After the Crash


colette4_icon.gif nicole_icon.gif zachery_icon.gif

Scene Title After the Crash
Synopsis In the aftermath of the wreckage, secrets still linger.
Date December 7, 2019

Elmhurst Hospital

The sun is shining on the NY Safe Zone. Outside the windows of Elmhurst hospital, birds chirp merrily away, oblivious to the pain and suffering (and mending) going on inside those walls. A ray of sunlight slips between the blinds and cuts across Nicole Varlane's face. Her brows furrow, eyes squeezing tightly shut to block out the bright intrusion.

Attempting to reach up and cover her eyes proves impossible with her arm bound to her torso. Her left arm, however, is unfettered, and she lifts it to scratch at a butterfly bandage holding her cheek together.

The bandages circling her head are poked at gingerly with the pads of her fingers. There's no blood when she pulls her hand away, so that's good. After a dry swallow, she fumbles around, feeling along the edge of the mattress for the control box that will allow her to lift the head of the bed up so she can sit.

The second occupant of Room 55 fared better in some respects. He at least has unrestricted access to all his limbs. Nicole glances over to the other bed, obscured partly by a curtain that divides the room in two. Only the lump under the blankets where his feet rest tell her that he hasn't fucked off yet. Maybe the nurse gave him extra sedatives to force him to stay the night.

The lump moves.

Over on the other side of the curtain, Zachery awakes just as he has every day for the past nine months or so - opening his eyes, and then lifting his right hand toward the left side of his face shortly before realisation sets in on why, exactly, there's a darkness where there shouldn't be.

Groggily, he drags the hand down his face - over cheekbone and stubble first, and then past a pristinely white bandage around his neck, curling fingers around it to feel his way around its edges. Like finding the start to a roll of sticky tape. Until he freezes, because a thought occurs to him. Why are there birds.

"… What time is it?" He mutters with vague urgency. "What… day?" That's a yes to the sedatives. "I have to go."

"You have a concussion," Nicole rasps. Her throat feels raw. "You lost a lot of blood. Nobody in their right mind is going to let you just leave." Abandoning her quest for the remote, she instead stretches carefully until she can grasp the curtain and pull it bit by bit closer to the wall, diminishing the barrier between them.

"I overheard the nurses at shift change," is all the explanation she provides for her insight. "I guess we're lucky to be alive."

That's one way to look at it.


Zachery's answer comes too quickly, too detached for him to have fully processed what he's been told in this moment. As the curtain moves, so does he - pushing himself up onto an elbow, and then dragging himself upward to sit up properly. His attempt falls short, interrupted by the need to press an arm against his side, held gingerly against fractured ribs. Maybe sort of awkwardly half sitting up, for now, is okay.

A blotch of bruises covers the right side of his face, and what energy isn't being taken up by being vaguely upright, he uses yo blearily look in Nicole's direction. "You should eat. Have they brought you anything?"

“Eat?” Nicole squints until Zachery’s form comes into better focus. “No thanks,” she mutters. “I think I’m good.” Eating is the furthest thing from her mind right now. Water, on the other hand. That would be nice.

Unlike her companion, she doesn’t even make a token attempt at sitting up. Once that curtain’s been pulled back enough for them to establish visual contact enough to hold up a conversation, she is absolutely done moving for the time being. “Police are going to want a statement,” she half suggests and half reminds.

Zachery clears his throat, grabs a fistful of gown to pull it away from his front, and then starts escaping this prison of a bed with a laboured shove of legs at the blankets.

"You need to eat." Apparently, he's not ready to drop this subject just yet (or, alternatively, to broach the other one), brow knitting as he throws a concerned glance down to the floor and shifts his weight to push himself awkwardly off the edge of the bed and onto his feet. "Don't push the button, you'll get the wrong person pulled away from something else that needs to get done, it's — garbage. I'll get you something. Juice, at least. Staff kitchen's around the corner."

“Please don’t,” Nicole sighs, already resigned to the fact that Zachery will do whatever he pleases. That much was made very clear yesterday evening. “But if you’re going to anyway… Juice would be good.” Her lips press together in a thin line, registering her complaint via facial expression.

A complaint that's almost missed entirely, because Zachery's busy trying not to fall over in the one (excuse for) an item of clothing he's got on. He throws a determined glare out into the hallway and starts on his journey.

Except he's not really, because a mixture of concussion and whatever's still in his system steers him towards Nicole's bed instead, reaching for the mattress to steady himself. "Actually, before that - do you have your phone with you? I think mine got…" He squints, then groggily starts again: "I need to make a call. I forgot to - feed… the dog - that I'm looking after."

Footsteps squeak across the tile floor, coming from around the corner he’d just fired a scrutinizing look at. Zachery catches a dark shape out of the corner of his eye, feels the static pulse of a living thing approaching through the threshold and part of the wall. But the intruding presence makes herself known before she even enters the room.


The voice isn’t familiar to Zachery, the uniform that comes through the door is. Navy blue and black button down shirt and cargo pants tucked into mid-calf boots, a Raytech AEGIS still strapped on her chest, a badge clipped to her belt. The velcro patch reading NYPD SCOUT is still hanging on the cheap vinyl windbreaker worn over the whole get-up. The woman entering the hospital room is a fucking cop.

Pausing in mid-stride in the doorway Colette Demsky — that’s what her badge says, anyway, apart from Detective — stares with wide, blind-white eyes. Whatever else she was going to say stays in the back of her throat as she considers that the room isn’t solitary. “Sorry, Sir,” she says in what might be the first occasion that Zachery has ever had anyone refer to him as Sir, then steps to the opposite side of the bed Zachery is braced against.

Missing just that one beat, Colette makes her way over to Nicole’s bedside, tugging her leather gloves off and tossing them down by Nicole’s legs. “Hey— fuck, hey. I got here as soon as I could.” She doesn’t look up from where her face is angled down toward her sister, but Zachery nonetheless feels like she’s staring at him.

“My phone was in my coat. Wherever the fuck that is,” Nicole supposes, eyes drifting toward the wardrobe across the room from her bed. If she had to guess… She reaches out with her good arm to try and steady Zachery. “Would you please just get back into bed before you damn well kill yourself?” Not that she doesn’t suspect that’s exactly what he’s trying to do.

Bandaged head lifts groggily off the pillow at the familiar voice. “Sissy.” Nicole smiles in spite of the haze and the pain she’s in. There’s a relief in seeing her there, even though the circumstances aren’t ideal. “Don’t worry about it, okay? You’re here.” And apparently just off duty. “I’m a big girl. I can lay in a hospital bed all by myself.”

Her head tips in Zachery’s direction, as though making an introduction. “This idiot, however, needs supervision.” Her smile edges into tired, but it’s unmistakable how much having Colette around puts Nicole at ease. “‘Letty, this is Zachery Miller. Zachery, this is Colette Demsky, my sister.”

How does she begin to explain Zachery? “Zachery is…” A moron? Delusional? Dangerous? Nicole shoots him a look before he can open his mouth. “If you say leaving, I’ll have my sister tackle you.”

Zachery's gaze finds Colette in a decidedly unkind sort of way, with an idle sneer and a stiffening of muscles. As if her appearance alone manages to shake him somewhat out of his brain haze, he darts a look between the outfit, the abbreviations and the badge, before realising something's been asked of him.

He straightens up as if some old habit wills it so, snapping out of his state of nonchalance and settling almost immediately into something else - almost dutiful in how he takes in his direct surroundings.

He's not leaving. If anything, this new visitor's got him glued to his spot, staring Colette right in the face as he tries to pull his expression back into neutrality. Zachery is…? His voice does a much poorer job at hiding the underlying annoyance when he answers. "The person who very nearly killed your sister, ma'am."

“Jesus Christ,” Colette exhales as she rakes a hand through her hair, trying to make heads or tails of the situation. “Look, whatever this is,” she motions over to Zachery with a circular hand gesture, “is your business.” As Colette talks Zachery subconsciously begins building a biological profile of her. Her eyes express corneal damage consistent with exposure to extreme heat or incredibly bright lights, but there's also nerve damage to the rods and cones that would make a corneal transplant ineffective. At the same time the visual center of her brain is stimulated — maybe overly stimulated — in a way that implicates vision in spite of the obvious underlying condition of total blindness. Everything else feels secondary; cartilage damage to both knees consistent with running, broken and healed bones on both arms, old bullet injuries healed over with a decade’s worth of scar tissue. Inner arterial scarring of her left jugular consistent with mildly caustic chemical injection on a scale that doesn't seem medicinal or recreational but— industrial? A shunt?

But then there's the badge. Demsky.



County Morgue


October 8th


"What do you think, Miller?" The detective asks without taking his eyes of the husk of a woman laid out on the mortician's table. "Has someone been dicking around Calvary Cemetery, or is this the real thing?" As much as he'd like to pretend the body is someone's idea of a sick joke, he has a hard time justifying that particular line of thinking.

Even Zachery, considered one of the stronger stomached Morgue staff members, had a little trouble with this new arrival. It gave him a strange mix of feelings, and a nausea he didn't quite know the cause of. The corpse's appearance was striking enough, yes, but when the theory of the case being hoax was ruled out… well, a strong morbid interest was a very close second.

"If by 'the real thing' you mean a complete mystery." He waves a gloved hand toward the woman's abdomen, looming over it as though trying to figure out which part of her to poke at first. "Does this…" He squints for a moment, pulling back his hand to push back his glasses a little, "… 'woman' look as though she had a proper burial? Do you see the clothes having deteriorated, tissue disintegration?" Judging by the tone of his voice, it's likely he likely isn't expecting an actual response to this.

Exhaling a shuddering breath, one of Zachery's assistants circles around the table while the mortician speaks, unzipping the bodybag the rest of the way, peeling it away from the cadaver and spreading it open fully, bringing the zippered seams down beyond the shoulders to allow for a full examination of the remains. It's clear the body was damaged in movement, the right arm is completely unattached to the torso, the whole sleeve limp where the arm snapped off at the shoulder. The remaining limb is tucked at the corpse's side, a chalky gray color like the rest of the body, fingers curled as if trying to grasp at something, the elbow crooked just slightly. Where the arm would meet the shoulder, it's been broken free from the shoulder, not torn. The skin, muscle and tendon are all brittle and dry, crispy like they had been baking in a hot desert sun. The bone, likewise, is brittle and fragile.

Contrary to the rest of the body's condition, the clothing is immaculate and undamaged. It shows no sign of exposure to heat, the green cotton t-shirt and jeans looking like they were fresh out of the clean laundry. Notably, the corpse is barefoot, with no socks, yet according to the police report she was found in an alleyway.

The morgue attendant slides on his latex gloves and filter mask, picking up the detached arm, examining the stump where it should connect to the shoulder. He lays the arm down on a separate tray for Zachery to examine, and the light of the autopsy lamp shines glints off of the wristwatch on the arm, still ticking and reading the correct time.

As Zachery begins to inspect the corpse, the sound of muffled buzzing fills the air, along with the distorted chimes of a simplified version of Modest Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain. The sound emanates from Detective Demsky's jacket pocket. While muffled by its location in the detective's pocket, it is still an unsettling piece of music, given the circumstances.

One of these days, Judah really has to change that ringtone. It just isn't appropriate for his line of work. "Maybe somebody got tired of playing dress up with their kiddy dolls," he suggests as he fishes around his jacket pocket for his cell phone. This is what denial sounds like. "Just because the clothes are new doesn't mean the corpse is.”

When Judah removes his hand from a pocket, he's cradling the cell in his palm. A moment later, it's right next to his ear. "This is Demsky," he says into the microphone.

"Something had better be on fire.”

Present Day

“So what happened?” Colette’s question to Nicole shakes Zachery back from that memory. Her attention isn't on him but rather her sister. There’s a considerable amount of familial resemblance between them. “Who the fuck is this guy?” All said with the accusatory tone of do I need to arrest him?

“We crashed a hearse,” makes it sound way worse than the reality, probably. “It’s the most metal thing I’ve ever done.”

Nicole is sheepish. Having her antics looked down on by her little sister is always a humbling experience. Even if this situation is only of Nicole’s own making insofar as she was present in the vehicle. The longer explanation follows. “Zachery was driving me home from the Christmas tree lot. He lost control of the car and we hit a building.”

Simple as that. An attempt at a shrug is aborted quickly, a breath sucked between her teeth in a hiss. “It was an accident.” Nicole pointedly does not look to Zachery when she says that.

Which is probably for the best, because for a moment, Zachery's lost focus. The memories of the morgue cling just as easily to him as the chill of the cold chamber, and both overtake him long enough that Nicole's prone form is just slightly too much like the crisp cadaver of days past for comfort.

As if to undo the illusion, he reaches to lay his hand on top of hers, swallowing dryly. The annoyance is gone from his voice when he speaks up again, careful reflection slowing his words. "This was genuinely the first crash I've ever been in, and it had to be this." Something still has his shoulders draw up uncomfortably. Any other day, he might have found the read he's got on Colette a calming distraction, but for once… he's got more pressing matters to focus on.

All the more reason not to linger on what might just be causing a look of remorse to creep onto his face. "I'm sorry-" This is not an apology. "- Demsky. As in Demsky and Damaris?"

Whatever Colette had prepared to retort about the hearse crash falls apart when Zachery makes that connection. She looks over at him, an act that has more precision that her cataract-scarred eyes should be able to make. There’s no awkward vacancy to her stare, no displacement of targeting. “How” quickly slurs into, “hhhwhat do— ” but she’s lost all train of thought. Swallowing down a lump in her throat, Colette affords a nod in place of stammering, taking a visible moment to steady herself before she responds.

“Kay Damaris was his— yeah.” Colette gets a false start again. “I mean, Judah Demsky, he— was my adoptive father.” She flicks a look at Nicole, then back to Zachery. “It’s complicated. But, yeah he’s— I’m— yeah.” She wasn’t prepared to confront that particular ghost of Christmas past tonight, and for the moment it’s distracted her from scolding the both of them regarding driving safety. “Did you— did you know Judah?” Colette asks, looking at Nicole as if she might have an answer to that somehow as well.

Nicole's skin is blessedly warm under Zachery's hand, though not as warm as he's come to expect in the time they've known each other.

"Zachery was a coroner for the county years ago," Nicole takes the liberty of explaining. "He would have worked with your dad and his partner." Her hand slips free of Zachery's only so she can reach for her sister, squeezing her forearm reassuringly. She doesn't know what it must be like for her, but she can imagine it's painful.

She smiles comfortingly, even if it stretches the cut on her cheek. "You're doing him proud, Sissy." To say that she's proud as well isn't anything Colette hasn't already heard countless times. That's not the encouragement she needs right now.

Some might say there is not much left of the Zachery Miller who once knew Judah, but whoever stands here by the same name suddenly does so a little more collectedly, expression frozen save for a deepening of crow's feet.

"Deputy coroner." Only now does he really look at Colette, his voice a distracted attempt at curt and level. "I didn't mean to unnerve. He seemed a good man. I hated having him around in my morgue, don't get me wrong-" His eyebrows coming up to accompany a calm twinge of a smile might imply that this was more the default than anything else, "… But he cared enough to be thorough."

This last part hits on a brief note of sincere gladness.

The smile slips away again, his eye locking onto hers, patience having him press the fingers of his now free hand carefully into his ribcage as if to find the specific offenders of his physical unease. Questions will sit at the forefront a moment longer, but he does not hide where his attention lies.

Colette relaxes, shoulders slacking some. “He had that effect on people,” is her tongue-in-cheek agreement to Zachery. After a quick sigh, Colette’s attention homes back in on Nicole who — in spite of her history lesson — isn’t getting out of this so easily.

“So I’ve gotta ask,” Colette’s tone drops and she dips forward, sweeping in one step to loom over Nicole’s bedside, “why were you in a hearse and how did you get into an accident?” Blind eyes alight to Zachery, then back down to her sister. “And if this involves getting locked in a coffin or any amount of undress please, please just make up something else believable.”

"I was buying a Christmas tree for the living room, and it's not like it was going to fit into the Buick." Which doesn't really explain anything. Nicole sighs. "It's Zachery's car." The hearse. "It has flames on the side." See? Super metal. "Or, it did."

Nicole shakes her head. "It's not that exciting. He lost control and we hit the old Sea Witch." It's a bar. Don't worry about it. "I solemnly swear I wasn't banging my boyfriend in the back of a hearse."


Several beats pass where Zachery's stare glazes over and he seems ill-inclined to draw another breath until some errant thought process finishes, looking suddenly even worse for wear. When he snaps back to attention, it's with a reserved, meditative noise of - "Mh."

Then, turning to Nicole fully and failing to fight back a lopsided grin, he says with a modicum of patience, "So. Listen, I keep trying to find a —" He lifts a hand, uncertainly, only to ball it loosely into a fist and drop it down again. "Socially acceptable way to bring up your sister dearest's whole face situation and you are… making it - very difficult to find some breathing room in which to do so. Also, I didn't think I could… possibly feel any worse about losing the Bone Wagon, yet here we are. Regretting things undone."

His bruised face lifts to Colette again, cheerfully adding, "Nice to meet you, by the way. I'd offer to shake your hand but I feel like you know me so well already."

Colette exhales a soft sigh, apologetically shaking her head. “Sorry uh, Zachery. Sorry I'm— it's been a week and this is just…” she turns her head toward Nicole as if listening for something, then shakes her head. “I'm just glad you're okay,” is clearly directed at her sister, but given what slipped she offers a look over to Zachery as well. “Both of you. I'm uh, sorry we had to meet like this? Also— yeah you're both in the hospital and I'm fucking cracking jokes.”

Stepping back, Colette motions to a chair beside Nicole's bed with a wordless do you mind if I sit? look that is entirely rhetorical. She sits without invitation and there's a Velcro rrrrrip sound as she unfastens some of the straps on her ferrofluid vest. “Tell me it's not as bad as it looks,” Colette says as she leans forward and rests a hand on Nicole’s. The injuries, not the relationship.

The relationship is definitely as bad as it looks. But Colette should really be used to that by now. “I guess my shoulder got dislocated, but they put it back where it’s supposed to be. I’m not going to be pitching softball anytime soon, but I’ll be fine.”

For Zachery’s benefit, Nicole explains a bit about her sister’s condition after a sigh. “Colette has an ability that allows her to… Manipulate light? Understand it in ways I can’t even begin to wrap my head around. I’m a political scientist, not a sciencey one. So, yes, her eyes are blind, but she can still see through more bullshit than most people.” She lifts her brows. Does that answer your question?

Zachery's eye stays on Colette. The apology is received with a chuckle - and then nothing except a grin fading on an inhale, as if whatever was supposed to follow it is swept away by the unknown factor of what to say to a person expressing some amount of concern, even by proxy.

A sentence or two into Nicole's explanation, he remembers to breathe again. He'll blame the concussion for the brief look of absence. "Fascinating," leaves him humourlessly and a bit flat, and though he searches Colette's face again, his gaze drifts back down to Nicole's as if of its own accord, shoulders sinking. "You're fine," he confirms even if he wasn't asked. "You'll be fine." A correction. Then, quieter, "I think… I might need to lie down."

“You might be concussed,” Colette opines with an askance look to Nicole that practically screams is he concussed or is this normal? But instead of sarcasm she voices her concern over what is clearly a serious injury. “Look, I'm just glad you're ok. When I heard you were in an accident I didn't get a lot of details. It's— between the whole explosion thing while you were working in Jersey and this, I'm getting a little jumpy.”

Threading a lock of dark hair behind one ear, Colette exhales a sigh and slouches back against the chair. “I'll pick up Pippa on my way back, she can stay with Tasha and I tonight, or however long you need,” which is a discreet way of mentioning that Tamara is out of town which— isn't all that unsurprising for an outdoor cat.

But then, Colette asks something she doesn't know any better not to. “Actually, did you already call Ben?”

Whatever Nicole had been about to say, whatever good cheer she might have possessed, is forgotten. Tossed under and away by the wave of emotion that accompanies Colette's question.

"Ben is… No." Nicole closes her eyes and shakes her head. "No," she repeats firmly. "Ryans is out of town, too." Uncharitably, she assumes he wouldn't care even if he wasn't. "Pippa is with Ingrid. Don't worry about her."

"Ben locked her and Pippa in a cellar for a day," Zachery announces unceremoniously, hoisting himself back onto the other bed with a wince and only then leveling a tired but suspicious look at Nicole.

Whatever slightly more respectable version of himself made a brief appearance earlier, he's distanced himself from it entirely, and he drops horizontal onto the blankets with all the energy of a dead fish. And with a stifled noise of forgetting about his fractured ribs for a hot second. "Please tell me you're not keeping that a secret from your cop sister."

There’s a moment where Colette starts to laugh, because that’s a joke.


Except Nicole isn’t laughing and Zachery— is hard to read. Colette’s mirth drains away from her expression and some of the color drains away from the wall behind her and the chair she’s seated in. It’s a brief desaturation that snaps back to normal the moment she slowly leans forward and rests her hands on her knees. “What… the fuck is he— talking about?” Abuse in a relationship is a hot button topic among these sisters, and the flush of color coming to Colette’s face is nothing short of anger restrained by the incongruence of the situation. Ben Ryans wouldn’t do that.

But then, Colette’s chest tightens, and she starts to worry about how much she really knows him. The answer is, not as well as Nicole. “What’s— I’m sorry what.”

“Yes,” Nicole replies flatly, clearly unhappy with this turn of events, while also regretful. “I had been keeping that a secret from my cop sister.” Because it was just never the right time, and this was absolutely the wrongest not right time. Fuck. “Sissy…”

Nicole lifts her good hand to scratch at her forehead and then rest her palm over her bandaged head. “It’s not… what it sounds like.” Is the reality of the situation better or worse? “He never… He didn’t lay a hand on us. Either of us.” She remembers how terrified, how angry she was when her daughter screamed in her sleep, begging her father to stop hurting her. It hadn’t been what it appeared on the surface. She just need to figure out how to convey that to Colette without giving too much away with Zachery around.

“He had to leave, and he… didn’t want me to follow him.” It doesn’t make it better. Nicole’s throat is tight as she explains. The painkillers in her system are lowering her ability to keep her emotions in check. “I don’t know how long we would have been locked up if Zachery hadn’t come to check on us.” There’s a look of gratitude flashed in his direction, even if this entire conversation is his fault.

Her look finds none returned, with Zachery having lifted his forearms up onto his face to permit him a bit of darkness to aid against his headache. "The one bit of luck I've had lately, and it was spent on you." Ever so briefly, something genuinely amused curls his lips, or maybe gladness, before what's visible of his expression falls back to neutral.

He exhales sharply, fingers of one hand curling into a fist. With his voice gone slightly colder, edge to his voice, he offers, "Sorry. This is-" Not the right time? Place? Situation? One or all of those. He keeps his words clipped when he abandons that line of thinking, saying to only one of the sisters in particular despite looking at neither, "I hope she lets you in more than she does me."

“We have bad habits of keeping secrets,” Colette says of Nicole as she claps her hands on the arms of her chair and levers herself up to stand. She's quiet for a moment, dragging a hand through her hair and keeping it held back from her face. She dips her head down, finally letting her hand fall away from her head as her hair sweeps back down to her shoulders, forming a curtain between her eyes and Nicole.

“I've— I'm gonna go home,” Colette says diplomatically, “and you're going to call me when you're out of the hospital and we— we’ll talk.” Swallowing awkwardly when offers a look to Zachery with those blind eyes, then exhales a snort of a sigh in parting and makes her way to the door.

“Glad you're okay,” Colette makes herself say in spite of her frustration.

“Yeah,” is the response to Zachery. “You got that right.” There’s the family resemblence. Nicole’s frustration is an exact mirror of her sister’s. Her eyes follow Colette’s movements up from the chair and her first steps toward the exit.

“Hey.” Nicole reaches out for Colette, apology written into her features. “Don’t leave without saying goodbye.” She turns her face upward, angling one cheek toward her sister. Don’t go away mad, and all of that.

Bad impression made, Zachery resorts to pulling his blankets halfway up over himself and rolling slowly onto his side, facing away from the rest of the room. Whatever words he's got left, they're for later.

Colette angles a look over to Nicole from the doorway, then levels a look over to Zachery and back again. “Goodbye,” she says tensely, before walking out that door. Nicole knows what Colette looks like when she’s mad, knows the color in her face, the tension in her shoulders. This isn’t it.

Colette isn’t mad, she’s just disappointed.

Nicole sighs quietly and watches her sister’s retreating form. Maybe she understands a fraction of what she always felt when she found out about the big events in her sister’s life long after they happened.

“Call the cops,” the electrokinetic murmurs to her roommate. “I need to report sororicide.” When Colette doesn’t pop her head back in to chide her for her comment, she knows she’s truly gone.

There’s silence in the room. Minutes drag on. It seems as if Nicole may have fallen back to sleep, but then she speaks up. “Why did you try to kill us?”

"I didn't try to kill you," comes an immediate reply from the other side of the room, free of the delay from someone anywhere near remotely asleep or drifting off.

Zachery inhales, shifting his weight to roll slowly onto his back again and amending with tension in his voice, "… Us. I didn't try to kill us. Nothing seemed to be particularly— real, and…" his words slow as he immediately regret sets in upon hearing them come out of his mouth, and he turns his head to look across the room at Nicole's face. Exhausted, jaw set, frustrated to his very core with a lack of understanding. It wouldn't be so bad it if weren't reasonable.

"I know what I said, in the car," he says with his voice a forced sort of controlled, abandoning the previous sentence and train of thought both, "But I need you to understand you can tell people. I'm not- I won't take that from you."

“I’ve kept your secret this far. What makes you think I won’t keep going? We were arguing. You lost control.” Nicole turns her head so she can look at Zachery. She’s both hurt and hurting. And she doesn’t look right without the glow in her eyes.

“When I came back to town,” she begins, as if she owes him any kind of explanation after the fact or not, “I went back to SESA and asked for a job. I wanted my old life back. I wanted things like they were before—” She trails off, uncertain of how to finish that thought. “I should have told you, but it didn’t seem important somehow.”

"It was." It's only two words, but they leave Zachery like an anvil. He sits up, hand pressed against his ribs as thought that might help him prevent the immediately following wince, and casts a glare in Nicole's direction. He might not be able to tell her exactly why it was important, but he's clearly not out of words yet.

"It's not about what I think you might do- or what I think you might want to do." He returns to the previous topic with an amount of determination that the level of his voice fails to truly live up to, even if the visible tension with which he holds himself up speaks - in some ways - louder. "Maybe it's a… shirking of responsibility, or some long lost bit of empathy returning home from the fucking war, but this is your- it's in your…"

He stops himself, anger making way for something a little more conflicted when he says, instead, "How little you must think you matter."

Nicole listens to the words fall from Zachery’s mouth. When he’s finished, she turns her head back to center so she can stare up at the ceiling. “That’s just it, love.” She trails off, and for a moment it seems like she might not elaborate on that thought. Then, she swallows down a lump in her throat and continues. “I don’t matter. I never have.”

While it isn’t as though she’s made the most valiant effort at hiding her depression — she’s in this self-destructive relationship, after all — this is the first time she’s made it quite this blatant to him. “If I’d died in that crash, the world would’ve moved on, no worse for wear.”

There's no easy answer to this. The tension in Zachery's form does not let up - and does not leave his face, either, when he searches what he can see of Nicole's.

Only after enough time has passed to make it seem like maybe he's fallen asleep right then and there does he start slowly stirring again, shoving blankets aside. Fuck rest. "Probably," comes a much delayed answer, with still less energy than the words from before.

Despite that, there's an unkind sort of edge that finds itself carved in his words when he continues, a sharpness searching for purchase in whoever and whatever they might find: "I would have sneaked into your funeral. Listened to every solemn 'isn't it a shame' and reminiscing 'wasn't she a bright young woman', and each puzzled 'taken too soon'. I would have stayed however long it would have taken to be recognised, and longer still. And then I would have moved on."

He does not pause, continuing to stare into the side of Nicole's face with his head angled, good eye forward, and sliding off of his bed again. "Pippa would have remembered you fondly, and lived, eventually not remembering you very much at all. Reuniting with Ben, perhaps. And moved on. Officer Demsky there," he nods his head toward the door, "Colette would have gotten less than that utterly insufficient good bye she gave you, and probably felt that it was you who'd walked out on her. And, eventually, she would have come to accept that as truth."

Finally, he arrives back at Nicole's bedside, unsteadily planting both hands into the mattress beside her, his unyielding stare into her face one better suited to seething anger than sympathy. Forgetting himself just for a moment longer. "That can't be what you want. For the world to move on instead of you."

There’s so many things Nicole would like to say. Unfair things. Things like how her little sister will never have a favorable opinion of her, no matter what note their last parting may land on. But the edges on his words are effective. Claws sink into what’s left of her armor, tearing into it and shredding it to pieces until she’s laid bare.

Tears well up until the dam breaks and they carve rivers down her temples and into hair and bandages. She refuses to look away from the ceiling over her head, for fear of what she’ll see if she makes eye contact with her lover.

Until he takes the choice away from her.

Nicole stares up at that face, blue eyes glossy with tears, lips quivering, unable to form around the words she might like to offer in her own defense. Except she has no defense for this state she’s in. She’s never had one. “Why do you care?” she finally manages to whisper.

"I don't know." Zachery replies, staring back. It's not the sort of 'I don't know' one might use to buy time, nor one to deflect. "Maybe I…"

The sentence stalls, and his jaw rolls before his expression drops into something a little more uncertain. His eye dartes between Nicole's, but something too close to shame has him turn away - pressing a hand into the mattress as he walks along its edge to the chair Colette had claimed before.

"Maybe, with how the world's been lately, with - with how it feels we're on borrowed time-" He speaks a little more quietly now, hooking a foot around a chair leg to tug it closer to the bed before sitting down. Looking sternly at Nicole with discomfort in his every breath and word, but forcing them out anyway.

"I… I just don't like the idea of you going out and being okay with it."

Nicole lifts a shaky hand and takes an even shakier breath as she wipes the tears away from her face. Whatever she expected him to say — hoped he would say — it wasn’t what he actually said. She feels disappointment, followed by self-directed revulsion for it.

“You need rest,” she tells him in a soft voice. It’s a deflection to be sure, but also a means to fill silence. “I think I—”

The pause is heavy. If she says these words, she can never take them back. Nicole lifts her head and locks her gaze on Zachery, as if assessing if he can discern what she’s trying to say without her having to vocalize it.

If his face is any indication, Zachery had hoped for different words here, too. But there's no denying it now. And no denying that what got them here in the first place is something that will paint their relationship a shade that he hasn't quite processed. If it's left it looking like anything at all.

All of the frustration leaves him in an instant, shoulders slanting down. A blink - or two, or three - falls short of its purpose, as if he can't quite seem to break eye contact fully, not even for only a fraction of a second.

Another strained exhale brings him forward, however, slumping over enough to have his forehead thunk into the side of the mattress. Staring down at his own hands resting in his lap. "I'll get back to bed in a little bit." His voice has gone flat, only just loud enough for her to hear. "You'll heal up well."

But more importantly: "Tonight, or tomorrow morning-" he pauses, but not for long. "You should go home."

“Yeah.” Nicole’s breath leaves her in a tired sigh. She turns her gaze back up to the ceiling before she closes her eyes. “I’ll do that.”

Crisis averted, perhaps.

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