Eat, Drink, and Be Married


nicole_icon.gif zachery_icon.gif

Scene Title Eat, Drink, and Be Married
Synopsis First the ceremony, now the party!
Date April 4, 2020

Merlot Joe's


The ceremony went off without a hitch. Her sister had walked her down the aisle and only threatened bodily harm in the very faintest of whispers when handing her off. The vows had been exchanged. No one lost the rings. Everything was perfect.

Now, the celebration.

Nicole Miller sits at the head table, sipping ginger ale from a champagne flute so as not to feel left out when there’s a toast. Her daughter’s off on the dance floor with her best friend having the time of her life. And her new husband is…

Mrs. Miller lifts her chin and scans the patio for a sign of the man she married.

She does not have to look for him for long, because as fate has it, he's been looking for her, too.

He's been on his best behaviour, but there's something wary in the glance he throws over his shoulder, now. Something he's been carefully pushing down all day long, even if it's reserved for almost everyone except Nicole.

She is safety in this scenario — the way he sinks down into a seat next to her and immediately grabs one of her hands in both of his own should drive that point home with ease. He drags it closer, and without looking away from the guests, breathes with a fixed smile his wife knows to be more habit than not, "This is a lot."

He pauses, if only for a beat. "Thank you for taking care of it."

Nicole allows her hand to be captured and smiles easily. “You’re welcome.” Just to get that out of the way immediately. “This is nothing compared to some of the events I used to organize, though. It… Really, it was a breeze.”

He knows that isn’t true. He overheard her on phone calls and grumbling while writing e-mail missives. All so that this day, this moment, could come together. Still, as fraught as it may have been, it all appears to be worth it, judging from the way she practically glows just to be sitting next to him, holding his hand.

And she wouldn’t be Nicole if she didn’t downplay her own efforts.

There will be plenty of time yet to remind her not to. But for now, Zachery chooses a different avenue of conversation, sliding a glance over to Nicole to admit, "I've been dodging Damian."

His expression remains stuck on what's appropriate for a pleasant conversation, voice lowered just slightly as a crease creeps onto his brow, "Do you think he's noticed?"

Nicole’s brows lift, and for all anyone can tell, he’s just said something as innocuous as I’ve been thinking about what to have for dinner tomorrow night. “Oh, yes,” she responds, angling a look away from the revelers gathered and back to her husband. “He knows literally no one else here. There’s not a chance on God’s green earth he hasn’t noticed.”

Oh, look. There he is now. Nicole beams a wide smile and lifts her arm to wave at him with three fingers (because the thumb and first are wrapped around her glass). “Consider this your gift to me,” she tells Zachery out of the side of her mouth.

Zachery's smile withers. He lifts Nicole's hand to his face and stares directly into her eyes while he says with his lips against her knuckles, "Don't mind me, I'm just reminding myself I love you enough to do this."

When he lets go of her hand to watch Damian stroll casually into earshot, Zachery's got a new face on. One that is anticipatory of the effort he assumes this next conversation will take to endure, his chin lifting. But he doesn't need to think in order to know just what to say. "Oh no, look at this ugly bastard. Sweetheart, do we have a wedding crasher?"

Damian's smile is wide, and much more generous than it ought to be. Maybe partly because of the fatally brightly pink drink in his hand — letting Sera hand him that was a choice that was made today. "That's funny," he notes with amusement ruining an attempt at flat affect, coming to a stop to linger by the table and smirking at Nicole while lazily jutting a shoulder out to her husband. "He's funny."

“Don’t worry,” she promises as his lips brush over her fingers. “I’ll remind you tonight.” Zachery receives the briefest of suggestive looks from his new wife, and a wink. Then she lifts her voice and shifts her attention to his twin. “Damian!” Her eyes linger on his drink for a moment.

A) She’d really like one right now.
B) How many of those has Sera given out and should she be worried about it?

“He is funny,” Nicole agrees, reaching blocked from view by the tablecloth, to settle her hand on Zachery’s thigh. Grounding and reassuring. He’s got this. “And don’t listen to him. You look quite handsome. Thank you so much for coming out to share this with us.”

"Of course," Damian replies, either to the compliment or the advice of not listening to his brother or both. Either way, he's every bit as gracious as he can be, despite the fact that all three participants to this conversation know he's here with more than a healthy collection of reservations.

But he does not, notably, let that show. "Have you seen Aisha? She's quite short, you might've missed her," he puts a hand out to just beside and under his shoulder, the height at which his wife stood beside him just earlier. "She's loving it here. I think she might actually like American men? Reckon I might be in trouble, here."

"Oh, let her prowl," Zachery answers, the pitch of his voice a little closer to his brother's, as if being in the same physical space is enough for him to adopt old habits through osmosis. "Poor woman's only had that mug to look at for over a decade now."

“Oh my god, it’s in stereo,” Nicole mutters, the hand that was holding her drink coming up to rest heel of palm against chin and fingertips at bridge of nose. “They lose their charm quickly, I assure you,” is her opinion of American men, delivered with a sigh. “You’ve got nothing to worry about.”

Probably. It’s not like she knows Aisha.

Nicole chuckles quietly and lets her hand drop back to the table again. “If I see her, I’ll point her out. She’s probably just on the other side of the bar. Are you having a good time? I see you’ve met Sera.”

Zachery sinks slightly further down in his seat, one leg kicked out ahead of him, under the table, in a much more relaxed way than before. The stereo comment is not unfamiliar, and by the smirk on his face, not unwelcome.

Damian nods his head in thanks, and then takes a few steps to the side, restless about something he's not quite ready to communicate yet. His smile is still just as bright when he takes the same amount of steps back to where he was, and lifts the drink to his lips for a healthy glug of the drink. "Sera?" He asks when the glass comes back down, "Oh, ah- this? Yeah! She's, the… uh, enthusiastic one?" He fights back a laugh.

Zachery does not fight back his own, and uncharacteristically, it's a glad sort of sound. "Yeah, she might have been a bit confu-"

"Sorry, one moment," Damian cuts his brother off mid-word, pointing his drink wholesale at Zachery's face but aiming an eager grin at Nicole instead, and asking airily, "What's happened to his face?"

“Yes, that’s her. Sweet woman.” That’s what Nicole has to say of Sera Lang that’s kind and not in some way backhanded or stretching. But when Damian cuts off his brother’s explanation to ask that question, her opinion of her new brother-in-law drops by several points suddenly.

Zachery knows this, because her grip on his leg is tightening — not uncomfortably, just noticeably — with the effort it takes not to let this fact play out on her face. “He saved me from a mugger,” is what she responds with, lying just as easily as some others breathe. “That’s why I fell in love with him.” Her grip eases again, her thumb brushing back and forth gently as she gives an appropriately lovesick smile to her husband. That much is at least genuine.

"Huh." Damian looks stunned, withdrawing his drink to hold it closer to himself while he regards Nicole with newfound wonderment and raised eyebrows.

It's not until he looks to Zachery - who maintains his calm composure while he stares flatly back - that he begins to squint his eyes at the pair of them.

"… You almost had me." Damian breathes, with quiet but palpable appreciation on his words, before cheerfully raising his glass in Nicole's direction as if in a personal toast to her, specifically. "She's good."

Zachery's leg moves under the hand as his weight is shifted. He's certainly less overtly smitten, but he still can't seem to help but chuckle as he shoves himself closer to wrap an arm around his wife, pulling her closer for a kiss on the cheek. If he's harbouring any ill will for being interrupted, it doesn't show in the smug look he throws his brother when he says, "Trust me. You don't know the half of it."

And maybe that's fine. Damian certainly doesn't look any more bothered when he answers, "Not yet."

“Thank you,” Nicole responds to Damian’s praise. She leans into Zachery’s embrace, smile only growing, eyes lidding briefly when he kisses her cheek. She lifts her glass again and takes a sip. It’s a tactic she often employs when she wants to cover up the fact that she’s blushing.

Except that she isn’t drinking alcohol, so there’s really no reason for a flush to come to her cheeks. Still, there’s a crinkle of amusement at the corners of her eyes as she teases, “Does this mean we’ll be seeing more of each other, Damian?”

"I don't think it does, Nicole," Damian leans forward and replies easily, cheerfully, as if he wasn't answering in the negative. It's a perfectly good voice for a wedding, even if his words don't match his smile. "Because someone's made a stranger of himself, which means, in my mind, it's up to the offending party to get their head out of their arse first."

Not that he looks toward the party in question, pointedly refusing to, sipping his drink with a content look around.

Zachery, meanwhile, smirks, his arm around Nicole shifting as he replies, "Hey, Dames?" Mimicking that same pleasant tone of voice. "Why don't you go fuck yourself."

"Oh that's funny, too," Damian's attention snaps back to Nicole again, the amount of enjoyment on his face unchanging but words clipped a little more with each syllable. "I was just thinking the same thing. Funny because — twins, right? Get it? It's funny, 'cause it's the same? Yeah? Oh how I've missed this." He says in the precise manner to imply that he has not - in fact - missed this.

Zachery, meanwhile, takes a deep breath and gets slowly to his feet, staring his brother directly in the face.

This was a mistake. One that she calculated for, of course, but a mistake nonetheless. She doesn’t bother to hide her lack of amusement. She’s just worked too hard for all of this. Put herself under so much stress. She had hoped that the bad blood would work itself out.

Nicole tries to anchor Zachery down with that hand on his leg, but finds him to be stubborn enough to ignore her. Instead, she withdraws to let her hand rest on the table in front of her instead. “Please don’t engage in any physical altercations until after the reception,” she pleads quietly.

"I'm just getting up for a hug," Zachery explains with an upward lift to his voice in return, taking a few steps forward until he's at arm's length of his brother. "It's been…"

"Sixteen years?" Damian ventures an educated and immediate guess, before pouring what's left of his drink into his mouth and setting his empty glass on the table so he can spread his arms out wide and beam over at his newly unestranged brother. "Go on, bring it in."

Zachery eyes this gesture as if Damian's arms are suddenly covered in mud. His shoulders square, the urge to reconsider heavy in the way he cants his head away without really taking his focus off of Damian.

Ultimately, though, he wordlessly motions - with an exasperated knit of his brow - for the theatrically lifted arms to come down a little. Once obliged, he steps forward, into the farce of an embrace.

But not without saying, loud enough for Nicole to hear, "I can't believe you invited him."

Damian's got a better shot of Nicole, and looks directly at her when he says, "I can't believe you're marrying him," followed directly by a pained noise of air forcibly escaping his lungs as the arms around him TIGHTEN.

Zachery Miller is a liar, but Nicole won’t call him on it this time. Not when she’s allowing him the chance to turn this into something better than what he was going to make it in the first place.

Nicole gets up from her seat and steps around the table, coming to the edge of the dias it’s set on (it makes them easier to find, apparently) and holding out one hand expectantly, clearing her throat. One of them (or both, she’s not picky and has two hands) should be offering to help her with the step down.

And thank any possibly existing deities for that audible cue, because Damian is already fully in 'don't let go until your sibling admits how awkward this is' mode when he is the only one to catch it.

He disentangles himself from his brother with a shove of his elbow (and a 'HhFF!' from Zachery for having been jabbed in the gut) before putting out his hand with the biggest, most handsome smile he's able to muster.

"You have your own wife!" Zachery blurts out without thinking once he realises what's going on, rushing forward to shoulder Damian out of the way so he can offer his own hand, while keeping his brother off to the side by virtue of holding him there by a fistful of shirt.

Only once they both freeze and look at Nicole at the same time do both of them stop moving. Maybe, just maybe realising the ridiculousness of the situation.

"… Down you come," Zachery offers lightly, a grin slowly forming, fist unrelenting. Both was never an option.

Nicole waits patiently (except the opposite of that) for the two men to sort themselves out and figure out who’s going to assist her. Her hand stretches out toward Damian’s, but abruptly shifts to accept Zachery’s instead when he gets around to offering it.

The step down is easy enough, but she is in heels, and a fall in her condition would be so far below ideal that it can’t even be seen from the bottom of that pit.

“Let go of him.” The smile on her face is pleasant, but the look in her eye is not. She waits, brows lifted, until her husband complies with her request. “Fix your shirt,” she tells Damian. Once he’s seeing to that, Nicole lifts her chin and glances to each twin in turn.

“Zachery,” she begins with him. “I asked Damian to come here, because you obviously care about him. He showed up, because he obviously cares about you.” Then she turns to regard her new brother-in-law. “Damian.”

Look at this stunted manchild crosses her mind to say next. Not because she believes it or actually feels that way about Zachery in any way, shape, or form, but because it might get a rise out of Damian and force him to defend his brother to his face. That’s a gamble she isn’t sure will pay off.

“You want to mend fences, or you wouldn’t be here at all. Morbid curiosity isn’t worth the cost of a flight these days. Much less multiple seats on one.” Nicole shakes her head, something sad creeping into her expression. “You two have no idea how lucky you are. I had to fight for my sister. Over and over again. I shed blood for her. I went through hell on foot to get to her. I nearly lost her.”

She scoffs, disgusted at what she perceives to be the pettiness of their squabble. “Whatever this is? Get over it.”

Unsurprisingly, there is no complaint from either of the brothers when they're spoken to, and their amusement quickly fades as they, both at once, slowly straighten their backs to look at her properly.

Damian, still running a hand along his front to smooth out crinkled edges, doesn't need any hints to know what Nicole's tone means. It's almost as if he's heard it before, go figure, and knows to look like he's taking a long breath — resetting his thoughts before reengaging in the conversation anew.

Zachery, however, struggles. He searches Nicole's face with a different sort of inhale to accompany it, the kind that precedes a lift of his chin, and - regrettably - usually a counter-argument. "B—"

"You're right." Damian cuts in before any more bad ideas fly into the Miller Wedding air space, leaning an arm onto his brother's shoulder and slipping in beside him proper so he can shoot a look directly at the groom's face.

"Well of course," Zachery says, brow knitting as he spares a quick glance to the side, his tone every indication of an incoming 'but'.

Except that he's stalled just long enough to reconsider, looking ahead at his wife again. Where he might not have much experience with these conversations, a few other tells combined still manage to do their job in guiding him to a somewhat stoic conclusion of, "You're right." Stoic, but decisive. "You're right. We're fine."

Damian sighs with palpable relief and disbelief both, free hand dragging down his face.

Nicole spares them both the illusion of her smug satisfaction and a response of of course I’m right. They don’t need to hear it, and she’s not actually sure if it’s true. She doesn’t know what happened to make the twins estranged, she only assumes that it can’t be something so bad that they can’t come back from it. That her perspective isn’t helpful.

“Now.” The corner of her mouth ticks upward faintly as she catches Zachery’s eye. There’s that adoration again that he spies her wearing when she thinks he isn’t looking. In case he was worried that was in jeopardy, it isn’t. “Damian,” Nicole turns to regard the other Miller, “was about to ask me to dance, weren’t you?”

God, she’s frightening.

And yet, Damian looks pleased, smiling sheepishly from under a scrubbing hand. He brings both hands in to make sure his collar is all lined up right after the near-scuffle — it's a poorly veiled delay tactic as well as a good excuse to tilt his head to one side and glance, for reasons, at Zachery.

But Zachery is still staring at Nicole. With another internal struggle demanding his attention, though this time much more quietly. His fingers twitch at his sides, before curling slowly into fists and then… relaxing. He, too, smiles, uncharacteristically more with his eyes (present and not) than usual.

Fine, be a challenge. The unexpected is so much better than the alternative.

Damian, having needed to see only a second of that face, decides to offer Nicole a half bow and his left hand. "If you would, Mrs. Miller, that would be delightful."

“Of course,” Nicole takes the offered hand graciously, allowing her brother-in-law to escort her to the dance floor. As they go, she tosses a look over her shoulder to her husband and mouths I love you, because she suspects he requires the reminder just a little bit. Even though she literally just married him.

For now, she has promises to extract from her new brother as they take their turn around the floor. It surprises her how well she fits with him, but he’s literally identical to her husband, so it shouldn’t be such a shock how easy it is to take up position with him. Since he is not her husband, she leaves slightly more distance between them than she would otherwise.

“Now,” she starts airly, “isn’t this better?”

And also because he is not her husband, he is better trained.

After an initial recalibration to get used to his new dance partner, his movements come without thinking, his right hand only barely touching her back as he leads with enough confidence to spare a smile on top.

"It is," he relents, shaking what's left of the tension on his face as he turns and fixes her with a raise of his eyebrows and a slightly lopsided grin. "You're a hell of a mediator."

“Did I forget to mention the part where I used to be liaison to the President of the United States?” Nicole asks with a faint narrowing of her eyes, as though to suggest she is sure she mentioned that part. She must have done, right?

Ah, well! No matter.

Yes, she is bragging a little bit. He can deal. “So,” Nicole begins, pointedly not seeking out her husband’s face again as they start to fall into step. “Do you think you can get along with him? After all of that?”

The bragging does little to dissuade, though Damian does aim a look ever so briefly upward as he pointedly ignores the urge to laugh.

He, too, feels no need to find anyone else's face in this moment, which might be a questionable decision considering how - when he lowers his gaze back to Nicole - he looks upon her with unmistakable fondness.

And also, his actual wife is in the room somewhere.

"It's going to be up to him," his answer leaves him with little room for doubt. "I've got nothing against him, he's my brother. But the choices he makes…" That's a different story, a cant of his head implies, fingertips brushing against her shoulder as he steps back. "I can't make those for him."

Fond is good. It allays the concerns she had that he might dislike her. His lead is followed easily enough, stepping forward when he steps back. The affectionate touch at her shoulder is noted, but without comment or glance. She finds herself thinking that it’s good he seems to like her, because she can use that.

Then she finds herself wondering when she became like that.

She shakes it off with a breath of laughter. “Well, he chose me, didn’t he? That might be a trend toward the positive.”

"It's a trend toward the productive," Damian meets her in the middle. "But strategic choices were never a weak point for either of us, especially when it comes to getting what we want."

He pauses just long enough for his grin to tick a little wider, his eyes on hers. "The big picture, though, now there's an issue. The long term."

“Are you trying to rain on my parade, brother dear?” It’s all playful banter here, so far. But Nicole kicks up a brow, challenging him to suggest otherwise. She does not refute Zachery’s ability to strategize, as much as she might wish to. In the end, it’s all worked out quite well for him, hasn’t it?

As much as she’d like to praise herself for that, she can’t take all the credit. Zachery had to make his own choices, like his brother said.

I’m the big picture planner,” Nicole asserts. Perhaps that’s her flaw. She doesn’t always think in terms of immediate effects, and how those impact others, so long as she’s made up her mind that the long term outcome is ultimately worth it. “For better or worse.” That may have been intentional poking at the vows she’d made earlier today. Maybe.

"And I hope you're one of the puzzle pieces that completes his picture," Damian says with sincerity, as if to confirm the lack of rainclouds over the festivities.

Still, though the dance continues with practiced ease (thank you, Aisha), something new enters his expression. Something Nicole hasn't seen on his face before, but she's seen on her husband's. Auto-pilot takes over with a flicker of mental disconnect, spurred by thoughts of uncertainty - complicated emotions of having been scorned, rejected and ignored, and now being here.

And playing pretend that it's all fine.

Because today isn't the day for it not to be.

"Time has told me," he resurfaces fully, recomposing himself on an inhale, "fun as today has been and unlikely as it seems — that I might not be."

There’s some amusement in that, however grim, that Damian has the same tells as Zachery. Grim, of course, because it means he suffers from the same strain of melancholy. No wonder they find it hard to get along.

“Look, Damian…” Nicole eases in a little closer, a display of comfort and trust in her new family. “You have to know by now how shit he is at complicated emotions. Most people are.” Just because she rolled an eighteen on her Charisma stat doesn’t mean anyone else was so lucky.

“I told you… He wants you in his life. It might require a bit more effort on your part to make that happen, at first, but it is what he wants.” In this matter, she feels confident speaking for her husband. She suspects he wouldn’t feel confident speaking for himself. “It isn’t as though I suggested naming our daughter for my sister.” But she probably should have. “So he didn’t have to match me for theme. Choosing your name? That was all him. You don’t give yourself a reminder of someone you hate when you name your child.”

There's an incline of Damian's head, chin lifted slightly higher when she comes closer. For all of his practice it may not have been with different partners, and there's a noticeable second or two of him resettling into the rhythm of their steps.

At least it's snapped him out of his temporary gloom, made all too clear when he chuckles and offers, "I could have named my son after the baker's but that doesn't mean I don't still have to pay for the bread."

He huffs out a noise of disbelief, but warmth creeps back into his smile entirely against his will. "You have more faith in him than I do," the words leave him as though he's only just realising it. "That's good."

“Someone has to, right?” Nicole reaches up and rests a hand on his cheek. “He’s got it in him. Don’t give up, okay?” Her gaze narrows a touch, which might look a bit eerie given the glow to it, but it’s accompanied with another one of her warm smiles.

“Consider it your gift to us. I’m not asking you to do it all, I’m just asking you to give him a fair shot. I’ll do my part, too.” Nicole pats Damian’s cheek gently and lets her hand fall back to his shoulder again. “Can you do that for me?”

If nothing else, the glow serves to keep Damian's gaze on hers by pure virtue of fascination. The pat on his cheek draws a crease onto his brow, but if it's out of disapproval, none of it makes it into his voice.

"I can do that," he confirms in an echo of her words. His focus darts to the side, then back to her. Leaning ever so slightly closer in turn, to whisper, "Unless you'd rather have the blender we were going to send, still. It's got an automatic pulse setting so you can just step away while you get your morning juices done."

This might be a thing he'd made up on the spot but he sounds sold either way. Are you sure you'd like to go with Option A, Nicole.

Oh, he wants to play that game, does he? Nicole leans in further. They’re probably just a touch closer than they should be, considering he’s not the twin she married today. “I think I deserve both, don’t you?” There’s a fair bit of mirth in her eyes when she says that.

Because if that blender is a real thing that exists, she can make so many smoothies in the mornings. And that sounds an incredibly convenient breakfast option for the workweek, if she’s honest.

"I'm beginning to think you do." If Damian has any reservations left about their proximity, he doesn't show it. Maybe it's easier to forget in the midst of bants, his hand and arm against her finally pressing in a little more relaxed. "Which is troubling and unexpected. But not unwelcome."

For the second time since they've started speaking, someone clears their throat.

This time, it's someone entirely new, a stout woman of Indian descent standing just off to the side of the dancefloor with a tall drink of something strong and a smile of thinning patience. She requests loudly enough for those around her to hear, crisp and clear, "Could I have a word with my husband, please."

Oh. That’s — That’s not great. But only Zachery is privy to the momentary alarm that courses through Nicole, by virtue of his ability. That is, if he’s standing near enough. Not only does Nicole step back from Damian to resume a more respectable distance, but she also escorts him to the edge of the floor, to transfer custody of him to his wife.

“Mrs. Miller,” Nicole greets, like that’s a little joke they can share among them now. “Thank you for letting me borrow him. I promise, he’s just as I found him.” Whether that’s all in one piece or not… Well, that’s not her doing. “Please, I hope you continue to enjoy the party.”

Then, stepping back, she turns to look for her own husband, and make a beeline to his side. Hopefully before Aisha can stop her.

"Darling," Damian greets when reunited with his wife, the blue of his suit matching her dress and the unabashed grin on his face not quite so much a pairing with the quiet ire on hers.

Aisha has no words for the other Mrs. Miller, waiting until the bride's back is turned before a corner of her mouth only just gives away some measure of claimed success. Without looking at her husband, she notes, "Of all the startlingly pretty and nice people here, you choose the bride to ogle."

A kiss on her head from her much taller husband later, they rejoin a group of chatting guests, arm in arm.

"Are you hungry?" Zachery notes where he sits in someone's abandoned chair, and where he's been watching but is currently suddenly oh so very busy idly adjusting a red cufflink. He doesn't need to look up to know the answer, anyway. "I could go for some cake, couldn't you?"

Not that he doesn't already look satisfied enough, when he does finally look at Nicole and rises to his feet. Something about her rushing over.

Nicole doesn’t quite so much look at Zachery as she does stare past him by a thousand yards. “I think I’ve met my match,” she says quietly. Terrifying notion, that.

But make no mistake. Nicole Miller is not admitting defeat, only the discovery of a worthy opponent.

With a sharp breath, she comes back to the here and now, smiling at her husband. (Her husband!) “Cake sounds amazing right now. Let’s go get a knife and cut that bitch.”

Zachery throws a quick look over to where Aisha disappeared off to as his mouth opens, and then closes again, breath leaving him in a sharp exhale of a laugh through his nose.

When he looks back at Nicole again, it's with a face he's clearly struggling to keep a grin off of. "You know, that should have been the end of our wedding vows."

Fuck! You’re right!” Nicole’s face contorts in a frown of self-inflicted annoyance which shifts into something more thoughtful. “Should we have a do-over?”

"I mean, everyone's already here, right?" Zachery gestures toward some smattering of guests, then sneaks an arm behind Nicole's back and starts ushering her along. "We'll put it to a vote after the cake."

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“Nooo!” Nicole squeals and giggles happily even as her husband smooshes a slice of lemon cake against her face. Two can play at that game, so she retaliates in kind, rather than the delicate maneuver she’d been attempting in the first place. The pictures will be positively adorable later.

At least the icing is the palest shade of yellow, so that it’s nearly white, and shouldn’t stain anything.

With the ritual of cake cutting done, Nicole sets about wiping the cake off from around her mouth, occasionally stopping to lick a dab of frosting from her finger. “You,” she warns, teasingly.

How this whole thing has gone so well is beyond Zachery, but if one thing is clear right now, it's that he's enjoying ignoring literally everyone else and focusing only on Nicole and the tiny havoc he's wrought. "I'm sorry, you're right, this is old-fashioned, isn't it," he says, sidestepping to grab hold of the cake knife. "Let me just— even it out."

Cue him staring at Nicole and cramming another handful of cake into his own mouth. There. Better.

She still looks just as perfect as she had before the cake to the face. In some ways, she glows even better. The lighting hits her just right. To Nicole, Zachery looks much the same, his angles just right. Picture perfect and thensome.

Nearby, Seren Evans sits with their elbows propped up on the table they sit at, watching the exchange with a small smile. In the chair next to them sits a tuxedo cat with primly-folded raven wings a lavender sheen the same shade as Seren's bowtie. He purrs happily, echoing his summoner's silent sentiments.

"They look so good," they comment softly to their other friend at the table. "Don't they, Lark?"


"Larkspur?" Seren turns, and the pixie is gone from the nest she'd made out of the table's centerpiece. Oh no. Silver-limned eyes dart back to the sight of Nicole and Zachery and the space in their immediate surroundings, searching… searching… finding the red yarrow-and-larkspur petal-adorned pixie hovering right next to the cake, not on the level adorned with the top tier of ceremonial cake for the first cut, but on a lower level with its temptingly untouched surface.

The tiny fae's wings aflutter, her wide eyes stay stuck to the delicious-looking frosting, drifting slowly closer, and closer…

Nicole laughs as Zachery does a better job of messing his face up than she did. But everything about him is just so perfect, and she can’t help but sigh heavily, so very, very smitten with the man in front of her. She darts a quick glance to make sure the knife is out of the way before she reaches out to drape her arms over Zachery’s shoulders.

Careful not to touch his impressive suit with her cake-tainted fingers, of course. She’s going to have to thank whoever’s responsible for this, because it wasn’t him.

Cake smeared mouths meet in a firm kiss. Everything about today so far is perfect. Even in its imperfection. In her bliss, she doesn’t notice the impending threat to that perfection near her elbow.

And for two more seconds, everything is perfect.

Then, Larkspur.

She enters Zachery's limited peripheral vision with a snap of his head in her direction without pulling back from Nicole's embrace. It almost looks like he's lifting a hand to swat at her, but no — he never dropped the knife. It's raised slowly up from behind the cake and within clear view with a wiggle of his hand. "Seren," he says, calmly and pleasantly, "I will fight her and I will lose."

He's probably joking. About the fighting part.

That's the trigger needed, apparently, to launch Seren in a rush away from their seat. It startles the guest seated beside them, Kara Prince arching her eyebrows and leaning back from the table while she finishes the last of her meal. She'd love not to get anything on her goldenrod dress. She's made it this far after all.

She doesn't understand at first, but that's because she'd not been paying close enough attention. When she catches sight of the little fairy to the side of the cake, she blinks, looking back to the centerpiece bewilderedly. The remaining fantastic creature at the table, the chimera with his own seat, sighs in a way that sounds almost human as Seren bolts off.

Head dipped in apology as much to be unobtrusive as possible to the wonderful scene playing out, they rush to the nearby cake table, hands preemptively held out to catch the gawking pixie.

Down she goes in a careful clasp of hands, one vaguely purple-tinted leg sticking out between fingers and kicking in protest after the initial shock is worn off. "She thinks the cake looks delicious," Seren murmurs in an apologetic rush, trying to paper over any concerns the pixie would have done—

well, any of the things she'd been contemplating doing, from the annoying, to the mischievous, to the nefarious.

Larkspur's tiny head pops its way between the careful cradle made by Seren's thumbs, one tiny fist joining as well so she can squeakily and insistently state what her actual intentions were. The first scratches of noise are all she gets out before Seren grins sheepishly and rushes back to their table, ball of pixie and all.

When they make it back to their seat, Kara removes her eyes from them, the upward crease of her brow still present on her face as she lets out a small, surprised chuckle. She looks to Nicole and only can shake her head. This normal for around here? she asks in the silence of a reserved grin.

She lifts the flute of champagne she snagged some time ago, gesturing in the direction of the bride— and groom. The day is saved, it'd seem. Cheers.

Nicole’s head swivels to regard what Zachery is suddenly so concerned about. Her expression darkens in confusion, because fae folk are not real. But she hasn’t been drinking, and it’s not like her dealer is here.

Although now Nicole is darting a glance around the room to make sure she isn’t, to allay any concerns she suddenly has that maybe her last flute of ginger ale was spiked with a little extra wedding gift from an old friend.

When that seems not to be the case, and it’s clear she’s not the only person who’s seeing this, Nicole starts to relax, laughing a little nervously as Seren takes their friend away from their beautiful cake. Disentangling herself from Zachery, Nicole holds her arms up over her head and raises her voice to declare:

“Cupcakes are no longer off-limits! Come and get ‘em!”

Husband is then poked in the nose affectionately before Wife grabs a short stack of napkins and heads for Kara and Seren’s table. A tilt of her head indicates that he should follow.

“Kara Kara!”

Is there a comma in there? Should there be another exclamation point between the two calls of the woman’s name? A hyphen? Who can say?

“Look at you!” A dress! In such a vibrant color! That’s like a gift in and of itself! Nicole grins and starts wiping cake off her face in earnest with a napkin now. “Am I getting it all?” she asks with a wrinkle to her nose and her brow and a chuckle.

Kara pushes up from the table carefully, minding the wedges underneath her before she crosses to help Nicole sort out her icing affairs. Perhaps she's intruding, but there's not been a great moment before this one to approach the happy couple. This one will do, and she can make herself useful besides.

"I'm not going to mother you and lick a napkin, but…" she does reach for another small square, reaching out to swipe at a spot Nicole has missed. It's just the one, dear. Balling up the rest of the napkin, Kara smiles small but sincere. "Much better."

"Yi-Min would have loved to be here. It was the least I could do to come in her place." With an apologetic glance to Zachery for the monopolization of time, she looks back to Nicole to earnestly stress, "I really appreciate everything you're doing for her."

Zachery doesn't need to be part of all the conversations here, and he looks all too content to be reappearing and rejoining Nicole's side under the guise of pragmatism, his face wiped clean. He's making a delivery, and couldn't possibly have an opinion on the subject of Yi-Min's wishes.

Sliding into a chair across Seren but looking to Nicole and Kara and pretending to be part of the conversation by proxy, he leans forward to plants his chin into a palm, and sliiides a gift over to the other side of the table. A pale, perfect and untouched cupcake presented to his colleague and whoever they might have brought with. "First one."

A compromise, maybe, flatly spoken because he's very seriously listening to this conversation, see.

Seren looks up mid-scold of the pixie cupped in their hands to see Zachery take a seat, the silver in their eye gleaming as it catches the light. They're surprised, and the pixie peers at them befuddledly before turning about to see just what's happening. Then she, too, lets out a tiny gasp.

Practically smirking, Baird continues to sit primly on the chair, behaving save for the wry and satisfied flick of his tail as it's curled around his body.

Seren sighs, a resigned smile pulling back the corner of their mouth. "What do you say?"

Tiny squeaks of delight come from Larkspur, who Seren releases from their hand finally. Tiny squeaks that almost sound like thank you, thank you! as she flits to the sauceplate, landing on the table to clasp her hands together by her face and admire the sweet, delicious cupcake she'll get to try first…

Which she opts to do by planting her face directly into the frosting.

"Oh, Lark." They really shouldn't have expected anything different, but they'd held out slight hope. You know. Slight. "All over your nice petals."

Sure, cake to the face was only adorable when the bride and groom did it, she sees how it is. Face spattered with icing, a tiny pink tongue can be seen poking through it as the pixie turns back only to make an unrepentant pass on apologizing for her behavior.

Nicole fights the urge to glance her husband’s direction when Kara gives her apologies for Yi-Min’s absence. That’s a sore subject they both seem to silently agree not to bring up much at all, when they can help it. “Oh, Kara. You aren’t here in her place. You were invited because I wanted you here.

There’s a quick swipe of a fresh napkin over her fingers to make sure they’re devoid of frosting before she reaches out to squeeze her friend’s arm. “And I’m so glad you are.” Nicole smiles conspiratorially, lowering her voice and leaning in so hopefully her husband won’t overhear. “I only wish we could sneak out back and have a drink together like we used to.” Out on the back porch, watching Pippa play in the grass.

For just a moment, Kara's expression is blank, the memory not coming to her. It's just like when they saw each other at the veterans' meeting back in January. The rock skipping over her lake of memory doesn't seem to hit that particular set in its bounces. But she smiles anyway, lifting her arm to cup her hand around Nicole's in a gesture of fondness at the touch. She thinks harder and things start to come into view, genuine warmth entering her eyes as details emerge from the fog.

"Bet I could talk them into getting you a mimosa, hold the alcohol, and we could sneak out for a minute anyway," she replies just as conspiratorially. "Or if we really want to throw it back," Kara lets out a quiet laugh. "I can see if they've got any O'Doul's. It's gotta beat any half-warm beer in the dead heat of summer, right?"

See? She remembers.

Not truly paying full attention to the conversation at hand, Zachery's eye is all too easily drawn back to Larkspur's noises.

Not quite sure what to make of his present company, wife excluded, he sits back and all too easily settles into the same reserved air he puts on at work - pushing himself to sit a little straighter, rolling his jaw to work his face into a more neutral expression. All as if Seren's presence alone demands it, subconscious or not.

And yet, crow's feet around his eyes tighten ever so slightly at the pixie's antics. Or maybe his wife's words. Who knows, really? It's a mystery. He turns his attention back on Nicole, seemingly content to just watch her for a bit, when Kara mentions mimosas, and he manages to snap his attention to her before the next three words leave her mouth.

So much for any trace of warmth.

Excuse you.

It becomes impossible to focus entirely in that direction, icing-covered pixie placing her caked hands right on the tip of Zachery's nose with a gleeful chitter, taking advantage of the moment Seren opts to carve out a bite from the cupcake using the side of their teaspoon. They only glance up after icing handprints cover the side of his nose, brows arching quickly. "Lark!" they scold her around the spoon, waving their hand.

Larkspur darts back, giggling gleefully, and takes off in another rush of energy over the heads of other guests, winding for a door.

Surely Seren knows they're the one fully in control of this ride.

Still, they look back to Zachery with genuine apology. "Thank you for the cake. And congratulations, again." Then they push to their feet, taking off in a hurried walk to rush after the untameable pixie. Baird lazily slumps off the side of the chair he was sitting on to pad after them, tail swishing in the air.

That it takes Kara a moment to arrive at her destination, where Nicole is waiting for her, is a point of concern that the latter doesn’t allow to show on her face. In the end, she does get there, and that’s what’s important. Any worry can be expressed later.

Deflecting it by leaning over one of Kara’s shoulders to slant a look at her husband and his own look, Nicole lifts her brows, lifting her voice to ask mildly. “Am I allowed to have orange juice and 7Up, my darling?”

Calm down, Miller. Her sponsor is even here. She’s not about to fall off the wagon.

Rather than swipe for Larkspur, at least this time, Zachery sits and rolls his one remaining eye toward the ceiling, sloooowly raising a hand to remove her from his blind spot.

But he's too late, and his half-lidded look of thinning patience is aimed at Seren, instead, frosting still on his face. He inhales deeply and then says, smirking wryly as though it pains him just a little to be somewhere near sincere for yet another moment. "It was good having you."

He doesn't sound fully convinced. Maybe he'll get there yet.

Nicole, though, gets a much easier answer. It leaves him instantly upon hearing the question pitched at him. "You know there is a lot of sugar in both of those." By the time he reaches to wipe the frosting from his face, it's already not there anymore. "But it is your day, so…" Glancing at his hand in confusion, he pauses, then looks up at his wife and Kara again with a lopsided grin at the realisation of what happened. "So go wild. You have my blessing."

That's good enough for Kara. She grins roguishly, gesturing to the bar with a tilt of her head and a nudge of her arm. "C'mon, then. Five minutes."

And then back to the party.

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Finding Lynette in the crowd was the easy part. Nicole simply followed the seeming magnetic pull of her ability until it brought her to her best friend’s — her Matron of Honor’s — side. Navigating through that crowd with a champagne flute in each hand and one tucked into her elbow… That had been the hard part.

Still, the crowd hasn’t gotten so rowdy yet as to not part politely when they can see the bride is on a mission. Even with the open bar. “Coming through! Sorry! Thank you!” Nicole appears at Lynette’s elbow and breathes a sigh of relief. Not a drop spilled on her beautiful white and red dress. “Libations for everybody!” she announces, but it’s not what it appears to be on the surface.

Two of those flutes contain a darker liquid than the third, the bubbles from the carbonation larger. Nicole tips her chin to indicate the glass tucked into her arm with the paler shade and the tinier stream of bubbles. “Tomato!” she calls to her best friend’s husband. “This one’s yours. Come’n grab it.”

Lynette laughs when Nicole appears beside them carrying drinks. "You're not supposed to fetch things today, Nicole. People are supposed to fetch for you." And Zachery, too, but he's not the one sidling up to them. Lynette grabs the drinks for her and Mateo, passing one over to him before she turns back to give Nicole a hug— and not one that ends up with drinks spilled all over everyone.

"You look amazing," she says, warmly, "and the ceremony was beautiful." She and Mateo may have a bet going on just how much bodily harm Colette threatened Zachery with, but they'll have to find her later to truly settle it. When she pulls back, she gives her a crooked smile. "Evie and Manuel even said so." Her father took them back to the apartment shortly after the ceremony— Evie was already falling asleep and Manuel, well crowds were still difficult for him to handle for too long.

“It really was a beautiful wedding,” Mateo says with a fond smile, that seems a little sad, perhaps because he’s quietly remembering a wedding of his own, long ago, that she had officiated. Or not her, but close enough. Sometimes he still had to catch himself to keep from calling her Steve, it had been one of those things. At least he had known her as well as Steve, but it still made it difficult not to see them overlapping, not to see them as the same woman, marrying a man she loved.

Different men, in different worlds, in entirely different situations.

He stays back, out of the hug, but watching the two as he adds on, helpfully, “Evie wanted to try drawing your dress,” he adds, with that fondness that he often only has for his children. “But we didn’t bring her notepad. But she will probably fall asleep as soon as they get back to the Benchmark.”

“Please tell the little ones I said I’m glad they thought so.” Nicole returns the hug with a tight squeeze, careful to hold her glass away from both of their outfits. Then, she links arms with Lynette, feeling as though there’s some harmonic resonance between them when they touch.

She beams at Mateo. “I will make sure Evie gets a photo of my dress when we get our pictures back. Then she can practice drawing it all she wants to.” Nicole chuckles quietly. “You know, the only thing I regret is that you couldn’t return the favor for that awesome bachelor party I threw you.” Well, the other him. She has trouble remembering there’s a difference sometimes, too.

Also, by bachelor party, she means that time they went to the strip club in Mexico and drank most of a bottle of tequila together playing Never Have I Ever. On her birthday.

Good times.

In fact, that’s how he got his nickname. She’d tried to enter Mateo into her BlackBerry, only to have autocorrect insist she meant Tomato. It just stuck. Now, she lifts her free arm and draws her fingers in toward her palm three or four times in quick succession. “C’mere. Where’s my damn hug?”

"She'll love that," Lynette says, of the offer of a picture. Chances are the Ruizes have several on Jeremy's phone, but Evie would love a quoteunquote real picture. Rather than comment on the differences between the Mateos— or the Nicoles for that matter— she skips over it to chuckle at Nicole's demand. "Better hug her before her language turns too foul for the venue and we all get kicked out. And I refuse to get kicked out until we've had a dance. One, at least."

Who knows when the last time the Ruizes actually got out was. Dressed up, dancing, dinner without the kids… Lynette tends to prefer them without a crowd, but exceptions must be made. She's seen into the infinite— she knows how precious and rare truly happy moments are.

“She would love a more professional picture. I’m sure ours got elbows and photobombs in them,” Mateo responds with a grin, even though, yes, they did take pictures with their phones when it was appropriate to do so, as did many of the other guests he was sure. But with so many guests, there was always the occasional photobomb. Some part of him kept expecting Evie’s namesake to pop into the frame somewhere, even if he knew she wouldn’t be.

Especially not the one she was actually named after.

“I didn't want to get in the way,” he offers with a sheepish shrug, before he steps closer, giving her a firm hug, one that perhaps held a little more than he meant it to. He couldn’t help but think of that wedding when he saw her, either of them. He technically didn’t wear either of the wedding rings on his fingers anymore— all three of them— he wore them around his neck, along with the Lynette that he lost first’s— but they had talked about doing it all over again someday.

They just hadn’t found the right time yet.

“Speaking of dancing…” he glances toward Lynette. “Think I could request a song, Nicole?” he asks as he pulls out of the hug. “Can you see if they can manage These Arms of Mine?”

Nicole returns Mateo’s hug with a fierceness that comes from years of friendship, if not particular closeness. He may not be the one she calls when she needs someone to talk to, but he’s the rock for the one she does, so that makes him better than good in her book.

“Of course,” she assures, lips curling upward in a smile. With her arm linked around Lynette still, she nudges her best friend closer to her husband. “I’ll go set that one to jump the queue.” Bride’s privilege. She gets to set the soundtrack. “You two get ready to dance.”

Before she departs, Nicole drops a kiss on each of their cheeks, then slips away through the crowd, announcing to those who try to pause her, “Can’t stop! Bride on a mission!”

Someday, they might. Although, likely a smaller affair than this one, but special to her and to him. Lynette's thoughts have drifted along the same lines during today's event, as one might expect from a wedding. They hit different when you're in love and have all your family with you.

Her eyebrows lift when Mateo mentions the song request, a smile slowly spreading on her face. There weren't a lot of gentle, warm moments in their trip through time, but all of them were with him. And that song certainly brings them back to mind. She comes over to take his hand, leaning in to press a kiss to his cheek.

"We'll come find you again before the night is over," she says to Nicole, a quiet thank you before she turns her attention back to Mateo and follows him out to the dancefloor.

There were some songs that their lives had given new meaning. Some bad ones, some good ones. Thankfully, this was a good one. “Thanks, Nic.” Mateo says at the kiss on the cheek, remembering both the versions of the woman he considered a friend for a moment, both who he knew would have followed this request and stomped off on a mission with the exact same fervor. No matter their name, or husband, or anything else. There was more to a woman than a name or who they married, after all. They could still be the same woman at heart.

As Nicole walks off, Mateo turns to his wife and smiles, taking her in hand and making their way toward the dance floor.


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In the center of the dance floor, two adorable eight year olds have stolen the hearts of everyone gathered around. The little blonde girl twists and twirls in circles, giggling at the way her peach dress billows out around her. Her partner seems to enjoy watching her spin as much as she enjoys doing it.

“They are so fucking cute,” Nicole murmurs to Peyton at her shoulder, at the edge of the dance floor. The kids are too far away to hear them over the music, so they can use their adult vocabularies. “I just want to scoop Jonah up and smother him in kisses.”

Her hand falls to her stomach and she smiles absently. “I hope I get at least one boy.”

“You know one day we’re going to be seeing them do this as the bride and groom. It’s, like, inevitable,” Peyton says with a grin, taking a sip of champagne as she watches the two children. “Pippa has him wrapped around her little finger, but she’s too nice to take advantage of it — so far, anyway.”

Her dark eyes turn from the dance floor to the bride, and she smiles at the wistful look on Nicole’s face.

“They’ll be perfect, no matter what they are. I was terrified to have a boy. What the fuck do I know about raising little boys?” Peyton confesses. The lack of a father in Jonah’s formative years is not mentioned, as Jonah’s father is never mentioned.

“But he’s turned out pretty awesome,” she adds, and squeezes Nicole’s hand lightly. “Yours will too, whatever you have. Is Pippa excited?”

“Oh, god, I hope so.” Nicole’s eyes narrow faintly, as if imagining what Pippa and Jonah will look like all grown up. They’ve never had to force any kind of friendship between the two children. It’s always just come naturally. Like they were born to be together. Maybe it comes from having been born within hours of each other. Maybe it’s because their moms are friends. Maybe it’s just a coincidence of fate.

Whatever the reason may be, it’s nice to imagine that Jonah might still look at Pippa like that in another ten or so years. “Phillipa Ryans-Whitney is a good, strong name. It’ll look great on an office door, followed by C-E-O.” Nicole grins over to Peyton and reaches over to squeeze her hand gently.

“Thanks for helping to wrangle them today. And for letting me borrow Jonah to be the ring bearer.” One less thing for her to worry about. And given Nicole practically put this together single-handedly, she needed a little help with what was on her plate.

The bride sighs quietly. “I think she was more surprised than excited at first. Mom,” Nicole begins in her best impression of her daughter’s affect, “you’ve got two in your belly?” She chuckles quietly. “She says she has enough sisters and that poor Bradley’s outnumbered. But she’ll love her siblings, whatever they are, even if they’re kittens.”

She leans in to add in a stage whisper that’s also definitely a thing Pippa said, “Especially if they’re kittens.”

The number of girls in the Ryans’ clan draws a laugh from Peyton. “Definitely too many sisters, though of course they’re all family and lovable in their own right.” Her laugh grows a little more girlish and giggly at the talk of kittens.

“I wonder sometimes if I have any other siblings out there besides Neal. I mean, Albert was old and it’s possible. I don’t think so, though — at least not any that he was aware of. You’re so lucky to have a big family.”

Her dark eyes move around the room to the various members of Nicole’s extended family: Colette and her household. Benjamin Ryans’ children spanning so many years, including Nicole’s own Pippa. And the new addition and the man of the hour, Zachery, who Peyton smiles at when she catches him watching his lovely bride.

“Even if it’s a weird one,” she adds with a grin. She nudges Nicole, chin jutting over to Zach. “I think someone likes you,” she says in a teasing tone like they’re at a middle school dance and not at a wedding.

“I mean, it was just Colette and I for a very long time.” Until Ryans came along. Then Ingrid. Now Pippa. Her sister’s partners. Her de facto step-children. Soon, two more of her own. Nicole smiles a little forlornly. Certainly her family is a large one, but it’s seen loss.

Still, she doesn’t let it drag her down. This is her special day, after all. Even if it pains her that Ben isn’t here to see it, it’s still a joyous one. And he wouldn’t want her to cry over him. Not today of all days.

Nicole doesn’t see her new husband looking at her, and Zachery doesn’t see Peyton watching him watch his new wife, but he’s forgotten for a moment to look unhappy. There’s no doubt in the minds of anyone who catches him unguarded like this that he loves her. And the way she’s been glowing all afternoon, there’s no question about her own feelings.

At the teasing, she lifts her head finally, brows furrowed and eyes scanning the floor, following the line indicated by the lift of Peyton’s chin. “What?” The newlyweds finally lock eyes across the room and Nicole offers him a wave and a blown kiss.

Ugh, they are disgusting.

With a giggle, she turns her attention back to her friend. “I should do something about that,” she posits oh so seriously. “Maybe ask him out one of these days.”

Peyton laughs, waggling her fingers at Zachery, before giving Nicole a little push in his direction.

“Go dance with your lawfully wedded husband, Mrs. Miller,” she says, leaning over to give Nicole a kiss on the cheek, then rubbing away the invisible lipstick left behind. “Congratulations. You deserve to be happy, Nic.”

They all do.

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As Nicole makes the rounds through the outdoor patio, festooned with flowers and garlands, she spots a very striking pair of familiar faces. Striking because their attire matches so beautifully.

“Robyn! Gillian!” The bride offers the pair of women a bright smile, holding her arms wide in invitation for hugs. The dress survived the ceremony, it can now be rumpled by affection.

Robyn visibly perks up when she hears Nicole call her name. Dressed in a red on black suit and a frilly blouse that perfectly matches her date, striking is exactly what she had been going for - not here to outshine the bride, but certainly here to be noticed. Just a month ago, she had still been in a coma at the hospital. Being seen was oddly important to her in the wake of it.

A smile is offered to her date, before turning to Nicole. She doesn't approach the other woman to meet her half way, instead she sets her cane aside and mirrors Nicole's open arms - she's going to have to come to her for this hug.

In her matching dress Gillian follows Robyn to meet the bride halfway, to join in on the open armed hug, not even bothering to wait turns because, well, group hugs were part of the fun of these things. “This was a beautiful wedding. You look amazing. I wish that I could have gotten to know the groom before this, but damn— lucky lady you are.” After the rough year they’ve been having, they all deserve a little bit of happiness.

She had considered saying no to the invitation, she had not RSVP’d until Robyn asked if she wanted to be her plus-one. She hadn’t really been up to the party—

But now she was glad she did.

Nicole has no problem meeting Robyn where she’s at. She’s just grateful the other woman is here at all. Same with Gillian. They’d all been through… so much in the previous months. So she pulls them both in for a tight hug — Gillian’s right about group hugs — and steps back to a more conversational distance. But not too far.

“Thank you so much.” Nicole presses a hand to her chest, touched by the compliment. “I never really thought it’d happen for me, you know?” She laughs and gives the pair of women a shrug, eyes wide like well, I fucked up that prediction. “You’re going to have plenty of chance to know him,” she assures, resting a hand on her stomach now. “He’s in this for the long haul.”

"Oh please," Robyn remarks with a laugh. "Not happen to you?" The look she gives Nicole is of amused disbelief, chuckling quietly as she shakes her head. Hands move to her hips as she smirks, looking Nicole in the eyes. "I'm glad it did. We all need all the happiness we can get right now, and I will gladly siphon it from that glowing smile of yours." If she had a drink, she would probably cheers to that.

But that's one thing Robyn hasn't had all night, surprisingly.

"I'm in the same boat as Gillian, unfortunately. But I know between nights out after leaving Fort Jay and getting Matthew and Pippa together for play dates, I'll be swimming in opportunities this summer." She offers Nicole a warm smile, looking past her for a moment. "At least he's attractive," she jokes - yes, even she can appreciate that aesthetically.

“Some predictions are overrated,” Gillian finds herself saying with a slight quirk to her lips that makes that dimple on her cheek show up even more than usual. For someone who wrote an entire romance novel about time travel, she sometimes still had somewhat nostalgic ideals when it came to love and predictions of the future. But it didn’t help that someone from her future had recently returned to her life once again, either. Even if he wasn’t the one who she had on her arm tonight. Or any night these days, really.

It would be a time before that became anything, probably. If at all.

“I hope to get to know him. He is good looking.” And she glances down at the hand on the stomach, gathering something from that with a laugh. “And apparently his aim’s good too.”

That’s a joke.

Nicole blushes at Gillian’s joke, lips pressed together to hold back a bark of laughter that shows more in the quake of her shoulders than manifesting as sound. “You’re not wrong.” About his looks or his aim, apparently.

“He’s not the most social creature,” Nicole warns. “Which seems really outside my wheelhouse, I know.” She shrugs. What can you do? “But if you can crack that antisocial exterior…” The bride leans in to share a secret. “Ply him with a couple of drinks and you’ll get on the right track.” She leans back again and grins. “He just needs to loosen up a little.”

"I haven't been to many weddings," In fact this may be only Robyn's second wedding she's attended, "but I thought it was a faux pas to get the Groom drunk at his reception." Robyn reaches for a glass of water, smirking at Nicole "But hey, if that's what you want…"

Also a joke, thankfully.

"I don't think you've ever told me how you met," she notes, looking around at the other guests and them back at Gillian. "Not that it matters. I just feel a little left out I didn't hear about this sooner!" Okay, that's enough jokes. Robyn looks down at her glass for a moment, and then back up with a genuine smile - if slightly tentative. "Are you going to stay at Fort Jay? Or move on?" There's almost a sad hopefulness to those words. "I wouldn't blame you if you did. I almost did "

“Oh, I totally want to hear how you two met. It’s bound to be a great story,” Gillian can’t help but smile as she says it, because, well, in her experience, the people that she knows meet the loves of their life in very interesting circumstances. She knows she certainly met those that she considers the ones she loved under what could be considered interesting circumstances. And same for pretty much everyone she knew well. There always seemed to be a good story there.

And if there was one thing a librarian liked to hear, it was a good story.

“But yeah, what’s your plan? I hope you continue to work, personally.” They needed to keep the people who had helped make this country what it was in positions to keep it from backsliding into what it had been, or so she hoped. It still needed to get better, but it needed those who had seen where it had been in places that they could do things, too.

“Oh, gosh. You will drag me kicking and screaming from Fort Jay,” Nicole assures the two of them. “I’m getting a promotion next month, actually. Moving to desk work, perhaps obviously…” She laughs quietly and shakes her head. She’d have accepted the promotion even if she hadn’t been pregnant, but it helped make the choice to do it.

A glance in the direction of the groom, who appears to be attempting to mitigate whatever embarrassing story his identical twin is attempting to tell, reminds that he was part of her decision, too.

But they’re asking how the two of them met, and Nicole’s expression turns sheepish. “Don’t laugh,” she requests, then thinks better of it. “Okay, you can laugh, but you can’t ever repeat it.” With a roll of her eyes, she knows this is a terrible idea, telling this story, but she’s going to do it anyway.

“So, we met at a bar.” So far, this tracks. “I wasn’t in the fight, but I wound up as collateral damage. Broken bottle, meet palm. Nothing terrible, didn’t even need stitches.” She gestures in pantomime to the other side of the room, insofar as her setting is concerned, not the literal other side of this room. “There’s this handsome man sitting at the end of the bar, and he’s patching people up. Now, I’ve seen the difference between someone on the field playing doctor because they have no choice and someone who actually has a background in this. I could see that this guy was the latter.

So. “I go up to him, I show him my hand. He grabs the don’t-drink-me alcohol and gets me cleaned up. We get to chatting.” This should be where the story ends. This should be where Nicole ties a neat little bow around it and says something flippant like and the rest is history. But no. Because if anyone will appreciate the ridiculousness, it’s Gillian and Robyn.

Especially Robyn, Nicole estimates.

“Something just clicked. I’m not gonna say it was love at first sight, because it definitely wasn’t. Not even a little bit. But… I mean, look at him. He’s handsome as hell.” And Nicole does take a moment to look over at him again, a dopey little smile slipping into place for the space of time it lasts before she turns her attention back to her friends. “We… banged in the back room, and I thought maybe we can make a thing out of this?

Nicole shrugs, laughing at herself, because what else can she do? It helps her to resist the urge to cower from the weight of her friends’ potential judgement. “Not my proudest moment,” but she would have lower in the months to follow, “but I think I’ve come out of this one okay.”

Noticeably, Robyn perks up as Nicole shares her intention to stay at Fort Jay, and with a promotion. "Congratulations." A beat passes. "Wait. Does this mean you'll be my boss when I come back?" Which is still a long way off, but Robyn still feigns shock over this. "Oh no. Gillian, I'm not good at being a suck up!" That moment of pretend panic passes with a laugh and a shake of her head. "Honestly, you should be running that place, Nicole. So I'm glad to hear you're finally moving on up again."

Not good at sucking up, not at all.

But when she launches into the how we met story, Robyn listens with rapt attention. All of this sounds pretty much about right for what she would expect for how Nicole met her new beau. She'd comment as much, but she doesn't want it to sound mean - which would not at all be the intention, but she's known Nicole long enough to know her taste in men always at least starts out questionable.

Any sort of facade she has up crumbles away when Nicole shares that they banged in the back room, immediately choking on her water as she tries not to spit it out and shock. Once she recovers, she breaks out into uproarious laughter. "Nicole! Christ, that sounds like something I would've done ten years ago." A wide smirk forms on her face. "I love it. Looks like making it a thing is working out."

WIth a nod, Gillian seems to be in agreement with Robyn in at least being glad for the promotion, even if it’s the dreaded desk-work. But understandable under the circumstances. The woman did have a tendency to get stabbed from what she had heard told. But she didn’t say that part. Instead, she listened to the story with vigorous attention, and began to laugh at just the right parts, because it was funny and perfect. In so many ways.

“See, this is what the River Styx gets wrong. They try to drama so much that they missed the good stuff that was actually real and interesting.” Stuff like that really happened. And it would have made great television, but no, they had to come up with their stupid versions of events, and— ugh, has she mentioned how much she hated them?

Robyn knew. Maybe Nicole did too. But the way she shakes her head. “That’s a great story. And if I ever need a wound stitched, and I can’t go to the normal channels, I know another door to knock on.”

Sorry, Mister Miller, you’ve now been filed away in ‘potential medical resource’ part of Gillian’s brain.

Nicole lifts her arms, hands palms up, in a shrug. “What can I say? I make great life choices.” She does not. Everyone involved in this conversation knows this. But a broken clock, as the saying goes…

With a little flourish, she turns that shrug into a bow. “And, I thank you. I’m looking forward to the new position. Assistant to Director Nazan.” Nicole almost can’t believe it. She gives a bright smile. “I almost asked Kristopher to pinch me when I found out!” He might have actually done it, too. “Which, yes, means I’ll be in charge of the special agents. It’s not a big pool of direct reports, but that’s because I’m a selective person and I only take the best of the best.”

A grin and a wink is slanted to Robyn at that. See? Nicole is choosy and she chooses her.

"Oh, I could say a lot." Robyn can't help but wink, letting some more sass slip through while she can - she's not about to sass Nicole once she's her boss. Well, yes she is but she can at least pretend like she's not. Her grin is stupid and wide, winking at Nicole before laughing. The subject of who Nicole is in charge of and only picking the best of the best tempers that dumb grin a bit.

"I still don't know when I'll be back," Robyn admits. "I have to be cleared first." Shaking her head, she quickly moves past that bit of less than pleasant conversation. "But yeah! I think that's a great story too! It's… well, it's honest. The world can't all be fairytale office romances and miracle blind dates." It really is rarely either of those things, but still.

"Hey now, wait a second!" Robyn's gaze suddenly snaps over to Gillian. "Don't hate on my favourite show!" It's a joke of course, they've already had this conversation - she knows how Gillian feels about River Styx, and Robyn certainly doesn't disagree. But she also loves trashy british television. Even if she doesn't like not getting her own character.

Everytime anyone ever complained about sharing a character, Gillian would immediately counter that they could have one of hers any day. Cause, well, for some reason they saw fit to give her like five characters or something, even if half of them were merged with either her sister, her brother, or someone else. She half wondered how they managed not to include Stef at some point, the actual clone of herself that had existed, but had managed to make some kind of gender-bent version of her brother.

The actress that played her wasn’t awful, but— Oh good, Nicole has much better news than that awful show. “That’s great, Nicole. I’m sure you’ll do wonderfully in that position. And the desk job will probably be easier on you for the next year or so— to give you time to focus on being a mother again. No war this time to distract you this time.”

Cause she had been a good mother to Pippa as an infant, of course, but it would be easier to be a mom to a newborn with a desk job than one that might require field work— and getting stabbed like SESA agents seemed to get sometimes. “You’re going to do great. At all of it.”

At being an assistant to the director, at being a wife and at being a new mother all over again.

Gillian was sure of it.

cooper_icon.gif corbin_icon.gif


The voice of the bride crows from behind the pair of SESA agents standing on the outskirts of the dance floor. She has refreshed drink in her hand and a bright smile on her face when she wedges herself into the space between them, one arm around each of their shoulders.

“And Cooper! My boys!”

They both know she’s not drunk. Apparently Nicole is just Like This when she’s happy. God help them all.

“Where’s Al? I was expecting my favorite mascot in a tiny little tuxedo,” Nicole pouts jokingly, hugging Cooper just a little tighter.

Cooper wasn’t a ‘go to weddings’ type person and he might have been elbowed for making a comment about the dress during the ceremony. The agent didn’t make a huge effort on his looks, even if weddings were a place to meet women. He looked like he always does for work, even down to the Converses. He looked uncomfortable, more so when he gets hugged by the bride, a worried glance is cast in Corbin's direction.

“Who are you and what have you done with Nicole?” Thomas asks the newly married woman, with that half smile of his. “Pretty sure Dr. Miller replaced the real you with a pod person and…” he looks down at her waist, “podlings.” He’s joking of course, even being uncomfortable and waiting for the perfect time to flee back to his cave.

For once, Corbin Ayers isn’t a cloud of dourness, bringing the room down with his worry over things. Cause there were always things. Right now, at least, he had gotten caught up in the happiness and the fun, and he’d held onto his gift instead of putting it on the table with the rest, because— well— part of the fun of gift giving was seeing the face when she gives it over.

“Unfortunately we’re each other’s dates this time, Mrs Miller. No little rodent to get between us,” he teases, nudging Cooper with an elbow even though— yeah no, he’s about as straight as they get really. And he might actually have a date somewhere around, but he wasn’t really looking for her right now. Instead, he picks up the box and pushes it forward, “I wanted to give you your present personally, I hope you don’t mind. Your husband’s is in there too. It’s something you both should be able to use.”

Nicole can’t help but giggle when she’s called Mrs. Miller. Every time it’s happened today, she’s been positively flushed with giddiness about it. It’s enough to let Cooper’s comment about her being a pod person with podlings slide. Not so much as the tiniest little jolt of a static shock.

See? She is in a good mood.

Or has actually been replaced.

“Can’t I just be happy, Cooper?” Nicole asks, nudging him gently with her elbow after she’s snaked her arm back from around his shoulder and back to her own side. Corbin gets one more squeeze before she does the same for him.

And, no, if the last several months have been anything to go by, Nicole cannot just be happy. But who knows? Maybe this will be a start to a brighter, kinder Nicole in the office?

“Ooh,” she coos when the gift is offered out toward her. She takes a moment to decide what to do with her drink before holding it out in Corbin’s direction as an exchange. “Trade you!” She glances down to the gold-hued liquid in the champagne flute, then back up to Corbin. “It’s ginger ale. I promise.” She’s been drinking an awful lot of that at the office these days. Given her condition.

Once that hand-off is complete, she tears open the wrapping on the gift and slides open the top of the box. “Oh, my gosh.” Nicole gives off a delighted laugh at the His and Hers coffee mugs nestled together.



“These are awesome.” Carefully, she tucks the cups away and the box under her arm, balling the wrapping paper in one hand. She’ll pass it off to someone to throw away for her eventually. First, she’s taking back her drink. “I’m so glad you both could make it. It means a lot to me.”

“Yeeeah, mine’s in that big stack I saw by the door,” Cooper offers without any guilt, after watching the opening of Corbin’s contribution. “But what I can do is impart a kernel of wisdom to you from what I’ve learned through two marriages.” He manages to avoid using the word ‘failed,’ but everyone knows.

Cooper takes a moment, with head bowed and hands behind his back, like he’s contemplating on wording this pearl of advice. Finally, he looks at Nicole with that cocky, lop-sided grin of his.

“Don’t be like me.”

His hands fall from behind his back and go out on each side of him, as if his words were benevolent somehow. “Live by that and your marriage might have a fighting chance,” Cooper looks pretty sure of that.

“Or me,” Corbin admits with a laugh. Though, some people, possibly even those here, didn’t even know he had been married once. It was a short marriage? Not really though. It was just a long time ago. He had married young. And it hadn’t worked out.

“I think you two’ll be fine. If you treat marriage anything like you treat your job…” he grins and winks a little, as if that alone was enough of a joke there. No, he thinks she had a good chance at doing better at marriage than the two trouble makers before her. He might have had a better chance at a second one, but the first one had definitely been a mistake.

Aw, Cooper, no. Nicole’s expression instantly shifts to one of sympathy. “Look, the advice I should be taking is to not be myself. I’ve only gotten lucky enough to not get married before when I’ve made my bad decisions.” Not that any of those bad decisions would have had her, but that’s beside the point, right? “But don’t worry, Coop. I won’t be you.” Her eyes sparkle as she gives him a grin. “I can’t be. You’re one of a kind.”

Corbin’s comment about treating her new marriage like she treats her job causes Nicole to chuckle. “If I treated that poor man like he’s my job, he’d have filed a restraining order,” she jokes.

“You sure you’re not drunk? Or a pod person?” Cooper asks, leaning in a bit with a squint. “Because, there is no way that the Nicole I know would be that nice to me.” He leans over to one side and stretches out his neck so that he can see Zachery in the distance. “Hey!” he calls out to the guy. “Whatever you’re doing to her? Keep it up, dude!” He gives the groom two big thumbs up and a big cheeky grin, cause he might have an idea of what he’s ‘doing’ to her.

Turning back to the bride, Cooper’s expression shifts to something not quite as bright. His smile tugs to one side and he looks genuinely happy for her. “Seriously tho. Congrats, lady. I’m glad you found some happiness.”

“Oh my gosh,” Nicole groans without any real sincerity behind the gripe. “I'm way too hormonal for you to be talking to me like that.” She laughs and dabs a fingertip under her eye to preemptively quell some tears. “Thanks, you two. I'm glad you came.”


After a few turns around the dance floor, Nicole is back over by the table with the cupcakes. The lemon confection in her hand is her third such so far, but nobody’s going to call out the bride on her eating habits on her day.


"You know… I could just get you the lemons."

"Or is it the sugar?" Dumortier snuck up somewhere between grabbing #3 and her coming away with a bite; he sounds less judging and more inquiring, a curious glint in his eyes when he swipes one of the aforementioned lemon cakes for himself.

The blonde man's hair is clasped at the back, his suit a tailored black, embroidery at shoulder and spots along his sleeves. Stylish, and no wonder that he helped Zachery with the whole — tux ordeal. And boy, was it.

“Rene,” Nicole greets around a bite of lemon cake, one hand up to her mouth to cover the impoliteness of it until she’s swallowed it down. “The flowers are beautiful. Thank you so much.” Her own bouquet arrangement had come from her daughter’s shop, but most of the decorations had been his doing.

She smiles a little sheepishly and shakes her head. “The body craves what it craves. I don’t know if it’s the lemon or the sugar or both? But this is hitting the spot today.” Nicole shrugs. Can’t help it!

It's only polite to take a bite of icing while the other person chews away enough to answer. Stalling. He lifts a thumb to clean the edge of his mouth, smiling and giving a small 'cheers' with the tasted cupcake in his hand.

"No trouble. I'm sure your girlfriend could have done it, buuut," Dumortier lifts his free hand to wiggle his fingers. Magic. May as well use it. "She did a lovely arrangement for you. Me, I just sell when everyone else can't grow things. Cornering the dead season market — maybe I'll go chat her up later." For as much small talk as he gives, the aura around him is quite at ease, posture the same, features settled into a casual smolder.

"Probably both," Rene lifts one brow to her, "Given what I'm privy to." He takes a fuller bite of cupcake, his sidelong look edging on tickled.

Nicole’s brows furrow faintly. Girlfriend, she mouths, then her eyes widen in understanding and she nods with a quick smile. Oh. “Yes. Ingrid’s quite good at what she does. It’s good you can find work in the off-seasons.”

His comment about her cravings brings a sheepish look to the bride’s face. “Well, that’s an open secret at this point.” Even if she’s not showing terribly in her dress — she’s wearing a skirt with some poof to it for a reason.

"Open secret? That's fair." Oxymoronic, but he accepts it with a roll of a shoulder in a shrug. "He told me fairly… early. I think it was his lizard brain making decisions that day." Dumortier thumbs a touch of icing from his lip and looks away towards where he last saw the man in question. When he looks back to Nicole, it is with his hand shielding his mouth and very much conspiratorial.

"That, or he trusts me more than he lets on." Rene stifles a small laugh.

“I’m pretty sure he told you before he told me,” Nicole posits with a frown. He wouldn’t be the only person that knew she was pregnant before she did. Not that she’s still bitter about that in any way, shape or form.

Well, not today she isn’t, anyway. “I’m glad you came. I’m glad he has someone to talk to.” And Rene seems to genuinely enjoy Zachery’s company, and doesn’t appear to be wanted for any war crimes, so he’s good in her book.

Rene doesn't immediately comment on the order of admission, but the silent lift of his brows says enough — she's kind of right. Yes.

"He wanted advice. I'm shit at that kind." He is, however, great at flowers, so that's the least he helped with at the time. Polishing off the last bit of the cake in his hand, Dumortier double checks himself for errant crumbs, eyes darting up to Nicole.

No war crimes, maybe just a little of the normal kind. Somewhere. Nicole's met worse.

"Yeah," Me too. "Everyone could use someone."

Nicole’s been worse.

“Speak of the devil,” the bride murmurs, face lighting up as she spies someone approaching over Rene’s shoulder. She raises her hand to wave in advance of their arrival. “Hello, darling,” she says sweetly. No aspartame here.

There is a quickness with which Zachery approaches, even if he's got the airs of confidence on, head high and posture perfect. Both Nicole and Dumortier should know him better than to think he's not presently running away from a different conversation he suspects he might get pulled into. So he rounds on this one instead!

"Heeello Sunshine," he says pleasantly, as he slides in next to Nicole with a glass of orange juice he looks and sounds like he's about to crush. "Hello, wife." He pauses. Then leans slightly to the side and downward. "Hello, unborn children who are really more like really big fleshbeans changing in intimately frightening and new ways every day of my life." And he straightens again, smiling a perfect office smile. "How are we all."

"Salut, Devil." The drink that Rene apparently set aside before stuffing his face is back in his hand, not at all out of dangling temptation. Just a tiny bit. Hello wife? The way Zachery slides in with ..that, the blonde snorts with amusement; the fleshbeans just makes it worse, and out comes the fuller laugh.

"I'd say you should be calling her that, but I like it too much, so it's mine," on his rolling on up with 'Sunshine'. "We are — sated?" Dumortier settles on that. It's the truth. Honest. "And I think I'm going to give you a lemon tree."

It’s all smiles and adoration until Zachery bends down to address Nicole’s womb and the life growing inside of her. Her smile slowly decays into something that very clearly telegraphs what the fuck? “Are you trying to give me an existential crisis? At least they aren’t inside of you,” she reminds him.

Then, “Fleshfigs,” Nicole corrects, “thank you.” It’s a good thing she already finished her cupcake, because that might have been enough to cause her to lose her appetite otherwise.

One protective hand slides over her midsection, cleverly disguised with maternity shapewear, steel boning in her bodice, and several layers of organza. The other hand comes up to wrap around Zachery’s drink, now that she’s not holding anything else. Carefully, her expression beginning to soften again, she attempts to bring that glass closer to herself to steal it. Not outright snatching, of course, because A) orange juice, if spilled, would stain her dress and she’d cry about it in front of god and everybody, and B) it might have vodka in it.

“That’s a very sweet gesture,” Nicole chuckles quietly to Rene’s notion of a gift to bestow, “but I don’t have a yard for it. And a tree deserves to put roots in the ground, not in a planter on my patio.”

It does not, in fact, have vodka in it. Zachery pulls his drink slooowly upward and away from Nicole, cranes his neck to have a sip from it first, and then offers it out to her with enough slack in his grasp for her to take the glass wholesale.

"Sated is good. Lemon tree is good." He has not been listening, or at least, not very well, peering out into the groups of people gathered and letting his gaze rest on one person in particular. Tall, dark and answers to a name that rhymes with 'shmuruma'. "I'm actually also good, thank you for asking. Fleshfigs also good."

He slips behind Nicole, hands on her shoulders and his eye back on Dumortier, fake smile waned and brow knitting. "You know when you know someone and it should be obvious what you know them from, but then suddenly it hits you, and the big flashy mental lights come on? How long does that take to pass, generally. I don't really do social functions enough to know."

Needless to say, really, but there it is.

"Always a miniature one, if you change your mind. If there's something you'd like, let me know." Besides the decorations, anyway- - he's down with it. Dumortier fixes Zachery with a more suspicious smile, eyes following the orange juice and then to where Zach starts - hiding? - behind Nicole.

"Uh, what?" Suspicion comes out in a confused laugh, and of course Rene looks up to see if he can spot whoever Zach is clearly on about; likely not. "Probably as long as it takes you to figure out if they're worth worrying about." Blue eyes narrow as he answers.

“Christmas cactus,” Nicole tells Rene without missing a beat. She takes a sip of the orange juice she liberated from her new husband and smiles. “Maybe this will be the magic one that I manage to get to bloom more than once.” Keeping them alive isn’t the hard part, it’s just encouraging them to thrive instead of simply be that’s difficult for her.

With Zachery’s question, Nicole turns a look over her shoulder at him that’s exaggerated in its concern and renewed level of what the fuck.Who has you worried, love?” Considering 98% of the guest list is hers, she should be able to figure out pretty quickly what the issue is. But any of the suspects she comes up with are not ones that Zachery wouldn’t immediately recognize.

“I’m worried about you,” Zachery’s wife states emphatically, turning around fully now so she can rest her free hand on his cheek. “Talk to me?”

Christmas cactus yes good. Wait, what?

It isn't until Nicole is fully turned around that she has his full attention again, his expression falling into neutral. "You're worried," he echoes, his eye searching her face for a punchline. When one doesn't come, he glances to Dumortier, then back to Nicole again.

"… I'm fine." For once, this actually sounds like it rings true. He wastes no time in pulling Nicole closer for what would be a hug, but ends up more as a squish of an arm around her shoulders. C'mere. "I'll explain later, I promise. It's just nerves."

Nicole still decidedly unreleased until further notice, he grins at Dumortier from over her head. "Look at me, admitting nerves. That's personal growth. Now who needs a therapist."

It's still probably him. But not in this specific moment.

"Cactus. Sure. I can swing that, no problem…" Dude. Chill. That's precisely the eyeballing that Zachery is now getting from Rene, who does, for measure, look back over his shoulder again. Still no boogeyman.

"You'd think the nerves would come before the reception." Dumortier's grinning amusement at both this visual and the cause is just a biiit infectious. "I think he's using you as a human shield, love. Been there."

It is definitely still Zachery who needs a therapist. She has even started seeing one, in spite of all her protests against it all these years. So, if she can do it, so can he.

Nicole turns her head just enough so Dumortier can see the smirk she’s angling his way. “That’s what I’m saying. Now that we’re married, Nobody’s gonna mess with him, because they know they have to go through me.” Which is about the time she’d make some sparks dance between her fingers, but her husband has her kind of pinned against his chest, so that’s right out.

So, she plants a kiss on his face. Her lipstick is a neutral enough color that it doesn’t leave any kind of satisfying mark on his skin, but she knows it’s there, so that’s good enough for her. “Who do I gotta go punch, love?”

"Honestly, I'm all right," Zachery assures, letting go of Nicole when he feels how tightly he's holding her, smirking slightly self-consciously and holding one arm at her back. "I never did fear that," he tells Dumortier, using his free hand to rub at the side of his neck. "The ceremony - that's all rehearsed, mostly. Decided. But now?"

He lowers his voice a notch, as if he'd rather not draw attention to himself when admitting with a lean forward, "I'm actually… having an almost fully good day and I'm not sure I've ever known what to do with one of those."

The panic has slipped away from him regardless, making way for something that's on his face a lot more rarely - an intrigued sort of gladness that he turns toward the rest of the room he plans to explore a little more soon. "But, like I said. I'm fine."

"I'd be more worried about him being his own worst enemy…" Dumortier mumbles with a smirk, grabbing a bit of a snack from the table and stuffing it in his mouth. Didn't say nothin'.

He doesn't talk with his mouth full. "A good day, huh?" Rene's smile widens and his eyes seem to spark beneath that moonstone blue. "You deserve it. I mean that, I'm not fucking with you. Worked hard for it." Whether he realizes or not.

“A good day, huh? I should hope this is a good one!” If it wasn’t, Nicole would quite honestly feel as though she’s failed her very first day as Zachery’s wife. That would set a horrible precedent she isn’t sure she could recover from.

Nicole narrows her eyes faintly as she winds her arms around her husband. “Wanna go make out behind the building, Mister Miller?”

It's been increasingly hard, summoning cynicism today. Zachery's expression seems to fight itself when he's subject to Dumortier's kindness, and he lifts his gaze upward in lieu of actually trying to find words to dispute it. It takes effort to breathe in and not use the air for his usual skepticism, but clearly the opposite does not come to him easily, either.

Fortunately, Nicole's there to snap him out of it with some magic words - and though he doesn't so much answer her, the widening grin on his face when he lowers his gaze back down speaks for itself just fine. "Ssso, I should go," he tells Dumortier, for reasons.

He's already stepping to the side with an arm hooked through one of his brand new wife's, ready to leave - but not before finishing his thought with a touch of pride on his voice and sincerity in the awkward pacing of his words. "For what it's worth, piss-taking and all, I'm glad you're here."

huruma2_icon.gif megan_icon.gif

The party has been in full swing for a bit now. Guests have been fed, first dances have been had, cake has been cut — which means the myriad flavor cupcakes are no longer off-limits — and the open bar is flowing.

The bride has been a social butterfly since the end of the ceremony, hard to pin down in one place for very long, except while she was eating her meal. Sharp looks from her new husband kept well-wishers from interrupting her while she consumed that.

Now, however, Nicole is seated at the head table, alone, her feet propped up on the chair that would seat her Matron of Honor, if she weren’t mingling and dancing with her own husband at the moment. Having been seen most of the evening with a champagne flute in hand, now she has a stemmed glass of ice water to sip from instead.

Her too-bright blue eyes scan the crowd, smiling absently at all the faces of friends come to offer felicitations. Never in her dreams did she imagine such a turn out for her.

Sure, she had always imagined she’d marry wealthy and well-connected — she’d once told Mateo Ruiz that she aims high, no small fish for her — but attendance at a society wedding is perfunctory. Nobody shows up because they really want to be there, specifically. They simply want to see and be seen. This… This isn’t a photo op. This is a community.

As the strawberry blonde (at this point) makes her way toward the head table with a glass of white wine in her hand, she's got a small smile quirking her lips. "It's really good to see you happy," Megan tells Nicole as she appears in the bride's view and settles herself into a chair. "Absolutely lovely shindig, Nicole."

With one comes the other. Naturally. Huruma isn't far behind Megan, though she lingers where she stands, head tilting in greeting after the redhead's own. The word shindig seems to draw a touch of amusement, Huruma's mouth turning in an easy smile.

"And a fine turn-out." An appropriate observation, given the context only an empath can find.

Thank you,” Nicole replies with genuine gratitude. She worked incredibly hard putting this together on the shortest of notices, and single-handedly, and it’s nice to have the effort appreciated. “It is, isn’t it?” She says both to Megan’s compliment and Huruma’s comment.

“I would get up and greet you properly,” Nicole apologizes then, lifting her face-down phone off the table to check the screen a second. “But my husband is very adamant that I have to leave my feet elevated for anotherrr… Seven minutes.” She chuckles quietly. “I’m not to move unless it is to prevent harm to myself.”

"I like that you have someone to make you take it easy," Megan admits. It's been a damn hard few months and she likes that Nicole has someone to take care of her. "Pippa looks to be having a ball." She tips her head. "Are you having swelling problems already?" The nurse in her has to ask.

Huruma's ballpark starts veering away at nurse Megan mode, though she does pull up a chair to slide down into and lean an arm on the table, one leg hooking over the other.

"I didn't think he was that kind of doctor." She sounds more skeptical than anything. "Then again…" Pale eyes flick across the room directly to wherever Zachery may be. Like a heat-seeker. Huruma looks back before he can notice. Her brow arches up, "I only met him when he was doling out pills and stealing gurneys. Moved up in the world."

“Oh, no,” Nicole is quick to assure about swelling issues. “Only when I do something to deserve it, like have way too much salt and not enough water. Zachery’s very good about making sure I’m taking breaks.” She lifts her glass and takes a sip of water. And hydrating, apparently.

Huruma’s assessment of Zachery has Nicole shaking her head with a quiet laugh. “The man knows his medicine, I promise.” That’s to say nothing of his ability and the boon it grants him. “He has a very promising career with Raytech. I’m hoping he’ll be happier there than he was at Elmhurst.” And if he isn’t, then they’ll cross that bridge when they get to it.

Meg relaxes at the assurance of no swelling. It's a bad sign to have swelling so early on. "Good," she nods. She hides her smile for a moment behind a sip of wine and observes to Huruma, "You do remember something similar could be said of me, yeah?" she teases. After all, they first met on Pollepel — and Megan was stealing medical supplies to help the Ferry.

"Raytech?" Huruma peers across the room for a moment, looking back to Nicole with a quirked smile. "Ah, the crossroads for wayward souls." Richard sure loves those, doesn't he?

"To be honest… I often forget that you don't have a title." She confides in Megan and Nicole with a conspiratorial hush. "And that you've got sticky fingers like the best of them." And Huruma will be eternally grateful. She sits back out of her hush, looking over her shoulder. "I do not think the equipment was for anything as poignant…" Given how they met.

"But, I digress — for what it is worth— " Huruma's eyes hood on the way back to the other women, expression a tad inscrutable. "He cares about you, and that is good enough for me." She's just a liiittle protective, in case one needs reminding.

Nicole needs no reminders of Huruma’s protective nature. The bride has a reception full of people ready to protect her at a moment’s notice if she were to need it. The experience has been a bit humbling, actually. “He does care,” she promises. “He cares about me when I don’t care about me.” And Huruma knows all too well how often that is the case with her.

“Megan, I…” The bride bites her lip, looking ashamed and apologetic. “I am so embarrassed. I should’ve—” Sent her her own invite. “I’m so glad you came,” she effuses instead of putting Megan in a position to have to forgive her for the oversight. In the coming days, she’ll almost certainly wake up in a cold sweat, gasping in horror over another name she forgot to add to the guest list.

At least this mistake corrected itself. To Huruma, Nicole says, “Thank you for bringing her."

The redhead laughs softly. "Nicole," she chides gently, "don't think another thing of it." Gesturing around the assembled, Megan reassures the bride, "There are a lot of things happening here and a lot to manage. I am in no way offended." She would have simply offered her congratulations another time if it hadn't worked out like this! "I'm just thrilled to see you happy."

Huruma nods once, flashing a smile for the two of them. "Anymore it's almost a given she'll be my plus one." Right? Megan gets a little elbow.

"Mhm." She echoes Megan, the same thought in her own head. "It's always blessing to find someone like that. Who cares even if we don't. I'm happy you have."

“And I’m thrilled that you’re here,” Nicole reiterates with a smile of gratitude for Megan’s presence as well as her understanding of how things slip through the cracks.

Huruma’s comment sees a nod from Nicole in response. “Yeah, me too.” She needed someone like that more affixed to her life. Her friends are wonderful, caring people, but they aren’t physically present for many of her dark moments. Zachery, for better or for worse now, is.

Back to Megan, Nicole smirks faintly. “Are you already preparing to fistfight the OB nurses for delivery room privileges?” She rests her hand on her stomach while she takes another drink of water.

A brow quirks upward and Megan asks ruefully, "Are you gonna make me fight for that? Really?" She won't — she'll do whatever Nicole prefers, honestly. She missed the birth of Pippa and although she's a good nurse, she doesn't assume people automatically want her around for something like that. Her grin is easy. "I'm there if you want me. If not, I'll hover with Hooms here and bogart a baby as soon as possible. You're about my only possibility for feeding that occasional urge to rock a squaller."

That she's never had kids of her own Megan has only once a blue moon thought about — not really with regret, either. More with that a momentary wist of 'what would life have been like?' But she never really found the right time or felt the urge to have a go at it when she was of an age to. And nowadays, she's just really past the point of wanting such young ones full time anywhere near her. But she's a great option for a babysitter!

"I would rather not hover. You can hover." Huruma seems briefly concerned with the prospect. As much as she has learned to deal with babes, the process of getting there has her visibly uncomfortable. If she can help it, avoiding that interim between pregnant and baby is a priority. "I will visit after."

"And often after that. Pippa is nervous and excited. She won't be the youngest anymore."

“It’d be nice to have someone in my corner,” Nicole admits to Megan. “And… maybe to keep my husband calm? With his ability, he can get a little doctor knows best about things sometimes.” While it’s something of a frustration, it is still endearing to her in its way.

Huruma gets a smile. “You’re welcome to visit whenever you’re ready.” She nods her head at the empath’s assessment of her youngest daughter’s emotional state over the situation. “Pippa’s going to be a great older sister when the time comes. For now, it’s just preparing her for that transition.”

Waving now for the two women to come around the table, Nicole lifts her phone up with a big grin. “C’mon! Let’s grab a picture together. The photographer’s going to have so many, but I want to have some of my own until I get those in.”

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Nicole twists under the arm of her current dance partner, twirling and smiling with joy in this moment. Her skirt billows out around her, then winds about her legs with the arresting of her momentum, finding its way back to original shape shortly thereafter.

“I’m so glad you made it, Vee,” Nicole wraps her arms around her friend and colleague in a tight a hug once she’s stopped spinning, still rocking in rhythm to the music. “We don’t get enough time to hang out.” Office lunches are excellent, but not the same.

The photographs of this day will commemorate that Veronica Sawyer does in fact wear dresses and that her wardrobe consists of something other than impeccably cut and tailored trousers and pinstripes. Her dress doesn’t twirl and billow, being a sleeveless sheath in rose gold. It does show off her legs, still lean and muscular from her daily runs, as well as her battle wounds she’s hardly abashed about and doesn’t try to cover up.

Not everyone’s been stabbed by Hana Gitelman, after all, and fewer have lived to tell the tale.

It’s also probably the first — and likely the last — many people have seen her dance.

“I wouldn’t miss it,” Vee says, hugging Nicole and beginning to edge her way toward the outskirts of the dance floor — one dance was all she promised, after all. She has to see these people on Monday.

“Is there going to be a honeymoon? Please tell me you’re not just staying one night at an Airbnb and coming back into work this week. Not that I don’t want to see your face.”

A man steps to the front of a group near the dance floor, wearing a smile and a black three piece suit dotted with accents that play off Veronica's dress. He isn't unfamiliar, but hasn't been seen around New York since work took him back to Kansas City.

But Bowie is ready to greet the bride with a drink and Veronica with a kiss against her temple. And also a drink.

"She never dances with me, you know. I'm wondering if I should start feeling jealous," he says, his smile turning crooked. "Nicole, you look so happy," he adds, and he's glad to see it. Their work, while important, is not always sunshine and skittles. He chuckles at Veronica's question, and nods in agreement. "Somewhere nice for at least a few nights. Even if New York falls apart without you."

As one song fades into the next, Nicole accepts that she has to relent and allow Veronica to escape from the dance floor. One dance was the promise, and Nicole has to be as good as her word, doesn’t she?

So, Veronica is handed off again to her date and Nicole takes the drink from Bowie with a lift of the glass as if to toast him for his generosity. Then she looks slightly sheepish about just how happy everyone says she looks. She is happy, of course, and there should be no shame in that. If a woman can’t be brazenly happy on her own wedding day, when can she? But Nicole has a reputation, one she’s eroding little by little with each toothy smile and peel of laughter.

“Have you looked at me, Bowie? Of course you should be jealous!” Nicole quips with more confidence than she feels. Then she laughs and points to the pair of them instead. “No, seriously, though. Look at you two! You are both scrumptious. Call HR on me, I don’t fuckin’ care.”

Oh, she just snorted a laugh into the back of her hand. She is having a good time.

The question of the honeymoon plans is not left unanswered, though it’s dismissed with a wave of her hand. “No, no. We’re just staying in a nice hotel tonight so we’re –” read: she’s “– not tempted to do chores or anything when we get in. I’ll be back to work bright and early on Monday morning.” But before either of them can admonish her for the choice, Nicole pats her stomach. “We wanted to wait until I can really celebrate. So, we’re planning a honeymoon trip sometime this winter, after the twins are big enough to be left with their aunts.”

Nicole suddenly squints suspiciously at the drink in her hand, then looks back to Bowie. “Wait. This isn’t champers, is it?”

Vee turns to look up at Bowie, dark eyes sparkling at his arrival. She takes the glass from him, while her other arm slips around his waist to lean into him.

“Hopefully it’s the cider,” Veronica says, glancing at the glass and then up to Bowie with brows lifted. She did tell the agent the bride was expecting, didn’t she?

“You’re sure you haven’t already had a bit?” she teases Nicole when the other woman snorts. “I mean, we do look amazing, it’s true. Even the HR people have to make exceptions sometimes.”

She tips her head up to press a quick kiss into Bowie’s cheek. “I only harassed Bowie after he gave me consent, and vice versa, for the record,” she adds with a grin. “In case you’re worried.” Her expression isn’t a worried one, but rather that of a cat who ate the canary.

"Have you looked at me, Nicole?" Bowie says, adjusting his tie playfully. He can't keep the act up for long, though, and falls into a chuckle.

"Don't worry, it's the cider. They're both cider, just so I wouldn't accidentally mix them up." Thinking ahead, obviously. But it's clear he hasn't started in on the alcohol himself, or at least not to the level of it having any noticeable impact on his behavior. Perhaps he's the designated driver tonight. Or perhaps he has had enough embarrassing drunk at a wedding moments for one lifetime.

He leans into the kiss from Veronica, but her words get a slightly sheepish laugh. "I told her I'd been waiting for her to harass me for years."

“Oh, I’m looking.” Nicole gives a performative up and down sweep of her gaze, ending with a lift of her brows and a grin. What’s a little harassment outside of the workplace between friends?

(Not harassment, obviously.)

And since it’s cider, she lifts her glass and takes a drink. “You two are so handsome together. I’m really glad to see it.” While holding out her closed fist in Veronica’s direction, she murmurs low, “Well done.” Nicole may not be full of alcohol, but she’s definitely full of warm fuzzies. “It’s so, so good to see you again, Bowie. It’s not the same without you around. How’s KC treating you?”

“You don’t have to look that hard,” Veronica says wryly, but it’s a playful complaint and she grins up at Bowie after dusting some imaginary dust off his suit.

Nicole’s offered fist gets a bump from the agent. “Not being in the same office makes it a bit easier and also a bit more challenging, but there are planes for a reason, right? And Olivia adores him. Even Andrew can’t find much to fault him with.” She lifts her brows. “Though he tries.”

She quiets to let Bowie answer the question posed to him, her eyes searching for the fair curls belonging to her daughter, finding her playing with Pippa, Jonah, and some of the other children under the watchful eyes of Peyton and Brad.

A warm chuckle greets the look and the banter from Veronica, and Bowie makes a show of looking back toward the bar. Like maybe he should have gotten himself something after all. But it's just for show.

"Yes, I think Andrew is annoyed whenever I'm nice to him," Bowie says, but without judgement. It's complicated, as facebook would say. "And I just bribe Olivia," he adds with a wink. "That's how you get the kids on side. As for KC… well it's… flat," he says, which might mean he misses New York some. "But I haven't seen one animal with electrical teleportation so flat works for now." One day he will get over the rats. But not this day.

Woof.” Nicole winces and shakes her head at the mention of the electric nightmare that used to lurk in the tunnels beneath the Safe Zone. She’ll forever be grateful for the way that problem seemed to somehow solve itself.

“I’m glad you’re both making it work.” A glance is angled to where the children are playing together, smiling in a hopelessly maternal fashion while absently rubbing her hand over her stomach.

Pulling herself from her reverie, Nicole transfers her drink to her other hand and pulls out her phone. “Come here. Picture time!” A couple taps of the screen with her thumb brings up the camera. Nicole angles herself behind the shorter Veronica and loops her arm around Bowie’s shoulders (consequently forcing him to crouch down a bit to get on the women’s level) and lines the three of them up in the viewfinder.

“Say I’ve got next!” The bride flashes an exaggerated smile at the camera, 100% prepared to capture the looks of exasperation and/or confusion on their faces with her shot. Shouldn’t everyone want to capture this level of wedded bliss???

Veronica laughs as the photo is shot, and angles a glance over at Nicole. “I do hope you mean the next round, because that much I can do.”

Especially at an open bar.

If she means weddings or children, well, that’s a whole ’nother Oprah, as they say.

“Send me a copy of that,” she says with a smile and leans over to give a quick kiss to Nicole’s cheek. “It’s lovely to see you so happy. If he makes you unhappy, you know I know Hapkido and Taekwondo and am just plain mean.” She grins, not at all bothered by the reputation she has for being what some might call a ‘tough cookie’ or ‘hard ass,’ depending on who’s asked. “Ask anyone.”

Bowie does, indeed, crouch down to make it a little easier for Nicole to get her arm across his shoulder and strikes a very exaggerated, 90s boy band style pose for the picture. He even starts to repeat the words Nicole supplies for them in a cheery tone, as one might expect at a wedding. I've got makes it out of his mouth before he realizes what he's saying.

The camera catches him mid-surprise as he looks away from the phone and toward the two women.

"Wait, what?"

There may, at least, be some comfort in how Veronica handles the very sneaky trick, but Nicole will always have an amusing photo to remember them by.

Nicole laughs delightedly as she captures the look of shock forever with her camera. “Perfect,” she declares, quickly pulling her phone to her chest protectively, in case Bowie should want to protest the continued existence of said image.

The kiss to her cheek is returned with one pressed to Veronica’s own. “I will definitely send it to you.” Later. For now, she’s tucking her phone back into the pocket of her skirt. “I’m going to have a small army willing to wreck that man if he ever wrongs me, I think.” It’s gratifying to Nicole to know so many people care about her and her happiness.

Bowie is nudged with Nicole’s elbow and she can’t help but giggle again. “Don’t worry. It’s not like either of you caught the bouquet.” She didn’t throw one, so. “You’re both in control of your own destinies.”

The smile falls away from Nicole’s face suddenly as she spots something on the other side of the patio. “Ohhh no. I think my new brother-in-law is trying to hit on my sister.” Nicole laughs nervously and offers a wave to her friends with a wiggle of her fingers. “Bee-are-bee, preventing a murder! Catch you later!”

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It wouldn’t be a wedding celebration without her family present. All of them. As far as Nicole is concerned, Lucille and Delia Ryans are hers now. Which, yes, is a bit weird, because she’s not old enough to be their mother, and mothering them has never seemed appropriate before, but now…

Well, they’d been seated with family for the ceremony and the reception, at a table with Zachery’s brother, Nicole’s two biological daughters, her eldest’s wife, her sister and her partners, their own half-brother and his partner and her son, and the partner of her best friend/Matron of Honor. And their own dates, of course.

It’s a long (string of) table(s pushed together).

At this hour, Ingrid and Sofia have taken Pippa home after a long afternoon of dancing with her best friend, her sisters, her mom, her new step-dad, and anyone else she could cajole into it with her big blue eyes and a bat of her long lashes. While the youngest Ryans girls may have lost steam, Nicole is still going strong. It’s so rare to see her so happy, and she is happy today of all days.

Coming to their table, Nicole drops into the seat previously occupied by Sofia Webb, beaming a smile across the table to the remaining Ryans girls. “Lucey Goose,” she greets the eldest first, then the younger. “Carrot Cake.” Some things never change.

“Gentlemen.” The nickname for Finn is still a work in progress, and it’s a personal failing of Nicole’s that she hasn’t come up with one for Nick that sticks yet. It isn’t as though she hasn’t had ample time.

Son of York just wasn’t right. Yorkshire not quite there either. In that vein, Terrier was dismissed as condescending (by her) and Pudding too affectionate to use for someone attached to someone even jokingly referred to as her step-daughter. (And all of that is putting aside the fact that he doesn’t even go by that name these days.)

But it’ll get there. One day.

Delia’s kicked her heels off and is relaxing, leaning her back against Nick. It’s a relaxed and easy posture and when Nicole takes the seat, the dreamwalker smiles. She hasn’t had that much to drink but she’s been dancing almost all night. For the redhead, there hasn’t been too many occasions where dress up and dancing have come to play. Usually, she’s a dirt covered homebody. Most recently, well, they all got the recording.

“You look gorgeous,” she grins, blue eyes flitting over the bride before resting on her face. “What do we call you now, Nicole Miller? Nicole Varlane-Miller? Nickleback?” Someone else has been testing nicknames, but that back and forth has been going on for as long as they’ve known each other… and none of them ever stick. Delia gets flighty.

Lucille is in the process of draining one glass of champagne and once that's set down she takes the other next to the now empty flute and she makes eye contact with the bride. Light gray blue eyes meeting electric blue. "Did Wang design that dress?" Her shoulders are down, she's been drinking since she arrived. Loose. Or Loose Wheel as her best friend had started calling her when she was on one.

This was a happy day though and so she's way less sad, sobbing drunk and more excited and everything is beautiful drunk. It's a reprieve for poor Finn, her date and also someone she sees on the regular. Lucille's hair is growing out again and the brown locks fall past her bare shoulders. Her dress is a light lilac and simple, makeup barely there, mostly in preparation of any tears or hysterical sobs that could happen.

"Dad would have loved the ceremony," Her dad hated all the mushy stuff but it feels right to say. Don't eye me old man. Keep him on a tight leash mom. The matriarch had more than one parent to pray to now.

It’s an awkward table for the two gentlemen, given that Finn was one of Eileen’s guard dogs when the woman had kidnapped her own brother.


Well, it’s bygones for Finn, who doesn’t seem to think too much of it. He wasn’t the one kidnapped, after all. Tonight, the pilot has tried to keep Lucille on the happy side of the drunk spectrum, knowing that the event being so close to her father’s death is hard on her, no matter how brave and bright a smile she puts on. He’s done his part to be goofy, and brought the worst white-boy dance moves to the wedding reception.

“Only if you don’t like her,” he says to Delia with a smirk. “Congratulations again,” he tells Nicole. “This is the first wedding I’ve been to that wasn’t in a barn in eight years. Definitely the best smelling wedding I’ve been to in recent memory,” adds the former Providence denizen.

Nick chuckles at both Delia’s attempts at finding a nickname for the bride and Finn’s reply.

“You’re going to have as many different last names as me one of these days,” the spy teases Nicole, resting his chin on Delia’s shoulder as he looks up at the bride. He has a few, not even counting the two legal names he’s had. “Nicole Miller’s got a certain ring to it. It’s the assonance I think.”

His gaze slides into a sidelong glance at Delia, to intercept the joke that’s no doubt coming. “Yes, I did tell Nicole she has a nice assonance. Don’t be jealous.”

Nicole groans at Delia’s nicknames, but it’s a good-natured thing. She gets as good as she gives sometimes. “As they said at the end of the ceremony,” when the bride and groom, now joined, were introduced to those congregated, “it’s Nicole Miller now.” The paperwork was filed a short while back to make things official. “With Magnes back around, it didn’t seem right to hold on to his name.” She just kept it safe for him. “I gave Pippa the choice.”

Take her mother’s new name, keep the one she was born with, or…

“She chose Ryans.” Which, although Nicole didn’t push her daughter toward that choice, is the one she would have made for her. She smiles to each of her daughter’s sisters in turn. It’s bittersweet, certainly. “I was always going to have him walk me down the aisle.” Since they’re already on the subject of their father. Sure, giving away the bride is usually an honor given to her own father, but to hell with Richard Nichols, may he burn the symbolism of giving his blessing was something she would have appreciated. She suspects he would have, too.

“I’m glad you’re here.”

And it’s with a bright smile that she waves away all those melancholy notions. “We can… talk more about that all later,” she promises. She doesn’t want to ruin their enjoyment of the evening. “For now, let’s talk about how my wedding smells of flowers, my dress is John Rocha, and my assonance is amazing.” Nicole flashes a grin to Nick. “Nice word, by the way. I knew I liked you for a reason.” To Finn, she wags a finger, chiding, “You still owe me a dance.” There’s still some party left, if Nicole’s reputation for throwing them is any indication. He’s got time.

Nick gets a laugh, the kind of laugh that comes from the belly and hasn’t been heard around their house for a while now. Her arm curls up to ruffle her fingers through his hair playfully. “Pretty sure Mister Miller would have more to say about your approval of Nicole’s assonance.” The redhead has only ever met Zachery in passing. The best was yet to come for him. Once she’s up to it… maybe someday, she might do a deeper dive, but not today or anytime soon. Let Nicole have her moment without Delia ruining everything by finding out he’s a serial killer or something.

“Dad would have loved that.” Pippa Ryans also had a nice little ring to it. Besides, with the pizza man back, it was a little weird for Delia to have a little sister with his last name. A different story for a different time. “Will it be hard to change? I mean, what do they do for kids? I heard it’s a few hundred for adults unless you’re getting married or something.” The redhead trails off, she’s pretty sure Nicole could take care of any financials.

“It would have been great to see Dad walking you down the aisle. He just had to be the hero… like always.” Delia says, her grin turning a little sad at Nicole’s plan. In Delia’s case, there’s no wedding planned now or in the future. Just way back when she had a frilly pink room filled with unicorns and sparkles, that was when she had the same dream. “He got to do it for Ingrid,” she adds with a wink, “I’m sure that filed his void.”

"He would have" A small smile from Lucille before she too wants to talk of dresses and flowers and less of death and mourning.

"He got lucky to have such a large family, we all did." That's as much as she's saying on that before she's taking another sip of her champagne. "I have to say I'm very happy to have missed being your guest at those weddings." Winking at Finn and leaning on him.

"I mean I knew it when I saw the dress but the fact that you got it amazes me. Love the pieces in that collection," Clothesclothesclothes. But not just that.

"Where in the hell are you two honeymooning?"

Nicole laughs quietly. “Okay, one topic at a time here…”


Nicole is flushed with giddiness as Zachery leads her off the dance floor and toward the tables clustered beyond it. She’s been having so much fun dancing with friends, but Zachery is worried about her spending so much time on her feet in her condition. And in those heels, no less.

“Okay, okaaaay!” Nicole relents as he finally extracts her from her latest partner, waving over her shoulder. They don’t make it all the way back to the head table before she veers off and drops down to sit at an empty seat at a different one entirely.

“Doctor Carver!” the bride greets with a bright smile. “I’m so glad you could make it!” That he ventured from Providence for something other than a supply run or one of their veterans’ circle meetings is a wonderful surprise.

Listen, hypochondria by proxy is a thing, apparently, and it's hard enough worrying about someone when they're out of reach, but here? With the chaos of people emoting and drinking and dancing and…

Zachery stands, having stepped in behind Nicole's elected chair and sliding a hand onto either shoulder, as if she might float away if he doesn't gently hold her there. Maybe the brush of a thumb against the back of her neck will help.

As though he's standing watch, he aims a thinly disguised glance of dissuasion around at a few people who look like they might be thinking of stealing her away again, until they look and/or go elsewhere. And yet, when a moment later his attention is drawn to Carver courtesy of Nicole, Zachery snaps out of his adopted role, and smiles. "Oh. There you are."

Surprise the first: Carver is wearing a suit.

Surprise the second: Carver wears a suit pretty well.

He smiles as the bride approaches, and for once it doesn't look like a pained rictus. "Mrs. Miller," he rasps, nodding in greeting. "And Dr. Miller. Thank you for having me."

The genuine nature of Carver’s smile is not lost on Nicole for what it is, and she appreciates it. She also beams that much more when she’s addressed as Mrs. Miller. The novelty of that has not yet worn off on her, and may not yet for some time.

“You look incredibly sharp,” she compliments, because it’s deserved. “Are you having a good time? Did you get a cupcake?” Nicole leans in conspiratorially to ask, without actually lowering her voice, “Or five?”

Nobody is allowed to ask how many cupcakes the bride has had, thank you.

It's immediately obvious that Zachery is happy to stand back in this particular moment, hands on Nicole's shoulders — Carver knows him well enough to know he's not particularly a people person, and there has been a lot of peopling today, so this makes sense.

What makes less sense, then, is why he looks at the older man with his head still up, his smile lasting longer than the polite ones usually do, even if it thins. "My bet's on one, personally. They are very good, I will admit, but Dr. Carver here is a man of sophistication and reasonableness."

"Thank you," Carver says, nodding at Nicole's compliment. Miller's borderline slanderous characterization of him draws a raised eyebrow, but he opts to let it pass. "Just one," Carver confirms. "Too much sugar isn't good for you. Especially at my age."

"They are, however, excellent cupcakes, and were I bit less long in the tooth I might very well have had another. Or two." Probably not — he's never really gone after sweets all that much — but he's not about to cast shade on anyone for enjoying the festivities. "A wedding's meant to be a celebration, after all; two lives joined together, against all contest."

He raises a glass, drawing himself up even straighter than he had already been sitting, but his smile doesn't leave his face. "I'm happy for you. My sincere congratulations; may neither man nor God break apart that which you two have joined together." His toast made, he downs the contents of his glass in one shot.

Nicole squeaks indignantly at Zachery’s characterization of Carver, and what that implies about his characterization of her in return. “Are you saying I am neither sophisticated nor reasonable?” The bride reaches up and smacks the groom’s hand on her opposite shoulder.

Just a love tap.

Any further argument-in-the-making is quelled by Carver’s toast. “Oh, you are too kind.” That hand flutters over her heart now to indicate that she is sincerely touched, as if the look on her face didn’t convey it well enough on its own. Then, it moves back to Zachery’s, but this time to give it a squeeze. See? All is well in the Kingdom of Miller.

God, I need a drink, though,” she laments with a chuckle at her own expense. “Would you like another, Dr. Carver? I’d be happy to fetch.” Already, Nicole can feel those hands on her shoulders keeping her planted in her seat. Gosh, it’s fun to wind him up.

The love tap is adorable, if Zachery's face is anything to go by, and he's just managed to nudge his expression closer to a more neutral impression of grateful at Carver's words when displeasure knits his brow and pulls his lips to a thin line. "No, you wouldn't be," he says downward, sharply.

He lifts his head again and looks at Carver and repeats, "No, she wouldn't be. I, however, have two hands for every functioning eyeball." His eyebrows slant upward over both of them with less discrimination, "So what will you have, Dr. Carver?"

His hands squeeze her shoulders in turn, because he knows what she's doing and she knows he knows what she's doing. But apparently that's not going to keep him.

Carver nods gravely. "Your logic is sound, Doctor Miller. Since you're offering, I'd take… some punch." He wants to say some whiskey, or a beer, but he's decided that he's not going to order a real drink in front of someone who can't enjoy one at the moment. And the punch isn't really bad, either, even if he prefers his enhanced.

Nicole slants a glance up over her shoulder to Zachery, informing him in a flat affect, “If you don’t make sure there’s some vodka in that, you’re a bad friend.”

See, Doc? She’s got your back.

Blue eyes roll good-naturedly. “I am perfectly capable of holding a glass of alcohol without consuming it myself, I assure you.” It wouldn’t be the first time she’s done it this evening. Although she did have to get someone else to order the champagne from the bar and hand it off to her. Those bartenders really listened to the instructions Zachery gave them.

A kiss is pressed to Zachery’s knuckles before his hand can leave her shoulder. “Love you~” Nicole sing-songs.

"I'm going to make sure there's some vodka in me next," is all Zachery offers in return, in reply to everything that's been said, before he twists around to get to running his errand.

Except when his hands leave her shoulders, one of them lingers on the side of her neck. He bends down ever so slightly to whisper something in her ear, and then off he goes, walking a little straighter. "'Punch'," he calls back over his shoulder, quotation marks audible in his voice, "coming right up."

“By all means. It's your party, too,” Nicole reminds Zachery. “Don't hold back on my account.” Her eyes lid when his hand slides to her neck, a contented smile crossing her face. What he whispers in her ear, though, that has her eyes opening wide again, though focused pointedly on the surface of the table. Her lips press together in tandem with color rushing to her cheeks while the culprit retreats.

Carver arches an eyebrow… but if his punch comes enhanced, who is he to argue? "Obliged," he says, nodding as Doctor Miller takes his leave. Though not, apparently, without a pretty good parting shot for the (now) blushing bride.

Good. Always good to see. Carver has attended a wedding or two in his time, made that same well-polished toast enough times for it to become well-polished; some of those weddings have lasted. Others… others have not. Teasing and blushing, though, are things he's seen more often in the relationships that last than he's seen in the ones that don't.

He watches Doctor Miller go, then turns his attention to the newly minted Mrs. Miller. He clears his throat. "So… I'm assuming you're planning to base yourselves in the Safe Zone?"

The question draws Nicole out of the flustered moment she was experiencing. She chuckles quietly at her own expense, the smile staying behind as she nods an affirmative. “Yes. I own a house in Bay Ridge.” So it might be understandable why she would be reluctant to leave that. “Life in Providence was… nice? But ultimately, it’s just not sustainable for a girl like me.”

And there’s a little shame in that, actually. Nicole wishes she could be the kind of person who’s happy with a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere.

“Might need a bigger house, though!” She shakes off the moment of introspection with another laugh. “Do you have children, Dr. Carver?”

That question gives Carver a bit of pause. "No," he answers, after a moment's hesitation. Has he sired children? Hard to say… but whether he has or hasn't, he's had no part in raising any, and if there are any of his running around out there, they're better off for that.

"No," he repeats. "Been to a lot of weddings, but never really settled down myself. I've lived a busy life," he says, without any particular sign of regret.

“Nothing wrong with keeping busy,” Nicole says easily. There’s no judgements from her. If not for a pair of accidents, she’d be much too busy for settling down, by the kind of life she lives. Such is the luxury of being a man, she supposes. “I like to do the same, when I can.” Her gaze shifts to where her little girl is being held by her “Uncle” Nick on the edge of the dance floor. This late in the evening, that blonde head rests on his shoulder and she’s nearly asleep as he sways her to the music.

Pippa’s almost too big now for him to do that.

“That one,” Nicole says with a point of her finger in her daughter’s direction, “tends to be the main cause when I’m not staying busy.” Because it’s an entirely different kind of busy that she makes her mother, admittedly. Just not the preferred work-flavored variety.

Carver chuckles once at that; he imagines the kid probably keeps her mom busy enough, if not in the way she'd like. Nicole's going to have plenty of that kind of busy in the future, though; that much seems obvious, even to him. It'll be a hard road ahead, if she wants to try to juggle a career on the side… but then, she already knows that one from experience.

"Good thing about living in the Safe Zone," Carver rasps. "Everything's close. Too crowded for my liking, but cutting down on travel time'll probably be a big help. Logistically speaking."

"Tell me we're not talking about the country," Zachery strolls unhurriedly back into earshot with two glasses, his last two words spoken with an affect usually reserved for particularly distraught BBC newscasters.

By the time he's leaning past Nicole to set a double whiskey down within Carver's reach, his voice has dropped right back to its regular timbre. "Because let me tell you - and Dr. Carver's seen this - people thick as two short planks wouldn't take me for anything but a secret intruder from the the city come to take their medical history. I might miss the quiet, sometimes, but that place does not miss me."

Another glass - water, condensation picked up already - is set down in front of Nicole before he takes a seat next to her, a little more heavily than he'd like due the toll a single social event apparently takes on him. Still, in this particular conversation, at least he sounds content.

“Definitely,” the bride agrees with her guest’s assessment of the Safe Zone and its conveniences. “The first night in Providence was hard for me. I didn’t realize how used to all the noise I was. And the Safe Zone is comparatively much quieter than it was.” Before it was called the Safe Zone and it was just New York City.

With the groom’s return, Nicole angles a bright smile over her shoulder to him. She then obediently takes up her glass and takes a long drink from it. See? She’s hydrating. Behaving. Being good. Taking care of herself. She can do that and be social all at the same time!

This may not be Zachery’s scene, but it is Nicole’s. Though it’s one of the first times she’s doing it without something stronger in hand, she’s still a pro at this. Reaching over to capture one of Zachery’s hands in hers, she gives him a squeeze of reassurance he likely didn’t ask for or need. “We’re much better off here. Better for our careers. Maybe when we’re ready to step back…”

Nicole leans in toward Carver with a glint in her eye. Again, she doesn’t lower her voice, in spite of this air of conspiracy she puts on. “Besides, if we move back to Providence, you’re the doctor. I like and appreciate you very much, Dr. Carver, but I’m not sure either of us wants to put you through the delivery of my children.”

A quick glance is shot to her husband. He doesn’t get to do it. And all joking aside, she delivered her last child in a cabin, without a doctor or painkillers, and that sucked.

Carver gives an appreciative nod as the glass is set down in front of him; he takes a moment to take a small drink. All this talking's made him thirsty.

He lets out a quiet grunt at Zachery's comment. "No one likes visiting a new doctor. Especially in isolated places like…" he grimaces and drowns the rest of that in another sip of whiskey. Good alcohol makes for an excellent medicine for bad war stories.

Carver lets out a snort at Nicole's threat of having him deliver her children, but he sobers quickly. "I'm getting things set up so that if push comes to shove, we'll have a clinic in Providence that's able to handle whatever might come up — even if it's just a matter of stabilizing patients long enough to get them to a better equipped facility. But there are some situations where it's better to be at a hospital in the first place. Just in case." And childbirth is one of them, because if something goes wrong, it can go bad fast — especially in cases involving multiples. Not that he's about to say something like that here and now.

While Nicole and Carver talk, Zachery's gaze is aimed briefly at the whiskey, then downward still, leaving only the occasional amused exhale to show he's less unwilling participant and more just comfortable enough not to have to pitch in. His hand under Nicole's is unmoved.

"If I can help facilitate anything to that end," he says finally, before looking back up to Carver, "You're more than welcome to strip what I had set up, just so long as no one touches the books in the living room. I'll send you the key tomorrow, or drive it over or…" His sentence trails off into nothing. It'll get done some way. "Someone might as well make use of the equipment."

It's a good thing that the basement door to the other equipment Shedda Dinu helped him acquire has a separate key.

“That’s really good,” Nicole says of Carver’s getting the clinic set up, nodding in agreement with Zachery. “If there’s anything I can do to help — donations or setting up supply runs — please reach out, okay? I want to see you succeed out there. Providence has some really good people.” And some that are a little less so, but she’s also in favor of embracing Staten Island again. In this particular instance, Nicole is not a hypocrite.

But she turns to Zachery then, a look of surprise on her face. “You still don’t have all your books yet?” It’s more of a rhetorical question she doesn’t expect an answer to. In his defense, he’s been looking after her. Making sure she didn’t bust her stitches. Making sure she isn’t overdoing it at work. Helping her — somewhat — plan their wedding… Nicole smiles faintly, realizing that Zachery would probably call looking after her a full-time job.

Nicole lifts her glass of water then. “I’d like to propose a toast. To transitions and new beginnings.”

Carver raises an eyebrow. "I'll take you up on that," he says to Zachery, then offers a nod to Mrs. Miller as well. "And you, as well. Should anything pressing come up, I'll be in touch." Admittedly, he's got a pretty high threshold for asking for help, but if anything comes up that lives up to it, he'll let her know.

At the toast, Carver nods. He's not sure how many new beginnings he's got left, clinic notwithstanding… but this occasion is not, and never has been, about him. It's about the Millers, and their new life together… and so he raises his glass. "To transitions and new beginnings," he echoes.

"Well fuck me," Zachery curses under his breath, looking briefly around to see whether a drink may have manifested before him before finding that not to be the case and muttering, "I'm going to have to do a Hallmark thing…"

Fuck it, let's lean into it. Today.

After glancing briefly to Nicole at his side, he scoots forward in his seat and lifts his hand along Nicole's until his fingers, too, hit glass. There. They can share. Amusement pulls at a corner of his mouth as he looks across the table. "What they said."

Then, as if sharply anticipating a comment from the aforementioned side, he adds quickly, grin reemerging, "Alright, alright - to transitions and new beginnings."

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