Did You Know Steve Rickham?


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Scene Title Did You Know Steve Rickham?
Synopsis Magnes finally tracks down the woman who bears his name, and she isn't who he expected.
Date January 10, 2020

Dirty Pool Pub

Another day, another dollar, as the saying goes. With another week closing out, Nicole Varlane sits at the bar at the Dirty Pool Pub, her second gin and tonic of the evening in front of her. Things are finally starting to come together. The dominos are lined up and just need a nudge. But until that time, there’s not much to do but wait. And the wait is terrible.

Hence the drink.

The BlackBerry is set out on the bartop and scrolled through idly. There are no messages to catch up on — those she is always on top of — and she’s not much for social media, but there are pictures of her youngest daughter sent to her by her older one. Nicole looks at the digital photographs, a little glassy eyed. She misses Pippa terribly, but knows she’s safer where she’s at, with her security detail.

Soon, this will be over, and they’ll be able to reunite. Or so Nicole tells herself.

"Steve?" Magnes barely made a sound when he walked in, he sometimes has a tendency to severely soften his footsteps when he's nervous.

He sits at the bar and offers his hand, wearing a black t-shirt that has large bold white print saying 'Occult Club'. She may have seen an occasional random person on the street wearing such a shirt lately, never with any other variations or colors. "Sorry, I think I've maybe seen you somewhere or we have mutuals maybe. Uh, anyway, I heard Nicole Varlane hangs out around here."

The first name doesn’t grab her attention. Nobody’s called her Steve in almost a decade. But it’s almost impossible not to notice when someone comes to sit down next to her, and belatedly she realizes it’s her that’s being addressed. When Nicole looks over at him, it’s with a stare of disbelief when she registers who it is.

“Magnes Varlane,” she breathes out, stunned. “Jesus. I’d heard you— You’d come back, but—”

He doesn’t know who she is. That’s a belated realization too. “Oh…” His offered hand is glanced at and she wipes her hand on her skinny jeans to make sure it doesn’t carry condensation from her glass before she gives hers in turn to shake. “You’re talking to her.”

"Wait so…" Magnes rather softly shakes her hand. He's often gentle with people in general, for various reasons. "Okay I admit I'm kind of confused about a lot of things, and there are things I'm not at liberty to discuss, but your name is Nicole and not Steve, and in fact every time someone's ever mentioned Nicole Varlane they've meant you?" he asks, for clarity.

"So… you changed your name from Steve to Nicole Varlane?" He's just trying to understand this. "I admit I've had a lot of stuff going on and I haven't read much in the way of briefing and haven't really fully caught up on all the war stuff… I mean, from my very out of country stuff I was doing."

Yeah, he hasn't really been having many conversations with people where he actually had to avoid interdimensional stuff.

Doesn't come up much with the wrestlers and construction workers he hangs out with.

Nicole narrows her gaze as she tries to follow along with all of what Magnes is saying. For the most part, it makes sense. She isn’t supposed to know, but she does know about where he was, and the things he’s not at liberty to discuss. At least, a broad overview of it.

“My name is and always has been Nicole,” she tells him, unsure of how much of her own information she should divulge here. “You of all people shouldn’t know who Steve Caiati is.” That’s a life — a lie — long ago buried. “I was Nicole Nichols. You know my sister, Colette.”

"Oh, I knew it was Steve Ri— oh right, maiden name, got it." Magnes holds up a finger and quickly nods his head. "I think I finally understand this. And wow, your sister is Colette? I really need to meet up with her again. I've been literally practicing my discussion with her for a while." By literally having the discussion with every Colette he meets.

"All I really know is that you were trying to honor my death? I mean, I did technically die at some point. Just, becoming a blackhole didn't kill me, turns out I'm immune to my own gravity. But being a blackhole is pretty painful and emotionally traumatizing. I won't get into the esoteric details, people always get bored." He shrugs, and motions the bartender for a drink, assuming there even is still a bartender. "It's not a bad name, and pretty much everyone in my family has done something memorable, for better or worse. Well, my mother was mostly just a good mother, but that's memorable, isn't it?"

The more he speaks, the more Nicole’s chin lifts upward, always on the verge of nodding some kind of understanding, but there’s always more to acknowledge, so she’s practically got her head tilted to the ceiling by the time he seems to come up for air. Her chin comes down then. “Yes. Being a good mother is memorable,” she agrees, encouragingly.

When the bartender comes over to take his order, Nicole flashes a smile and insists, “He’s on my tab, Bruce. Thanks.” The burly man stops only long enough to find out what Magnes would like before lumbering back down to the other end of the bar to actually fetch it. By now, he knows better than to stick around when Nicole’s having a conversation. She’s not the type of person one eavesdrops on if they want to stay out of trouble.

Now, she just has to decide where to begin. “You were at Natazhat.” She doesn’t need to specify when. “You… What you did meant that we survived,” she says. “It meant my baby sister survived.” That, above all else, is the most important thing to Nicole. “Colette… She wanted us to give up our family name. Our parents were… Well, you and I could probably argue which of our fathers is the bigger monster until we’re both blue in the face and never decide on a winner.” If she’d known then what she knows now about Pete Varlane, well, that wouldn’t have been the name she chose.

“I wanted to honor a hero. So, when my daughter was born, that’s what I did. When I got back to the States, I started calling myself Nicole Varlane. Made it legal when the war was over.” She looks down into her cocktail and lifts her brows, puffing out her cheeks briefly with a heavy exhale. “I don’t regret choosing to honor you, but I won’t say it hasn’t been awkward,” she admits.

"I mean, I guess after saving or at least trying to save so many, uh, let's just say places. And fought so many megalomaniacs and dictators, it feels pretty cool to have someone take my name. I know that wasn't why you did it, but it kind of makes the last nearly decade of my life feel a little less thanklessly exhausting." Magnes ordered a Rolling Rock, because that's just the basic thing he's settled into drinking over the years.

He stares over at her, the unmistakable look of disbelief in his eyes that he's not good enough to even try to hide. "It's just kind of amazing to see you. I mean, I know we've never met, and even if we did hypothetically meet, I know we probably weren't close or anything in that scenario, but… wow this is so hard I really hate this."

Taking a deep breath, he closes his eyes for a moment, then opens them, regaining his composure a bit. "Someone once told me that when people die, their essence kind of spreads or moves to the next timeline, and they continue living on in some way through the version of them still alive, adding a little something extra to their soul. And as more and more die, you become closer to being your whole self."

“Amazing? To see me?” Nicole shakes her head. It isn’t that the other things he’s said aren’t worth remarking upon — they are, certainly — but her thoughts are a little derailed by the praise. “I’m nobody,” she insists.

History will say that isn’t true. Many people now already say it isn’t. But Nicole has always been uncomfortable with her status as a war hero. She doesn’t feel terribly heroic on the best of days.

"Nobody is nobody." Magnes gets his beer, then flicks the cap off with his finger, which flies up onto the ceiling and just kind of stays there. "I've met so many men who thought they were gods, that they were changing the world, or summoning a god, or telling me about my ultimate power or whatever else."

He just kind of rolls his eyes at it all. "We're all just people. Our abilities, how many people know who we are, that doesn't really mean anything. What means something are the people we touch, the people we connect with, who need us in their lives or who we leave a positive impression on, no matter how fleeting. Or who leave an impression on us." He takes a swig of his beer, smiling now.

"It's amazing to see you because, for reasons beyond explanation, seeing you makes me feel a little more alive, makes reality seem a little less hopeless. It's all really thin, you know? Don't worry about all these things that don't matter." He raises a finger and pokes the space between them with a finger, causing it to distort slightly for a brief moment. "That's the universe right there, just a little thing you can poke. I'm more interested in you as a person than a big grand thing."

Nicole follows the path of Magnes’ bottle cap to the ceiling and lets her gaze linger there for a moment before she accepts that this is just how that is going to be, and turns her attention back to him again while he speaks. When he smiles, she finds herself smiling back.

“I don’t know what you could possibly want to know about me,” she says a little helplessly. “Really, there’s… Not much to know. But, I guess if you ask me about what you want to know, I can try and tell you.”

"I guess I mostly wonder who are you, what's your life? You know, I'm sure you're at least familiar with some of the crazy stuff we experience, if you know Colette. I have two daughters, one is pretty young, but she's smart like her mother. My other daughter came from the future, she's also smart, but she takes more after me, so probably not smart like her mother." Magnes can't help but laugh at that, watching her rather earnestly as he seems to be genuinely curious about her.

"I know this is a very dad thing, but what's your daughter like? How's the whole mother thing treating you? Do you also feel the weird compulsion to buy your daughter everything on an entire aisle of toys? Sorry, I kind of became one of those people." He reaches into his pocket, pulling out a wallet where he's got a roll of photos of both Addie and Adel, showing them off.

Nicole’s brows lift in mild surprise at the mention of two daughters. That she understands very well. Better than he probably understands. “My daughters,” she says quietly, but with an appropriate amount of significance on the plural, “are great. They both take after their father.” There’s a slight amount of bitterness at that. But of all the people for Phillipa and Ingrid to take after, they could do much worse than Benjamin Ryans, no matter how angry she is with him right now.

“I love my girls more than anything in the world. I just… wish I was a better mom.” Nicole smiles sadly. “Pippa doesn’t ask for too much, honestly. She’s a great kid. Very practical. Not sure where she gets that from. Maybe from me.” She looks over the photos of his girls, then pulls up a picture of Pippa and Ingrid together. “Your girls are beautiful. Here’s mine.”

"I'm sure you're a fine mom. Everyone kind of sucks a little. If you even half understood how complicated my parenting situation was, I think you'd believe me when I say that what matters is that you're really trying your best, and doing everything you can. " Magnes smiles as he looks at her picture, nodding. "When my life settled a bit, maybe we can have our kids meet. Well, Adel isn't much of a kid anymore, but Addie could definitely use some friends here."

“Your Adel and my Ingrid are already acquainted,” Nicole murmurs gently. She understands at least some of his difficult parenting situation. “You and I are both standing in the shadows cast by our future selves. We just… have to figure out how to outdo them. Us?”

Nicole dismisses the notion with the wave of her hand. “Whatever. I’m sure Pippa will get along with Addie just fine.” Her brow furrows then and she squints at Magnes. “Wait. Did you name your daughter after your daughter?”

"Okay so here's the thing, I just kind of assumed that any daughter I'd have would be the same daughter because of the timelines. But instead Addie is a totally different person with red hair and everything. I didn't even think she'd be a boy or anything." Magnes explains with a slight laugh, rubbing the back of his neck. "About when I realized her hair was red, we just started calling her Addie."

"I think that they'll always think we're just as cool as any other parent they had. I mean, I ripped open a hole in the universe just to get back to her, with my mind." he states without thinking, and then holds up a finger. "Metaphorically speaking, I mean. In a video game."

“You realize now that’s not how DNA works, I hope,” Nicole asks with a wince. “There’s no such thing as predestination. And the insane happenstance of DNA combinations is the ultimate proof of that.” A faint smile takes up residence on her face. “When I was pregnant with Pippa, back at Natazhat, Howard asked me if I knew what I was going to name her. He was either expecting me to say Ingrid, or he was going to suggest it. But Pippa and Ingrid are not even remotely the same person.”

She shakes her head and sighs softly. “Even if the stars had somehow aligned and they had the exact same configuration of DNA and RNA and chromosomes and… all of that, those two girls would still not be the same person. Pippa’s experiences are going to be vastly different from Ingrid’s. She could be her mirror image and still not be the same. It wouldn’t have been fair to put the weight of that expectation on her shoulders. It wouldn’t have been fair to Ingrid to say that I got a do-over.”

The gin and tonic is lifted to her lips for a long swallow that drains the last of it. It’s set closer to the inside of the bar and she lifts her hand in the air to catch Bruce’s attention, letting him know she needs a refill. She’s acknowledged with a nod. “By all accounts, I was a terrible mother to Ingrid. I’m doing everything I can not to let history repeat itself.”

"I was young and pretty stupid, I think I just read too many comics and watched too many movies. As far as I know, I was a good dad to Adel, I just kind of died and that was the main problem there." Magnes shrugs, then crosses his arms, leaning back. "Technically I died here too, but, well, I'm not good at staying dead. And me turning into a black hole is barely any different from you turning into electricity, except probably a lot more painful."

He reaches over to gently pat her on the shoulder. "Listen, you're not the same you who raised Ingrid. I've met so many Magnes', and most of them were nothing like me. You can't compare yourself to, well, yourself, it's pointless. There's a Magnes out there who doesn't even call his ability the same thing as me, even though they're the same ability." He points at her, directly in the face. "You're you, you're Nicole Varlane. You chose to take my name, and having the Varlane name means that no matter how bad you fuck up, you'll figure out how to make up for it in the end, you'll figure out how to do good, to do your best! Just don't listen to my dad, he sucks."

Nicole’s brow furrows in confusion at Magnes’ comparison of their abilities. “I don’t.” Turn into electricity. “But I take your point, I think.” With her refill set in front of her, she wastes no time in taking a long drink from that, too. This conversation is heavier than what she expected to have with anybody tonight.

She leans back a little when he points at her face, blinking in surprise at the suddenness of his proximity and the intensity of his pep talk. He wouldn’t be the first to think she needs one. He won’t be the last. But she nods slowly. “You, ah… You said something earlier that I found kind of curious, but wasn’t sure what to say about it at first.”

Her dark head tips to one side, eyes narrowing a touch with her scrutiny. “You said Caiati was my maiden name, and you started to call me something different. What… What was that all about?”

"Hypothetically speaking, let's say that I had a lot of adventures through time and space, some real Hiro Nakamura-esque stuff, without getting into deeper details than that, and let's say that on one of those time and space adventures, I met Steve Rickham, first lady of the United States." Magnes pauses a moment, and looks over at her. "You're not the first lady of the United States here, right? I keep forgetting who the president is. I'm not gonna lie it's kind of hard to keep up, and at a certain point I just stopped caring that much about things like that if they aren't actively trying to kill me."

"Don't worry, things likely won't turn out like that here, it was a long time ago. That time kind of passed. You're not the Steve I knew. I didn't know her well, but from what I did know, you're different. But… one thing I've learned is that there's a core essence that people share, regardless of their experiences. There's a certain something that makes people who they are, makes them do things that most people would never do, couldn't do. That's how I know you're a good person." He smiles, then takes a long drink of his beer. Certain things need to be drowned out.

"I wish I got to know her. There's so many people I wish I got to know. But here, in this universe, in my universe, you're my Steve, the one I'd have met naturally if I never left. And there's something in me that's grateful that you're still here, in my home." He has a very bittersweet tone, but every word he says has a certain sincerity to it, like he's remembering a million different things, and there's an equal amount of things left entirely unsaid. "Sorry, it's really hard to get used to calling you Nicole. I'll learn."

“You don’t have to keep saying hypothetically,” Nicole suggests with a small frown, about to expound upon that thought when he barrels right on through and continues to provide his explanation. When he pauses to ask his question, she shakes her head, suddenly feeling very uncomfortably numb. No, she is not not the First Lady of the United States.

By the time he’s finished, there are tears rolling down her cheeks. Nicole exhales a shuddering sigh and reaches up to scratch at an itch on her face, only to find her fingers coming away wet. She paws at her cheeks to wipe the tears away, angry with herself. For caring. For feeling. For breaking.

“Allen had a hard time getting used to that here, too.” How many nights had she laid awake when she was so much younger, imagining being advisor to President Rickham? She hadn’t even dared to dream about being First Lady. Somewhere, in another world, she had been. Fresh tears flow and one of Nicole’s hands clenches into a fist while the other one wipes at her face again.

“Yes,” she says finally, “things are very different here. Allen’s been dead for years.” Twice over. She’s never fully recovered from that. “Did you get a chance to meet him?” she asks, genuine curiosity driving the question.

"I met him here, yeah. He once asked me to go save the world with him. I forget which time exactly. I know it sounds weird but it's not easy keeping all of these huge events straight in my head, especially when I was young and barely knew what was going on around me." Magnes admits, reaching into his pocket to pull out a white scarf with gold lettering that says Miss Billions, and a tiny EOW logo off to the side.

He offers it over, in case she needs it.

"Beyond this world, I met him many times. He's a strong man, stronger than anyone could ever imagine. We broke out of prison together once. He'd been locked up and unable to move for years, they made it so he'd die if he moved even an inch out of his hardened form. Emotionally he completely shut down, that would have broken anyone else." he explains, showing a clear admiration for the man, with a hell of a lot of passion in the way he conveys every word of the story.

"But we told him, this is real, we're leaving, he doesn't have to stay trapped anymore. And he came through, he broke through the psychological prison he had to trap himself in under those conditions. If not for him, if not for multiple versions of Rickham, I would probably not be alive and talking to you right now." He has to take a drink again, it's hard not to take a drink after remembering all that.

Nicole tries to steady herself. First, just be sheer force of will. Then, with another drink of alcohol. She refuses the offered scarf, option for a napkin instead. She smiles shakily at tales of the resilience of Allen Rickham, clearly full of pride, but also filled with sorrow in equal measures.

“He was the best of men,” Nicole agrees, scrubbing the back of her hand under her nose with a sharp, but quiet sniff. “I— If he lives on in another world…” She nods her head slowly, like she’s deciding now that’s a good thing. “I guess that takes some of the burden off of me,” she jokes with a weak laugh. “I’ve always felt like I had to carry him with me, so he can still live in some way.”

Elbows come down on the bar to rest and she buries her face in her hands. Her dark hair falls about her face, veiling it from Magnes’ view. “God, I miss him.”

"My fiance was taken from me, the very moment we arrived back here. I'm not convinced that she's truly dead, but even if she isn't, I have no idea if I'll ever see her again. And, to make matters more complicated, in this universe my fiance lives on as my ex who I dated before her. I don't claim I make the most universe stabilizing decisions, but my ex, who is a good friend who I care deeply about, having the same face, voice, and sometimes even similar ways of thinking… it can be tough." Magnes averts his eyes to the bartop, his thoughts going miles away for a few moments.

"But the one thing I learned is that even if you can't just replace people, and you really can't, you can at least imagine that in the grand scheme of the multiverse, no one truly dies. I know that this all has to mean something, in the tapestry of existence." He reaches out to her, reaching to pinch the air in a way that she can more clearly see, pulls on it slightly, then lets it go like rubber until space is back to normal. "Having stood in between that, this fabric of the universe… I felt it all, connected to it all. It just… it felt as if I was whole in that moment when I could feel everything, infinity, far more than any human could imagine."

He reaches to take her hand, mostly a comforting gesture. "And it's what made me believe what a version of myself said, that we're all connected, that we're fractured versions of one soul that'll be whole again one day…"

“Some of us are more fractured than others, Magnes.” Nicole doesn’t pull her hand away, but nor does she seem terribly comforted. Watching him manipulate the apparently thin fabric of the universe doesn’t entirely help either. All it means is that there is something so very flimsy standing between herself and the man she loves, and it’s something she has no ability to overcome.

“You’re lucky,” she insists. “I get that she’s not the same person. I know she can’t replace the one you knew, but… You still have her in your life, somehow. Improbably. You still have that chance to see her smile and laugh and… Enjoy her life, even if it isn’t with you.”

Nicole pulls her hand away then and stares off across the bar, clearly pained to her very soul, spirit broken. “All I have left of Allen are memories of him shutting the door on us. That’s the legacy he left me.”

"I sometimes wonder if it's natural, the things that we can do, the things that we're allowed to do. Well, I'm literally a Nazi experiment, but I guess I mean when we're just gifted these things and thrown out into the universe." Magnes holds up a hand to order another drink, he definitely could use another one of those. "It's difficult, knowing what's out there, knowing what might be possible to pursue. But the consequences are so huge, it's like the universe telling us that there are things that we just shouldn't do. All I can really do, all I can hope to do, is possibly try to make reality seem a bit less bleak, you know?"

"We're new friends. We've lost a lot, we've really lost a lot of the same things, but in all that loss, we also found each other here. We're a new connection, a whole new thing being born in the aftermath of all the bad we've experienced." This time he outright offers her his hand, a far more meaningful gesture than what he attempted earlier. "You took my name, and while I know it was to honor me, I want to maybe become someone who can help you have new experiences, a new person to relate to, someone to talk about all of these bad and good things with. My family has experienced a lot of loss, but my mother was an incredible woman, my sisters have seemingly only tried to do good. If you want to be in my family, you're free to. Like some weird friend marriage."

He pauses, thinking for a moment, then laughs. "Okay, maybe that last one has weird implications, but you get it."

To Nicole, it feels like he glosses over her pain, but she doesn’t blow up. Just listening, with her bottom lip captured between her rows of teeth, letting that pain keep her grounded and from crying any more than she already has.

The offered hand is stared at, considered. “I get what you’re saying,” she confirms. “But I don’t think for a minute that you understand what I’m going through. What I’m feeling.” Gradually, she lifts her gaze back up to his face. “And that’s fine. You said it yourself, you’ve been through a lot on your own. You’ve got your own shit to get wrapped up in.”

It’s more for her own benefit than for his that she tells him, “I don’t need your sympathy.”

Now, she takes his hand and gives it a shake. “It’s nice to formally meet you again, Magnes J Varlane.” Then, she knocks back the last of her drink and shoves her phone back into her pocket after sliding off her stool. “Bruce!” she calls for the bartender’s attention as he drops off another beer for Magnes. “Whatever he wants for the rest of the night is on me. I’ll be back tomorrow to settle up.” He knows she’s good for it. Her government money flows easily here.

“Take care of yourself, kid,” she tells him, a serious nod of her head to make sure he knows she means that. She wants him to look after himself. “I’ll see you around.”

"I can't truly understand what you're going through, because I'm not you. But I hope that one day you can find some comfort in our friendship, and that my empathy for you helps in some way." Magnes emphasizes the word, empathy, rather than sympathy, but otherwise holds up a hand, to see her off. "It was nice meeting you, and you can call me any time."

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