Break the Fall


sf_nicole_icon.gif sf_zachery_icon.gif

Scene Title Break the Fall
Synopsis Maybe they're just overworked.
Date October 16, 2020

Linderman Building: Nicole Miller's Office

As soon as Zachery steps over the threshold and into his wife’s office, she’s rushing to meet him, taking him by the shoulders and fixing him with a serious and sympathetic look. “Sit down,” she tells him, gesturing to one of the armchairs in the corner of the room.

Leaning out the door, she shouts across to another office. “Zarek!” Between slats in the blinds over the PR Director’s window, she can see the other woman’s head lift. “Clear my schedule and hold my calls! If it’s not the Senator, I don’t want to hear it.” Without waiting for the acknowledgement, she closes the door firmly, but just short of a slam. She turns the lock to make sure they won’t be disturbed, then hurries over to crouch down in front of her husband, reaching out to take his hands.

“What happened? Are you okay?”

Dr. Zachery Miller doesn't not come into work.

And yet here he is, not where he's supposed to be.

He looks more shaken now than before he got dressed, hazily meeting his wife's gaze with confusion and frustration both, pacing back and forth once before he's finally seated.

By the time his hands are taken, there's a crinkle of paper from the crumpled receipt that sits between his fingers - and now Nicole's, too - ballpoint pen scribblings obscured within its folds.

"I'm fine," he insists, before faltering almost immediately, anxiety queueing up an uncharacteristically rambling addendum as his brow knits. "I… think - or maybe not. Maybe I'm going mad. I had a…" He laughs a bitter laugh, anger threaded through the rest of his answer as his gaze pulls downward. "I had a nightmare, and then— nothing - fucking nothing."

He’s not okay, because he’s here. But Nicole doesn’t call him on it. They both know what’s true. Instead, she clutches his hands a little tighter a moment, before she gently takes the crumpled paper from him, smoothing it out against her knee.

“A nightmare?” That doesn’t align with what happened to her, but whatever it was, he says he believes her now. “What do you mean nothing? Start at the beginning. Tell me what’s going on.”

While he composes his answer, she examines the writing on the paper.

There isn't much, and what's there has suffered slightly from a rushed journey in a closed fist. Half a dozen attempts have been made at a recollection of something Zachery is clearly not familiar with, but still clearly recognisable as kanji, the right side much more consistent than the left.

"I don't think it was a nightmare," he suddenly decides, using his now free hands to motion— something of a direction forward, his eyes on Nicole's face. "It was directly after I walked out of my last shift. I must have driven home, showered. But before all then, I'm pretty sure I…"

He blinks, eyebrows lowering with the internal conflict he feels over the amusement that creeps into his next word, "Died?"

Nicole is busy squinting at the scratches on the paper, trying to make sense of them even though she knows she can’t read the language. She does, however, know of two people who may be able to.

Her gaze snaps up on that next word, though, eyes big. “You what?” That’s obviously impossible, because he’s sitting right here in front of her, but… “Tell me exactly what you remember,” Nicole instructs.

Zachery needs little encouragement, letting loose only a brief sigh of relief before explaining with precision, "Last shift, late night, nearly morning, I've done excellently, I feel great! I'm walking on my way out, with Lorraine, you know - Dr. Fournier-Raith - and I step into the elevator, turn around to wait, and before I know, it's… stuck. Not stuck stuck, but in a loop."

He pauses, swallowing down a half-exited chuckle before forcing his head up a little higher, like showing even the minimum amount of anxiety physically pains him. He holds still, his voice steadied even when his eyes lose focus somewhat. "It keeps passing floor 4, over and over, until the display says that." He looks toward the piece of paper.

"Or… something like that. And while the elevator and I keep falling, it goes impossibly loud, and impossibly fast, and I've realised everything is probably over, and… I wake."

And that doesn't make sense. But more words don't come despite that fact.

Patiently, she listens to his explanation with concern and confusion equally in her expression. Elevators don’t loop, she wants to say, but she holds her tongue. The fact that he’s showing more giddy, nervous energy than actual anxiety makes her worry all the more for him.

Reaching up when he’s finished, she takes his hands again. Are you sure you’re not just overworked? flits through her mind, but never makes it to her voice. She felt so small and… crazy when he suggested as much of her. But her experience at least made some kind of sense, didn’t it? No falling elevators, no dying. Just… missing time. “Well,” Nicole says after a quiet sigh, “that’s fucked up.” To put it mildly.

“Was your car in the garage? I mean, did you look?” She told him not to drive himself, after all. He may not have checked their building’s parking structure. Did someone drug him like she suspects happened to her, only they deposited him back at home rather than in the middle of the street in broad daylight?

None of it adds up, and Nicole is incredibly bothered by that.

Maybe Zachery expects to be told the same things he told Nicole but days prior - because when she doesn't turn them around on him, he closes his eyes, shoulders falling in relief.

"It was there," he says of the car, more calmly now. "I drove it home. I checked, first thing after calling— the car, my phone, the GPS shows everything as normal, but I have no memory of it."

His amusement is gone now, exchanged for something far more pressing. He pulls his hands slowly out of her grip, but only just long enough to adjust their configuration so that he can hold hers instead of the other way around. "You must have been home, weren't you?"

Nicole tries to remember if she saw his car in the garage, but she must have, or she would have noted that she hadn’t. It’s one of those things she’s just so used to that it doesn’t even register, so he must be right. She nods her head slowly. Either he did drive it home, or someone else did with him in it. That second possibility is unnerving, and so she keeps it to herself for now.

“I didn’t hear you get in,” she admits apologetically. “When I woke up this morning, you were there. Since you didn’t wake me, I decided to return the favor and let you sleep.” Nicole tips her head to one side, her dark hair falling over one shoulder as her brow creases. “There was even coffee ready for me this morning, like always.” Meaning he must have been aware if he ground the beans and everything.

Silence comes back over the room all too heavily. Zachery looks up at the ceiling, straightens his spine, and leans back in his seat - as far as he can comfortably do so without his hands slipping from hers.

"So… here's what's going to happen." He turns his gaze back on Nicole, and smiles. Though he tries, there's no warmth in it - determination alone makes for a poor tool for empathy. "I think we've both been a little too deeply invested in work. I'm going to see how I can clear my schedule a little, the coming weeks. Because this? Whatever flavour of shared psychosis it is?"

His smile fades. "This is not happening when I'm in the middle of a procedure."

Nicole wants to argue that this isn’t psychosis. That she isn’t crazy, god damn it. This amount of work is her life. It’s her normal. How could it possibly be that she’s burnt out when she’s so painfully fucking bored without the projects and the deadlines?

But she says none of those things, because if he’s right… Well, then he’s right. This thing that’s happened to them cannot happen while he’s doing his job. A job arguably more important than her own. Instead, she nods her head, maintaining eye contact the entire time he lays out his plan. “I’ll… see if I can delegate a little more responsibility,” she promises begrudgingly. He knows how badly she needs control. How little she trusts anyone to do a job as well as she does. But she’s also surrounded herself with people who could keep the congressional campaign going if she were to get into (another) wreck. Her people are competent. She just needs to trust them.

Tipping forward, she rests her cheek against his knee and stares off blankly into space. Nothing about this situation sits well with her.

Nothing about this is right. But in the moment, it has to be. Because what else could it possibly be?

"Hey." Zachery may not have much more warmth left in him, but there is fondness plenty in the hand that finds itself cupped gently against Nicole's cheek, and in his voice when he urges her, gently, "Up you come."

Whether she obliges or not, he takes a second to swallow back the tension that had begun to make its home on his brow. "It's not our fault we're so good at what we do that our feeble human brains can't keep up, is it." He chuckles, even if lingering concern lends it almost no breath. More certain is what follows in his next breath out— "Don't worry too much. We'll get it sorted. We're nearly there."

Her head does lift when he directs her, and her mouth twitches in the smallest and most brief of smiles, but it doesn’t last. She’s too unsettled. Still, she nods when he makes his promise that they’re going to figure this out and overcome. “Okay,” Nicole responds softly, without really believing that anything will be resolved soon. If ever. She just has to hope it was isolated and that it never happens again.

“What do we do now?”

"As they used to say back home," Zachery starts with a brief and slightly self conscious roll of his eyes upward, his voice a little quieter but no less resolute for it. "… And as many American scarf-wearing, tea drinking tote bag owners would say— "

He rises, slowly, giving Nicole time to do the same along with him, and keeping his eyes on hers the whole time. Seeking confirmation as well as to ground her, where she'll let him, with his hands now on her shoulders. "We keep calm and carry on. And, you know," he adds quickly, "Look into this with the help of professionals. Because we are nothing if not capable. Right?"

Nicole chuckles anxiously when he finishes the old saying. It’s so corny, but it’s actually… Reasonable. She wraps her arms around her husband and rests her head against his shoulder. “We are very capable,” she agrees quietly.

Even if she doesn’t feel it right now.

Her head lifts again and she smiles reassuringly for his sake. “We can and will do this.”

The nod and smile she earns in return is proud, even if it doesn't last.

Zachery's mind is elsewhere, at least partially. Any extra moment spent here is a moment concerns might take hold in a more concrete way than they already have. As such, he is the first to take a step back, turning to look over his shoulder at the door. "Right. I've got to go," comes a suddenly rushed, somewhat distracted announcement. "I've got— a lecture I need to sort out the details of, and still someone else to meet on the way."

He looks back at Nicole again, fixing her with doubt pinching his brow, even if his voice remains level. One last thing. "This… this had better stay between us, right? For now. Until a time comes where we can laugh about it."

His haste to leave dampens the optimism Nicole was attempting to cultivate in herself. Not that she lets it show on her face, even if it’s made plain in the way she’s reluctant to let him go. “Yeah, of course. Preparation is key.” She knows that as well as anybody.

Her expression clouds a little when he says that this should stay between them. “Only Minnie knows about my episode. I won’t tell her you had one, too. I won’t say anything about it to anyone.” Nicole smiles faintly. She wishes he could always look proud of her like that. Like she’s proud of him.

“Are we still on for our 4:45?” she asks. “I think maybe we could both benefit from the opportunity to make use of that relief valve.” Nicole’s brows lift. Is he following? He must be.

Zachery is stood in place, even if it's his wife as much as distraction that holds him there. It's that same distraction that delays his response, at least until his smile goes wide again, this time without restraints. He steps forward one more time to slip an arm behind Nicole's back before pressing a kiss to her lips.

"Are," he pulls away just enough to say, "or are we not aiming for success?"

Because if she thinks this one little inexplicable and horrifyingly unprecedented mystery will shake him— well, it might do so, still, intermittently, throughout the rest of the day. But it hasn't defeated his drive to move past and onward just yet, if the grin on his face near hers in the now is anything to go by.

Pushing discomfort down further still, he intends to make this goodbye about focusing on what's in front of him.

She had been shaken. If this is as serious as it seems to her on the surface, if this isn’t a one-time anomalous event, that changes everything, doesn’t it?

But what if it doesn’t? Should she put her life, her plans on hold for a might be?

Nicole leans into the kiss, pressing herself against her husband as she reaches up to graze her nails over the base of his spine and his scalp. The affection bolsters her waning confidence again. Her hand moves to cradle his jaw, her thumb brushing across his cheek affectionately.

“We are,” she agrees. Aiming for success. Nicole nips his lips once more — twice more. Her nose brushes against his and he can feel her grin against his cheek. “I love you, duckling.”

"I know you do," leaves Zachery with unwavering confidence. Content, for the moment, to just have her be the obstacle in his path to leaving. To have her reach for him.

A sharp exhale against the side of her face - suspiciously like the venting of lingering concerns - brings with it some tension returned into his grip. An immediate attempt to quell reemerging thoughts has him lean his head back, so he can look at her face from his slightly higher vantage point. "Hey kitten, actually, while I'm here, how do you feel about record setting?"

Nicole leans back in return so he can properly appreciate the arch of one brow. “I’m sure I’ve had enough wine on at least one occasion to regale you with tales of my junior varsity lacrosse career,” she jokes.

So, positively is what she’s saying here.

There’s a tremor to it, but she still manages a little bit of a smirk as she teases his thoughts from him. “Why?”

Why indeed. Zachery's free arm is lifted so he can glance at the face of a shiny silver watch just underneath the cuff of his coat's sleeve.

When he looks at Nicole again, it's with his eyes narrowed in thought. "I've either got minus four minutes to get out the door, or six, depending on a few factors."

What better way to offset a bad experience than with a new one. The arm behind Nicole's back pushes a little lower, and abruptly pulls her a little closer. But not so close that she can't see him crack a grin as he decides, "I can wing the lecture."

Making a show of checking her own watch, Nicole frowns thoughtfully as she observes the second hand making its circuit around the face. “Let me just check my calendar here…” She extracts herself from her husband’s grasp so she can turn and walk back to her desk, reorienting the open planner to look for any conflicts.

With a zip of flexible plastic across polished wood and a louder flutter and of paper and thump when the whole thing hits the floor, Nicole turns back to her husband with a perplexed expression. “Huh. It appears I have an opening!” For all that there’s a quiet excitement in her eyes, it’s tempered by the fact that she’s desperate to push down literally any other thought right now, and this would be a welcome engagement before she throws herself wholeheartedly back into her work.

That’s part of work-life balance, right?

Zachery's head turns, ever so slightly, toward the door - but his eyes don't leave his wife. For right now, he manages to relax, the only readily communicated thing in his expression being pride.

"Happy early anniversary to us."

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