The Truth


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Also Featuring:

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Scene Title The Truth
Synopsis …comes out when Barbara Zimmerman and Niki Sanders are reunited with their mother after a lifetime apart.
Date January 11, 2012

White Hills, Arizona

The town of White Hills Arizona is an hour and fourteen minutes by car from Las Vegas. It is an unremarkable spot in the desert, a square of land cut out from the badlands and surrounded by low hills in every direction. Small houses dot the landscape out for about two miles, and according to the US census the town has a population of just under two-thousand people. But White Hills isn’t an ordinary settlement, and it doesn’t have an ordinary past.

From the air-conditioned interior of a black SUV, Niki Sanders and Barbara Zimmerman watch the desert landscape go by. The placid sign that declares White Hills, The Safest Place on Earth seems uncomfortably suburban. Their driver, a familiar-looking gorilla of a man to Niki Sanders, bobs his head up and down to the quiet beats of Ke$ha coming from the radio in the front of the vehicle. His passenger, a dapper dressed young man named Rhys Blüthner, is the reason they’re all driving out here in the first place.

An hour and twenty minutes ago, Rhys waltzed up to Niki’s front door and asked she and Barbara a seemingly impossible question:

Would you like to see your mother?

Barbara had been disbelieving, naturally. The memory of her father coming to her, telling her to run away and never look back is always fresh in her mind - she doesn't need need her ability to see what haunting vision again. When Rhys showed up, Barbara was bleary eyed and staring down at a plate of food like it had insulted her, rather than just eating it. The explanation was simple enough - she hadn't been sleeping well, nightmares of the events on Pollepel and other horrors keeping her up at night.

So, of course, she had agreed to come along more because she was too tired to process exactly what Rhys had been saying. She had spent the first half of that drive asleep in the car. She wasn't trying to be rude, but she also didn't care - the motion of the moving car was like a siren's call to her. Thankfully, though, it gives her the energy to be really be awake again - and aware.

Painfully aware.

Aware of the fact that her mother - whom she hadn't seen since she was sixteen, whom Niki had never had the pleasure of knowing - was alive. And suddenly, a woman in her mid-thirties has been reduced to a shaking, nervous girl again, feverishly drawing in the sketchbook she always kept near by as a means to distract and ground herself. Memories of her past, abstracts, eclipses, anything that came to mind. She has been quiet, and when her pencil finally snaps from the pressure she puts on it, she just sits up, frowning. Her overlapping sun and moon would have to wait.

Niki, contrasting to her sister, is alert. Both as they eat and when they receive unexpected company at the door. The nightmares have long since kept her from losing sleep, but it rattles her to see Barbara so affected. It makes her more vigilant. She won’t make the decision for them - mostly because if she had her way, she’d have slammed the door in the kid’s face and went back to finish her lunch. Instead, she sees that Barbara needs this, and it makes a much better excuse.

Easier than admitting she needs it, too.

While Barbara sleeps next to her, Niki keeps her eyes open, glancing out the windows for any clues that something might be amiss. Beyond the obvious. That their mother is involved at all means something is already very much amiss. She broods, because it keeps anyone from trying to make small talk, maybe. Or because this is precisely the situation that calls for brooding. Warrants it, even. The only parents she’s ever known were no parents at all. That Barbara got to know their real parents, and somehow still has some kind of respect for them, makes this ambush worth the risk.

Niki’s head snaps to the side in tandem with the snap of the pencil in her sister’s grip. She reaches over and lays her hand over Barbara’s, wishing she could lend her some of her calm right now. Instead, all she has is a squeeze, her skin warm - but not unnaturally - with the reassurance. Lips still painted a shade of red that’s fading from the previous night’s make-up curl upward in a small smile.

Her reflection in the rearview mirror narrows her gaze.

As the SUV moves along, a single concrete structure begins to come into view at the end of the long road past White Hills. It's a sloped structure built into a low hill, surrounded by a crooked chain-link fence. A sun-bleached No Trespassing signs dangles from the fence at a skewed angle. The SUV slows as it approaches the bunker, coming to a rumbling stop outside of the fence gate. Manny looks back over his shoulder at Barbara and Niki and raises a finger in a one moment gesture before he opens the door and steps out into the scalding desert sun. Already sweating, he wipes a hand over his scalp and moves to the gate, unfastening a latch and pulling both sides open before returning to the vehicle as fast as he can.

As Manny drives forward, the large metal doors of the old bunker are hauled open manually. A pair of plain-clothes men on the inside in light jackets and cargo pants allow the vehicle past, then quickly push the heavy doors shut on rusting hinges. The bunker is barely large enough for the SUV, with rust streaks down the concrete walls and condensation dripping from exposed pipes. One by one, three doors on the SUV open as Manny steps out of the driver's seat and helps both Barbara and Niki out.

"Sorry about the ah, décor?" Manny apologizes as the passenger’s side door opens and Rhys steps out, putting one polished shoe down on the concrete with a single brow raised. Lips pursed to the side, he gives a gesture to Manny and looks to Barbara and Niki.

"If you two will come with me, we’ve got to take a little walk." Rhys straightens his jacket and adjusts his tie, then waits for Barbara and Niki to fall in line before he circles around the front of the SUV and opens a rusted, metal door that leads to a short series of concrete steps descending a half-floor down into the desert.

As Barbara and Niki follow behind, their identical features are highlighted by the yellow light of old light-bulbs in unenclosed lamps hanging from the ceiling. A stencil on the wall, faded after decades of abandonment, reads COYOTE SANDS — RESEARCH SITE 2. Stagnant puddles of water collect on the concrete floor, and the trio's footsteps softly splash through them on their way past old and empty cells that — decades earlier — contained prisoners. Now they're just ghosts of a darker time.

"I know how this looks," Rhys explains, looking over his shoulder as he walks with hands tucked into the pockets of his immaculately-pressed slacks. "But," his head tilts to the side. "It’s not as bad as it seems." The concrete corridor is a long one, and Rhys uses the length of time it takes to traverse to give some context to this mission.

"You may remember Hiro Nakamura and I had a work arrangement, once upon a time." Rhys closes his eyes for a moment, then opens them with a look over his shoulder at the twins. "Your mother’s life was saved as a part of that tangled operation. You can thank Richard Cardinal, all told. She wasn’t supposed to be saved, but… sometimes life is full of happy accidents. I could explain a little more but… honestly I think she’ll want to tell you herself."

At the end of the hall, Rhys stops at a newer-looking metal door fitted into a concrete frame. He swiftly withdraws a key from his pocket and turns around, offering it out to the twins. It has a rabbit’s foot charm dangling from it. "Last chance to turn around," Rhys explains. He leaves the final decision up to them.

Through all of it, Barbara remains quiet. She's never been the most talkative one, not compared to Niki or what she knows of Tracy Strauss. She keeps her sketchbook held in front of her, her bag still slung over her shoulder as she regards the COYOTE SANDS sign with suspicion - "research" and her family seems to go hand in hand, after all.

The state of the bunker and the contents within don't help to curb the unsettling chill she feels running up and down her spine. She has more questions than she could even begin to voice. Despite this, she tries to look impassive, tries to look like the pragmatic figure she had tried to be in Eileen's shadow the last few months on Pollepel. But she just can't stop that slight nervous shaking.

But finally, finally Rhys says something that gets her to speak up. "Richard?" she repeats, again disbelieving. "I don't- I knew he had found Niklaus, but…" Barbara offers a look over towards Niki, her brow furrowing. "Saved? I- was there." Sort of. "I remember my- our father telling me."

"I've made— I've made a terrible mistake, one that I endeavour to start changing. But they've already— they've already killed your mother, Barbara. Claudia's gone. They can't get you too."

The words echo in her mind for a moment. Haunting. She's grown used to the improbable in the 19 years she last saw her mother. But this? This was…

Her gaze moves to the door ahead of her as she stops and looks it over, then down to the key. She almost snatches it up out of Rhys' hand, not even looking back to Niki as she moves with it to the door. "If you want to leave," she says back to Niki in probably the harshest voice her twin has ever heard out of her, "Feel free."

"I need you to run, Barbara."

"I'm not running away this time."

When the SUV comes to a stop, Niki is tempted to just let herself out. Instead, she waits for Manny to come around to her door, and she even accepts his hand as an anchor as she climbs out of the cooled cabin and into the oppressive heat of the desert. The silk bomber jacket she threw on over her plan black tank top is unzipped halfway to allow her skin to breathe.

The assurances that this is not what it looks like – or at least not as bad as it appears – are little comfort. While Niki's long since lost the urge to run screaming at the first prickling signs of danger at the back of her neck, she still has the urge to turn on her heel when offered the opportunity to do so.

This moment is something she dreamed of as a child, even before she knew the truth about her adoptive parents. Finding her real mother and living a happier life had always been something she wanted. Now she's old enough to understand that life doesn't work that way. She may find her mother today, but Niki Sanders is certain there is no happiness to be found in this place. She doesn't need her sister's psychic abilities to realize the kind of metaphorical ghosts that hang around this place.

"Fucking Richard," Niki mutters under her breath. Arguably he did a good thing this time, but… Well, it actually remains to be seen. She's about to reach forward herself when Barbara beats her to the punch, and then throws that growl back at her that sounds so much like her own.

So that's what that feels like.

Niki's shoulders hunch up toward her ears slightly and she shakes her head, even though her twin can't see it, resolute and facing forward as she is.

"I'm with you."

When Barbara unlocks and opens the door, it is like stepping into another world. Gone are the concrete walls and their rust stains, replaced by white in every direction. The scent of herbal tea fills the air in the sprawling, open-concept suite beyond. Hardwood floors stretch out across a spacious and well-lit apartment. White walls are decorated with colorful paintings, plants adorn corners of the room in tall green fronds and multicolor wildflowers. A low set pearl white leather sofa rests not far from the entrance, upon which is seated a matronly blonde woman in a black blazer and dress. Barbara recognizes her immediately.

Claudia Zimmerman rises to stand the moment the door opens, jaw unsteady and one hand coming up to preserve her mascara by dabbing away tears. She is the picture of regal; poised, confident, strong. As her long-lost daughters file in, followed by Rhys, she struggles to regain her measured composure. It’s clear that she’s nervous, that she doesn’t know what temperature to expect.

Tracy is nowhere to be seen.

"Hello," is the first thing Claudia manages to say as she takes one hesitant step towards the door. "It’s… this has been a long time coming." Barbara recognizes something else about her, a necklace. The same one worn by the Walter Trafford who came from the Wasteland future.

"I’m— sorry." Claudia adds at the end, with tightness in her throat.

Though there's no audible gasp, no visible struggle for air, Barbara feels like the breath has been sucked from her lungs when she lays eyes on her mother and what even the hell is-

"Mom?" she breathes out, a hand moving over her chest. She stares for a long moment, unsure what to make of this moment. Was it actually another dream? It wouldn't be the first time she's had one like this. It certainly wasn't one of her visions, though- even then, she didn't feel like she was so sure anymore.

Like mother, like daughter. With her mother before her again, real or otherwise, small tears begin to well up in the corners of her eyes, her hand moving from her chest up to cover her mouth. "I don't…" Understand. How could she? "Is it- really you?" Because, having met people like Candice Wilmer, she knows all too well that it may not be. And though she knows and impersonator wouldn't tell her the truth, she takes comfort in the thought that, real or otherwise, someone has gone to great lengths today.

The necklace - the similarities with Walter Trafford's - are noted. She will certainly be asking both about it when she has more clarity of mind. Now is most certainly not that moment. She takes several cautious steps towards the woman who looks like  her mother. If this is a trap, it looks like she could be walking right into it.

It certainly has occured to Barbara. Now she's deciding how much she cares.

Barbara steps forward, Niki steps back. In many ways, she's being her sister's mirror image on this little adventure of theirs. This also is not her moment. This is her mother, but she isn't really, is she? Barbara has every right to claim her and what this represents to both of them. Niki can wait her turn, or she can just watch her sister's back. Grey-blue eyes scan around the space casually, looking for signs of danger lurking among all this tranquility.

That Claudia is crying doesn't affect Niki's posture, now rigid in defensiveness of her misgivings. Tears are easy. Sentiment is a tool. But Barbara cries and Niki feels her lips purse in the effort it takes for her to avoid joining them in this.

"Hey, Barbie," Niki says in a voice that's more throaty than she expected it to be. "Are you going to introduce us or what?"

Claudia looks down at her feet, then slowly approaches the two women with a click of her sensible heels. "Claudia," she offers as if describing the weather. "Claudia Zimmerman," comes a moment later, and she can’t quite maintain eye contact on either of her daughters. "I’m… your biological mother. I know— that isn’t…" Claudia swallows audibly, then looks over to the sofa and back to the two.

"This is a long, difficult story and I… it’s increasingly important that I tell it to you both." It’s clear that Claudia is trying to distance herself from the emotional impact of what has happened here. "We… should sit, talk, and— there’s some things that you both deserve to have explained." Looking to Rhys, Claudia nods once and the young man quietly shows himself back out into the hall with a soft click of the door.

After that, Claudia motions to the sofa and starts to walk back. Barbara can see the tension at the corners of her eyes, at the downturn of her mouth, at the sides of her neck. She’s barely able to keep herself together.

The look that Barbara shoots Niki at Barbie is one her twin can imagine she has given many people over the last few years - one that radiates intensity, one that begs the speaker to repeat what they just said and see what happens, one that pierce steel if she had such an ability. To say that Barbara reveres her mother wouldn't be incorrect. Given the age she believed she had lost her at, the postcognitive holds a respect for her mother that has only grown alongside her desire to see her again.

Particularly now that her father was certainly gone, something she's kept to herself thus far.

She casts a look over to the sofa, and then back to her mother. "I-" She chews at her lip, eyes cast down to the ground for a moment. "The last few years have been- terrible and incredible. How-" She swallows audibly, looking up at Claudia. The tenseness in her clenched jaw is clear as day, as is her reluctance to step forwards just a bit. "I need to know," she says to Claudia. "That you're you." She can't handle another loss. She still hasn't found Niklaus. Her father is dead The Ferry is gone, and Eileen with it.

She doesn't need to lose this before she has it.

"Tell me a story, mom," Barbara says in a small voice, something Claudia likely hasn't heard since she was a child. "My favourite one." Something only the'd know - their father was the type to read them to sleep.

There's a visible recoil from that withering look that has Barbara's blonde twin lifting her hands up in surrender and rocking back a step on her heels. Okay, so that one's a hornet's nest. Sorry, Barbie, but Niki can't relate to having that kind of respect for her parents. That she partially blames her birth parents for everything she endured in the Sanders home doesn't help matters.

Still, that surrender is genuine, and Niki isn't about to put up anymore barriers to this little reunion. It's storytime now, and while she's reluctant to get comfortable, she's not so reluctant as to not play along with whatever this is. She takes a seat on one end of the sofa, a silent observer now. This had better be good, and Barbara had better not come away from this more hurt than she already is, or Niki's going to show how much like Jessica she really is.

The conflicting emotions don't play out on her face. Years of practice have seen to that. For now, Niki is subdued and ready to listen. Just… not ready to like anything she hears.

"There’s…" Claudia clasps her hands together and settles down on the sofa, apart from her daughters. "There’s time enough for Through the Looking Glass later." Barbara’s favorite childhood story. "Right now," her blue eyes sweep the floor, collecting her thoughts up. "Right now might be the most important moment in both of your lives." As she looks up, Claudia is fraught with emotions. She wrings her wrinkled hands together, brows furrowed, nervousness tense across her whole body.

"You both, and your sister Tracy, were a part of a genetic experiment carried out by the Company." Claudia looks up, manages a forced smile. "That’s the story you both know. That you were a part of a trial designed to create a synthetic formula to grant special abilities to ordinary people." Project Icarus.

Claudia has started slowly turning over the wedding band on her hand, losing her focus in its dully reflective surface. "That’s… only the half of it. I brought you both here, because you deserve to know the truth, and because… because I need to know you’re both safe." Tracy’s absence feels more and more glaring, and more and more intentional.

"Right now, the world outside is poised on the beginning of a war. That boy who escorted you in, Mister Blüthner, was given information about the war from a time traveler," she says so matter of factly, as though she were describing the weather, "named Walter Trafford. Mr. Trafford outlined a means by which the Department of Evolved Affairs led the world into a third World War. We’re past that point now, past the… area for potential?" Claudia looks up to her daughters. "But we’re still going to get a war, whether we like it or not. History has… inertia. But we’ve done our level best to set it on a better course."

Returning her attention to her ring, Claudia stares silently for a moment. When she finds her voice, it’s pained. "Project Icarus was designed to grant superhuman abilities to ordinary people, but it required a… catalyst. One that died with Kaito Nakamura’s wife, Ishi. In the aftermath, we tried… alternative treatments." Those haunted, blue eyes alight to Barbara and Niki. "Your paternal father, was the lead in these experiments. You both, and Tracy, were the cutting edge of science at the time. In Vitro fertilization was new technology, gene therapy even more so…"

Claudia breathes in deeply, then exhales a shuddering sigh. "You had twelve sisters," she finally asserts. "None of them survived to term, each came after the next in batches of three. The… the science wasn’t right. I was chosen as the surrogate mother for these children due to my own unique gift." Claudia’s expression threatens a smile, then falters. "I was born special, able to alter my own body chemistry. Change hormone levels, blood pressure, it— it helped. But the embryos were the problem."

"On the fifth round of testing, Jonas determined what was wrong. We tried again," Claudia looks down at her hands, holding them together tightly. "We made a… significant error in judgment that may have significantly impacted all of your lives." Claudia’s blue eyes alight to her daughters, and she swallows nervously.

"What do you know about Adam Monroe?"

There's so much to take in, so much to consider. Through The Looking Glass is good enough to get Barbara to offer a hesitant smile. At the very least… someone could have done an unnerving amount of research. But she finds it near impossible to be that inherently distrusting of her mother, even without having to confirm that Richard had a hand in her survival. So, silently, she follows Niki to the couch, eyes never leaving Claudia.

Hands folded into her lap, she wrinkles her nose. Tracy not being here - the sister she hasn't met - hasn't escaped her, but she hasn't wanted to ask. Not yet at least, there would be time for that later. She's heard at least some of this before, at this point, and she purses her lips upon hearing it again. Had been this revelation that had led her to learn of both her sister, something which had radically shifted her world outlook.

So, the thousand yard stare on Barbara's face when her mother mentions twelve sisters is probably understandable. She doesn't know what to do with this information. How to parse it. Finding out she had two others with enough. But this? She shakes, and finally she looks away, down at the floor. She puts this aside. She can't right now.

"I know Walter Trafford," Barbara says in a low voice, distracting herself. "He, and several others like him-" time travellers is implicit - "came to the Ferry in New York." The idea that war is on their doorstep barely fazes Barbara. She was at Pollepel. You would have to be an idiot to have seen what happened there and not know something was coming, particularly on the heels of the explosion in New York the previous month.

Adam Monroe though. "I've heard the name. I've never met the owner." Barbara suspects she's about to learn that this is for the best. Her voice is distant, processing. Uncertain once more.

"I know him." Without missing a beat, Niki picks up where Barbara leaves off. There’s a weight she carries in her tone to denote that the significance is not lost on her. She remembers him as a former cellmate during her incarceration with The Company. A partner in violent crime.

Her higher brain is screaming out for her to get up and walk out of here. Twelve. To just leave and hear no more of this. Where is Tracy? For so long, she thought all she ever wanted was answers. Now that they’re starting to come… There’s a saying about the bliss of ignorance, and it surely applies.

The question she doesn’t want to ask is the one that she must ask. "How does Adam fit into all of this?" Barbara can practically feel her twin’s agitation, even though the shifting she does in her seat is minimal.

"Adam Monroe is your biological father." Claudia practically exhales the sentence, her hands clutched tightly together. "Jonas, took samples from Adam against his will — he was a prisoner at the time — and used them to reinforce your embryonic cell walls. Adam’s… regenerative properties were astounding. We weren’t — " Claudia closes her eyes and shakes her head. "It was an abominable thing to do, but… it led to you."

Swallowing down bile in the back of her throat, Claudia wrings her hands together. "Things didn’t go well after that. Arthur Petrelli went rogue, tried to destroy our research, we… I should be dead. He tried to silence me, destroy any evidence of our work." Blue eyes flit between Barbara and Niki. "You’d all be dead too, if it wasn’t for the interference of interlopers from the future." Hiro, Rhys, and a host of butterflies.

"Because of the secret of your birth, I had to hide you. I had no choice." Claudia looks up to Niki, her jaw unsteadying, and then down to her lap. "Richard Cardinal saved my life. And I had to stay hidden for years. I wasn’t able to be a mother to either of you, not… not in the way you deserved. I wasn’t able to protect you in the way you needed." Claudia looks up to Barbara, eyes reddened at the edges and welling with tears. "I wasn’t able to say goodbye to you."

Wetting her lips, Claudia looks back down at her hands. "That all changes now. I know it’s… too late to become a mother, but I can treat you both the way a mother should treat her children." Blue eyes alight back to Niki and Barbara. "I can shield you from the worst of what’s to come."

Barbara can feel heat rising. At first she thinks it's just her, emotion welling up as she listens to her mother. After a moment, she starts to realise what's actually happening, and she absentmindedly slides a cushion down on the couch. She is speechless. For a moment, she wonders if this is how Niki once felt - the revelation that the people who raised you are not the people who gave you life. Or in this case, only half of them.

A number of things play out in her head. That she's going to kill Richard Cardinal. That she should look into Adam Monroe, when given the chance. That she should get up and walk out. That she should stay, and hear her mother out. That she should stay far away from everything related to her apparent biological father. That she could kiss Richard Cardinal right now. Mounting contradictions play over and over in her mind.

"O-Oh." Those are the only words she manages for a good several moments, her thousand yard stare returning. She doesn't know what else to say for even longer. "Why," she breathes out. "Wh-why now? Why… any of this? Why-" Her voice starts to raise towards the end as she leans forward, looking her mother in the eye. "It's been almost twenty years!" she practically shouts. "Why!"

Her eyes well up as she falls back into the couch, again seeming more like the teenage Claudia once knew rather than a grown woman in her thirties. "I'm no stranger to secrets," she chokes out, rising up to her feet. "I've been working with the Ferryman for a while now, and they were full of them. And before that? I was Barbara Simms, bumming my way through Canada tryin to make ends meet! And before that?" Her posture straightens. "My father," the one who raised her - as far as she knows - "came to me, told me that you were dead, and that I had to leave. And that these-" She holds up her sketchbook - "had meaning."

She sniffles, staring Claudia Zimmerman in eyes. "Give me a reason I shouldn't leave."

Niki is starting to look a little green herself by the time Claudia finishes her explanation. She's trembling when it's over. Whatever she thought was coming – and she didn't have a lot of expectations – it wasn't this. It causes her to question her entire existence a second time. Previous talk of flawed embryos and compromised experiments make her wonder if that isn't why she is the way she is, in part. The truth of her biological heritage makes her wonder if that's why she and Adam were so like-minded at times. The old question of nature versus nurture doesn't really have an answer.

Like a rocket she's out of her seat and staggering away from the couch. Away from Barbara. Away from Claudia. While her sister delivers her litany of why's, she paces. The air shimmers around her as she takes deep, gasping breaths like she might be about to hyperventilate.

Tears start rolling down her cheeks now in fat rivers, making her blonde hair stick to her face where it brushes against her skin. She looks at the floor, feeling suddenly so small and so scared. The girl that Jessica – the real Jessica – had always leaped to the defense of. It's terrifying what she's about to do. With her bare hands, she's exposed the hearts of men. This feels a lot like she imagines that pain must have been for them.

"Because we're family," Niki chokes out in response to Barbara's final query, staring at her imploringly. "Because none of this makes any sense and it's never going to if we leave here now." That decision seems to bring her back into control. The heat ripples wane and her breathing slows again.

Finally, she lets her gaze settle on Claudia, pleading for something, looking just as much a lost little girl as her red-haired counterpart. "…Mom?"

Claudia lifts a hand to her eyes again, dabbing them both dry with a thumb in the reserved, dignified way people expect women her age to manage their emotions. She swallows, audibly, and nods in shallow agreement to Niki’s question. "There wasn’t anything I could do," is Claudia’s weak response to all of Barbara’s suffering. "First it was Arthur, then Daniel, then the government… it was never safe." It still isn’t.

Looking down at her clutched hands, Claudia is momentarily silent as she struggles to compose herself. "I want you both here, with me, for as long as you’re willing to stay. The outside world is… going to get worse, before we can make it better." Swallowing down her emotions, Claudia dabs the side of her thumb beneath one eye again. "We’re… going to destroy it all," is the way she distances herself from the emotions of her children.

"Mitchell. Everything." Claudia swallows again, and breathes in a slow, deep breath. "When the dust settles, we won’t be hiding anymore. I— " breath hitching in the back of her throat, Claudia struggles with everything. "I know this is all a lot, at once, out of nowhere. But it’s a start. I can’t keep— keep hiding, hiding from you, from your lives, from the truth." Her intense, blue eyes sweep from daughter to daughter.

"You, are all I have left." Swallowing again, Claudia dabs one last time at her eyes and looks down to the floor. "You deserve to be given the lives I could never afford either of you as babies." Her babies.

Niki's reaction is met with surprise, Barbara looking back at her with shock plastered across her face. A hand reaches to the arm of the couch, steadying herself as she takes a series of deep breaths. She had certainly come to consider Niki family - it was hard not to think such of someone who looks like you - and of course Claudia was family.

She never guessed it would be Niki to tie the two strands of string together though, weaving the three of them into a family that never was, and a family that still had some holes. Niklaus, Tracy, Jonas- gone as he may be. She knows Niklaus would want to see this, wherever he may be. Tracy, she doesn't know. She'd like to think her third twin would feel the same.

"Mitchell-" Barbara's eyes widen. There's only one Mitchell talked about in her circles. "You don't mean Andrew Mitchell?" Those words sit on her tongue like a thousand ton weight. What so many in her life in the Ferry had hoped - dreamed - was being told to her now. She looks back over to Niki, and then back to Claudia.

These seem like reasons enough.

"Mom…" she says quietly, looking back up as tears stream down her cheeks. "I missed you so much," she whispers as she steps forward toward her, arms parting for a hug. Something. To be close. But she has one more question she needs answered.

"Are there- Are we all there is? Me, Niki, and-" She motions to the empty sofa where Tracy should be sitting. "Do- I…" She swallows. "Do we have any other sisters?" A beat. "Brothers?"

Barbara's surprise is responded to with a shaky smile. No, Niki isn't sure when she became this person. Well, that isn't completely true. She's always been this person, deep down. Always wanted a family. She latched on to Barbara and Niklaus so quickly when they'd been presented to her. Her mother should truly be no different.

She does not, however, move in for an embrace like her sister does. That's not owed to or by her just yet. And if anyone needs that hug, it's Barbara. Judging from the anguish on her face, Claudia needs it too.

And then Barbara is asking the questions on the forefront of her own mind. Twelve sisters, Claudia had said. What in the hell? Niki can't help but feel a little pang of sympathy and empathy for their mother now. To go through all that – even if it was supposedly only a surrogacy – and lose so many times? It brings back memories of her own pregnancy, her hand flutters to her stomach unconsciously as she recalls all the dips in the road that come with that. Even with Claudia's ability, that can't have been easy. She won't even speculate on whose loss should be considered greater – hers or her mother's – but knows they have something in common now.

"No more lies, Mom. If you really want this to work, we all have to be honest with each other."

Steadying herself, Claudia scrubs one hand over her mouth and nods in silent agreement to Niki’s demand. The fact that Niki has already called her mom is twisting a knife in Claudia’s stomach. She’s quiet for another moment, then manages to find her words. "You have a half-brother, Niklaus. Richard saved him too, after a fashion." Blue eyes sweep the floor again, and this time Claudia stares off into the middle-distance. "Niklaus is somewhere else right now, helping… put things into motion."

"I’m working with several people, though a group called the Deveaux Society. You… may have even heard of it. We’re trying to set up the next President of the United States, once Mitchell burns himself alive on a pyre of his own making." There’s a steeliness in Claudia’s tone there, more Jessica than even Niki might be comfortable with. "But that’s something we can discuss later, after… we have some time to adjust. To— to catch up on everything."

Checking her hair with one hand to make sure as though she doesn’t look unpresentable, Claudia slowly rises to stand and walk over to her daughters, holding out a hand to each of them. "There’s a great many things we can do… if we choose to do it as a family."

"He's safe," Barbara breathes out, satisfied - or distracted - by the answer she assumes was more for Niki than herself. But any further inquiries into what, exactly, Niklaus is doing, those are swept aside when Claudia reveals exactly what she is involved in, and whom it is she works with. And Barbara is taken aback by the scope of it.

"You're…" Her head tilts slightly to the side, stopping in a place for a moment. The Deveaux Society is a familiar name, but not one she has experience with that she's aware of - like Adam Monroe, she is aware of it, but she does not know what it means beyond the face it wears. Again, Barbara doesn't understand.

She doesn't understand what her mother is mixed up in.

She doesn't understand what she's been doing all these years that has put her in this position.

She doesn't understand where she fits into all of this, much less Niki.

"Mom…" she says in a low voice, taking that final step forward and taking Claudia's hand. There's a lot of pieces that need fitting together, and that ruined puzzle is still coming together in her head, as best as it can. In the meantime, she is left without much in the way of words, an expectant look offered over towards her sister.

There’s a small measure of comfort in some of what Claudia says. There’s comfort in the notion that there will be a fight, that they will fight back against what’s coming, for all that she told Peter all that she wanted was normal. For all that she tried to convince Barbara that normal is what they both needed in order to heal.

Niki Sanders doesn’t know who she is without the fight.

In many ways, she doesn’t need Jessica anymore, because there’s fewer visible seams in their two personalities. With each tragedy, each time Niki fights to keep control rather than let her mirror image spare her the trauma again, the lines blur. Sometimes survival means being ruthless, and as much as Niki’s edges have softened just over the course of this conversation, she’s still hard steel underneath.

The corner of her mouth ticks up, and she matches her mother’s tone. "That only answered half her question." It’s Jessica’s voice, but Niki’s will. "We know about ‘Klaus." She shakes her head, stepping closer, not taking that offered hand, but also not yet refusing it. "What about sisters?" There’s a knot in the pit of her stomach. Evasive answers are a tool of her trade, in her survival kit, and maybe this apple didn’t fall far. Like recognizes like.

Claudia offers a look to Barbara, lips downturning into a frown, then back to Niki. "There’s…" she tenses. "I don’t know what became of Tracy. But, we’ve come to learn that she sold you all out to Colonel Leon Heller." It is with a heavy heart that she watches Niki, while holding Barbara’s hand. Barbara can feel how Claudia’s hand trembles, how fear takes firm hold over her, how regret and loss do too. "Whether she’s alive or not, doesn’t matter. You two are my only surviving daughters."

It’s clear in that statement that Claudia has revealed two things. One, that she is well-connected enough to be able to know who Heller may have flipped and who he didn’t flip. It’s possibly Tracy was somehow the mole that brought down Pollepel. If Claudia knows for certain, she isn’t clarifying. Second, it affirms that while blood is a bond, it is one Claudia is willing to break if the transgression is high enough. For her two daughters remaining, a few words can tell a voluminous story.

Barbara doesn't really hear anything after she sold you out to Colonel Leon Heller. Her eyes are vacant, hand trembling in Claudia's to match her. She doesn't know in what capacity their sister may have sold them out - she had no idea how much Tracy might have known about her, Niki, or the Ferry. She never had the opportunity to meet Tracy Strauss. Suddenly, she was okay with that.


No she isn't.

"Good," Barbara practically growls out, sounding much more like Niki in that moment. "Because if we did, I would kill her myself." The words are likely uncharacteristic of Barbara from what Claudia may know, but this- this is something she has no compunction being honest about how she feels. If Tracy had sold them out and was still alive, that was something Barbara would be aiming to fix. Because, yes. Blood only gets one but so far.

Another deep breath, and Barbara closes her eyes. "The Ferry has been my life for the last several years. To see it all crumble," and to know her own sister may have helped, "I just…" She sigh, falling silent, gaze lowered towards the floor.

There’s shock at this revelation, but it does nothing to match her sister’s. What the hell did Tracy know about any of that? Hell, she didn’t know much about the Ferry operation, but that had been by design. If she’d wanted to find things out, she could have done. How much damage could Niki have done - if she had wanted to do damage - just with a box of red hair dye and a few words to certain people?

Barbara’s reaction is a surprise too, but the sentiment is one her sister completely understands. Somehow, she always thought of herself as the vengeful one between the two of them. That somehow her sister wasn't like that. But there are people and ideals worth killing for. She’s seen the look on her twin’s face and heard her cry out at night from the terrors that plague her dreaming mind. If Tracy is responsible for that, then…

Finally, Niki reaches out and takes Claudia’s hand, reaching for Barbara with her other. "So, what do we do now?"

"You're free to do whatever either of you want." Claudia demures last Barbara’s anger, lets her own it the way she did. "Together or apart. I'm not trying to claim ownership of your lives, or insinuate myself into them any more than either of you want. I've already done enough of that." Claudia looks over to the door they came in from, them back.

"The Deveaux Society has a place for you, if you'd join us. We want to make the world a better place, as peacefully as possible. You two could play a part in that, in building something new." Slowly, Claudia squeezes both of her daughters’ hands. "Otherwise, I can get you wherever you need to go. New Zealand is safe, Hawaii, somewhere far away from the US."

There's a knowing look in her eyes. A look that Barbara has seen in enough seers to know that something dark is coming. "You've both suffered enough. I want to give my babies what I haven't yet been able to." Her weathered, sad expression turns into one of bittersweet emotion. "I want to give you happiness."

"I— " Barbara furrows her brow, lips pursed as she considers what Claudia has to saw. "I want— to help them. Somehow." The Ferry, or what's left of it at least. "I just— I needed some time." After seeing Eileen, Tasha, and others die, she needed some time. No one could blame her, surely.

She reaches over, taking Niki's hand while barely looking over at her twin. "I want to stay. I want— to spend some time, with both of you. But…" She lets out a heavy sigh, looking down again. "I don't to leave them twisting in the wind. I have too much respect for the people that are left for that."

When she looks up again, with a bit more resolutely than before. "Would you understand? If I decided to help them?" It's not a decision by any means — but is what she had been planning on doing before… this. Before today.

Niki listens to her sister, closing her eyes while she does. Barbara still wants to fight for a cause, and Niki just wants to stop. There are ways she can fight that don’t mean returning to a literal battlefield. Ways that don’t involve using her fists or her ability. She has to find a new way to engage, because the old way is going to lead her to her grave.

"I would." While it’s not her sister’s permission that Barbara needs - insofar as either of them must ask permission to live their lives - it’s granted freely all the same. "I…" She has a house, a business. "I’d like to stay. I just need to tie up loose ends." She gives a look to Claudia - to her mother - in question. "Everything… Everything left of your grandson is in my house." Niki needs those things. The pictures, the old toys… The last pieces of evidence that her son once occupied a place on this planet.

Claudia laughs, a good-natured and emotional laugh. "What did I do to earn such hurried children?" Squeezing the hands of her daughter's tighter, Claudia offers them both a slow nod of approval and a shake of her head.

"I have resources that can help the Ferrymen. God knows they need it now." Slowly disengaging her hands, Claudia returns to where she was sitting earlier and produces a pair of phones, each in a cherry red case. "These have my personal number in them, so long as you have signal you can reach me."

She holds the phones out to her daughters. "The second number is your half-brother Niklaus. I know that's, a bit awkward, but he's a good man. If you need help, with anything, he is on call for you." Then, with an incline of her head. "The fourth number is a telepath in our employ named Aria. One-hundred percent trustworthy."

Finally, she looks to Barbara and Niki with a cautious expression. "Last number, our investigator. Rhys Blüthner." Claudia gives a tempered look. "He’ll help you tie up loose ends and find anyone that needs finding."

Finally, Claudia clasps her hands together. "When you're done, when your lives are in order, you promise me you'll come back. It's only going to get worse before it gets better, and the world is going to need strong women like yourselves to help pick up the pieces when everything is said and done."

"The Ferry needs more than resources," is a small protest from Barbara. "Eileen Ruskin is dead. Noah Bennet is dead. Catherine Chesterfield is- at the UN, apparently." She shakes her head, letting out a sigh. Hana Gittleman, Grace Matheson, Scott Harkness, Lynette Rowan… they're who're left, that I know of." Barbara takes a deep breath. "They need strong leadership, and they have it, but spread so thin…" She looks up at Niki, and then at her mother. "They need me."

She sounds fairly convinced of herself, at least. "I  want to stay," she repeats, "but I can't abandon them, either." She looks at the phone, pursing her lips as she takes it. "I can't see the future," she says quietly, "not beyond the obvious. Only the past. And- I don't… I don't think that's going to help me this time. If I stay here, and leave them…" She looks up, and into Claudia's eyes. "How do we pick up the pieces? What would you have us do?"

Niki’s hands fall back to her side after one last squeeze of her sister’s. Solemnly, she nods. "They’re your family." A rueful smile tugs at her lips. She had that once with Endgame, a family that she chose, but that path has long been closed off to her. Then again, the family she’s bound to by blood is a family she’s choosing to acknowledge, so perhaps it’s not quite so different.

The phone is taken in her hand, and she turns it over once, then back again. Her smile twists into something a little more genuine. Red. Her favorite color. "There’s not much for me out there." That smile fades, and there’s regret in her tone for her twin. She could help her fight, help the Ferry, but… She’s tired. Rudderless without the conflict, but too fatigued by it to engage.

Barbara’s question is a good one, and so Niki pockets the phone, then folds her arms together over her midsection, head tilted to one side to listen to the response. Her decision is made, but details never hurt.

"Long-term," Claudia emphasizes, "they'll need medicine, food, basic survival necessities." As she looks at her daughters, Claudia wraps one arm around her waist and lets her other hand rub at her chin. "Charles Deveaux left us a sizable fortune for the purpose of making the world a better place. We've been waiting for the right moment to do that."

Then, angling her head toward Barbara, Claudia makes a wholly different point. "If you need to be there with them, then be there with them. I always hoped you'd grow up into a leader. You always had that personality." She smiles, fondly but also bittersweetly.

"That said," Claudia’s tone shifts. "When I said it's going to get worse before it gets better, I meant it." Expression darkening, Claudia looks to her daughters with the severity of a mother warning her children not to go to the bad side of town.

"It's going to be a war." War. The word has a finality to it. "It won't start today, or tomorrow, or maybe even next month. But when it comes — and believe me it will — this country will either be reduced to ashes, or rise from them." Claudia looks pointedly to Barbara. "You've met them, the ones walking among us. They know."

Looking away from her daughters, Claudia settles a little from her apocalyptic fervor. "But this place," she says quietly, "is safe for us. To ride it out, and help those we can with what gifts we've been given."

Claudia looks over to Barbara and Niki. "Live your lives however you choose, that's all a mother can hope for. But, I want you to know that if you need me. I will always be there for you. Whether you realize it, or not."

"Walter Trafford and this friends," Barbara confirms, giving her mother a small nod, before she looks over at Niki. "Time travellers," she clarifies, and even now there's still a hint of disbelief at the possibility in her voice. "Him and several others who have been within the Ferry and others for the past year." From what she was told, at least. "War…"

A deep breath, and Barbara likewise pockets her phone. "Give me two months. Time to speak with Lynette and Hana. To let them know that help is coming, in some form." She frowns. "That I may not be on the frontlines, that I'm helping them. And that if they need me, they can reach me." A slow nod. Not the sort of help she wanted to be, but it seemed like a good middle ground.

And, the longer she was here, the harder she found it to leave her mother again.

This wasn’t how this was supposed to go. Story of Niki’s entire damn life. She meant to put down some roots. Meant to try and convince her sister to do the same. Destiny always seems to have a different plan for her. For both of them, no doubt.

"I’m barely unpacked anyway," Niki murmurs with a shrug, slightly defeated. "I’ll get someone to manage my business…" The details don’t matter, ultimately. They’re her details to work out. "I’ll need less time," is the bottom line. A look of concern settles on Barbara for several seconds. War is messy. If they can avoid the worst of it, then whatever they give up by accepting their mother’s protection may be worth it.

Claudia earns a shaky smile from her blonde daughter. "I’ll be packed up and ready to move in before you know it. Enjoy the empty nest while it lasts." It’s a joke, but her own heart aches when she makes it. Her empty nest has been hell, and she wonders if her mother’s felt the same. Maybe both of them can reclaim some of what they’ve lost by building this bridge between them.

Claudia’s expression turns from a smile to something more serious, though she doesn’t dwell on it as her daughters prepare for what is to come next. "Once you get settled in, my business partners will likely want to meet you." Looking to the side, Claudia folds her hands in front of herself, then looks back up to Niki and Barbara. "I… wish our reunion could’ve been better. That the intervening years were… kinder to you both."

Closing her eyes, Claudia reaches up and demurely dabs at the corners of her eyes with the sides of her thumb. "You should take care of your personal matters. Mr. Calevera will show you out." Claudia glances to Barbara, then back to Niki and finally steps in to them both and wraps her arms around their shoulders, drawing them both in to a shaky embrace.

"There’s still time yet," Claudia murmurs, "for new beginnings."

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