Making Up is Hard to Do


nicole3_icon.gif zachery2_icon.gif

Scene Title Making Up is Hard to Do
Synopsis The reunion of the Millers is a tumultuous thing.
Date April 21, 2021

Fournier-Bianco Memorial Hospital

It’s been a rough night at Fournier-Bianco Memorial, both for the patient and the one waiting for him to wake. Nicole Miller looks like she hasn’t slept in a year, for the deep, dark purple half moons beneath her eyes. Conversely, Zachery’s seemed to sleep more or less peacefully through the night, but much of that is owed to the medication drip hooked up to the IV in his arm.

Machinery blips quietly, speaking to the steady rhythm of his heart. Oxygen levels have been good. For all it looks as though he’s been drained of color and blood, the doctors seem confident he’ll make a full recovery, in time.

But that time has not yet come.

It’s 7:34 AM when Zachery finally opens one eye.

As he wakes to the world, more noises join the fray of organic rhythms filtered through inorganic means. A shuffle of footsteps, the click of a switch. Light blooms into the shuttered room - the source of it being a light that's almost immediately hidden behind the shape that joins Zachery at his bedside.

Nicole comes slowly into focus, with frantic movements, having been in the middle of pulling a dark grey sweater over her head when she looked over. She pulls the sweater properly down in a clumsy, thoughtless handful of fabric, before her movements slow to nothing, her attention fully on her husband's face.

The doctors' confidence had meant little to her.

This means infinitely more.

Struggling to keep the urgency out of her voice, she asks, almost flatly, "Can you hear me?"

It takes only a glance to realize something is still wrong with Zachery — beyond the obvious, past the month and a half of unshaved face and bandages. His left eye socket remains closed, the right fluttering mostly closed again before…

It snaps open, his knees shooting up beneath the hospital blanket as he all at once shoves himself halfway to the side, pushes all the air from his lungs and reaches a hand up to feel for the thin, plastic tubes leading into his nose, while the other hand clamps in an uncoordinated flail onto a metal bar as he prepares to jump proverbial ship.

But for all the movement, the heart monitor's rhythm barely quickens. He's sluggish. Jumping is not happening. Dragging might be. If he could just. Get to the edge of the bed. But the bandages around his chest feel tight. The anaesthetics turn his thoughts muddy.

"—ckhhk," is not a word, but it's aimed groggily out at the floor anyway, breathless and raw thanks to the larger tube only just recently pulled from his throat when was reliably breathing again. Something he now seems to reject the notion of, coughing only once, but deep and dry enough to where it lands his shoulder back onto the mattress with the expended effort.

Mistakes were made.

Nicole gasps and springs to action when Zachery tries to… escape? “Hey hey hey!” She tries to call out not too loudly, but hopefully loudly enough to get through whatever scenario is playing out in his head that he thinks he needs to be running from. Slender fingers wrap around the bedrail, cognizant of not encroaching on this territory that is sectioned as his.

“It’s me!” she calls through the white noise. “Zachery, it’s Nicole!”

Though Zachery's fingers tighten around the tube at his nose, his escape attempt seems over for now. As if just lying there halfway on his side is all he can do while he focuses on breathing.

Eventually, his eye finds Nicole again— if only just, his gaze landing on her hand on the rail. "Yeah," he scrapes more than speaks, before clearing his throat, his own deathgrip holding while his expression settles somewhere between panic and confusion. "Where…"

“Fournier-Bianco.” She takes a stab at her best guess for what his question was going to be. A folding chair scraaaaaaaapes across the floor where Nicole pulls it to Zachery’s bedside. “You were shot. Uhm…”

The dark head of Zachery’s wife lowers when the rest of her does the same, into that chair, gaze focused on the hands that now clasp in her lap. “I don’t know what call I expected to get, honestly. I knew whatever it was, it wasn’t going to be good.

Silence follows, Zachery's brow knitting with just the effort needed for this conversation. Staying awake is hard, processing things possibly harder. Still, he doesn't look at her face, having failed to look away from where her hand was previously. His own fingers finally loosen around the railing, and the hand on his face drops down without pulling anything out from where it needs to be.

His next words are abrupt for how many he's needed to say and hasn't, escaping him with groggy urgency. "My jacket."

While she wants to demand his attention, that he look at her while they talk, she also understands being so bone-deep exhausted that looking anywhere that remotely qualifies as up is impossible.

Nicole instead reaches up through the bars and finds his hand. “It’s sainted now, I’m afraid,” she says of the jacket.

With absolutely no pause or thought involved, that reaching hand is grabbed. Not tightly, but tightly enough to be dragged closer as Zachery whines out a noise of pain, shifting where he lies again. "I need… to go…" He drags himself upward onto an elbow, leaning sideways as if gravity will let him exit the bed more easily somehow. "'N'you…" he adds through gritted teeth, "should be yelling."

There’s no resistance, Nicole lets her hand be dragged. She’s in pain, too. But she’s been in pain since November. This is just a little different sort of pain. She leans forward to rest her head on the rail. “You’re going nowhere. You’ve been shot.” In case he hadn’t noticed.

Maybe he didn’t.

Nicole’s gaze settles on Zachery, less than impressed. “I should be yelling. I’ve been…” She trails off.

Zachery continues to leeaaaannn, until finally something in his ribcage says nope in no uncertain terms and his breath catches with a staggered wheeze. Ow.

So he sits, awkwardly lopsided, forcing his free arm up over the railing to dangle on the other side, as though just that part of him being out of the bed will make a difference. Progress?

But Nicole's stopped speaking. Finally, he looks at her, as if he's only just now noticed she's got a head on her at all. "… Fucking beautiful," he finishes for her, sneering like the hanging sentence is a crime comitted. Then, he moves again, letting go of her hand to try and kick and wrestle his legs free from the blanket while muttering, "I have to… there's… the pockets."

“Lay back, you idiot,” Nicole sighs exasperatedly. “What was in the pockets? They probably left it all in a bag, which will be in the wardrobe, which I can get.” Her head lifts again, eyes rolling, but with too much weariness and sorrow to convey any anger or upset toward him right now.

M’not fucking beauitiful,” she mutters under her breath.

"You are," comes back from Zachery, instantly, as he looks down into his hospital gown and pulls the neck of it forward so he can look quizzically down at how he's been bandaged up. What happened there? The words 'I got shot?' are mouthed to himself, but another line of thought continues to be voiced right after, as if of its own accord: "You're just tired."

He picks at the edge of a bandage, letting go of Nicole's hand to scratch at the beard he seems to have forgotten he had until this moment.

Please,” Nicole implores, reaching out to take both of Zachery’s hands in her own. “Stop.” The only regret is that she doesn’t have a hand free to cover his mouth and keep him from speaking more infuriating words. “I thought you were dead. For over a month. And then I get the call that you’re on that doorstep. Don’t do anything now to edge yourself closer to it. I just don’t have the fucking patience for it right now.”

Zachery wrinkles his nose with displeasure as he looks up at Nicole again and says with narrow-eyed determination and distinct annoyance written across his face, "You're like a… sexy racoon."

Pockets? What pockets.

The doors to hospital rooms are rarely closed, not that a closed door would keep out Agent Beatrix Reeves if she had a mind to enter. Unfortunately, when she pokes her head in, she doesn’t know she’s jumping smack jab in the middle of Nicole and Zachery’s reunion. Still, her entrance is cautious, tentative and quiet, so she can retreat quickly if the patient’s in a delicate state.

Seeing no one undressed or getting a catheter change or anything of that sort gives Reeves the courage to softly clear her throat to speak.

“Good morning,” she says softly; she has two cups of coffee in her hands — one presumably for Nicole and not Zachery, lest she interfere with doctor’s wishes. “I hope I’m not interrupting.”

Nicole is grateful for the distraction when Reeves arrives. “What the fuck is wrong with you?” she asks her husband under her breath, expecting and desiring absolutely zero answer. Straightening up from her lean over the bed, she turns to the other agent with as sunny a smile as she can manage under the circumstances.

“Blessedly,” Nicole assures, “you are.” Interrupting. “Thank you.” For that and the coffee.

Zero answer is what Zachery gives, at least to Nicole. His attention switches to the new visitor as soon as he's able to, waving her over. "Coffee. Hello. Reeves there was a ring. In my jacket. In my jacket, there was a ring."

Then, the hand that was waving Reeves over is reached out toward Nicole, palm up. "Give me your hand."

Then, he looks at Reeves again, adding in inquisitive and drug-addled quickfire, "I was shot?"

Reeves’ eyes widen a little and she nods, putting her own coffee cup on a surface and then pressing the other at Nicole, along with the little packet of sugars and creamers because she isn’t sure how the woman takes her coffee.

She turns to go to the closet, like she’s following orders — that might have something to do with her guilty feelings about the whole mess, or just because she feels awkward. Or both.

After a little rummaging, she finds the bag of his effects, retrieving the ring from within. She’s not entirely sure what she’s witnessing — a renewal of vows? A proposal between the PHAROs, who’ve since learned they weren’t the actual people who exchanged rings last year? Nervous glances dart from one Miller to the other, as she steps forward to hand Zachery the ring.

“I can come back, if you like. I just wanted to update you on certain things, but I’m sure Special Agent Miller can do so from SESA’s perspective, just as well, but also to extend my heartfelt apology for my part in bringing you into that situation.” Her eyes dart to Nicole, clearly including her in that apology as well. “I certainly didn’t expect Nigel’s backyard- I’m rambling. And interrupting. I’m sorry.”

Reeves takes a step back, in preparation to beat a hasty exit. “You were shot. But heroically so. You saved Esme. Without you-” she shakes her head, and reaches for her coffee cup. “Anyway. I don’t want to interrupt. I just wanted to let you know you’re not in danger of any consequences from the US government. And also advise you not to share that you were there in any capacity with anyone who doesn’t already know.”

Nicole slaps Zachery away. “No, you can’t have my hand!” she hisses, affronted. She huffs out a breath and turns to Reeves again with a smile that everyone in the room knows is false, but this one would still be even if — she slaps his hand away again — Zachery weren’t in the room Zacherying all over the place — again — from his supine position. “I would love to explain the SESA perspective on this, but I’ve not had any briefings – de- or otherwise.” Despite her frustration, it’s still not directed at the other woman.

“I got the phone call that my husband – yes, Zachery, you have been shot – my husband was here, and now here I’ve been since. Waiting for him to wake up for–” Another bat at that intrusive hand and she’s starting to feel like she’s sixteen and frustratedly trying to get her sister to knock it off. “–reasons entirely unknown, if I’m hone—”

This time, the grasping hand is met with a sharp turn of Nicole’s dark head and a fierce look down at him. “What? My kid had better manners at three than you do right now. The adults are trying to talk.” From the too-tight pursing of her lips and the trembling in the fingers of the hand that hasn’t been captured just now, it’s not hard to guess that she’s masking hurt, confusion, and lingering fear with her exasperation and simmering anger. “There. You have it. What are you doing?”

Every time Nicole smacks his hand away, Zachery sags further back down into the bed, brow knitting as if in momentary confusion despite the determination to keep his hand right where it is.

But then, he retracts his hand, pulling it to his chest. To where things begin rapidly to feel wrong.

Esme's name brings his attention back from the haze of exhaustion, and by the time Nicole looks at him he looks to have run completely out of the adrenaline that was providing him with energy earlier. His breathing slow, discomfort clear with every deepening line on his face.

Nicole's question hangs over him for a moment longer, and then… "I don't remember." He looks at neither of his visitors, lethargy heavy on his words. "Thank you, Reeves. I'll be taking it back." His eye darts from one ceiling time to the next. "The monkey's alright, then."

Reeves glances from one Miller to the next, then focuses on Nicole. “I’m sure your director will fill you in soon, but the official word of the moment is mum – as in we were never there, and it’s probably best we leave it at that,” she says crisply, both hands holding the coffee cup in front of her.

Possibly like a crucifix to get her out of this situation.

“She is. Thanks to you, Doctor Miller.” She smiles at his term of affection, and then takes a step back. “I’m just going to let you two have some privacy, but it was very nice to see you looking a bit better, and you as well, Special Agent Miller.”

One more step takes Reeves to the door. She pushes it closed for a second, and then opens it again, and it’s not the hospital corridor on the other side, but instead a clothes closet that Reeves disappears into – there’s not enough olive or forest green wool sweaters for it to be Nigel’s, Zachery may note.

There are no stammered apologies and no farewells offered when Reeves rather smartly retreats to the safety of anywhere but this room. Nicole instead stares at the wall with a look of frustration still on her face. After the door closes, she lets out a heavy exhale and doesn’t look away from the staring match she’s having with the interior paint.

“You got shot saving someone?” she asks with surprise, but not incredulity. That her husband was shot at all was a surprise. When she was told who else arrived at the hospital when he did, she found herself wondering what could have happened. Zachery Miller getting hurt trying to save someone other than himself — maybe her — never really entered her mind as a possibility. Nicole’s assumption had been that he’d been a victim of some circumstance or other.

This new information implies some modicum of autonomy.

Shit. Reeves' exit earns a dry swallow from Zachery, who - after glancing to the side to try and figure out where she fucked off to - continues to stare in that direction, past Nicole. "She owed me a tent."

He rolls his jaw, debating something, then finally looks at the actual person who asked him a question and promptly breathes out a poor excuse for a laugh— immediately followed by a wince and look of regret when it contracts just the wrong muscles. Still doesn't wipe all of the ill-timed, strained amusement off his face or stop him from saying through his teeth, "You look terrible."

“Thanks,” Nicole responds with a scoffing laugh of her own; a weak smile in spite of herself. “You do too.” That flat blue gaze slides away and finds Zachery finally. “I feel it, so I guess that follows.”

Sitting down in that dragged-over chair finally, Nicole empties three — no, four — creamers into her coffee, stirring it all together with a wooden stick. “You left me.” Her voice is low, tremulous like anger. “You just left.

Zachery nods slowly, several times, whether in reply to the assessment of his currently prone self or not remains unspoken. He watches her, but with the idle unhaste of someone being made to watch an abstract painting. "I did." His own voice is almost plain, conversational. Save for the slightest bit of something else in there, lifting it into… surprise?

It's gone by the time he adds, "Not quite as long as I meant to."

“I looked for you.” The lid is placed back on the coffee, keeping more of the heat in. “For days, I looked for you. I found your phone, I found your notes, but you were gone.” Slowly, as if reluctant, Nicole turns her attention back to Zachery. “I thought you’d gone and died in some gutter somewhere. Or maybe the river. I was ready to beg Kristopher to use agency resources to find you.”

Another quiet breath of laughter escapes her, bitter as the coffee in her hands before the cream. “It wasn’t until Agent Castle came to me to tell me you… Just that you weren’t dead that I could relax a little. But I still didn’t know where you’d gone.” Nicole’s expression twists into one that reflects her misery. “Did you think I’d be unaffected by your absence?”

"I haven't quite gone that mad," Zachery answers curtly and without pause, now watching Nicole's face. He lifts his head off of the pillow and turns it slightly to one side, the eyelid-draped hollow of his missing eye facing away.

She's got his attention again now. He scoffs, even if weakly. "Of course I didn't die. The plan was never to die— it was to get out here, and to never come back. Turns out, I can't escape this place, can I?" His stare hardens. "I can't escape you."

There’s a steel that settles in behind the trembling but clear waters of her façade. It holds her together when he attacks her supports. It’s ready just beneath the epipelagic shallows, providing a surface for which she can turn on a dime if she should need to. And, god, does she want to. The way he presses his fingers against those weak spots of hers — those points of vulnerability she’s shown to him, because he’s supposed to be the person she’s safe to be vulnerable with — and really digs into them, making her nearly break.

Instead, the coffee is set down on the side table slowly, with a quiet and smooth deliberateness. The illusion of her grip on those emotional reins maintained. Finally, she gives him her hand.

When his hand finds hers, for the first time since he woke up, Zachery's face relaxes. He lowers the back of his head into the hospital pillow again. His grip is loose, fingers still pressing against the side of her palm, but not for the sake of weak points. His hand, too, lowers with hers still in it, knuckles hitting metal bar.

"I left, like I knew I would," he says, strained with pain and conscious effort to keep speaking clearly through the haze of… everything. As if it takes enough energy just to maintain his stare — the only way of attempting to look into Nicole's state of being he has left. "I needed the time, I think, for life to… wallop back into me. It took a few buildings of worker drones and victims in grey to remind me I had a chance of regaining control."

His hand turns hers at the wrist at this last word, ever so slightly. "You asked me what I needed. Remember?" He leaves no room for an answer, too eager to get to his point. "I will leave, again. When we've made it the right time. And I want you to come with me."

“You nearly had the life walloped out of you,” Nicole mutters in aside, annoyance mixed in with dark humor – and the face she makes to match – helps to mask what’s really going on in her mind. How troublesome each last bit of information she’s heard about SESA’s operation in the UK feels.

It’s nothing compared to how she feels when he points out that he left, just like he knew he would. How he’ll leave again. Nicole bites her lower lip so hard in an attempt to keep from crying that it nearly draws blood. “I suppose,” she says in a voice that sounds terse, but is really just held taut at the edges by the restraint exerted on her own emotions, “when you said to me three days before our wedding that you would leave, adding even-tu-ally, that you really did make good on that promise. Bravo. You even skipped right over our anniversary, so you don’t have to worry about exchanging gifts. Perfect timing.”

The tersity now is from the bitterness she feels at being unceremoniously abandoned. There are so many words caged behind the enameled bars of her teeth. Words that would sting. Words that would scald. Words that would tear down the four walls they’ve built of this home around their two hearts. Words that would crumble their very foundations. Words that would only make her feel better until reality came to call.

“This is a lot,” she pronounces finally. Whether she’s hot or she’s cold, that much remains consistent. It’s a lot, but is it too much?

"No." Zachery laughs with some embittered amusement that is refused access to the top half of his face, his monocular observation of Nicole's face still keen as ever. It's an unpleasant sound that's thankfully cut short courtesy of his lung injury, but the discomforted gritting of his teeth lasts only a moment.

His fingers close around her hand and move it again, this time turning it downward below his, so he can both pull her closer wholesale and to place his middle and index finger over her radial artery.

"This is not a lot," he disagrees in a lowered voice and with precisely zero intended room for argument. "It is enough. Let's have that anniversary, together, and let's make the first gift blood."

Nicole doesn’t fight the hand grasping hers, doesn’t fight being pulled closer, even if it does twist her into a slightly awkward position around the bedrail. Her eyes fix on his one with a warning edge to that stare. It takes conscious effort to keep the fingers of her captured hand from trembling. There’s naught to be done for that pulse, however.

“I don’t think blood is until the sixth anniversary, if I’m recalling correctly.”

The lack of agreement seems to sap yet more energy from Zachery, and he blinks more slowly than he'd like. It's his hand that goes slacker, even if curled fingers keep it from slipping away entirely.

"… It did hurt me a little to say it wasn't paper, like I bloody well know it is." His voice, too, grows weaker, but the thread of hunger remains. A self-righteousness that only barely makes it out of his throat despite the deep-seated conviction still attempting to make a stern thing of his face and voice, and only halfway succeeding at most. "All right. Then… how about a contract. A vow to reclaim what we're owed."

Cobalt gaze casts downward in little flits of motion, the descent slow.

A contract. She blinks and begins to edge her field of vision to the left to start to include her husband in it.

Brows furrow in thought of what that could mean. A vow…

Her head swivels sharply suddenly to look straight on at him in his hospital bed and all his battle-damaged glory. A surprised little hah! of laughter escapes her throat.

Nicole smiles. “Go on.”

More and more of Zachery's energy dissipates, but a wince of a chuckle still works its way out of him. "A vow to be our best selves…"

Something in his expression deadens, in the way it often does when he has a bad impulse to try and fight. But this time, he has neither the energy nor the inclination, and it only serves to throw gravel into his voice when he continues to say, "While we work to figure out how to best repay our debt of suffering to the people who killed the fucking future we were owed."

His hand sinks slightly down along with hers, his arm heavy, and even while he continues to look at Nicole, the eyelid over his functional eye socket struggles to stay up.

But the murder in his words, that comes easy. "The people who took our fucking kids."

It’s that last comment that flips Nicole’s stomach over while lifting her heart. She clutches Zachery’s hand and lifts it to her mouth while she bends to meet it, pressing her lips to his knuckles. “Yes,” she whispers, voice tight as tears start to fall. Their children are worth avenging.

There’s such a venom in her voice, the likes of which he’s never truly heard before. Her very being trembles when she spreads her poison.

“We’ll destroy them.”

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