Not Today


nicole_icon.gif zachery_icon.gif

Scene Title Not Today
Synopsis But soon.
Date January 17, 2020


The drive to Providence was paradoxical, in that it was a terrifically long drive, but not nearly long enough. There’s so much to discuss. More to dissect. When the road gets rough, Nicole considers turning back. That’s a fucking metaphor if ever there was one. Why is this so much more terrifying than some of the other shit she’s dealt with? Probably nobody’s going to be shooting at her. Maybe. She’s got a sidearm under her jacket all the same.

After she arrives at the homestead Zachery’s claimed for himself, she sits in her car and stares at the building for several minutes. She could still turn around and leave. She wouldn’t even berate herself that hard for having wasted a day driving back and forth. But this is a confrontation that needs to happen.

The handle gives a metallic thunk-pop sound as the door cracks open, disturbing the quiet of the moment. It’s like a herald that this is going to happen now. Like marking a point of no return.

Nicole slides out of the leather seat of her Buick, strides up to the front door, and simply… knocks.

And then, there's nothing.

There's nothing for a long time, beyond the hum of a generator toward the back of the home.

There's a nothing long enough for more considerations, and clinging doubts, and imagined bad omens.

There's nothing all the way up until there's barely more than that — but something is something no matter how close to nothing it might feel like.

With a clean -clk- and the briefest imaginable creak, the door opens barely more than a finger's width. "Sorry," a voice sounds through the crack, out from the darkness, scratchy but familiar, "Not today."

Fucking seriously?

“Not today,” Nicole repeats flatly. A deep breath is inhaled through her nose, audible and signifying annoyance. Of all the receptions she imagined, this was not on the list. A hail of bullets would have been friendlier than this. Less upsetting.

She shoves her foot against the crack in the door. She doesn’t try to push it open or shove past him into the house, but she isn’t going to let him simply close the door in her face. Not without working for it, anyway.

She waits.

There is more nothing while she waits. But — not as long as the first time.

Then, there is a thunk. Almost immediately followed by an, "… Ow."

The door opens slowly, to a Zachery having moved just barely aside, his forehead resting against the wood next to the door. He hasn't shaved in several weeks, looks like he's been wearing the same loose-fitting pajama pants and '2008 Harlem Soup Kitchen Helper Extraordinaire' T-shirt for about the same amount of time, and is looking outward from below unkempt hair with a look that does not even begin to be described by 'vanquished'.

He is also red. Pale blisters of different shapes and sizes dot almost every single inch of the skin that's visible on him, his ears and hands a particular shade of angry, severe sunburn.

His lean into the doorframe is heavy. This probably partially due to the fact that one of his bare feet is an ugly bloated and purple thing below more burns, and that he's currently failing to put any weight on it. If his hand on the other leg is any indication, he's not terribly stable on that one either.

At least. Not at the moment. Not in the face of this. Even if he still looks unsure what 'this' is. But then. Haven't they both always been. Maybe that's why he can only think of the one thing to say.


“Jesus Christ,” Nicole breathes out. She doesn’t look the gift horse in the mouth, though, moving into the space given to her before he can change his mind. “What the fuck happened to you?” An experiment gone awry, perhaps? With what he’s working with… Well, a mishap with Gorgon would likely be far more fatal, leading her to believe this is likely something else.

That’s not a comfort.

"I don't think you should come in." If this is supposed to be Zachery trying to discourage Nicole, he's putting the absolute minimal amount of energy in it.

Slightly more energy goes into pushing the door shut behind her, though he does not move from his spot. "There's going to be a ruckus," he announces next, rather than answer her question, "in 5, 4—"

A few seconds early, there is a screech from the living room, an awful noise that tapers off into a tiny, guttural whine. It's a big noise for a small bird - a magpie twitchily skittering into sight on the hardwood floor.

“Too bad,” Nicole responds to the discouragement, stepping forward defiantly. When he mentions a ruckus, her head snaps toward him, suddenly alert. The sound of the bird - loud and unexpected - brings her whirling in that direction instead, one hand outstretched to release a bolt of electricity from her palm.

It strikes the floor near the avian, but doesn’t hit the mark. Either she didn’t take her time and aim, or that was just a warning shot. Either way, she relaxes after a moment. “You aren’t the type for pets,” she remarks dryly, keeping her attention on the bird.

Only when the electricity is discharged does Zachery seem to remember how to move again, and with a start - an involuntary twitch causes him to try and face the source, only to have his awkward turning land him with his back against the wall, wincing while both of his hands go partway up in defense of- something? And as if his hands would defend against electricity.

As if it was not something vaguely similar that had turned them this shade of red and this vaguely smelling of petroleum jelly in the first place.

The surprise on his face is clear, eyebrows slanting, but there is — something else, too. A distressed flutter of wings and a jarringly loud bark of a chirp from the bird tells him that it is still alive, which is good, because his focus is locked on Nicole while his face seems to figure out exactly which emotion he should be feeling in this particular situation.

It does not seem to settle on any which one, leaving him in place, mental gears turning, catching, and eventually cranking out a flatly spoken: "I am not."

Slowly, she tears her attention away from the feathered creature in order to look back at the man she actually came here to see. “Not a very effective guard animal, is it?” There’s a tension in her posture that has nothing to do with whatever pent up anger she might be holding inside. She wants badly to reach out to him, to pull him into an embrace and tell him she’s missed him.

There’s two things wrong with that. First, she should not be missing so sorely the man who nearly got her killed. Second, he looks like he’s in such a state that it would be extremely painful to be embraced right now.

The second honestly feels a little bit like an argument to go ahead and do it, according to the petty little voice in the back of her mind, but he’s got blisters and it might get messy, and she likes this blazer, thank you.

Out in the living room, the bird pops its wings out, fans its tail, and hops sideways and up onto a leather chair to survey its subjects from there. With this eye - and then the other! In agitated little turns of its head and occasional readjustments of its tiny talons on unyielding material.

Zachery's finally manages to tear his eye away from Nicole, his hands lowering in order to push himself away from the wall and to start hobbling through to the living room, muscles tense and every movement a struggle of its own. "Were you expecting more from something with a brain the size of a pistachio?"

Before she can answer, he adds, "I'm not— I'm not sure what…" His sentence is abandoned as he comes to a stop just barely inside the room, leaning a hand against a bookshelf. "How much… do you know?"

“I know you fucked off after we left the hospital and you never called.” Whether that’s all she knows, it’s all she’s saying. Nicole looks down at the floor, then lets her gaze drift to Zachery’s bare feet and the wound there. When she looks up again, it’s with concern.

“I just wanted to see you.” Well, maybe not just, but it’s not the most untrue of statements. “I… care about you.” Ugh.

Zachery's shoulders twitch up at those last words. It is, apparently, not a comforting thing to hear. He does not look at Nicole, lest he finds any of that concern to look real. Can't have that. Because here's where more omissions of the truth happen. Here's where they've been happening for weeks now. Things about snake bites and being sick and working too much and— "Yeh took my phone. Phones."

The bird shifts where it sits, keen eyes watching both persons in the room before Zachery starts moving again and swipes an arm toward it in a lazy arc, causing it to startle away with an irritated rasp before it takes to perching on its doorless cage in the corner of the room. Shoo. Where the magpie sat, he places a hand down. "After she jabbed a syringe into my neck," somehow, it's amusement that manages to make it into his voice here, "but before the torture."

Nicole stands rigid, watching Zachery move, listening to him explain. Whether or not she knew any of this before arrival isn’t apparent from her expression. What is apparent is that her blood has gone cold at the notion of all that’s been done to him.

“I—” Her gaze drifts from him, takes in the space he lives in. The untidiness of neglect that she can’t remotely blame him for, given the circumstances. Her head tilts toward the door she came through as her too-bright eyes settle on Zachery again. With deliberate purpose.

"Anyway, good, ah— you know." Where Zachery might usually fall back into chairs more than anything else, his sitting down process is a little more involved at this moment in time. He braces himself against an armrest and slides awkwardly sideways into the seat. Elegant.

Only when he's settled properly down into it, straightened up with his hands loosely in his lap, looking nothing like comfortable should look, he looks to Nicole and holds a stare that is much steadier than his forced excuse for a wry smile. "Good job. You— win, I guess?"

He'd shrug, if only it would add an extra bit of pain. It's whatever. Except it's not, a twitch of his hands aching to be fists implies.

“Still looking after that… dog?” It’s the bird she’s squinting at suspiciously. She knows who else is present in Providence, and what the little magpie signifies. He’s afraid — or at least too cautious — to say too much, and she’s much the same.

She approaches the chair slowly, but stops about halfway between where she was and where he is. Nicole slides her hands into her pockets and waits patiently for whatever non-answer he’s likely to give her.

Fuck all of that. "There was never a dog." Zachery's voice has gone cold, and whatever warmth was in the way he looks at Nicole has had to make room for something more uncertain. Not cautious of the bird, or what may lie on the other end of those tiny, beady eyes.

Cautious of what's made its way over much more recently.

"And I didn't want to move here." He clears his throat, uncomfortably, but does not break eye contact as he continues with the energy of a corpse, "'Spy on SESA', they said. 'It'll be fun,' they said."

“You…” Nicole swallows dryly. She can’t quite bring herself to hold his gaze, or even look at him properly. She stares just over his right shoulder, into and practically through the armchair. “All of it was so you could spy on me?”

Her eyes shut heavily for a moment, resignation writes itself into her features. “How’d that work out for you?” she asks after a moment. She’s going over all their past interactions now. Did she accidentally let slip something important. She’d tried to be so cautious. Nicole’s stomach churns, just the once. It isn’t as though she talks work. Not with him anyway.

But conversation isn’t the only way to spy on someone.

"Wonderfully," the word leaves Zachery without pause, and with the beginnings of a grin as if against his will - at the ridiculousness of it all.

"I told them all about your house and your kid," he starts in what Nicole might have come to recognise as the tone of voice that always precedes a ramble, and it lowers further into exhaustion the more words tumble out of his mouth, "and your voice and stupid, pretty eyes and the way I can't seem to spend more than five minutes in your presence without wanting to see much more than that and no, Nicole, I had fuck-all to give them, and I didn't, and I was glad for it. Because they'd fired you, hadn't they."

“They sure had.” There’s a cold edge of steel to Nicole’s tone. She wants to be angry. She is angry. But it doesn’t feel proportionate. Not nearly. “You told them where to find Ben.” It explains why he knew to come looking for her and Pippa, or so she thinks.

She stares at him for a long while, studying his features, his posture, his wounds. All this while she tries to find words to say. There’s nothing nearly substantive or adequate. A primal scream might feel good, but that would attract more attention than she wants, and she’s sure she’s already attracted plenty just by driving in.

She’d like to cry, too, but that would be giving him some kind of satisfaction, she’s sure. “What are they offering you?” From where Nicole’s standing, it looks like nothing good.

But that question will have to wait. The prize Nicole gets for her study is a good look at what Zachery looks like completely and utterly stunned. He goes a little slack, shoulders dropping, grin yet widening as he stares right back at her, searching her features in turn.

It's not defiance that causes this - it doesn't carry any of the telltale signs of Zachery trying to control his every action, word and movement. He lets his gaze wander past Nicole for a moment, reaching to run a hand very carefully along his jaw as a dry chuckle escapes him.

"What are they— " He tries, and fails, breathing out a laugh that's cut short in order for him to try his hand at another question, rife with confusion: "Why— why would I…" Nope, that one wasn't thought through either. His failed attempt just serves to amuse more, though. "Why the fuck would they want to find that absolute fucking cunt?!"

“I don’t know, but they did.” Nicole shakes her head slowly. Whether Zachery gave their location away or not, it doesn’t matter. They weren’t truly in hiding. They wanted to be seen in Providence. Word would have eventually gotten to Monroe regardless.

But Ryans isn’t why she’s here. “What do you get out of it? Spying on me?” He didn’t even use it as an excuse to stay close to her. It felt like he barely tried to hold their relationship — such as it is, or maybe was — together.

"I already told you. Unless there was a fucking camera installed in pearly here," Zachery taps a middle finger against his fake eye before turning his gaze slowly downward, "they didn't even know I knew you. Or…" The amusement slips back out of his voice, making way for something that equally matches the deflated look, more subdued. Defeated. "Maybe they did. Through… other sources. But not by my choice."

He starts to rise again, any sign of elation gone from him entirely as he stands - putting no weight on one foot and all of it on the other, painstakingly slowly. "They gave me this house, I guess." He does not sound stoked about this, gesturing vaguely once he's got a free hand to do so with. "And a piano. And some… empty promises. I didn't want anything."

Once he's sure enough he's not going to fall over in his task of righting himself, he looks to Nicole again. He's not standing steadily but it'll do for the moment. "I already had— what I wanted."

Nicole takes her hands out of her pockets only so she can cross them under her chest. She opens her mouth to speak, but his last piece seems to knock the air out of her lungs. Her mouth sets into a line, those pretty eyes of hers holding something like sorrow tinged with disappointment.

“I want to believe that,” she murmurs, stepping forward again. “I want to believe that all you really wanted was to be with me. But, god, are you ever shit at it.” Maybe that really is just him, but she feels like he’s capable of more than he lets on. Maybe more than he gives himself credit for.

One hand lifts, elbow propped against the opposite wrist as she rubs her forehead and pinches the bridge of her nose. “Fuck,” she hisses out between her teeth.

The disappointment is expected. Zachery breathes out a sigh upon seeing it, but it's almost more in relief than anything else. But. Then his brow furrows. "So, wait. You'll have to excuse me. Between— me being shit at spying and being shit at relationships and being shit at not seeing a fucking mutiny coming on, I've lost the thread a little."

He shifts his weight, momentarily looking down and around as if in idle thought, to find something to lean on. Failing to, and dismissing an earlier answer, he asks, "Why are you here? Because if it's for punching, or slapping, or something like that, can we just say this has happened, please. I'm hurting inside and out in so many different ways I've lost fucking count. And if it's stabbing, or shooting, please aim well. Probably around, ah—"

He lifts a hand to run it over the left side of his chest as he approximates— there. Right in the heartplace. If only he could keep the vague look of apology off of his face, that would be great.

“I’d have punched you already if I was here to punch you,” Nicole observes flatly. He knows it’s probably true, too, as she drops her arm back to her side with a quiet slap against the side of her thigh.

“I guess I wanted to hear it from you. Why you did it. What you plan to do next.” That is perhaps most key here. Next steps are… crucial. “I don’t know what I’m doing,” she admits. “Not yet.”

He does know. But it's not going to keep him from joking about it. But maybe, just maybe, now is not the time for jokes.

He opens his mouth to answer, just in time for the bird to hop from one metal bar to the next. The noise sounds louder in the cool air of the room, somehow.

"Come back." This is not the thing he meant to say, but it's the thing that leaves him. With just a little bit of life returned to the way he lifts his head and crow's feet draw a little deeper, as if in some quiet realisation. "In two weeks or so, February. With a car. And I will tell you everything."

The uncertainty is plain in the lines of Nicole’s face. But she finally closes what’s left of the distance between them and reaches out to rest her hand against the side of his face, a featherlight touch. “If you’re fucking with me,” she warns, “that’ll be it for me. For my career, and probably… everything else. I’ll go to prison, if not worse.”

Maybe if he hears that, it’ll make him think twice about double crossing her. Maybe it won’t.

“For whatever it’s worth… You made me happy, Zachery. So, thanks for that.”

The touch finds warmth - healing skin below the blisters, where it might be worse if not for a certain someone's help. But it also finds Zachery going quiet, breathing sharply in through his nose.

There is the briefest pull ever so slightly away after the hand's already on his face, but one reflex overrides the other quickly enough, and he leans back in while lifting a hand slowly to her wrist.

"That's… surprising." He admits, and something eerily close to a smile is swallowed back before it's able to form. His voice is a little steadier now. "Think about why. And think about - in these few upcoming weeks - what you want. Let's make it a trade for any answers you might need from me."

“I can do that.” Overthinking is practically her job. Nicole’s thumb brushes over Zachery’s mouth ever so gently before she starts to withdraw. “But I need something from you first. I need a show of good faith. I don’t need all the answers, but I need one bit of information, and some assurances. Do you think you can do that for me?”

She doesn’t try to shake his grip on her wrist. Doesn’t try to press him for more physical contact than that either. “I need to know you’ve sabotaged the work, and I need to know when and where the handoff is going to be, and who will be there. I’m not going to send in agents, I’m just going to observe from afar. Gathering intel is all I’m going to do.”

And just like that, all of the give in Zachery's posture is gone. Like injury and pain at once is forgotten, he squares his shoulders and presses fingertips slightly harder into that wrist - enough to make a point. "You're not going to be there when they come." This is not just a moment of uncertainty, this is a decision. "Afar or otherwise."

Nicole’s fingers curl inward reflexively at the pressure on her wrist. There’s no attempt to defend herself, either with her ability or with her fists. “Is it me you don’t trust, or your employers?” she asks, a hint of challenge in her eyes as she tips her head to one side casually, regarding him with a sliver of a smile.

Some day he'll understand why that's all it takes.

"Both," he answers, regardless, gritting his teeth in some residual frustration that manages to find its way through attempted calm. His grip stays as is, thumb shifting to the base of her palm. "But look at where that's gotten me." A boiled lobster version of himself. Maybe it's best not to linger on that subject.

He fixes her with a narrowing stare, disbelief creeping into his voice. Wait. "You came here not knowing whether or not this whole thing was sabotaged?"

That smile grows a little. “I had a hunch. And, improbably and likely foolishly, I trust you.” Nicole glances to where his fingers are curled around her wrist, but doesn’t attempt to shake him off. Or even glare him away from it. “Was I supposed to assume otherwise?”

Really, she probably should have, given the sorts of things he’s said to her of late.

“If I promise not to show up, will you tell me the details of when, where, and who?”

It is, perhaps, a good thing no one leaves Zachery in charge of any big decisions for long.

The way his eyebrows lower at the word 'promise' might do more than imply there's not a lot of faith in that specific part of her sentence. And yet. "January 28th. Here. I don't know precisely who, yet. But on our side, Yi-Min Yeh, Adrienne Allen and I. On theirs - ideally, apparently, Monroe. Garza, presumably, though I'm…"

The slack in his posture returns with a tremble of tired muscles and damaged tissue unable to hold him upright properly for long. His hand slips away from her wrist, to be clamped onto the outside of his good leg. His expression falls, eye darting restlessly between each of hers. "I'm not sure of anything, anymore, if I'm honest. Just as I'm not entirely sure you're even here. You're not supposed to be."

“And yet, here I am.” Nicole gently rests a hand on Zachery’s back and helps lower him back into the armchair, whether he really wants to or not. She can’t watch him struggle like that. “You didn’t manage to kill me, so you aren’t rid of me just yet.” Her fingers brush ever so gently across the back of his shoulder as her hand slips away from him.

“Something is going to be amiss about that hand off. You’re going to notice it. If I’m lucky, no one else will. Let it happen.” Nicole drops to a crouch in front of the chair so he doesn’t have to stare up at her. “The fact that you’ve sabotaged Gorgon is enough. Get it into Monroe’s hands. Or his representative’s. I’m not picky.”

Exhaustion takes over all too easily, and it's clear for every second that Zachery obliges in sitting down that he hates everything about it.

This whole thing can't be over soon enough, regardless of how it finds its end. After a frustrated hiss of a breath leaves him, he says, simply, "… All right. I trust you. I shouldn't, I think." He sinks back into the chair, half by choice and half by way of the clusterfuck that this last month or so has been. "But I do."

“Don’t get yourself killed, okay? I’d be… cross.”

And devastated, but she’ll be keeping that to herself. As if he doesn’t already have an inkling.

“I’m going to go… I’ll be over at my old house for a while. Gather up some of the odds and ends I left behind, if they haven’t been scavenged or whatever.” Something she wouldn’t be all that upset about. Nicole didn’t leave anything behind that couldn’t be replaced easily enough. Nothing important.

“If something comes up, well, I guess you know where to find me.”

Zachery's expression falls after Nicole withdraws, his gaze briefly on her mouth, then back up again.

He does know. Except… things coming up or not, he can't go there. Because of the whole torturer keeping him housebound thing. And that piece of shit bird. Which, as if it can read thoughts, gurgles out some short and atrocious excuse for a song. Or a curse. It's unclear.

"I think— shit." Zachery says, abruptly and as though awareness that he was saying it out loud came a little late, "I think you may have made me a little happier, too."

Nicole closes her eyes, clearly pained by the admission. When she opens them again, she’s both resigned and desolate. “I think I love you, you enormous idiot.” She leans forward and presses her lips to his, eyes shut and curling her fingers in toward her own palms in lieu of reaching out to grasp him.

It’s what makes all of this so hard. And so, so fucking sad.

"Ow. Ow ow." Zachery is also clearly pained by something, though in a much more literal sense. Despite that, he still carefully slides his hands over the back of her arms, chuckling out another few words as his body refuses to pull back and away. "You're killing me. In so many ways."

So why does he sound so fucking glad about it. He leans his forehead against hers, in lieu of being able to do more. "A few weeks. Give me - a few weeks. Just trust me one more time."

“Don’t let me down,” she pleads as she draws back again, standing and rocking back just a half step at first. “I’ll be back for you.” Maybe with another agent in tow. Maybe not. That’s a bridge she’ll cross when it’s in front of her.

“I’ll see you in a couple of weeks.” Then she takes that full step back, then a second. Pivots on one foot and gives him her back as she moves toward the door with a vice around her heart.

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