Christmas Wrapping


nicole_icon.gif zachery_icon.gif

Scene Title Christmas Wrapping
Synopsis If Die Hard is a Christmas movie, then this is a Christmas scene.
Date December 6, 2019

Park Slope

“It’s not even fucking blue!” Nicole hisses tersely as she attempts to wedge a modestly sized and wrapped up pine tree - a blue spruce - in to the back of the Bone Wagon. “You can’t be pissed off about it being blue when it isn’t.

They both know that’s not what he’s pissed off about, but neither is going to address that particular issue. Not so close to the scene. Not so close to people who might have opinions and share them.


“Just— ” Nicole growls with frustration and drops her end of the tree against the vehicle’s tailgate. “Let me— ” Without explaining her plan, because words evade her at the moment, Nicole simply climbs into the back of the hearse and starts to pull the trunk of the tree toward her, and the front of the vehicle. “I’m not Hercules, Zachery. You have to push.

"Are you — quite sure you can't pull it in by yourself, Nicole," comes Zachery's voice, oh so calm, ducking down as he's peering into the back of the hearse, his words so crisply spoken they might break. He puts one hand on the tree. Which is not entirely helpful, on its own.

"Because you sure did pull a fucking stunt back there, didn't you." Why, what a pleasant tone he's keeping, even with his eye trained, hard, on the movement in the car. "And for months. All that practice, you must be rippling with muscles that I just simply did. Not. Notice."

“I am—” Quite sure, but also sufficiently cowed to shut the hell up and listen. She wasn’t exactly subtle when she shut down the tree lot. And the SESA representatives didn’t seem surprised to see her.

Nicole rolls her eyes, more at herself than at him, grunting as she stubbornly tries to drag the tree into the vehicle. “Can we not do this right now?” Or ever, preferably? Feeling that her efforts from inside are futile, she starts to make her hunched-over way back to the rear of the hearse. Except the branches of the tree now fill the space and—

“God damn it!” Nicole wrestles with the bound branches of the tree, dropping onto her backside onto the floor and attempting to slither her way out of the car on her back and under the tree. “Fuck!

"It's because you're in the way," Zachery offers helpfully. Just as Nicole slides underneath, the tree starts moving again - due to him shoving a shoulder against the base of it and then throwing his whole damn weight into getting it to move with an angry rustle of not-blue branches scraping over car and person both.

A little faster than he'd bargained for, and he falls forward and into the mess of it with a "NnnNnGHRKfuck."

Then, as he straightens and throws a curious glance in Nicole's direction to peer at whatever of her is still within view, he just can't help but note, deadpan, "See, we've done it. All because you let me in there. Well done."

“Oh my— Fuck!” Nicole screeches, throwing her arms over her face as the tree scrapes over the top of her. “Are trying to put my eye out?!” She’s a flailing mess when she finally slides out of the car, limboing herself forward until her backside is no longer supported by the bed of the hearse and she falls flat on her ass on the pavement.

Sitting on the cold ground, she simply folds her arms over her chest and closes her eyes. Breathing for the space it takes her to count to three. There are pine needles in her hair. Small scratches on her face. Are you fucking happy now? her pursed-lip glare seems to ask.

The sharp inhale through his nose and motionless glare Zachery sends back down when he meets her gaze says, yeah, actually, pretty content.

Something else, though, brings movement back to him in the form of him crouching down to match her height a little better, one hand on the tailgate while the other reaches - slowly - for some needles stuck just above her ear as he hovers nearby. "It's superficial. You'll be right as rain in the…"

He catches himself, then flatly amends, "In the event of any very early Christmas dinners, just say you got a cat."

Maybe it’s because they just stumbled on something exceptionally traumatizing - whether or not either of them will admit it - that they’re both so on edge. Surely this wouldn’t be quite so big a deal if they hadn’t come across… Whatever that was.

Thanks,” Nicole says of the diagnosis, rolling her eyes. She holds a hand out to him expectantly. She could get up on her own, and her pride wants to, but there’s also a certain satisfaction in making him be polite.

And to Zachery in turn, sometimes, there's a certain fun in pretending that it comes naturally.

But maybe slightly less naturally today.

Rather than taking the hand, Zachery reaches for her forearm, fingers wrapping tightly around to pull her to her feet rather than have him be simply leveraged off of. "Come on, you're not a child."

That ruffles Nicole’s metaphorical feathers. She takes in a sharp breath through her nose, but resists the urge to give him a little static shock for his jab. He’s right. She is not, in fact, a child. And she can act her actual level of maturity.

Back on her feet, she then bends forward, shaking her hair out to dislodge the needles that have sunk into her locks. Flipping her head back, she regards Zachery with a level gaze. Her hair’s a fashionably tousled mess now, but it looks decidedly less - shall we say? - festive.

“You’re right.” There’s a shift in her demeanor. She steps forward, closing the space between them. Her gaze narrows faintly. Nicole reaches up and rests one hand on Zachery’s shoulder. “I am definitely not a child. Why don’t we go back to my place and I’ll make all of this up to you?”

That’s a vast oversimplification of what all of this actually is. But maybe it’s worth a go?

The look on Zachery's face - coldly calculative at best - and the unyielding posture he adopts when he's straightened up suggests that no, maybe it is not, in fact, worth a go.

"I'm dropping this tree off," the words leave him on a steady voice, but only because it's forced to be. The gritting of teeth and tightening of jaw muscles in the brief pause between speaking might be more meaningful. "And you, and then I think I'll be going. Pub sounds sublime." Drinks don't LIE.

“Zachery,” Nicole sighs, defeated and looking vulnerable. “Don’t be like that. Please?” It only takes a second of study to realize that he is going to be like that, whether she asks with sugar on top or not.

“I can explain.” Her thumb works its way beneath warm wool to skin, rubbing gently. “Will you let me do that much?”

"I know you can explain." Zachery counters quickly, eye darting between hers. He almost swallows back the rest of his words at the movement of her hand, lifting his chin and continuing to say, lowering his voice in both tone and volume, "I know that you're capable of it. But how much of this explanation will be manipulation?"

Nicole doesn’t stop what she’s doing, lest it be seen as him being right. That she’s simply being manipulative. And maybe she is, a bit, but so’s everybody, so fuck it. Instead, her breath hitches in her throat. Her lips flatten out for a moment, holding back some emotion.

“Please,” Nicole whispers, gaze apologetic. “I don’t want to fight with you.”

That expression, so readily out there, is studied. And more, still, hinted at by his ever so briefly, his attention seems to drift elsewhere. His own breathing stays steady, though, and if he's showing anything, it's thinly veiled frustration.

His voice gives her more, if only just - with resigned disappointment, he answers simply, "If you don't want to fight, don't lie."

Maybe it's the hypocrisy in this statement that has him look away and pull to the side, away from her touch, but that's not what he's going to linger on. "Close her up, will you." The Bone Wagon's back doors, presumably, seeing as he's moving toward the driver's side's.

Nicole lets out a breath she didn’t realize she was holding, shoulders sagging with the exhale as she watches Zachery pull and turn away from her, heading toward the front of the vehicle. “Sure.”

The doors are closed carefully, making sure they don’t smash the top of the tree. Then she comes around to the passenger side. For a moment, she imagines him speeding off before she can get there. Finding the tree unceremoniously dumped on her doorstep out of spite. Part of her can’t blame him. Part of her wants to ask him with the big damn deal is.

Nicole slides into the passenger seat and buckles up without a word. Her gloved hands are folded in her lap and she flips down the visor to study her reflection in the mirror, poking gingerly at the superficial scratches along her forehead, cheekbone, and jawline with a quiet sigh.

The car comes to life with an old-engine hum, leaves the lot, and starts on its way with not a word spoken. Zachery's movements are deliberate, slow, and rife with something unspoken that hardens his glare at the road ahead.

Only when a pothole causes the tree to bounce upward and fall back into place does he look elsewhere, glancing for a fraction of a second to Nicole, elbow jutting out in a reflexive motion - before it comes back in, and he switches his attention to the mirror in front of him instead. Tree okay? Good.

"You and Richard," The words leave him quickly, as if the silence would leave too much room for something else instead, "Close, then?"

That is not the turn Nicole expected this conversation to take. She lifts the visor back into place nearly flush with the roof of the car and looks to Zachery out of the corner of her eye. “We met because he blackmailed me.” That’s not a story she tells too often. It honestly feels like it happened a hundred years ago to somebody else sometimes.

Also, I might have fucked him? Recently?

If you don’t remember if you had sex with someone, does it even count? Surely not. Regardless, this is definitely not the time for that conversation.

“He helped save my sister’s life, so.” Nicole shrugs her shoulders, unsure if that explains even remotely what her complicated connection to Richard Ray is.

"Blackmailed? How — I don't… nevermind," says Zachery, who might not sound quite so calm if he was aware of the conversation which it is not the right time for. The mention of Nicole's sister earns her another huff. As if to say, pfh, everyone's always saving everyone around here. "You were right about him hiring me back on after I disappeared. All I had to do was ask. It was too easy."

He might be rambling now, leaning back in his seat and letting one hand drop in his lap, fingers witching inward. Maybe it's easier to let his mouth run than to just let the thoughts run their course. Without prompting, he continues. "Everyone always seems to know more than I do, and they keep that information around until it can be used as ammunition. Since when has life been like this? Did I blink and miss the threshold? Did someone send me a memo to the wrong address?"

He looks to Nicole again, apparently prioritising a grim study of her face over looking at the road - without slowing down.

“I knew he would. Richard is all about second chances.” There’s a shrug of those shoulders, casual about the whole thing. But she isn’t oblivious to the undercurrent. It isn’t just that it was easy to get his job back, and if she were in his shoes, if she didn’t know Ray as well as she does, she might be similarly suspicious.

He looks at her and she does him the courtesy of turning her head to face him in return. She doesn’t make it a staring contest, however. He needs to look back at the road, and so she turns her attention there first. “I don’t know,” Nicole admits quietly. “But you’re not wrong.” Leaning her head back against the seat behind her, she rests one gloved palm against her forehead, fingers drumming lightly on her skull.

“I’ve traded in secrets and half-truths for a lot longer than it’s been fashionable,” she tells him, not terribly proud of that fact. “I think the thing is that a lot of us have, and we don’t know any other way to be.” Nicole tilts her head to the side to look back at Zachery again. “Now we’re not working in the shadows. The government organizations aren’t so secret anymore.”

Fuck the road.

And fuck this drive, too, come to think of it.

The car rolls forward, but only because momentum wills it so. Zachery props an elbow up against the steering wheel, keeping it more or less in place while the car starts to veer ever so slowly to the right. Its driver seems more interested in leaning further sideways to keep staring at Nicole, fully disengaging from the task at hand.

"So why do you care?!" Though his concern is not aimed where it probably should be, right now, the urgency in his voice and face is clear. Anger's bubbling up behind it, and with no one else's to direct it at, Nicole catches the brunt of it. "Why keep up the pretense? Why not live the life you want to, because for all you fucking know, there's only three months of it left - or two, or a week, or a minute."

Those last words added in a bit of a hurry, for some reason that isn't the impending crash up ahead.

Oh. He’s still looking at her. He’s been looking at her this whole time. Shit. Nicole’s eyes widen ever so slightly. Even if he didn’t have his ability, he’d be able to sense how much he’s rattling her right now. He hasn’t seen her look like this since their first date, when he talked gleefully about burning down the crumbling remains of the morgue.

“Fuck’s sake!” Nicole cries, her shoulders having slowly creeped up toward her ears as her nerves fray more. “Watch the road! Or pull the damn car over!” She reaches across and course corrects the steering wheel before they can clip the mirror off a parked car they’re sailing past. She’s going to be the one to bear the brunt of the crash, if they should actually, so she’s naturally a little concerned about it.

Holy shit. Is he going to crash the car out of spite? Listen to how he’s talking.

Holy shit.

"It's fine," argues Zachery while letting the car they're in cruise slowly down a road with minimal intervention, which may not, in fact - strictly - be fine.

Though concern continues to knit his brow and sends a sneer onto his face, he turns back to the steering wheel and lands his hands back on it at a 9 and sloppy 2 o'clock. "Alright," there's that crispness again, "let's pull over!"

Disregarding Nicole's grip on the wheel, he tightens his grip with a quiet squeak of leather, and yanks it, full force, to the side while re-engaging that gas pedal with a strained growl from the engine springing back to life.

But look, a gap between parked cars — wide enough for the hearse to fit between when it lunges suddenly and directly onto a sidewalk and then into the bricks that make up the wall of an abandoned storefront.

The scrape of metal crumpling inward against solid material happens almost simultaneously with the meaty thud of body hitting steering wheel, but neither of the car's passengers get a chance at silence before a collection of aged brickwork comes piling down onto the hood and windshield, showering the outside of the car in a mixture of grey and red dust.

“It is not fine!” Nicole snaps back, struggling to maintain control of the wheel and keep them on the straight and narrow of the forward trajectory. When he takes hold of the wheel again, her own grip relaxes. She thinks, so very, very incorrectly, that he’s going to resume responsibility of driving them down the road like a sane person.

It’s only once it’s too late that she realizes what he intends to do.


Nicole shrieks as the car goes up and over the curb and careening into the side of the building. Her hands come up to shield her face when perhaps they should have been bracing against the dash. There are no airbags to cushion her as she slams forward in her seat. Fortunately, she had buckled herself in. That strap holds her in the seat and keeps her from crashing through the windshield.

There is no such restraint in place for the tree in the back of the vehicle.

Glass bursts outward from the Bone Wagon as the trunk of the tree slams through the windshield, an explosion of pine needles fills the space between Zachery and Nicole, further dividing them in a physical way that makes the chasm they’re standing on opposite sides of seem a little less metaphorical.

When the dust finally begins to settle, they’re left with the soft sounds of Nicole’s struggle not to cry.

Zachery's side of the vehicle is quieter still. Someone didn't think to buckle in, earlier, like he usually does.

The noise created by the trickle of brickshavings making their way through cracked glass and pine branches and hitting dashboard could almost be considered calming, if not for the context.

One last brick hits the rooftop, providing a clattering interruption upon impact that reverberates through the inert body of the car. Zachery's own body stirs where it's awkwardly collapsed against the wheel. Slowly, one arm is moved from a limply hanging position to get dragged, with a few starts and stops, upward. He reaches out - only for his fingers to touch the not-blue needles of the tree before he even manages to realise it's there, his face still pressed against the very thing that helped him put them in this situation.

"… There it is." His voice, when it finally does sound, is strained with effort. The same goes for a chuckle. Which, despite being almost immediately stifled, doesn't stay down for long. His hand drops again, fake and real eye both closing. He doesn't really need them to check, anyway. "Sincerity."

Nicole’s breaths come in strained little bursts. It hurts to breathe, but she forces it. She remembers keenly just how difficult it is to force it. Memories of the war come flashing back to her. A building collapsing on her head, trapping her beneath the weight of her teammate until someone can dig them out. A bullet burying into her shoulder, making the world white hot with pain. Mortar shells exploding. Her ears ringing.

Sincerity indeed.

A trickle of blood is warm against the side of her face. One gloved hand starts to lift to inspect the damage, but the movement is aborted and punctuated by a shrill cry of agony that takes her out of the war and brings her back to the here and the now. Something is definitely wrong. Beyond the fact that the car has collided with a brick wall and blood is matting her hair to her scalp and cheek.

Zachery has no such severe memories. He's freer to move, having been able to brace himself the absolute minimal amount not to go flying out through the fucking windshield.

But as it stands, he's just bruised - maybe mildly fractured in places - but unbroken enough to push himself back, settling into his seat a little more properly before slumping forward and grabbing blindly at the floor between his legs. There's pale dust all over his face and in his hair, and a swipe of wrist over his functioning eye doesn't seem to much improve his situation.

He hasn't found what he's looking for yet, but idle amusement is still on his words when they filter through to Nicole's side. "I'm… calling an ambulance." Then, with a wince of ribcage not quite working as it should and a sternness that was previously lacking: "This was an accident."

“You!” Nicole breathes out sharply. “Fucking!” Her voice pitches up with each successive syllable. “Maniac!” The last word is a shriek that signals the break in her composure.

This was an accident.

No fucking kidding. Because the truth is a felony assault charge at best. Attempted murder of a federal agent, possibly. That’s if she decides to report this for what it is. Right now, she’s crying too hard to do much of any of that. She’s afraid if she tries to yell at him again, she’ll just puke her guts out from the pain.


One word, spoken so offhandedly. Zachery's fingers find the surface of his phone, and the pre-cracked screen flickers on, casting light against still falling particles as he brings the device into his lap. "Relax your muscles as much as you can, lean back a little, your collarbone's fractured and pushed inward, which is why that hurts so much. Your head needs stitches."

He dials a number, sounding calm in spite of trembling hands, leaning forward to thunk his forehead against the steering wheel. Once he's out of words, out of observations, he falls quiet and lifts the phone to the side of his head.

At first, she thinks he’s just telling her to shut up — and maybe he is doing that, too — but his advice registers for what it is. As much as she’d like to argue and push back against literally anything he says right now, Zachery is still a doctor. He knows exactly what state she’s in, even if she’s too stricken with pain to even begin to self-assess.

So, she leans back against the seat as much as she can manage and tries to force herself to relax. Her eyes close. She’s on a blanket in the middle of a debris-strewn field. Lynette is holding her hand. Her crying quiets. Someone kneels on the other side of her, sterilizing instruments with fire and an airline bottle of vodka.

This is going to suck.

Nicole listens to the sound of her own breathing. In, out. In, out. Short, shallow, labored. But not wet. That means she isn’t bleeding into her lungs. Likely hasn’t punctured anything. That’s good.

Blood and tears mingle on her cheek.

"Yes." Zachery is already several sentences into the phone call, his face now pressed into the arm he's propping himself against. He might still sound calm, but with a splitting headache settling in, any light source suddenly feels increasingly unkind. The effects of adrenaline fading, so does his slightly frantic energy. It's probably for the best he sounds a little saner, words carefully chosen. "I lost control of the vehicle. We're alright, but we need help. There's two of us, we're in a 1967 Cadillac on…"

There's a silence, followed shortly by a muffled note of question from the other end of the line. Then, the light of the screen illuminates the ceiling as it's lifted up and over the tree, passed to Nicole's side. "Grab it with your left," he warns, before adding airily, "tell them where we are?"

It’s a good thing that he reminds her of which arm is busted, because she absolutely would have led with her right. Instead, she awkwardly lifts her left arm, snaking her hand through the maze of spruce boughs between them to collect the phone.

“This is Nicole Nicho—” No. No, that isn’t right. “Varlane.” One eyelid cracks open so she can peer through the busted windshield, as if that will help her determine where they are. “We were in Park Slope,” she murmurs. “Headed toward Bay Ridge…” There’s a sign half propped on the hood of the car. Nicole squints until it comes into focus.

“Fifth and Twenty-Second. The old Sea Witch bar.” Or what’s left of it, at any rate. “We need an ambulance.” Did he say that part already? Maybe it needs repeating.

Thrusting the phone back through the tree and toward Zachery, Nicole makes a whining sound in the back of her throat. “Fuck. Take it.

Information delivered, Zachery takes the phone, ends the call, and slides the phone back into his pocket. Or he tries, anyway. Something about his arm not moving quite the way he wants it to, resulting in him just dropping the phone onto his seat. Whatever.

He does not see the red enveloping it where it lies.

"This is why people use you, you know that, right," he notes, once things have gone quiet again. The frustration from before is gone now, be it due to what may well be a concussion, or temper having cooled, or both. Something new, though, threads itself through his voice when he continues, while he angles a look over his own forearm and in Nicole's direction - the tree might be blocking his view of her, but he still sees her. It's in the way he views her, too. Something… sad.

The brightness of her pain, the muscles vying for control despite the boundaries currently set by nerve endings and reflex.

"You shouldn't be so beautiful." It's barely more than a confused murmur now, through the dust and tree and damaged glass and metal. His face is buried a little deeper into his arms, which hang curled around the steering wheel. "You should… be the siren, not the called."

And then, he just goes quiet. A cut along the side of his neck has steadily been bleeding red streaks out into the black of his coat, where it goes almost invisible until the drip below - the leather seat below collecting it in a steadily growing pool.

There’s only the sound of Nicole’s breathing to answer Zachery back at first. Like maybe she’s pointedly ignoring him. Or she’s passed out. Or maybe it hurts too much to talk. It’s a little bit of all of those, though she clings to this side of consciousness. If only just.

There’s a strained sound, thin and reedy, pained. She’s trying to keep it together and not simply succumb. “What the fuck are you talking about?” she groans, swallowing dryly. She squints through the branches to try and see him better. Her world is pain, fuzzy around the edges.

She hates that there’s even some small truth to what he says. She’s been an instrument more than she’d be willing to admit. But a siren? She worries that he might be delirious. “You know, if you wanted to break up with me, you could have just told me to fuck off.”

She has to keep him talking.

Another chuckle seems only to help Zachery sink deeper forward. "… I don't."

It feels incomplete, somehow, to say it like that. Nevermind that the words are barely leaving him at all. "World's…" he tries again, eyelids falling before he manages to finish his sentence. "… Ending in three months and… I don't. This was a good thing."

Like she hasn’t heard that before. They all thought the world was ending just a scant couple of years ago. She thought it might be happening again as summer gave way to autumn. Everybody’s got some theory about when the big one will hit. The meteor or the atom bomb or the plague or the war to end all wars.

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you I got my job back.”

It’s a lie on many levels. She isn’t sorry she didn’t tell him. She didn’t lose her job in the first place. Was it ever his damn business in the first place?

Why is his voice so weak?

“Stay with me, Zachery. This is a good thing.” Literal car wreck aside. “Someone’s coming. Someone’s…”

Nicole’s lids droop close, and for a moment, she forgets to finish her sentence. She still doesn’t remember what she meant to say when she opens them again.

There’s sirens in the distance, getting louder.


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