Dinner Missed


nicole3_icon.gif zachery2_icon.gif

Scene Title Dinner Missed
Synopsis Progress and forward momentum look like different things to different people.
Date December 6, 2020

Bay Ridge: Miller Residence

A message left unread became a phone call ignored became a dinner missed.

The Miller household has since gone quiet, the sun has set, and an unfamiliar car rolls out into the street much quieter than the slam of one of its doors a moment later.

It isn't long before a jingle of keys sounds out just outside the home's front door, then turns into a barely audible but unpleasant clicking of metal on metal, a jamming of forementioned keys against the lock - but evidently not the right ones at first. The sound of success comes through the door unlocking, swinging on its hinges until very suddenly, it does not— caught by the door chain that runs across the narrow opening created.

On the other end, Zachery thuds his back against the wall, looking straight up rather than through the crack as he whispers, "Oh, for fuck's sake…"

Then, much more loudly and in cheery, slow sing-song, he tries with a cant of his head toward the entrance, "Honey, I'm home. Or very nearly!"

The door shuts and the chain rattles before the second sentence has a chance to finish. He’s been expected.

The door swings open again to find Nicole standing there, dressed in her jeans and one of his sweaters. Just as he left her this morning. The red rimming and the puffiness of her eyes can be appreciated even in the edges of the jaundiced light from the street lamps that line their street.

“What time do you call this then?” she asks in a voice that’s dry and ragged around the edges from what clearly has been no small amount of crying. She leans around the frame of the door to look for the truck and its driver, a deep set frown on her face. “Where the fuck is that Stoltz?” She’d expected better of him than to let a woman worry like she has.

There is no familiar truck behind Zachery, just the fading glow of a car's tail lights just disappearing out of sight.

"If I wanted to be reminded of the passage of tiiime, I'd wear a watch!" He answers with a grin, taking an uncoordinated step forward and only barely managing to avoid crashing into Nicole before he takes half a stumbling step back again, his hands up. Whoop.

This, in turn, drops the sleeves of his coat just low enough to show dark crimson gathered on the edges of the white below. He peers past Nicole rather than at her, as if recalculating his trajectory in his mind while proclaiming, "Stoltz left me!" It sounds almost sad, even if he immediately ruins any illusion by then also chucking out the addition of— "Thank fucking Christ."

“Are you fucking dru—” Nicole’s anger shifts instantly to alarm when she sees what she hopes to god isn’t blood on his sleeve. This idiot could have just set his entire cuff in a puddle of red wine for all she knows, but the places he frequents tend not to serve reds.

The places Harry might, however… That’s more of a wild card. Nicole tries to hold on to her anger, because it will keep her from spiraling into more panic. “Are you hurt?” she asks with concern, ushering her husband inside with careful hands on his shoulders to get him clear of the door so she can shut it up and lock it behind him again, chain and all.

“Did Harry hurt you?” Nicole stares up at Zachery’s face, reaching to lay a hand against his cheek. For once in a long while, she doesn’t have the telltale flush to her cheeks of alcohol. She’d stayed sober in case she’d needed to get to the hospital in a hurry, having feared the worst.

Easily lead forward, Zachery staggers inside. He doesn't necessarily need to answer the first question, all sluggish mannerisms when he reaches up for the hand on his face like he's not quite sure what it's doing up there.

"Nn—?" He attempts to answer, but words registering late draw an unburdened laugh from him. "No!" He leans in - close enough where Nicole can practically smell the Dirty Pool Pub in his coat when he beams and says, "But y'know what? I'd kinda like to see 'm try."

“What in the fuck is wrong with you?” Nicole demands to know. The fact that she doesn’t bother to keep her voice down tells him — if he’s bothering to think about it at all — that Pippa must not be in residence.

Scrubbing that hand over her own face down, she angles a look down at the floor while keeping it half-buried in her palm. When she lifts her head again, it’s with a reproachful and frustrated gaze. Nicole reaches for him again, but only to start shoving that coat off his shoulders so she can hang it up by the door properly. “I thought you were in a ditch somewhere. Or that the truck had broken down outside of cell range and you two idiots were going to freeze to death out there. Alone.”

Special Agent Worst Case Scenario.

Straightening up again, Zachery shakes his head. "Tsshhhno. Just— wassabarfight."

He puts his arms halfway up, for easier coat removal. And, coincidentally, for more revealing of that dried red stuff that seems to have leaked through the black wool on the front of his coat, and into the shirt below. "There's so much wrong with me but I'm fiiine, we're fine!"

Only now does he seem to get a proper look at Nicole's face, confidence wavering with a twitch of his brow.

He’s incredible, and not in that way that means anything good at the moment. It’s only because her shoes are still sitting by the door that he can’t hear her stomping her way to the coat tree to put it where it belongs. The moment stepped away gives her a chance to indulge in her misery, letting the gravity of it drag down the corners of her mouth and the lids of her eyes. One hard exhale is as close as she’ll allow herself to get to crying all over again, however.

Turning back as he insists we’re fine, her nails scrape over the rough texture of denim over the outside of her thighs. It gives her something to focus on beyond the desire to grab the nearest object with a satisfying enough heft to bludgeon some sense into him.

“Does it look like I’m fine?!” she asks instead. Maybe if he stops to think about someone other than himself for five fucking seconds…

Silence falls back over the room, Zachery lowering his arms as he turns to follow his wife's movement, the slack re-entering his posture.

Before he ever answers, he begins walking again. Meeting Nicole's gaze, smirk still present despite the concern that's got him speaking a little quieter now. "Mmmnnnnh," he considers, looking down, then back up. "Y'have all your limbs. Your beautiful face. Your—"

As if he only just now realises that's what it is, the last word leaves him with a quizzical pinch of his eyebrows in confusion. "—Anger?"

The slap to the face, albeit a light one as far as slaps in the face go, might clear up some of that confusion for him. “I. thought. you. were. dead!” she shouts, since he doesn’t seem to be getting that through his head. Her own volume causes her to wince. She hasn’t bothered to flip on any of the lights, and while he likely hasn’t pieced together why yet, maybe it will come into focus eventually.

“Instead,” Nicole starts again at a more conversational level of fury, “you were out getting wasted at the Pool and you didn’t think to tell me. It is long past when you should have been home. No one was picking up when I called and I—” refuse to start crying again, damn it. “After everything that’s…” She shakes her head quickly, the anger slowly having drained away. “I was scared.

Zachery stands motionless, face ever so slightly turned from the light impact he doesn't quite seem to have registered at the time it happened.

He lifts a hand to rub a wrist at his cheek, expression finally having fallen to neutral as he watches his wife. When he speaks again, it's with some extra effort put in to keep from slurring, emphasis as carefully placed as the step forward he takes to close the distance between them. "But I'm not dead. See?" He reaches with both hands for her waist as he recenters her in his vision. "And I came home to you."

How dare he manage to be so charming while stinking of so much booze? Nicole tucks her chin in toward her chest and leans forward until the top of her head connects with his chest. There is relief to have him here. To know that he came home. “It was really shitty not to call me,” she reminds him all the same.

“I’m going to do a murder,” she vows in a low voice, context not provided.

There's a weight that comes to rest on Nicole, both in the forward lean against her and the arms that wrap lazily around her back and shoulders.

There's a short pause, before - again - he laughs. Despite trying not to, so hard that its only escape is through gritted teeth.

"S—" he tries, stalls, then tries again, pulling Nicole closer still and asking into her hair, "Come again?"

He laughs because he thinks it’s a joke. That’s okay. But Nicole lifts her head again, if only to let her chin hook over his shoulder, her mouth set into a thin line. “Your stupid friend said he would bring you back to me and he didn’t, so there’s just nothing else for it, is there?”

She has to be joking, right?

“You don’t just go around disrespecting people and breaking promises. It’s an honor thing now. It’s about integrity,” Nicole insists. “I don’t make the rules, the mob did. I just have to abide by them.”


"Ahh— alright, yeah— yes." Zachery mutters, staring off into the dark room ahead with a mixture of confusion and worry dragging his voice down and slanting his eyebrows.

Meanwhile, one of his hands slides upward, past sweater neckline, until his fingers rest against the base of her skull. "Ohhh thooouuugh maybe— perhaps we wait. A little bit. Yes? Twooo monthsish? Give or take. Before doing another murder?"

The touch of his hand rouses her a bit from her manic screed about how and why this all has to go down. Nicole leans away so they can look at each other properly again, but with no intention of breaking contact entirely.

“Two months? That seems an awfully arbitrary marker of—” Nicole’s lips purse up tight when the rest of that sentence is bit off, head turning slightly and eyes narrowing. “What do you mean another murder?”

Curious wording, and curiouser still is Zachery's stare back. He searches her expression with a narrowing of his eyes, the hand lower on her back sliding dooowwnn and then up under that sweater— cold fingers pressed against warm skin. His grin returns, widening at a thought unvoiced.

He picks one question over the other, deciding for the both of them, "February 14th. You're taking a week off."

"Zachery…" Her tone is warning, even as her spine goes straight under the chill of his fingers, her skin prickling with goosebumps. She used to be so warm that would have been soothing. There's a pang of longing there for the loss of her ability. She doesn't think about it often, having lost something far more precious to her that nothing else could rate.

She relaxes into his touch. "Zachery," she echoes, now all blunted edges, and soft in the center. It radiates regret. "You… You know that timing's going to hit me hard. I- need my work." But something in her brings her to pause.

Nicole looks up and cradles her husband's face gently in her hands. "Tell me what you need." Everyone always asks her how they can help. Nobody ever asks him. She realizes now she's been among them.

Also, his diversionary tactic has succeeded.

The prompt is a good one. And yet, like an unfamiliar set of tools, Zachery holds any potential answers like he isn't quite sure how to wield them.

So he doesn't.

"Fuck what either of us need!" He derails with absolutely zero consideration for the space between them and the way his voice is raised within it. As if some subconscious part of him anticipates certain consequences of this outburst, both of his hands find Nicole's wrists, fingers wrapping tightly around. Much tighter than they might have been had he, too, not lost what insight he might have had before July of last year.

He wheezes out a laugh, unsteady first— until incredulity and a new flare of harsh confidence takes it over, his stare into her face growing more severe. "None of us gets what we need— so I'm taking what I want! Which is you, and our honeymoon. We could go anywhere!"

The sudden forcefulness of him — the volume, the grasp — it takes her by surprise and makes her eyes grow wide. Nicole doesn’t flinch, but she does curl her fingers in toward her palms as her hands leave his face. Her attempts at romantic concern are smashed to pieces in the face of his drunk nihilism that he’s dressing up to look more like hedonism.

Her practical brain makes it difficult for her to want to give in to this, as much as she might want to simply throw caution to the wind, flip double birds to their reality, and go hide from it all on a sunny beach somewhere. The niggling fear of what if something happened to them while they were away won’t leave her alone.

“You’re hurting me,” Nicole says quietly. She isn’t sure she’s talking about his fingers constricted around her wrists.

"No—" Denial leaves Zachery first, before anything else. Before the truth dawns on him, finally, and his fingers relax, hands drawn toward himself again, breath catching.

"'M sorry," he mumbles as he turns away, taking a few unstable steps further into the home. The couch seems as good a direction as any - it might be where he's sleeping anyway. Whatever amused him so much before at least no longer colours his voice when he adds in a tone so deeply steeped in discomfort they may as well be razorblades, "Sorry for— that, sorry for being late, sorry for… I've had— I've had… too much." Of everything.

Christ. If he lays down, she’ll never get him back up again, and he is far too far away from either of the bathrooms for this nonsense tonight. “C’mon,” Nicole directs, reaching now to grab for his wrists instead. “It’s okay. I’m okay,” she assures him.

Nothing’s okay. Least of all her.

But he’s only a drop in the ocean of the list of reasons why she’s not okay. “You’re going to be okay, too.” She hopes, anyway. That’s why they got married, isn’t it? Because things were going to be okay if they just… stuck together. That’s how it was supposed to work.

Still, she desperately wants to cry. It feels like all she does anymore when she has her downtime. “Let’s go get out of these clothes and curl up together in the dark and talk. Okay?”

Zachery's brakes are busted. He continues forward, only allowing for one of his wrists to be grabbed - but only so he can lift Nicole's hand with it. Without taking his eye off of the clearly perilous path ahead, he presses a kiss against her fingers.


It takes a little doing to get him down the hall without it being a game of Brick Out along the walls, where he’s the ball that’s artfully found its way between two rows and is simply bouncing back and forth, but they manage it. Nicole provides further balance for him to shed his boots and pants, but leaves him to handle the rest, since he can be seated on the bed to do that. She seems to sense a tremor in the air when he means to speak again and looks up from where she’s peeling out of his sweater on her side of the bed.

"Okay. I think I… have something."

Zachery lies back on the bed in the near dark, shirt tossed freshly onto the ground where he can deal with it tomorrow, staring up at the ceiling while pulling the blanket halfway across himself. Queasily, he grimaces, then looks for Nicole to repeat, more insistently, "I have something."

Nicole absently adjusts the strap of her camisole as she steps on the hem of one pant leg so she can extricate her foot from it, repeating the process on the other leg before crawling in under the covers with her husband. The door to the master bathroom has been left wide open so the night light can guide the way, should it prove necessary. She’ll put up with the source of light for the evening.

Rolling onto her side, she props herself up on one elbow, resting her head on her palm. “Is it contagious?”

"I…" Zachery manages in response, before nausea or confusion or possibly both grabs hold with a sharp exhale through his nose. Still, though it's a clear struggle between drunkenness and reluctance, his focus stays on Nicole's face. He's calmer now, if only just. "I hope so."

He waits only a beat before saying with a straight face, "I have a need."

That prompts Nicole to glance at the nightstand to ensure that she did remember to bring in a bottle of water for him. Satisfied that she completed that task, she returns her own attention to her husband’s face, brows lifted with her curiosity.

“Well?” she asks gently. “What is it?”

"I need us to move," Zachery offers unhelpfully, neck craned as he tries to fix his bleary look at his wife.

And he does move— but only just to shove himself up onto his elbows. "I need us to move," he repeats, with a little more urgency, drunken seriousness fully engaged in the pinch of his brow and a real, partially successful attempt at more clipped words. "Forward, or— or sideways or…"

There's another direction that sounds like might follow, but he gets distracted before its turn is up. "Felt like myself today— because I made progress. But we need to move. I need to go. With you. We need to progress."

“Metaphorically, or—” This house is paid for. Nicole’s not inclined to physically pick up, but he makes himself clear enough for her to get the gist after a moment. “Okay,” she says gently, reaching out to rest her hand on his bicep and rubbing up and down in a manner she hopes is comforting. Something to keep him connected to the moment.

“So, tell me about that progress. What was it? What did it look like? How’d you… achieve it?” Nicole knows how she feels like she accomplishes these things, but it’s become apparent that she and her husband have different styles when it comes to coping and moving forward.

"I ended up at a Humanis First camp, shot a man," Zachery answers flatly in the face of encouragement and comfort, "possibly twice, and then struck him in the face until I beat the literal life out of him."

Nicole’s hand stills and she stares very intently at her husband the moment the words Humanis First leave his mouth. Her breath is held unconsciously, frozen in this moment of disbelief.

But not horror.

“My therapist would call that regression,” Nicole counters evenly. At least that explains the earlier comment she’d lost sight of. It doesn’t occur to her to ask him why he ended up there. Or maybe it does, but she doesn’t want the answer.

She can craft a tidy enough narrative where he and Harry were out hunting for geese or deer and stumbled on the camp. They were attacked. They had to fight for their lives. Zachery did what he had to do.

Is it really so wrong to beat a bigot to death?

Why does her head suddenly start swimming? She smells blood and smoke.

Nicole shakes it off. “Okay. What do I need to do with that? Do you need an alibi? Do I need to make a body disappear? What?” Totally normal things to ask in this sort of situation. Any wife would do it.

Questions so normal it draws another stunned chuckle out of Zachery - and then a second, more relieved echo of the first as his grin returns.

He stirs, mumbling all the way as he climbs over the bed, "You are un-fucking-believable."

He lands a palm flat on the mattress on the either side of Nicole, half clambered across to put his face over hers, as if it will help him get his drunken point across. "What I need is a honeymoon. What I need is for our lives to move somewhere— if…"

He wavers for a second, still wrestling the edges back into his words to keep them from mushing together, self-aware of the accent that's sharpening up as he does so but carrying on despite. "If that's regression," he says with spite through a tightened jaw, pulling his voice a smidge lower, "I'll regress right the fuck forward, I'll regress my way to fucking success before I make my inevitable way down to hell's fucking fires. The world's a fucking mess and you can be there one moment and then be gone because some maniac decided you shouldn't be— why can't that maniac be us?"

As he means to crawl over her, Nicole rolls over onto her back to accommodate, eyes still fixed on him, expression inscrutable. She watches the tension coil tighter in him, realizing it’s only a matter of time before that trap snaps, and she might be caught in it.

She considers her position, the way he has her all but pinned where she is. He’s drunk, so she’s probably faster. If she doesn’t get tangled in the bedsheets. Nicole stays put, but she asks in a very even voice, “Like when you drove the car into the side of that building?”

This brings pause to Zachery's actions and thoughts both. He might not have much in the way of breaks at the moment, but as is the case with the current subject, there's more than one way to affect inertia.

His eye darts between Nicole's two, before he shakes his head and retakes the conversational wheel with no less intensity than before. "Like… like when you lived through that!" He insists, humourless grin back on his face - though frustration warps it slightly closer to a sneer before long. "When even though— despite my mistakes, my… faults, my… everything, you chose to stay. Some of it out of fear, maybe…"

His expression falls again, the thoughts that brought it on fighting the rest of him. Maybe that's why he sounds like some of the energy's been drained from him when, a little quieter, he adds, "But it can't all have been that. It can't all have been that, to carry us— through all of this since. We've got to have more, right? Better."

Haven’t most of their big moments been defined by moments of her very real terror? Their first real date, the crash, his retrieval from Providence… Nicole allows herself to finally let her eyes roam away from that manic look on his face. She’s searching for an answer to his question, because fucking hell there has to have been something other than the fact that he got her pregnant that made this happen.

That can’t be the glue that held them together.

But there are other things. His encouragements, the way he looks after her, the way he’s stepped up to help her with Pippa since her accident… There’s a lot to appreciate. And sometimes she catches him looking at her like she’s the only thing in the entire universe.

It’s just kind of hard to see those things right now when she’s back to staring up at that face he’s making, and she wonders if he wouldn’t like to veer the metaphorical car off the road again and see if this one takes. “Of course. Don’t be daft.” She’s playing dismissive when she knows that’s dangerous with him right now. He wants to be heeded. Nicole’s simply afraid of feeding into it.

Zachery's face sinks a little closer, but not necessarily intentionally. Rather, with the slack that enters one of his arms that he does not particularly seem to notice between slow blinks. "Okay, so… we're going, then."

He leans off to one side, gradually, until he's fallen halfway back onto his side with an arm still across Nicole's shoulders, his face gracelessly hitting the space between pillows. Thoughts heeded and battery drained with one last burst of words fitted in where they had to be. "Feb… February or…" The next blink goes unfinished, eyelids falling. "Your birthday's prob'ly too early, I want more than just… just…"

How many of these very necessary words he'll remember in the morning remains to be seen.

There’s a million reasons Nicole can think of not to go, but Zachery’s in no state to hear any of them. Maybe when he’s sober they can have a real talk about this. One that takes into consideration her feelings, and her very real difficulties with the timing he’s chosen. The raw wounds that haven’t healed yet.

The tension in her doesn’t quite release when he falls to the bed in a way that isn’t on top of her or otherwise holding her down, but it’s enough to send a shuddered exhale through her. It takes three more audibly shaky breaths to peel her from the metaphorical ceiling. His arm is still slung across her, and she’s trying to shift gears into the mode that allows her to take comfort from that in the way she usually does.

“You need your rest,” she says gently. So does she, but she hasn’t gotten any of that to speak of for a month now. Her edges are more than frayed at this point. And with no relief from the headaches… “We can talk more about it tomorrow after you make me breakfast.” What a stark change that’s been, too.

Zachery stirs, his breathing steadying, before willing himself to say just a few last words, weighted with effort. "I'll make…" Breakfast?

He falls silent again, but it's only a few seconds before the waking world reclaims him one more time, with a twitch of his fingers against her skin, and then finally the muttered rest of his sentence.

"… Make it up to you."

Nicole reaches up and loosely curls her fingers around Zachery’s forearm to bring him some measure of comfort that she’s here and not going anywhere. “I know,” she murmurs. As he falls asleep, she stares up at the ceiling, fighting it.

It grasps for her exhausted mind, but every time her eyes drift shut for more than a second, she re-opens them with a renewed intensity, wide stares are deep breaths to keep her mind from giving in. She shifts further down the mattress to lay more fully against the clean towel set beneath her. It will mitigate the damage when she loses this battle.

Eventually, she succumbs as she always does, drawn into the realm of her nightmares where she’ll remain captive, whimpering and twitching with the smaller intimations of the grander motions of the attempted escape from her mind. In the end, it’ll be either the concerned timbre of her husband’s voice, the small hand on her shoulder, or the wail of her alarm that brings her back to life.

Gasping and drenched in a cold sweat.

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