Kites I


sf_nicole2_icon.gif sf_zachery2_icon.gif

Scene Title Kites I
Synopsis The Millers try to rationalize the irrational. Together.
Date February 26, 2021

Dorchester Towers: Miller Suite

The neon burns a hole in the night
And the freon burns a hole in the sky
You can find my kind living right on the fault line
Eyes on the seaside, lives on the B-side

"I know this is short notice, I do, believe me."

It has been twelve hours since Zachery Miller was visible to those around him.

Eleven hours since he managed to get a hold of a colleague, over the phone, to ask them if they happened to know a pediatrician they trusted — and since he was met immediately with concern regarding his children.

The children that, as far as he's concerned, didn't exist an hour before that.

It has been twelve hours.

And they're still there.

And he is still in-fucking-visible.

"I called in yesterday," he continues, now, uncertainty robbing his voice of any conviction. "To— take some time off. Maybe a… day? Or two, possibly, or…"

He sits on the floor of his bedroom, lower back against the wall, half curled inward with the fingers of one hand pushed deep into his hair. A phone he's holding is pulled slightly away in reflex when whoever's on the other end of it responds louder than expected, their voice shrill with disapproval. "I know—" he tries to cut in, to no avail. "I know," he tries again, but is talked over when he attempts to explain. "Marcus is available, I've already…"

He's interrupted again, and his entire body seems to stiffen with the frustration this brings him, before a tired scowl ends up being aimed directly upward. "My schedule's been handed— I've contacted him, it's all been arranged, I—"

When he's interrupted a third time, his fingers curl so tightly around his phone it looks like he might be caught between the option of throwing it or trying to crush it outright.

"It's the twins!" It is words he lets fly instead, in an abruptly barked gamble. The other end of the conversation continues, but quieter, and he twists tighter into himself until finally replying, "No, it's alright. You couldn't have known."

Shouldn't have known at all. He didn't.

"Alright. I'll keep you updated. Again, I'm…" He's interrupted for a different reason, this time, shaking his head before finishing with a quick, "Alright. Bye."

The moment the phone leaves Zachery's fingertips to go sailing across the room is the same moment it pops back into view, even if he remains invisible to anyone beyond himself.

When he walks - unseen by Nicole despite nearly bumping into her - to the nursery down the hall, he finds himself standing over the cribs where two strange infants lie, asleep, after a difficult number of hours prior. He himself hasn't slept yet, and tired eyes lock onto Avery first, then Harvey.

They're quiet now, these tiny strangers.

And the longer he watches, the more familiar they become. The more the likeness seems to set in, creeping across the territory previously only occupied by dread.

When next the light finds him again, it does so after he's dozed off on the floor beside them, head buried in his arms. But beside them nonetheless.

It has been twelve hours since she was reunited with her little girl.

Twenty-eight hours since she last slept. The call in to Zarek had been met with sympathy even while she tried to give the excuse for her absence that she had been practicing for hours. Avery, huh? And just like that, there was understanding. The assurance that no one would come by today unless she asked.

Thirteen hours ago, she was mourning the loss of the twins sleeping in the next room. These little miracles that shouldn’t be. And one of them needs a miracle.

Two and a half hours ago, she let her nine-year-old walk them both to the bus stop. Fifteen minutes after that, she stared at the screen on her phone, having dialed a number from memory and wondering if she dared try to connect the call. To see if her eldest would be on the other end of the line. Two hours ago, she let her anxiety win and cleared the number, set the phone face down.

Nicole Miller wakes up when the hand holding her propped up against the kitchen counter slips and she goes pitching toward the floor. There’s a scramble, a slap of palms against quartz as she tries to stop her descent. She only manages to delay it and soften the blow when she hits the tiled floor.

Pushing herself onto her hands and knees with a groan, a hand on the counter helps her lever herself back to her feet. She makes her way to the nursery to peek in on the babies anxiously. It’s only once she’s stepped inside that she finds her husband there on the floor, which elicits a gasp and a stagger back into the doorframe.

The staggering step is what does the trick in stirring Zachery awake again, if slowly. Arms unfolding as he pushes back against the wall again, he lifts his gaze first to the cribs at his side— then up to Nicole.

"I'm in here," comes first, tiredly, before something on her face registers and his voice lifts with something resembling hope to ask, "Can you see me?"

Nicole nods her head mutely at first, eyes wide and on the verge of tears. The exhaustion is bone deep, and that alone might be enough to make her fall to pieces at the moment. “Y- Yeah,” she finally manages to stammer. “Yes, duckling, I can see you.”

She’d been probably almost as worried as he had that he wouldn’t manage to become visible again. Nicole moves to his side and holds out her hands to him to help him to his feet and then to her arms and a tight embrace.

It's an automatic thing, in spite of everything else. He holds fast without thinking, as his brain tries to spin back up to say the words he's been trying to form the last handful of hours.

"Thank you," he says, instead. "For giving me some space to… sort out…" His words lose what strength they had, expression hardening with displeasure. Finally, his arms loosen around her again, so he pulls back just enough to look at her face. Words and thoughts kept once more to himself, for this.

The nodding happens again, her lips pressed together to keep from blurting out her stream of consciousness. It’s jumbled at best, incoherent possibly. Suffice to say (or not say), he’s welcome for that space.

“I can’t do this alone,” Nicole whispers, reaching up to rest one hand along the side of his face. “I don’t know what’s happened. How… How I’ve done this.” Somehow, she’s certain it’s her that’s caused this change in their reality. How could it not be? “And I know it’s… incomprehensible. But please.” Blue eyes shut tightly and the first tears fall. “I need you.”

Even for how exhausted he is, Zachery's gaze stays focused. In the midst of everything else feeling alien, who's to say she's not also— no. The thought is summarily rejected. He lifts his head, his hand lifting to be pressed lightly over her knuckles. To get her attention back. "I've been thinking about something."

Weakly clearing his throat, he half turns to gesture toward the nearest crib and a wriggling, dozing child within, but his gaze sticks involuntarily when he means and fails to bring it back up to Nicole again. "When this started, I thought… they're not— they don't belong here, right? Your— daughter, and these…" His words leave them as if every other one has a unique brand of barb attached to them, every one more difficult to get out than the last.

He tears his attention back to Nicole as his brow knits. "What if we're the ones who were displaced? It makes more sense than it being your fault, doesn't it?"

The confusion settles in slowly, the way he doesn’t want to connect is understandable, but still hurts in some fashion that shouldn’t. Nicole slowly gives her head a shake. “How do you mean? How can that be possible?” Her focus, her attention stays on him. If she turns it to those cribs, she’ll be lost and she knows it. Every time she looks at those children, she loses more of her sense that this is wrong.

Because she wants so badly for it to be right.

“Come on,” she murmurs, shifting her hand to take his now, leading him toward the door back to the hall. “I don’t want to risk waking them. You can try to explain this to me.”

He is easily lead, even if his first few steps drag with the weight of whatever the fuck is going on.

Only once he's out in the hallway does he take a step back, holding himself still stiffly, uncomfortable, hands balled into fists. "It's all I have— that's, ah—" He pauses with a wince as his thoughts stall again. The awareness of his own anxiety rips into his tone of voice, hatred seeping through while he fights his nerves, low energy or not. "I've called around, everyone… is… no one else is… that's… all I have." That, and disappointment, from the sound of it.

He swallows drly, taking a moment to eye the distance between them before taking a step forward again and adding, "Apart from Asami, you're— you're all I have in this."

So it has to be right.

Nicole scrubs a hand over her face. She continues on her way back to the living room where she drops down to sit on the couch. “I called the office to take the day off. They— Kay knew it was about Avery.” She laughs, bewildered and scared. “We named them what we thought would look smart on their diplomas. We honored our siblings with their middle names.” It’s important to her to make Zachery understand that these children are theirs. That he was an active participant in the choices they made surrounding them.

No matter if he — the other Zachery — seemed rattled. No matter how much it felt like pulling teeth. No matter how sure she was that he would walk out the door before they ever arrived. Although that last fear is down to her, rather than strictly about him or his actions.

Leaning forward heavily, her elbows rest on her knees, her head in her hands. Her dark hair falls forward, obscuring her face. “If we’re displaced, why don’t you remember any of it?” Her neck cranes so she can look up briefly, helpless. Then she’s right back to the despair that keeps her angled toward the floor. “I remember two whole different lives, Zachery. It’s like reality here has bent to match my reality there.” It’s almost a question, the last syllable pitches upward. But he won’t have the answers. The question isn’t for him.

“It’s like everyone else remembers them, but we don’t. We three don’t.” Herself, Zachery, and Asami. “Is any of this real?

Continuing his internal struggle, Zachery stays put and watches. Listens. Manages to offer little else beside the continued look of stunned fascination and occasional slant of his brow in more confusion than he would have previously thought he had the capacity for.

But finally, when Nicole asks that last question, he springs to life. "Of course it's real!" He laughs, startled, even if his expression snaps back to dead serious on the next beat. "We've got— lives, we've got shared memories, we've got…"

He rushes forward, sits down on the couch beside her, and searches the space in front of them for something apparently unseen. "So we're together, this— elsewhere," he suddenly says, shoulders pushed back as one arm is rested across Nicole's back. "But there's children, one of which you've said," his eyebrows are raised as he looks to his wife's partially obscured face, "You definitely did not have before. So when did this… diverge? Where is the split?"

Nicole draws in a breath to answer the question. “I, um— ah— uhm—” Her eyes squeeze shut tight. “It’s like they diverged… Before I was ever born. My entire childhood is different. If I think too hard about it, I want to curl up and die.” She shakes her head from side to side, she’s starting to tremble. “My father was a monster. He hurt me so much.” Her eyes close against the memories of her other life. The ones she can’t escape, because she can’t forget them. “So, so much. But… But Colette lived.”

Wrapping her arms around herself, she looks up at her husband. “Maybe that’s the price I had to pay to have my baby sister in my life.” She isn’t sure she’d be able to make that choice if it was placed in front of her. A sister you’ll love more than life itself, but a childhood of trauma that will haunt you for a lifetime or the loss of a sister you’ll never get to know, but a happy childhood and stable transition to adulthood? “Fuck.

Now, she leans into Zachery’s embrace, letting herself be comforted by his presence. “In that other life, I have an older daughter. Uhm… an adult. I would’ve had to have been about fifteen when she was born.” A consistency between this world and the other is the lie she tells Zachery about the reality of Ingrid. “I don’t think she’s here.” Maybe if only because Nicole would never expect to find Ingrid here, because the world that created Ingrid never existed.

Which makes Pippa perplexing.

“Phillipa was the… The product of a relationship with a friend. It was an accident. But… a good one. We split up before she was born, but we co-parented until—” Nicole sets her jaw, intent on getting the words out. “Until he died last year.” She exhales with a note of incredulity on her breath. “Almost a year ago to the day, actually.” She diverts slightly. “We should look in the lockbox. See if we have documentation with our passports. Birth certificates for the kids maybe? It’d be good for me to find out if Pippa’s father is still in the picture here.”

While Nicole talks, Zachery sits silently. He glances her direction with a searching look of sympathy, before the haze of overwhelming lack of understanding dulls his stare again, drawing his attention downward with the weight of his own thoughts.

"Alright," he answers with flat affect when there's a silence that's stretched too long for comfort. "The lockbox. Good idea."

And then he's gone— if just for a moment. Then, a few more times, as he blinks in and out of the visible spectrum with a ripple as if reflected light itself is failing to keep a signal. He withdraws his arm, blinking out of existence in the midst of dragging both hands up his neck.

“Jesus,” Nicole breathes out in a sigh. “I’m not- thinking straight. I— Don’t feel threatened by somebody who may not even exist in this reality. Even if he does, you are the one I choose. In any world… I’m with you.”

When his arm lifts from her shoulders, Nicole lifts her head to look up and try to visually assess his emotional state. That proves impossible. “You’re— You’re blinking,” she says to him, tone uncertain, but unafraid.

"I'm what?" Says the nothing that is Zachery, through his teeth, before he pops back into view with concern aimed halfway to the side. "Oh."

He forces out a breath, eyes a little wilder as he straightens his spine, forcing his hands into his lap with a strained excuse for a chuckle that sounds like it surprises him as much as anything else in this situation has. "That makes sense. The blinking. I wish I could see it but it makes sense. I think? Does any of this? I don't know if I even have the mental fortitude to be threatened, if I'm perfectly honest, between the… the… where do I even fucking start?"

Just as frustration once more hardens his expression, he blinks out of existence one more time, briefly, but reappears with his head turned to look at Nicole properly. His shoulders are forced down, his voice lowering with some new attempt at finding stability. "Are you okay?"

“No,” Nicole admits easily, her head giving an emphatic shake. “Jesus Christ, no.” How can she be okay? But she sighs and reaches out to touch her husband’s face, like just that bit of contact can soothe the frayed edges of her nerves. Or maybe his. Blue eyes fall closed and she takes a deep breath, then lets it out slowly.

“What do we do?”

"We…" Zachery begins with all the intent to answer, despite falling silent prematurely. But with the hand on his face, he's stabilised enough, at least, to stop disappearing from view.

"We carry on?" He shakes his head, cracking a slightly lopsided, sheepish smile. There's something pained about it too, as if he didn't quite agree with his own questioning tone of voice. And so, looking into Nicole's eyes, he repeats, more firmly, "We carry on. Nervous as I might be about— you, about what the memories mean for us, we've… wanted some of this, haven't we? Clueless as we might be at the moment, if nothing else, we can try and hold onto that. And then, we can…"

Once more, his words fail him. Lifting a hand to lay it on Nicole's, he offers with a desperate trace of his smile still clinging on, "If we go mad, we go mad together. Deal?"

“We— We— We— We—” The sentence gets no further than the first word, the repetition begins, each time with a sharp gasp between the false starts. Each time, she looks a little more frightened. Stuck in a loop, teetering over the edge of panic. As she continues the monosyllabic repetition, each note climbs higher, more shrill and distressed.

"Hey," Zachery shifts his weight, taking Nicole's hand in both of his as he nods. "Okay— carrying on is too much. Too much. Understood." Without turning his head, he darts a look to the side.

Of course it's too much. What the fuck else would it be? Why would any of this be fathomable enough to move past. And so he continues in a lowered tone of voice, "For now, we settle for… surviving. Basic functions. Eat. Sleep. Have you done either?" Already, he moves to help guide her up.

The panicked repetitions cease when he takes her hand and speaks to her. Jaw clamps shut tight around the fractionally expressed thought. Her breathing steadily begins to calm.

No longer trusting her voice — trusting her brain to allow her to get a full sentence out — Nicole simply shakes her head back and forth quickly. No, she hasn’t eaten. No, she hasn’t slept. She’s reluctant to move from where she sits, but she does as she’s directed, lower lip trembling as she fights against the fear welled up inside of her.

It all might be easier to take if she had gotten any kind of sleep.

Given something to focus on, Zachery's movements come much more confidently. As he walks her toward the bedroom, one arm still behind her back, he presses a kiss to the side of her head. "Then right now, that's what matters. I know you know— a lot," and more than ever, "but I know this one thing, alright?"

Keeping his attention ahead of them, he does his best impression of someone less exhausted than he is — even if she knows better than to mistake a jovial tone for anything but running on fumes at this point. "I'll get some food delivered, whatever you like, and I'll be…" He pauses, struggling to keep the gears turning the way they need to. "Right nearby, in the nursery."

So very tired, physically and emotionally and mentally, Nicole presses a kiss firmly to Zachery’s cheek as they pause to navigate the doorway to their bedroom. There are tears still, but she’s not keening. Instead, she lets him move her along to their bed, to set her down there and help her peel out of yesterday’s clothes so she can wear something fresh later. After she’s had a nap.

“My head hurts,” she whispers from her prone position. It’s not much wonder.

"I'll get you something for that," Zachery says as he takes the clothes, folding them over a wrist just as an idle thought arrests all others. He turns his head, listening for something out in the hall— or beyond it. The call of unexpected responsibility, or at least not one expected quite so soon.

But beyond a not particularly alarmed noise or two, nothing follows just yet. Maybe appearing out of nowhere is an exhausting enough activity.

With his head still turned, he continues to say, calmly, "I genuinely don't know. What we do from here, I mean. I thought I had life pretty well figured out, as much as anyone ever does." Only now does he look at Nicole again, expression frozen on a weak smile usually reserved for necessary unpleasantries. "I don't know how to process any of this. And I'm absolutely terrified." His smile fades. "I don't think we can be expected to be anything else right now. Right?"

There’s a permissiveness in that. Nicole exhales like letting go of a breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding. There’s a relaxation of her against the mattress and a nod of her head. “Right,” she agrees. They should be terrified of this, because none of this is normal. It isn’t just not their normal, but against the previously established laws of reality with its entire lack of normality.

Slowly, she curls up and pulls the covers over herself as if that masks the fetal position she’s pulled herself into. “Maybe when I wake up, this will all have been some strange dream.” It’s a hope. Simultaneously, it’s a fear. Why, she can’t put her finger on. So instead, she looks up to her husband and offers a smile. “I’ll be here. Go peek in on them. Do what you need to for yourself, too. We’ll figure out what comes next after I’ve slept.”

"Sleep," Zachery leans forward, reaching to correct a wayward fold, "as well as you c—"

He is interrupted by a cry, then two, from outside the room. Small but insistent and threatening to get worse in a way that straightens his back, and in a way he would likely not have been able to predict.

More predictable is the mouthing of the breathless word 'shit'. A corner of his mouth is pulled outward in some wry, baffled amusement and panic both, but his voice remains steady even as he steps back, laying Nicole's clothes out on top of a dresser. "We may well have to take turns on that for a bit. I'll—" He hesitates in the doorway, but slowly pulls it shut anyway, hoping to drown out at least some of the potential disaster that might follow. "Unless I manage to do something terribly wrong, I'll tag you in in a few hours."

Nicole’s already started to rise from the bed by the time Zachery’s silently uttering that curse. She lets out a breath of laughter. The laughter of the broken at the end of their rope. The kind that says she really just wants to start crying again. But he wards her off easily with his promise to make this duty something they exchange. That’s an arrangement she can live with.

Properly placated, Nicole resumes her recline, this time pulling the covers up and over her head entirely. “Come get me if you need me,” the lump under the comforter issues in muffled command.

"Ohh, I need— so much right now," Zachery answers from out in the hallway, panic and desperation clear on his voice, with absolutely no attempt to hide them. "But most of all for at least one of us to be resting!"

And, just possibly, to ask his brother for some advice.

Kites on the powerlines…

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