To Make the Hard Decisions
Leo glanced around the pub, attempting to keep the act casual. While he did his best to keep his thoughts focused on the matter at hand, he couldn't help as they ventured towards Nora. She had been a bit warmer to him since that night on the balcony about a week ago, though they had yet to have another conversation that was nearly that in-depth. Neither seemed eager to venture close to that level of openness again.
Leo was still trying to process this unfamiliar desire to open up to her. To tell her things that he hadn't even really told anyone. Not the Hawkins. Not even really his family. To remember the happy times more than the bad. To share those happy memories with her.
The encounter had stopped Leo and Nora from meeting each other's gazes for too long. There was something in Nora's. He could see hesitation in her. She would start towards him, but then stop and look away before leaving the room. She was fighting with herself, that was clear. And he could understand why. He was struggling with the same thing, after all.
He had shared too much, he felt. And if he had told her this much, what was stopping him from telling her more? Why did he want to tell her more? Part of him didn't want to, but there was a bit of catharsis there, finally vocalizing things that had remained only in his mind.
This was new, uncharted territory.
"You seem unsettled today," Hester said.
Leo glanced at her, finding the synth studying him closely. He shifted on the bench, focusing his eyes on the beer in front of him.
"I'm fine," he said mechanically.
"You are lying," Hester replied smoothly. He looked back up at her.
"It's… nothing," he said, not really wanting to get into with her.
Hester was still processing being conscious and he was sure she wouldn't understand what was going on with Nora.
He'd go to Max, but Leo already knew what he would say. Encourage him to continue to open up to Nora, though Leo still wasn't convinced that was the best route at the moment. More and more, Leo wished Mia was here. Just what the hell was she off doing that was so important?
"It's to do with Nora," Hester stated.
Leo looked back up at her, keeping his expression neutral, though he wondered where she was going with this topic. At the moment, Nora and Ian were back at the manor, pouring through the hours of recordings they gathered near daily from Athena Morrow, hoping to glean enough information to get into Qualia.
"Yes," he admitted.
"She distracts you," Hester then said.
Leo frowned slightly. Though he couldn't deny it. She was certainly distracting him at the moment. He was supposed to be watching for Qualia guards, not thinking about her.
"I'm focused," he said instead.
"You should be careful. We cannot be distracted," Hester replied.
Leo nodded and glanced around again half-heartedly before returning to studying his beer. His thoughts started to venture towards Nora again, though he attempted to fight it off this time. He really needed to stop this. Especially if they were going to get any information from this outing.
"There," Hester said after some time of silence, gaining his attention.
Leo looked at her, seeing her eyes fixed on something over his shoulder. He looked over, seeing a table of people all dressed in similar black uniforms that were now all too familiar to him. Qualia. Leo turned back to Hester, who was still staring at them intently.
"Watch it, Hester. We don't want to attract attention," he said softly, wondering just how they could get closer without drawing attention to themselves.
Her eyes flicked over to him and then back to the table. Nothing changed in her expression.
"She's there," she said finally. "The one who killed Ten."
Leo sat up from his hunched position as his eyes widened. He glanced over his shoulder again.
"The woman with the long ponytail. That is her," Hester said. "She shot him."
The two of them watched for a few moments before the woman stood, smiling as she said something to the others and then walked away.
"We should follow her," Hester said.
Leo turned back to look at the synth, finding her eyes still following the woman.
It was a bit rash. They didn't have a plan and Leo wasn't completely sure he could come up with one on the fly. Ian wouldn't like it. But there was also the thought that they might not get another chance like this. Leo took a gulp of his beer and then put the bottle down on the table. He stood.
Nora walked into the ballroom and stopped, her eyes taking in the few synths there. She then saw Flash and Max speaking to each other and walked over. She had been checking on her as much as she could when she wasn't locked up in her room, wading through the Morrow recordings - which were still dismal. Like most women, Morrow had more than one purse, so it wasn't always guaranteed that she would have that particular one on her every day. So while there were hours of recording to go through, there were large chunks missing that Nora needed to fill in. Not to mention, Morrow was constantly in and out of her office.
But was better than sitting around and waiting for Leo and Hester to come back. They had been gone a few hours now as it was and seemed to be out more and more as the week passed. While Nora was sure the two could take care of themselves, she was trying to ignore the fact that the longer they were gone, the more antsy she got.
Nora did not particularly enjoy being antsy. Especially about Leo. In just the short time his family had joined their group, he was already worming himself past her defenses - had gotten her to talk about her past. While she had promised Ian she would try to be more open, it wasn't a natural action for her.
"And how are we today?" Nora asked brightly as she walked up to the two.
Flash turned to her, smiling warmly.
"I like it here," she stated. "I did not realize there were so many like me. That a place like this could exist."
She glanced at Max, who was also smiling warmly. Nora had already gleaned that he was a bit sweet on their newest addition. But then again, Flash was a breath of fresh air and it was impossible not to get on with her.
"I did not either. But I am happy that we found it," Max said, turning his gaze to Nora, who shifted about. "You and Ian have created a great place for us."
"Well… figured we should since we could," Nora said, glancing around at the others.
"Is there something I could do to help?" Flash then asked, getting Nora's attention again. "Everyone seems to have some sort of role, but I do not. Before, I minded children, but I do not see any children here."
Nora snorted slightly before she caught herself. Though she didn't stop herself from thinking there would likely never be children here.
"I'm sure there is something. It's a rather big house. Some of the others help with keeping things up. Cleaning and the like. We also have a garden out back if that's your sort of thing," Nora said. Flash smiled again.
"I have never tried working in a garden, but I think I should enjoy being outdoors," she said.
"Well then, come with me. I was just about to go out and have a look at it myself," Nora said, starting to turn away and motioning for Flash to follow her.
"I would like to join you if that is alright, Nora," Max said.
"Course. The more the merrier," Nora replied easily, already walking towards the door.
The three made their way to the back grounds, stopping at the edge of the rather large garden. At first it had just been a small vegetable garden that she, Ian, Martha and a few of the domestic synths Beauchamp had left behind worked on - apparently Beauchamp didn't care so much for flowers, as that part of the garden had fallen by the wayside.
But as more conscious synths showed up, a few had expressed interest in expanding it and now there was a fairly large spread of flowers and shrubbery going alongside the more practical vegetables.
"This is rather large," Flash said, taking it all in. "My last family had a garden, but it was not nearly this big. Their house was not either."
"Well, suppose we don't really need such a large one. Started out with just a few vegetable plants since it was only me and Ian, but as more started showing up, it's expanded dramatically. Might be able to start taking some things in to sell at the local farmers' market," Nora commented, taking in the size as well. "Really have more going than just the few of us who do eat need."
"I think that is a sound idea. It can help make Beauchamp Estate more self-sustainable," Max said. Nora glanced at him, a small smile appearing.
"Ian said something similar," she replied.
Nora then continued on giving the two a tour of the garden and the shed where they kept all the gardening tools. A couple synths were already out among the plants, tending to them. They stopped and chatted with them as the two spoke about the various plants and their status. Part of Nora had to chuckle, thinking they had now started some sort of synth commune. How she would love to see Beauchamp's reaction to that. The old man was probably rolling in his grave about now if he knew anything about this.
But after the tour had finished, Nora and Max left Flash in the garden, starting to learn some of the basics of its upkeep, as they headed back into the manor to check with Ian and see if Leo and Hester had returned.
They found Ian in the library, where he usually was if he wasn't down in the lab, going over the latest briefing Nora had written up about Morrow's recordings, likely trying to glean whatever information he could about getting into Qualia.
"Having fun?" she asked wryly as Ian looked up at her and sighed.
He sat back and rubbed his face as she walked over and fell into a chair, making herself comfortable. Max stood nearby, watching Ian.
"You seen anything on something called Seraphim?" he asked, settling his sight on Nora.
"Just the couple of times," she replied. "I can't seem to find anything on it… well, anywhere. Whatever it is, Qualia is most definitely tightlipped about it. But I don't think Morrow is on it… she would have mentioned it more."
Ian nodded, but before they were interrupted by Leo walking quickly into the room. Nora sat up as her heart faltered slightly and then relief ran through her. She then shook her head, chiding herself for being worried in the first place. It's not like he hadn't been going out and following guards for the last two weeks.
It was then that she noticed Leo was alone.
"Where is Hester?" Max asked, beating her to it.
Leo stopped and looked around at the three before shoving his hands into his pockets, hunching over slightly as he looked at the ground.
"We were following a Qualia guard and split up. I went back to the tavern to listen into the guards there while she kept on with the other one," he said. He glanced around. "She not back yet?"
Nora was a bit surprised that he had left the synth to follow the guard on her own, though it made sense in a way. Divide and conquer. So long as she didn't interact with the person. Looking over at Ian, though, it was clear that he thought this was a monstrously bad idea.
"You left Hester alone?" Max asked, the concern clear in his voice.
"She seemed capable of handling things," Leo replied.
"Handling things? She hasn't been conscious more than a few weeks!" Ian yelled. "What if the guards sees her? Takes her? Or worse, what if she tells them what we're doing and they come here?!"
Leo's head shot up as he looked at Ian, who had now begun pacing around the room, running his fingers through his hair. It was clear he hadn't thought about the possibility that Hester could lead Qualia back here.
"Please, Ian. Hester's not helpless," Nora said firmly. "It'll be fine."
Leo looked over at her, seeming surprised that she was defending him.
"It's what I would have done," Nora continued.
Ian stopped pacing and scowled at her.
"I know. It's exactly what you would have done. And likely gotten into trouble and put all this at risk," Ian said, taking a step towards her, his scowl deepening as he motioned wildly with his hands.
Nora returned the scowl, thinking Ian was starting to impede their investigation into Qualia with all his so-called safety concerns. But just as she opened her mouth to reem him out, Ian spun around to face Leo again.
"Why, in God's name, would you leave Hester alone with a Qualia guard?" he shouted.
"We saw a chance. We took it," Leo replied, starting to look put out. "It could be the biggest break we've gotten so far and a hell of a lot more than sitting in the trees staring at the research facility or watching from afar."
"Yea, what if she gets caught?" Ian countered.
"She won't," Leo said firmly.
"You currently have no idea where she is," Ian returned.
"She has a communicator. We came up with a plan," Leo stated. "I wouldn't have left her if we didn't have a plan."
Ian just huffed and rolled his eyes.
"I'm surrounded by idiots," he muttered, walking back over to the desk.
Nora sat up in her chair, carefully studying Leo as he frowned at Ian and then walked over to sit down. He leaned over, wringing his hands slightly before rubbing his face. Immediately she could tell there was more to what Leo had told them. But at the same time, she wasn't sure if she should push him on it in front of Ian - who was clearly in a state and likely to stay that way awhile.
"Seeing as there is nothing we can do about it now," Ian said testily, "I suppose I can fill you in on what I've found until Hester comes back. If she comes back."
"She will," Leo said firmly, shooting a scowl at him.
Ian began speaking again as Leo turned to look at the screen, though not before meeting Nora's eyes for a few moments. He nodded towards her, a silent message of gratitude for sticking up for him with Ian. Nora found herself smiling slightly and nodding towards him in return. A sense of camaraderie had settled tentatively over the two.
Nora turned her attention back to the screen, finding the smile was still on her face as she shot a couple glances at Leo throughout the briefing, finding him doing the same.
What was this?
"You can't be serious, Nor," Ian said tiredly from the desk a couple hours later as he looked around the room, though his gaze settled on Nora, likely figuring that she would have something to say.
"You know it's good idea," Nora replied, already getting defensive. While long used to arguing with Ian while planning, she was determined to try and get him to see sense. It was a decent enough plan to get into Qualia.
"No, listen, Ian. We need to get someone inside to start scoping out their security measures. We've done similar before," she pushed, turning to look at him. "And who's to say Hester doesn't come back with something we need."
"Yea, or she gets caught and then where are we?" Ian shouted. "We can't very well go into rescue her blind. Which is what it would be like right now."
"I'm not that ridiculous, Ian," Nora said. "I only suggested we do a reconnaissance trip-"
"We don't even know if Hester will be-"
"Hester will be back," Leo said, cutting the two off.
Ian looked back and forth between the two, his mouth falling open slightly as he regarded them. Though before he could say anything, they were interrupted by the sudden appearance of Hester.
Leo and Max both headed towards her as Nora and Ian watched on. Nora couldn't help but notice the state of Hester's clothes - they were partially wet and was that blood?
"I have obtained a passcard," Hester said calmly, holding it out. "And information."
Ian froze as a shocked look came over Leo's face. He reached out and took the card, studying it. While happy with the news, Nora couldn't help but think there was something strange going on. She frowned as she glanced over at Ian, who also seemed to notice that something was off about Hester's clothing as well.
Just how had she gotten this so-called information and a passcard?
"What happened?" Max asked, looking her over and Nora stood and started towards them.
"I did want needed to be done to gain what we needed," Hester replied.
"What do you mean by that?" Nora asked. Hester turned to look at her, her gaze steady, yet intense.
"You said that you do not wish to use violence to obtain what you need. I believe at times it is necessary," Hester replied. "I did not what you could not. The ends justify the means."
"Hester… what have you done?" Max asked, now appearing concerned as he reached out and took one of her hands, lifting it up to examine it.
"It is none of your concern – the guard has been dealt with," Hester said.
A cold sliver of dread ran down Nora's spine as the implications of what Hester said dawned upon her. While Nora was willing to do a great many things to get information that she needed or to help someone, this… this was going too far.
To hurt someone. To potentially kill someone… For she was absolutely sure that Hester had just confessed to killing the Qualia guard to get the passcard that Leo was still studying. He then looked over at Hester, his brow furrowed.
Nora looked over at Ian, seeing his expression mirrored her own. A mixture of disapproval and worry. There was no telling what sort of evidence Hester had accidentally left behind – whether she had killed the guard or not. Even if it was just a body, there was a chance something could lead them back here.
"It needed to be done," Hester repeated, looking around at the group as though she was confused by their reactions.
"I don't think you realize how serious this is," Ian started.
"I assure you, I left nothing to draw them here," Hester said. Nora's stomach sank. If she hadn't been sure before, she was absolutely sure now. The synth met Leo' eyes. "You knew what I would do."
Leo frowned as Nora whipped her head around to look at him and Ian gaped at him.
"I… no," Leo said quickly. "You said to split up-"
"Because I knew that you would not wish to see what I would do," Hester said. "I protected you from that."
An odd look came over Leo's face as he continued to stare at him.
"I…" he stopped speaking and looked over at Nora. "I swear… I didn't…"
Nora's chest tightened as she shook her head and took a deep breath. She needed to get out of her. Clear her heard. Moving quickly, she started across the room.
"Shut it," she snapped continuing on.