Disclaimer: Characters and situations owned by NBC.
Spoilers: Up to 2.11. Powerless in terms of background information.
Thanks to: Kathy, for beta-reading.
Niki Sanders was an afterthought.
There was no shortage of tasks for Bob in the immediate aftermath of Linderman's death and his own takeover of the Company: containing the Petrelli boy, first and foremost, replacing the hardcore Linderman loyalists with his own people, containing Sylar, avoiding any unwanted publicity by an extensive number of bribes. But Bob always had an eye for details that others might consider insignificant. When Candice Wilmer made her report, asking for reassignment, it didn't take a genius to figure out that if Niki Sanders had been around to retrieve her son, she had probably been the cause of Linderman's gory demise as well. Bob felt a flicker of gratitude; no more than that. He and Daniel Linderman had never been close, not even in the first years when they were all still full of conviction. Later, rivalry and the increasing belief that Linderman was well beyond the line between inspired and insane had done the rest. Still, Bob would not have staged a coup. He wasn't suicidal. Now he didn't have to, and it was all thanks to a woman from Las Vegas with superstrength and dissociative identity disorder. And with no cause to bear any associate of Linderman's anything but ill will.
Bob decided to make a gesture. If it didn't work, it didn't work, but it couldn't hurt.
She didn't believe him when he told her that a new personality might emerge; he could tell. He wasn't surprised. Unbidden, a memory of hearing Elle's diagnosis for the first time came to him. He pushed it away, together with all the other memories it was pointless to examine. Standing in front of Niki who radiated distrust and anger, it occurred to him that he might have miscalculated; maybe the public space of a hospital and the awareness of her son and husband next door wasn't enough to stop her from quite literally killing the messenger. Depending on her speed, there might not be a chance to use his own power in defense, and he had left Elle with the Haitian and Peter Petrelli. It would be supremely ironic as well as pointless if he were to die right now, just after finally achieving the position he had aimed for, and it would make a thorough mess of things, both for the Company and Elle.
A touch of uncertainty showed in her gaze when he mentioned the medication she could take at home, and its side effects. If she had any sense, she would check not just with the doctors at this hospital but also those in Las Vegas; and she would learn that Bob had told her the truth. It wasn't altruistic. He simply disliked waste.
When Bob saw Niki again, he had had the week from hell, between Adam and Peter Petrelli breaking out, the Haitian's second defection and his daughter responding to all of this by nearly killing a hapless Company employee in her rage. She was 24 years old, but her reactions were those of a child deprived of her toys, and in his heart of hearts, he knew the psychiatrists had been correct. She would never achieve enough self control to function normally, let alone succeed him one day. He also knew why. But it was pointless to think about past mistakes. Easier to focus on other people's lives, manageable lives, Bob thought, and used the flight from New York to Las Vegas to read Niki Sanders' file again.
He was one more guest at her husband's funeral; nobody paid much attention to him when he arrived. Nobody except for Niki, and he didn't even have to draw her aside. She stepped forward to greet him.
"You were right," she said, and Bob blamed the fact that he hadn't had much sleep during the past five days on the way the raw grief in her voice made him wish, just for a second, he had not been. After all, it wasn't as if he cared about the woman beyond seeing her as a potential employee, and the debt he owed her for removing Linderman had already been paid.
"I'm sorry," he said, which was the expected phrase, and waited for her to accuse him of lying and of spying on her. She didn't. Instead, she said:
"When I was in prison, a psychiatrist tried to help me. Jessica – I killed her. Even if I enter that program of yours, how do you know that won't happen again?"
Bob looked at her, remembered her file, and decided simple reassurances about the Company's competence wouldn't do, though he should probably start with them. This woman had been in and out of programs since she was a teenager in juvenile detention.
"For one thing," he said, "we are, as you know, not a normal facility. We know what and who we are dealing with. The unfortunate lady you mentioned did not. And for another – Ms Sanders, you're not an alcoholic today. You mastered that particular addiction on your own. And even when manifesting Jessica, you never hurt your son but made his protection your prime priority. Someone who is capable of this kind of strength can…"
Unexpectedly, she put her left hand on his shoulder. It wasn't a friendly gesture. Her grip was hard and crushing.
"My husband thought I was strong," she said. "He was wrong. He died because he was wrong. I don't want to hear anything about my strength from you. I want your promise that if I do enter your program and it doesn't work, you'll kill me. You people are capable of that. That's what I want you to promise."
He wanted to say: You're of no use to us dead. Or, try the reassuring approach again: It won't come to that. We want to help you, not kill you.
But he was tired, exhausted, and her blue eyes with their tell-tale signs of recent tears and present despair were familiar in a way he did not care to examine, and so he found himself saying: "Yes."
She blinked, waited for him to come up with conditions or more reassurances, and when he said nothing more, her grip softened.
"Yes," she echoed, and there was wonder and a flicker of hope in her voice.
Against his better judgement, he had allowed Elle to go after Peter Petrelli on her own, and it had promptly turned into a disaster. Bob ordered her to come home; it might be possible to cover up the death of an Irish pub owner with a criminal background, but she would lose her temper again, and she was too young or simply incapable of understanding that no superpower could protect her from a bullet, or for that matter from being discovered and overwhelmed by enough angry normal people.
Bob found himself visiting Niki who didn't need sedation anymore. The reports her doctors gave him were all very positive, and he told her as much. He also gave her a business suit; there was no need for hospital gowns now, and he wanted her to start thinking of herself as a Company employee, not a patient anymore.
"I'm sorry," she said to his surprise, not commenting on the suit. "For almost strangling you the other day."
"There is no need to apologize," Bob replied, and meant it. "Not on your part, anyway. I promised you we'd be able to handle you during your recovery, that you could trust us on this, and obviously, there was some negligence, so it is rather our turn to apologize."
"I could have killed you," she said, sounding puzzled at his reaction, and then said slowly: "But you really don't mind that, do you?"
He found himself smiling at her. "It might have upset Dr. Suresh. Not that he is that fond of me, but I don't think he likes watching someone die. As I have put some considerable effort into securing his services for us, it would have been a pity to frighten him away, so all in all, it was a good thing that you didn't kill me."
The corners of her mouth curved upwards, and she shook her head, even as she returned his smile. Then she grew serious again.
"He thought I was a prisoner here," she said. "Mohinder, I mean."
"Well, then he should be delighted and very relieved, because I'd like to you to become his partner, if you feel you are ready. Your doctors feel you are."
That wasn't quite true; they had said "very soon". But talking to her, Bob thought she was, and besides, it would be a demonstration of his confidence in her. There was one thing he needed to make clear, though.
"If you don't think you are," he continued, "I need to know. I haven't forgotten my promise. But it cuts both ways. If you feel the program has worked, then you owe it to me to give your best, Niki."
She held his gaze, and slowly, she took the suit from him. "It worked," she said.
Bob's Russian was rusty, but even with a limited vocabulary, he had no trouble understanding the raw grief in Katarina's voice.
"Kolya found him," she said. "Our grandson. He found half of Ivan's brain splattered on the floor, and when I came in, he was still screaming. I want the animal who did this, Bob. I want him dead."
He murmured consoling phrases about the police; Katarina cut him off. "It was no criminal who killed my husband," she hissed. "None would have dared. Listen, and listen well: I never asked him about his business. But we were married for thirty-five years, and I am no fool. The police will never find my husband's murderer. But you, Bob, you can. I want justice."
Later, when he did get a report, Bob looked at the photo of Ivan's dead body, read about the marks on his wrists which indicated he had been tied up for hours before his death, and saw the matching set of finger prints found at the crime scene enlarged.
Noah was losing it.
He tried to separate his assessment from his feelings. There was both danger and potential there, and he had to focus on the positive, but it wasn't as easy as it should have been. A sign of age, perhaps; Ivan had been one of the first non-gifted humans to join the Company, and when Bob had been little more than a book keeper overwhelmed with the wonderful, terrifying new world his talent opened up to him, Ivan had shown him the ropes. The Noah Bennet situation would have to wait, though, given that the Adam and Maury situation was infinitely more dangerous. Bob evacuated the building; the fewer potential tools for Maury, the better. Thankfully, Elle was still somewhere over the Atlantic, on her way back from Ireland. Bob knew Maury, and he knew Adam. It would have been impossible for them to resist the use of Elle if she had been there. Maury's son, on the other hand, was very present, and not unsusceptible to being recruited by Bob, especially given that Maury had turned out to be the cause of Molly Walker's coma; then there was Angela's older son and Bob's two rookies, Niki and Mohinder Suresh. As improvised task forces went, it was one of the more volatile. Still, there was an odd sense of rightness there; it reminded him of the old days, before everything had gone haywire. He anticipated any number of outcomes, some with his own death, some with Maury defeated and Bob with a new team. The only thing he didn't anticipate was what happened right in front of his eyes.
"You came here to get control of your life," he said to Niki when she accused him of having killed her husband. "Don't let Maury undo all of that."
She didn't seem to hear him. The wild, devastated grief in her eyes was the same he had heard from Katarina on the phone this morning, it was the way Niki had looked at the funeral when he had recruited her. It was the core of a much older memory, but with an effort, he managed to keep it as firmly sealed as always and focused on the lethal blonde woman in front of him, coming closer and closer. Nathan Petrelli talked to her again, and she responded, but Bob had seen people go insane when trying to fight a direct commandment from Maury, and Niki had a fragile psyche to begin with.
This is it, he thought. The hour of my death.
Perhaps this was why he had recruited her. Perhaps he had always known, somehow. It seemed fitting, somehow, that it should be one of the younger ones, not one of his contemporaries, and certainly not Adam. We reap what we sow, wasn't that what Nathan had told him earlier; one should be killed by one's creation, not by the creators.
Then Niki injected herself, and all bets were off.
After his conversation with Mohinder Suresh, Bob went to see Niki and found her with her suitcase already packed. For the first time, he did not quite know what to say. The strain of the virus she had injected herself with wasn't an immediate death sentence. It was the same one they had used on Sylar, and Sylar had survived for several months before he killed Candice and vanished, but then again, Sylar's DNA was so corrupted by all the abilities he had taken that this reaction could be unique to him, and not shared by the rest of them. The Haitian, on the other hand, had shown a much faster physical decline, but that had been to the original virus, and he had been healed by Suresh's blood alone. No, there was no scientific reassurance he could give, and he wasn't the type for emotional coddling. It would be ridiculous.
Thank you for killing yourself instead of me wasn't the thing to say, either.
"Your son will be glad to see you again," Bob said instead, remembering how Nathan bringing up Micah had gotten through to her. Suresh had said she wanted to leave, and though it probably would be safer to keep her here, just in case, this strain of the virus was non-contagious, and Bob owed her.
She nodded. For the first time since he had met her, she seemed to be at peace with herself. There was no accusation in her eyes, and much like her calm, this was entirely unfamiliar.
"Who will be Mohinder's partner now?" she asked, and still feeling at a loss, Bob told her the truth.
"I didn't know you had a daughter," Niki said, surprised. "Is she here? Have I met her?"
He shook his head. "She had an assignment abroad. Dr. Suresh and I are going to meet her in California."
"What is she like?" Niki asked, and Bob fell silent. There was an obvious reason why no one had ever asked this question. Everyone else who knew of Elle also knew Elle, and in most cases had worked for the Company for many years. Some of them long enough to know not just what Elle was like but the reasons for it.
"I am proud of her," he said at last, before the silence grew too uncomfortable. "She is a very gifted young woman."
"And you work together. The only thing my father and I shared in recent years was the AA mantra," Niki said ruefully. "Not that I wanted more, to tell the truth. He basically taught me everything a parent shouldn't be."
"I should not have pushed you to work this early," Bob said abruptly. "I should have let you finish the program first."
"I did finish the program," Niki said, and caught his hand in hers. Her fingers were warm; either a sign of fever, or simply a result of all the tests Mohinder had run with her earlier, desperately trying to disprove what he had found out. "Look," she said, "you were right. I came here to get control of my life. And maybe it will be very short, and maybe it won't, but when I go back to my son, I know there won't be anyone else going with me. I'll be me with him. Whoever that is, I'll be me. You gave me that."
She let go again, and he felt a completely illogical sense of loss. Maybe it showed on his face, since she smiled, put one of her hands on his arm and gave him a slight squeeze.
"Thank you," she said.
A number of things came to mind, ranking from the expected platitude – "you are welcome" – to the sentimental – "I'm sorry your employment was so short and ended this way" to the optimistic – "when we return from California, Dr. Suresh will probably be able to find a cure, and incidentally, if he cures you, your contract still applies, so I expect you to work for us again".
He couldn't reply with any of them.
"Yes," he said, the word pushing out of him in its hoarseness, and when she left, her heels clicking on the linoleum of the hallway, he turned around to watch her go.