit strained as she sets her glass back on the table. "Mother makes an excellent point, though." She motions to Niki with one hand, glancing back at her mother.

"With or without, your experiences present an edge, an asset that most people would fight for if you were only willing to advertise it." Her goal is clear: Temper her mother's reaction to Niki's news by barely acknowledging it. "I know we're both weary, but… that's how we make a difference. You know, when we're not helping Richard out of whatever mess he's gotten himself into," she adds with a knowing smile.

All Claudia hears is the static rush of blood in her ears. She'd been staring somewhere between Niki and Barbara for too long to be a natural lull in the conversation. As her eyes square on Niki, there is an unspoken horror in them. “What,” she breathlessly exhales, “are you talking about? What do you mean your ability is gone, you can't just— you can't just forget to put it in your pocket!”

Setting down her glass, Claudia looks accusingly to Barbara. “You knew about this and you didn't tell me? When did this happen? How?” Claudia's nearly up and out of her chair, back tense and one hand on the table, ready to launch herself to her feet if she doesn't like the answers that come. “Were you taken? Did the Institute do something to you!?”

Right. This is why they were keeping that bit of information to themselves.

Suddenly, Niki feels like a child again, about to get screamed at by her adoptive father. About to bear what comes after the screaming starts. There’s a look flashed to Barbara that borders on panicked and her breathing picks up the pace. Two short, sharp inhales. Then, one long exhale, eyes closed. Calm.

“I was at Sunspot.” That much she hasn’t kept secret. “I didn’t burn out my ability. It just… vanished. Like I’d never had it.” Niki reaches across the table to touch her mother’s arm. “See? My hands are cold.” Something she never had trouble with after her ability was scrambled all those years ago. “I don’t know what happened. All I know is that the sky opened up and it’s like it swallowed it. I was hoping it would come back, but…”

But that’s partially a lie. In truth, while Niki’s sense of identity is shaken by the loss of her ability, she isn’t sure she wants that ability back. She almost microwaved Peter’s face more than once during those times in Vegas.

“Maybe this is just how it’s meant to be.”

Her thoughts are interrupted by a knock at the door. “Oh, fuck.

The knock on the door makes Barbara’s lips thin. Poor timing to say the least, and Barbara glances over at the door with a frown. “I’m sorry, mom,” Barbara offers to Claudia, and for a moment it seems like she’s going to acquiesce to her mother’s concern-meets-scolding.

But,” she continues without missing a beat, “I know you have resources and means but…” Looking over at Niki, she lets out a soft sigh. “With everything that’s happened to the both of us, we just…” Shoulders roll with uncertainty. “Maybe it’s kind of a relief.” That’s more her belief on the matter, but there it is.

“And maybe we’re still a little too used to striking out on our own,” is said with a small smile. “Old habits and all of that.”

Maybe the knock was just for the sake of politeness, as the door opens just a few heartbeats thereafter. It apparently wasn't locked.

Richard Ray's always had the worst timing.

"Good evening, beautiful, and— ah, Barbara. Claudia. Three of my favorite Zimmermans," he flashes his most winning smile as he steps inside, dressed in an immaculate black suit and red tie, "A stroke of luck, actually. It's good to…" Pause, "I sense a certain tension in the room."

Claudia appears to be perched like a vulture getting ready to swoop on a corpse, after all.

The look that comes from Claudia across the table to Richard is nothing short of withering. It is then spread out across Niki and Barbara all the same, then fixed back on Richard with brows furrowed and lips downturned into a frown. “I take it you were invited,” is the most bitter Richard has ever heard Claudia’s tone. The timing of his arrival amidst all of this conversation couldn’t possibly have been worse.

Sucking in a sharp breath through her nose, Claudia takes up her glass and downs whatever was left it in and settles back down in her seat. For a moment there is an awkward, tense silence that hangs over the dining room, and then Claudia just motions to an empty seat beside Niki with a nudge of her chin while she reaches across the table to move her glass beside Niki.

“I’ll take another bourbon,” Claudia says flatly, her attention never leaving Richard.

“By me,” Niki admits to the subject of Richard having been invited. She’ll take blame where it’s due and ensure none of it is cast on her twin. She takes the glass pushed in front of her as well as her own and nods her head. “Yes, Mother.” Sufficiently cowed.

If she’d known things were going to go like this, she wouldn’t have extended the invite to Richard. At least he understands the notion of complicated family dynamics.

Moving back to her kitchen, Niki first drains her own glass in two gulps before taking the bottle of bourbon up to refill both glasses. She sets Claudia’s refreshed glass down in front of her and cradles her own in her hand, a mirror of her mother’s own previous posture.

“Mother here was just telling me that I’m not aiming high enough,” Niki explains for Richard’s benefit as she begins to round the table to retake her spot. “I don’t have the heart to disagree with her.”

Barbara coughs as Claudia comments on Richard's arrival, looking over towards Niki when she speaks up. Taking a long sip of her water, she sighs. "Sorry," she offers out loud - she knew about Richard coming. She didn't realise it would happen at such an inopportune time - and now she has a rather bad feeling in her stomach.

"She's not wrong," Barbara adds to Niki's admittance. "I stand by the NYPD." With that, she turns to look towards Richard and offers him a smile. "Hello Richard. You have terrible timing, as usual." She tilts her head towards him, before turning back to the table and slinking down a bit in a small attempt to relax. "You should start texting before you walk in, at this rate."

“I can’t say that she’s entirely wrong, you could aim for the stars if you wanted,” Richard observes warmly as he walks along inside, making sure the door’s closed securely behind him, “…and I always have bad timing, it’s true. I suppose I could’ve listened at the door or something and waited for an opportune moment, but then everyone would think I was spying.”

And he’d never spy. Not him!

The empty seat motioned to is approached, and he shakes his head, “Sorry for the timing, even so— and don’t look at me like that, Claudia, I needed to talk to you all and I figured you’d prefer it to be a off the record sort of thing.”

Easing into the chair, he leans back, “But, don’t let me interrupt whatever you were talking about.”

Yes, because he hasn’t done that already.

Claudia’s flat expression agrees with the sentiment.

Taking the drink now refilled, Claudia settles back into her chair and looks down into the glass. For a moment there’s a heavy silence that hangs in the air at the table, then as she looks back up to Richard it’s as if Barbara and Niki have fallen away to either side of her in a long, dark hallway. Tunnel vision, like shark. “It was dinner. The first dinner I’ve been able to schedule with my daughters in six months.”

“Because Barbara was in the hospital,” Claudia says with a pinch of her brows, “because Niki was in New Mexico,” and the pinch tightens. “So we’ll have another dinner,” she says with a spread of her hands, “another time, where it can… where it isn’t business.” Because that’s what this has become to her. Business.

“So go on, Richard,” Claudia says with a motion of her drink in his direction, “with whatever it is you have to say. Which I figure is important. If ill-timed. I know you wouldn’t make an entrance like this otherwise.”

Niki hangs her head in shame at her mother’s backhanded admonishment. This was the first dinner they’d managed to schedule all year. And she went and turned it into something other than a family affair. It wasn’t supposed to go this way. In her mind, it was supposed to be pleasant, like most of her meetings and exchanges of ideas with Richard.

She should have known her mother would have her own agenda. Sometimes she forgets that this is how mothers seem to do things. It’s different with small children - parents govern their lives and it’s just expected. It’s trickier with adult children. Niki gets lost in that thought for a moment, lamenting the problem she’ll never have.

A deep breath banishes the impending melancholy and she lifts her head again, turning her attention to Richard and whatever is on his agenda for the evening.

"I imagine Richard's visit will be brief?" Barbara isn't turning on her sister, not really - it's just clear that the sudden tension in the room is making her a little uncomfortable. She offers him a smile before looking back to Claudia. "There's plenty of time yet left today."

Assuming the mood isn't completely wrecked.

Rising up from her seat, Barbara makes her way over to Niki, a reassuring hand placed on her shoulder before she reaches down to borrow her glass for a sip. "So, off the record means trouble with you, Richard. What do you have yourself into this time?" Asked with a playful smirk - just teasing, maybe.

“It isn’t,” says Richard more quietly, his hands lifting slightly with palms and fingers forward and empty, “Business, I mean. I’m not here with any agenda, Claudia, I just… yeah, it’s okay, Babs. I’ll only be here briefly.”

The smile has faded, shoulders sinking a bit; the usual cocky confidence fading a bit at the cool welcome by Claudia and Barbara’s observation of her preference. “It regards you and your family— you here, and Tracy. You know I’ve been investigating the mass memory redaction during the eighties… I’m not the only one. Someone recovered some of Caspar’s pennies and found a way to extract memories without him. Fortunately I get reports of the results from someone involved, because one of them was very personal for you all. You’ve all had some very major memories redacted.”

Somehow, Claudia doesn’t believe this will be a short conversation. No matter what assurances Richard might give to the contrary. The strain in her face is already great when Caspar Abraham’s name is invoked, and she takes a swig of her drink to help numb that sense of creeping anxiety she can’t explain. Closing her eyes, she shakes her head and briefly looks at Barbara and Niki, swallowing down the feelings that come with mention of Tracy’s name.

“Caspar…” Claudia says. He’s an easier target of conversation. “…is one of the least-understood facets of the Company.” It’s an underlined statement coming from someone with as much information as Claudia has. “We know of him. Alice found some information when we unearthed the ruins of the Bronx facility last year, I know Mr. Ryans has been nosing about Caspar as well. Wolfhound. It’s all understandable, what with how the Institute had him on their employ.”

But Claudia recognizes that she’s distracting herself with the minutiae. Sweeping a hand over her mouth, Claudia takes in a deep breath and looks expectantly to Richard. He wouldn’t have mentioned the memory theft if he didn’t know what was stolen.

There’s a look flashed in Barbara’s direction as she takes Niki’s glass. The blonde rises from her seat and walks back to the kitchen to pour a fresh glass. It keeps her busy while Richard lays out what he wants to talk about. And she’s going to want the bourbon, given what he’s said and her mother’s reaction.

The tension in the air is enough to make Niki want to retreat to the cozy confines of her small bedroom and just wait for she expects will be inevitable shouting. But she isn’t a little girl hiding from conflict anymore. She stands at the end of the table with her drink in her hand and a scowl on her face at the mention of her estranged sister. “Go on, then.”

There's a scowl of Barbara's own when Niki relinquishes her glass in favour of another. "You didn't need to…" With a bit of a quiet sigh, she trails off. Pinching her brow in a motion most similar to their mother, she takes a deep breath and counts a few seconds silently to herself.

The mention of Tracy only deepens that scowl. Tracy, Casper, the Company, redaction… she finds herself shifting closer to her mother, eyes leveled at Richard. "You're doing it again, ' she offers is a slightly monotone voice and drawn out gait. "That thing where you take forever to get to the point." Shaking her head, she crosses her arms. "Is this all about dredging up the past then…?"

“I know, I know,” Richard admits, a hand held up palm forward to stall Barbara’s observations, “Background’s important here, though. We discovered that a large portion of the eighties was redacted entirely. Entire lives were re-written. Adam’s freedom as a Company operative was erased, the entire incident with the Entity was erased from everywhere— there were three of the Magi, Caspar was just one, and they were able to completely erase all evidence and re-write those years entirely for anyone who was part of the Company or privy to the information.”

A breath’s drawn in, “They also erased key portions of peoples’ lives in the process. For some reason, Nia Dawson’s marriage to Charles Deveaux, for example. And yours— “

His gaze locks on Claudia’s own, and he finishes, “— to Adam Monroe.”

Claudia drops her glass and it hits the table with a hard thunk, rolls to the edge and then hits the floor and still it doesn’t break. The thick glass eventually rolls to a stop, the remainder of her drink spilled about her feet. Claudia has two unrealities laid out before her, two massive pieces of incongruent information that settle on her shoulders like the yoke on an oxen and threaten to break her back. Nia Dawson being married to Charles Deveaux is a logistical nightmare that burns at the back of her mind with a sense of unraveling, the scope of which is too huge for her to fully grasp the enormity of. But then there’s Adam.

Then there’s that evil spirit from the Company’s past.

Bullshit,” is the first thing to come out of Claudia’s mouth after a long enough pause to show her shock. “I was married to Jonas Zimmerman. We have a son. I— volunteered to be invitro fertilized using— using Adam’s cells as part of Project Icarus. I have daughters because of those experiments. But I— ” Claudia’s voice cracks, “I am— I would never marry that monster!

Niki is frozen in place, her own glass nearly slipping out of her hands at Richard’s assertion. She stares for a long moment, also trying to process what that means, really. It has farther reaching consequences for her mother. Consequences that also reach farther than her mother. To learn Adam Monroe is her biological father was a horrifying revelation in itself. To learn that he may have been more than that…

“That’s not possible,” Niki asserts, knuckles going white around the lowball in her hand before she brings it up for a large swallow of bourbon. The burn helps bring herself back to her senses a little more. “You don’t— You can’t— No one can just revise someone’s history like that.”

She wants so badly to believe that.

Barbara, on the other hand, snorts out loud at her mother and sister's reactions. It's not to say she isn't surprised, her glass shakes in her hand slightly for the moment after, but… "Don't pretend something so outrageous isn't possible," she remarks quietly.

Between the Revelation that Richard saved her mother - and herself - via time travel, or her knowledge of the Company and the Institute, or any other number of things it doesn't strike her as impossible

Taking a sip of her glass, she lowers a baleful gaze at Richard. "That doesn't make this sound any more idiotic, but…" Another sip, this one longer. "Let's not pretend."

Setting the glass down on the table, she stares at Richard. "So how did you come across this information?"

The only person in the room that knows Richard well enough to notice the flicker of sheer relief at Claudia’s reaction is Niki, a breath he was holding whispering past his lips. Eyes close for a moment, whether in silent thanks or waiting for the emotional hurricane to pass, and then open once more as he straightens in the seat.

“Maybe he wasn’t always a monster,” he says quietly. Maybe he still isn’t goes unspoken.

“They can. They did. The Magi had— you have no idea the scale of what they did, Nik,” he admits with a grimace, lips drawn taut in a thin line, “They deconstructed an entire decade. Maybe more. Nobody was untouched. Just one man, and he’s disappeared, leaving us to dig up the fragments and piece them together.”

He looks to Barbara, “Caspar— he didn’t destroy memories, not like the Haitian. He took them, and he stored them in things. Pennies, usually. Some people manage to recover some, and we extracted the memories. They showed one of them to me.”

Back to Claudia, “You and he, a New York apartment. It was winter. Niki woke up with a nightmare, because of some movie she and Tracy watched together. You were talking about going to a tropical beach together. He…” Shaking his head, he cuts himself off.

“I have more evidence. A videotape. Arthur threatening Adam to never let him see his children again, referring to the triplets. It seemed like a pretty damn effective threat, too. Claudia, I know this is hard to accept— “

That was Jonas,” Claudia denies the possibility of anything. “I— I remember that night. I was with— ” Suddenly, the doubt sneaks in. Her eyes go wide in consideration of what they'd done to Aria to establish their firm grasp on events. She remembers what she told Richard about Charles covering up the Looking Glass. She wonders now, too late to make a difference, if this were all somehow connected?

Sucking in a sharp breath, Claudia brings a hand up to her mouth as her eyes well up with tears. “No,” is all she can say. “No, no. No, no, no. I— I married Jonas. We— Niklaus was born in ‘69!” There's a tremor in her voice there, and she shakes her head and slams one hand on the table. “This is a trick. This is Adam. He— manipulates people. He twists the truth. He's a snake! He's trying to rattle us, rattle me, he— this is impossible. Caspar Abraham is dead. He's the only person who could verify if what's encoded on the penny is legitimate or not. We— this could just be a Trojan horse.”

The denial Claudia experiences is the only self-defense she can mount against the existential horror of the truth. That she life she thought she knew was a lie, that everything was a lie. That the world was a lie. “We have the Archives. There's nothing about this. Abraham, Baumann, and Pines retired. There was no— this— why!?” Claudia suddenly demands. “Why would anyone do this? Why go through all that effort!?”

Niki takes a moment to consider her sister's words. She looks frankly defeated after deciding that Barbara's right, it is possible that someone rewrote their entire lives. Her gaze flits to her mother. Why is exactly her own question.

"You're saying… No. I remember Hal. I remember…" Jessica. "If it's true, there has to be some kind of paper trail. Nobody can just make every scrap of evidence about a person's existence disappear. Not even the Company." Again, Niki looks to her mother, moving across the dining room so she can rest her free hand on her shoulder. She looks for confirmation.

Maybe Barbara's unique perspective gives her a different viewpoint - something which, like the rest of the conversation, roots back to Richard Ray's actions at one point in time. She is quiet as she listens to what sounds like the beginning of a breakdown from her mother, and slowly she makes her way over to stand behind her and place a hand hesitantly on her shoulder.

"Richard…" She lets out a sigh. She's not unphased by all of this, but she's trying her best to not let it slip through - seeing the defeat on Niki's face and hearing the near panic in Claudia's face is all she needs to know she needs to be the strong one here. "Are you sure about this? Adam, I mean…" Swallowing, she looks over to Claudia, and then back to Richard. "We know he was a donor, possibly unwillingly. Could that be why he had the reaction he did? And pennies… pennies are the most worthless of coins. Do you trust them?" It may be a humourous choice of words, but her tone is anything but.

“They could, Nik. And they did, at a scale that fucking horrifies me. Caspar removed memories, Balthazar removed material evidence, and Melchior… Melchior…” Richard trails off in his explanation, the sympathy on his expression suddenly freezing like ice as behind dark lenses his gaze sweeps like an arrow to focus upon Claudia Zimmerman. His breath even catches for a moment, exhaled as an abortive start to a sentence. “You…”

One hand flattens to the table as he slowly rises to his feet, leaned forward closer to the woman, “You knew who they were. You knew where they were. You knew I was scouring the fucking planet for Caspar, and you knew all along…”

Slowly, the tone of his voice is getting louder, as all his good-will and empathy for a woman wronged so badly goes out the window with a slip of a few words. “You knew I was trying to piece this shit together— I have authorization to access the Archive from Charles himself and you hid that from me too? People are dying, Claudia, and more are gonna die every day— Monroe is turning himself into a goddamned world power out there, we had reality overlays spreading over the globe, the Awonawilona is trying to break into our world and do whatever the fuck it is they want to do but we know it isn’t good, and the Deveaux Witches are playing fucking games with me?!”

Yeah, he’s upset. To say the least.

“Because I don’t fucking trust you!” Claudia shouts louder than she expected, it’s the slam of both of her hands on the top of the table that shook her out of ranting further. Hands shaking, she sucks in a breath through her nose and slowly eases back toward her chair. “You— talk of Charles Deveaux like you know him. Maybe you met him on a couple of occasions, when he was older. The Deveaux Society didn’t start out as some giant fucking philanthropic gesture to the world, it was his trust fund for his daughter Simone. She was the one with the high-minded ideals. She’s the Deveaux whose name is on our paperwork.”

Claudia’s face is flush red with color, both from the wine, from embarrassment, and from anger. She looks decidedly like Niki right now. Even the way her eyes get glassy when she gets mad. “I kept you from Caspar Abraham because— do you know who he chose to work for in his final years? You!” She throws a hand in Richard’s direction. “I knew he was alive, but I didn’t know he was living in a trailer in fucking Arkansas until Wolfhound found him. I knew who Balthazar was, I knew he retired. No one, and I mean no one knew he was working for Georgia Mayes up until he was arrested with a bomb in his brain. And Melchior— that poor man just wants to be left alone!

Throwing her arms wide, Claudia looks around. “This isn’t a game, Richard! This is me, hedging my bets against your inability to stop digging at something until it’s too late! Do you know who had the authority to order a redaction from Abraham? Two people— Arthur Petrelli and Charles Deveaux. Do you know whose name is all over the paperwork from Kansas when your mother died? Who rearranged Elisabeth’s memories and fed the entire world a lie? Charles Deveaux.

“Don’t you come here into my daughter’s house and talk about that man like you know word one about him!” Claudia jabs a finger down at the table, seething. “The only person playing games here is you and Charles.

Niki is left breathless by the shouting match happening between her mother and one of her closest friends. Her gaze darts back and forth as the barbs are traded. In the end, she feels trapped between a rock and a hard place.

"Sometimes you act like you're the only one who can save the world, Richard. And that anyone who tries to go their own way is against you, not on the same side…" Niki frowns, brows forming sharp furrows, denoting her annoyance. "I offered to let you join us because you said you had important information for all of us. That doesn't give you the right to come in here and shout at my mother about what you think she owes you, because some dead man—"

She exhales heavily through her nose. A dragon holding back a breath of fire. "If you've said what you came here to say, I think it's time for you to go." Niki stalks over to the door and the coat tree alongside the entry. Reaching into a battered bomber jacket and pulling out a soft, crumpled pack of cigarettes. "I'll be back in a minute," sounds more like a threat than a promise as she wrenches open the door to disappear outside.

Barbara takes a quiet sip from her glass, watching everything unfold in front of her. Eyes flick between each other others gathered at the now ruined dinner. As Richard grows more incensed, she shakes her head. As Claudia pitches her voice with accusation, her expression flattens. As Niki finally reenters the conversation as the force she should be, Barbara lets out a sigh.

"Yelling with accomplish nothing for any of us," she opines, "and will only serve to unnerve whatever unfortunate neighbors Niki has." Another sip, eyes looking between them. "I believe that Niki is right, Richard. If we wish to have any hope of salvaging the night, I think it's time for you to go."

Setting down her cup, she makes her way over to the door, hand on the knob as she turns back to look towards him. "Come on. I'll walk you out to your car." Not that Richard needs an escort, but maybe she wants to make sure that when he leaves, he leaves.

“You don’t trust me.”

The words from Richard are flat as he regards Claudia steadily across the table, “I saved your life. I saved your son from prison. I trusted you with the country while I stepped aside. I came right to you as soon as I found out something that was taken from your family’s memories. But you don’t trust me. Because of something somebody who wasn’t me did.”

At the requests for him to leave, he straightens up and steps away from the table with a shake of his head, “I’m reaching out to everyone I can for help with this, but I’m still accused of doing it alone. Of course,” he observes, lifting one hand and letting it fall. He turns to head towards the door, glancing back over his shoulder to add icily, “And you have no idea what I know about Charles, Claudia. Or what I owe him.”

“You’re welcome for the information. Goodnight.”

Claudia would have left it at that, satisfied to simmer in her anger and confusion and horror. But something Richard says causes the hairs on the back of her neck to stand up, her complexion to pale, and her attention to drift down to the lipstick mark on her glass she’d been drinking out of. In that moment of sudden silence, with Niki gone and Barbara getting up to escort Richard out, Claudia curls her hands against her palm and fights against the feeling of forgetting something.

Eyes tracking from side to side, Claudia opens her mouth to say something, but no sound emerges. Her jaw clenches, brows furrow, and the further away Richard gets the thinner her resolve becomes. She breathes in deeply, holding it; he’s halfway out the door now.

Richard.” Claudia is startled by the sound of her own voice, by how loud it feels in spite of all the yelling she’d just done. It isn’t his name spoken in anger, or his name spoken in frustration, it’s the first time that Richard has heard Claudia speak without strength in her voice since the war. It’s the most normal Barbara has heard her mother in years. But also the most vulnerable.

It is her monosyllabic plea: wait.

Barbara's hand is already turning the doorknob when her mother finally speaks up. She doesn't let Claudia see the way her eyes widen. It reminds her of when she used to get all in a huff as a teenager and yell something terribly admonishing at her mother, as all teens do, and the reaction Claudia would have thereafter. Her hand tightens considerably around the metal, before releasing it and looking back over her shoulder at Richard.

She doesn't step away from the door. She looks past him, to her mother and to Niki, and then back to the interloper of the hour. One eyebrow raised, she half turns back, hand still on the knob as her gaze levels on Richard.


Just a stride behind Barbara, the call from behind has Richard stopping in his tracks. Behind dark lenses he looks at the Zimmerman sister’s face for a moment, then turns to look back towards the woman seated at the table still, a single eyebrow raising up over the edge of his shades.

“Yes, Claudia?”

The question quiet, carefully controlled. His eyes too hidden to read.

No response. Not at first. Save for the fact that she settles back down into her seat and rests her head in her hands. The Zimmerman matriarch crumples, finally, under the weight of a horrifying possibility that she can no longer completely discount as fiction. The most harrowing thing about it is the possibility of it being true. Caspar’s pennies would have no need for false memories on them, Richard too good of a researcher to fall for a trap like that, and she too eager to dismiss it off-hand. Because the reality of it is, frankly, horrific.

“There’s a bottle of Macallan in my purse,” Claudia remarks with a weary voice, not lifting her head up from the table, “it was going to be a gift for Niki. If someone wouldn’t mind… just fucking unwrapping it and getting four glasses, I feel like we’re all going to need more liquor to keep this conversation going.”

And that appears to be what she intends to do.

Barbara watches this exchange for a moment, before lowering her head slightly and sighing. Her hand turns on the door knob, pulling it a crack open. "Niki," she says in a slightly loud voice. "Mom has a present for you in her purse." There's a beat where she pushes the door open a bit more and pokes her head out. "Not a trick, I promise."

Hand uncurls from the doorknob, leaving it slightly ajar as she turns back to Richard and Claudia. "Does anyone else have any surprises? Before we scare Niki off again." Despite her wry choice of words, she doesn't seem very amused.

There’s an audible if unintelligible grumble from outside that follows Barbara calling her sister back in. The crunch of shoes on pebble-strewn asphalt serves as prelude to the door swinging open fully to readmit Niki to her home. The smell of smoke lingers around her, on her fingers and in her hair, but the cigarettes are put back where she procured them from.

Then, she moves to where her mother sits, standing at her back and placing her hands on her shoulders, squeezing gently. The ire seems to ebb away in that simple motion. “I’m not so easily scared off,” Niki promises in a low voice, leaning down to kiss the crown of her mother’s head.

With a last squeeze, she moves to where her mother’s purse sits on her afghan-covered couch. There’s a small half-hissed gasp at the bottle of scotch, followed by an almost sheepish sort of smile. Mom with the good stuff. “I’ll get the glasses.” Setting the bottle on the table, she heads back into the kitchen to grab the barware that isn’t upcycled mason and jam jars. One for each person gathered, set out at each place at her modest table while they renew the conversation.

It’s not an apology but it seems to be a request for a truce for the moment, and Richard’s chin dips slightly in a nod once to acknowledge it without words. He turns back on his heel from where he was accepting an escort out to return in, stepping over to the table again by the time Niki’s coming back in - a rueful, apologetic look slanted her way even as he eases slowly down into the chair he was in before.

Leaning back, he folds his hands over his chest, silent for the moment.

“Some things were meant to stay buried,” Claudia says with a shaky tone of voice, slouching into her chair and for the first time in a long time looking and sounding her age. It isn't anything as material as a physical transformation so much as it is a psychological one. The weight and shock of what Richard delivered unto her so heavy it has stripped away the fine coat of denial her many years have accrued. “The Company believed that in select circumstances, and I'd vowed to never repeat those same mistakes. But now, here, I find myself a hypocrite. Signing my name on papers from the President classifying your mother’s research, starting another long line of dark secrets…”

Running a hand against her brow, Claudia closes her eyes and shakes her head. “But what I've buried… seems to pale in comparison to what the Company truly did with their darkest secrets.” Slowly, Claudia opens her eyes and looks across the table to Richard. “A while back, SESA investigated the rat plague. We found a hidden chamber inside the Montauk research facility at Fort Hero. It was walled up behind concrete, the archives stated it was because of a biohazard incident. We found no such evidence.”

Sitting forward, Claudia runs her hand over her mouth. “Inside that room was research, documentation and names, most of it illegible hard copies. We salvaged what we could with the help of Agent Mustang,” of whom Richard is acquainted, “and what we found was frankly… terrifying. It was research into Adam Monroe’s regeneration, his blood, his DNA, reverse engineering it to try and create something called Umbra, but we couldn't find any detail on what that was.”

Claudia looks down and to her side, then back up to Richard. “We found a memo, dated 1983, that indicated that Adam was still active within the Company, contrary to everything we've ever known about his history.” She grimaces, looking away, “It isn't that I don't believe you, Richard.”

Claudia’s voice trembles. “It's that I'm terrified it's true.”

Barbara takes a long sip of her drink. Still not sitting as she helicopters around the table. A look is offered over to Niki, and then to Claudia, before finally she lands back on Richard. "I don't understand. If what you say is true…" Barbara wrinkles her nose together, before looking back over at her mother. "Where does dad-" A small, sharp sigh. "Where does Jonas figure in?" It's weird to call her dad by his first name, and they can all hear it in her tone.

Her lips purse, and she crosses her arms. "Not that I don't believe you. I feel like anything is possible these days, I just… find it hard to be surprised anymore. But… why?" She shakes her head. "All I've ever known about Adam was he was locked away for years, and that was years after the fact. Why would they want that for anyone? Particularly if…" he's their dad.

“That doesn’t even make sense,” Niki snaps. It’s a kind of defensiveness she comes by honestly, considering how much of her mother can be seen in her posture and the hard line of her mouth. “We were both locked up in that Company facility. He’d been there for decades.” It’s not a fond memory, to say the least. And it’s fuzzy at best, given how often Jessica was the one in control. It feels like an entire lifetime ago. In some ways, it is.

“Something like that can’t just be covered up.” There’s a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach that isn’t helped any by the scotch she’s poured and swallowed down in small sips. Niki’s tone lacks conviction. Like Claudia and like Barbara, she knows too well how plausible it is, despite her denial.

And denial’s never served her before. It isn’t about to start now.

The blonde sister sighs heavily and rakes a hand through her hair, careful not to catch the large hoop dangling from her ear. “So,” she begins with resignation, completely shoving aside her own protests without needing to prompt Richard to do so, “what the fuck does this mean for any of us then?”

“It can be covered up, Niki. Just ask your mother— she knows what the Magi were capable of, when they needed to be,” says Richard quietly this time, regretfully; a look to his two friends at the table, then to Claudia, “I believe that Project Umbra was an attempt at immunizing people to the Dragon’s ability to manipulate genetic material— they were trying to take advantage of Adam’s tendency to revert to baseline to protect themselves against changes from baseline.”

He takes a deep breath, reaching for one of the glasses before exhaling it in a sigh, “They wanted to bury everything connected to Adam. They had reason to, from their point of view. They didn’t know who he’d told what, so they had to bury… everything. Every contact with him. They wiped and reconstructed the lives of so many people, we’re trying to— fix what they did, but Renautas can only do so much, and sifting through even the few pennies we have can take forever to come up with useful information.”

A sip of scotch, and he closes his eyes, “If it helps at all, at least at one point, he was protective of you two and your sister. Arthur threatened to take you away and he didn’t take it well.”

In the face of madness, Claudia latches on to a fingerhold of sanity. A name not Adam Monroe’s whispered on the wind, but Renautas. The scrutiny in her expression shows in the creases at the corners of her eyes, in the subtle tightness at her mouth. She doesn't speak on it, can't imagine why Kyle or Kyla might be involved in this somehow. Because she doesn't remember any other Renautas of note.

“That's just it, Richard,” Claudia finally says after an awkward silence falls across the table, “I don't know what the Magi are capable of. Not really. As an abstract, certainly, but I was never aware that they'd been deployed on something… something like this. Something this massive. It's fitting, though, that Charles would attempt a massive redaction. But it's more than just about Adam. Look at the last two years…”

Claudia takes a thin hand through her pale hair. “Your mother,” she says to Richard, “the Looking Glass, the people apparently displaced by it to live here. All of those records were expunged. Nothing in the archives even suggests there was anything to find. We’re talking about a redaction on the same societal scale of the 2006 Midtown explosion. Paradigm shifting. Unprecedented.” Claudia looks down to the table, her eyes distant.

“Charles was afraid of something,” is how Claudia sees it. “Maybe it's this Dragon boogeyman, maybe it's whatever caused Arthur to put Mateo Ruiz and Odessa Price I'm protective custody. Maybe it's all one big fucking disaster. The question is, since you've dug up yet another deep grave,” and there's resentment in her voice, in being told her life is a lie, “what do we do with this?”

As a society. As a family. As individuals. Claudia is speaking on many levels.

"We?" Barbara is likely aware of those varied layers, but her protest hints at something more personal this time. A belabored sigh slips from her lips. Eyes move to Richard, and then to her mother. "I have an honest question for both of you," she offers, leaning forward with her palms pressed against the table.

"I understand that this is a problem the Company created. I understand that we are uniquely equipped to maybe do something about it. I understand the societal imperative for us to do something about it." She hangs her head, hair falling over her eyes. "But why 'we'?"

Shaking her head, she rolls her shoulders. "Isn't that how problems like the Company get started? 'We' decide we need to solve a problem?" Hoping to hold off any protests, she holds up one of her hands. "I'm not saying we do nothing, but…" Eyes slide over to Niki. "For once we're in a position to guide and let the absolutely no shortage of people in this city who will step up to the plate to take it and run with it."

She stands up straight again, crossing her arms. "I know that's not your style, either of you, but…" What she won't admit is that she's actually rather comfortable in her life right now, and another upheaval for the sake of saving the world doesn't sound appealing to her. But it's not too hard to read between the lines of what she's saying.

“We could just do nothing,” Niki posits, glancing around the room and immediately gauging the probability of argument. “We could go on with our lives not knowing the full extent of…” The rest of the sentence dies in her mouth. Even she can’t find the conviction to carry on with that line of defeatist thinking.

If she’d carried on not knowing, she wouldn’t have the family she has now. The only family she’d have ever known would have been the one that created the fractured personality she lived with for years. This is certainly preferable, for all the skeletons in the closet (or buried in the desert), the secrets and the lies upheld.

For all her talk of letting go, Niki’s never been good at walking away from a fight without crawling too deep into a bottle to find her way out.

“We can’t just go sorting through pennies. Everybody who could shed light on the truth is dead.” Maybe that’s the way things should be. But Niki eyes her sister. “Wouldn’t you think your ability would help us?” Before she can protest, she mirrors Barbara’s previous gesture. “I know, I know. Post-cog, not psychometer.”

“Arthur pushed him to it, but Charles wasn’t hard to convince,” Richard grimly admits, regarding the glass in his hand (Although he’s not looking at it, not really, lost in his thoughts instead). “They were afraid. What I’ve recovered— it’s awful stuff. This thing was terrifying, and there’s— good reason. The entity, the Dragon, whatever you want to call it…”

He draws in a slow breath, then exhales it, setting the glass down. “You don’t have to, Barbara,” he admits, “Your ability would be useful but I don’t have the right to ask you to get involved in all this shit again. But me and your mother… we don’t have that luxury, do we, Claudia? We accepted responsibility for this sort of thing long ago, in our own ways…”

“I have people digging where I can. We need to find that hacker that hit the Praxis networks— I have a feeling that he knows more than he’s letting on,” he muses, “My people are working on ways to detect dimensional breaches on a larger scale, but I don’t have the sort of resources the Company or Institute had - we don’t have a bottomless governmental budget to rely on. If you know of any unrecovered Company facilities we can hit them for any data we can recover. I’d like to see what you found in Fort Hero. But in the long run…”

He sighs, “Adam’s the one with most of the answers. We need to find a way to get him to talk to us.”

“Barbara is right,” Claudia suggests to the idea of cooperation, “we can’t do any of this alone, especially not completely cut off from one-another. The trick is doing anything without Monroe finding out about it in advance. SESA has an ongoing investigation into his motives, we’re trying to tighten the noose and corner him. We have Ben Ryans, Nicole Varlane, and Noah Bennett on the case. They’ve noticed he has a rather vested interest in the settlement of Providence down in New Jersey, so I have them undercover handling reconnaissance.” But that’s a far ways off from getting Adam to talk.

“As for that hacker, I may actually have a small lead on that,” Claudia notes with a crease of her brows. “SESA was given information from SIGINT about the hack, confirming it was an Expressive technopath performing the activity — too many threaded processes at once for any known computer hardware — and we compared that information with shared resources from the CIA regarding technopathic operations active overseas. It looks like this Scylla may have briefly been active in China operating against Praxis Heavy Industries and some government resources. We’re still untangling negotiations with the Chinese government to get access to their resources. But whoever they are, they have a bone to pick.”

Claudia finishes her glass, setting it down and pushing it away from herself to reduce the temptation of having more. “The Fort Hero… data,” she seems reluctant to call it that, “I’ll see what I can do to convince Alice and Sabra to clear it to you. It might take a little bit, we’re still not entirely sure what it all was. But everything, all of it, points back to Adam. But other than Fort Hero, I can’t think of anywhere we haven’t stripped for parts that the Company…”

Claudia pauses, brows furrowed. With a quick look, she glances to Barbara and Niki, then back to Richard. “Well,” she says in a hushed tone, “there… might be one, but you’re not going to like it.” Claudia reconsiders her empty glass.

“How do you feel about going back to Antarctica?”

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