nicole3_icon.gif russo2_icon.gif

Scene Title Because
Synopsis Everything is fine. All the world is fine.
Date February 12, 2011

Studio K

And you asked me what I want this year

And I try to make this kind and clear

Just a chance that maybe we'll find better days

It's late Saturday evening and most people have better things to do than kick around Studio K, but Bradley Russo has been spending his days here; dwelling in this place away from the outside world, the papparazzi, and his own laboured thoughts. But he doesn't appear to belong today. Normally when he hangs around the studio he dawns a suit lest someone take him less seriously. But today he's crew-casual. His khaki pants and grey t-shirt give him an unusual measure of casual dress particularly for this space.

'Cause I don't need boxes wrapped in strings

And designer love and empty things

Russo rests an elbow on his desk as her peruses The Advocate's latest ratings. But he's not really reading. His grey-blue eyes stare vacantly like the page is blank. He's been staring for some time. Instead, his thoughts are somewhere else entirely. Moved to the world he imagines rather than the reality he lives in.

Just a chance that maybe we'll find better days

The only warning of Nicole's arrival is the quick tap of knuckles on his office door before she lets herself in and closes it up behind her. She's dressed down in jeans and a dark green V-neck tee shirt. Her coat is dropped on an empty chair. She comes to perch on the corner of his desk, head canted to one side. Her smile is gentle, and she doesn't say anything in greeting. Not just yet.

Nicole can tell that Brad isn't really focused on his work, but she pretends that she thinks he is, patiently waiting for him to acknowledge her first. She crosses her legs and clasps her hands together over one knee.

Thoughts are sometimes louder than anything heard, more permanent than anything seen, and more persistent than the slightest interruption in the conscious world. Brad doesn't hear the knock. He doesn't notice the movement. And he doesn't acknowledge her presence. He stares openly at that sheet of white in front of him. His own face reflects an unusual paleness, begging questions as to when he ate last. While his fingers tap quietly against his desktop.

Blue eyes trail away from the sheet, but don't really take in the world around him. He looks but doesn't see. Just as he hears, but doesn't listen.

"Brad." His fiancée’s smile fades away, giving way to concern. "Brad, look at me." She reaches out to cup his face in her hands, tip it up toward her. "Darling. What's…" What isn't wrong right now?

Nicole sighs, and slides off the desk so she can instead wrap her arms around Russo and rest her cheek against the top of his head. "I'm here," she murmurs into his hair.

The words and touch loosen his invisible shackles— he's not freed, but he can move. Brad's formerly catatonic state melts somewhat as he takes a deep breath and blinks hard, melting into his usual pleasant self. The show.

He swallows hard around a growing lump within his throat, and forces his lips into their winning smile; something he's become accustomed to after years of needed fake smiles. Touch is something he can do, even in his invisible prison. His arms snake haphazardly around her, not tight, just there— oddly present in the placement of his hands. "Hi," he sighs rather than speaks the word. "Ratings just came in for the week. We really got the attention of the sixteen to twenty-somethings. Apparently they like real violence on TV.. who knew?" the tone would be sarcastic if he had the energy for it; instead it's more ironic, oddly soft and bright.

Nicole settles into Brad's lap now, hands back to his face, teasing the corners of his mouth with the tug of her thumbs. "Stop that. Don't smile at me like you're fine. I know better, and it's insulting." Despite the sharpness of her words, she gives him a renewed smile. One born of worry. "I'm intelligent, remember? S'why you thought this whole getting hitched thing might work out after all."

Sweetness fades gradually into something more melancholy. "Don't shut me out, Brad. I need to know what you're thinking, and how you're feeling. And not just because I want to make you mayor. Because I care about you. A lot. It kills me to see you this way."

"Hmmmm," is the very articulate reply earned by the speech followed by the words of Friedrich Nietzsche, "'Thoughts are the shadows of our feelings— always darker, emptier, and simpler.'" There's a smugness in Brad's smile as his head turns away to the wall, a brief encounter with its blankness.

"I haven't a thought in my head," he actually admits as his hand reaches down for the tiny thumb-sized rake for his desk sandbox. "I stopped thinking hours ago." There's a pull at his lips again, this time it's not quite a smile, but something more ironic along the way. "You have good roots, don't you, Nicole?" his eyebrows escalate high on his forehead as he poses the question.

Liar. She doesn't call him on it, but she does let it drop, like her hands, one arm looping companionably around the man's shoulders. "Define roots," she opts for ultimately. "Do I have a grip on reality? Most days, sure. Do I have strong ties to this community? For now." Nicole squeezes the man briefly, brows up. "But I get the feeling those aren't the sorts of roots you're alluding to."

Brad unceremoniously clears his throat. His jaw tightens and his fingers trace in the sand patterns that can't hold in a box that size. Beads of sand press underneath his fingernail— a feeling that would be irritating to most, but nearly delightful to one Bradley Russo. Gardening reminds him of the roots he had; the ones he'd lost. "Parents. Family. The most basic roots a person can have." There's a nonchalance to his tone.

Nicole actually laughs at that, tipping her head forward to stare down at her lap. "I was afraid that's what you meant." She shakes her head slowly. "No. I don't. Family is not something… I refer to the people who combined their DNA to create my sister and I by their first names. They were never parents. They… are the skeletons in my closet." The mirth, the kind that's just a defence mechanism for someone who's hurt so much, drains away again. "My sister is all I have. And even then, I'm not so sure she wants me sometimes."

"Hmmmm," he postulates again like every noise is some calculated answer to any comment Nicole makes. Brad clucks his tongue and shakes his head. "Well, they are what they are, I suppose." He takes a slow breath and manages another smile, this one grim rather than merry. "Everyone has skeletons somewhere. Were yours moderately more legitimate than my father?"

"Do you really… want to get into this right now?" There's a bit of fear in Nicole's eyes. "Mine was… not a good family. I never really had the chance to be… a kid. And you've got so much going on…" She forces a smile. It's much like Russo's. "It was so long ago. But if you… If you want to know, I'll tell you."

"Share. If you're inclined. But I wouldn't pressure anyone to share their intimate self if they weren't comfortable. Some things should stay in the darkest recesses of a person's mind." Brad's tongue dabs along his lips, moistening them against the cracked dry he was beginning to feel.

He taps his chin irreverently, "Have you ever had a moment of clarity? Where you questioned everything you've done for the past while? Like the world and world views are one thing, while everything else turned on its head?" His lips press together as he arches a single eyebrow. "Not that how you viewed things was inherently wrong, but perhaps, maybe, just maybe, there's something to be said for a different view?"

Nicole's assertion is, "I'm made of sterner stuff," when he suggests that she could keep her personal trials to herself, if it's what she wants. Or needs. His question posed to her gives her pause, however. It's as she said, he has a lot going on. So she listens.

And she nods. "Yeah. I've had… had a couple of those in the past decade, really." Nicole's head cants to one side quizzically, "I take it you had one. Tell me about it?"

Brad hmmms again, silent homage to her question— acknowledged but never really answered. "I'm still negotiating," he shrugs. "There are moments when clarity comes easily and there are moments when people on all sides of an issue are wrong. The question becomes, 'Who is less wrong?'" He shrugs again.

His jaw loosens some while his head tilts at her slightly, "Are you alright?"

"If you figure things out, will you let me know?" His temple is nudged by her forehead, affectionate. "Things are never quite as black and white as we want them to be. Sometimes it's all about which shade of grey you like best."

Then Nicole's shooting him a grin that shows a bit of confusion there. "Am I okay? You manifested on live television, you and your sister's friends managed to destroy a hotel room - which I expensed, by the way, so you're welcome - your Dome broadcast went absolutely sideways and you want to know if I'm okay?" A soft sigh escapes her lips, and accompanies a ruffle of the hair at the back of his neck. "I'm fine."

Something comes to her then, and it casts a gloom over Nicole's expression. "It would be easier for you if I wasn't, wouldn't it? When you were obviously hurting," she observes, "you made a point of showing me that you were there for me when I was stressed out and confused. You can't make taking care of me a surrogate for taking care of yourself, my lovely jester."

"I'm fine," Brad responds flatly. "Better now than ever. And for the record I trashed nothing. Just a mirror. I don't believe it's possible not to break the occasional mirror in going about life." His eyebrows arch high on his forehead again. "And I'm glad you're fine. All the world is fine," he actually sounds convinced.

"Do you really think I believe any of this? Stop it." Nicole's jaw sets in a physical indication of her frustration. "You're not fine. You didn't even see me come into the room and sit down right in front of you. So either you're not fine, or you're sick, which is not a valid definition of fine."

One hand slides into her pocket, against the bulge of her CrackBerry, and likely a pack of cigarettes. "Delia's worried about you. And I don't blame her. She loves you, Brad. And she's afraid of losing you when you two have only just found each other." It makes a convenient segue for Nicole to bring things back around to her family. "My parents were married. Legitimate, yes. Richard would come into my room at night… And Evangeline would pretend she didn't know."

A deep breath is pulled in through her nose. "I started smoking when I was eleven. Cigarettes. Pot when I was fifteen. I was pregnant for the first time at thirteen, and two more times before I graduated high school." Nicole doesn't quite scowl, but it's close to it. "Neither of us had fathers, but you had a mother who loved you. Who cared about you and gave you something better. Evangeline in her benevolence sent me off to college and assured me it was just me. And then she turned a blind eye when Richard went after my little sister." Lips purse tightly, looking bloodless in contrast to the angry flush to her face. "Family is important. My parents weren't family. Colette is my family. Your sisters are family. You cannot give up on Delia. You can't just walk away from her and wash your hands clean of her. She loves you. And you love her. She's not perfect, just like you aren't perfect. Just like I'm not perfect.

"I love your little sister, Brad. I want to be part of her life. I want us both to be."

The crow's feet at Brad's eyes as he manages a tighter smile still almost make him appear old. "Delia doesn't care. She made her choices. And I can contend with that. I was fine before she came around and I'll be fine after. Believe it or not I have a blossoming career, more property than one man could ever live in, and — " he points to the sheet of paper, "enough ratings to keep us going for many season to come."

"My mother was important, but you never met September, don't mention her. And don't mention this fake family of mine to me. They may share a few strands of DNA, but they aren't my family. There is no powerful memory, there is no notion of actual care, and there is no blind devotion. Do not lecture me on the virtues of family. Perhaps at one time it could have worked out. But there are those that stand between the little kinship we share. She chose." A hand runs through Russo's growing beard, "And perhaps she chose wisely."

"You are the dumbest smart man I know, Bradley Benjamin Russo." It's his own fault for telling her she could only call him Bradley if his middle and last name followed. "Delia does care. She wouldn't—" Whether or not Delia shed tears over it isn't Nicole's place to divulge. "What Mister Ryans did, leaving your mother? Was awful. But don't take it out on his daughters. It wasn't their sin."

Blue eyes narrow, that subtle glow seeming to flare a bit. "You never asked me to choose between you and Logan. Why do you suddenly think Delia should have to? She's naïve. She's young and she doesn't understand. She sees what Logan wants her to see. She'll learn. And she'll feel terrible. But she's a kid, and she's bound to make mistakes. Don't you remember what it was like to be her age?"

Brad rolls away from his desk, still sitting in his chair. "I'm done discussing this. Delia knows what's at stake. She knew the consequences of her actions and we discussed it at length. If she cares to discuss it further, she has ways of contacting me." He brings himself to a stand.

"This has nothing to with my mother. She hasn't listened to me on a number of fronts and it's not up for discussion." Judging from his tone, it's not. "She wants to put her own life on the line, it's her prerogative. She made her choices. And it's not just about Logan, it's a continued pattern. I can't be privy to it. And frankly, my life was far simpler beforehand. I recognize my responsibilities, and she exhausted them from me. We haven't the powerful memory of youth other siblings might. Poor decisions haunt my biological family. Frankly? The way they live will get them killed. And my greatest service to them would only be seen as a disservice in their eyes." He swallows. "Leaving an obvious crisis of conscience."

When Brad pushes back from the desk, Nicole pushes to her feet. She's at a complete loss. Her head shakes back and forth as she watches him stand, and listens to him try to tell her that she doesn't know what she's talking about. They're both stubborn. And sometimes, that means they clash. But rather than press the issue, she relents. "Fine. But I'm not giving up on her. Is that going to be a problem?" Her hand wraps around the item in her pocket, and for a moment her gaze falls to somewhere around his chest before she forces it back up to his eyes again.

"You have a mind of your own. Do what you want," there's a bluntness to the words as Brad shuffles towards the door to find his coat. Although he doesn't seem to be leaving. Odd. "Just expect nothing from me and don't force the issue. If you choose to, force it, that is— " his eyebrows arch again, the thought purposefully left unfinished. "She sees me as little more than a pawn. If she cared, she would've genuinely appreciated it. I asked for nothing in return and that is precisely what I got. It's more than naïvety. If she believed Nick. Or me. Or… anyone… she wouldn't be sticking around." He tugs his coat on. "She doesn't get to just apologize for this one. That's not how it works. You don't get to apologize when you aren't sorry."

Now she looks down at the floor with a heavy sigh. Or maybe it's the exhalation of a deep breath to ward off the encroaching emotion that would make her look weak in his eyes. The last thing Nicole wants is for Russo to see her as weak. "I didn't… I don't want to fight with you. That isn't what I came here for." And she does want to accomplish what she came here for. But instead, she finds herself asking, "Do you want me to leave?"

"There's a lot of things I want. I want… " Brad clears his throat. "I want to live in the world I envision. I want to know that I'm not just another time bomb waiting to explode. I want to believe I can beat my stronger demons. I want to ward off the ghosts at night. I want to lose the cynicism and turn back to belief. I want to rewind my life and see it play back in slow motion so maybe maybe I can catch up. I want a world where people genuinely care about each other. I want a world where doing the right thing— the only thing wasn't something that people would look down on. I want to see devotion. I want to see loyalty. I want these things to actually exist. These are the things I want." He leans agains the wall behind him. "You leaving wasn't on the list. So why are you here?"

When he speaks, Nicole finds her courage again, her gaze coming up again as she turns to face him fully once more. A smile slowly tugs at her lips. "I'm here because… Because I don't think you're a time bomb. Because I think you're strong enough to defeat your demons. Because your ghosts aren't malevolent. Because you want to believe. Because your aware your life is passing you by, and you want better."

She pauses, to breathe and to draw closer. "I'm here because I believe you want to, that you can, and that you will do the right thing, because that's who you are, and I admire that about you. I'm here because I care for you. Because I'm devoted to your success, and to you. Because I want to prove that I'm loyal to you." Nicole's eyes scan over the lines of his face, the subtle pull of muscles. Tells. "I'm here because I think that together, we can make the world you envision." A pause. "…Did I miss anything?"

Now, Nicole's hand slides out of her pocket, holding something in her closed palm. "Oh yes. Just one thing. I'm here because I think I love you." The item transfers from her palm, to her fingers.

It's a ring. A band of gold with a decent sized diamond (not as much flash as her own, admittedly, but he's a man) set in the middle, flanked by six on either side, set in threes at the edges of the yellow gold band, spaced between alternating diamonds (the shape this time, not the stone) of rose and white gold. The perfect pattern for the man she affectionately calls Jester.

"Brad Russo…" Nicole drops down to one knee in front of him, holding the ring out toward him. "Will you marry me for real?"

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