Family Dinners


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Scene Title Family Dinners
Synopsis A sisterly gathering is interrupted by the Ghost of Christmas Alternate Past.
Date December 25, 2018

Bay Ridge: Nicole’s Brownstone

Balls of crumpled up wrapping paper have been tossed aside in the nooks and crannies of the living room. Lights twinkle merrily on the tinsel-festooned tree. A fire burns in the fireplace. Pippa is snuggled up secure in her bed. Toys are strewn about at the foot of the tree - a small plastic horse, a dollhouse and its inhabitants, three coloring books and a small box of fresh markers. (Those were from Santa.)

And there’s an open bottle of champagne out on the coffee table, chilling in a bucket of ice with two flutes poured out of it. “Well, that was a successful Christmas if I say so myself.” Nicole declares, clinking her glass to her sister’s. There’s a festive party hat atop her head that reads BIRTHDAY GIRL with ^ BELATED scrawled in black marker across the technicolor background. It’s almost 10:15 and the excitement has finally wound down for the night.

Laid out in front of the tree, Nicole’s sister looks as spent as the wrapping paper crumpled into balls all around her. Forearm draped over her brow, she stares up at the ceiling with a visible weariness in her eyes. Christmas had been a success, but it was an exhausting one. Colette has shown up after spending the earlier part of the day at home with her partners, and still hasn't talked about the purple, red, and yellow bruise on her cheekbone that likely came from work. But she showed up, she fulfilled family obligations and, perhaps most importantly, she enjoyed herself the whole time.

“This will reflect well on your annual performance review,” Colette says as she lifts her arm from her brow, extending a thumbs up into the air. “When she's sixteen, and is either like me or like you or– worse– like her father.” Slowly, Colette turns her head to regard Nicole with one brow raised. “Can you even imagine that? Little fucking Lady Ryans, kicking in doors, smoking cigarettes, being gay, doing crimes?” Or maybe Colette thinks she'll wind up like all three of them.

“Becoming a master forger, invading dreams, screwing with people’s… blood sugar?” Nicole’s imagining the influence of Pippa’s sisters on the girl as well. “I’m going to have my hands full, for sure.” She cracks a grin. No matter what awaits her in the realm of parenting, it’s clear that she is absolutely devoted to her daughter.

With a soft groan as her joints protest the movement, Nicole slides off the couch and onto the floor so she can crawl over on her knees and lounge next to her sister by the tree. She does this without spilling a drop of alcohol, for which she is proud of herself. She drops a kiss on her sister’s face, near that shiner of hers, the way Pippa insisted on doing several times during the evening. (To kiss it better, and it clearly needed multiple treatments.)

“So, I need to get married. Fast.”

“Rue Lancaster is single.” Colette fires back without hesitation. “Also an alcoholic. Probably– dating Avi? I don’t know. Actually– yeah that’s a bad idea.” Raising one hand into the air, Colette dismisses the thought with a crooked smile. “You’ll be fine. I mean, since have have family gotten each other into trouble?”

There’s a raised brow slanted toward Nicole, impish in its implications of how many times Colette got Nicole into trouble. “Let’s just leave family trips to Alaska off the table, okay?” It’s been long enough. She can joke about it now. A little.

“That’s the redhead, right?” Nicole definitely knows who is who in Wolfhound, even if she pretends like she hasn’t paid attention to the company her sister keeps like some kind of overprotective hawk. It’s not like she shows up on missions to check on things, so it’s fine. “Sounds like my type.”

There’s a nervous little chuckle at her sister’s quip. “I’ve had enough of the Alaskan wilderness for one lifetime, I promise.” There’s only regret in that place for her, overshadowing any sense of triumph she could have come away with.

“That’s not what I meant anyway. I mean, I heard Magnes Varlane’s alive, and now my life is going to be awkward.” A beat. “More awkward.”

Colette blinks. Brows furrowing, lips parting, and slowly she turns to look at Nicole with a vacant and distant expression with those blind eyes that usually seem so sharp. Her lips part, almost forming a word, but then she says nothing because her chest is so tight. Drawing in a sharp breath, Colette sits straight up and looks wide-eyed at her sister.

What?” Colette practically barks the word out. “What did– you say?”

Nicole’s brows jump toward her hairline, surprised. “I thought I was the last to know everything around here.” For once, this appears not to be the case. Realizing the seriousness of the situation, she sets her glass aside and puts a hand on her sister’s shoulder. “I don’t know all the details. But Richard Ray tells me that there was some… bullshit that opened a rift in space? I don’t know how it works. But–”

There’s a wince. This sounds infinitely more ridiculous as she tries to explain it, and she knows how crazy it sounds. But Colette’s eldest niece is from another timeline, so it’s not maybe as far-fetched as it could be. “Maybe it’s something to do with what they were trying to do when they took you, I don’t know. But he’s in some other… world. Elisabeth Harrison, too. And I guess there’s some way to bring them back here.”

The look of confusion and bewilderment on Colette’s face is as plain as day. Her cheeks flush with color, tears well up in her eyes, and she sits up straight with tension in her shoulders. That she isn't raising her voice is because of the tiny princess sleeping too close for shouting. “What the hell do you mean another world? What– does that– what does that even mean?

Colette moves up onto her knees on the floor, slowly shaking her head. “Who else– who knows? Is this a SESA thing? What– what’s– ” Unable to really parse what she's heard, unable to right the term other world in her mind, Colette grapples with the revelation her sister has laid on her. “He has a daughter,” she whispers to herself, thinking of Adel and if she already knew, if she didn't, if somehow any of this made sense.

“What’s– ”

“ – wrong with Italian?”

Nicole loses whatever it was Colette said there in a brief hiss of a familiar voice. Rough, quiet, gentle. Allen?

“I don’t know, Sissy. Some other timeline where we went left instead of right? Richard explains that junk. I just… nod along. It’s hush-hush. I’m not even sure I’m supposed to–”

Nicole’s gaze goes unfocused and her hand starts to slip from her sister’s shoulder. The voice is like a ghost and it causes her to go pale, a tear sliding down her cheek.

“Nothing, nothing. I was just thinking about all those carbs.” Steve’s nose wrinkles, but there’s a smirk that comes with it. “Italian is fine. It’ll feel like family dinners back home.”

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“ –ichard knows? He didn't say fuck all to me about any of that.” Colette sits forward and looks to the detritus of Christmas wrapping on the floor. “How’s any of that even– how’s it– possible?” Running both hands through her hair, Colette grapples with a change to her understanding of the very nature of reality. “How can– ”

“What's wrong with family dinners?” Rickham asks. He doesn't know why family dinners could be bad, and Steve doesn't remember why the memory of them hurts. “Beats the canned food we’re eating now.” Drumming his fingertips on the tabletop, he looks around the Hub with a thoughtful uncertainty.

Making a soft noise in the back of his throat, Rickham looks back to Steve with a faint smile. “Ok, so, what'll your first big meal be once this is all over?” It's only been eight months. Maybe, perhaps, there's a hope the virus will run its course and the government will stop the Vanguard. That hope shows in Allen's features. Faint and unlikely.

Colette’s words are only half-heard and barely processed. Nicole closes her eyes and tries to bring into focus this… memory?

“They just make me a little nostalgic. Melancholy, I guess.” Still, she smiles and waves it off. “But I have a new family to make memories with over dinners, so family dinners are great.

Steve rests her hand over her husband’s, rubbing her thumb over the back of his knuckles. Where his hope might be beginning to wane, hers continues to shine. “I’m going to have a giant chicken caesar salad. Fresh, crisp lettuce?” She hums happily. “Sounds amazing right now.”

And just as easily as it had come, it's gone. Whatever Nicole was experiencing evaporates like a rain puddle on a sunny day, leaving her with the lingering sensory illusions of damp concrete, oxidized metal, and cigarettes.

Hello?” Colette is looming over Nicole when she fully comes to, worry having replaced her earlier frustrating and furious ranting that her sister was only partly conscious of. Colette leans in, one hand on Nicole’s shoulder and the other on her cheek.

“Hey– Earth to Nicole… a-are…” Colette’s brows pinch together in intense worry. “Are you ok? Please don't be having a stroke.

Nicole blinks, staring blankly at first. Her chin lifts slightly, then her gaze drifts up to her sister’s face then finally focuses on her. “I’m sorry. I…” Her shoulders slump, expression one of anguish. “I think I just had one of those visions.”

How does she even begin to explain it? It’s a memory of a life that was never hers on multiple levels. If she didn’t know better - if strange visions weren’t happening to people all over - she’d wonder if it was a suppressed memory. Some side effect of what was done to her when her life story was warped and shifted to fit a role.

“I’m okay,” Nicole promises in a quiet voice, reaching up to lay a hand over her sister’s and squeeze. “I’m glad you’re here.”

Jesus,” Colette says as she exhales, slouching down onto the couch beside Nicole. “You’re sure you’re ok?” She reaches out to lay a hand on Nicole’s knee. “I– the last time we went through something like this we ended up in the middle of a fucking riot.” Though Colette tries to make that sound like a joke, the worry is evident in her voice. She looks down to her hand on Nicole’s knee, then back up to her with a reassuring squeeze.

“I’m glad I’m here too,” Colette affirms, putting aside the confusing and frightening things Nicole had said about Magnes and Elisabeth being alive. “It’s Christmas,” she tries to focus on that. “It’s Christmas,” she says again, softer now.

Nicole tears the party hat off her head, tossing it into a pile with the discarded wrapping paper, and wraps her arms around her sister. Her face buries against her neck as she cries softly. “I love you, Sissy.”

It’s Christmas, and they’re together.

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