2007-10-14: Carry On


Nathan_icon.gif Niki_icon.gif

Summary: Sometimes, guidance comes from the most unexpected places.

Date It Happened: October 14th, 2007

Carry On

Bat Country Labs

Brooklyn, New York

Not for the first time since his stay here, Nathan is not getting rest and relaxation like he's meant to be. At this point, Cass may be close to tranq'ing both he and Peter in order to achieve proper patient behaviour, but nevertheless. Besides, down here? Down here there is no sense of time, but according to his watch, it's heading on into the afternoon now. Nathan will need to make a break for sunlight, despite the quarantine, but since the virus was discovered not to be airborne (or something) such a break would be fine, right?

However, Nathan stays in the basement. Because if he walks out, he might keep on walking until he's home again.

The basement lab is mostly empty save for those resting in their respective makeshift bedrooms. Perhaps Cass has gone to sleep like a good insomniac scientist, catching her breaks when she can at whatever hour, unlike Nathan, who is occupying the main room, the one the doorway from the outside world leads in to. He has a magazine spread out on his lap, one of those trashy kinds that no one admits to buying but everyone flicks through occasionally in supermarket check out lines, and he's barely even looking at the contents. He's dressed warmly, huddled in a navy blue woollen jacket.

The next visitor to the labs has no appointment. In fact, she has no idea what she's even walking into. The woman is none other than Niki Sanders: telltale blonde hair pulled back into a slender ponytail, she's dressed in a pair of dark, skinny jeans, brown boots, and a black knit sweater against the fall weather, half-zipped over something considerably less substantial (less wool, more lace). She's a mixture of put together and … not; she's a little red-eyed and tired-looking. She's out of place in the sterile halls of the medical center — though, who really is out of place on the road to Bat Country Labs? It draws the most unexpected people under the most unexpected of circumstances. But enough waxing philosophic on Cass's lab of weirdoes. The point here is, Niki stands in the corridor and tries the door.

…Which turned out to be locked, this time around. Not a promising sign. Oh well. *Knock knock knock*.

Nathan glances up when there's the sound of someone attempting the door. He sits frozen for a moment, and then sort of winces when whoever is beyond there goes to knock. With a rustle of glossy pages, the magazine is set aside, although Nathan is debating simply sneaking off bedwards and pretending like he was never even here. Honestly, it'd be the smarter thing to do, all things considered.

Too bad he's incredibly bored.

The door is opened after the lock is toyed with, Nathan opens it just enough to see who it is… before opening it wider, obvious surprise on his these-days-paler features. "Niki?" Well hell, he might have dressed nicer rather than his super casual attire designed for warmth and comfort rather than for appearances. With a slightly feverish quality to the rest of him - yeah there's room for improvement. "Uh. Come in?"

That's not Cass. That doesn't look like Cass at all. Niki is the quintessential deer in the headlights, staring in flat-out shock. And gaping. Don't forget the gaping. "…" Articulate. "Is…" She leans ever-so-slightly to the side, attempting a glimpse beyond Nathan down the stairs. She goes for the straightforward tactic, expressing her complete confusion pretty damn well. "What are you doing here?"

If Niki wants answers? She'll want to follow. Or at least, not walk away. Nathan has been here for what feels like a long time that patience isn't really a virtue. He's quicker to get over the shock, at least, than Niki is, and he curls his arms back around himself, moving to head back down the stairs and leaving the door open for her. "I called in sick to work," he replies, dryly. "Sometime on the 9th. What day is it now?" That's sarcasm. Well maybe. Days do sort of start to run into each other.

Niki slowly begins to make her way down the stairs behind Nathan in the way one might tiptoe into a bear's den. She actually glances back into the hallway as if considering bolting the way she came, but instead, she backtracks just far enough to tug the door shut. "It's the 14th," she offers helpfully as she steps into the main room with its vague familiarity. She doesn't seem at home down here, glancing to the back rooms and lab with a certain unease that goes beyond Nathan's presence. "Is Cass here?"

The 14th? Ghjfdjkghfd. Nathan can't quite hide his discomfort at this news, giving a slight wince before it smoothes out again, as they stand in the middle of the nicely furnished main room. "I haven't seen her," Nathan says, tilting slightly to peer into the temporarily (and rarely) empty laboratory. "She's probably catching some shut eye. We don't sleep like normal people down here." Almost a chin up in Niki's direction. "Why are you here?"

Evidently, Niki feels the need to be on the move; she takes up striding slowly around the room, the click of her heels muffled by the mosaic of carpets on the floor. Why is she here? Why is— "I just wanted to see— " Wait. "You know Cass?" She drifts to a stop in front of the bookshelf, reaching out to clutch the edge of a shelf as if she needs the stability. She levels Nathan with a look that's both cautious and mystified. "I'm— sorry, but— who's we?"

Nathan tilts his head a little, and unlike her mobility, he's content with staying still, posture still sort of guarded - but then again, he's just sort of cold, is why. "I know Cass," he responds, raising an eyebrow at her. "I— You were just coming down to see her?” Like a crazy random happenstance? His demeanor changes slightly, more uncertain now. "Uh. 'We' would be Cass, me… Peter…" He doesn't list off the other names because, well, it's not his information to give, nor does he know if those names would mean anything to the woman. "We're here because we're— " Groping around for a word that's something else other than… "sick." Oh well.

"…So everyone really does know everyone else," Niki says in a low mumble, glancing off to the side. While the blonde doesn't exactly look at her best, she doesn't look sick, exactly. Crazy random happenstance. "Sick," she repeats with a glimmer of concern, wandering to the back of a chair, a piece of furniture that separates them. "And you're here… because… you can't go to the doctor?" She's getting it slowly. Give her a minute.

Whatever makes you feel better, Niki. Nathan studies her a little, perhaps picking up on the tiredness, but really, not everyone in the world is sick, right? He shakes off the notion, and actually (if a little unconsciously) steps back even further from the woman at a meandering pace. "It's not a normal kind of sick," he says, a little awkwardly. Where's Cass when he needs her? "So no, I can't just go see a doctor." He tilts his head towards the lab just visible from where they're standing. "Welcome to semi-quarantine."

"Quarantine?" Niki looks around with new alarm. He can't be serious, right? She actually smiles a touch, a hint of a laugh escaping. "I didn't know 'quarantine' could be 'semi'." It sounds like one of those all or none things. Where 'all' is like… hazmat, but what does she know. Taking in various aspects of Nathan's appearance with a new light - how sick he really does look - she's on the verge of asking another question, open her mouth more to do just that, but… "I'm sorry, I shouldn't be— it's none of my business." Niki starts to make strides for the stairs.

"It's more of a precaution than a necessity," Nathan explains. "We know it's not airborne, so." So in other words, he hasn't just INFECTED HER, presumably. Or he's hoping not. "Or else we'd have a city-wide panic on our hands." Then she's making for out, and Nathan actually takes a step in that direction, but he's not really about to stop her, hesitating. "Niki," he says, perhaps summoning up a touch more familiarity with her name. "It's okay." What is? Not sure. But she was about to speak, so… "What is it?"

Coming to a halt in front of the steps, Niki tucks back a wisp of blonde hair that's escaped her otherwise neat ponytail and hesitates. Her gaze doesn't leave the bottom step of the staircase for several seconds — but she does, eventually, look up at Nathan. "Is it serious?"

Nathan hesitates, glancing back towards the hallway leading off towards the backrooms, then back towards Niki. Cass had always been very positive and can-do about the whole thing. But Nathan is also a lawyer and he knows when he's not being told things, even if he doesn't know the nature of it. "Yeah," he answers, plainly. "It's pretty serious. Cass is working on a solution. We're thinking it only affects people like— " He just sort of gesture to her, gestures to himself. Us.

The affirmative garners an instant reaction. Sympathy, concern, worry — take your pick, Niki's giving them all away for free. That doesn't mean she knows what to say, though, but her eyes say it all. "…Well," she does say after a few moments, smiling. "Cass is pretty smart. She'll figure something out."

"Mm," Nathan responds, agreeably - not really taking a whole lot of comfort from that but then again, that's not Niki's place. She's only just been told about this, anyway. "So if you were wondering where Cass has been," he tilts his head towards the lab, "she's been a little preoccupied. Work-related vampirism, never seeing the light of day, not sleeping at night… and… sampling people's blood." Rimshot.

Ha ha. To Nathan's credit, his Casspire joke earns a smile from Niki, which lasts … about half a second. Okay, never mind. She glances down at the floor (which is actually interesting due to Cass's decoration) in a bout of stalling. Another smile shows itself. It might even have to do with Nathan's sense of humour. "I guess my timing kind of sucks."

Okay, so, that sounded wittier and less dorky in his head, but then again, he's two cups of coffee short of his usual charm. Nathan wears a rueful half-smile when she humours him with a similar gesture. "Well your timing could stand for improvement," he agrees, "given that everyone but me're managing to catch their thirty winks right now. But it's given me something to do for the past few minutes. Do you want me to pass on a message for Cass or something? Or Peter, for that matter."
Niki has to wonder how many people there are back there and finds herself looking past Nathan toward the back rooms. The thought comes and goes, and yet a few seconds bleed into several … and several more, and she still hasn't answered Nathan. She suddenly focuses on the ill would-be Senator as if coming foggily out of a daze. "… sorry, what?"

His eyes narrow a little when silence lapses, awkwardly waiting— and then when she doesn't respond, that's not much better. Nathan's hand twitches like he's about to move that arm to touch her shoulder, but he resists, if only due to the fact that he is in quarantine. "I was— just asking if you wanted me to let Cass or Peter know you stopped by," he repeats, but discards this in favour of, "You okay?"

"I'm fine, it's just— " Just what? Niki gives her head a shake and smiles in a way that aims to be reassuring. It's an attempt doomed to be transparent, given just how tired the blonde looks when she tries it. "I'm fine. I'll call them, it's alright."

"Uh huh," Nathan says, clearly hesitating, even opening his mouth to speak and pausing. Finally, he starts with, "You know, if you're not feeling well— this isn't my spiel to give, here, but— Cass is trying to get as many blood samples as possible," because she's a freaking vampire, "and maybe it wouldn't hurt to check." He adds, quickly, "Tiredness is a theme, with this thing." He may not be that perceptive of people when he has his mind on other things, but that much is obvious about her.

… crap. "I'm not sick," Niki protests, realizing fast that she's about to back herself into a corner. "I'm just tired, that's all." Yeah, yeah, he just said that's a theme. She wavers, giving Nathan a long, considering look which ends when she starts to turn away again. "…you look like you should rest."

"These days I always look like I should rest," Nathan states, and now he is walking with her, though he keeps his arms locked about himself. "And if you really want to go back home to your son without even making sure there's nothing wrong, then that's your call." It's an easy nerve to hit - it's what's kept him here, away from his own family.

And freeze. (Not literally.) Niki makes it up onto one step before Nathan delivers that message that might as well be do or die, if it weren't for the fact that she seems pretty sure she doesn't have a mystery sickness. She turns around swiftly — fast enough for her hair to fall at rest over one shoulder. "If I thought I was sick, I'd let Cass do whatever she needs," she explains without explaining. Okay, Niki. Out with it. "I'm on— meds," she says with a one-shouldered shrug. "They make me space out sometimes, that's all."

"Oh." Welcome to America. Nathan's motivation to Help! comes to a screeching halt, and awkward silence descends. "Sorry," he says, and actually sounds genuine, if more out of sheepishness than anything else. "Being in here— " Kind of makes you lose perspective, but he cuts himself off from saying anymore, instead going with, "That was none of my business," and backing up a step.

"Actually, it… sorta was." Niki offers up a light laugh under her breath. "What we talked about that night on the roof…" Her jaw sets and she glances away as she references back to that conversation almost a month ago. "I need help to hold on."

Her summoning up of their rooftop talk gains confusion, at first, from the senatorial candidate, before dawning understanding is shown. "That bad, huh?" Nathan asks, mostly rhetorically. "I didn't know they made medication for this sort of thing." The way they'd described it to him implied that it was a little beyond the usual cases of split personalities, but then again, those don't have instant fixes either. "Are you alright?"

"They… do," Niki answers slowly, taking on a more dismal tone as she adds, "It just… it has side effects." She's still wearing this topic close to the vest, not quite giving up all of her story. "I just can't take the risk, y'know. I have a family."

Nathan can understand that, it seems, as he doesn't disagree, but he doesn't verbalise the opposite either, studying her. "What about Ramon Gomez?" he asks. "Or even Peter? They— there's nothing they can do to…" How to say this, when he doesn't totally understand the nature of the beast. "To get rid of…" A slight gesture towards Niki, before he finishes that sentence with, "her?"

"See that room back there?" Niki tips her chin up, indicating one of the back rooms - it's hard to say which one exactly, but that's not the point. "Mr. Gomez did… whatever it is he does in there. Found Jessica. She came close to killing him. And Cass. Just… a minute longer and…" Niki stands up a touch straighter. "Maybe he could still help if he tried again. Or, maybe I'm strong enough. But maybes mean people might get hurt and that's not a chance I can take. Do what you have to, Nathan."

Nathan's gaze on her doesn't waver, though it grows steelier, silent for now. When he does speak, it's in quiet tones. "Then I guess it's down to what you're willing to sacrifice," he says. "But I think if you can't trust yourself to be strong enough, then there's not much in the way modern medicine can do in the long run." Like he knows? He's not exactly qualified to be imparting such advice, but it's what he has to believe. And so therefore, Niki does too. "Ramon told me it's a matter of exorcising your demons."

It's good advice. In fact, Niki seems ever-so-slightly surprised by the wisdom in Nathan's advice, locked on with a much less steely, but steadfast gaze. Her tones, too, are quiet. "Exorcisms take time."

The severity of the moment is lessened as he shrugs his shoulders again, a small smile tugging at his mouth. "That's true. Why, you got better things to do?" Nathan points out.

Niki, on the other hand, doesn't shift from serious to anything remotely lighter. Not yet. "I was willing to go away for however long it took to… 'exorcise my demons' or… get help, but it didn't exactly work out."

Nathan shakes his head, in a show of not understanding. "Why not?" And this is where he leans against the wall, just next to where it turns into the way upstairs and out.

And this is where Niki sits down on the stairs, one leg stretched out, the other bent. It takes her a second to come up with an answer to that question even though it's so simple. "…I don't know. 'Cause the people I tried to get help from didn't wanna help me as much as they said they did." Her mouth twists into a smile that tries to be cynical, but really, the woman just winds up looking sad, instead. Disappointed. "'Cause everyone's a liar."

Yeah, leave the cynical smiles to the politician, who can see a failed attempt. "You're not wrong," Nathan agrees. Funny how the two of them situate themselves against the cold wall, against uncomfortable stairs, rather than opting for one of the couches or the armchairs several paces away. Nathan doesn't really think about it, watching the woman he's talking to. "So don't rely on other people, if they lie, if they get hurt." Nathan makes a point not to, after all. "Maybe figure out what she wants and do it yourself."

Niki's head jerks up sharply all of a sudden at Nathan's suggestion. She stares up at him. "You know she… made it so you could be blackmailed and then… tried to kill you, right? You— understand that was her?" Niki sees a little deeper than that in what Nathan's trying to say, but let's take a moment to get perspective.

"Well I didn't mean do exactly what she wants," Nathan says. Gawd Niki, is his tone of voice, although now he looks a little uncomfortable, studying his hands when he has to add, "So when she— came back in, that was her? Right. I knew that." Now he does. "No, what I mean is… that was about money, right?" Knowing the way Linderman operates, knowing who Niki is now, it had to be about money in some way. "Or security. Or something. I just mean— if you take control, she won't have to."

That slightly sheepish look Niki gives Nathan? That would be a yes (to his question that he totally knew the answer to already, sure Nathan). It's actually apologetic, for as long as it lasts. "You're right, it was about the money. And I was taking control— at least, I think I was…" But apparently, something has changed.

Obviously, this conversation would be easier if Nathan knew more, but he doesn't. And he's unwilling to pry, despite the fact that both are talking about something deeply personal. He shakes his head a little. "I don't know what the answer is, Niki," he says, but before she can take that as a cue to leave, he continues. "You know how this is supposed to work for me? Sometime in the future… if everything goes wrong, my family gets hurt. That's when— what this is happens— to me. Someone else takes control to pick up the pieces and carry on. The only way I can see that not happening is if I'm the one that picks up the pieces and carries on."

Nathan has Niki's rapt attention. He strikes a deep chord or five, so much so that her gaze starts to glisten. "You're right. You're absolutely right, Nathan." She touches her fingertips to her eyes, hurriedly brushing away the not-quite-tears. "I'm the one who has to pick up the pieces." She's on the verge of saying more, but her voice catches. Well… maybe he'll understand. They've been low on the personal details, but they've shared some moments. They might share a fate, if he can't follow his own advice. The way she suddenly stares up at him now, for guidance, with desperation, is a far cry from earlier, at the door to the labs. "What happens when what she wants is something that… I can't do without tearing my life apart?"

He may have struck a chord, but Nathan isn't going to pretend like he knows everything. However, when she does look to him, he can't just say nothing, though his gaze drops down to the ground. Hard question. Hard answer? "You pick up the phone," he says, looking back at her. "You find a different way to achieve the same thing. I'm not saying you have to become like her, Niki. I think that's— something to be avoided, in fact. But I think that what it comes down to is you looking after yourself and your family."

Niki could give a lot of answers. None of them would be out of place. 'Easier said than done' springs to mind. 'I'm trying' is another. 'It's complicated.' It's all been said before, if not here with Nathan (of all people) than somewhere else, another time. She's tired of repeating the same songs. Seeming at least a bit heartened, if her weak smile is any indication, Niki grabs the step behind her and pushes to her feet. In the standing that follows, she fights a bout of dizziness — self-inflicted, unlike the various symptoms suffered around this place by people who didn't have a choice. She splays a hand on the wall beside the politician. "Thank you… for… being honest. And— insightful," she says, one of her lighter, more charming smiles appearing, finally.

Quarantine must be good for Nathan. Perhaps it's given him time to think instead of throw himself into work and play, or maybe it's just something in the water. Her smile is mirrored, if to a slightly lesser degree, keeping his arms wrapped about himself both to stave off the continual chills, and to resist any form of touching. Last thing Niki needs is a virus to worry about. "I try," he says. "Good luck, Niki." If she has such luck, maybe he'll have it too, in the midst of a certain future breaking down around them all.

"You too," Niki replies with sincerity. She notes the closed-off posture Nathan has himself in, and she can guess why, but it doesn't stop her from just reaching out. She's no doctor, but she's pretty sure she can't catch anything through that much fabric. Who knows, though. She takes the risk anyway, a brief but warm squeeze to one of his forearms before she turns away, climbing the stairs.

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