2008-07-23: Damned If You Do...


Jack_icon.gif Niki_icon.gif

Guest Starring:


Summary: Niki and Jack reflect in the Den; Kory is thinking the worst thing possible when Niki calls.

Date It Happened: July 23rd, 2008

Damned If You Do…

Den of Iniquity

Brooklyn, New York

The Den is quiet. Lately, it's always quiet. Still, the doors are unlocked. From a wheelchair's height, it's a pain in the ass for Jack to have to unlock and re-lock them every time he wants to go somewhere.

The lights are relatively dim, save for a single set of three that brightly illuminate a table near the door. Jack's seated here with his wheelchair pulled up close to the tabletop. A half-burned cigarette dangles from his lip as he pages his way through a catalogue of classic car parts.

Stopping by a dark and sketchy bar run by a similarly dark and sketchy man wasn't on Niki's list of things to do today — and, let's be honest, it probably isn't the best thing she could be doing. On foot, she's heading down the street the Den of Iniquity happens to be on, carrying a shopping bag, when she recognizes where she is. No high end shopping adventure for this woman — it's a grocer's bag from a store a block away here in Brooklyn that she clutches.

Once she comes to abrupt halt in front of the door, it takes a while before Niki actually hauls it open — slow and cautious. Peeking her head in, it takes her less time than she expected to find Mr. Derex. "…Jack?"

Jack looks up at the sound of the door swinging open, instantly debating wether or not to throw out a potential customer. When he sees who it is, a crooked smile creases his face. Though he's a little on the sweaty side and appears a bit green around the gills, he seems in high spirits. "Oi. C'mon in," he greets, setting his magazine aside and stubbing out his cigarette.

He's wearing dark jeans, a pair of black slip-on shoes, and a fitted t-shirt that reveals the unque array of tattoos on his arms. Surprisingly, there's no glass of liquor in front of him and the stubble on his cheeks can't be more than two days old.

"…Hey," Niki says slowly, a warm if unsure smile spreading across her own face. She slips inside, letting the door close quietly just behind her and her shopping bag. Other than looking a little run-down and glistening from running around the crowded city in the heat, there doesn't seem to be quite so heavy a weight on her shoulders today. Jean shorts, cowboy boots, blue tank top. "I was just… in the area, as lame as that sounds." She hasn't spotted the wheels on Jack's chair yet. "You seemed like you were in some trouble last time I saw you…"

Jack's smile turns a little rueful and he nods slowly, raking his knuckles through his hair and dragging it up into sweaty spikes. "All that crap is over, now. By the way, thanks again for the clothes and stuff." He takes a final drag from his cigarette and stubs it out. "You look nice today. A lot more relaxed. So, take a seat. Can I get you some iced tea or somethin'?

The quietness of the bar is really starting to settle in as Niki glances around its dark corners through the clearing haze of smoke Jack's cigarette left behind. She starts to smile and shake her head dismissively at the thanks, cutting herself off by answering, "Um— yeah. Yeah, sure." She sneaks around the table to sit across from Jack. "As long as it's not Long Island. I'm glad … whatever you were into is over."

He smirks at the mention of a Long Island. Wishful thinking. Jack has also given up drinking. "Me too," he replies succinctly, summing up the issue of his recent troubles. A soft sigh escapes from between his lips as he backs his chair up from the table and wheels himself toward the refrigerator behind the bar. "Don't get up," he calls over his shoulder. "I promise that I won't, either."

As it turns out, Niki is already halfway up when Jack calls out not to, pressing her hands against the edge of the table. A surprised and taken aback expression glued to her face, she slowly lowers back down., studying Jack and the wheelchair in a new light. For a minute, she forgets the kind of relationship they tend to have — the one where details of their seperate troublesome lives tend to be vague. "…I… Jack. What happened?"

"Got crushed by a car door," Jack answers lightly as he opens the fridge. Staying busy has helped with the rancor and frustration he's been feeling over his injury. A moment later, he has two glasses of iced tea with thin slices of orange, lemon, and key lime interspersed throughout. He wedges them in a battered soft drink carrier, rests it on his lap, and wheels his way back toward the table. "Big fight," he finally elaborates. "I guess it could've been a lot worse."

"Oh my God," Niki breathes quietly. Her face doesn't change, save to become more concerned the closer Jack gets; soon, though, she smiles toward the iced teas, trying to warm away the pity. "Yeah, it could've. Still, that's … pretty lousy. Is it— ?" Permanent? She doesn't really wanna say it.

Fortunately, she doesn't have to. It's one of the most common questions that Jack has encountered since his encounter. "Permanent?" he supplies mildly. "I don't know. Maybe. Where there's a will, there's a way. I'm confident that I'll find my feet again sooner or later." He slides one of the glasses over to Niki and takes a drink from the other.

"You know there're people who can … fix things. Injuries. You know, like— healing," Niki says as she takes her glass. "It kinda seems like cheating…" she reflects, but with a vaguely uncomfortable look up and down at Jack, adds, "But it's better than…"

"Better than my current condition?" Jack prompts, not unkindly. "You're right on both counts. I've heard about people who can do things like that, but I've never met one. I hope to get an introduction soon, though." With a delicate touch, he plucks a slice of orange from his glass. At the same time he draws a slim, concealed throwing knife from a hidden compartment under the arm of his wheelchair. "Chair does have a few advantage," he quips, neatly slicing the peel away from the fruit.

Niki can't help but smirk, quickly, at Jack's knife trick. "…Yeah. I know there's a couple around. One, I know for sure. It's— still crazy to me that people can actually do that. Even after all this time." She takes a sip of the lovely iced tea and lets her hands rest around the glass afterward, eyes cast down at the table.

"Tell me about it," Jack agrees quietly. Then, with a smirk of his own, he snaps his fingers and produces a pack of cigarettes from thin air. A stick match is quickly dug out of his hip pocket and struck against the table so he can light up. "Me, I'm constantly amazed that there's so many of us in this one city. Maybe it sucks us in or something."

"No kidding." Niki can't help but sound a little bitter, on that note, but she's in awe of the phenomenon just as much as she is cynical about it. She doesn't look up, save for a quick glance to the seemingly magically appearing cigarettes. "I came to New York to— " She cuts herself off with a headshake and pursed lips. "It wasn't supposed to be permanent. It somehow just wound up that way. One thing after another. Maybe you're right. Maybe it does suck us in."

Jack bobs a quick nod. "I was plannin' on just passin' through, too. Now I don't know if I could move if I wanted to. Funny how things turn out, eh?" Chuckling, he takes a long from his smoke and exhales a voluminous grey cloud. "It seems like everyone keeps fallin' in to one big mess after another."

"God," Niki exhales, as if just thinking about it gives her a headache. She couldn't agree more, in other words. She takes a drink — a sudden punctuation that would be more fitting if only it wasn't just iced tea. "After this last … mess, I'm thinkin' of moving back to Vegas… not that there's really anything left for me there. And I'd have to uproot the kids from what they have here…" She shrugs a shoulder. "Damned if you do, damned if you don't, right."

"Got it in one, kiddo," Jack says, smiling wryly. "Though I'd miss you if you left, I couldn't blame you. Me, though… I'm gonna ride this one out and see what happens. You know me, always lookin' for trouble." He winks mischeviously and returns to his cigarette. As he lifts it to his lips, his hand quivers shakily. He has to grit his teeth and focus in order to calm the tremors.

"Well, good luck. Contrary to … past behaviour, I could actually do without the trouble. I've had enough to put me into an early retirement." Niki cracks a soft smile, which turns hesitant when she starts to notice the tremor in Jack's hand. The smile goes; the soft expression stays. "…you sure you don't need that introduction to someone who can help sooner insteada later?"

Jack shrugs and shakes the last of the wiggles from his hand. "I wouldn't say no if you wanted to bring someone in. I'm still waiting to hear back from my friend who has a friend who has a friend who can help. You know how it is." With a theatric sigh and roll of his eyes, he presses his hand to his forehead in a fair imitation of Shakepearean woe.

Again, Jack's theatrics bring another smile to Niki's face and she gives him an easy nod. "Sure. Hang on, I can give him a call right now." She leans over to the side where she's left her shopping bag, digging around for a few seconds before coming up with a cell phone. She starts to dial, mumbles something under her breath darkly halfway through, starts over and gets it right this time. However, once the phone is at her ear, she does nothing but wait with a decidedly stern expression on her face. "…or not," she amends, forcing herself to sound more casual than she looks.

"Don't worry. S'not like I'm going anywhere," Jack quips, rocking himself back and forth on his wheels. He pauses to think and take a long drink of his tea. When he's finished, he comes up chewing thoughtfully on an ice cube. "Thanks anyway," he mumbles around it. "I'm getting along surprisingly well, all things considered."

Niki lowers the phone, but doesn't leave it quite alone; she fidgets with it in front of her, above the glass of iced tea. "Maybe it'll slow you down for a bit," she suggests good-naturedly. Slowing down, for a guy like Jack, seems like it might be a good break. Silver lining? "You know, I'm— I'm gonna give someone else a call. I'll just be a second." Distracted from the bar she's found herself in for a moment, she goes about dialling another number.

Rring. Ring. Ring.


Hi, you've reached Kory's line. Kory's not available right now. But you know what's coming — *klik*

"Sorry. I'm here. Hello?"

Jack frowns slightly as he stifles another set of tremors, this time down both of his hands. With a rattle of pills on plastic, he produces a prescription bottle from a zippered pouch on the side of his chair. Two small, round pills are pulled out of it and set under his tongue to dissolve. Almost immediately, his spasms start to still. After a few seconds he waves to Niki. "Take your time."

The second phone call seems to be turning out like the last, given Niki's silence, at first. She waits, phone at her ear, and frowns a little at Jack; she can't help but to watch the trek of the prescription bottle and pills. Suddenly, someone comes to life on the other line and she turns away from Jack a smidge, though she makes no real effort to muffle her conversation. "…Hey," Niki says into the phone, somewhat distracted. She lowers her voice a touch. "Sorry if it's a bad time. I was just wondering if you've heard from Peter lately."

The Irishman perks up at the sound of Peter's voice. The youngest scion of the Petrelli family is a good friend, one he spoken to for a long time. Thoughts of the young man who has saved him time and time again bring a small smile to Jack's face. He takes another puff from his cigarette, stubs it out, and sips patiently at his drink, pausing every now and then to dissect a slice of fruit and devour it.
Kory is silent for a long moment. "Not since before the …" Another pause. What word to describe what happened that Monday? "… trouble." She's not even trying to find a more appropriate word. Trouble will suffice. "I'm…trying not to think about it. But I guess I should get to planning the wakes."

Niki is entirely clueless that Jack even knows Peter in the slightest — besides which, thoughts of the man at the table are suddenly banished as her phone call takes a strange turn. She sits up a bit straighter, stiffer, some colour draining out of her face. "W— wait a second. What're you talking about?"

Kory sighs, as if she were tired. So tired. "Haven't seen or spoken to him, Niki. Not since before his father stole his face and came in here to kill us." The words would be angry if Kory put any emotion into the words. But there isn't any emotion. It's like she's reading from a teleprompter — one she can't see very well.

Jack can't help but be a tiny bit alarmed. In the quiet confines of the empty pub, sound carries. Eavesdropping is in the nature of the environment. Still, for all he knows, she could be talking about someone he's never met. There's plenty of blokes named Peter in a city this size.

Only now does Niki turn back to Jack, meeting his eyes, if only out of some instinct to find someone to share her sudden alarm with. Her words for the person on the other line are calmer, however — stronger, confident, determined. "…you think he's— you think he's dead. Just because you haven't heard from him and the other one's gone— listen. He could be a lot of places. He could be doing a lot of things! Maybe he's locked up again. You can't assume that he's dead, Kory. You better not be organizing anyone's wake or I will come over there right now and stop you."

Now things are becoming much clearer for Jack. Certain phrases that Niki's using stand out. 'The other one's gone.' 'He could be in a lot of places.' He's got a pretty good idea of who she's talking about now.

He clearly isn't pleased. He grips the arms of his wheelchair until plastic, leather, and metal squeak protestingly. He wants to shout, or curse, or say something, but answers will have to wait until Niki is done with her call. After all, they've waited this long.

Kory gives a brittle little chuckle in response to Niki's words. "You can't reach him either," she points out, the laughter's sharp edges flipping over to sounding more like sobs. "You called me because you can't reach him either."

Niki's eyes widen slightly at Jack's reaction and she grits her teeth. "Look, I'm worried now too," she answers to Kory on the phone, worry glinting in her eyes at the Irishman across from her, meanwhile. "But we can't jump to conclusions! He can't be— " Her conviction hiccups, just for a second, a wave of anger slipping through. "He just can't be. He was fine when you sent him to Bat Country. …Thanks, by the way." Her voice turns softer, tinged with compassion. "Hey. Just hold out a little longer. Okay?"

Speaking of holding out, Jack is having a harder and harder time doing that. His recklessness and impatience are coming to the fore. Still, he grits his teeth and prevents himself from crying out for an explanation. Having made eye contact with Niki, he just nods and waits. There isn't much else he can do.

Mmm. Cigarettes. Always an excellent way to pass the time. He lights up another and starts puffing on it nervously.

"Hold out?" Kory repeats, as if she weren't sure she heard the question in a language she understands. "He threw Lee out the window. He threw Ian into the wall. He electrocuted Sophie. And he took. Peter's. Face. You try holding out. I don't get to sort it all out in my sleep like you do."

"I know," Niki says quietly. "I know. And I'm sorry. I have to go, Kory, but— promise me you'll at least entertain the idea that not everything has a bad ending. 'Cause I'm not exactly an optimist but I have to believe something."

Kory is silent for a long moment. But she sighs. "Believing is a waste," she says. "I had to cut Randall loose. His gift won't keep him safe if something like this happens again. Good endings are for Disney movies. Good night, Niki."

There's a long pause before Niki talks again. She shuts her eyes. At a loss for words, all she says is a resigned: "…Goodnight." She lowers the phone and snaps it shut, looking more than a little shell-shocked once her eyes open again. She interrupts her hardened stare with some quick blinks and aims for a shaky smile. "…That… didn't go exactly how I wanted it to…"

"Didn't sound like it," Jack replies quietly. He ashes his cigarette and takes a moment to collect his thoughts. His brow creases and his lips pucker unpleasantly as he rubs his temples with long, wiry fingers.. He doesn't want to ask, but he has to know. "Please, tell me you weren't talking about Peter Petrelli maybe bein' dead?"

Worlds collide. Niki stares incredulously at Jack for a good long stretch of moments, gaping and not really wanting to believe that everything is so connected. That Jack, of all people, is involved in this tangled web of people and events. Suddenly, she clutches her phone tight and shoves at the edge of the table, forcing it — and everything on it — to rattle violently. The blonde's pretty face twists into something equally violent, and frustrated, and upset — all in all like she's about to cry. It's held back. That would be a 'yes'.

"Shit. Shit, shit shit…" Jack says eloquently. He slumps across the table with his head in his hands, indulging in a moment of sadness and self-pity. It doesn't last long, though. With a final "Shit!" he picks up his glass of iced tea and throws it across the room. It shatters messily on the far wall. A few seconds later he drags himself upright and wheels over to Niki's side. "S'not true," he says defiantly, reaching out to give her shoulder a reassuring squeeze. "It just isn't."

Niki flinches at the shatter of the glass, even though it fits her mood. "No, it can't be," she repeats her convictions to Kory to Jack, this time five times angrier. "She's just overreacting. Just because he's been a little MIA— " Niki turns to look at the man at her shoulder. "…How do you…" Blue eyes narrow, muddled with confusion. "How do you know Peter?"

Jack scratches his head as he considers how best to answer that question. "Errr," he begins. "The Petrelli boys and I go way back. I've known Peter since I was just a lad. He's saved my life a bunch of times." That's an extraordinary understatement. Once, Peter even travelled back in time to free him from captivity.

Sighing, he drags his fingers through his hair wearily. "I owe Peter a lot. He's a good kid. Don't worry, we'll find him."

Niki puts any and all feelings of being even remotely comforted by Jack's reassurances on hold. "…You know both of them. Oh God." Let her realization get out of the way first. Her world just got a bit smaller. She drops her head into her hand, her elbow hitting the table with a dull thud, followed by a sigh. "The thing is… if something did happen to Peter— I can't help but think, what if it's my fault."

With his arms crossed over his chest, Jack peers at Niki curiously. "How could it possibly be your fault?" he asks incredulously. "And by God, I could really, really use a drink right now."

Don't think about it, Jackie. Just don't think about it and you won't be tempted.

Niki looks long and hard at Jack before she decides to fess up. "I did something that… something that had to be done. Me and D.L. and … well, there was someone else. Pissed off a dangerous bigshot for the last time. One of us musta been followed after it went down…" She's clearly trying to replay the series of events in her head, taxed blue eyes faraway. "Some people got hurt because of it. He's dead now, the person responsible. But now I keep thinking… there was this span of time where— I dunno where he was. I dunno where Peter was…"

"Hey, you can that shit, y'here?" Despite his choice of words, Jack's tone is low and gentle. "Peter can handle himself better'n anyone I know. He'll be okay." With renewed faith, Jack lets out a pent-up breath and repeats himself. "He will be okay."

Meanwhile, a long column of ash droops and falls from the tip of his forgotten cigarette. Growling under his breath, he butts it out.

The cigarette barely has time to be snuffed before Niki gives the table another fierce shove in frustration. Time its legs screech against the floor and it sails a few feet away, leaving she and Jack somewhat abandoned. Her look to him is just plain sad. "What kind of world do we live in that someone disappears and our first thought is 'they're dead'?"

"We live in a world where people like us have many powerful enemies," he replies sadly. Jack doesn't like the answers, but he feels it to be true. He's also not offended by Niki's show of anger. Far from it. He feels like breaking some more things, too. "He's not dead. Not really-most-sincerely-dead. Trust me. Pete's died more times than anybody I've ever met, and it's never slowed him down before."

Niki knows all too well that Jack's answer is true too, but that doesn't mean she has to like it. In fact, she looks downright sulky about it for a second before opening her mouth to reply to Jack. But she hesitates, hesitates. Her voices comes too quietly. "…he can't heal himself," she says, looking nowhere but down. "He lost it." Sighing, she looks up with a suddenly renewed sense of optimism — or at least a renewed sense of pretending. She won't dive into the hole Kory did. "But it doesn't matter, because he's fine. He just— can't use his phone. I really need to be thinking about something else."

As much as he doesn't want to betray Trina's trust, Jack can't hold back any longer. He reaches under his seat and pulls away the flask that's attached there with a magnetic strip. Quickly, he unscrews the top and takes a long, bracing drink. He's puffing for air when he's finished. Unceremoniously, he wipes his mouth on the back of his hand. "He… He can't heal himself anymore?" the Irishman asks morosely. "Well. That's okay, like y'said. He's a sharp kid. Bright. He's fine. We just have to find him. Here, you want? S'bourbon." He offers the flask over to Niki.

Niki holds a hand out toward the flask, but it's to stop it, not to take it. "No," she declines, sharp but polite enough, what with the half-hearted smile to go along with it. "I don't drink." Never mind that Jack's seen her drink before, and not just Jessica. "Should you?" she questions carefully, not really wanting to pry; concern wins out. "I saw you take those meds…"

"I done stupider things and lived to tell the tale," Jack replies, his voice frank and droll. He takes a second swig before capping the flask and replacing it against the underside of the wheelchair.

As sad as it may be, he's calmed and relaxed by his first drink in several days. Immediately, his rage and frustration turn to a more constructive bent. "So… We've gotta find Peter. Does anyone have any idea where to start looking? Legs or no, I'm in on this one."

Niki says no more on the subject of the flask; back to constructive conversation that, really, she doesn't want to think about. "Uhm…" she thinks anyway. "The girl on the phone, Kory — I'm pretty sure she woulda looked everywhere if she was that convinced he's dead." That said, Niki tiredly suggests, "Pinehearst. Maybe. It's this research place in Jersey. It's gotta be ruins now."

"I know about those bastards," Jack says, nodding. "I'd go in and have a look for myself, but the chair sorta puts a cramp in any plans for a quick escape. Trust me, we'll figure somethin' out. I have a contact in the FBI who might be able to help, and I know more criminals than I could shake my stick at." His voice drops to a low grumble as he rubs a hand over his lightly stubbled cheeks. "Ugh. I hate Jersey. It's dirty and it smells like garbage."

"And New York doesn't?" Niki counters half-heartedly. She takes her shopping bag off the floor with a crinkle as it settles on her lap. "I still have a stop to make before I can go home. It's getting late." She gets to her feet to unintentionally tower over Jack. "You have my number."

Jack lifts two fingers to touch his brown in an old-fashion, gentlemanly salute. "And you have mine. Ring me if you learn anything. I'll do the same." He rakes his fingers through his hair, spiking it up one last time. "It was good to see you, too. Don't be a stranger."

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