Turn It Inside-Out


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Scene Title Turn It Inside-Out
Synopsis Fearing that she's being surveilled after her trip to the Manhattan Exclusion Zone, Nicole Miller confides in an old, trusted friend.
Date February 12, 2021

Normally, a dinner at Nicole’s would be something special. Tonight, however, it’s pizza. Good pizza, but still just pizza. The hostess is secretly embarrassed about being unable to supply a home cooked meal, but there’s only so much she can do. Getting together at all in her state is a small feat. She’s usually so drained after work, and especially at the end of the week. Fridays are not the nights for going out and having fun anymore. Not because of her age, but because of what happened in November.

But she has a good friend across the table from her, and the meal is still hot, the lemonade and ice tea on offer are cold. Things could be worse. Well, in this moment, they could be. They are definitely worse outside of this snapshot of time.

Miller Residence
Bay Ridge

February 12th
6:22 pm

The house is otherwise empty. No daughter to interrupt, no husband skulking around. Nicole hates it.

She smiles at Don. “Thanks for coming over.” The lighting is dim, but not to set any kind of mood. By now, most people who interact with her on a daily basis are used to Nicole compensating for her constant headaches. “I know it’s a departure from our usual routine, but… The quiet helps.”

Kenner looks awkward across the table, worrying at the buttons on his sleeve cuffs while he looks down at the table. “Look I… came over here partly because I wanted to see what your home situation was like.” There’s an almost official tone to his voice. “Because, I…” Kenner trails off, then sighs, looking up to Nicole.

“Look.” Kenner says in that way he always does before delivering bad news. “People are worried. I’m worried. About you, your mental health. Voss might not vocalize it, but he’s concerned too. He just doesn’t want his concern going into an official report that’ll stain your career.” Kenner folds his hands in his lap. “I heard it through the grapevine that they’re thinking of putting you on indefinite medical leave.”

The smile fades the more he speaks. Her heart sinks down to her stomach, her breathing slow and even in an effort to hold on to her composure and keep her feelings of betrayal from showing on her face. This isn’t what she expected. Now? Now it feels like a set-up from someone’s supposed to be on her side.

Nicole turns her head, chin dipping slightly and lowering her gaze to her dining table. Another deep breath in, another out. “I guess I stayed on his good side, huh?” she says softly of Voss, a humorless breath of laughter escaping her. A far cry from the warning Kenner delivered back in September, about how Voss would ruin her career if she’d crossed him.

Lifting her head again, she waits until their eyes meet, no matter how hard it is for them both. “How did you feel when they removed you from your position? You weren’t crazy, Don. Neither am I.” Nicole so badly wants him to understand. To be her ally again.

Most of all, she’d like to stop feeling abandoned by every single person she’s put her trust in. Ben, Peter, Noah, Rhys, Zachery… Feeling alone in all of this has been the worst. “How did you deal with it? Knowing…” Nicole tries to find words that explain the sort of burden carried with the sort of knowledge she’s referring to. There aren’t words for it. None that she can access in her current state. “Knowing.

“Apples and oranges,” Kenner says with a shake of his head and a spread of his hands. “I was deep cover and my overseer got killed, leaving people to question where my loyalties lie. I killed a man in Kansas City to keep my cover, a man with family. Maybe I could’ve…” he breathes in deeply through his nose and then shakes his head.

“You’re a victim of an attack, your family is coming apart at the seams, and you just lost more than some people can ever hope to have.” Kenner says, careful to handle the situation of the twins with care. “With me, it was a question of loyalty. With you, it’s your health.” Reaching out across the table, Kenner offers one of his hands out to Nicole, palm up. The worn gold of his wedding band shines dull in the light.

“I know what it’s like to lose a child.” Kenner says without breaking eye contact from Nicole. “But I could never know what it’s like to lose myself. Not like you did.” Though there’s something haunted in the back of his eyes that says, in a small way, maybe he does.

There’s never been hesitation to reach out and take the offered hand. This time, Nicole does. Just for a moment, she stares down at that wedding band. Her heart constricts with something like guilt, but she shoves it down and accepts the offer. What she needs and wants from him has nothing to do with who’s married, who’s on the outs, and who’s reconciling.

Slowly, her fingers tighten around his hand. “Sunspot,” she says quietly while maintaining that eye contact now. It’s all the argument she puts up to when Kenner’s career began to unravel and calling him on the carpet about not knowing what it’s like to question who you really are deep down. Nicole shakes her head. Forget it.

“Can I trust you, Don?” It’s not the first time she’ll ask that question of a friend, but hopefully the only time she’ll ever ask it of him. Her head starts to turn toward her front door, but she forces herself to stay with him and not look away. Not give in to her paranoia. “Somebody knows something. People I thought I could trust know something and they aren’t telling me.” Again, she begs him to understand. “I’m not crazy. If I can just figure out what’s going on, I… I can start to fix things.”

“About what?” Kenner asks, and it doesn’t sound rhetorical. There isn’t so much curiosity in his eyes as there are things that burn Nicole like hot iron: concern and pity. He squeezes her hand and the expression doesn’t change. “Who knows about what?

“About what happened to me!” She hates the way he looks at her. How can he of all people look at her that way? After everything he’s seen in this world, all the terrible burden of knowing that he’s had to carry… How can he look at her that way? “I didn’t miscarry, Don! What happened to me, to the others, it was an attack. And somebody knows something they won’t say to me! I don’t know if it’s Voss or Bluthner or—”

Nicole’s voice catches. She stops just short of dropping the name Bennet. “You have to believe me. Please.

Nicole,” Don says in that tone of voice she was afraid of, “if someone at the agency knew anything more, you know they’d share it with you. The director is a good woman, qualified, and she isn’t about to leave you in the dark. You know she’d tell you, and then she’d immediately put you on leave so you could deal with the news.”

There’s a calm rationality to what Kenner says. Amusingly, like stepping into a cold shower. “And Voss… doesn’t seem like a bad guy.” There’s a smidge of resentment there, for the job he should have and doesn’t. But he doesn’t let it take the wheel. At least not so easily. “He’s by the books, a pencil-pusher to the last. Unless you know something I don’t,” Kenner says with a raise of his brows, “this is… probably just desperation manifesting as paranoia.”

More cold water.

That isn’t what he said to her the last time they broached the topic of Kristopher Voss. The cold water is running through her veins now. Her heart hammers inside her chest, pushing more and more of it through her vascular system until she’s chilled to the very bone. It’s a wonder her fingers aren’t turning blue in Don’s warm hand, that he can’t feel it.

That hand is dragged back toward her so she can let out a shaky breath, closing her eyes as she drags the fingers of both through her dark hair. “You’re right. It’s— It’s been a lot. It’s just been so much.

A landmine lies between them. The question lingers of how deftly she can navigate this field.

“Things with Zachery and I being like they are, I guess I’ve been looking for any explanation. Anything to explain…” Nicole sags forward and looks down at that hand still outstretched to her. To that ring. “How about you?” she asks, eyes lifting to settle squarely on his face, unafraid of what she might find there now. Now she wants to see his every nuance.

“How are things with Mary?”

Judging from his expression, not well.

“One day at a time,” Kenner says, though as he does he reaches for a napkin. Not to dry his mouth with. Instead, Kenner lays the cloth napkin flat in front of him as he talks. “It’s more Leonard than anything. He was in a pretty bad car accident a couple weeks back. He’s going to be fine, eventually, but he’s staying with her while he recovers.”

Kenner smiles, awkwardly. “Kelly isn’t going to take him back,” he says with a slow shake of his head. “It’s amazing how—after a whole fucking war—people can just go right back to being the same petty people they were before.” Then, reaching inside of his suit jacket, Kenner takes out a pen and starts scribbling on the cloth napkin.

“I guess he learned his relationship skills from his old man,” Kenner admits with a tired sigh. Then, sliding the napkin over to Nicole he offers a weary smile.

your house might be bugged

It’s relief that hits her next to read the scrawl on the napkin. One hand covers tight over her mouth to keep from making a sound. It allows her to look suitably shocked by the news. When she trusts her voice again, she lets her hand slowly drift to the table, a quick nod to show she understands. “Jesus,” she breathes out. “I’m so sorry. I hadn’t heard about that.”

Reading between the lines — which she isn’t sure how much she should be doing, but here she is — she wonders how much of what he says correlates to Voss and the branch he came from before his post at SESA.

It had seemed strange to her that he hadn’t managed to move up during the complete upheaval. There’s personal politics, and then there’s holding in a position because it’s advantageous. Or maybe she’s digging too deep into the whys. Maybe people are just assholes.

“I’m glad you all have each other,” Nicole admits, smiling despite the fact that her eyes hold only worry. Her own pen is procured and she writes back. Her eyes stay on him as she does. “I’ve just been so alone.”

where’s safe?

“Do you smoke inside or outside?” Kenner asks. It’s also his answer. “I could… really use a smoke.”

The napkin is folded carefully in front of her until it’s a square small enough to fit unobtrusively in her pocket. “Come on. I’ll grab my emergency pack. If this isn’t a break glass kind of scenario, I don’t know what is.” Nicole makes a point of letting her chair scrape across the floor to telegraph the movement.

A tilt of her head indicates that he should follow as she leads the way from the dining room to the kitchen, where she stops at a cupboard and procures a black pack of menthol cigarettes. A green border around the edges and a pink camel in the center. A lighter is palmed as well, the cupboard door closed again.

“Thank fuck,” she mutters as she pushes on through the door leading out of the back of the kitchen that will lead to the back patio.

As they step out onto the patio, Kenner offers one look at Nicole, then a quick look around the patio. He rolls his shoulders against the cold, then pushes the door shut behind them. “I quit, but give me one anyway,” Kenner says, splaying two fingers in Nicole’s direction.

“I don’t know for sure if your place is being watched,” Kenner says in a quiet tone of voice, “and I’ll be honest, I don’t know if you’re not genuinely being paranoid. But I know to be safe about this sort of stuff. Madeline and I would have smokes like this all the time, back before she left. For much the same reason.”

“I’m not crazy, Don,” Nicole reiterates, plucking two cigarettes from the pack and handing him one. She hands the lighter off to him first. The cold sinks a little deeper than it has any right to. She misses so dearly the way she could stand in the cold of winter and feel the warmth inside of her, unbothered by the season.

Those days are gone, like so much else.

“What makes you think I’m being watched?” Nicole can’t help but laugh at herself, a defeated sort of sound. “My paranoia’s not infectious.”

“An abundance of caution,” is Kenner’s smooth response. “If you’re right, and that’s a big if, it wouldn’t just be remote surveillance. Your phone would be tapped, internet, your house would be wired for sound. Because that’s what I’d order. What you would order.”

Kenner lights his cigarette, passing the lighter back to Nicole after he does. “But what I can’t puzzle out is why would the government have you watched? You’re a victim of an accident we’re investigating. Voss and those suits from the DoE are going in and out of the Vault in Fort Jay every day. There’s files from here to Sunday in six different departments working this case… “

Kenner takes in a slow drag of his cigarette, then exhales the smoke in a soft breath. “Admittedly all of it is top shelf secret. So maybe that’s it. Maybe they’re making sure you’re not going to the press or something fucking stupid like that. I don’t know.” His expression becomes pained. “I just know what I see here. You, having a breakdown.”

The smirk at the notion that she would order this level of surveillance herself is unbidden, but it at least feels like a moment of levity, however unintentional. A vote of confidence in her, somehow.

Two flicks of the wheel sparks the flame to life and she passes it before the end of her cigarette until she hears the paper crackle. She slips the lighter into her pocket and blows the first of the smoke out the side of her mouth. Now her smile is a sad one. “I want to tell you so bad what really happened to me. But I’m afraid if I do…” She shakes her head. “I’m not even sure that’s why I’m being surveilled.”

With the cigarette held in one hand, Nicole shakes her hair out at the back of her head with the other. “I stumbled onto something. I didn’t mean to, but I did, and… And now I know something so terrible that even if I could sleep at night, I wouldn’t.”

Nicole closes her eyes after a drag from her cigarette and heaves a smoke-laden sigh. “Jesus. Even I think that sounds insane when I put it like that. Maybe I should just shut the fuck up before I get you in trouble, too.” Pained, she opens her eyes again to look at her friend. “That’s the last thing I want.”

Kenner narrows one eye in a squint Nicole knows well by now. He’s trying to tell if she’s bullshitting him or not. Edging closer, Kenner takes a long drag off of his cigarette, then turns his face away from Nicole as he blows smoke into the air.

“What was it?” Kenner asks, plucking the cigarette from his lips, pinching it between two calloused fingers. His eyes dip back to her, brows furrowed. “I’ve seen some fucked up things, Miller. Try me.”

A shaky nod accompanies the shaking hands and the shaky exhale of smoke into the air to be caught up by the breeze and scattered to the atmosphere. Then, Nicole laughs. Not the kind of got’cha laughter that comes so freely from the likes of Cooper or Lance, but the sort born from frayed nerves and being overwhelmed.

“Yeah,” she agrees, “I bet you have. I know you have. That’s why I called you and not… like my sister.” Even if Colette’s seen more than her fair share of fucked up herself. Maybe for that reason. Or maybe it’s just because she has her kid and Nicole isn’t ready for her baby sister to shout at her about how she needs to stop being a crazy person and get her shit together.

Still, there’s guilt that it’s to him she’s turned. And now, an utter confusion about where to begin to explain what she knows. “Forty years ago, Erica Kravid turned up at a CIA facility, from three years in our future, asking for help. There’s files. There’s… documentation. Firsthand witness accounts. I interviewed somebody.” Nicole shakes her head quickly. “She was Expressive, with multiple abilities. And she told them the world ended, Don.”

Nicole eyes her friend warily. “How’s that for fucked up?”

Kenner burns down half the remaining length of his cigarette in one inhale and absolute silence. His exhale is sharp and rough, eyes alighting to meet Nicole’s and follow her stare to make sure he sees him.

“When the fuck did you find this? How?” Kenner asks, not questioning the validity of it yet. “And why didn’t you file a report?” He has suspicions, but he wants to hear them from her.

Nicole shakes her head quickly. “I told you. I stumbled into it.” She takes another drag and eyes how much of Kenner’s cigarette has been decimated. “I wasn’t looking. I didn’t go digging for some kind of scoop. It just… fell into my lap.”

The instinct to take a step back proves strong enough that Nicole shifts her posture, one foot sliding behind her just enough for her to push off if she needs it. “And are you kidding? How do I report something like this? The CIA buried it. I report it, now it’s on record, and either they discredit me, or I wind up buried in a fucking hole in Yonkers.”

Another stream of smoke is exhaled away from the both of them. “Maybe both. Fuck, I don’t know, Don.” There’s a bitter breath of laughter that’s unaccompanied by a smile of any sort, sardonic or otherwise. “Last time someone tried to report on something related to other timelines, I understand they got demoted.”

Kenner’s brow knits in frustration. “What I did was different. I took matters into my own hands and I owned it. This is different,” he says with a motion between himself and Nicole.

“Look, you said this happened what, forty years ago?” Kenner is quick to press onward. “That’s the Company’s era. That’s the CIA that birthed people like Kershner who let fucking Sylar into the White House. Nearly everybody from back then is either dead, in prison, or about to be one or the other. This is a different administration, and chances are none of this ties back to our current bosses and the sticks up their asses.”

Kenner breathes in deeply, then exhales a sigh. “I can’t believe I’m going to even recommend this, but I think you should bring it to Kristopher. Come clean, be above-board, and cover your ass. Get Nazan in on it too. Voss was a spook and Nazan worked SIGINT, they’ll be able to get the dirt on what really happened forty years ago, if any of it still exists.”

Then, exhaling a slow sigh, Kenner slouches his shoulders forward. “Then, maybe… take some time off, Nic? Take a look at yourself in the mirror, a real solid look, and then… maybe slow down a little.” He reaches out and lays a hand on her shoulder, brows knit in concern.

As he starts to run down all the reasons why it’s safe for her to come forward, how the roots of this evil have rotted in the ground and the fruit borne by it is withered and dead, Nicole stares off into space. He has no idea, and how can he? Her eyes are a little too wide, brows furrowing just before she shakes her head in a silent refutation.

There’s a breath taken in for her part to begin to argue against every good point he’s made, every piece of advice he’s offered. To balk at revealing anything to Voss. To ask why she’d be followed if the information she’d uncovered wasn’t a fucking issue. Instead, his hand rests on her shoulder and that breath is used to fuel a strangled sob. Nicole hangs her head, shoulders quaking. “I feel so alone,” she admits in a shaking voice.

“Work is all I have left. I can’t slow down, Don.” On this she is emphatic in her insistence, lifting her head and starting to animate once more, making sweeping gestures with her cigarette bearing hand. “If I stop moving,” the fingers of that hand tap against her forehead, ash threatening to drop off the end and scatter on her clothes, “if I stop to think?

A drag is taken while brows knit, blue eyes meeting his green. “I’m afraid of what I’ll do to myself.” This confession is followed by a pained expression. “Please, please keep that between us. I swear I’m not that far gone. I just need…” Her shoulders hunch forward, chest caving inward with the weight of her pain and the effort it takes not to lose herself to her tears again.

The cigarette falls to the ground, forgotten.

Kenner is as still as a statue for a time, then slowly sags as if under the weight of Nicole’s own burdens. The hand lifted to her shoulder squeezes firmly. “Nic,” he says in a rough but quiet tone, “I get where your head’s at. I get the need to keep moving forward because stopping means falling apart. But I’ll tell you something I wish someone had told me when I was your age. It’s that even if you don’t stop, you’re just gonna fall apart somewhere else along the way.”

As he slowly lets his hand slide off of Nicole’s shoulder, Kenner lets out a sigh. “If you don’t want to go to the bosses with this, then stop digging into it. If you’re so concerned that you’re being followed, and you think it’s someone inside SESA, the surest way to make yourself safe is to make yourself someone who isn’t a threat.”

Kenner’s eyes dip down to the cigarette, then back up to Nicole. “Either bring it to the bosses and pursue it above-board, or just… let it go. Do the job they need you for and focus on that. This world’s a tire fire, Nic. Pick a fire and put it out.”

It takes a series of five more hard breaths before Nicole truly feels she has control of herself again. When she smiles half-heartedly, she still looks every bit the wreck he knows she is and that she has been for months now. “I’ll stop picking at it.” And she means it, but it’s like a scab. Eventually, she’ll start prying her nail under it again and gently lifting until she hits the paydirt of scar tissue. “If things don’t improve, I’ll go to Farah.” There’s a certain kind of defeat in that. In choosing not to see something through that she’s taken on as her own.

Which is precisely why she’ll go back to it, even if she doesn’t realize it just yet.

Her eyes are wiped with a corner of her sleeve turned inside-out. “I don’t deserve you, you know that, right?” is the first assertion she makes with an anxious and worn-out laugh. Even if she did jump out of a jet to save his life, she knows she isn’t entitled to his attention, let alone care. His continued kindness and friendship isn’t owed to her.

A gentle rock forward that adjusts course and becomes a rock backward as well, a swing of arms in those same directions to shake out nerves — naturally — is the only indication her body gives to betray the fact that she nearly went in for an embrace, however chaste in intent.

She especially isn’t owed that.

There’s something in Kenner, a tension and an uncertainty, that makes him straighten his back when Nicole comes in. But gradually his shoulders slack and his brows furrow. He looks Nicole up and down and takes in a deep breath, then reaches up and threads a lock of her hair behind one of her ears with a gentle touch of his nails against her temple.

“I know,” Kenner says quietly. “Just…” he lets his hand fall away, slowly stepping back from Nicole, turning his body in that silent language of departure. “Promise me you’ll let this go? That you’ll take care of yourself?”

Nicole’s eyes stay on Don’s when he reaches for her, going a touch wider, her mouth going a little slack. She’s still watching him watch her when her breath stills in her throat, a small tremor running through her as his fingers brush over the shell of her ear.

A thousand thoughts race through her head as she breaks that eye contact to look down and to the side, reminding herself how to breathe again. For a moment, she remembers a different pair of green eyes staring back at her, and her heart aches.

It makes her feel fortunate for what she has right in front of her. Looking up again, Nicole smiles, tired and melancholic, but it’s there. “Yeah. I’ll let it go. I… You’re right. I have enough to worry about now.” That expression curves more into a smirk. “I’ll schedule a spa day.” See? Taking care of herself. They both know it’s not enough, but it can be a start. “Thanks, Don… You pick the place next time.”

Don watches Nicole for a moment in silence, then after too long a moment says. “Yeah, some place nice.” He looks down to the ground as he turns away from her. “Stay safe, Nic…”


A Short While Later

Headlights sweep through a parking lot as as Yamagato Altum pulls off of a quiet street. The vacant lot behind a derelict factory in Red Hook is otherwise empty, save for one other car parked a few feet further up the lot. As the newly arrived vehicle comes to a stop and turns off its headlights, Donald Kenner slowly emerges and looks up at the starlit sky and then the nearby glow of old, yellowed street lamps.

“So?” A voice calls from the dark by the other car. Kenner takes in a deep breath, holds it, then sighs as he shuts his car door and starts walking toward the other voice.

“She’s going to let it go.” Kenner says quietly. “But I didn’t find out much else. I don’t know what she knows, or what else she found in the storage facility. Or who put it all there.”

The figure in the dark takes a few more steps forward, staying just outside of the glow of the street lights. “Keep an eye on her. I want to know if she so much as sneezes in the direction of that information again.”

“Sure.” Kenner says, looking down to the broken asphalt underfoot.

“And Donald?” The man in the darkness says, taking another step forward.

“Not a word of this to anyone.”


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