2010-01-24: FB: Heartbeats



Date Set: January 24th, 2009


Cass has a rough night, but she has a friend to help her through it.

One Year Ago…


Niagara Falls, New York

The night was worn on so that it's that strange couple of hours where it's hard to tell if it's very late or very early. Perhaps it's merely somewhere in between. After taking Niki up on the offer to stay the weekend, Cass attempts to hopefully add to some of the normal that has pulled itself out of her during her stay. Playing doctor to Micah, drinking tea with Niki, having a family dinner - all of this has been grounding and blessingly normal for her. Cass wants more of that. Maybe this is what she needs, to move away from the city, to find some house out near a picturesque landscape. Maybe a farm. Lachlan could breed dogs and they could roam. She could start up a bookstore in a small town. They could be happy, they would never have to worry about Pinehearst, murderers, kidnappings, any of that again. They could live happily ever after.

Those are the thoughts that Cass thinks as she slowly sinks into sleep in the basement of the Sanders/Hawkins residence. It's a nice basement, stuffed with boxes and odds and ends that don't have any space upstairs. Inexplicably, there's a hot tub in the corner which Cass ignore and tries hard not to think of why it's there. Her dreams start out innocent enough. They're nonsensical and undeniably Cass. Puppies with fairy wings flit through Enlightenment Books. They're a new breed that Lachlan has been breeding and training to sell. They've somehow gotten out of their butterfly aquarium that they normally play in and the two are attempting to round them up again. Through a door, Lachlan goes after a black and white spotted fairy dog and then there's a loud whack.

Like all bad B-Movie horrors, Cass follows. "Lachlan?!" In her dream, she doesn't realize that she shouldn't be doing this, that she should be running - but it's Lachlan. She opens the door to find a corridor, a sterile grey thing like in an office building. Doors line the hallways and she can hear something like someone chopping wood further down. Unlike the horror movies, she doesn't walk slowly down the hallway, trying each door. She runs. She runs toward the sound. "Lachlan?!" At the end of the hallway, a door remains open and as she jerks to a stop in front of it she can see Lachlan's legs in a pool of light. Rushing forward, she only stops when she sees the back of a man, dressed entirely in black bent over him, intent on what he's doing.

At the sounds of her footsteps, Sylar turns his face and smirks at her, a saw in his hand and blood covering his sleeves. "Finally," he tells her in a satisfied sigh. A hand shoots out and she slams against the wall, the door slams shut behind her. She can only see Lachlan, dead on the ground, the top of his head messily cut open by the saw in Sylar's hands.

Cass screams. And screams.

The noise stirs the sleepers upstairs, but none so much as Niki; her sleep has been light. At first, when she rolls over onto her back, away from the dark, solid form she lies comfortably next to, and tiredly brings a hand to her face and the hair that splays across it, she's not sure if it was a nightmare of her own that woke her up or if the sound of the screaming is real. No, not this time; her dreams were calm tonight. No screaming. No memories. It doesn't take her long to come to her senses and remember that Cass is here, that she's in the basement, and that she's in a bad place in her head.

"Cass," she murmurs as she sits up, blankets falling haphazardly away. A quickly reassuring hand is laid on the arm of a questionably awake D.L. before Niki slides out of bed in a hurry. Her only pause is to step into a pair of plain pink slippers before she runs toward the bedroom door through the darkness, grabbing a warm sweater from a hook on the door without stopping. Running her way through the house, tugging the unzipped sweater — grey fleece, long as a jacket, with a hood — over a white tank top and blue pyjama pants, she throws the basement door open and thumps down the stairs—

… only to come to a near breathless stop, her hand coming to her chest as she's struck with a wave of devastating emotion as fast and hard as an oncoming transport truck. Niki knows enough to realize that the sudden terror and loss is coming from Cass, but that knowledge barely makes it any easier to deal with. "C— Cass," she squeaks out, sounding as petrified as she feels. Niki can do this, though — she's strong enough. Strong willed enough. She forces her way through the basement, to the futon — by that time the fear is harder to overcome and her eyes are watering. Her hand shakes as she reaches out to turn the switch of the lamp on a nearby shelf, a faux oil lamp that belongs in the 70s to shed a warm glow on Cass. "Wake up! Cass, wake up," Niki gently but firmly grabs the woman's hand. "Y-you were h-having a bad dream, wake up."

In her dream, Cass remains trapped against the wall. Sylar approaches with the saw still dripping with Lachlan's blood. From the corner, Arthur Petrelli steps out into the light and gives her a bit of a malicious smile. "Well hello Ms. Aldric. You didn't think we were finished with you just yet, did you?" With each step echoing in the room, he approaches slowly and menacingly. Rhythmic drops of blood hit the floor with a soft sound. The screaming fades to a whimper. Lachlan's gone, she's trapped here, she will always be trapped here. There is no escape.

Then, she's shaken. It's not a rough grab, but it's enough to startle her, to bring her back. It takes her a couple of moments to remember where she is, to know what's going on and then the pain hits her, immediate and intense. Clutching Niki's hand, she curls up into a ball, trying to get a grip on herself, trying not to transmit what she's feeling out into the air. That will only make the situation worse. There's a soft moan of pain as it feels like a vise closes sharply around her head.

She knows what's happening; this has happened back in her apartment with Lachlan. The fact that this has happened at Niki's home, where she has a child and a husband and other problems of her own is almost more than she can bear. "I— I'm sorry," she whispers.

"Sh, Cass, it's okay." Niki swallows, closes her eyes for an instant and suffers through what effects linger; she tries to focus on Cass and push the haywire emotions to the corners of her mind. It only half works, but she stays focused as she can, sympathy almost overtaking her own so recently anxious and pained expression. She crawls onto the pull-out futon bed and sits next to the ball of Cass, keeping a firm hold on her hand. "It's not your fault." Niki wraps her free arm around the distraught woman, hugs her close. The sleeve of her sweater is slightly too long and only her fingers curl out around Cass's shoulder. "You're okay."

Cass squeezes her eyes shut, so she can't see what she's doing to Niki. However, she can feel it. She can feel Niki's emotions run rampant one way and then the other. On her eyelids, she can see the black fear and loss mix with a sort of rosy pink color of her sympathy. The use of that power brings another wave of pain through her body and the mood ring colors blot out like spots. When Niki crawls onto the futon next to her, she rests her head against her friend, taking comfort in her warmth and closeness. "I— It. They keep— " She can't exactly put it into words just yet. It'll make the fear come back, a fear that she can't keep contained.

Niki leans back into Cass, patiently rubbing her shoulder — a gesture of comfort, friendly, but also undeniably motherly. "When I have nightmares— " Nightmares she hasn't really went into detail over. " — it helps … to think of something else. Something totally opposite. Something real and … good." Though her heart may still run fast, Niki does a good job, now, of keeping her calm for Cass. She tries. Talking helps — for both of them. That's the idea. "When I was little— " she manages a tiny smile, of memory, of encouragement, even a quiet laugh. " —I mean, just when I'd have silly nightmares kids have… my sister used to sing to me, 'n' … I'd fall back to sleep. Sometimes I'd wake up in the morning and forget I even had a bad dream."

Though Niki's nightmares must be undeniably terrible, they also don't affect other people as deeply as Cass' does. Most of the good things that Cass can think about undoubtably bring her back to them being ripped from her and sawed in half by Sylar, much like her dream just now illustrated. Instead, she focuses on breathing and Niki's heart beat. In. Out. Beat. Beat. "It's— it's just like I can't escape it." It's a little easier to talk now, the fear is fading, even if the pain lingers. "I don't know if I can forget." And now she really doesn't want to go back to sleep. The thought of falling back into that place unknowingly is enough to send her straight to the coffee machine.

"Yeah," Niki says quietly under her breath, slightly resigned and wishing she could do more. She turns her head just so to study Cass with hopeful well-meaning eyes — her cheeks touched faintly by tear stains from recent minutes past. "Do you want to talk about it?" she questions somewhat timorously, figuring it "talking about it" could go one of two ways in polar opposite directions. Either way, she'll listen.

There's not much that Niki can do for Cass that she isn't already doing. It's a bad situation which the brunette feels bad for putting Niki in. "It…it mostly involves people dying. In terrible ways. And me never getting away from it." She's not sure which direction that takes the conversation - if it's the way that Niki expected it to or not. However, that's the question she's answering right now.

"I … yeah," the blonde breathes, looking down. People dying in terrible ways and never getting away from it— those are dreams she can understand. Those are realities she can understand. "I'm… not… much of a dream interpreter… I mean, I've read stuff in magazines— but after what you've been through… 'm not surprised." Frowning tightly, Niki leans more firmly into the side of her friend. "You're not trapped anymore, no matter what it seems like. 'N' — I know it feels like you are. You'll get through this thing. Maybe you won't forget, but you'll come out on the better side."

There's a weak smile that's gone almost as soon as it starts. "I—don't think there's much to interpret." Cass keeps her eyes shut still, continuing to count her breaths, the heartbeats she can hear. Slowly, she starts to relax. It's minimal, but still noticeable. "But it's still…I can still feel it." She can still feel everything from everyone. And when she does, it hurts. "I know I'm not there, but it's still here."

What happened to Cass because of Pinehearst serves to make Niki angry even now — downright pissed, in fact, an emotion that comes and goes hotly. Her jaw tightens as she almost frowns; guilt happens to be a part of everything that happened back then, not so very long ago at all. She squeezes her friend's shoulder. "I'll stay up with you," she says. It's not an offer, it's just the truth; unless Cass forcibly kicks her out, which is a physical possibility, so Cass is stuck with her. "The … ability that you got… I can't… imagine— on top of being thrown in that … place, it must be overwhelming. I know when I had— " Niki pauses, her thoughts stumbling. "…oh god, I don't think I told you about that…"

Strangely enough, Cass feels just as guilty about Pinehearst. Not because of what happened to her, but what she was helping do to other people. She doesn't believe she deserved what she got, but she also can't say that it was not at all her fault. She had her own hand in part of this. Not about to kick Niki out when it's good to have company, she just remains where she is, slowly but surely starting to relax from her ball of pain. "About what?" Yes, please give her something else to think about.

Niki did kind of stumble into the strange topic … and so now she's obligated to talk about it. Besides, it might help Cass — if only because it's funny when it's not happening to you. Not so much at the time. At the very least, its a weird story. "Uhm…" Niki leans back slightly, careful not to jar Cass. "Not… long before we moved, there was… I was — to make a long story short, there was this woman who had some crazy power to switch people's minds or bodies or something. I dunno— " The blonde's hand lifts in helpless gesture before draping over the shoulder of Cass once more. "These crazy abilities never fail to confuse me," she admits. "Anyway, she switched me and…" Long pause. "…and Peter. I freaked out, I— I didn't know how to control all his powers… everything I felt would make something else go off. It was overwhelming."

Is it alright to laugh at something like that? Peter in Niki's body, Niki in Peter's. That's just an image that she can't imagine. In the end, a small laugh escapes Cass and it actually sounds warm. She can't help it. That's really the only sort of story that could make her forget about her pain and her nightmare. "D—did he wear a dress?" She has to ask. It's not that what she said wasn't serious. Many of Peter's powers are very scary and would be devastating in the wrong or inexperienced hands. But, this is supposed to be a conversation that makes her feel better and so she will focus on the images that she wants. Luckily, it's working.

Wildly uncomfortable though the whole situation was for Niki, Cass's laughter is good to hear — and it's infectious. "…Actually. Yeah.. It was pink." She laughs a little herself, shaking her head. "I panicked," she explains. "I had to ask him to knock me out, which is a weird trend with those brothers but that's a whole other story. Anyway, we had to be locked away until he somehow managed to teach me how to control my… self. Himself. Whatever. With … emotions," she says the last words more softly. She remembered the experience here and now because of how reliant on emotions it was, how overwhelming it was — and how potentially destructive. "It took like days to get back to normal and lemme tell you— so awkward I wanted to die." For more reason than one. Once again, Niki — smiling now even though its more than half a grimace — gestures again. "TMI central. I never want to be a guy again."

The idea of Peter wearing a pink dress is enough to keep Cass laughing - silently, her shoulders shaking. She knows that he was in Niki's body, so it was really Niki wearing it, but Peter was still inhabiting that body. He was wearing the dress. Should that be so funny? She's not sure. But, the laughter continues and then it drifts off as she realizes what Niki said. "Emotions," she repeats. "M-my ability?" It's weird to say that, to know that she had an ability and that it now could live on in Peter. She doesn't know how she feels about that. Does it help people? Does it hurt Peter's control? If she made things harder for him, she's not sure she'd be able to live with herself. Then, she smiles, slowly and finally opens her eyes. "I imagine the whole peeing standing up thing is awkward and strange."

On that note, Niki has one simple and definitive thing to say: "I don't want to talk about it."

Smiling, though, she looks down at Cass now that the woman's eyes have opened to the dull yellow glow of the lamp. "I … don't think it was your ability, it was just how his worked. But then maybe part've it was. I was so … nervous— everything felt so intense." Her smile had started to fade, thinking back, but it picks up again after a sigh. "I'm glad my serious trauma makes you feel better. You don't want to imagine what it was like trying to explain that one to D.L."

Cass smiles at that. "I won't ask any more questions." That way she doesn't have to dodge or answer any other questions. It also means that she has seen much more of Peter than anyone else Cass knows (other than Elena). "Gotcha." That's something, at least. She knows how Peter's power works and if she escaped making things more complicated for him, she'll be grateful. "I guess, either way he was a little gay for a couple of days." Because either way he either loved Niki in Peter's body or loved Niki's body with Peter inhabiting it. That makes her laugh again, but she stops herself. "God, I'm sorry. It's seriously awful of me to laugh at this."

It's a good thing Niki wasn't drinking anything, because she would have choked on it thanks to Cass's remark. As it is, she nearly chokes on air when the incredulous burst of laughter comes. "I— I guess that's kind of true," she admits unsurely. "Wait, wouldn't that work the other way around too?" Making her a little gay. You know what, it's too late to make sense of this conversation and she dimisses it with a bewildered hair toss. "It's okay," she laughs a bit. It's easier to make light of than to dwell on the parts of the experience that were actually a little tough for Niki to deal with. Blinking in the dim light, she leans her head back against the futon. "Can I get you anything?"

This has almost turned into a true sleep over, back like when she was a girl. Next thing she knows, they'll be painting each other's nails and braiding each other's hair. The pain has mostly passed, but Cass knows that she'll never be able to get back to sleep. She doesn't want to. Now that those shadows have finally started to disappear back into the depths of forgetfulness, she doesn't want to bring them up again. As for what she could be given, the woman thinks for a moment. "You wouldn't happen to have a bottle of Merlot or something, would you? I don't think I can sleep again and I could seriously use a drink."

Niki seems to be momentarily struck silent by the casual question, mouth open as she looks at Cass with some kind of instant apology. "… Actually, no, I don't." She turns an all-too-worried look on Cass, brow furrowing with many lines of fret for an instant before looking down. She just wants Cass to be okay, not to bring her back down with issues of her own, but she feels the need to explain just the same. All things considered. "Part've the reason… a lot of the reason… I understand what you're going through with the…the detox… it wasn't just… " She looks up. "I was— " Niki pauses and corrects herself in a practiced fashion. "I am… an alcoholic." It's hard to say outloud after all this time and the fact that it's forced isn't hidden. Now that she's said so, however, the blonde manages a bright smile — if somewhat silly, and somewhat awkward after the heavy subject matter — to change subjects with. She's trying, very hopefully, to be optimistic. "But, I have… um… chocolate. And candy and ice cream and— bad… movies?"

"O-oh!" And now Cass feels really bad about bringing up the bottle of Merlot. And alcohol in general. "Oh geez, I'm really sorry, Niki. I've totally screwed up this entire visit." Spilling tea all over the floor, screaming in the middle of the night, outing her as an alcoholic. How did she not know this before? Is she really that unobservant? She used to be really good at picking up things like that. "Ch—chocolate sounds good. As does ice cream." They're just as good as alcohol. They can make this a true teenage girl sleepover.

"You haven't screwed up anything," Niki is quick to insist. "It's not… it's not really a problem anymore, I just— haven't really talked about it for a long time, you know. We don't keep anything in the house. Lousy for guests…" Not that she hosts many guests. Just a few. "But I don't need it around." She slides down to lay on the bed for just a moment, stretching, before hopping off the side. "You staaay there," she orders good-naturedly. "I think there's even a TV down here… somewhere."

She glances around the decidedly unorganized basement, eyes whisking past the unpacked boxes and cluttered odds and ends of shelves — from teddy bears to cowboy hats, feather boa to power tools, you'll find it down here without rhyme nor reason.

…Maybe she'll just use her laptop. "I'll be right back" Niki chirps, padding to the stairs to jog up and get supplies.

"I understand." Cass remains on the futon, but when Niki stands up to go get those supplies, the brunette pulls herself up. She can't lay down any more. Though she winces a little still, she moves the blankets around with her so that they still cover her bottom half. With her back against the wall, she rests her head against it. With Niki gone, she takes deep breaths and focuses on the sounds she can hear upstairs.

There aren't many sounds from upstairs, as Niki tries to be quiet — after the screaming earlier, if the boys woke up, they don't deserve to be woken up again. When she eventually creeps back down the stairs, she's something of a balancing act. Super strength doesn't help much when you don't have enough hands to carry everything. She has an array of DVDs, plus an undeniably sugary snacks, a cow print container of ice cream, bowls and spoons all balanced on a laptop and a bag of cookies in her teeth. It's a comfort that, this time, she's not hit by a giant wall of fear — otherwise she might drop everything. With careful, poised steps toward Cass, the woman manages to pull it off. Tada?

Tada! Cass quickly sits up straighter and helps Niki put her array of goodies and snacks onto the bed so that nothing goes tumbling over. That would be a waste of good food. And good DVDs. And shattered bowls. Nothing they want. As she helps dole everything out and put everything together so they can settle in for junk food and junky movies, she smiles just slightly. "Thank you, Niki." Her voice is soft, and filled with feeling. "For all of this. And everything. It…it really means a lot to me."


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