2007-11-30: Balancing Your Rack


Niki_icon.gif Nathan_icon.gif

Summary: What? It's a Scrabble term. What's more innocent than Scrabble?

Date It Happened: November 30th, 2007

Balancing Your Rack

Bat Country Labs

A million and one things may have been happening here earlier today, important things, life-altering things, but no one would ever know it now. Flooded in darkness, save for a single light on in one of the little adjacent rooms meant for the temporary patients it sometimes acquires, the labs are still. The hour is late — the sick need their rest. Everyone should be in bed, this late, but there's a quiet-as-a-mouse visitor in that one room with the light on - Niki, sitting on the floor against the wall just to the left of the ajar door. The room is empty, otherwise, aside from medical equipment she couldn't begin to comprehend. The light is just bright enough to shed a soft glow on the pages of a book which she props up on her knees, drawn up close to her chest.

The door is mysteriously unlocked. This gives Nathan a little reassurance that he's not entirely unwelcome, here, that the hour isn't as ridiculous as he thought it could be. Not that it isn't, but after his long stay in the labs nearly a month ago, he knows it wouldn't be entirely unheard of for someone to be awake. His footsteps down the stairs betray his presence, and he does want anyone would do this situation - he heads towards the light.

A trenchcoat is but one layer in his ensemble, beneath that a navy blue sweater, jeans, boots. A red scarf offers a splash of colour and does the unfortunate thing of drawing attention to how overheated he probably is, already unwinding the woolen thing from around his neck by the time he approaches the room, having noted the darkness of the labs. "Anyone home?" he asks, gently.

Not expecting anyone to be rustling at this hour, except for maybe Cass in a fit of workaholicism, Niki looks up from her book. Bleary-eyed, she has the look of someone who's been staring at text on a page for quite some time without taking anything in; not that her folded-up figure is particularly obvious from down here. The book is a distraction, to feel like she's doing anything, anything except sleeping. In a typically tight pair of dark jeans and thin half-zipped hoodie in a soft shade of purple over a similar v-necked tanktop, she's not exactly dressed for bed as a guest here. Recognizing the voice prompts her to shut the novel all the way and peek up around the doorframe. "Nathan…?"

"Niki," Nathan offers back. Not quite surprised, even if he didn't expect to see her. He's gotten used to running into people, perhaps, and the scarf comes off completely so as to stuff it into the pocket of his coat. Approaching the door, he stops short a few feet away, glancing towards the empty laboratory, half-shadowed and only just illuminated from the light coming out of Niki's room. At least that way, the visible symptoms are less obvious - he doesn't like the fact he's thinner than he was, or the constant sun-starved quality of his skin, or the signs of fever that make people take a step back in sympathetic wariness. "I guess I shouldn't expect this place to be open properly at all hours, huh?"

Bewilderment lingers in Niki's eyes as she tracks Nathan's entrance, It makes … some kind of sense for him to be here, it's like the mecca for sick people with abilities or something; all the same, the woman on the floor seems a a touch thrown off-guard. This time, it's almost entirely because she's been jarred out of her own little world; anyone could have walked in to the same response. "… was the door unlocked?" comes her confused answer as she sets the book down beside her. "Everyone's catching up on their rest.

He approaches completely, now, leaning a shoulder against the doorframe. A pause, then a slight smile. "No they aren't," Nathan points out, a hand up to scratch his jaw before gesturing towards her. "Maybe just you, but all the same." Another pause before he asks the very reluctant question, as if he has assumed the answer and doesn't want it confirmed. "Did you catch it too?"

Expect the unexpected, then. A mild smile starts to grace Niki's lips, gets about halfway and falls, like she was trying to be reassuring but gave in to sympathy somewhere along the line. "Nah," she answers, gathering her sock feet closer to herself as she presses against the wall. She looks tired, sure, from being up at such a late hour, and sitting here so long, but a close inspection would find only slightly pale skin, no less weight than usual, and no fevered sheen. The picture of health. "But I'm looking after someone who did. He's just a kid. My son's age. It's … late - what're you doing here?"

Good question. Nathan tries to supress an awkward smile because yes, this must seem surreal to Niki, at least a little. "I was hoping Cass was still being an insomniac," Nathan states, lightly, looking down towards. "I wanted to talk to her about a mutual friend. As well as get some peace of mind on this… thing." Which could have easily happened during the day, it's not as though Cass doesn't make time for people - but maybe the hour is answer enough. This was an impulsive decision. Nathan turns a little, hands up to shield a quiet fit of coughing, a murmured apology made almost inaudible before his hands sink back into his pockets. "Sorry to hear a kid has this. Is he— he's like us, right?" Please say yes. He doesn't need to worry all over again about his own sons.

"Yeah, he's … like us," Niki answers without knowing the reassurance it brings. A hint of awkwardness clings to her phrasing. It seems strange, saying it that way. Like segregation. "And, Cass might be out being an insomniac somewhere else," she says with a hint of a knowing smile - knowing of their unexpected mutual friend, that is. "But I hope she's at home sleeping." She chooses to be an insomniac right here. Leaning back until her head gently hits the wall behind her, Niki folds her arms around herself. "Do you want to…" she ventures without quite knowing what comes next, glancing around the small room and its … uninteresting sights. There's books. There's medical supplies. There's a small stack of what may be boardgames close to a purse that can only be Niki's.

Well he did drive all the way out to Brooklyn. Nathan watches her after she trails off, then follows her gaze around the room, landing on the stack of board games, the top of which being— "Scrabble?" Better than Monopoly. Nathan pauses, then leans back out of the room to observe something— then holds up a hand. "One sec." And he disappears back out of sight. Mysterious! It doesn't take too long, but he returns soon with what appears to be two bottles of Rolling Rock in his hands, this time actually walking into the room. "Definitely don't tell Cass," he says, offering the drink out to her - a far cry from the champagne of Vegas, but the bottle is, at least, cold.

Mysterious? Definitely. Niki actually tries to peek out into the labs when Nathan disappears, into the mysterious dark, for all the good it does. When he returns and the reason becomes obvious, she doesn't take the offered bottle right away — she stares at it like it's going bite or, maybe, chastise her - but when neither of those things happen, the late hour gets the best of her. Yeah. We'll go with that. "I can keep a secret if you can," she says, reaching up to take the Rolling Rock and smiling, laughing as if at some smartly told joke only she can hear. Then she gestures with the bottle to the boardgames. "I play it all the time with my son," she says of the Scrabble, "I thought it might help pass the time with Cam. Do you play?"

The trenchcoat is shed, with a hint of gratefulness, overheated enough as it is now that he's inside and away from the November nighttime chilliness. With only some awkwardness, Nathan moves to sit down, legs sort of partially folded in a comfortable sprawl, and the bottle of Rolling Rock is opened with a hiss of vacuum. "The tradition in my house is Monopoly," he says, leaning back against one hand as he brings the lager up to sip. "The kids are more into Connect-4 at the moment." He nods towards the Scrabble, a hint of mirth in his eyes. "Set it up. It's been a while."

Niki lets one leg slide and stretch out along the floor in front of her, one still half-cocked at the knee. She blinks harshly a few times, chasing away drowsiness instead of giving in to sleep. She opens the bottle with a matching, familiar hiss of vacuum. The late-early hours of AM are a good time for the surreal, and so, if she doesn't think too hard, it almost seems normal to be setting up a game of Scrabble with the Senator-elect Petrelli. "How old are your boys now?" She spreads the board out — an oldschool game, the folding cardboard instead of the three-dimensional newer variety with fitted plastic squares. "You have to draw a letter firs to see who's the lowest. Then they go first," she explains, taking a drink of the bear before picking a letter from the bag. C.

"Eight and six," Nathan says, reaching out to take a letter as well, fumbling around for a few moments as he says, "Our rule was always that the youngest goes first. You can see how that puts me at a continual disadvantage. Gives Peter room to cheat even more." A square is extracted, shown. L.

The statement of the boys' ages draws a smile from Niki — fond, maybe remembering those ages from when Micah went through them. Speaking of ages… "I'd go first either way," she points out, not without a momentarily mischievous smile, all good-natured. "Wait," she says as she rattles about the tiles in the bag in order to pick out six more. "Peter cheats?" See that furrowed brow and sceptically raised eyebrows? Niki doesn't seem convinced! But there are more important matters at hand, like making a word. She doesn't dwell long before laying out:


It occurs to him that the last time he played Scrabble, it was with Jack, and somehow, Niki's choice of word reminds him of that unique experience. "Peter cheats," Nathan confirms. "Says he doesn't, but he wins too much." There's logic for you. Adjusts the rack, viewing what letters he has as an option. A long hesitation before he spells out a word, heading down from the V.


On the contrary, Niki pretty much only plays with an eleven year old boy, and her thoughts are chaste as can be, so far. She only gives Nathan a funny look — not over his Scrabble tactics, but over the declaration of his brother cheating. She takes score on a little pad of paper nearby and quietly rearranges her little wooden tiles, biting her lower lip for a spell before giving in to another drink from the hush-hush bottle beside her. Then she delicately places five more letters around Nathan's second I.


Nathan only shrugs when she gives him a skepitcal look. It's not so different to the look Heidi gives him when he says the same thing— or, well, most things. He's about to take another swig of beer, but hesitates as Niki's next word materialises. Yeah, Jack's ruined this game for him. Contemplative silence as he regards his own letters, pursing his lips at the slim pickings, before finally opting for…


…around the the C of 'curvy'.

This is the moment Niki starts to take stock of all the words on the board and… well… there's… nothing she can do about that. She clears her throat very softly and quietly while marking down Nathan's points, glancing up at him just the once. She takes longer, this time, to pick out her word, shifting about to sit with crossed legs and taps a manicured nail on her knee for a good fifteen seconds before mumbling something along the lines of, "ineedmorevowels" before cautiously leaning over to add to the new L.


…is it getting uncomfortably warm in here or—

Having been quicker on the uptake than Niki was, Nathan has the advantage of managing not to react, although that next word gets just the faintest of twitched smiles, though it's masked when he takes a sip of beer. He regards his letters, the picture of seriousness. Can he do— no, he can't do that.

But then it's like he has a little Jack-like conscience on his shoulder, telling him to stop being a pussy, Petrelli, jesus christ. Around the like E in 'virile', he sets down…


Then— "Oh, wait," he says, then adds an S to the start of that. "Want another beer?"

… what kind of universe is this? This time, Niki can't help but acknowledge the words, looking across at Nathan with a smirk and an oh really? glance to match that borders, just borders, on saucy. Soon, though, she takes a second to close her eyes and rest her face in her hand, keenly masked — maybe — as a gesture of tiredness. "No, I'm good, thank you." Actually, she would like another one right about now, but she's still working on the first beer that should be sitting there open beside her as it is. "What, do you have a whole bar hidden down here that Cass doesn't know about?" she jokes (?) with a laugh. The blonde sighs as she runs her hands down through the length of her hair, forming waves now after hours of no styling. She tries to rearrange her letters and thinks she can break the trend, toying with the end of SCREAM.


One tile is blank. "That's an X."

"Just a cooler with a couple more," Nathan says, an unstoppable smile now playing out as he looks across at her, then down at his letters, rearranging them a little to see what he can do. He looks at the board, looks at his letters. Board, letters, board, letters. Letters, board. He clears his throat, and with the delicate sound of wooden tile against cardboard, he carefully sets out something at the end of E_TRA.


And he's already chuckling in a very satisfied way to himself by the time the last A is set down.

Niki watches her Scrabble partner all the while now, blue eyes fixated on his smug smile expectantly. When he puts his letters down, she gapes. But she pencils down a proper score and makes no further comment. "That was a nice score." No comment. That wasn't a comment. The woman's cheeks tinge pink, just barely noticeable in the glow of the half-lit room. She pauses, finishes her drink completely, smoothly smiles as charmingly as if that did not just happen, and turns an incredulous (but amused, despite herself) look on Nathan. She drops the pencil. "Seriously? I think this game is rigged." By … God. Niki rebels and puts the a stupid three letter word down over the EXTRA in EXTRAMARITAL.


And then she folds her arms and tries to keep a straight face (she fails, it's cute, look).

"It wasn't…" And that's when Nathan catches on, and he can only finish that with what he was going to say. "…bad." Squint. Yes, she did just— he finishes off his beer as well, setting the bottle aside and lifting a hand to run through his hair in not quite a nervous gesture. He glances down at the innocuous word, then back at her— and easily grins at her attempt at a straight face, but says nothing. Just looks at his letters. Click, click, go the tiles, stretching out from the C of her 'cat'.


Now this is a straight face, Niki, take lessons. "You think?" he responds.

"… Nathan." It's not reprimanding so much as pleading. For what, who knows (not coitus, one would presume). "This isn't exactly the Scrabble I'm used to." Not that Niki Sanders is a prude by any stretch of the imagination. Maybe it's not a rigged game, or coincidence, or fate or God or whatever it is playing tricks, maybe, just maybe, it's their own fault. She stares down her tiles, searching them out with a challenge glinting in her eye. She picks up a few little wooden letters— but! "You know what," she says through a laugh, "You win. I'm dirty Scrabbled out." Lies.

"I'm sorry," Nathan says. Also lies. Especially if his smirk has anything to say about it. "For what it's worth, it took me a couple of words until it started getting deliberate." Then, he eyes the tiles still in her hands. "Well I think 'coitus' would be tough to beat, but go ahead." He raises an eyebrow. Challenge. DO IT, SANDERS.

Little does Nathan know, Niki is not only a Scrabble maven (kind of) but well-grounded in certain forms of adult entertainment (more than kind of). "I hate you a little bit," she lies, and lies obviously, due to her telltale smile. She braces herself with a palm beside the board, curling beside it she trails on the top of the game above the L:


which also creates…


"That's all I have. I'm going to bed."

Nathan watches the progression of letters with hazy interest, clearing his throat a little - but not out of awkwardness, just out of the need to not cough like a plague victim in front of her - and then giving a rasping chuckle when her hand moves to reveal the word. "Nicely done," he concedes, looking back towards her. "Thanks for the game. Had to drive out to Brooklyn for a reason, why not Scrabble." His hands move to help put away the tiles and racks, clearing off words like curvy and scream and slick and shaking his head a little at himself. Clearly being a plague victim is taking it's toll.

"I didn't mind the company," Niki admits with an undertone of surprise to go along with her thanks, there. She folds the board up and packs it all neatly away and sets it on the pile where it came from, where it proceeds to look as completely innocent as Hasbro intended. "It was kind of nice … being around someone over the age of twelve. And without syringes and vials in their hands. The latter being adults, of course," she clarifies with another light laugh. "Just busy ones." The woman gets to her feet with ease of movement that belies a state of health unlike Nathan's.

Nathan steals up his trenchcoat first before less-than-easily getting to his feet, health being one thing but sitting on the ground isn't so comfortable anymore either. Coat slipped on, he also makes a point of picking up the empty beer bottles. Leave nothing behind or Cass will very much kick his ass. "Any time," he says. "I could have used the time off myself. Been busy." Election, and all. And plague. "Listen, you… you'll see Cass before I do." This would be the part where he tells her to let Cass know he wanted to talk, but instead, he hesitates then says, "Don't bother letting her know I came by, I'll catch her some other time." There is maybe the smallest sliver of vulnerability there, but it's gone when he just smiles at her, gestures with the beer bottles. "I'll get rid of the evidence," and moving for the door.

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