2007-03-30: Just a Painting

Starring:

Mara_icon.gif Niki_icon.gif

Summary: Everything is connected. Still.

Date It Happened: March 30, 2007

Just a Painting


Madison Avenue Bistro

The Madison Avenue Bistro is a nice place. And by evening, it becomes a hotspot for dates and other lovely dinner get-togethers. As such, many of the tables are occupied by this hour - early in the evening, but past "family" dinner hour, by most schedules. Votive candles flicker softly in the dining room. Every so often, the so-called bistro will get a solitary guest, though they're usually waiting on a partner. But not always.

Niki Sanders is not waiting on a date, but rather, the associate manager who she happens to live with. The woman does not fit the dress code in black jeans and a white tanktop, but they let her sit and wait at an unoccupied table away from the window until someone needs the spot. Cross-legged, sideways in her seat, her purse sitting on the edge of the table, she's currently distracted by the screen of her cell phone in her lap.

Mara Damaris has decided to treat herself tonight. She needs to be out. She needs time to think. A /place/ to think. And since the Fly By Night is out of the question due to a recent vow to never again mix alcohol and pain medication, the Madison Avenue Bistro seems a decent place to go. The crutches have been abandoned tonight - treating herself means sparing her arms. And besides, the management may have a more difficult time turning her away if she's in a wheelchair. Dressed in an ankle-length, chocolate brown skirt with a fashionable green paisley print top, she wheels herself into the Bistro. Busy place!

The very polite, if slightly overly exuberant young man at the front is accommodating to Mara when it's her turn to be seated. While reservations are typical, the Bistro is used to drop-ins, too, and Mara's in luck - there's room. With apologies for the wait she's bound to face, she's directed to one of the more wheelchair accessible tables-for-one, one down from the slightly out of place blonde woman.

Niki looks up fleetingly when the woman in the wheelchair enters and she's pointed past like a landmark, but she's just as quickly distracted by her phone. Recent calls, outgoing calls. She's checking for ones she doesn't remember receiving or sending, see. It's not getting her very far, though. Her alter ego is not dumb. But it passes the time while she waits for Monica.

The dark-haired woman's eyes widen marginally when she sees the prices of items on the menu. The credit card is going to be getting a work-out tonight. Maybe if she bats her eyes and asks real nicely… No. She'll pay it herself. Idly, she peers about, eyes lingering on Niki, who's definitely out of place. But then again, so is Mara. It's fun to pretend now and then that she can rub elbows with the more affluent crowd. Brows furrow minutely. That woman seems familiar, somehow.

Niki is in the midst of sighing her small defeat, snapping her flip-phone shut, and slipping it back into her open, black purse when she's watched by Mara. When she looks the other woman's way, by sheer coincidence of facing that direction, the same vague sort of familiarity doesn't register. She surreptitiously glances to the side in case Mara is looking at someone else. Totally possible.

Mara flashes Niki a brief smile and waves. "Waiting for someone?" She calls over quietly. She drums her fingers absently on the arms of her chair.

The brief smile is returned, a friendly one flashing across Niki's mouth for Mara for the exchange of random niceties. "Yeah," she glances toward the kitchens and, presumably, manager's offices. "Just… family," she answers. It's strange to call Monica her niece. "She works here." Niki tags on, "You?"

Mara shrugs. "Seemed like a good idea to get out of the house." She frowns faintly, "A little lonely, though. Feel like some company while you wait? I'd sure appreciate it." She gestures toward the chair (the one with legs, rather than wheels) that she's not occupying.

Niki considers a moment, then smiles and stands up. "Sure." Why not? Too much time sitting alone means too much time to dwell on things better left un-dwelled on for her tenuous sanity. She lifts the complimentary glass of water she has sitting on the table, as well as her purse, and her high-heeled boots carry her to Mara's unoccupied chair. "They work her really hard," she says with a gesture over her shoulder after setting her purse down, "So she's always getting off late."

"I can sympathise," Mara inclines her head with a grateful smile. "This is going to sound silly but…" Just ask her already. "Do I know you from somewhere? I just… get this feeling that I should know who you are."

Niki finds herself narrowing her eyes slightly at Mara, studying the details of her face curiously, but— no, there's just not enough that's familiar. She shakes her head slowly, unsurely, apologetic about it nonetheless. "I don't… think so?" She smiles genially and lifts one shoulder in a shrug. "I might just forget, though. I usually remember faces, but…" But she's not always herself? She hopes it's not one of those scenarios. "My name's Niki," she offers her hand.

Mara reaches out to takes Niki's offered hand to shake. "Mara," she offers in return. "I'm sorry. I'm not sure where I think I should know you from." She chuckles quietly, "I think maybe I try too hard to remember faces sometimes."

After withdrawing her hand from its friendly grasp of Mara's, Niki just smiles again. "No harm done! It's nice to meet you. I haven't been in the city long, so it's always surprising when someone recognizes me." Pause. "Or, um… thinks they do."

Mara chuckles quietly. "Well, how do you like it so far in the capital of opportunity?" She tips her head to one side curiously. "Is it an adjustment?"

Capital of opportunity. Something hitches in her memory, but it's waved off. Still, Niki hesitates answering as she considers those words, but her polite smile never really leaves. "It's… it's been something else. Yeah. Adjustment doesn't really cover the half of it." She tucks some waves of blonde behind her ear. "You don't sound like you're from around here, either," she says with a hint of questioning.

Mara smirks almost sheepishly. "I was born here, actually. My parents went to school together at Cornell." Then, she lets her accent slip completely to her British side. "Mum's from the U.K." And then to the other end of the spectrum. "And Pop's from N'Awlins." She then returns to her carefully practiced near-neutrality. "Spent my childhood goin' back and forth between the two."

Niki quirks a brow, making somewhat of a silly face with the smirk to go along with it when Mara slips between accents. "You sounded like my … well, I guess she's my niece - the person I'm waiting for. She's from New Orleans. My husband has a lot of family in those parts, but we came to New York from Vegas."

"Vegas, huh? What made you decide to come out here?" Mara can't help but poke fun, really. "Wanted to try a different flavour of sin and debauchery?" Because while Vegas is still sin city, NYC isn't a whole lot better. Just in different ways.

"…Circumstance." It's obvious by the way that she hesitates again that Niki had to search for an appropriate word to use without giving too much away. She chuckles on Mara's comment, but it's more sardonic than humorous. "Haha, no," she says throughout the chuckle; the glimmer in her eye might suggest she knows about Vegas' brand of sin and debauchery, though. "I didn't really mean to stay here, to be honest. It just… happened that way."

"This city has a habit of doing that to people, I think." Mara nods knowingly. "I thought I'd go back to New Orleans after I finished school, but…" She trails off for a moment. "I don't know. Sometimes, I think fate just had other plans."

"Fate," Niki repeats quietly with a subdued roll of her eyes. "I wish fate would stop having other plans," she adds in a murmur. Maybe she's bitter. A bit. Just a little. She takes this moment to sip her mostly untouched water and flashes the near-stranger an ever-so-slightly awkward smile.

Awkward as it should be, Mara can't help but get that feeling in the pit of her stomach. Something is building… Damned if she knows what it is or why, though. "Tell me about it. Fate's kind of a bitch like that." A busy server dashes past the table, bumping into the back of Mara's wheelchair, causing her to jump in her seat and knock Niki's purse to the floor. "Oh jeez! I am so sorry!"

In addition to being a bitch, fate also has a way of spilling onto the floor. As it turns out, fate does not always work in subtle ways. Niki reaches out automatically as her purse makes an ungraceful dive for the floor, but it's too late. She doesn't seem perturbed, though. "It's okay," she says with a disarming smile, just reaching down to swipe it up. It's laden down like most Mom Purses are, so a few things spill out: her cell phone, some sunglasses…

… and something else was jarred from its depths: an unassuming white envelope, which photographs are peeking out of. Only a few corners can be seen; they look like well-presented snapshots of artwork. Very specific artwork. Is that the corner of a tornado? A bleeding head?

"Oh my God." One hand flutters up to cover Mara's mouth when she sees the envelope and its contents. "Those are Isaac Mendez's paintings," she says in a whispered hush. Everything is connected. Everything.

In the process of retrieving her phone and sunglasses, leaning down toward the floor, Niki stares at the envelope as if it's a surprise to her, too. It's not, not in the same way that it is for Mara, but she had forgotten they were in there. She has a certain Ms. Ransom to thank for that. She mumbles a hushed curse. Plucking the envelope from the floor in slow motion, regarding Mara warily, Niki sits up. A few fingertips push the photographs back in. Go away. "…you're familiar with the artist?"

"Yeah." Mara holds her hand out, palm up. "May I? I've… A friend told me something about one of the paintings in particular." She fixes Niki with a serious look. "Do you know a… short Japanese man by any chance? Has an affinity for swords?"

Niki folds her hand over the envelope's opening. "Actually, I'd rather you didn't," she says, her voice quiet - hushed, almost. Although her blue eyes seem to flare at the description of Hiro in a way that makes it look at Mara more firmly, her answer is: "No. I'm sorry…?" It's only sort of a lie.

"You're lying to me," Mara decides after a moment. She sits back in her chair, suddenly somber. "Company woman?"

Niki does nothing to deny that she's lying to Mara. She just stares across the table at the woman with no hint of her previous friendliness. "No," she answers firmly to the question. /No/. She goes about hurriedly shoving her things back in her purse, the painting photographs included. There's an urgency to her movements. She's readying to pack it up and get the hell away from Mara, it looks like.

"I think I'm in one of those paintings, Niki." Mara finally admits why she wants to see the photographs. "I'm a homicide detective, NYPD. I arrested Gabriel Gray."

Niki's heart skips a beat over every single thing Mara says. "I'm sorry. I don't know if these paintings tell the future like people say, or what, but I…" She shakes her head, almost manic, and clutches her purse tightly in her lap until her knuckles turn white. "Sylar? But he's loose."

"Yeah, yeah he is. He slipped through the cracks of the legal system. We're just waiting for him to screw up. He's already done it. If we can find him, he's toast." Mara holds her hand out again. "There's a painting of a woman with dark hair. Just let me see that one. Please.

Niki tenses her jaw, glancing away from Mara, across the room and out the window onto Madison Avenue. As if an inner battle ends, she sighs, and takes the envelope out only far enough to rifle through its contents with manicured nails. A singular photo is removed, that of the dark-haired woman. It's a neat photo, the type an art distributer might have, framed in white with 'Mendez, Isaac' and a number on the bottom and a watermark-like stamp on the back that reads 'Linderman Group'. She hands it to Mara reluctantly.

Mara takes the photo and lays it out on the table in front of her, studying it intently. This is the one Nathan told her about, then. "My friend thought it might be his mother…" Fingers trace over the edge of the photo. "Or it could be… It's hard to say."

"You look younger," Niki comments. Then again, it's hard to say; the painting is a bit stylized, and she's no art expert. "And— besides, maybe it won't happen, right? It's just a painting." She glances over her shoulder toward the hustle and bustle of the employee's area in a bout of restlessness.

"Just a painting," Mara repeats. But she knows what happened to the artist. She saw it. Somehow, 'just a painting' doesn't calm her. "Thank you." She slides the photograph across the table to rest in front of Niki again. "I'm suddenly not very hungry. I think I should go." Before she starts to pull away from the table, however, she sets a business card down on top of the image of the painting.

Niki draws the photograph and the business card along the table with her fingers, watching Mara all the while. She doesn't give either piece of paper a glance as she puts them away, glad for them to be gone. "I wasn't lying about not being with the Company," she feels the need to add.

"Of course." Mara's maybe more trusting than she should be, maybe. Or maybe she's just tired of fighting. "Thank you for taking the time to speak with me, Niki." She starts to wheel her chair away from the table and toward the exit.

It seems out of place to say 'you're welcome'. Niki manages a thin smile for Mara a she leaves - it's almost regretful. "Yeah, well… I hope it's not you in the painting." She hitches her purse over her arm, and gets ready to leave herself if Monica doesn't appear soon.

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