Leading the Half Blind


nicole_icon.gif zachery_icon.gif

Scene Title Leading the Half Blind
Synopsis Nicole settles back in at home with Zachery's help.
Date September 1, 2019

Phoenix Heights

The ride from Providence to the New York Safe Zone has been a quiet one. Suitcases and duffle bags rustle quietly in the back of the cab. In the middle seat, Pippa is curled up against her mother’s side, sound asleep. Nicole has an arm wrapped around her child, her own head resting against the passenger side window, dozing off and on for the journey.

It’s well after midnight when they arrive at their first destination. “Come on, little one,” Nicole murmurs into Pippa’s hair as Zachery pulls the truck to a stop in front of the Bastion. “We’re going to go see Goose.”

Pippa unsuccessfully stifles a yawn and crawls out of the truck with her mother’s help. The two disappear inside the building with Pippa’s suitcase, leaving Zachery to park the truck down the block while Nicole negotiates with her daughter’s elder sister for childcare.

It always seems longer than it really is, but the clock on the dash tells Zachery it’s only been a few minutes since Nicole went inside. She returns without her daughter and climbs back into the truck, sagging heavily into the seat as she pulls the buckle around her body and clicks it into place. “I trust you remember how to get to my place,” she questions without opening her eyes.

"Not really," Zachery answers in deadpan, speaking for the first time in what seems like hours, "I always just looked for the faint shade of virtuousness on the horizon until suddenly, there I was."

Give or take some complaints at the initial problems that come with only really having driven a single (and somewhat out of the ordinary) vehicle for a decade, he's been uncharacteristically silent. Expression difficult to read as anything but bored save for the occasional tensing of his jaw at something unspoken.

Only after the truck pulls away from its parking spot does he steal a look sideways. Limited field of vision for the road ahead is probably not the reason for how brief the glance is, but it will make a good enough excuse should she ask, either way.

Maybe he's been hoping just to have this whole thing behind them. Jokes aside, they're headed in the right direction, so maybe it will be.

Zachery’s glance is met with one of Nicole’s own from the corner of her eye. She lets out a quiet huff of laughter, because his comment did strike her as comical, even if it’s at her expense. “Fair enough.”

After a long suffering sigh, she plants her palms against the seat on either side of her and eases herself to sit up straight and pay attention to the road so she can give directions, should they be necessary.

A quiet moment passes before she speaks up again, “I really do appreciate this.” He didn’t have to drive them all the way to the city. He could have let her try to make the journey herself, fighting back tears and curses equally the entire way. Instead, he dropped everything and made sure she and her daughter would get back to the city safe. “You didn’t have to. Thank you.”

No immediate response comes back from Zachery, save for a pensive glance aimed at the road ahead. He presses his back further into the seat, if lightly, fingers of one hand tightening around the steering wheel while the others come to rest on it a little more loosely.

"I'm not really one to turn down gratitude," he starts again, habitual smirk pulling at the corner of his mouth, "but I didn't really think about it. Besides, what did I have to drop?"

Apart from one thing. One thing that halts his breathing for a moment, gaze hardening. But Nicole doesn't know about that, and he'll have to hope for the best that no one else does, either.

“I’m not so self-centered as to presume I’m the only one who has a life between the two of us,” Nicole replies, smiling slightly in spite of herself. Even if she can’t tell him about what she’s really up to. If she only knew that street went both ways.

Unpainted nails tap on the passenger side window to indicate the street on their right. “Turn here.” Hopefully that road’s not under new construction. Who knows after all this time? “I’m so…” Nicole sighs heavily again. She doesn’t want to rehash what they’re already aware of. That she’s furious with Ryans. Broken that he left her behind like that. “Why don’t you come inside when we get to my place? I’d like someone to do a walkthrough with me. It’s been a while and I want to make sure no one’s decided to take over.” She of course had someone watching her brownstone - how could she not? - but with her luck… “If you don’t mind.”

Distracting thoughts of what's back in Providence or not, the fact that this is not a familiar position for Zachery to be in is written clear across his face when he opens his mouth to speak - only to have his breath catch in his throat. Uh.

One accidentally chivalrous moment does not a knight make. Fortunately, there are other motivations for, and jokes make for easy tools in deflection.

"Yeah, of course. You know, it's funny, I've actually been getting a little better with the whole -" he gestures vaguely with one hand, before putting it back on the steering wheel to make the aforementioned turn. "Reading bodies thing? I'm a walking, talking, driving burglar alarm. Except maybe not quite so loud. And hopefully a little more charismatic, though ehh." Wiggly hand motion implied, even if not executed.

“Must be handy,” she grants with a thoughtful hum, watching the way the lights bend and curve with the contours of the windshield when they make their turn. “And you’re definitely more charismatic than any ADP system I’ve ever encountered.”

Without looking over, Nicole reaches out and rests a warm hand against his back where his shoulder and neck meet. It’s meant to convey affection and thanks. “And, ah, if you want to spend the night…” It’s hard to miss the dart of her luminescent gaze in his direction, reflected (however muted) off the protective glass in front of them. “It’s the least I can do. I certainly don’t expect you to turn around and drive back to Providence.”

And he sure isn’t going to go looking to crash at Raytech’s housing.

For a moment, the touch finds muscles tensing. Maybe it's something about the sincerity of it all. The thing that got him here in the first place.

But, shoulders dropping down a little a few seconds later, Zachery breathes a little more easily. An almost unnoticeably small movement has him lean just ever so slightly into the pressure of her hand and as the lights from outside help to illuminate the side of his face Nicole can see - arguably, the better half - something else makes its way into his expression. Something amused, but… uncertain. Maybe bitterly so.

"Something doesn't add up."

The tension is noted, but not remarked upon. He could have simply not been expecting the touch. Or maybe he’s a little annoyed about the situation and she should be keeping her hands to herself. There’s any number of reasons why he may not have been initially receptive. It’s a question she gives up on when he speaks again.

Rather than look his way, Nicole looks out her window again. “Oh? How’s that?” The thumbnail of her right hand drags across the denim fabric of her pants, catching on the little ridges in the weave in an absent fidget.

"I've been mulling it over," Zachery continues, a little flatly considering the situation, hands sliding a little lower on the steering wheel, "and wonder why, if you're aching to get away from the ex, you would stay at a place where, presumably, he would know where to find you."

Without slowing the truck's speed, he turns his attention sideways again. Letting it linger, this time, to study Nicole's face. And, simultaneously, the rest of her. Blood flow, heart rate, tension of her own, and all the stories these things can tell.

“Because he’s not going to come looking for me.” There’s a little relief that she doesn’t need to lie about that much, at least. “I left the city for him. I gave up my life here for him.” That much is less truthful, but only in part. “I’m done giving him what he wants.”

Nicole sighs heavily and swivels her head back around to look at Zachery fully now. “He’s not going to come for me. Not right now. There’s no… incentive. I’m nothing to him.” That much hurts to admit, because she absolutely believes it.

For longer than he should be, really, Zachery meets and holds her gaze. When he finally breathes out a sigh of his own and starts looking in the right direction again, it's before anything managed to hit them, or vice versa.

The amusement ebbs away, and one of his hands slips from the wheel so he can drag it down across his face and then roughly right back up a cheekbone again. Hgh. His voice, when he speaks again, is distracted. Less controlled, guard down for a moment. "Do you know where he went?" He pauses only just long enough for a grin to fight its way onto his face, and for his head to thunk back against the headrest. "I could have him killed."

“Not a damn clue.” Which is absolutely infuriating for Nicole. With any luck, the other member of her team will have a lead she can chase down, but that will come later. “He disappeared into the woods like some kind of fucking phantom.” One that has transport, but all the same.

“When I find him,” and she will find him, “he’s going to regret—” The fingers of Nicole’s right hand splay out and she rolls her tongue over her teeth, getting a grip on her anger in a metaphorical sense even as she flexes those fingers into a literal fist. “Left up here. A block and a half up, on the left.” She bites her lip, curtailing a smirk. “Nice of you to offer.”

Driving does not take a lot of Zachery's attention, in this moment. The instructions reach him without acknowledgement or speedy adjustments, as if maybe he'd known where to go all along, even when occasional movements from Nicole pull his glances back to her.

"Of course." The grin stays, hand leaving his face to drop in his lap. His mouth opens, but he hesitates before finally saying in a tone that sounds almost surprised at his own thoughts, no matter how resolutely he voices them, "… This is my favourite version of you."

Slowly, one brow quirks upward while her lips press together and disappear into a thin line. The fuck is that supposed to mean? would be a polite way to interpret that expression. “Distraught? In distress? Interested in casual murder?” They’re both totally joking about that, of course.


Like that time they both totally weren’t going to burn down the old morgue.


Nicole restlessly taps her thumb against her knee, realizing she might consider taking Zachery a little more seriously sometimes. But probably not this time.

Any annoyance is strictly one-sided, Zachery refusing to take his eye off of the road as they near their destination. Whatever's caused that grin of his in the first place only seems to be growing in strength.

He waits until they've nearly stopped to answer, more confidently than before, "The version of you who knows what she wants, and rejects compromise the way someone might reject an early death."

Nicole smiles and rubs her thumb against the back of his neck, even as she looks down at her other hand in her lap, almost bashful. “I guess you haven’t seen too much of that side of me.” She used to pride herself on being that person. Where has her spine gone of late?

“Glad you like it. I think you’ll be seeing a lot more of it.” When the truck pulls to a stop, Nicole unbuckles her seatbelt and twists around to lean over the seat and grab her purse by the straps, yanking it free of where it had become wedged between the seatback and another bag. She digs around in the handbag’s interior until, “Aha!” She pulls out a ring of keys.

“If you can grab the suitcase, I’ll take the rest?”

There are probably - no, definitely things that Zachery should be worrying about at the moment. Especially if he's going to spend the night.

Things with a name, locked in his basement, hopefully not taking the lack of life upstairs for an opportunity to not be in said basement.

But once the truck's no longer moving and he turns to watch Nicole rummaging around, it becomes increasingly obvious that said problems are, at least for the moment, forgotten. It's only when he tries to get up before clicking his seatbelt loose that he realises he's been staring. "… Yeah." He gives his head a shake, then reaches to open the door on his side. "I look forward to seeing more of you, still."

“I bet you do,” Nicole chuckles. For as angry as she’s been and as hurt as she is still, it feels good to have some kind of normalcy in her banter with Zachery. The fact that he wants her - in any capacity - is empowering at the moment.

Straightening in her seat so she can push her own door open, Nicole’s booted feet hit the ground with a quiet crunch of rubberized soles over pebble-strewn concrete. She pulls open the door to the back of the cab and drags her duffle bags out, slinging them both over one shoulder and her purse across her body.

Keys jingle merrily as she makes her way up the walk and the two steps to her front door. The door doesn’t simply open when she misses the lock the first time - she’d half expected that to be the case, again - and only gives when she finally turns the key and the deadbolt clicks softly.

“Okay,” Nicole calls ahead of herself into the house even as she crosses the threshold, “if I’ve got any murder hobos squatting in here, it’s time to find somewhere else to hole up!”

There’s no sound of anyone scrambling to mount either offense or defense, nor does it appear that anything’s been disturbed when she flips on the living room light. Even though she’s clearing her house room by room, she doesn’t go so far as to pull a weapon to do it.

Then again, the electrical current running through her veins means she doesn’t need a firearm to have a weapon at her disposal.

“Looks good, “she murmurs after having poked her head into each room down the hall. The last one is her own bedroom. Nudging the door open all the way with her foot, she beelines for the closet to leave her bags sit on the floor, out of the way. “Set that wherever,” she instructs with a dismissive handwave toward the well-kept bedroom at large.

Even though no one’s been living here for months, the house is spotless. Of course she’d paid someone to keep it clean. It might make one wonder where she gets the money, considering she hasn’t been a SESA liaison for some time now.

Definitely not for a lack of questions, Zachery stays quiet throughout the check of the home, but assists either way, following along and occasionally just standing, calmly, in the silence for a bit. Differentiating neighbour or passerby.

Once he's standing in the doorway of the bedroom, and the words 'wherever' reach his ears, that suitcase is lowered where he stands.

He probably should be questioning the tidiness. If he was looking at it at all, he might be. Instead, humourlessly, he looks to Nicole and says, "I realise it's not particularly attractive, but I feel that I should mention that I'm sitting on a lot of questions." Something else creeps into his expression, something uneasy that knits his brow and has him breaks eye contact, if only just. "Regarding today, and - tomorrow. Days after. And this." Always this. "And you."

Not that aforementioned questions are coming. Stuck in the threshold not unlike the rest of him.

Nicole smooths out the front of her shirt over her stomach and hips, watching Zachery’s face as he seems to dither over what to ask or not to ask. “Don’t worry about attractive.” Her shoulders come up in a shrug, shaking her head slightly. “I think we blew past that after drunk and on an exam table.

So, right out of the gate.

“Whatever you want to ask,” she invites with an outstretched palm, “ask.”

"That's the thing. I'm not really worried about it."

Zachery's focus remains Nicole, visually, but as his head cants with a shift of his weight, more on one foot than the other, the somewhat absent look on his face makes it fairly obvious his attention is partially elsewhere.

Wherever his thoughts are at, they carry him forward into the bedroom and towards her, whatever reluctance he'd been feeling before slipping away. "I think, for the first time, I've realised that… save for a few things, for a few lifelines? I don't really actually want the answers."

And this is… good? Funny? The chuckle that escapes him on an exhale seems to suggest as much. Even now, though, looking positively delighted at his own realisation, he's still searching Nicole's face. "Tell me you understand what I'm saying."

Zachery’s movements are watched with a hint of uncertainty, but no wariness. Not like the night in the ruins of the morgue. She wonders where his mind wanders off to when he gets that faraway look in his eye. And if he could bring her there too, if he could.

Reluctantly, Nicole shakes her head. “I’m not sure that I do,” she admits. “Unless you mean you’re fine letting things unfold as they will.” She has her doubts that’s what he means. “Does it really matter if I understand it? I think what matters most is that you understand it.” She captures his hands in hers and meets his eyes, the ghost of a smile visible at the corners of her mouth.

Silently, she marvels at the way he’s able to defuse the explosiveness of her anger. She’d been a powder keg just an hour ago. Now, she’s calmer. Now, she can plan.

And so, in turn, can he.

Still somehow unaware that their trains of thought might eventually find themselves hurdling down opposite sides of the same rails.

But not right now. Right now his hands in hers gives him something to ground him, and he pushes closer toward her while he twists his wrists to grab hers right back in turn. It's been a day. "It's only taken me half a lifetime. But I think in feeling scared to lose you, I've got it now."

Wait, what? As if he's only just hearing himself say it, his eyebrows twitch downward. But it doesn't matter. He lifts both his and Nicole's own hand against her hip, pulling her closer and steadying her while taking a step toward the bed. "And for right now. I've got you."

Nicole chuckles breathily, backing up a careful step as he nudges her in that direction. “Yes, you do,” she promises as she presses her lips to his. Carefulness be damned, she tugs him along the rest of the stumbling way toward the bed, falling to a sitting position when the back of her knees make contact with the mattress.

“I’ve missed you.” Disentangling their hands, she instead turns her attention to pawing at his belt to work it free from buckle and loops. Sex is so much better when she’s angry about something.

"And yet you move back into town. Funny." The comment leaves Zachery without thought and somewhat flatly, but lacks any undertones of spite. And not just for the same reason he's content to stumble forward. "I'm trying to break the habit of blindly following people."

Another thing that happens without thought is his moving forward and down, one hand slipping onto the small of her back while the other pushes down against her sternum, his face finding her neck. "You've made that, from the start… very difficult."

There’s a hiss from the slither of faux leather as Nicole grasps the buckle of Zachery’s belt and tugs it free. It’s left to flop onto the bedroom floor like a lifeless snake as she allows herself to be guided further back onto the bed. Now she tugs at the back of his shirt, seeking to pull it over his head. Eventually. Right now she rather likes his face buried against the curve of her neck and is none too eager to break that contact.

If he’s struck any kind of nerve with his comment about how she seems to be moving away from him, she’s ignoring it. “I wouldn’t want you to blindly follow,” she murmurs, back arching slightly. Her fingers flex around the ball of fabric wadded up in her fist. “You’re a big boy. You can make your own decisions.”

Naturally, she assumes he’ll wind up back at her door eventually.

In the middle of this turning into a competition of who can get the other's clothes off faster, Zachery freezes for a moment, having already exposed half of Nicole's torso, and shoves a hand into the mattress to push himself up and better face her.

"Cut you a deal, then." His other hand still finding its way upward across her stomach, he offers, smirking, "Half blind."

That smirk is mirrored back at him, amusement in those faintly glowing eyes of hers. “Deal.

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