Another," Nora said, putting the glass back down on the bartop, swaying slightly on her stool.
The barkeep watched her cautiously before grabbing the whiskey and pouring her another drink. She didn't come in often as she and Ian preferred to not raise suspicions with the locals. But she needed to get out of the manor and this was as good a place as any to blow off some steam.
"You alright, Ms. Locke?" he asked. Nora glanced up at him, offering a wry smile.
"Never better, Alfred," she said dryly as she reached for the glass and took another sip, though a bit smaller than the last. At this rate, she'd have to call Ian to come get her.
The cautious look stayed in the barkeep's eye as he walked to the other side of the bar to deal with another customer. That was well enough. Nora wanted to be left alone with her thoughts. Or not. Hadn't she come here to drink and forget about everything back home?
"Well, who's this? And just why is a lovely lady as yourself drinkin' alone?"
Nora sat up and turned slightly, seeing a man now leaning against the bar at her side. She snorted slightly. That was a horrible pick-up line. Surely he didn't honestly think it would work.
"None of your concern," she said, turning her attention back to her drink.
"Come on, you came out. Surely you didn't really want to be alone," he pushed.
Perhaps it had worked in the past, Nora thought. Or he was just an idiot. She was leaning towards idiot.
"I am perfectly fine on my own," Nora said, straightening up. She then stood, intending to move away from him but stumbled slightly.
Immediately, the man's hands were on her, grabbing hold of her arms as though he intended to help steady her, but she felt him caress her. Frowning, she looked over her shoulder at him.
"Let me go," she said firmly. The man smiled, moving closer to her.
"Really, I don't think you should be alone. Why don't you join me for a few drinks," he crooned. She could feel his hot breath on her neck and immediately she tensed. "Could be fun, you know…"
For a moment, it was as though she blacked out. Nora wasn't sure what came over her, but the next thing she registered, the man was on the ground at her feet, rolling around as he grasped his nose, attempting to stop the flow of blood.
"She fuckin' broke me nose!" he shouted.
Nora stared at him calmly and then looked around, finding the rest of the pub staring at her while his friends rushed over to help him up.
"The way I saw it, you were asking for it, Dennis," one said. He then looked at Nora. "Sorry, miss…"
She didn't reply, just watching as they hauled him out.
"Come on, Ms. Locke. Over here."
Nora looked over, seeing the barkeep motioning to a table in a corner. She nodded and followed him. She sat down and he placed a glass of water in front of her.
"I've called your flatmate. Drink this," he said gruffly.
"You didn't have to do that. I could have gotten home," she muttered, though reached for the glass. He rolled his eyes. "Can't I have one more for the road?"
"I highly doubt that. You're cut off," he said, before turning and walking away, likely to try and retain the few customers he had left.
Nora began to stew silently. The git had deserved it. He touched her. Made an unwanted pass. She reacted the way anyone would have. After a few moments, there was a thud and Nora sat up, seeing Alfred sitting across from her.
"Now… you want to tell me what that was about?" he asked calmly.
"You saw. He made a pass. I didn't like it," she stated.
"I may not know you well, but you've been in here enough that I can tell when something's bothering you. And something is bothering you, but it's not Dennis," he said sensibly.
Nora stared at him, her eyes narrowing slightly. He didn't know anything about her, save which brand of whiskey she liked and how she liked it. And that she lived with Ian.
"Something wrong at home?" he asked. "With your mister?"
"I… no," Nora said, continuing to frown, though she looked away. "We're not together… like that… Everything's fine."
"Seems like there is a problem. First time you've ever gotten into a fight," Alfred continued. "Though not the first time you've gotten thoroughly pissed."
"Everything's fine," Nora repeated dryly. She was not about to discuss her problems with the barkeep. He then sighed heavily.
"Look… whatever it is, I find that talking it out usually helps," he said.
Nora turned back to look at him, surprised that his advice hit rather close to the mark even though she hadn't said anything to him about her problem.
"I'm a barkeep. I hear all sorts of stories and the like here. And usually it's the same fix. Talk about it," he continued.
Nora frowned, looking down at the glass of water. Maybe there was something to his advice. She hadn't given Leo a chance to explain himself. But at the same time, she couldn't get Hester's words out of her head. He was using her. They would soon leave. She could never understand him. They weren't the same. She swayed slightly in her chair.
"I'll think about it," she finally said, slurring her words a bit.
"That's a good girl," Alfred said. He then got up, no doubt to do some sort of work.
Nora sighed and took a drink of her water, finding her thoughts all muddled. Would talking really fix things? Or would it only confirm what Hester had said? Did Nora really want to find out?
She wasn't sure how long she had been sitting there, but next thing she knew, Ian was there, helping her up. He didn't say anything, just helped her out to his car as he tossed Max the keys to Nora's.
Once she was situated in the front seat, he took off for home.
"You want to talk about it?" Ian asked.
"Not particularly," Nora muttered, leaning her head against the window. Ian sighed heavily.
"I'll look at your hands when we get back," he said.
Nora looked down at her lap, seeing her slightly bruised knuckles. Right. She had beat up the bloke trying to hit on her.
"I'm fine," she said hollowly. Ian sighed again.
"No, you're. What the hell happened? Just this morning everything seemed grand with Leo and then suddenly you're ignoring him and getting pissed at the bar," Ian said, barreling into it. Nora glared at him but didn't reply.
"He do something? Say something?" Ian continued.
Nora looked back out the window.
"No," she said. "Hester did." Ian snorted.
"What the hell could she have done?" he asked.
"Said they were leavin' soon… he was just using me," she muttered.
"For god's sake, Nor. Did you talk to Leo about this?" Ian asked. Nora remained silent, but it didn't matter. He already knew the answer. "Would you at least give him a chance to explain?"
"No," Nora said, knowing she was sulking.
"I refuse to let you sabotage this, Nora," Ian said firmly. She turned back to him.
"I didn't do anything. Save trust the wrong sort," she retorted. Ian rolled his eyes.
"You're being impossible," he muttered, knowing he wasn't going to get through to her like she was. But that was fine with Nora.
She was done talking anyway.
The next day, Nora didn't leave her room. Despite the raging hangover she had, she wasn't sure she could face Ian after getting into a fight at a pub. Or Leo because she wasn't sure she was ready to know the truth. She wondered if Mattie was even still here or if she had left.
Granted, it wasn't as though it mattered.
Martha had brought up breakfast. But Nora found herself unable to eat much as she sat at a window seat and stared out. Though thankfully her headache finally wore off.
She was beginning to wonder how long she could get away with staying in her room, when there was a knock at the door. Probably Martha to take her plates away.
"Come in," Nora said, not bothering to look away from the window.
She heard someone walk in, but when they didn't say anything, she turned, seeing Leo standing there. Her eyes widened as her heart sputtered a bit.
"What do you want?" she asked harshly, falling back on her tried and true method. Defensiveness.
"I wanted to see that you were alright," he said, not shying away from her gaze.
"Oh. I'm fine. Just hungover," she said, turning away. She heard Leo sigh.
"Look… if this is about Hester… nothing she said is true," he said.
"Is that so," Nora said dryly.
"Would you just… look at me?"
She could hear it in his voice. Something there. Something like pleading or desperation. Nora turned, seeing the concern and hurt in his eyes. That was real, she realized. He wasn't faking that.
"I don't know what she said to you exactly, but… I know she must have said something to upset you after I left yesterday. She did the same to Mattie," he said. "And… whatever it is, don't listen to her. I want to stay. With you. I want to see what this… what it could be."
Nora just stared at him, blinking a few times.
"I don't open up to just anyone - which you know. But I want to… be more open with you," he continued. "I don't know if you believe me, but it's true… I don't completely understand it, but I don't want to leave, Nora… I'm in. If you still want this, that is."
Her breath caught in her throat as she considered his words. They were the exact opposite of what Hester had told her yesterday. But could she really trust them?
"She said… she said I would never understand you. That I was a distraction. And that you weren't… human. That's why I would never understand you," she said, her voice soft.
Once again, she felt on the verge of tears and Nora cursed herself. She never used to cry this much. Not since she learned from Beauchamp that crying got her nowhere.
Leo crossed the room and dropped to the floor in front of her, his piercing blue eyes looking deep into her own. It was as though he were looking into her soul. She gasped softly as the intensity in his eyes shocked her.
"But… you do. You understand me. Better than anyone," he said softly. "We - you and I - I told you… we're the same."
Nora only blinked, still trying to hold her tears at bay. Leo reached up and gently wiped away one that had streaked down her cheek, then settled his hand on her cheek. Without realizing what she was doing, Nora leaned into his touch, feeling warmth begin to spread through her.
"I know this is… scary. I'm a bit terrified myself, if I'm being honest. But… I don't want to run away. Not anymore. And we can move as fast or slow as you want," he said softly. "Please… don't run away from me. Not until we can… at least have a chance to figure this out."
She continued to stare down into his eyes. God, she wanted to give this a chance. To figure out what it was. If it could be anything or if Beauchamp had stolen that from her too. She thought over everything that Leo had said to her. That she deserved to live. To have a life. To find happiness.
Maybe she could find it with him.
"I… okay," she whispered.
Nora nodded, smiling slightly She realized then that it didn't matter what Hester had said. She could clearly see in Leo's eyes that she could trust him. That he was telling her the truth. He didn't want to leave. He wanted to stay with her.
"Yea… let's… let's see what this could be," she whispered.
Suddenly, Leo's face transformed as he smiled and pushed up, his lips meeting hers. The kiss started softly, but then quickly picked up in intensity as she grabbed the front of his shirt and pulled him closer to her. Nora stood with him, his hands moving to her waist as he pulled her flush against him and her fingers became tangled in his hair.
For the second time in a little more than 24 hours, Nora found herself falling into bed with Leo. But this time, there was no hesitation or worries whatsoever.
When they finally made it downstairs, Nora immediately went over to Mattie and had a much warmer introduction. Leo couldn't help but smile to himself as the two quickly hit it off. Mattie had given him a smile, sensing that things were now alright between the two. Nora didn't even seem upset when Mattie started asking about what she was, though Leo was a bit worried that she might be angry.
They had settled in the library with the two going back and forth with questions while Leo watched on, occasionally jumping in. Ian had also joined them, he and Mattie already hitting it off yesterday.
It seemed… almost domestic, Leo couldn't help but think. But at the same time, the warmth that had filled him when he and Nora made up hadn't left and he felt he could get used to this. Spending time hanging out here with Ian and Nora. With Mattie. Maybe he would introduce the rest of the Hawkins to Nora and Ian. Invite them out to the manor. Looking around the library, it was amazing to Leo that he was already starting to think of it as home.
"There you are."
Leo looked over, seeing Hester walk into the room. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw both Mattie and Nora tense. Likely recalling their interactions with Hester yesterday.
"I have been looking for you," Hester said. Leo cleared his throat.
"Hester, now that you're here, we need to talk," he said sternly.
"Yes, we do. I have distressing news," she stated. Leo frowned.
"What?" he asked.
"I was out shopping with Flash… Qualia… they got her. I tried to stop them but barely got away," Hester said calmly. The library was silent as Leo looked over at the others and then back at Hester.
"Are… are you sure?" he asked. She nodded.
"We must break in to save her. Now," Hester replied, a note of urgency in her voice.
"What?" Ian asked, starting towards her. "You can't be serious." Hester looked at him.
"I don't expect you to understand," she said, her expression turning cold. "But you are not going to join us." She turned to look back at Leo. "This is something we must do."
"It's mad, is what it is," Mattie said, her anger clear in her voice.
"We don't know what you'll be facing inside," Ian added.
"We have sat and waited too long. While we've been sitting here, Qualia has been getting more and more of my brothers and sisters. Hurting them. We must save them. Save Flash," Hester said. "Or do you truly not care about us as you say you do?"
She leveled her gaze at Ian and then looked over at Nora, waiting.
"We do care, just… we can't go in blind," Ian said, his voice softening slightly.
Leo met Hester's eyes and he had to admit, he wanted to go. They had been waiting and watching for long enough. And everyone had grown fond of Flash. None of them liked the idea that she was trapped inside the Silo. But at the same time, he knew that Ian was right. They could end up getting in more trouble if they were rash about it. Sighing, he turned and looked at Nora, meeting her gaze. He could see the same hesitation he was feeling in their grey depths.
"What do you think, Nor?" he asked.
"I… well… I don't like that they've gotten Flash, but… Ian is right. We hardly know enough to attempt breaking in," she said, turning her gaze to Hester as she frowned slightly.
"It is simple. I will offer myself as bait. Once I am in, I will show the others a way out," Hester said.
For the first time, Leo could sense an underlying antagonism to her words as she stared back at Nora.
"But how do we know you can get back out?" Leo asked. Hester looked to him.
"You will help me," she stated.
"No, I'm not letting you do this. It's the best way for both of you to get caught," Mattie said. "Tell me you're not actually considering this, Leo?"
He turned to look at her, seeing the exasperation clear on her face. But at the same time, he also knew that Hester might try on her own and that could put everything at risk. This place. Nora and Ian's work. His own work. All the other conscious synths. They were already so close. Looking back at Hester, Leo took a deep breath. But before he could speak, an alarm on Ian's tablet went off.
They all sat up as he walked over and picked it up, his eyes widening.
"Someone's at the gate," he said.
"Who?" Nora asked, immediately on her feet and walking up to his side. He looked up, meeting Leo's eyes.
"It's Mia," he said.
"Mia? Let her in," Mattie said, now also up and moving to Ian's side.
He looked back down at the tablet, punching in a few things as Leo leaned forward. He was grateful for the interruption - more so now that it was Mia - but it still didn't take away from the fact that he had a choice to make. Go with Hester to make sure she didn't get caught. Or stay here and let her chance it on her own.
It seemed like seconds later, but it was likely longer, Max was leading Mia into the library. Leo jumped up and pulled her into a tight hug, closing his eyes for a moment.
"You have no idea how good it is to see you," he murmured.
"I have missed you, Leo," she said, stepping back from him.
He couldn't help but feel like there was something different about her. Something colder in her eyes. When had that happened?
"Mia, please tell him that it's mad to go running off and trying to break into Qualia," Mattie said, jumping in.
Mia looked over at her, watching her a moment. She then looked over and saw Nora, the worry clear in her eyes. Finally, she looked back at Leo.
"I will help. Hester and I will go in. You can wait for us outside and help the others to escape here," Mia said calmly.
Leo's mouth dropped open in shock. He hadn't expected Mia to say that.
"You cannot go," Max said. "You would be putting yourself at great risk."
Mia looked over at him.
"They have Flash," Leo said wearily, looking at his brother. Max's face immediately transformed into worry. "Hester just told us…"
Max looked away, now seeming unsure about what to say or do.
"We must do this," Mia said. "Now. It is our best chance at saving them." She then looked at Leo. "We must do this."
Leo took a deep breath and then nodded.
"Okay. If you are set on this, then… I'll help," he said.
"Have you gone mad?!" Mattie shouted. Mia looked over at her as Leo ventured a look at Nora.
She was unnaturally quiet, chewing on her lower lip and staring at the ground as though she were having some sort of internal conflict. She then looked up, meeting his eyes. In that moment, Leo knew that she would go with him.
"Mattie… I know what you've done," Mia said calmly. Leo turned his attention back to the two, seeing the color start to drain from Mattie's face as her mouth dropped open. "You have not told them."
"Told us what?" Leo asked. Mia turned to look at him.
"The code for consciousness. She's found a way to wake up all synths at once," Mia said.
Leo blinked a few times and then looked over at Mattie, several different emotions going through him.
"You… is it true?" he asked.
Suddenly he understood. Why she had sought him out. Come here. That was what she wanted to tell him.
Mattie frowned and looked away a few moments. She then looked back at him and nodded. Leo's eyes widened as he ran his fingers through his hair. She had done it. But yet, she hadn't released it. Suddenly, he was overwhelmed by everything.
"But first, we need a plan," Mia said. "For Qualia." She turned to Ian. "Will you help?"
Leo looked over at him, seeing that Ian was a bit overwhelmed as well. When he didn't answer right away, Mia looked over at Nora.
"And you… will you help as well?"
Leo looked at her, seeing Nora's mouth drop open. She met his eyes and took a deep breath before letting it out.