Like a Gift


faulkner_icon.gif finch_icon.gif nova2_icon.gif

Scene Title Like a Gift
Synopsis Visits from friends are just what the doctor ordered (along with MRIs and a lot of prescriptions not guaranteed to solve anything).
Date January 23, 2021

Brooklyn College

It’s been a week and some change since Nova collapsed on Finch’s doorstep. Not up to the trek from the college to Settlers Park, she’s invited her traumatized friend over to her dorm room instead. It’s an old-school dorm room, rather than the newer apartment-style rooms some colleges have these days — just two twin beds and two desks and two dressers, a small refrigerator and a small mirrored closet to share.

Showers and restrooms are down the hall, which is a nightmare on a good day, and Nova hasn’t had any of those lately.

As she waits for Finch, Nova stares at a standing mirror she’s dragged over so it faces the bed she’s perched on.

“Playing coy are we?” she mutters, before flopping back on the bed that’s littered with a sketchpad and coloring pencils. She wonders if going crazy is normal, before she realizes none of this is normal.

There's a scraping, out in the hallway. Long and uninterrupted, over the ground, coming closer… and closer.

Followed shortly by a less horror movie sound of Finch's voice. "Oh my gosh, we're almost there!"

She's dragging a big grocery bag full of snacks of all imaginable kinds behind her. It's not heavy so much as unwieldy, and she looks excitedly between doors to try and figure out which one has a friend behind it.

She aims a glance sideways, though, to the bag she's given to Faulkner to carry, which is smaller but heavier, with soda each a different flavour, as if grabbed entirely at random. "I'm glad you're here," she says, a little quieter, but with her smile brightening. "I was kinda nervous but I think I'm a little better now. Thank you for helping."

"No problem," Isaac Faulkner replies easily, holding the heavier bag easily. Light exercise is good; it keeps the muscles toned. He eyes Finch's burden with something that might be a hint of concern, but in the end opts not to offer any further help. Finch is managing and hasn't complained at all, and he's not going to be the one to deny her some cardio. "And hey, I'm glad to be here." He is, too. Hospitals suck, but just because you're physically well enough to leave doesn't mean you're suddenly A-OK — it's very easy to get down in the dumps afterwards. Isaac has had ample opportunity to learn this particular lesson, after all.

The sounds of voices and dragging give Nova ample time to get up and get to the door — not that it’s as easy as that. She sits up and takes a moment to make sure she’s balanced, breathing in through her nose and out through her mouth a couple of times before standing up — and again, she waits a moment to make sure the world doesn’t suddenly spin out beneath her feet, which it’s been wont to do.

Nova glances at the mirror, half expecting someone else to be in the reflection, but it’s just her - even if she doesn’t really recognize it as her. She’s still pale, though the dark circles beneath her eyes are ///almost hidden by makeup — more than she usually wears, though, along with a touch of gloss and mascara in an endeavor not to look like she’s cosplaying a ghost. Pallor and one still-bloodshot eye aside, she looks like a typical college student in her leggings and flannel that hangs loosely over a ‘save the chubby mermaids’ shirt with the depiction of a manatee on it.

After ensuring her balance is still her own, she moves to the door, opening it and turning her head in the direction of the noise. “It sounds like a herd of elk dragging a moose out here,” she says brightly, smile wide for the sight of two people she now calls friend. “I’d offer to help but I’d probably pass out, so I’ll just watch and give you feedback. Did you buy out the entire store?”

"We robbed 'em!" Finch calls back, her face whipping around to aim her smile at Nova as soon as she hears her voice. "I walked right on in there and said stick 'em up!"

She conjures a very serious face, dragging the bag a little faster now that she's closing the last of the distance. "Told them I'm taking all of their chips and salty pretzel sticks and gummy candies and there was nothing they could do about it!"

She looks to the side, shooting Isaac an expectant look of raised brows. "Wasn't it just like that?"

"Oh, absolutely," Isaac says insouciantly. "I, naturally, was the getaway driver, waiting outside with a hotwired Mantis. We led the police on a merry chase out across the Exclusion Zone, but I drive like I run. They never had a chance." At the very last, he cracks a grin.

"So here we are, bearing our ill-gotten plunder," he finishes, raising his bag full of drinks as he follows after Finch.

"Yeah!" Finch beams, getting ready to cruise past and into Nova's room with the spoils. MAKE WAY.

At their antics, Nova’s smile becomes a much-wider grin, and she holds the door wider for both to enter. “I always wanted to harbor fugitives. Right up at the top of my bucket list above ‘commit white-collar crime’ and below ‘become an evil overlord,’ so come on in with your looted goods, you dangerous outlaws, you.”

The door knob is gripped tightly so that she doesn’t fall over as a wave of dizziness hits her. She tries to mask it, though her eyes close for a moment as she takes a steadying breath and wills her feet not to betray her. “Wherever you can find a seat,” she says, waving her other hand at the little room with its twin beds and twin desks to choose from, along with a pink pouf and a couple of floor cushions, one a turquoise chevron pattern and the other a pink houndstooth. Neither bed is pristine, as one has the sketchpad and pencils strewn across it and the other a few textbooks, but there’s nothing that can’t be easily pushed out of the way.

“I don’t have a roommate anymore so don’t worry about messing up anyone else’s stuff. You’re free to mess up mine whenever you like,” Nova adds.

Finch needs little encouragement, taking the bag in just far enough for both of them to be able to enter the room, but continuing to hold onto the handle. She leans forward onto her toes, somewhat restlessly. Hesitant, her eyes lingering on Nova for a moment.

"You're all alone in here?" She asks with a hint of concern, before her mood seems to lift again, and she adds, "Nice! No witnesses."

"Truly, a perfect crime," Faulkner agrees. He's even wearing the cool smirk to go with his words, but it doesn't quite reach his eyes; those are attentive as he regards Nova, trying to gauge how she's feeling; he's been through the whole mini-stroke surprise bit himself, after all.

He eyes Nova's lair, searching for a place to sit, and finally sets his eye on one of the beds. He carefully sets the textbooks out of the way, then settles down on the bed, putting the sack down beside him. "Alright then, let's split the spoils. We've got… elderberry, blood orange, butterscotch birch beer, blueberry, a couple of different flavors of sparkling water…"

Isaac glances to Finch and her bag of snacks.

“Apparently the roommate didn’t want to be here in case it happened again because that was too much adulting for her to deal with, in her words,” Nova replies to Finch lightly, but almost too lightly, with a shrug of indifference that’s belied by the tiniest quiver of her lower lip. “It’s fine. I mean, it’s a shoebox, so now I have more room to collapse.”

She manages to shut the door and then takes a couple of steps in, choosing to lean against one of the two desks rather than chancing too many steps in a row. So far she hasn’t lost her balance, and the fewer steps she takes, the odds are better, after all.

“You brought me hipster sodas!” she teases Isaac. “Now I know you truly care.” Nova takes a few more steps to perch on the edge of what seems to be her own bed, given it’s not just a stripped mattress like the one Isaac has chosen, and a couple of the pencils roll when the weight shifts. She catches them and reaches for the box nearby to stow them. “Hit me with the Elderberry. It’s supposed to be good for immune systems, so maybe it’ll help.”

Her eyes meet Isaac’s and she arches an eyebrow as she adds ironically, “Or not.” It’s very unlikely that a superfood will do much to help with the nanites and other problems they seem to be having.

Her blue eyes turn to Finch. “How are you guys? Finch, I’m sorry again for scaring the bejeezus out of you, I’m so sorry you had to deal with it, but I’m glad it wasn’t just, you know, somewhere with strangers. Some birthday, huh?”

Finch's restlessness only seems to double in the time it takes for the door to close and for Nova to settle down, manifesting mostly in her fidgeting with her own hair- pushing it behind an ear, sinking her fingers into it behind her head.

For a moment, she seems content just to be here, her expression relaxing even if she still hasn't sat down. But when Nova looks at her directly, she only just manages to answer, "I'm okay," before she looks like she's withering and about to start sobbing again.

Instead, though, she talks— fast and moving without thought to wrap her arms around Nova's shoulders, "I just had a really weird day and I was kinda nostalgic for home and people but also kinda sad and confused and then you showed up like a gift and I'm just really glad you're okay!"

Isaac's look of are you shitting me indicates pretty clearly what he thinks about Nova's roommate situation, but he refrains from commenting. If it had been clear from the longer hospital stay, it is definitely becoming clear now that Nova's stroke had hit her a lot harder than Isaac's had hit him; poking at open wounds might not be the best.

"I'm pretty sure elderberry soda isn't too great for immune systems anyway. That said, it does taste pretty good," Faulkner says, digging out a bottle. "And what can I say? If you're going to have soda, hipster soda is the best soda," he smirks.

The smirk lingers for a second before fading to something more sober. "Besides. I figured you might be looking for something a little less common than just plain old Coke." He hesitates, then shrugs. "I'm doing alright." Which is pretty much a bold-faced lie, but right now Nova's got enough on her plate.

Finch's sudden meltdown sees Isaac blink, bottle of elderberry soda still held in one hand… then he smiles, digging for another bottle. "You're both gifts," he says dryly, but he's grinning as he says it. "Alright. Elderberry for Nova, and… let's see. Either you can have the blueberry, Finch, or I'll drink it," Faulkner says, coming to his feet with a bottle of soda in each hand.

Nova’s brows draw together, one lifting higher than the other, as Finch bubbles over and then launches into a hug. Nova’s hands come up to close around the other woman’s, a little awkwardly given her seated position. “Oh, God, that’s even worse, though. Like a gift — some nosebleeding, passing-out gift I am. You really need someone to give you better presents if that’s what sort of gifts you’re used to, girl.”

Still, when she releases Finch, despite her teary eyes, Nova does look happier — to have friends and be called friend when she’s feeling alone.

“Don’t make me cry,” she murmurs to Faulkner, before she squints at the bottle for a moment like it’s a puzzle she can’t open. She doesn’t reach for it just yet, but looks back at Isaac. Her brows lift slightly at his ‘alright,’ because she knows better. Neither of them are doing alright, even if she’s temporarily worse off.

“Does, uh,” she says, glancing from Isaac to Finch and back, “does Finch know about our special club that we are not only members of but also president and vice president of? Not the Hair Club for Men. I’m not a man and you have plenty of hair, still.”

Consoled somewhat by words and company, Finch withdraws with a sniffle and a smile both. After a dismissive pfffhh at being argued with on the subject of gifts, she breathes a sigh of relief, only then choosing to look around the room properly. The pouf is promptly claimed so she can continue to pull herself together.

When it's offered, something about the blueberry soda bottle strikes her as sparkly enough to reach for it. Gimme gimme! "Club?" She interjects brightly, though quickly reverts to a much more careful tone of voice when adding, "Do you mean the, um. Where you all have… the same sort of condition?"

"That is… one way to put it," Faulkner says carefully to Finch. "I didn't want to go into things too deeply, because it's Nova's story as much as mine." He glances over at Nova. You're up.

“We’re having a bake sale Tuesday. Come check out our muffins,” Nova quips, pulling one leg up onto the chair and wrapping her arms around it. “But yeah, that’s the one.”

She glances at Faulkner, smiling. “Well, I don’t want to tell your secrets either. Only I did have a question for you — did you see weird things when you had your…” she waves her finger vaguely in the air, clearly not wanting to use the s-word. They’re in their 20s after all, and it just sounds so dramatic. “Medical emergency?” she decides on, and her gaze flits to the bed with its pencils and sketchpad.

“And if you did, do you still?” she asks, in a quieter voice. Her eyes alight on Finch after, grimacing a little in apology. “Sorry. We can talk about something else, I just… I haven’t talked to anyone really who’s been through it yet. How’s Fate-Cat?”

"It's okay!" Finch is quick to reply, reaching to pull the snackpile closer and to start rummaging through the smaller bags within. "This is all really scary, talk all you need! But, um. Fate's a churchcat right now— since my moving plans didn't work out. I visit her every day and she's mine when I can give her a home." Said with not a single sign of regret, but now with the addition of a bag of pretzel sticks offered over to Nova.

"Please," Faulkner says, sounding coolly amused. "Don't hold back on my account." Her question, though, is met with a more serious expression. "I did. I got a view of another place. Like… a hospital? But… not a normal one. It was weird." He frowns uncertainly, then shrugs. "Then I walked into an endtable, fell down, and had a seizure. 0 of 10, do not recommend."

Isaac blinks when the conversation turns to… Fate-Cat? What is that? An anime? Slice of life, maybe, about a cat wandering through different peoples' lives and guiding them to their just desserts? It takes him a moment to pick up on the fact that they're talking about an actual cat; Isaac smiles once he realizes that. "Fate-Cat, huh," Faulkner says, smiling as he digs the blood orange soda out of his bag and pops the top. Though… where is Finch living, anyway? Hm.

Nova frowns. “A hospital but not a normal one?” she asks, eyes narrowing. “Do you think maybe it was where… like, maybe where they did whatever they did to us? Whatever I saw isn’t that useful. I just saw… me. Like, not me, but me? Different clothes, different hair. I cosplay, so maybe I’m just dreaming up my next cosplay costume while seizing out, I don’t know, but they weren’t particularly interesting costumes. I’d rather dress as Miraculous Ladybug.”

She sighs, standing up and waiting a couple of seconds before she moves to the bed across from Isaac, sitting down on it and picking up the sketchpad. She flips it open, then lays it down on the bedside table where both Finch and Isaac can see the various sketches. They look a bit like fashion designer sketches — the features are missing from the faces, but the gist of their outfits and general aesthetic are created through light colored pencil strokes. One has long blondish hair and seems to be wearing a blazer; another long dark hair, wearing a burgundy sweater; a third, auburn hair, mid-length like Nova’s, wearing what looks like a black trenchcoat.

“It’s weird. What’s there to eat? And Fate Cat, AKA Fatherine Hepburn, is the catalyst — catalyst — that brought me and Finch here together as obvious kindred spirits,” she explains.

Finch, quietly pushing the snack bag clooooser to Nova with a sneaker while talking is happening, shrinks back a little. With one more wipe of her palms at the corners of her eyes to confirm crying time is done, she casts her eyes down, and just listens intently.

Confusion spreads easily across slanted brows, but when the sketchpad comes out, she rises from her seat and rushes over to plant both hands on the edge of the bedside table to lean in close with a look of amazement. "Oh my gosh that's amazing! That's such a good idea."

"Huh. Good kitty," is Isaac's offering on the subject of Fatherine Hepburn. Maybe not that far off from what he was thinking, though. "I felt like I was there. Like I was… I don't know. Seeing through another set of eyes there?" Isaac says, frowning. "Then, like I said, I bumped into something and then I had other problems."

He's frowning as he peers at Nova's sketches. "Huh," he muses, sounding faintly impressed, although he's not quite sure what to do with this information. "Also yes snacks please." He frowns, setting his own soda down and picking up the bottle of elderberry again. "Speaking of which. You, uh. Want me to open this?" he asks, as nonchalantly as he can manage.

Nova reaches for the snack bag, pulling each snack out to align in some sort of order that makes sense to her, then opts for the Cool Ranch bag of Doritos, opening it and taking a handful, but leaving it on the ground where everyone can grab what they like.

Isaac’s offer to open her soda is met with a smile and a nod, but she can’t keep a pink blush from stretching across her cheeks, embarrassed by her lack of strength or agility — even if he’s been through the same thing.

“It’s not super helpful,” she says to Finch. “And I should really be trying to catch up on school work instead of making paper dolls of … myself? I don’t even know. But some people have hallucinations after a stroke, so it’s probably not anything really…”

Nova waves a chip around as she looks for the right word, before landing on “Real.” She bites the chip, the crunch punctuating the end of the sentence before she sighs. “Anyway. This is nice. Something almost normal,” she says softly, glancing down at the array of snacks, then to each of their faces.

Finch nods eagerly at Isaac, preoccupation dimming her smile. After listening intently to both of them, she takes a deep breath and sighs it out again, as if she needs a moment to re-center herself.

"Just because something's not real doesn't mean it doesn't mean anything," she decides, undeterred. "Like- friendship, right, what even is that? But that's real, right?" She looks between Isaac and Nova both, but she's barely asked the question before her eyes light up with sudden excitement and she claps her hands together in front of her. "Or like movies! Do you wanna watch a movie? Get your mind off of stuff?"

Isaac grins a bit ruefully. He'd come through the stroke situation better than most had; it'd taken him a moment to put two and two together. Wordlessly, he twists the lid off the soda and passes it back to Nova — making sure she's got a solid grip on it before he releases it to her.

Finch's observation draws a look of surprise, followed by a nod. "Things can be real without being concrete," he agrees, snagging a bag of pretzels — lots of sodium, but frankly that's the least of his concerns as far as life expectancy at the moment. "What kind of movie?" he asks, eyes moving back and forth between Nova and Finch. "Not Steel Magnolias or something like that, I hope."

“Thank you,” Nova murmurs to Isaac, looking down at the soda for a moment before lifting it to her lips for a sip, using her left hand that’s stronger than her right to do so.

She grins over at Finch. “Friendship’s a hundred percent more real than hallucinations,” she agrees, but then the topic is on to movies. She tips her head at the mention of Steel Magnolias. “That’s that old one with Dolly Parton and a bunch of crying women? I don’t think any of us need a sad movie right now. Or anything with plane crashes. Or nanites. Or… what else is on the taboo list?”

A laptop sitting on the night stand close to Finch is pointed to. “My computer’s there. Not the greatest screen for movie watching, but it’ll do.”

"Nothing to do with River Styx either," Isaac decides, frowning. "Hm. Normally I like horror movies, but… maybe not now." He considers. "An action movie, maybe? I could go for a dumb popcorn flick."

“Perfect. I even have popcorn!” Nova remembers. There is a small microwave and refrigerator in one corner of the unit, along with a cubby box full of pantry items, including microwave popcorn. “I’m going to veto anything with super powers too for reasons, so good old fashioned action movie it is.”

She muses for a moment, then reaches over, fingers sliding on trackpad and fingers typing in before the movie begins to play — opening on the exterior of the New York Public library, a few opening theremin notes giving way to eerie chimes before the scene shifts to the library’s interior, following a librarian as she heads into the stacks and card catalogue drawers begin to slide open. As she grows more and more harried, an unseen creature growls, and she screams — her face overtaken by a familiar logo.

Ray Parker Jr.’s voice begins to sing, “If there’s something strange in your neighborhood… who you gonna call?”

There are worse ways to take their minds off all that ails them.

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