Maybe You're Right
Once again, Leo found himself walking into the breakfast room unsure of what he would find. While he hadn't been woken up in the night by Nora's screams, he wasn't sure how she'd feel after their night in the library. He nearly stopped when he found Nora seated at the table, looking tired and slightly hungover. He offered her a small smile, hoping that perhaps things had changed between them, but rather than returning it, she turned back to her plate, her cheeks coloring slightly.
"Morning!" Ian said cheerfully, pouring himself some coffee.
"Morning," Leo said, shuffling over to the table and sitting down across from Nora. He started filling his plate. "Sleep well?"
"Fair enough," Ian said, though Nora didn't say anything.
Ian shot her a look that she ignored, instead shoveling food in her mouth. Leo glanced at the two and then focused on eating. Awkward silence filled the room.
"Right, so… just what did you two find out yesterday?" Ian pushed on.
Nora choked slightly on her food, causing both Ian and Leo to look at her in confusion.
"Ehm, nothing," Leo said. "There were no Qualia workers at the place we went."
"Bad luck then," Ian replied, still watching Nora curiously.
"We're planning to go out again. Still haven't checked out all the places you suggested," Leo said.
"Again, just be careful. We've put in a lot of work to stay off their radar as much as possible," Ian warned.
"We will," Leo said.
"I think I'm, got… something to do," Nora said, quickly standing and making her way out of the room, leaving most of her food on her plate.
"What's that about?" Ian asked.
Leo shook his head and turned his own attention to his plate.
"Nothing," he muttered.
Ian continued to eat, but Leo could feel him studying him closely. He wasn't completely sure what to expect that morning with Nora - she had opened up to him far more than she had so far last night. If she was anything like him, she was likely confused and maybe a bit embarrassed. But he hadn't expected her to completely shut him out. Or maybe he did. But at the moment, it looked as though he wasn't about to get a chance to talk to her about it. Well, he should have figured she wouldn't want to talk about it with Ian sitting there.
Maybe he could try and find her later alone. Leo frowned slightly as he stopped eating. Why did he care enough to talk to her about it? Hadn't he just told Max that they weren't staying long? He knew Max wanted to continue working with Nora and Ian - logically it made sense. But Leo wasn't completely sold on the idea just yet.
Not if it came with being vulnerable.
Leo heard Ian clear his throat and looked up at the man expectantly.
"So, what's the plan for today?"
Leo had just stepped into the banquet hall with Ian after they had finished breakfast while Martha was clearing up when Max strode up to them, a bright smile on his face.
"We have just received another transmission," he said. "We should go retrieve her."
"Where is she?" Ian asked, pulling his tablet out of his back pocket and quickly looking through it.
"We must go to her," Max said. "She is too far to make her way here. I don't want to risk someone finding her first."
"I'll take you!"
All three looked over, seeing Nora walk up to them. She avoided looking at Leo, instead turning her attention to Max.
"I can drive you there," she said, sounding far too eager.
"Sounds good. I'll send you the coordinates," Ian said.
Leo glanced over at him and then back at Nora and Max. Ian must have sensed her eagerness to get out of the estate. Leo had to admit that she wasn't hiding her attempts to get out and away from him. While he wanted to go alone, he held his tongue.
"Give me a chance to get ready and we'll go out," Nora said, smiling at Max before she walked quickly out of the room.
"I will go check on the others," Max said, turning and walking away.
Leo sighed heavily and ran his fingers through his hair. He glanced over at Ian, who was still focused on the screen and then looked around the room. Hester was now standing with Max, the older synth speaking to her, though her gaze was fixed on Leo.
"Anything happen yesterday that I should know about?" Ian asked, getting his attention. Leo looked back at him, wondering if he could read minds. Ian offered him an understanding smile. "You forget how well I know Nora."
"Right… well, when we came back I found her in the library, drinking," Leo started.
"Ah, she was watching the videos again," Ian said. Leo nodded. "Does that from time to time. Keep telling her to stop torturing herself, but… she says it helps to confront her past." He slid the tablet back into his pocket. "Take it you two spoke?" Leo nodded again.
"I mean, I know it was because she was drunk, but…" he stopped, unsure of just where he wanted to go with that. It was Ian's turn to sigh heavily.
"I told you that she's always been rather closed off," he said. "Well, I have to be honest, when she started looking into you and your family, figured out what you and the others were doing… I was the one that pushed to bring you on board with us." Leo frowned slightly. "I thought… maybe if you joined us, got… close to her, maybe it would be good for her. Finally get her to… move on. Be more open with others. It can't be good for someone to be so… shut out… like she is."
Leo stared at Ian as he shifted on his feet, his cheeks turning slightly red.
"She's my best mate and all, but… she needs more friends," Ian finished, finally meeting Leo's eyes. "And if anyone could get through to her, figured someone who was more like her than I am would be it."
"But… she's open with you," Leo replied, not sure why Ian would think he could do anything.
Sure he had his family. The Hawkins. But he wasn't rolling around in friends anymore than Nora was. And she had a houseful of conscious synths now. Interacted with the outside world more than he did. Seemed content with what she had. Ian smiled slightly.
"Yea, but… there are still things she won't tell me," he said softly. "I know some of them… from reading the reports and all, but she won't talk about it. I worry the longer she keeps it bottled up, the worse it's going to get. All I want is for Nora to be happy. She's moving on from what happened to her, but I worry that she's not truly happy." He glanced around the large room. "Still feels like something is missing. And I don't think it's something I can give her."
Leo looked down at his feet, taking in Ian's words. Seemed like a lot of pressure, to be honest. And more than ever, he felt the urge to leave. To run off. It was what he always did. When things hit too close, got too awkward, when he wasn't sure how to handle them, he ran.
Ian had to be the most naive person Leo had ever met, thinking that it could possibly be good for Nora to be friends with someone like him.
He then looked back up at Ian, unsure of how to respond. So instead of speaking, he just nodded and left the room.
Nora kept her eyes trained on the road, though occasionally checked the GPS to make sure they were heading in the right direction. She and Max had settled into a comfortable silence and she was more than happy to be out of the manor and not talking about anything. Especially what had happened last night.
She could not believe how much she had told Leo. How much she had let him see. She wanted him to think of her as a strong, independent person. Who didn't let her past define her. But really, who was she kidding? Every decision she had made in her life was in some way influenced by her past.
Even though they were moving farther from the estate, she could still feel her cheeks burning in embarrassment. She didn't let people she barely knew in like that. Ever. It was a matter of survival. And just like that, after a bit of scotch, she had invited him to sit down with her. Drink with her. Had allowed him to see her when she was vulnerable.
What's more, she didn't even know how to handle this now. Everytime she looked at Leo, she felt nothing short of mortified. How on earth could she speak to him? What was Ian thinking by suggesting they bring him in on the operation? She had known from the beginning that it would be a mistake, but instead she had let her best friend talk her into it.
Christ, how was she going to face him again?
"I think it is amazing what you and Ian are doing," Max said, drawing her from her thoughts. Nora glanced at him and then looked back at the road, shifting in her seat.
"Like I said, someone's got to do it," she replied.
"I am grateful that you sought us out. Leo, Mia and I, we were doing everything that we could, but even I could see that we had limitations," Max continued. "Together I feel like we can accomplish so much more."
Nora glanced at him again. Yes, right. This was why she had agreed with Ian to find Leo and the others and bring them in. Because even with all their resources, it was better to work together with them. This was about helping conscious synths. Not her own personal issues. It was bigger than her.
"Well… we're happy to help," she said, smiling slightly at him.
"I think that it will be beneficial to Leo as well," Max continued. Nora stiffened slightly, but fought off the reaction, knowing that Max would definitely sense it. "He has been with us for so long… It is good for him to be more part of the world. To get closer to others."
"Why's that?" Nora couldn't help but ask. "I thought you lot were close to the Hawkins."
"They have helped us, yes. And we have a connection to them. But still, he does not allow himself to fully open up to them," Max said. "And more friends never hurt, I think."
Nora didn't speak for a while, letting his words settle into her mind. For a moment, she wondered if he was speaking about only Leo, or if perhaps he was also speaking to her. Hadn't she done the same thing? Shut herself off from everyone except Ian. Sure she went out a lot, spoke with others, interacted with others. But that was always in the name of a story or getting information. No one ever knew who she truly was. Couldn't.
But Leo did now.
And they were the same in that regard. If anyone found out who either of them were, they would be taken in. Studied. Viewed as scientific discoveries more so than actual human beings. Granted, it was easier for her. She could still present herself as Beauchamp's daughter - had to from time to time for legal issues, though she and Ian had quickly fired all the solicitors hired by Beauchamp and put Ian's brother in charge.
But Leo, he couldn't let anyone know that he was David Elster's son. Leo Elster had supposedly died when he was 13.
Nora swallowed and shifted in her seat yet again, feeling uncomfortable with the extent of the similarities between her and Leo. She never thought there would be someone who could understand her - what she had to do to survive. But he would. And she was terrified to explore that.
"Not much longer and we should get there," Nora said, looking at the GPS and changing the topic. "Think we should park a couple blocks away… just in case."
Nora stood, casually scanning the empty street where they were standing under an overpass. The synth would be there soon. Should be there now. While she had done this a few times now, at times she still felt a bit nervous. But more than nervous, she could feel the adrenaline pumping through her. It always did when she was out doing something slightly dangerous.
She was determined that Qualia wouldn't get to this one. Not this time.
"She is coming," Max said, looking down at his phone.
Nora looked over at him and then up the street. Sure enough, just a few seconds later, a synth stepped around the corner in a goldenrod colored outfit, bright pink hair.
"Who are you?" she asked.
"A friend," Max replied with a warm smile. "But we must hurry."
He took her hand and the three of them quickly made their way down the street back towards the car. Nora glanced behind them, seeing two men in black just turn the corner. They ducked out of sight down an alley before either saw them.
"Come on, they're just behind us," she said urgently, leading the two.
Part of her wondered if she would need to start bringing weapons with them just in case. Qualia was getting too close for comfort nowadays. But at the same time, she didn't want to bring more attention to themselves as they already did. Brandishing a gun certainly would. It was bad enough that Ian was pushing her to start using disguises. Though it wasn't like she was unused to that. Had done it a lot over the years with her work.
She pushed Max and the synth ahead of her, stopping to peer around the corner.
"What are you doing?" Max asked, coming to a stop.
"Just making sure we aren't followed. I'll meet you at the car. If I'm not there in five minutes after you arrive, go on ahead. I can find my way home," she said without looking at them.
She heard their footsteps as they kept walking, glad that she didn't have to argue.
Part of her knew that they were fine. The men hadn't seen them and didn't know which direction they went in, but her adventurous side had kicked in. Ian would probably yell at her when he found out that she had stayed behind.
Cautiously, she watched as the men continued to look up and down the street, talking on their radios. Pulling her collar up, she stepped back out into the street, now taking a different route to the car as she slid on a pair of sunglasses from her pocket, making up a plan as she went. Ian might not be happy, but they needed more information on who was working in the outfit. And this would be the perfect opportunity to get just that.
She intentionally slowed her pace, making sure they would hear and see her.
She stopped, turning around to face them as they trotted up to her. She reached up and fiddled with the sunglasses, pressing a button that would activate the camera hidden in the lens.
"Yes?" she asked casually.
"Did you see a synth go this way?" one asked. Nora shrugged.
"Not that I'm aware of," she replied, looking from one to the other.
"Ma'am, could you remove your glasses, please," the other asked.
Nora frowned and then huffed, making a slightly big deal about pulling them off, revealing her grey eyes as she looked from one man to the other.
"Swear I ain't seen no synth," she said, adopting an accent and making a point to look put out that she was being stopped. "Who are you?"
"Don't worry about it, ma'am," one said.
"Are we done here?" she asked, sliding her sunglasses back on.
"Yes, sorry, ma'am," one replied.
She quickly spun around on her heel and strode off down the street, smiling slightly to herself. Shouldn't take long with Ian's facial recognition program to get all the necessary info on the two men.
Turning a corner, she began to jog, not wanting Max and the newest addition to take off without her. While she was more than capable to get back on her own, she didn't want to bother Ian and he would get worried. More than that, she'd get home a lot faster if she drove.
"Where are we going?" the synth asked from the backseat as Nora slid into the driver's seat.
"Somewhere safe, love," she replied, turning the car on. She could feel Max watching her. "Just wanted to get some information."
"What information?" he asked as she started driving.
"Photos and video," Nora replied lightly. "We can run in through our program and glean all the info possible on the two. In case we need it in the future."
"Who were those men?" the synth asked. "Why were they following me?"
"They're bad men," Nora said. "But don't worry, we won't let anyone get you or hurt you. We're taking you to others that are like you. What's your name?"
The synth was quiet a few moments.
"Flash," she finally said.
"Nice to meet you, Flash. I'm Nora and this is Max," she said.
"There are others like me? Like us?" Flash asked, looking at Max.
"Yes. Many others where we are going," Max said to her. "We are going to a safe place where we can live in peace."
"I think… I feel… what is this?" Flash asked. Nora glanced at her in the rearview mirror, seeing a bright grin on her face. "Why can I not stop smiling?"
"I think that means you're happy," Nora said with a grin.
The synth's cheerfulness was catching, she had to admit. She would like having Flash around, she decided then and there.
"Happy," Flash said simply. "I… I like it. Feeling happy."
"Hopefully you'll feel happy for a long time," Max said, turning to look at her.
He caught Nora's eye and the two shared a small nod.
"Right then. Let's get you home…"