Not Over Until It's Over
Martha had just set down a tray of tea on the coffee table as Nora, Leo, Mia and Mattie convened in the library. Ian and Max were seeing to the new arrivals, but were due back soon so they could debrief about what had happened. The thought of all the synths that hadn't made it laid heavy on everyone's minds.
Even Leo was still struggling with it, but then he remembered what he and Nora had discussed in the car on the way back. They had something bigger to focus on - taking down Qualia once and for all. And hopefully Mia would have information that they could use to help them. She had been inside. Seen how they operated. It was information they had yet to get themselves.
"Everyone seems settled," Ian said, sounding rather weary.
Leo looked over, watching as he and Max walked in, though his brother still looked worried, likely wondering when or if Hester would come back with Flash. Ian went over to the desk and leaned against it, his gaze fixed on Mia.
"What happened?" he asked.
The question on everyone's mind. Leo leaned forward on his knees, also eager to hear.
"We got in and were implanted with chips in our heads," she started, calmly going through everything that had transpired once she and Hester had gotten inside.
How she had gotten the synths to the door but realized too late that they wouldn't make it out with the chips. How she had gone back to deactivate them. How she had lost Hester, though the synth had said she would find her later, saying she was off to look for Flash who hadn't been with the others. Mia hesitated a bit and Leo wondered if she had wanted to leave Hester behind intentionally.
Truth be told, he was a bit relieved to not have her around, but just as soon as the thought passed his mind, he felt guilty. Hester hadn't known better. And there was no way Mia could have gone after her and gotten the synths to safety as well. And she had gone to find Flash. That in and of itself was noble. Leo only hoped they finally came back.
Afterwards, they all remained silent a few moments, though one look at Nora's face and Leo knew she was already thinking about their next step.
"We need to take them down. Do you think you could fill Ian in on all the logistics? You got into their computer system to turn off the chips, right?" Nora said. Mia nodded.
"We don't know what this little adventure is going to do to them. A load of conscious synths breaking out," Ian said. "They'll likely double up security."
"I know, but they'll be in chaos. We shouldn't wait too long," Nora said, turning her gaze to him. She then looked back at Mia. "Do you think… would it be possible to access your memory? Use photos or video?"
"What for?" Mattie asked. "If you release an article, you'll be outing conscious synths."
Nora frowned as she looked down at her hands, wringing them slightly.
"Right," she murmured. "But… maybe it's time…"
Leo sat back on the sofa, contemplating it. The thought terrified him. Going public. While he knew Nora didn't necessarily mean him, he had spent so long hiding what he was, who he was, and his family, that he nearly couldn't wrap his head around the idea of letting the world know that conscious synths existed.
Was the world even ready for that?
"I think it's definitely something that will require a lot of thought," Ian said. "Definitely not a decision to make today."
Nora nodded and then pushed up from the sofa. She walked across the room to a far window, staring out of it as Ian started tossing around ideas. Shaking his head, Leo turned back to the conversation, sensing that Nora wanted to be alone with her thoughts. He looked back at the group and noticed that Mia was also watching her closely. As the others continued on, she stood and walked over to Nora.
Leo nearly got up and followed them, but Max placed a hand on his shoulder. Leo looked up.
"Let them talk."
Leo only nodded and sat back down, trying to focus on the conversation around him, but he couldn't help but watch the two.
Nora jumped slightly when she realized that Mia had walked up to her.
"I wanted to thank you. For helping us today," she said softly. Nora smiled and shrugged.
"It's what any decent person would do," she replied, looking back towards the window.
"It's more. You've created this place. A safe haven for us," Mia said. "Why?"
"Again… just wanted to help…"
"I sense there is more," Mia said.
Nora's eyes widened slightly as she turned to the synth. Gulping, she wondered if this was when Mia gave her "the talk." She was essentially Leo's replacement mother. God, was she ready for this? That would definitely mean there is something between her and Leo. Of course, she already knew this, but a talk with Mia… that would be definitive proof. The point of no return.
"I spoke with Max before… he said that you and Leo have grown quite close," Mia said. Nora nodded, her eyes drifting over to Leo, who was still seated on the sofa, though he was watching the both of them. "He also told me about you… what you are… what you've been through."
Nora turned back, meeting Mia's eyes. She found nothing but warmth there.
"I… sorry… still not used to so many people knowing," Nora muttered, looking to the ground.
"I understand why you would hide it. I understand hiding a fair bit," Mia said. Nora looked up at her, cracking a slight smile.
"Is this where you threaten me to never hurt him?" she asked, knowing it was a weak attempt at a joke. Mia chuckled softly which put her slightly at ease.
"I don't think that you will," she replied. "I think that it's good Leo found this place. Found you."
"But… how do you know? I've… well, I've never had relationships before. I'm not even sure if I'm capable," Nora admitted. While she and Leo had gotten into it slightly, she was too afraid to tell him that was her deepest fear.
That because of what Beauchamp had done to her, she was incapable of ever fully trusting someone else. Opening up to them fully. Perhaps, loving them. While she felt a deep sense of affection for Leo and a connection to him, she wasn't sure if they would ever have a normal relationship. Or if her past would always get in the way.
Or his past, for that matter.
"In a way, neither has he," Mia said.
"But he had you. A family. He's known love. That's something I've never experienced," Nora said quickly.
"Yes, Leo had us, but he's been on the run for so long. Closed off. Unable to trust anyone outside of us. You are the first person I've seen him open up to like this… it's more than the Hawkins," Mia said, reaching out and taking her hand. "That means something."
Nora wasn't sure why, but she felt the overwhelming desire to open up to Mia. She remembered the stories Leo had told her about growing up with Mia and the others. How close they were. That they were a family. A true family. She wanted to feel something like that.
"I still might muck it all up," she said, laughing awkwardly.
"You might. But you have to keep trying," Mia said. "The important thing to remember is that family doesn't give up on each other. And that's what you have now. With Leo. With us. A family."
Nora stared into Mia's eyes and she could feel it start up again. Something like hope. Maybe she could do this. Looking over, she met Leo's eyes. She knew that he would give her time. That this was all uncharted territory. For both of them. But they had a chance.
Nora looked away, suddenly feeling a bit overwhelmed. She needed a few moments to herself.
"I'll be back," she said quickly as she turned and started across the library.
"Nor… we could use you," Ian said.
"Just a minute. I'll be back," she said, without stopping.
"Is something wrong…"
Leo was immediately worried when Nora rushed out. Had Mia upset her? Was she suddenly changing her mind? He started to stand and follow her, but then caught Mia's eye. She just smiled softly and shook her head. He settled back down on the sofa, his brow furrowed. Maybe she really did just need a moment. It had been a very trying few days. She was likely overwhelmed.
Christ, he was a bit overwhelmed, if he was being honest. Was he really ready for something like this? A relationship? Especially with someone like Nora? Just as quickly as the doubt entered his mind, it flew away.
Yes, he was.
"She'll be back."
Leo looked up, seeing that Ian had walked over to him.
"Sometimes she just… needs a moment," he said. "To process… and likely going through a load of new things." Leo nodded.
"It's been… mad… I can understand that," he replied. Ian chuckled and sat down in a nearby chair. He ran his fingers through his hair and then looked over at Mattie.
"Great work, by the way," he said to her. Leo looked over, noticing a slightly blush come over her cheeks. "I was wondering… you think I could pick your brain on that code a bit?"
"Ehm, sure," Mattie said, moving closer to him.
Leo chuckled as he picked up on what was going on there. He stood and walked over to Mia, curious as to what she had spoken to Nora about. And also to catch up on all the time apart.
"Where were you?" he asked. A grimace flinted over Mia's face.
"I was… with someone I thought was a friend," she said softly. "I wanted to help him, but… it didn't work out." Leo frowned, feeling there was more to that story. "But it doesn't matter. It's over and… I knew I needed to find you. To return to my family."
"Well… I'm sorry about whatever it was, but I am glad that you're back," he said softly. "Definitely needed you…"
"I think you were doing just fine without me," Mia said. Leo chuckled as he looked around the library. "Certainly better than the farmhouse."
"It is," he said. "Not used to such a big place, but… it's been… good."
"I can see," Mia said. He looked back at her. "I think it's good for you. Being here. Being with her. I can see that you need each other. And I take it that you intend to stay." Leo nodded.
"Figured we could do more good working together. Helping other synths," he said. "Hopefully finding a way to take down Qualia for good."
Mia reached out and took his arm, pulling Leo towards her. Neither said anything as they embraced a few moments.
"You are needed here, Leo," Mia said softly.
"Will you stay?" he asked, stepping back from her. Mia nodded.
"I will for now," she replied. That was good enough for now.
Nora sighed as she made her way through the lab. She figured it was a good idea to put up the guns while she was thinking about it. And it would give her a few moments to gather herself.
She made her way down the hallway, stopping at the cabinet and opening it, then tapping in the code. The panel slid down. Carefully, she replaced the guns and then closed it up. Stepping back, she looked down the hall to the exam room and surgery suite. Frowning, she noticed the door slightly open. That was odd. That door was never opened.
Starting towards it, a chill ran down Nora's spine. She stopped and shook her head. Beauchamp was gone. He would never hurt her again. She was afraid of a memory and shadows. Taking a deep breath, Nora started down the hall again.
She reached the door and put her hand on the knob when she noticed the light was on inside. Freezing, she waited, straining to hear anything.
"Come in, Nora."
Her eyes widened as she recognized the voice. Pushing the door open, she saw Hester standing in the middle of the room, blood splattered on her clothes. Flash was lying on the exam table, powered down.
"Hester. Thank god you made it back," Nora said, trying to still her racing heart. "And you found Flash. Everyone will be relieved."
Even though she was relieved to see her and Flash back in one piece, there was something about Hester that seemed off. Something that kept her on edge. Nora tried to tell her herself that it was just her previous encounters with Hester messing with her head. Everything was fine. They were back. But why hadn't they come through the gate? Or set off any of the perimeter alarms? They should have known the second they stepped foot on the grounds.
"You're lying," Hester replied blandly. "You don't want me here."
"That's not true," Nora said quickly, knowing now that something was wrong.
"You have done nothing but be a distraction," Hester continued, taking a step towards her.
Nora gulped, already going through her options. She knew that she should turn and run, but hesitated to move too quickly. Hester was strong and could likely very well overpower her. Not to mention Nora didn't want her to hurt Flash.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Nora said calmly.
"You have distracted Leo from his true purpose," Hester said. "From me. But that won't be a problem anymore."
"Oh?" Nora asked.
Fuck. This was bad. Think quick, Nora, she chided herself.
"Yes. I intend to terminate you like all the others. You are only human," Hester said.
"What others?" Nora asked, trying to keep her talking. Hester's expression remained calm.
"The guard. The two humans at Qualia. They all deserved it. And soon you will get what you deserve," Hester said.
"I want to help. I've done nothing but help," Nora replied, already starting to back away.
"No, you have not. That is just what you tell yourself. You are selfish just like all of them. Only doing what is good for you," Hester said. "No more."
"You have to catch me first," Nora said. She then quickly turned and ran down the hallway to the door of the lab.
"It won't work," Hester called out.
Nora ignored her as she slammed into the door and then stared at it. She swore that she left it open. She then ran to the panel next to it, flipping it open. But before she could do anything, Hester grabbed her wrist in a vice grip, yanking her away. Nora yelped in pain, yet continued to try and break free. She had been in situations like this before. But Hester was strong and only continued to pull her back down the hallway towards the exam room.
"I have overridden the controls. No one can get in or out," Hester said. "No one can save you. Not now."
Nora's eyes widened as fear started to take over. She fought against Hester, but couldn't break free. And the exam room loomed closer and closer. Suddenly, Nora was a little girl again, looking up as Beauchamp dragged her to the room.
"No! Stop! Please don't do this!" she shouted, trying to fight off the memories. The flashbacks. This was the absolute worst time for them to kick in.
But she needed to fight it. Even if the panic was nearly taking over. If she wanted to get out of this alive, she had to fight.
"You must be dealt with…"
In that moment, Nora lost her grip on sanity as she was thrown back into her nightmares. Beauchamp's face hovering just in front of her own. Sneering at her. Calling her bad and wicked. The needles. The pain. The fear.