Call Them Brothers



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Scene Title Call Them Brothers
Synopsis Just frame the halves and…
Date March 13, 2020

Fort Jay

In a sunlit office, Nicole Varlane sits at a desk made of polished cherrywood. It’s early, and she’s clearing her inbox of the last evening’s messages. Reading everything over, sorting things into neat, color-coded categories, marking items for follow-up, and dashing off short replies to acknowledge receipt.

She also keeps flipping back to a window open on her screen with a man’s face and information about him splashed on it. The face belongs to her husband. Or, it would, if it were him. Instead, it belongs to his identical twin brother. For about the fiftieth time in the past hour since her arrival, Nicole glances to the clock and does the math in her head, calculating the difference between timezones.

The hour in the UK is an acceptable one to be called by an unknown number. Lifting the receiver off the base on her desk, Nicole wedges it between her shoulder and her cheek, dials first her clearance for an outside, international line, then the number on her screen carefully. She sucks in a sharp breath between her teeth when it starts to ring.

It rings.

And rings.

And clicks.

"'Eeyo, there you are," a familiar voice sounds across the line, except for the fact that the steep of his voice is a much richer indication of his location, Surrey accent sharp and his words leaving him quick past an audible smirk. "I know I said to call if you wouldn't make it for dinner, mate, but this is a bit late, nah? I'm in bed."

Damian Miller, on a different continent all together, is very clearly not in bed, if the music in the blippy background is any indication at all. He lies sprawled on a sofa in mismatched grey sweat pants and a brightly coloured shirt, one hand still on a controller that he's playing some version of Tetris with, the television ahead of him the only source of illumination in the otherwise dark room. "Your wife letting you use the phone again, then."

Nicole is given pause by the unexpected greeting. And just how much like her fiance he sounds. When her fiance puts on those airs, anyway. “Ah, no… I’m sorry, sir. I don’t know who you think I am, but I’m obviously not who you were expecting.”

Is this a better or worse start than what she thought? Nicole lowers her head and winces. “My name is Nicole Varlane. This is Damian Miller, isn’t it?” She knows that it is. There’s absolutely no mistaking it.

"… Y-yyeah, probably," Damian drawls, casually, after a brief pause. He pulls his phone away from his ear and checks the screen, then kicks himself a little more upright with a grunt of effort he doesn't see fit to hide.

The music in the background stops in the face of a pause screen, and he adopts a much more sober tone of voice to ask, "Sorry, what's this about?" Before she can even answer, he leans forward and adds in a tone that sounds both suddenly much more eagerly invested and also happily eager to mock, "Are you American?"

His mockery is rewarded with a quiet chuckle of laughter. Nicole bites her lower lip between her teeth for a moment. Okay, so that’s a reasonable enough recovery. She lifts her head again and leans back in her seat, crossing one leg over the other. One hand cradles the receiver to her ear and the bend of the opposite elbow rests against the top of her seatback, fingers drumming against the soft leather absently.

“I’m afraid so,” she confirms, enunciating in a slightly exaggerated manner for his amusement. “This is about your brother Zachery.” She doesn’t let that hang before she swiftly follows up with, “Please don’t hang up.”

It goes quiet again.

Damian closes his eyes for a moment, his head falling. When he opens them again, it's to look over his shoulder, at a still dark hallway. The controller is slid onto a coffee table, and his free hand onto his face.

His next question is sighed out— "Will I be breaking any laws if I do?"

“No, sir. That I can assure you of.” The mouthpiece is tipped away from herself before she lets out a heavy exhale and brought back into place again before she speaks again. “But I’d appreciate it a great deal if you didn’t. He’s not in any trouble, and neither are you.” Not this time anyway.

Nicole is sure that this is all about to go over like a lead balloon. “You see… I’m his fiancee.”

Though a cant of his head away from the phone implies a strong urge to cut this conversation short, Damian does not.

This is largely because of the news he's just been freshly delivered, which hits him much like the sound of a car crash off in the distance somewhere — in that it's shocking in concept, but difficult to grasp how he'd play any role in the matter. His mouth agape and his eyes on a fixed point in the dark room ahead of him, he manages, finally and simply, "Yep."

Well, it isn’t yelling and it isn’t hanging up, so Nicole can deal with the brusqueness of it. “We’re getting married next month and… I know it is such short notice, but I wanted to invite you to the ceremony. It’s… It’s going to be very small.” She isn’t sure if that makes it better or worse. Small means fewer people to have to interact with. Large means more of a crowd to hide in.

“He doesn’t know I’m calling you. I… was hoping to surprise him.” Her hand lifts from its drumming and instead comes up to rest a thumb at one temple, third finger at the opposite, and pointer angled off toward the ceiling. “I know he thinks the world of you. I’m prepared to pay all expenses to have you out here. Your whole family, if you want.”

After a click of his tongue while he listens, Damian abruptly stands. Stepping carefully over a wire, he starts pacing down the length of the living room he's in.

The offer of payment has him exhale sharply, and though he answers immediately, his voice lifts with a willingness to indulge that wasn't present before. "What's your name again? Nicole, was it?" He doesn't wait. "If he thinks the world of me, his outlook must be bleak as the ocean's bloody wet. So for one, why is it you calling me and not him, and two, why would you marry that? Get out."

Something makes it through his annoyance, at hearing himself say those last few words, a crack in his defenses in the breath of puzzled amusement he is unable to hold back.

People keep asking me that hardly seems like the correct thing to say in this situation. That’s not a notion she’d like to validate. “One, because he’s afraid of your rejection.” Nicole doesn’t know definitively if that’s true or not, but it’s what she believes, because it’s how she would feel if she were estranged from her sister. Hell, she’s afraid of Colette’s rejection now, and they get along more or less swimmingly.

“And yes. His outlook is bleak. Zachery hates everything.” Nicole’s tone is terse, and even though she isn’t speaking positively, she is defending the man she intends to marry. “Two, he loves me for some ungodly reason. A man who seems to despise the whole goddamn world loves me. And he misses you.”

Nicole angles her head toward the ceiling, closing her eyes heavily for a moment. “I know he wants you in our lives. Go ahead and ask me how I know this.” She’ll wait.

"She knows what she wants, at least, that's good," Damian mutters, sounding unconvinced and more bitter with every syllable. Because he knows better, how could he not. It's a twin thing, as they say, even after a decade and a half contact-free.

"Go on, then, let it out, sweetheart," he chides, raised voice causing him to throw another look out in the hallway before he turns on a heel and continues, "Did he write about me in his diary before bedtime? Because you know as well as I do he lies."

She doesn’t have the whole story of what went wrong here, but the longer this conversation carries on, the more she’s beginning to realize it’s worse than she figured on. His condescension toward her is hurtful, mostly because it sounds like it’s coming from Zachery himself, but she refuses to let it needle her more than it already has.

He’s naming our son after you,” Nicole grounds out between her teeth, jaw tight.

Somewhere off in the metaphorical distance, another car gets T-boned.

Damian's steps slow, and he nearly falls when the drag of his feet catches on the edge of a rug. "He's what." He tries once recovered, before immediately following it up with another attempt at twice the volume and a heaping load of astonishment, "Sorry, he's what?"

“You heard me, you fucking prat,” Nicole spits out, accent all exceedingly American, for all that she’s using a chiefly British dig. “I’m having twins,” she spells out for him. “I’m due in the fall. We’ve decided to call one of them Harvey Damian.”

An e-mail alert pops up on her computer screen and Nicole leans forward to turn off the monitor and the distraction it represents with annoyance. “If he didn’t want anything to do with you, if you meant so little to him, he wouldn’t want to give our son your name. He wouldn’t want a daily fucking reminder for the rest of our goddamn lifetimes of you.”

Nicole uncrosses her legs and leans forward in her seat to rest her elbows on her desk now, grateful for the heavy door and the blinds that shut out the view to the hall. “For all I know, he wants the daily reminder of what a monumental fuck up he is, but I don’t think that’s it. I think he wants to have another chance to get things right. And I want my son to know his namesake.”

"Your son," Damian echoes, with some delay. He plants a hand against the wall, before letting gravity do the work in forcing him slowly down in a sitting position on the floor, with his back facing the television screen. His eyes track the long shadow that's cast across the floor.

"Harvey Damian." Slowly, Damian manages to slot things into place, his brow knitting with the effort it takes to keep the new information somewhere he won't begin to reject it. There's something warmer that plays in his voice when he says, "That's not bad."

Suddenly, there is a stark difference between his voice and Zachery's — in that when he calms down, he's able to allow himself to do so completely. Nicole's outburst is rewarded with open sincerity in an admission that follows. "I named a fish after him. Four of them, actually, but don't tell the kids, they thought it was the same one."

While Damian seems to come to terms with what Nicole’s telling him, she nods, as though she’s able to follow along with his journey to get there. “I can’t even take credit for that. I thought Harry was a fine name, but he said Harvey was better.” She smiles to herself, the kind that can be heard over the line. “And he was right.”

Nicole’s muted reflection in the matte black of the switched off monitor stares back at her, expression encouraging. Like maybe it’s herself she’s trying to give a pep talk to here and not him. “A fish, huh? Well, I suppose that’s something.”

A beat passes between them before she speaks again. “I’d love to meet your kids. Your wife. You. I know you don’t know me at all and… and I know Zachery’s such a fuck up. But it would mean everything to me if you would be there when we get married.”

Who the hell else is going to show up on his side anyway? Besides the twee man who owns the florist that competes against her eldest daughter’s, she supposes. “I mean it when I say I’ll pay for it all. Your flights, your lodgings, car rental… You wanna take the kiddos to the zoo? I will fucking pay for that, too. I know this is a huge ask.”

"He really did pull with you, didn't he." Damian quietly laughs the last few words to himself. It's a rhetorical question, but the genuine awe that's present in his voice is unfiltered.

There is, however, still one issue. It's an issue he'll hold his actual answer hostage over, and one for which he adopts a sterner tone that serves to remind her that his decision is still very much up in the air for several reasons. "How did you know I have a family?"

Because it sure as hell wasn't through his brother.

If they’d been in the same room, this would be the point where Nicole would drop the pretenses, deliver a tight smile and fix him with that bright blue stare of hers. Instead, she has to rely on the clucking of her tongue against the back of her teeth to carry over the line, granting him the satisfaction of knowing he sniffed her out.

“It wasn’t hard.” There’s a lilt to her voice. “Marriage licenses, birth certificates… All of those are a matter of public record. And if you happen to know a person’s legal name and date of birth…” Surprisingly, Nicole didn’t have to resort to anything that required abuse of her government clearances. That doesn’t mean she didn’t consider it. “Nothing sinister, I assure you. I just happen to be adept at research.”

A roll of Damian's jaw does enough to hint at the discomfort these words bring him. It's not that they're surprising, but to be faced with that sort of thing in practice is a different matter.

This, in turn, Nicole can't see.

But what she hears is the thud of his back hitting the rug as he lets himself fall back on it with a whoomf. By the time his head's on the rug and he is fully down on the floor, he's shaken most of the tension in his voice to repeat, "… 'You fucking prat'."

There's disbelief in the chuckle and hum that follow. Finally, pinching the bridge of his nose, he tacks on, "So. I have a few things to say…"

And then, he pauses, mentally loading subjects for review.

Tongue rolls over teeth as Nicole rolls her eyes at herself. “Yeah,” she murmurs. “Sorry about that.” Calling her future brother-in-law names was probably not the best foot to start out on, but she is promising him what essentially amounts to a free vacation, so there’s that?

Nicole leans back in her chair and exhales heavily. “I’m all ears, Mr. Miller.” She braces now for rejection.

It's not quite that. There are other matters to go over first.

Still staring up at the ceiling, Damian's mouth pulls into a thin line as he thinks of how best to word this, eyes half lidded.

A sharp inhale precedes sharper words, though more for the sake of practiced clarity than anything leaning toward truly hostile. "I don't really care who you are — his fiancee, his wife already married, president of the United bloody States, you don't get to call my brother a fuck up. Right?" With me so far?

Nicole smiles to herself. That’s the reaction she was hoping for. Her own sister is many things, not all of them positive, good, or flattering, but no one gets to call her on them while Nicole’s around. That Damian seems to feel much the same about Zachery… It’s a test he’s now passed with flying colors.

“Understood,” she responds easily, keeping her tone neutral so he can’t hear the satisfaction she feels.

"Wonderful," comes back in much the same level tone of voice Damian had been speaking in before.

He props himself up leans to the side, clambering halfway over the coffee table to grab the bottle of beer he'd been drinking. Once he settles back down, he tilts the bottle toward himself and peers down into the drink. "Now, moving on to you and the fuck up's wedding - you're not paying for anything, that's just… not on the table, here. We don't know you."

“Suit yourself.” Nicole knows better than to argue with men about money. “But if you do need any assistance, I’m happy to offer it. It isn’t going to put me out any.” She refrains from making any assertions about the fact that she might be a big deal. He can find that out when he decides to do his own research.

“I’m the one asking you for a favor. I don’t expect you to handle that all yourself, that’s all.” It’s not an ego thing, is what she means. “What else?”

If Damian had the means to do the research right now, he might have answered that last question more swiftly. But here he is, sitting on the floor, finishing a beer before he clinks it back down onto the wood of the table near him.

Only to be followed by the slow dragging noise of a coaster along the table's surface, so he can clink the bottle down again - this time on cork.

"… I'm not sure," finally leaves him in dithering earnesty. Pulling his knees up to prop his elbows against them, he curls inward to slide his free hand up onto the back of his neck while his head dips down. Phone held loosely with his knuckles resting against his face, he asks a little more gently, "Twins, you said."

“Yeah,” Nicole confirms. “Twins.” She laughs quietly, a nervous sound. “I’m not sure what the hell I’m going to do with that, but… I already have a daughter of my own.” It seems like it might be helpful to provide details about herself. Make herself more real. “Two daughters, actually, but one’s an adult.” Before he can ask, she informs him, “I’m younger than you are.”

So, you know, not some dowager countess that Zachery intends to siphon money from in order to secure himself a comfortable existence. “If there’s anything you want to know about me, just ask.”

As Damian works his hand up the back of his head and through his hair, his eyebrows lift in response to what he's hearing. He takes a breath to ask a question that is answered before he can do so, and rubs his eyes instead.

After a glance around the living room like he's looking for an excuse not to say what pops into his mind next, he says it anyway. "I'll ask in person." He laughs through his teeth, biting his lip in anticipation for a later conversation. "You know, ah- wife willing."

“I’ll look forward to it.” Her relief is palpable. It’d been one thing to insist that he wouldn’t allow her to pay for anything, but it hadn’t been a promise to attend. “We’re getting married April 4th. If your wife has any questions for me, if she needs anything… Please reach out. I’ll give you my e-mail address? I don’t expect you to pay international calling rates, but I’m happy to call if that’s what you need.”

Nicole rakes her fingers through her dark hair and slants a grin to her reflection. It looks like she might actually succeed here. “I’m really glad you’re considering this. If there’s anything you need at all, just let me know.”

"Yeah… sure, sure." Damian replies with flat affect, bracing himself before beginning to rise to his feet again. In the dim light of the television screen, he can only just make out some family photos on the far side of the room, and though they hold his attention, both his face and voice betray the internal struggle to settle on any one emotion about this particular subject just yet.

"Nicole?" He asks, only just managing a smile that he can't quite be sure is genuine, but feels like the right thing to have on his face with the more genuine notion that follows. "Congratulations."

Nicole smiles, closing her eyes and dipping her chin downward in a gesture of graciousness that’s unseen by him, but done for his benefit anyway. “Thank you, Damian.”

It feels like triumph.

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