nicole_icon.gif zachery_icon.gif

Scene Title Blasterpiece
Synopsis We won't go without a show, so don't yet say goodbye.
Date February 5, 2020

Bay Ridge: Nicole's Home

There’s a quiet chime that precedes the sound of keys jangling together as one is fitted into the lock. The screen on the security panel lights up to show Nicole outside the door of the brownstone, courtesy of the doorbell camera. The door swings open a moment later and the screen goes dim again after it’s shut behind her and the locks are re-engaged.

Calling out, “I’m home!” is a little unnecessary after all that, but she does anyway. It’s been a while since she’s had to do that. There’s no patter of feet down the hallway rushing to greet her. No arms thrown around her waist. Nicole is simultaneously missing it and forgetting what it was like at all. Still, she’s not alone. That is something of a comfort, even given the circumstances.

Her purse is set on the coffee table, keys tossed inside. Immediately she’s taking her hair down from the tightly wound bun on top of her head, shaking it out as she makes her way to the kitchen. “Can you bring me the Midol?” she asks while she pulls a glass from the cupboard.

There is no 'Welcome home!', nor any immediate response at all.

Arriving second in the kitchen a few minutes later, leaning into the doorway, is the person who's been living here for a week and a bit while he's tried to sort out what the rest of his life looks like now. He lingers with a box of the requested item in one hand, looking very much like this self-imposed isolation has treated him better than any of the last 12 months or so, despite the fact that sweats and a shirt certainly don't render him presentable.

But he also doesn't look like he particularly cares. Not now. "Sooo." Anticipation brings an involuntary grin to his face, first, then a somewhat shameless wince. "I may have broken a vase."

The thank you that was about to be murmured as Nicole takes the proffered pills is abandoned when it’s overtaken by a wince and a soft sound of resignation. “It’s just a vase,” she says, not just for his benefit. “You’re okay, right?” Sometimes, it’s very apparent that Nicole is the mother of a small child, no matter how absent that child is from her life at the moment.

Or, rather, how absent she is from that child’s life.

Pushing two pills free from the blister pack, she swallows them down with a gulp of water and leans heavily against the counter in front of her. She looks like she’s had A Day. And probably a headache. But women don’t turn to Midol for headaches.

Resting one hand on her forehead, Nicole lifts her gaze back to Zachery. “Do I wanna know how it happened?”

Apparent or no, Zachery's expression falls closer to neutral when the first question is posed, as if caught off guard. He doesn't quite find the time for an answer before a second question comes along, which may be for the better.

"Probably not," he answers much more easily, and with a step forward that carries him close enough to reach and brush that hand away. And then, to replace it with his own, amusement pulling once again at a corner of his mouth. "It'll save me some dignity. I haven't got much left, but I'm keeping it. And it definitely doesn't have to do with the fact that I may or may not need to educate myself on a spot of physical therapy."

There’s a sympathetic look from Nicole. She’s certainly not mad about the broken vase. She’s learned not to sweat the small stuff. Things are just things and can be replaced. “If it’ll spare your dignity, then I don’t need to know.” The hand that was brushed away from her head drops to her stomach, pressing against it briefly with a wince.

With a quiet sigh, she lets her gaze drift to the countertop. “I want to get off my feet. Can you fix me a drink?” she asks, eyes falling shut for a moment as if she can will away her aches and pains.

The moment Nicole's eyes shut is the moment Zachery's brow furrows. He draws away, shoulders squaring as he inhales and searches Nicole's face for… something. He doesn't look quite sure what.

When he catches himself taking just a second (or three) longer to answer than usual, he turns to reach for a glass, huffing out a humourless chuckle and saying, "Sorry, I, ah - think I'm going a little mad staying in here. Why don't you sit down and I'll get us both something."

“I don’t doubt it,” Nicole responds with a note of concern. She brings her gaze back up and reaches out to squeeze his arm gently, reassuring. “I’m sorry I haven’t been able to do more for you. Maybe we can go for a drive if I’m feeling better after dinner.”

For now, Nicole is not feeling well, and she pushes off from the counter, slipping away from Zachery to pad across the space and drop unceremoniously onto the cushions of the couch. Her shoes are kicked off, discarded under the coffee table, and the buttons of her blouse are unfastened one by one, followed by the button of her slacks. There’s a quiet sigh of relief as that last one is unhitched.

Nylon-clad feet are lifted and settle on the surface of the table in front of her. It’s uncharacteristic of her, but maybe it’s simply that there’s no daughter to set a good example for at the moment. Setting any kind of example for Zachery seems futile at best.

"I've told you before," Zachery calls back from the kitchen, his voice steady again. "You work entirely too hard. How much of that is you making the decision to work, and how much of it is them deciding for you?"

The question is punctuated by a tinny kssh of an opened beer bottle from the fridge, and any potential answer immediately cut off by more flatly spoken words that follow — "Would Princess Nicole like a glass for her drink, or will the bottle do."

For Zachery, apparently the latter counts, since he's already lifting the first bottle to his mouth to get this party started.

Nicole scowls up from her prone position on the sofa, hoping the scorn for that little nickname carries its way across the expanse and to the kitchen where Zachery stands. “Please don’t call me that,” she gripes, shaking her head. “Bottle’s fine. I’m not picky.”

She snorts and looks away, muttering under her breath, “I’m dating you, aren’t I?”

"If I'm not royalty, who is?" Zachery retorts, shooting only a brief glance back to Nicole, grin fighting its way onto his face as he feigns indignation. "You've not met my family, they could be up there, throne room, baubles, political bullshit and all. You wouldn't believe the crown fittings." He lifts his drink up by the side of his head, wrinkling his nose with a sneer. "When you're young? Your head grows so fast, you need a new one practically every six hours."

Done with that little charade, he turns to grab a second bottle from the fridge — but evidently a little too fast, if the glance down at his own drink is anything to go by. "Look what you did. I'm so utterly insulted I spilled my drink."

Nothing some running water can't fix, apparently, which is what he turns to next, turning his whole royal back to Nicole in protest.

Nicole chuckles quietly and shakes her head, her annoyance banished by his silliness. “You’re right. I haven’t met your family. You could be descended from royalty for all I know. I’m pretty sure every romantic comedy has assured me that you’re the heir to some obscure European kingdom and you’re going to sweep me off my feet and make me your queen.”

Fat chance.

Amusement fades back into concern at Zachery’s apparent clumsiness. She starts to move to get up from the couch to check on him, but decides he’s grown enough to ask for help if he needs it. Even if she knows he’s not necessarily inclined to. “Sorry, Your Majesty.”

"I'll forgive you this one time," Zachery's voice travels back from the kitchen as he fumbles. "A royal pardon, if you will."

He makes his way over, gait still somewhat stiff, even if his leg does not seem to slow him down like it used to. He stays standing as he offers the bottle forward by its neck, looking Nicole over with a smirk caught on an inhale. Then, with sudden purpose pulling his voice lower and increasing the scrutiny aimed at her, he asks, "I have a question, and I would like for you to answer it as honestly as possible." He pauses, but only just. "What does your life look like in a month? Or two?"

“You are very gracious,” she responds quietly with a good-natured roll of her eyes. “Truly I don’t deserve you.”

Nicole reaches out to take the bottle. Her fingers wrap around its body while his linger around the neck. She meets his gaze, her own brightening slightly in a way that has nothing to do with her ability. “I have no idea,” is the honest answer. “For all I know, everything’s about to go to hell again.” Which is not an easy thought to entertain, but it’s a reasonable concern.

The civil war was bad enough. If they — SESA — don’t play the cards in their hands right — if she doesn’t play the cards in her hand right — they could all be facing down World War III. Or worse.

“I guess that depends on Monroe.” That light has left her eyes by the time she admits that, a tenuous smile on her lips.

There is a silence from Zachery, first, and then a somewhat resigned response of, "… Okay."

Okay enough for him to sit down, apparently, next to her, one arm lazily over the back of the couch. "Say things go to hell," he raises his own bottle by way of emphasis, and stares off into an imagined, distant nothing ahead of him before darting his gaze back to Nicole's face. "Would you… compromise?"

It's vague. He knows it's vague, just as she knows the telltale sign of his jaw setting when he's annoyed with something, even if he does try to immediately cover it up by taking a swig from his drink.

First brows lift, then eyes narrow faintly. She takes the beer and lifts it to her lips, frowning faintly after she takes a sip. “Compromise how?” Her mouth quirks up in a half-grin. “Depending on what you mean, that could be a pretty big ask.”

And she isn’t sure whether to expect that’s what he’s angling for or not. Surely there’s already been plenty of compromise so far. “You’re gonna have to be more specific before I can give you any kind of honest answer.”

This time Zachery does not only offer a silence, he offers a stillness. He barely even seems to breathe after that bottle comes back down, gears turning as he stares her straight in the face, but the words don't quite seem to come.

Just for a moment, there is discomfort in the way he hums a note of idle thought and procrastination both, but then - as quickly as the unease came on - he lifts his face and says with a lot more energy to his voice, "The list of names I ended up sharing, of the people associated with Shedda Dinu? Ben's name was on there."

The bottle in hand stops halfway to Nicole’s lips. Her brows come up again in incredulity. She takes a moment to process that little tidbit of information, running it past her mental account of the timeline of events. Did he give up her partner because he had chosen Monroe over his loyalty to her? Or was it simply done out of pettiness?

If you can’t tell, does it even matter?

“He’s the one that made off with the target like he was off to a family reunion. He needs to answer for that choice,” Nicole posits diplomatically. She leans forward gingerly to set the beer down on the table. Somehow, it’s not the comfort she was hoping it would be.

Discussion successfully derailed, Zachery does not look… particularly pleased with his success.

At least, not at first.

Then, there's something suspiciously like a grin pulling at a corner of his mouth, even if he isn't necessarily aware of it. Something funny has occurred, but racing thoughts keep the revelation of exactly why still at bay.

"He what."

There’s a moment of confusion in which Nicole doesn’t comprehend the question. He already knows this, doesn’t he? She told him, right?

Except… she didn’t.

Nicole’s face falls, realizing she’s just exposed her lie. Or the obscured portion of the half-truth she told him in the first place. She’d been undercover. Of course she hadn’t told him about Monroe.

“When you found us in the cellar,” Nicole begins, much less haunted by this recounting now than she once was, “that’s what happened. Ryans locked us up to leave us, to follow Monroe. To join him.” While it’s easier to tell him now than it would have been when it happened, the wind still falls from her sails, she deflates.

Her lips press together and tears glisten in her eyes, but don’t yet fall. “So, there you go. A broken clock, and all of that.”

To Zachery, it is a lie. The hasty processing of which causes his own face to fall with a twitch of an eyelid to punctuate it. He sits, still holding his beer where the bottle rests against the fabric of the couch, looking at Nicole as though he may just shatter if he moves.

For a moment that lasts longer than it has the right to, there's just silence.

Then, he releases a breath he was holding, shoulders dropping down as his lungs empty in a quiet wheeze. The next few breaths come much more easily - wide grin returning to his face as chuckles flow over into laughter. He darts a glance to the side and sets his beer away, before locking his attention on Nicole again and rising to his feet, reaching both hands out for her to get back to her feet a moment. "This is perfect!" He decides, apparently fucking overjoyed. "Come on! Absolute best case scenario!"

For him, anyway.

With only a quiet grunt of protest, Nicole is pulled back to her feet. Her brow is furrowed, like she’s concerned about the reaction she’s receiving to this. And she is. Concerned about the way he looked just before he decided this is a fantastic development. What did that mean? What does it mean for how genuine (or not) he is now?

Nicole grimaces, pained for a moment both emotionally and physically. “You could try to look a little less pleased about the way I was betrayed by someone I trusted. My daughter is suffering for her father’s choice. There is nothing perfect about this.” Not that she expects him to understand.

Zachery's hands make their way up her arms and come to rest against her shoulders as though he suspects she may not stay in place otherwise. But — after a sidelong glance of consideration, he pulls his hands back and puts a step of distance between them. This, nor her words, do little to dissuade his apparently joy.

"Betrayal is everywhere," he continues, like this explains anything. "It's a cancer, hiding where you can't see until it's too late, but it's not the end. This— this could be a new beginning, of sorts." Where he may have looked confused before, he shows no signs of anything except full conviction at this point. "Are you angry? About him? About — me?" His arms go wide, shoulders pushed back, shooting her a look of equal parts confidence and expectancy. "Act on it!"

Standing there in her living room with her shirt open and her pants unbuttoned, Nicole doesn’t feel like she’s ready to act on anything, to be perfectly honest. She stares at Zachery for a long, long moment, as though bewildered. “I think I appreciate what you’re trying to do,” she tells him even as she lowers her head and her gaze to the floor.

“I’m tired, Zach.” Her brows crease as she says this. She absolutely looks the part. Stepping forward to reclaim the ground lost by his retreat, she reaches out slowly, only wrapping her arm around his shoulders when she’s sure he isn’t going to recoil. Her forehead comes to rest against his, her eyes closed. It’s in this way that she asks him for support. Not with her words, but with her action.

"I know you're tired," Zachery shoots back, volume only a dialed down a small measure now that they're so close to one another.

An opportunity has presented itself, even if it may not be clear to her, or not yet, and the way his muscles tense under the touch of her arm speaks of something other than gladness for it. Whatever he's trying to make clear, he's not happy to let it go without at least approaching it from another angle.

He continues his stare into her face, before finally pulling her closer yet, into a hug. "But sweetheart," the word leaves him without thought, but with plenty of pained empathy on his voice, "I'm not talking about just now. I'm talking about how you've been living. Letting your actions be dictated by others. By paperwork, or other people's plans that have already played out, leaving you to deal with the repercussions. What about your plans? Do you have any?"

With the hug, she shifts so she bury her face in the curve where neck meets his shoulder. There’s a dampness that follows a moment after, betraying the fact that she’s finally shed those tears. “I don’t know,” Nicole admits. “I’ve been doing damage control so long…” She had ambitions of her own, once upon a time. She was happy with her place in life, wasn’t she?

“First, everything I did was to try and give Colette a better life. Then it was just to survive what was coming. Survive the war. I thought I was in a good position for a while…” When she was the liaison to the President of the United fricking States. Stressful position, to be sure, but fulfilling for someone like her. “Now I’m just trying to make sure there’s a world left for my kids.”

As far as he knows, she only has the one. But it’s a turn of phrase that’s innocuous on its own.

Nicole lifts her head finally, using the hand not gently squeezing Zachery’s shoulder to wipe away the traces of tears on her cheekbones. She’s not crying now, thankfully. “Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that we do get through this crisis. That the world goes on spinning and life tries to pretend it’s something approaching an accepted definition of normal.” She watches his expression, slightly timid in her own. “I wanna be the Director of SESA someday.”

Still far from timid-looking himself, Zachery's expression has, at least, gone from epiphany that abso-fucking-lutely can't wait to remembering what patience is like. And so, after listening, and then after a handful of thoughtful seconds, he concedes. "All right."

He breathes out one more chuckle, and then leans back just far enough to thumb away a tear from her cheek, lifting her face a little with the same hand. "So here's what's going to happen." He explains, very seriously despite the obvious threat of a grin trying to come back full force, "Don't be alarmed, but over the next month or so, people ranking just above you are going to just disappear."

Startled laughter bubbles up past Nicole’s lips. Her head tips back, eyes squinting shut as she giggles at the joke.

Because it had better fucking be a joke.

“I’d rather earn it myself, love,” she clarifies. Then adds, “I handle my own hits.”

"So earn it," Zachery says, simply, a little calmer now but no less determined for it. His hand leaves her face to be somewhat awkwardly balled to a fist resting against her side.

There's something else that was left hanging earlier, something he tacks on before he's able to drop the subject forever. "The compromise I was talking about before. I… meant more of a…" He looks off to the side, running his tongue over his molars as he thinks. "You have plans. That's good. I'm just—"

He stops again, and takes a deep breath. "I've never really, ah-" One last false start, before he looks at her again, slightly sheepishly, and says, "I suppose don't know what role I'm going to be playing in your life. The uncertainty of complications is…" He pauses, the last of the grin disappearing between words. "Challenging. Am I making any ounce of sense or have I lost it completely."

“We’re very different people,” Nicole surmises after patiently listening to his starts and stops. She can hardly fault him for that. For all her politesse, she can find it hard to convey her thoughts at times, too. “For all I know, all of this will come to light.” Where this is indicated as a nebulous expanse by a shrug of her shoulders and a sweep of the room with her gaze. “And my career will be over.”

Hard to become director if she’s fired for being the fucking worst agent ever. (Nicole actually thinks she’s doing quite a good job with the cards she’s been dealt, thank you very much.)

“What I’m saying is, if that happens, all of these differences will suddenly be much less important.” There’s a faint smile at that. Sometimes she’s capable of finding the silver lining.

In case it isn’t clear, she’s focusing on the criminal differences between the two of them. One of them has a prison record and the other probably should. Which is possibly why this relationship works better than anyone on the outside thinks it should.

“What role do you want to play in my life?”

"A counterbalance."

Zachery's answer is quick, without any of the doubt from before. He's thought about this - he's had plenty of time to. "Which is why I think this could work. Why it felt like home more than I wanted it to, initially." The're an admission there, but he hurries past it with more words to follow. "So, provided that I encourage you to think of yourself every now and then, you can keep me from getting myself killed by only thinking about number one. We can start there."

Now it’s her turn to reach out and rest a hand against his cheek. “I think I can live with that arrangement,” she tells him, a smile playing on her lips. How often does Nicole think of herself? She’d probably argue that she isn’t suited to it, but he’d likely argue back.

“I’m glad you want to stay.” If she has any misgivings or suspicions about ulterior motives, she doesn’t let on. “I want you to stay.” Closing her eyes, Nicole leans in for a kiss.

He would definitely argue back.

"Good." Finally, he relaxes his shoulders, tension falling away with a returned kiss before he notes quietly with his face still near hers, "Because the mixed signals would be off the charts."

Nicole chuckles quietly. “Agreed.” She dips in again for one more brief kiss before she starts to slowly disengage herself from the embrace she’d pulled him into. “I’m going to go change. You’re free to follow along.”

She suspects he may have more on his mind, after all. But at least she can stop having that nagging worry about someone staring in through her front window at her current state of dress. Also, pants with elastic sound so comfortable right now.

Zachery watches her go with just a slight tilt of his head, but doesn't move from his spot. "I'm free to do a lot of things, thanks to you. Even more, soon, once I figure some things out." Is that sincere gratitude, and a hint of a smile to boot? Oh no, better follow it up with something else. "Believe me, it's tempting, but. You should eat and you know it. Let's get something in that stomach."

Back off to the kitchen he goes, scrubbing a hand down his face to get the sincerity off.

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