Nora moved around the manor restlessly. She had been trying to find Leo and for not the first time wished that Beauchamp Estate had been smaller so he would be easier to find. He hadn't been with Max and neither he nor Ian were in the library when she went back after some time, curious about what Ian wanted to speak with him about. Though she had a decent idea, knowing Ian.
Probably about her.
She had gone down to the lab, checked the kitchens and breakfast room, been in and out of the ball room several times, and pretty much all over the first floor. She had even checked the gym, though she had yet to see or hear of Leo using it in the weeks he had been there. Nora knew she should be working - there were still hours of recordings from the device in Morrow's purse to go through - but she knew that she wouldn't be able to settle until they spoke.
Finally, Nora was on the second floor, stopping just outside Leo's door. Taking a deep breath, she raised her hand to knock, still not completely sure if she was ready for this, but knowing they needed to talk regardless. She had put it off too long as it was.
"He's not here."
Nora stopped looking over to see Hester standing on the landing, calmly watching her. A shudder ran through Nora's spine, finding it slightly creepy how Hester had a habit of popping up when she least expected it. She then thought to what she had done, but pushed it aside as she stepped over to the synth. It wasn't Hester's fault, she told herself. The synth didn't know any better. She just needed to be shown kindness. They could still help her, Nora thought. They just need to talk to her more.
"Do you know where he went?" Nora asked.
"Another signal came in. He went to retrieve the synth," Hester said mechanically.
"Oh… okay," Nora said.
Well, that was lovely. And neither he nor Ian thought to tell her about it. Nora started towards her room, figuring this was a sign that she should stop procrastinating her own work. She could talk to Leo when he came back.
"I know what happened," Hester said, stopping her. Nora's eyes widened as she turned to look at the synth. "Last night."
What the absolute hell? How did Hester know? Nora's cheeks heated up as she worried the whole bloody house had heard them and knew. But just as quickly, she shook it aside. Again, it wasn't as though there had been shouting and screaming.
"Did he… Did Leo tell you?" Nora asked.
She couldn't help as a bit of betrayal coursed through her. Why would he tell Hester? Yes, she had told Ian, but that was different. He was her best friend. Nora could see him talking to Max about all this, but not Hester. Maybe she had overheard him talking to Max or Ian. Yes, that had to be it.
"Perhaps," Hester said, taking a step towards her, though her expression hadn't changed. "You know… he doesn't intend to stay here." Nora frowned. That wasn't what she had assumed. Not from last night. "We intend to leave soon. To rescue the others."
"I… What? We're working on a plan together," Nora said, keeping her tone even though her heart was beginning to race and her head was spinning as she struggled to wrap her head around what Hester was saying.
"There have been others before you. Other women. He's told me about them," Hester continued. "You are no different to him than they were."
Even though part of her thought this was absolutely ludicrous, pain stabbed at Nora's chest. She had been worried that maybe Leo would change his mind. That he would find being with her too difficult or too much. But she would have never thought that he would use her. This made no sense. This had to be a lie. But why would Hester lie to her? Or mention any of this?
"I don't know what you're talking about," Nora said harshly, starting to turn away.
"He only stays so he can get your help. To gain information he needs. Soon we will have enough and we will leave," Hester pushed on. "He and I."
Nora stopped, still frowning. While part of her screamed not to listen to the synth, she couldn't help as she gave into her fears. This was what she had been worrying about, after all. That he would eventually leave. That he would hurt her.
"How do you know that?" Nora asked, not turning to face the synth.
"We spoke about it not long before he left. He assured me that it would be soon," Hester said. Nora turned to look at her. "You must know that it would never work. You are not the same." The synth seemed to be taking Nora in. "You are still very much human while Leo is not. He is one of us."
"He's still human," Nora insisted.
"More synth than human. Humans have mistreated him as they mistreated us. You are not to be trusted," Hester countered.
"Doesn't matter. We are leaving soon. Last night meant nothing to him. You are just a distraction," Hester said. She then turned and walked down the stairs, leaving Nora alone before she could say anything else.
She took a few shuddery breaths before turning and walking into her room. She shut the door and then leaned against it, feeling tears prick at her eyes as she looked over to her unmade bed.
Was it true? Had Leo only been using her? Nora didn't think it was possible, but at the same time, how well did she really know him? Sure, she knew the facts about his life. And he had confided some things. But did she really know him? For all she knew, he could be completely capable of this. And he had obviously shared things with Hester, though Nora had not been aware that they were that close. Granted, they often went off together to do reconnaissance. They had spent a decent amount of time alone and could have talked about all manner of things. Perhaps they were closer than Nora realized.
Perhaps he had known all along that Hester intended to kill the guard to gain information and her passcard. Had really wanted her to do it. His apology, all of that from last night, it could have been a ploy to gain Nora's confidence. A means to an end. Sleeping with her had just been the icing on the cake.
It became harder for Nora to breathe as all her concerns washed over her.
Had she made a mistake? Letting him in? Letting him into her bed? Was this all a mistake?
"This is some place," Mattie muttered as Leo drove down the lane towards the garage at the back of the house. "Seriously, this is where you've been hiding out?"
She looked over at him, eyes wide in wonder. Leo cracked a smile. While it had been a shock to find not a synth, but Mattie, it was a welcomed one. He hadn't realized just how much he missed the Hawkins until that moment. He was eager to catch up and introduce her to Ian and Nora. He had a feeling the oldest Hawkins child would fit in well with their little band. Could possibly be able to help them.
"Yea, just recently," Leo said.
"How did you find this place?" Mattie then asked.
"More like they found us," Leo said as he parked in the garage and turned off the car. Mattie got out, her expression still surprised as she took in the other vehicles. "It's all completely off the grid. No one knows about this place."
Mattie looked over at him, a slight bit of worry entering her eyes.
"Just what have you gotten into, Leo?" she asked.
"Just… you'll see," he said, motioning for her to follow him. "It's nothing bad."
They made their way into the manor, with Leo giving her a short rundown of the place - explaining that it once belonged to the geneticist Roger Beauchamp. He had left it to his daughter - really, there wasn't any way to get into that without Nora - who had taken up residence there with her school friend Ian. And together, they had turned it into a safe haven for newly conscious synths. Had been researching them, the company that had been picking them up, and other ways to help.
Mattie's eyes had widened into saucers as she took in the many synths that were now living there and the setup in the ballroom. Leo could already see the wheels turning in her head and chuckled to himself, knowing she was probably bursting with questions. He felt it best to introduce her to Ian and the others first.
"This our newest?" Ian asked with a smile as he walked into the ballroom.
Leo and Mattie turned to him. His eyes then widened slightly, no doubt recognizing Mattie from the extensive research he and Nora had carried out before bringing Leo and Max into the fold.
"Turns out it was Mattie," Leo said. "Mattie, this is Ian. He's behind a lot of the tech here."
"This is amazing," Mattie said, walking over to him with her hand out. Ian blushed slightly as he accepted it and glanced around the room.
"I had help. Nora's rather good with this sort of thing as well," he said, now scratching the back of his neck as a bashful expression came over his face.
"Speaking of which, where is she? Was hoping to introduce Mattie," Leo said casually.
In the drive out to find Mattie, Leo had come to the conclusion that worry be damned. While he was still slightly nervous and unsure about all of this, he found he didn't care so much anymore. He needed to talk to Nora. To tell her that they could take things as slow as they needed to. But regardless, he wanted to stay. To help. To see just what this could be between them.
"Ehm… she's been MIA since you left. Probably in her room," Ian said, looking around as though he half expected her to be there.
"Looking for me?"
The group looked over, seeing Nora walk in. Leo frowned slightly, immediately recognizing the shift in her demeanor. Something had happened while he was gone. Had she changed her mind about them? When he left, she had been anxious, but seemingly still open to him. Now, she seemed closed off again. Guarded.
"Yea, Nor, this is-"
"Mattie Hawkins," Nora said, now studying her. "Sorry… Ian and I, we did a bit of research into Leo. Discovered all about you and your family. I'm Nora Locke."
She kept her gaze set on Mattie, avoiding looking in Leo's direction. Mattie seemed a bit confused about Nora's surname, glancing at Leo as she took in the tension in the air between the two.
"Leo was explaining to me about this place. It's… amazing," Mattie said, keeping a smile on her face. "But… how did you know? About conscious synths and… everything?"
"We have our ways," Nora said, smirking slightly, though her eyes remained slightly cold, causing Leo to worry more. She turned to Ian. "I've got some errands to run in town if you need me."
Without another word, she turned and strode out of the room.
"Sorry about that… not sure what's gotten into her," Ian said after she left, turning back to look at Leo and Mattie, though Leo could clearly see the concern in his eyes. But just as quickly, he covered it up with a warm smile. "Sure you'd like the grand tour of the place."
"Sure," Mattie said, brightening, though she glanced at Leo, her eyebrows raised slightly in question.
She had always been perceptive, and Leo had no doubt that she picked up on Nora's frosty reception and that it wasn't normal from Ian and Leo's reactions.
Ian motioned for them to follow and soon was leading them around the house, explaining more of its history to Mattie as well as filling in the blanks for what they were doing, conveniently leaving out anything about what Nora was and why Beauchamp had initially moved the manor off the grid. Mattie eagerly took it all in, firing question after question that Ian seemed all too happy to answer.
Though he was a bit preoccupied with worrying about Nora, even Leo didn't miss what was going on. Though part of it was likely because Ian hadn't been out in public much lately. Leo wondered when was the last time he spoke to someone human that wasn't Nora.
They then settled in the library with Ian showing Mattie a lot of their research. Leo could tell there was something on her mind. There had to be a reason outside of simply missing him for her to reach out and try to contact him, after all. But for the moment, she seemed happy to pick Ian's brain on everything he knew about synth tech, biotech and other areas.
Max had then wandered in and he and Mattie had a happy reunion. Ian excused himself to give the three some time to talk and catch up, though not before asking if Mattie intended to stay longer - just so they could prepare a room for her. Mattie agreed.
But then Max had gone off to find Flash and Leo said he would be back with some food and drinks. As soon as he left the library, his thoughts immediately turned to Nora and what had happened while he was gone. While things were awkward when he left, he hadn't thought that he had done or said anything that would upset her. Or to make her think that he didn't want this. But perhaps he had.
As he got a tray of snacks and drinks together, he thought over everything that had happened since last night, trying to figure out what went wrong and how he could fix it. He was so caught up, that he didn't notice Mattie's stiff appearance when he returned to the library, putting the tray down.
"Everything alright?" he asked after sitting down and finally noticing the frown on her face.
"You know that factory synth?" Mattie said.
"You mean Hester? She's a little… rough around the edges, but you get used to her. Why?" he asked.
"I don't think you should trust her, Leo," Mattie said. He frowned and looked towards the door and back at Mattie.
"How do you mean?" he asked.
"While you were gone, she came in here… she's oddly protective of you, in case you didn't know," Mattie said. Leo just shrugged, unsure of where she was going with this.
"I hadn't noticed," he said.
Though just as he said it, little things started popping out in his mind. How she was always nearby. Eager to go out with him. Eager to make sure they were alone.
"She told me to stay away from you… that I was a distraction from your cause," Mattie continued, frowning in confusion. "And that there was no way that I would understand. Because I'm not like you."
"Not like me?" Leo asked, not quite sure just what Hester meant by that.
"She said, 'Not like us,' meaning synth," Mattie said. "What is she talking about Leo? Your cause?"
"I mean, we're trying to help conscious synths and rescuing them from Qualia… not sure if that's enough to be considered a cause, though we're fairly serious about it," Leo replied.
He sat back in his chair, thinking it over. It was all rather odd. And he hadn't thought that he was particularly close to Hester, though they did spend a decent amount of time together. Not enough for her to be so possessive of him.
It was then that Nora's coldness when he returned started to make sense.
Hester had approached Mattie as soon as he was away from. Told her that she was a distraction. To stay away from him. Had Hester said something similar to Nora? Was that why she was avoiding him, her walls back up? It had to be.
But... how had Hester even known about him and Nora? While it was no longer a secret, as of this morning, neither had mentioned anything. And they only told Max and Ian as it was.
"What is it, Leo?" Mattie asked.
He looked over at her and then sat up, rubbing his face.
"Just realized that you might not be the first person Hester's spoken to," he said wearily.
"Nora?" Mattie asked. Leo sighed and nodded. "Sensed something was going on there. How long has that been going on?"
"Honestly? Not long. Ehm… not even sure you could say we're together," he admitted. "It's been… a bit rocky… long story, sort of…"
Mattie smiled slightly as she sat back in her chair, pulling her feet up. She then grabbed a bowl of crisps.
"We've got some time," she said. "And I'm a good listener…"
Leo stared at her a few moments and then nodded. He took a deep breath and launched into the story from the beginning - from the day she approached him on the sidewalk and he had run off. While he was careful with details, he found it was hard to leave out that Nora was a clone - especially in how it pertained to their relationship. Mattie's mouth had dropped open at that and immediately she had a thousand questions about cloning, but Leo had said later. She remained quiet as he finished it up, realizing it wasn't really that long of a story after all.
Christ, had he really only known Nora for a few weeks? It felt like longer. Much longer. As though it had been months. Was this natural? Were two people as drawn to each other as they were in such a short time?
"You know… sometimes it does happen that way," Mattie said. Leo looked over at her, not realizing that he had spoken that last bit out loud. She offered him a smile. "And I think it's good… opening up. You need more people in your life, Leo."
"Not so sure about that," he said, reaching for one of the beers he had brought.
"You've spent so long alone with just your family. And then you were with us a bit. No man is an island. It's good to open up. And it seems like you've found a place where you can do some good… have a bigger purpose," Mattie continued. "I think whatever it is with Nora… It could be good."
"Yea, but you saw her… I'm not sure she thinks this is a good thing at the moment," Leo said, frowning slightly.
"That was likely Hester. You just need to talk to her. Have it out. I'm sure it'll be okay," Mattie said.
"You think?" Leo asked. She nodded and smiled. "We'll see…" He then realized that they still hadn't discussed whatever it was that brought Mattie here. "I'm sure you didn't go through all this trouble just to hear about my issues… why did you find me?"
The smile left Mattie's face as she shifted around in her chair a bit, her eyes falling on her knapsack on the floor.
"Just… missed you," she said, not meeting his eyes.
Leo knew immediately there was more to it than that.
"Has something happened? With your family?" he asked, immediately worried. Mattie shook her head no quickly.
"No, well… I mean a lot has happened. Suppose you haven't heard about Niska. She came back and Mum was helping her. But then… she disappeared again," Mattie said. Leo's eyes widened. "She wanted to stand trial for killing that man… but only if they would prove she was conscious and treat her with the same rights as a human. She escaped and ran off after saying that it didn't matter - they had no intention of treating her like a human..."
Leo leaned forward, listening intently as Mattie filled him in on the details and everything that was going on. But before she could continue, her phone rang. Sighing, Mattie rolled her eyes before answering, complaining that it was her mother. Apparently Mattie had run off without telling anyone where she was. Again.
"Wait… Mia's there?" Mattie asked. Leo immediately sat up, his eyes widening. "She's Anita again?"
Mattie was already reaching into her bag and pulling out her laptop.
"What's going on?" Leo asked, suddenly worried. Mattie glanced at him and then back down at her laptop.
"Yea, I can send you a patch that should be able to help," she said, ignoring his question. "Okay… here's what you do…"
Leo stood, starting to pace around the room as Mattie worked. While he knew he still needed to make things right with Nora, that could wait.
This was infinitely more important.
Hester stood in the trees silently watching the Silo. She was certain that with the estate being as busy as it was at the moment, no one would notice her missing. They hadn't noticed all the other times she left, finding a way to create a blind spot in the security around the estate grounds just big enough for her to slip in and out of without drawing attention.
Surveillance had dragged on far too long in her opinion; it was time for action. And though the others though the guard she had killed was her first taste, they would be wrong. For Hester had interrogated a couple now, finding that fists and threats went a lot farther than bugs and watching from a safe distance.
Nora had disappointed her, insisting that violence should be a last resort. There was a time when Hester thought Leo just as fanatical as she was in their endeavor to rescue the synths from the Silo. But now he was distracted. If they were ever going to go through with this, Hester needed another plan, and soon. She had seen how Nora was cold to Leo earlier in the day - how confused he was. Nora then left. It seemed that Hester had succeeded in driving them apart, but she needed to put in motion the next part quickly.
Before Leo could get further distracted.
She thought over everyone at the estate. To Leo's interactions with Nora. Nora and Ian. She then thought over the synths. It was then that the plan started to formulate. She would need to sacrifice someone… but who? Max would be the most likely one - Leo would drop everything to rescue Max. But that would be far too difficult though he often led the manor. Perhaps the housekeeper that Nora was constantly with. Or the new one - Flash.
Calmly and methodically, Hester continued to watch as she put together her plan. Once she had finished, night had fallen. Silently she turned and started back to the manor, smiling ever so slightly.
Soon things would be back on course.