Spoilers: Up to 1x07, Nothing to Hide
Summary: Five scenes from five days with five men in Niki Sanders's life. If Niki Sanders has ever been good at anything, it's running. (A speculative fic.)
"Mom? Mom. Mom?"
The first thing Niki feels is anger. She hates being woken up by yelling. D.L. always woke her with a kiss, whether it was a goodbye or a good morning. The second is the pain. Damn, her body aches. She sits up just a little, opening her eyes gingerly. The Nevada sun is grim outside their motel window, and it lights the blank face of her son. "Micah," she says, in response to his worry. She presses the heel of her hand into her forehead, goes on: "I'm all right, honey. Are you ready to go?"
Micah glances down at his sneakered feet and doesn't answer her question. "Mom, where's Dad?"
Niki doesn't hear him, trying to think of the next step in the plan. If D.L. is gone, he's got the money, and then they have no choice but to follow him. To turn him in would mean losing the money, and though Niki doesn't want that, Jessica really doesn't want that. And whatever Jessica wants, Jessica gets.
"Mom." Micah grabs her arm, looks at his mother with a fierce determination that he definitely got from D.L. She finally looks at him. "Where's Dad?" he repeats.
Niki shakes him off to examine her hands, bruised knuckles and everything indicative of a nasty fight. The realization forces her to sit up, stand, pace. "I don't know," she admits.
He says nothing, just sits on the bed and looks up at her. Only then, looking down at her son who is far too young to be so wise, does she realize what's happened. The truth hangs in the air for a moment before Micah gives it voice: "He's dead, isn't he?"
Niki snatches a look at the mirror on impulse, by nature. Jessica has been watching her all this time; she gives a half-smile and a shrug to her much more naive half. "Get in the car," Niki says to her son.
Jessica crosses her arms over her chest, tilts her head back. "You might not want to do that," she says, contemplative with an edge of dark amusement.
"No -- no, never mind." Niki turns to Micah as he turns the doorknob. She glances at Jessica, who just looks bored. "No, go in the bathroom. I need a minute alone."
Micah comes over to her, studying her. Niki knows the I'm Talking to a Crazy Person Look, and ever since Jessica's little visits, she's grown used to it. She just never wanted to see it on her own son's face. "Is it over?" Micah asks, his face bearing lines of wearied determination. D.L. wore the same expression once: dropping his gun on the table, leaning forward on the table, saying I don't want to do this and you know it but you know I do what I have to. For Micah. For us. Always have.
"No," she says faintly, stroking his hair like she did back when he was a child who fell asleep in her lap, head on her chest. He doesn't react, but doesn't move away. "We'll figure out what to do next. Just give me a few minutes to think."
Micah withdraws from her, steps back, his eyes on her hands. Once his study is complete, he closes the bathroom door behind him.
Jessica beckons her closer to the mirror. Niki steps closer, leans against the frame. "The money's underneath the bed," Jessica whispers.
It's harder to speak than Niki would have expected it to be. After all, even if D.L. was the man who had tried to steal her son, he was also her husband and the father of a great son. "Did you kill him?" she asks, her voice harsh, emotional.
She closes her eyes in anticipation of the answer. "No," Jessica says. Niki's eyes open, her focus shifting to the personality on the opposite side of the mirror. "I left him for you."
Jessica leans forward, opens the drawer between the two beds, and withdraws a gun. Niki looks at the handle of the drawer for a long moment before yanking it open and seizing the gun inside. "Atta girl," Jessica drawls, but Niki for once is not listening. Within seconds, she's out the door.
Peter Petrelli is nice. Niki is automatically suspicious of "nice" men, because more often than not they're just like anyone else, they just lie more. Even if there was someone who was actually nice and friendly and helpful, they wouldn't last long in this world. Two thousand years ago Jesus Christ was crucified for telling people to be nice to each other. That's not supposed to be the moral of the story, but with the kind of life Niki's lived, it makes a whole lot of sense.
They're in New York, split into groups with Mohinder Suresh's apartment as a headquarters. Niki picked the apartment furthest from Nathan Petrelli's mansion, not wanting to be even considered the other woman. Either way, this is where it's all going to happen, and she doesn't know what to think about New York. It's sort of cool in a way that she finally got here, but it's not as though she can really enjoy it. After all, if they don't figure this all out, the place is going to blow. At least she got to visit it first.
She just wants to sleep, and the couch is comfortable. Still, conversation is inevitable, and she looks at Peter as he speaks. "Your son's really smart." He watches her sparingly as he talks, hesitant to let his eyes linger on her. "He's -- "
"Talented," Niki says, just to stop him from going on and on. She shifts in the chair, meets his gaze from across the room and holds it. Quickly, she smiles. "He's talented."
"We're all talented," he laughs, his smile outshining hers. Niki wasn't aware that there was that much sincerity in the city of New York, nonetheless in one person. Still, that's Peter for you.
"If you call an alternate personality a talent." After everything she's been through, she's allowed to question the idea that everything is a blessing, even if it looks like a curse. "If you call... absorbing a talent. Never touch me," she adds, half-joking. "You're too nice to get an evil twin."
"I don't need touch to do it but yeah, maybe not." Peter studies her, expression serious. "But we all have these powers for a reason. It's all necessary. You know that, right?"
God has a plan, Niki, Mom always used to say. Bullshit. "It's what I hear," she instinctively retorts with false cheer. "All I hear, really."
Peter surprises her by protesting the second the words leave her mouth. "Anything else doesn't make sense," he stresses. "All of us, Isaac's paintings, Niki, you have to believe this."
"Painting the future, flying, stopping time, fixing machinery, reading minds, Peter, are those the same as sharing a body with a murderer?" she snaps. She closes her eyes, not wanting to see the face of the hero by nature. "My son can help, but... I don't want her coming out again."
He doesn't seem to be too shaken. She should feel good about that, but she doesn't. "You have a choice?" he asks.
It's a good question, and one that she has to answer truly. He's genuine, sincere, and asks all the right questions that have all the answers that no one wants to give. Yeah, the nice guy, a woman's dream. Not exactly. "I have no choice at all. You'd like her," she adds. She can feel a headache building. "She has power and loves to use it."
"She saved your son and got you here," Peter shoots back. "I guess she's not all bad."
It took murder, theft, and becoming a fugitive to save Micah. Is this what destiny gives her son? He's definitely inherited his parents' good fortunes, if so. "I hope not," Niki mutters inaudibly towards the floor.
When she wakes next, it's past midnight and Micah is asleep on the couch beside her. "Damn you," she whispers in vitriol, but both she and Jessica would know she doesn't mean it in the least.
Isaac Mendez is not Niki's type. Nonetheless she finds him attractive in a gritty sort of way, and enjoys watching him paint. It's better than watching the clock and waiting for Nathan to show up so she can avoid him, or even worse, that New York City will blow up right underneath their feet.
"You don't seem too excited." He doesn't look at anyone when they talk, she notices, because he's too busy painting. They know the significance now, so (by popular urging and many guilt trips) he just works through the days and nights, throwing himself as best he can into a precognitive state and then furiously painting. Now he's laid-back, the vision wearing off and the painting just requiring details. "Everyone's pretty worked up about this."
"Everyone doesn't seem to understand that this isn't the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade." Niki sits backwards on one of the few chairs, absorbed by the way his work all comes together. "It's not something that we can look forward to or something where we can just look on. It's bad."
Isaac's slightly amused smile is visible from his profile. "You're a real hero, too, huh?"
She has to wonder if she's being mocked. "Can you be a hero even if you're not very heroic?" she asks.
He leans near the canvas to detail the long shadow of a tall black man, the last big detail. "Do you read comic books?" he asks her. "Or watch movies?"
When Niki bothers to think about it, this is a really stupid conversation. "Micah likes that kind of thing, but I don't pay much attention," she admits. "I never had time to think about fiction."
"There are two kinds of heroes." Isaac sets down his brush and takes a step back. The black man's blank eyes stare back at him, and he scans the previous paintings for some context... still, he goes on. "The kind who always had a sense of justice and just needed the tools, and the kind who got fucked over and had to set things right. There's some crossover between those, but that's it," he says. "You only need powers and a quest to be a hero."
"That makes the bad guys heroes, too," Niki murmurs. She stands, takes a few steps towards him, but stops when he looks back at her. "Or the heroes could be bad guys."
He scans the paintings again, and she follows his gaze. The future doesn't look promising, but it never has. "The bad guys would never have a former stripper and a cheerleader on their team," Isaac says.
Niki just wants to laugh, or cry, or both. "Even if the former stripper is crazy?" she asks with feigned curiosity.
Isaac snorts, looks back at her. "We're all mad here," he says, indicating the insanity of their lives with a simple wave of his hand at the paintings surrounding them. Niki moves away from him, looks around, and wanders towards a painting of her face pressed against a mirror in an unfamiliar room, Jessica's smile clear.
"Damn right," Niki says to Isaac, who gives her a curious look before she turns away. She looks back at the painting, at the perfect rendering of her other side's face. We're all mad here.
Acceptance sinks inside of her like a weight.
Long story short, Niki doesn't like cops. When they're protecting her and Micah, that's great, but otherwise, they just make her nervous. Even though the cop on the corner isn't that intimidating, she's got somewhere to be and she has to wonder if they're looking for her, if her picture is out; or worse, if the bad guys have the police in their pocket. Yeah, this can only get worse.
She begins to walk, eventually slipping into a confident stride, assuring herself with each step. Don't look at him. You're innocent. Don't look at him, don't run, you'll be fine. If you look, he might see your face, so don't look.
She looks, and he's looking at her, starting to walk towards her. She turns away quickly and begins to walk. "Wait!" the cop calls, and she runs into a store, nearly knocking over a display as she tries to find a back door. Finding nothing of use she ducks into the bathroom, calming herself because the moment Jessica decides that her presence is necessary, she'll pull out all the stops. Kicking a cop's ass will only lead to more trouble.
There's a long moment of silence, and then the door opens, a gun leading its way first. She presses herself against the wall. "Miss, if you're in here -- Niki, please step out," a man says.
Her breath catches in her throat. They know who she is, they've seen pictures, what if they've figured it out?
She glances at the mirror. Jessica's eyes meet hers. "I'm coming out," Jessica says. Niki shakes her head, tries to think fast.
"Niki, Ms. Sanders -- " Now he just sounds puzzled. "Are you...?"
Niki knows no one can hear Jessica except her, so what the hell is he doing? "I'm coming out," she says, forcing herself not to look at Jessica.
"Like hell you are," Jessica retorts. "Do you want to get arrested?"
"I'm not going to arrest you," the cop says.
"Then why'd you chase me in here?" Niki snaps. She's too tense, forces her breaths to calm.
"You ran. Now just come out, look, I want to talk to you -- see, I'm putting away my gun." The gun vanishes from the door. "Have you ever heard of a man named Sylar?"
Mohinder's talk. Yes. "Yeah, why?"
He breathes out audibly, grimly. "We need to talk. Come on." Slowly, she opens the door, looks the cop in the face. He looks honest, just a little pale. "I'll buy you a coffee."
She just nods and he introduces himself as Detective Matt Parkman, even shows her his badge at her skepticism. Every question that pops in her mind on the way to a small cafe, he answers, which is a little unnerving. "I am reading your mind," he admits after a few questions, almost sheepish. "I don't mean to, it just happens."
Niki sighs and just lets him speak a half-conversation. He can't seem to control the habit of answering before she speaks, so... You have powers?
Matt pulls her chair out for her once they reach the cafe. "Yeah, and with that question, I think you do, too."
She just smiles. "Let me talk, would you?" she asks the instant it occurs to her.
"I don't mean to be annoying -- why did you run?" he asks, leaning onto the table.
"I don't like cops," Niki admits. Might as well confess a little, if he can read her mind. "And I'm in trouble with the law, and we can't afford to lose anyone. New York's in trouble."
Matt smiles. "What is this, the Justice League? Is this Chandra Suresh's son's work or what?"
It should comfort her that they're not the only ones looking into this, but it's frightening, because the government might know about all of them, and maybe even her (and everything she's done). "Yeah, but -- "
"The FBI is looking into Sylar," he says, "and everything we've found points towards Chandra Suresh's research. We wanted to find his son but we couldn't. Look, if you let us help -- "
"I'm not sure you can," Niki says, looking at the waitress and forcing herself to smile and order a coffee. "At least, they might not let you, I don't know. They have this idea of what heroes do, you know, and I'm not sure cooperating with the cops is one of them."
"The FBI," Matt reminds her, "and if... if New York's going to blow up, New York ought to know."
The mind-reading thing is getting on her nerves. She's a really bad superhero, giving away all the secrets. "I'll tell you what I know," she says. "But we haven't got much time."
"Neither do we," he says with a grim sort of smile. "So let's do what we can."
Niki smiles back and begins to talk, almost uncomfortable with how comfortable she is with this detective. Just like the others, he gives off the feeling of a good guy. Heroes. Despite herself, she's starting to like them.
Before Niki leaves the hotel room, she hits the safety and sticks the gun in the small of her back, covering it with her shirt. She shuts the door behind her, and the first thing in sight makes her pause. D.L. is sitting in the backseat of his car, now staring at her, and dangles two pair of handcuffs almost as a taunt.
She retrieves the gun again, and it sends a rush through her body, a surge of power. She imagines she feels like Jessica feels all the time, her heart skipping, the hair on her arms raised. She opens the passenger door, takes a seat, looks back at him. "D.L.," she says.
"You're fucking crazy, you know that?" he says, throws the handcuffs at her. The look in his eyes is exactly what she would have hoped for. It isn't hatred, not malevolence of any kind; it's betrayal. After all that, he still loves her.
Niki pushes the handcuffs aside, not knowing where Jessica got them nor caring. There's a more important question. "Why didn't you run?"
"Because I'm not letting you take him," D.L. says, leans forward, elbows on his knees. "He's my son, and you're not my wife. Not anymore."
She cocks the gun, points it between his eyes. Just for a moment, he takes his eyes off of her and looks at the barrel of the gun. "I could kill you now. She saved you for me, she set this all up. Because I don't need you."
"What are you talking about? Did you lose it when I was in prison?" he wonders. She knows how the world tightens to a small black point when a gun is set on you, and even her betrayal isn't as overwhelming as death at this point. "I got back, we were happy, then I find out you stole my money, Niki, what's going on?"
She lowers the gun, by a fraction. "You're a killer, a thief, and Micah, my son is a genius. You're not going to ruin everything for him. He doesn't need a father like you." Repeating Jessica's words, pointing Jessica's gun, holding Jessica's captive, is there even a line anymore?
D.L. snorts a laugh, leans closer to the gun. "Who killed my crew and stole my money?" he asks. "I did it for you, for Micah, for all of us. You're doing the same goddamn thing for no good reason."
The truth hurts, aches like a punch to the ribs, and it saps her of her confidence and strength, leaves her whispering. "I'm his mother."
"And killing me will make you a better mother?"
He's bargaining, she knows he's bargaining, but now the guilt that she'd successfully rationalized away for all this time is surging back. What kind of person is she?
When she wakes again, she and Micah are sitting in her own car. D.L. is gone, the gun is stashed in the glove compartment, and her cell phone is ringing. "Answer it," Micah urges. She does so with shaky hands.
"Is this Niki Sanders?" a voice says after a long stretch of silence.
"Yes," she whispers, sinking back into the passenger seat. She recognizes that voice, and it comforts her, maybe too much.
"Niki, we need you in New York," Nathan Petrelli says. "It's about ... damn it. It's about superpowers."
It's so absurd that she releases a snort of laughter, covering it up by speaking quickly. "Superpowers," she repeats.
"We saw the mark on your back." There is an embarrassed pause. "On the tape, of you and me. Please, we need you to come to New York."
Niki checks her wallet for money. More than enough. "I'm on my way," she says. "Where am I meeting you?"
He gives her an address, and says, "Thanks," before hanging up. She closes the cell phone and looks back at Micah. "Where are we going now?" he asks.
"New York City." Niki smiles as his expression lights up. "It's a long way, let's get started."
"Dad's car is faster," Micah says confidently. "Let's take it."
Niki looks at her reflection, at Jessica in the mirror, and looks back at her son before Jessica's reaction can register. "No, we'll take mine," she says in her best firm motherly tone. She turns the key in the ignition.
It's time to run. Whatever has happened, whatever happened to D.L., it's all behind her. She can run from this, like she's run from everything else, even herself, both selves. And if Niki Sanders has ever been good at anything, it's running.