Ghosts of the Past
After getting ready the next morning, Leo made his way downstairs to the breakfast room, finding Ian already there. The ginger man looked up and smiled at him from his tablet, though Leo couldn't help but notice he looked a bit more ragged than usual. He wondered how late he had been up calming down Nora the night before.
"Help yourself. Martha does a brilliant breakfast. Though we have to remind her that she doesn't have to cook loads," Ian said cheerfully. "Not sure why - it was only Dr. Beauchamp here with Nora before…"
Leo made his way to the table and sat down, starting to fill up his plate.
"How do you two keep this place going?" he asked, glancing at Ian across the table. "It's… well, rather big. Seems like it'd be a lot of work for just the two of you."
"Martha helps out loads, to be honest. Being synth, she doesn't tire out and actually enjoys cleaning. Though Nora certainly does her share," Ian said. "And, well, Beauchamp left behind a large staff of cleaning synths."
Leo stopped and stared at him.
"I hadn't noticed them. Are they with the others?" he asked. Ian shook his head.
"They aren't conscious. And programmed to do their work out of sight. Before that, there used to be a massive staff when this place was really being used, but Beauchamp got rid of the ones that still worked here when synths first came out. Really serious about his privacy and such," Ian said. "Think everyone before that had to sign NDAs…"
Leo nodded slowly and began filling his plate again. He could understand just why Beauchamp had wanted to keep his work private.
If someone had found out what he had really been doing, he would have been thrown in jail. He had broken several rather serious laws to create Nora. Though he wondered if human cloning might someday be allowed. Leo was actually intrigued by the fact that it was still outlawed and largely condemned in the medical and scientific fields. Though at the same, he supposed he could understand that as well. Seemed to be a rather large ethical mess. And there was no telling what it would be used for if the technology fell into the wrong hands.
Beauchamp, himself, had only developed it for selfish reasons, after all. To bring back his dead wife.
"So… Nora coming down?" Leo asked casually, pushing aside his thoughts on cloning. Ian sighed.
"Having a bit of a lie-in today," he said softly.
"I see… thought we were going back out to Qualia today," he said.
There still was a lot left for them to learn if they were going to make any sort of progress in rescuing the synths they had picked up.
"Not today," Ian replied. "Well… not Nora. Suppose you and Hester or some of the other synths could go if you want. Just let me know."
Leo looked up at him, noticing that he seemed to be choosing his words carefully, frowning as he looked down at his tablet again. It was obvious that he was being cautious about how much of Nora he shared.
Leo wondered if he was by nature a very open person, or if he just enjoyed the opportunity to speak to another human besides Nora. Now that he really thought about it, Leo wondered just how long Ian had been shut up in the estate. They were fairly isolated out here.
"Do you get out much?" Leo found himself asking.
Ian's eyes widened slightly as he looked at him.
"I do," he said quickly. "Well… not as much as Nora. But manage to get over to the village regularly. Need to get supplies sometimes. Check our post office box. And there's a few good pubs that I go to here and there. Make nice with the locals and all, though they don't realize that we live here. Think we're staying in another house down the lane. Thankfully, no one's cared to really look into it. Not too close with anyone in town just in case..."
"So you're not locked up in here all the time," Leo said. Ian chuckled.
"I do interact with others," he said. "Not a shut-in. Though, well, I suppose I'm not really one to go out much. Wasn't that big into the party scene. Did it mostly back in school to fit in. And well, Nor did enjoy going to them when we were younger and often needed someone to have her back."
"She really get into fights a lot?" Leo asked, remembering the two joking around the day before. Once again, Ian didn't speak for a bit of time.
"Here and there," he finally said.
Sensing that he was avoiding sharing too much about Nora again, Leo took a bite of his food and decided to change directions.
"Does your family know that you're here?" he asked.
"Not here-here, but they know I'm with Nora. Think we're at the flat in the city and we redirected any post sent there to the post office box in town," Ian replied, turning his attention back to his tablet. "Told them we were working for a tech start-up. Best they not know the full truth."
Leo studied him as he chewed, wondering how it was so easy for Ian to lie to his family. If they were anything like the Hawkins, surely that would be difficult. But perhaps he wasn't that close to them.
"And it's not like we never talk. I keep in touch... go over for holidays and such still. Nor comes with me most of the time," Ian continued, though he was still scrolling. "Think Mum's still holding out hope we'll eventually get hitched."
Leo choked slightly on his orange juice, Hester's question from the night before popping back up into his head. Ian looked up at him, silently questioning the reaction. Truth be told, Leo wasn't so sure himself why he reacted as such. Not like he cared about Ian and Nora's relationship.
"You okay there?" Ian asked.
Leo nodded, still not completely able to speak. Ian smiled slightly and chuckled as he returned to eating and scanning whatever it was he was looking at on the tablet.
"Really, she ought to give it up, if you ask me. There's no way Nor and I would ever be that involved."
"Why's that?" Leo asked, hoping he sounded casual. Christ, why did any of this matter? But he found that he truly did care to hear.
"Me and Nor? Never gonna happen," Ian said with another chuckle. "Mean, sure we gave it a go when we were younger. Found we're much better as friends. Definitely not compatible as a couple. Too many fights. And really, I've always seen her as a little sister more than anything."
"I see," Leo said, turning his attention to his plate of food.
Well, that made sense. Now that he really thought about it, Ian and Nora acted more like brother and sister than they did a couple. But then again, there was the fact that Ian was the one running to comfort her in the middle of the night when she had nightmares. Seemed to spend the rest of the night with her.
"But Mum loves her. Already sees her as one of her own even if we aren't together," Ian continued. "Said she always wanted a daughter."
"Is it just you?" Leo asked, glancing up at him.
"Got two older brothers," Ian said. "And a younger one. One's a solicitor, another a doctor. Then the last is still in uni." Leo nodded slowly. "Already got a niece and nephew as well."
Leo was a bit surprised to hear that Ian came from such a large family. What was it about Nora that made him so willing to spend all his time here with her rather than with his family? Oh right. It was likely because Nora had no one.
As Ian continued chatting about his family, Leo couldn't help as his mind wandered slightly as he focused on that last thought. Without Ian, Nora really did have no one. It was a sobering thought. Leo couldn't imagine being without his brothers and sisters. Even with Fred, Niska and Mia gone, Niska and Mia doing whatever it was they were doing, he still had them in his life to the point that he didn't feel alone. And Max was with him now.
He then remembered what Ian had said that first night there. That Beauchamp had intentionally kept Nora isolated. All she had was Martha until she befriended Ian. And then when the doctor had found out about that, he yanked her from school and forced her to stay within the walls of the estate where her only company was him and the various synths he had purchased.
What kind of life was that?
Leo knew from experience that being shut in all the time wasn't much of a life, but again, he had his brothers and sisters with him. They kept him happy and entertained while his mother struggled with her sanity and his father spent his time on his work and trying to help his mother. They had shown him love and acceptance.
Nora had her father and whatever experiments he had run on her.
"Oh, good morning, Hester," Ian said brightly.
Leo looked over to see that the synth had walked in and prayed she didn't ask Ian about sex. It appeared she still didn't understand what was appropriate to mention around others and what wasn't. He definitely needed to talk to Max about that today.
"What can we do for you?"
Hester looked at Ian and then back over at Leo.
"I have been thinking," she said. "We should attempt to locate employees of Qualia. At some point we may need to find a way in and it would help in that attempt."
Leo looked over at Ian, already thinking that the man wouldn't be happy with this idea. He had made it clear that he didn't like it when Nora got too close. But instead, he appeared to be seriously thinking the suggestion over.
"Not such a bad idea, though I recommend you not engage with any of them just yet," Ian said. Leo's eyes widened. Or maybe Ian was only suggesting it to get them out of the house for the afternoon. "I can tell you a few of the places they frequent in the village."
"We should go today," Hester added.
"You and I can go," Leo said. "Don't think Nora's up for it."
He looked back at Ian who nodded and looked back down at the tablet.
"I'll send you the locations. You can take one of the cars," he said.
Nora stood at the window and stared out at the back grounds of the estate, still dressed in her pajamas. Martha had brought in some food, but she found herself unable to touch it, her stomach still in knots. Last night's nightmare had been worse than the others and it left her rather unsettled.
It had been a long time since her dreams were plagued by memories of Dr. Beauchamp and what he had done to her. She thought she was over it. But for some reason, they had come roaring back to life recently. Perhaps it was because of the others that had arrived. She had spent a lot of time around Leo, knowing he brought his own darkness with him. Maybe her subconscious was feeding off of that. Or because she had been forced to tell him about herself. And then Ian had filled him in on more. It was more than she had spoken about it than before.
A knock on the door had her turning to see Ian pop his head in.
"Just wanted to check on you," he said, smiling slightly. "Thought you might be sleeping."
"I'm fine," Nora said quickly. Ian sighed as he walked in and shut the door behind him.
"You know you can always talk to me-"
"I don't want to talk about it," she said, turning back to the window.
It was bad enough that she had laid there and cried for a good hour last night as Ian comforted her. She didn't want to tell him what had gone on in her mind, though was sure he already knew enough to guess what it was. He had read all of Beauchamp's research and reports on her, after all. Though thankfully had never asked her for her accounts or more details.
She closed her eyes, willing the images and emotions to go away. The pain. The fear. While she had shared some of what Beauchamp had done with Ian, there were still some things she hadn't told him. She'd rather not relive it, though her best friend didn't need her to tell him to know the basics of it.
"You should eat something," Ian said.
"I'm not hungry," Nora said, her eyes still closed. She heard Ian sigh heavily.
"If you don't have anything else, you can go. I want to be alone," she said, her eyes flying open, though she didn't turn around.
She knew it was unfair to take things out on Ian. He was just trying to help. And part of her knew that he understood. They had been friends since she was 13, after all. He had long ago learned that her aggression was rarely ever really meant for him. But even with that, she still struggled with talking about her feelings.
"I'll be downstairs if you need me," he said. "Probably in the lab or the banquet hall. Or in the garden."
"Thanks," she said softly.
Nora didn't move until she heard the door shut and only then did she take a deep, shuddery breath as she wiped at her cheeks. She was tired of crying. Tired of being afraid of Roger Beauchamp. The man was dead. He could no longer hurt her. But, as much as she loathed to admit it, a cold sliver of fear still would slide in whenever she thought about him too much.
Groaning slightly, she turned and made her way to a set of drawers, pulling out her workout clothes. At this point, there really was only one thing that would get her mind off the nightmares.
Loud music filled the gym as Nora wrapped tape around her hands and wrists. She had already warmed up and stretched out and was eager to get to work on the punching bag. She really didn't like getting into fights anymore - she had mostly left that behind when she was younger. But when she was in a mood like this, punching and kicking something seemed to always be the right kind of relief that she needed to get out of her head.
Shaking out slightly, she walked up to the punching bag, staring at it a few moments before she started punching it with all her might. It wasn't hard for her to imagine she was punching him instead.
You can't be friends with him, Nora. I forbid it.
You belong to me and you WILL do what I say!
One day you will learn to follow my orders, or you'll never leave this house again!
Grunting, she continued punching and kicking, her sole focus on inflicting as much damage as she could on the image of Beauchamp that she had projected onto the punching bag in her mind.
She wished she had been strong enough to do this back then. That she could have fought him off whenever he dragged her down to the lab. Or as she grew into her teens, she would have been able to smack the crazy, possessive look he would get off his face.
"How could you let him touch you!" Beauchamp roared at her.
A teenaged Nora was strapped down to the exam table yet again, but this time she actively struggled against the restraints, trying to contain the tears streaming down her face. While she didn't know much, she knew enough that a good father did not strap down his daughter to a table and perform a pelvic exam.
"It was him, wasn't it? That ginger one? Ian," he shouted, a crazy look in his eyes. Nora just lifted her chin in defiance, refusing to answer. "I knew he was no good! I knew it!"
She wanted to tell him that it wasn't him - because it wasn't. Outside of a few awkward snogging sessions, she and Ian hadn't done anything and learned there was nothing romantic between the two of them. She didn't want him to get in trouble for this. Rather it had been another boy at school. All the other girls were experimenting and Nora, ever practical, had thought it time to do so herself.
But before she could say anything, he had stormed out of the room, leaving her there, still strapped to the table. She tried yet again to get out of it, but found she couldn't. Finally giving up, Nora laid back and stared up at the ceiling. She wasn't sure just why he was reacting like this. But she had honestly hoped that he'd never find out. He had never done something like this before. Sure there were all the other tests, some more painful than others. And then the ones that he put her under for… those took place in the full surgery suite next door, but thankfully she didn't remember them.
However, this had left her feeling violated in a way she had never felt before.
Finally after what felt like hours, he returned, his eyes still blazing in anger.
"I just spoke with his mother," he said, his voice softer but still sending fear throughout Nora. "You'll not be going back to that school."
Her eyes widened as she struggled against the restraints again.
"Please, Dad. I'm sorry! It won't happen again!" she shouted. "Let me go back!"
She couldn't stand being shut up in this house again with only him.
"I should have never sent you there to begin with," he said, beginning to pace. "No. I'm pulling you out immediately. You'll stay here." He then stopped and looked over at her. "You belong to me, Nora. No one else. Do not forget that."
He then turned and walked out of the room again, this time Nora heard the lock turning behind him.
"Please! Let me out! I promise I'll be good! I'm so sorry! I'm sorry!" she shouted.
She continued screaming and shouting until her voice grew horse and her throat sore. She then lay, staring at the ceiling and wondering how long he would leave her locked up in the room this time.
"I have to get out of here," she whispered to herself.
Just like that, the fear started to retreat as determination filled her. She didn't know just how she would do it, but she would escape. And then she would never come back.
Nora shouted as she spun around, kicking the bag so hard that it swung haphazardly. She backed up from it, breathing heavily as tears poured down her cheeks and she glared at it.
She had finally found a way to run off, managing to contact Ian. Being a year older, he was already in university at the time and gave her a place to stay. Used his burgeoning skills to create a new identity for her and help her stay just out of Beauchamp's grasp.
For six months, she had been happier than she ever had with her so-called father. But at the same time, it had been tense. He had a lot of money and resources that he would no doubt use to try and locate her.
But then news came of his death. And then she finally knew that she was free. Though she continued going by Locke, not wanting to be associated with him at all. Of course, then they had found the full and entire truth about what she was.
Nora pushed her hair out of her face as she walked over and sat down on a bench, still breathing heavy from the exertion. She had decided after running off that she'd never be helpless again. As soon as she could, she had enrolled in as many classes she could afford at the time, then expanding after she came into her inheritance. Boxing, kickboxing, judo. She had even taken firearms courses.
Now years later, she was stronger. More confident. But still the mere thought of the man who created her turned her into a mess.
Swallowing, she stood and started towards the punching bag again, determined that she would punch the nightmares away this time.