No Children


sf_nicole2_icon.gif sf_zachery2_icon.gif

Scene Title No Children
Synopsis I am drowning
There is no sign of land
You are coming down with me
Hand in unlovable hand
Date March 18, 2021

Outside the Petrelli Mansion

The events in the house were enough to both hurt and heal Nicole’s spirit. It isn’t quite broken, but the cracks are beginning to show in ways that are undeniable, and soon possibly beyond repair. She boards the political tourbus wearily, all but using the handrail to pull herself up the short set of steps, past the driver’s seat, and into the aisle.

Which finds its seats empty.

“I know you’re in here.”

It is not a voice that answers Nicole, but a loud struggle of a hiss behind her. It's the door sliding shut, and the moment it is sealed, the bus is immediately quieter for it. The air thicker.

"I could drive us home." Zachery's voice comes from the front of the bus, before Nicole can catch him coming back into view through the mirror that hangs overhead. He's taken the driver's seat, both hands already at a proper 9 and 3, looking ahead at nothing in particular with the utmost focus. "How hard could it be? I once met a bus driver duller than a weekend in Worthing."

Nicole freezes. Instincts, that for once are in agreement and not warring with one another, tell her to hold still and wait for the barrel against the back or the knifepoint pricking into soft flesh before she dares do more than hold still and wait.

This could be just as bad.

“I’m given to understand Worthing must be very dull, then.” Nicole turns around slowly, like she might be afraid to spook an animal. She makes her deliberate way back toward the front of the bus until she can rest a hand on Zachery’s shoulder. “I won’t go back there,” she tells him softly, voice tinged with regret, but so little of it that he can’t hope to overcome the strength of her resolve.

"What do you mean, you won't go back there?" Zachery replies flatly, eyes still trained on away and ahead. "It's where we've lived, where we've planned. Where we've spilled wine onto the bathroom rug and have a door that catches sometimes but it's alright because we're–"

Something else catches, enough to send his shoulders back in a twitch before he promptly adds in a lowered and more urgent tone of voice, "So we'll move. Where have you always wanted to live? Closer to family? Bigger? Something countryside? We could move to England for a while, maybe six, nine months, I could make that happen. I know a place, lovely people in charge."

It’s worse. Much worse than the gun or the knife. The words cut so much deeper.

She has memories. Memories of all of these things. She’d tried so hard to fix that door. He’d tried so hard to fix that door. They’d called maintenance to fix that door. But still, it would catch. She knows exactly how many fucking hours they wasted on that goddamn door.

Remembers lazing in the tub, laughing at stories of old college exploits. And then the elephant just sa-wings his trunk and– the wine glass is sent flying off the edge of the bath as though it had decided to end it all. Her foresight for a lack of actual glassware in the bathroom saves them from shards on the floor, but it doesn’t spare the deep orange pile rug. They only laugh harder. She threw out the rug after laundering and scrubbing six times.

“Do you remember visiting anyone outside of the city? Ever?” Nicole can’t even look at her husband when she asks, her eyes blinking rapidly as tears fall. Her lip quivers, her throat is tight. “I can’t. And I remember everything. I remember intending to leave. I remember loading up the car. I remember driving toward the city limits, or to the airport. I remember returning. We never visited anyone.

Eyes narrowing, Zachery listens. For a moment, he seems to search for something on the other side of the windshield, but that's not where answers lie. "I came from outside of the city," he argues, before he finally shifts his weight to look at his wife, letting his hands slip from the steering wheel. His expression is one of anger, brow knit over a hard, incredulous stare. "I've been to conferences!" He spits out the words like they're acid in his mouth, and like she's put them there. "Inside the city and out! I've been sent out to advise on…"

But suddenly, the words fall short. His breath continues to leave him through gritted teeth, but he's searching again. Inside offers no answers either. "On…" He presses both hands to his face, dragging them down. "Look, we can leave the bus. Get a taxi back. Or whatever people use now."

“I can’t go back,” Nicole insists. She’s listened to him insist, knows he remembers things differently than her. His memory doesn’t work like hers does. She remembers things wrong. Or right, depending on one’s perspective. She can’t remember something that didn’t happen. “If I go back there… Zachery, I–”

Nicole sucks in an audible breath. “I can barely handle this. The competing memories. I was pregnant when we got married. We married in… Our first anniversary would be in just two weeks and three days. I would never have married you on Halloween, because that’s my sister’s birthday.

There’s so much about this world that’s good, though. She has all the power she ever wanted, doesn’t she? But there’s also so much wrong. The family she was born into is all wrong. The family born to her… Looking over to Zachery again, her heart aches. He is the only family she really has here. In her mind, he’s what’s real.

But she can’t make his decisions for him.

“I… I won’t stop you from going. From doing what you need to do. But I can’t.” Blue eyes shift to look out the bus window again. “Sometimes I feel like this place did everything it could to convince me to stay. The career, the love, the children, the most perfect life with you…” Her gaze goes vacant for a moment as she thinks about what she’s giving up here if she’s right. One way or another, she’s certain she’s ending what she has with Zachery. The pain is nearly unbearable.

“If I see them again, I’ll… I’ll do what I tried to do yesterday.” She doesn’t elaborate. He can guess. “I’ll let it all take me, and that will be it. I’ll go back to my ignorant existence and I’ll be lost. And this… What’s going on in my head?” She taps the side of her head when she turns to her husband again, her energy frenetic. “This is hell. And I want it to stop desperately. I want to go walk fifty paces in front of this bus and tell you to floor it. But I have to believe I can escape. I have to believe I can get back to where we’re from. I have to believe…” A nervous calm comes to her, where the waters are no longer choppy, but there’s still something just beneath, tension making the surface ripple faintly.


The anger on Zachery's face doesn't lessen. Every slow, controlled breath wrenches his posture a little tighter, Nicole's words barely making a dent in whatever thoughts he's chewing internally away at.

But the anger isn't directed at her. And that last word from her halts his breathing for a few seconds, before he says, slowly and carefully, "I… think I knew the man who killed me, in the– before I forgot everything again. I remembered–" He exhales sharply with a grin that's forced away as quickly as it appeared. He looks away, eyes locking on a seat off to the side. "I remembered some things. Feelings, like… stepping, just for a moment, into the patterns of a different person. It's slippery, and out of sight, but all of it, every single thing, it… all… feels… a struggle."

He shakes his head, moving quickly on. "I like my life. Or what it was. My job, which I haven't even been able to do because of this fucking…" He rises abruptly to his feet, cutting his sentence short and grabbing Nicole's wrist. "You. You wouldn't even be alive without me." He states, matter-of-factly. "I've earned this," he looks up at her, eyes cold. "Haven't I?"

At first, she’d thought he might come around. Then, she thought he might blame the inability to slide back into the life they’d loved on –t̴̘́h̵̬͍͑e̷̹̋̉į̸̩͂͝ŕ̴͉̺ ̴̭̣͐̀s̴̱̞̉̾ĭ̸̟̯c̶͕̤͊͠k̶̭̉ ̶̝͊d̴̬̀ä̷͚û̶̢g̴̗̖̽̚ḧ̴́̂ͅt̶̩͆e̵̦͋ȑ̴̛̠͓– Avery. But this? She couldn’t have predicted this reaction.

Nicole gapes like a fish for a moment, stunned and with the breath knocked out of her just as surely as if he’d physically struck her, rather than simply snared her wrist with the circle of his fingers and thumb.

An incredulous note escapes on a breath. “You really are like him. In any world, you’re the man I–” Her mouth twists fleetingly into a shape that doesn’t quite become a smile before it’s gone again. “You’re right. You’re absolutely right.” The tears have stopped – mostly – and her mouth gets small in that way it always does when they’re about to have a fight. “I’m just a prize to be earned. Lucky fucking you.”

She’d thought this suffering was romantic.


“Able to walk around at parties with your pretty new wife, completely oblivious that this man she worshipped as her fucking hero was actually only an angel of death who decided to ignore his fucking text messages for a change.”

It isn’t entirely fair to say that she hadn’t known some of that about him. After all, he was on the payroll under her watch. It’s just that no one was supposed to be able to order him to turn that back around to bite that feeding hand.

In just thirteen unlucky words, Zachery has destroyed this marriage he wanted so badly to return to.

“Let go of me. I’m not going back there. You can make your own choices. Go back to those things if you want.”

She means the children.

Even though it's supposed to be her who's supposed to be having trouble separating facts and fiction, Zachery is left standing completely still for a few seconds, stunned to silence.

The obvious anger seems to leave him along with a drop of his shoulders, but further slack fails to set in before he rights himself, chin up high as he clears his throat and sucks a new breath of air into his lungs with which to crisply say, "I'm sorry, I wasn't aware I forced you into a good life. A stable life of your choosing."

His voice is level and calm, but his fingers tighten around her wrist. "How long have you even known? And what does it change at this point?" Bitter amusement plays on his lips as he leans his face closer to hers. "If you haven't run off crying to your girlfriend yet?"

He has the audacity to be mad at her. Doesn’t he understand? How can he not understand? In their real lives, Nicole risked everything for him. And for what? A marriage to a man who can’t commit to anything that would actually help him get ahead in his life? One who comes home stinking of beer while she’s complaining that the smell of electricity from the outlets is too strong?

“Well, he chose me, didn’t he? That might be a trend toward the positive.”

There’s love there, isn’t there? There has to be love there.

“You wooed me, let me moon over you, knowing that you were supposed to kill me. How fucked up are you?! You think I’m somehow owed to you because you decided not to kill me?” How could she have misjudged him and misread him for so long?

“It's a trend toward the productive, but strategic choices were never a weak point for either of us, especially when it comes to getting what we want.”

Nicole’s fingers flex and he can feel the tendons beneath his tight grip. “My girlfriend,” she repeats flatly. “You mean the woman who was vowing to put five bullets into me if it meant she had just one left? Yeah, we’re on real good terms.”

Then her head tilts, eyes narrowing. “Or do you mean Asami?” Nicole finally tries to pull her wrist free from Zachery’s grip, but it’s only a half-hearted attempt, and it remains snared. There’s a war that wages on across the pale plains of her face between sorrow and anger, and it appears to be a stalemate.

There was love here.

Zachery slips outside and immediately pulls the door shut behind him, slipping his keys into a pocket of his coat. "Did you catch the drinks? There's some swanky things in there I was saving for a special occasion."

I have to try to get back to the real world. To find the real you.” Even though this one, the one holding her wrist and her heart hostage, is the one. God. Will he remember this? Will she? “This isn’t us.

“Yeah,” Nicole grouses, shoving the backpack at Zachery. “I fuckin’ caught it.” In truth, she’s just grateful that he didn’t follow the backpack. He’s no Buttercup and she is no Fezzik. She picks up the duffel then and turns to head toward the car so she can stuff his luggage in the trunk. Maybe him, too, if there’s room. It’s a Buick, so it’s a distinct possibility.

But at its core, it really is, isn’t it?

Holding his ground is probably not the wisest decision in this moment, and panic suddenly shows in Zachery's eyes– as if he finally realises the ways in which he is jumping to conclusions, the breadth of the situation, and the things at stake here.

The fact that everything he feels he should fight for may have never existed is one thing, but that he could be alone in this may somehow be worse.

Maybe that's why that last comment prompts a laugh from him, drawn out and harsh. He seems surprised by the too-loud sound coming from his whole chest, at first, straightening– but by the time he breathes out a staggered chuckle at the end of it, he's smiling, forced and thin. "Everything we're dealing with," he comments crisply, almost pleasantly, eyes locked on his wife's. "The nightmare we've been plunged into, and you betray me now? That is rich, isn't it."

He releases her wrist with a swing upward of his arm, as if disposing of some unwanted piece of trash. "Alright, go on, then! Leave. Leave everything. Just tell me one thing before I'm out of your sight."

“What do you want?

I’m betraying you?” Nicole asks breathlessly, confused. How is this a betrayal? How are they suddenly so out of sync? The years they spent together, the plans they made, everything in tandem.

Thunder crashes and she screams as the truck comes barreling toward her and there’s no bracing for the impact when– His arms wrap around her tightly. Shh. I’ve got you. It’s just the rain. She remembers every time her hero came to her rescue from another nightmare. Nothing’s going to hurt you here, with me. What happened to those promises he’d made?

"Just you. And not just- now," he catches himself, grin flaring up as his hands drop back in his lap, even if most of it ebs away again a few seconds after, "Now, too, but tomorrow, and the day after. Next Tuesday. When it's not convenient, and when I would benefit from anything but. When, logically, I should let you go, and you, me."

Reinforcements in the war have arrived in the form of a knife driven into her heart by Zachery. Nicole feels herself dying. That’s hyperbolic, but that doesn’t invalidate the magnitude of the feelings she’s experiencing right now. Anger goes down, left in the dirt to cool in its own blood. Sorrow wins the day. The rains come and the wells spill over, creating new rivers across the plains. The wind is only a whisper.

“What do you want?

"Shit." Zachery expells the word under his breath, the hand that had held fast to Nicole before now smacked against the side of his own neck, fingers pressed into spine. "Just…"

He look away, then slowly sinks back into the seat he was in before. "Just," he tries again, pained frustration making it a shorter sound still. And again it goes nowhere. He flickers out of sight, then back in just as he's shoving a hand up through his hair in frustration. A few seconds after he disappears a second time, the bus door reopens with a pneumatic-sounding hiss and clank of mechanical joints.

When he does manage more words, they are slow, reluctant and tired - with a thread of anger turned to something else that doesn't quite want to make its way to the surface yet. "Can I trust you?" He asks, choosing to remain invisible. "On this? On everything? Regardless of whether or not I believe it, I want to hear you say it."

For a moment, Nicole isn’t sure she isn’t about to be hit. It’s not because he’s ever given her that impression before. No, Zachery’s always been gentle with her.

“… Burn it with me.”

It's far too confident to be pleading. Surely it's not a dare. Surely.

The kiss prompts a sigh, a tilt of her head to accommodate lips on skin. He’s got her in his thrall, if only so far. Her hand tenses in his and her body goes a little rigid. “I— can’t.” It sounds almost regretful. Like she doesn’t want to be a square who doesn’t commit arson.

Nicole pulls away just far enough to get a good look at his face. While he may not be pleading, she is. For him to respect that this is a line she cannot cross. Will not cross. “The Safe Zone isn’t equipped to fight a fire this far out. It could catch and… And be disastrous.” Nicole tries applying her logic, even though she suspects strongly that it will fall on deaf ears. He wants her to loosen up. Be less straight-laced. This… This is not the person he wants her to be.

“Then let it CATCH!” Zachery immediately argues, at the top of his lungs and without even a moment's thought. His voice bounces easily off of the emptiness around them, as his hand slips from hers and his arms pull back toward himself in order to allow a step back, his shoulders squared back in misplaced outrage.

He’s a maniac beneath everything, isn’t he? But one thing that’s always been consistent about Zachery Miller is that he loves her. Nicole’s never been sure how to reconcile this information. Here it was easy. Here, she was easy to love. What wasn’t there about her to love? She had everything she could want, what she didn’t have, she could get.

If she could see him, she’d level her gaze on him, because she’s thinking now – really thinking – about how good her life is here, compared to the one she remembers. The one where she built up everyone but herself in her efforts to climb the ladder and someday earn the power she wanted. And where did that get her? Lucky to avoid prison or the fucking noose.

It left her removed from a position she felt she had earned through hard work and being so very good at what she does. Passed over for the position she really wanted. Married to a man who could have killed so many people, but didn’t. Does that make it okay? She’s made it okay enough, she supposes.

But can he trust her? “That there is another world?” she asks quietly, then lets out her own too-loud bark of laughter. “If I stay, I have two lives in my head that I have to try and sort through constantly. I can’t do it! I don’t know if that will change if I go, but I have to try.

Her voice is a whisper, hoarse from tears. “I believe another world is possible. Come with me,” she begs him, even though it feels like begging empty air.

"Jesus." Zachery's voice, this time, serves to welcome the rest of him back into view. He's stood up again, by the door, and eyes Nicole with the same openly disapproving look one might give a toddler throwing a tantrum on a store floor. "It's a simple question."

He lifts his head, expression reeled back to a strained almost-neutral– even if his wife knows him well enough to recognise that he's just desperately trying not to let his face communicate anything he'd consider to be compromising. As if this, despite everything else, should not break his cool. Or hers.

"Can. I. Trust. You?" He repeats, as if to a child. "Yes, or no."

“To what?!” Nicole shouts in her exasperation, rapidly reaching her emotional limits. “To drive a fucking car? Yes. To find a better life for both of us if we get out of this place? No. Probably not. Before Asami woke me up, our lives were better here. We had everything. Everything we wanted. But whatever this place is, the system is actively punishing us for daring to think we could leave.”

She sits heavily down on one of the seats, elbows resting on her thighs with her fingers loosely linked between her knees, head bowed. She just breathes for a moment. “The question is simple to you because you aren’t willing to complicate things. You live in the moment. You never… explain yourself to me. You always make things yes or no, black or white, trust or not.”

Good morning. Pick one:
Safe or dangerous?
See you at 8.
- Z

“Life isn’t absolutes like that! It’s qualifiers and contingencies and escape clauses.” Nicole lifts her head, expression tortured. “I can’t answer a question that open-ended. I can only ask you one of my own.” Her brow furrows. She hates that she’s going to put this to him. It’s horrible and it would gut her to hear posed to her, but not putting it out there between them feels like offering him a lie.

Blue eyes stare across the aisle of the bus, unfocused. “You know the only way I can stay here is if I can make the memories stop. If I can stop remembering every little thing, and also all the other big things that aren’t… here.” None of that is a question. None of that is the question. Nicole’s eyes come back up to her husband, frightened, but without a sense of impending judgement, a sense of there being a correct or incorrect answer, when she finally slides this proposal of hers across the table.

“Are you going to be able to watch me get torn apart? Or look on when I jump?”

"I could have chosen to watch you die once before," Zachery answers when the question has barely finished reaching his ears, his stance every bit that of a cornered animal ready to do what needs to be done.

Except then his own words reach him, and his face falls, a hand coming up as if to halt the conversation wholesale. "Shit, no, that's not…"

Which is precisely the circular fucking mess of knotted yarn they’re currently tangled in, isn’t it? Nicole’s mouth gets small again, her eyes narrow. Tears spill all the more in spite of how silent she is. Choose your next words very fucking carefully, he can hear in his wife’s voice without her having to even so much as curl her lip in a sneer. He can see she doesn’t have that in her either. They’re both wounded animals here.

Retracting his hand, Zachery balls it into a fist, turns around, and yells not words, not thought, just anger, filling the bus with the sound of it.

When that's done, he turns to Nicole again, closing the distance between them in long strides and with that upset still in his eyes, burning, voice raised and raw. "You know what's on the other side, and you hate some of it!" He accuses her, pointing a finger at her chest without breaking eye contact. "I can see it in your eyes. Whereas I was blissfully unaware mere hours ago! Looking forward to going back to work! Tired but fulfilled."

He continues, but between two breaths, something cools behind his eyes. If only just. "It's familiar to me. It's all I've ever known. It's all I've ever been proud of. Do you not understand? I'm practically blind, standing in fire, and I need you to tell me I'm not stepping into lava. How hard is it to reach out and bridge that gap?"

He yells and she flinches back, shrinking up small in her seat, as though momentarily afraid he might be the one to tear her apart, so they can get back to their idyllic little life together. Nicole’s still pressed as hard as she can be against the seatback when her husband turns to her again, but while she’s wearing her worry and her fear on her face, her legs have shifted, knees up. Ready to kick if she needs to.

God, she will not be another fucking victim. Not again. Not to him.

“And this is what’s familiar to me!” Mrs. Miller shouts back, eyes wide and at once wild and terrified. “Our lives are a fucking shit show!” She shakes her head hard enough that some of her hair is strewn about her face, clinging to mascara’d lashes and glossed lips. “I can’t tell you what’s waiting for us is better, because reality is never better than the good dreams!”

Either oblivious or uncaring of what his wife is communicating with her posture, Zachery just… stands, lets the shouting hit him, and then says through gritted teeth and with the willingness of gravel going uphill, "All right. Let me put it a different way."

His previously pointing hand curls back into a fist, and his shoulders roll back… before he forces them back down. "You're willing to f–" He stops himself, eyes darting momentarily to the side before they find Nicole's again, and he rephrases his question. "You're fighting for this, then?"

Her jaw sets when his fist curls, her eyes stay on him – not on his eyes but on his brows – in anticipation of the moment that he’ll finally snap and start to swing. Her knees hunch up just a little more, like she might curl up into her seat, with the next logical step being to hide her face behind those peaks.

While he tries to find his words, her hard breathing fills the space between them, in and out through nostrils that flare on the exhale. The movement of her chest is visible to him, too.

One hand comes up so she can swipe the pad of her thumb under her nose. “Yes.” But she’s shaking her head at the same time. “Over there, you’re… You’re a fucking mess who cares more about where he’s getting his next drink than anything else sometimes. You could have been so brilliant. Just like you are here. Just like you are here.” And that hurts a lot. The loss of potential. Raytech could be so good for him, if only he wanted to like it better than he seems to.

“And I? Christ. I’m always waiting for… You think the thunderstorms are bad here? There’s a thunderstorm in my head all the time. I’ve asked to be pushed off buildings. I’ve sat on the walls of bridges. You’ve taken a gun out of my hand. I am a fucking mess all of the time.” That anger in Nicole finally ebbs away.

She smiles, heartbroken. “But we were going to have the twins. You and I decided to get married and to… To try and make something of ourselves. To do better. We wanted to start fresh. We were going to–”

Her posture eases, feet flat on the floor again properly, shoulders slumped and head bowed in her defeat. “It’s not the best life. It’s… the farthest cry from what we have here. You’re not a celebrated surgeon. I’m not the right hand of the real power in New York.” She shifts again, leaning back once more, her head back and eyes up on the ceiling.

“If we didn’t have the children… I don’t know. I don’t know what we’d be to each other, if anything. I think you would’ve given up on me a long time ago.” All this to say, “I understand if you want to give up on me now.” Nicole lifts her head and when she looks at her husband again, she’s just tired. “But this isn’t who I am, here. This isn’t who I deserve to be. This isn’t what I want to be.”

It seems only to strike her then that if he chooses to stay, she’ll be alone if she makes it back home. “You have to do what you need to do for you. I don’t want to wake up without you.” It’s raw determination that keeps her from breaking into tears again. “But I will if I have to.”

The more Nicole says, the less anger seems to hold sway over Zachery's expression. Muscles relaxing in stops and starts, until he leans back. By the time she smiles, he looks more dazed than anything else. Like looking through her rather than at would be easier.

Like he'd rather be anywhere else, and with anyone else. But for better or worse– no, definitely worse, he's with this troupe. And with her. Silence takes over the bus as he stares in her direction, and considers. His own breathing is irregular, but steadying more on every exhale.

"I do give up," he says finally, dry and lifeless. "But not on you. On comprehending any of this whole fucking thing. Do whatever you want. I'll follow." He pulls away from her in a sharp twist of attention being redirected at the door, and stalks out. "I need a drink."

Nicole is left staring vacantly at the space of her husband once occupied. If he hadn’t been seen exiting the bus, someone could mistake her for thinking he’s still there to look at her. It’s long after the squeak and the whoosh of the doors that she finally nods her head.

So she’s somehow sold him on the idea of this other world, or at least of its importance to her. Flaws and fucked up lives and all, or she hasn’t at all made a believer of him and he’s just unwilling to let his clearly mentally ill wife wander off across the country without him. And when they fight their way, when they discover she’s right about it, about all of it…

Will there be anything left to save?

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