See It In Your Eyes


nicole3_icon.gif zachery2_icon.gif

Scene Title See It In Your Eyes
Synopsis Nicole has a plan, but Zachery questions her methods.
Date July 31, 2020

Bay Ridge: Miller Residence

Keys jingle in the lock as one is first fit into the deadbolt, then a moment later into the knob. The door is pushed open and Nicole steps inside the house, a box of things from her desk tucked under her arm. She pushes the door shut behind her with the heel of her shoe, then steps out of the fashionable pumps and through the entryway into the dining area, where she sets the box down on the table. She can worry about putting the snack foods away when she gets back. If no one beats her to it.

On stockinged feet, the agent-on-vacation heads to the fridge, opening it up and pulling out a bottle of water. Uncapping it, she drinks half of it down in one go before she twists the cap back into place and starts to head back the way she came, turning left toward the living room.

Where her husband sits on the couch, an expectant stare levelled in her direction.

“What the—” Nicole gasps and dances back a step out of surprise. “What are you doing home? You were at work when I called. I could hear Sera.” Suddenly, she’s casting an uncertain glance toward the hallway that leads to the rest of the house. “She didn’t follow you home, did she?”

"Not that I know of," Zachery replies flatly. You never be sure, with Sera. "They sent me home early. I had a bit of an… incident with the self-defense instructor, today."

For how near motionless he's sitting now, fingers pressed absently around a tight fist, one might not guess that he's had a lot of extra energy lately - and none of it particularly well channeled. Some channeled directly into throwing a well-meaning instructor into a wall.

It was cathartic, in a way, but not well received during a session that was supposed to be about blocking blows. All this, somehow, when he's still got his leg in a cast, crutches leaned against the arm rest beside him.

"Something is different." His face lifts, near-identical eyes unblinking as he watches Nicole. "You seem… driven."

Nicole can’t help but laugh when Zachery admits he’s been sent home for being too aggressive. “Well, I’m here to join the club, I guess.” She tilts her head toward the hallway. “Walk with me. I’m going to change clothes.” It’s taken as a given that he’s going to follow, because she just heads right along.

Working free her blouse from the waistband of her skirt, she frowns at the spot of blood she notices when she looks down the front of herself. Well, that’s either getting a Tide pen or donated to someone for scraps.

“Yeah, I… punched a co-worker today,” Nicole admits. “So I’m on vacation for a while.” Wherein vacation sounds a lot like suspension, but actually isn’t in this case. “Kristopher wants me to look after myself for a while. He’s… probably right, I guess.”

The blouse gets tossed in the laundry bin, followed by her pencil skirt. Nylons are the next thing to go, but she sits down on the bed and rolls them up carefully to go back in the top drawer.

None of this answers his question.

"He probably is," comes Zachery's response, still out of sight.

He rounds the doorway to the bedroom with some delay, using only a single reluctantly grabbed crutch to follow at an unhurried pace. Once he's caught up, Nicole is watched anew from where he stands, slouched into his support. He's been a lot less keen to vocalise judgements about her general wellbeing since some of his estimations turned out to be wrong. Here, too, he bites his tongue.

Assumptions about other people, however. "Who did you punch?" He keeps his tone of voice level, but the flat affect of emotional exhaustion doesn't match the setting of his jaw when he asks, "You usually get along with everyone at work, don't you? Did they get you?"

Nicole starts to chuckle, but it dies in her throat quickly when Zachery expresses his concern that someone might have retaliated or maybe struck the first blow. “No, no, no. I’m fine. Don’t have a scratch on me.” The nylons are set aside and she rests her hands on her knees, leaning forward to watch Zachery in the doorway.

She sighs heavily. “Noah Bennet?” He likely remembers the man, given what she’s heard about what happened in Detroit. “In my defense, he was asking for it.” Literally, but she’ll let the statement stand with the figurative implied.

“I’ve got some, uhm… Stuff to sort out?” Which is putting everything so mildly. That’s so obviously true that to state it at all is an absurdity. “I think I’m going to be in and out of Benchmark for a while. Do you think you can handle Pippa? Or do you want me to see if Lucille will take her?” The eight-year-old can mostly fend for herself at this point, beyond operating the oven or the stove on her own, which is strictly forbidden by her mother. And the little girl has been eager to help while her step-father’s been laid up.

"You're leaving," Zachery states matter-of-factly, an answer to exactly none of her questions.

He knows Noah enough for that bit of information to narrow his gaze. 'Stuff' is insufficient information and she knows it. And he's more than capable of managing a single child's needs, especially with Lucille's phone number available to him. But that's not what she's really asking.

So, he offers her another question in turn, tiredly laying down the bait for her real intentions to find. "Is this you asking me to trust you?"

Nicole looks down to her hands, jaw jutting forward, then working back and forth while she figuratively chews on that call-out. She takes his lack of response to his question to mean that, yes, he’ll look after her daughter. It’s unfair to him the way that she expects he wouldn’t look after Pippa given the choice. Like she believes his responsibility to the child ends the moment her back is turned.

“Yeah,” his wife replies quietly. Rising to her feet, she doesn’t look at him again as she pulls open the top drawer of the dresser to replace the nylons in the empty space they occupied previously — her drawers are meticulous — and produces a pair of knee high socks instead. They’re tossed on the bed while she goes down the rows of the dresser. Wine red tank top, dark grey skinny jeans.

Her back remains to him while she redresses.

Zachery continues to stand near motionless, watching Nicole as closely as she knows he tends to.

"Okay." That one word serves to break the uncomfortable silence as much as it does to stall for time. Just enough, it seems, for him to take a deep breath and to adopt a much more casual tone when he says, "I've got about seven different projects that I can handle mostly from home. I can't drive, but I'll call around to arrange pickups and dropoffs." Logistically, he's got this.

But all the while, he keeps a sharp watch. On Nicole, on her choice of clothing, on her lack of wanting to face him where he stands blocking the way out. On any potential hints in her body language when he notes, "You're being unspecific. It's not like you."

This had been a point of contention between them when they started getting close, hadn’t it? A wave of guilt washes over Nicole that manifests itself physically as a pause in her movements, her arms through her shirt, but not yet pulled over her head.

A heavy exhale seems to signify the end of that particular mental lock-up. The shirt is pulled down over her torso and the waistband of her jeans. She’s going to have to turn and look at him sometime, so…

Nicole turns around and fixes her husband with a conflicted look. “I’m on to something. I think there’s a good chance that it’s something big, and I think it’s possible that the less you know, the better off you’re going to be.”

"Alright, great, I'm fine, that's sorted, then." Zachery shoots back, smirking and meeting Nicole's gaze with frustration knitting his brow and sharpening his words. "I'll be happy to tell Pippa how fine we are when you disappear under mysterious circumstances and I can't provide her with any details."

As if realising he's accidentally stumbled over some boundary he didn't even anticipate, he adds on, hurriedly, "What about you?"

He has, and it shows in the subtle tightness around her mouth. There’s no snapping at him for it, however, because it is ultimately a barb Nicole knows she deserves. It’s one she gets thrown at her constantly, and yet she doesn’t seem to change her behavior.

The cycle of guilt feeds itself perpetually.

“I haven’t gotten this far not knowing how to supply information about—” She cuts herself off. Zachery deserves better than a If you’re reading this, I’m dead sort of situation. Pippa certainly does. She already has a video from her father, waiting for her to reach adulthood.

Or to reach the point where Nicole decides she’s ready for it. Because fuck the wishes of a dead man. As though she’s not so much the same. There’s a reason Nicole and Ben worked together well all those years.

“I think somebody knows what happened to us.” Eyes fall shut immediately at that admission, jaw jutting forward a moment in an expression of annoyance. Because, yes, it’s obvious somebody knows. Someone had to perpetrate the crimes against them. “Whatever it is,” Nicole opens her eyes again and shakes her head, helpless, “it’s enough that Bennet engineered my suspension so I’d have time to look into it without anyone questioning why I’ve fucked off.”

"Okay." This time, Zachery speaks the word as a firm closer. Putting what's behind them behind them. "That's better."

There's some relief in the sigh that escapes him, breathed out slow and deliberate. But there's something else, too, something far more alert summoned by the subject of what's happened to them. The subject he's wasted tens of hours of his life on already, at the cost of work and sleep.

His standing guard of the doorway ends abruptly, the cast on his leg dragged a half step over the floor before he leans against the crutch and steps awkwardly into the bedroom, and out of the way. "And you think it could be dangerous?" A sidelong glance at Nicole is still rife with concern. "Are you going alone?"

“Yes.” The answer to both questions is the same. Nicole’s features pull themselves into a look of concern when Zachery steps out of the doorway, but she doesn’t say anything about it. Instead, she steps over to their closet and starts pushing hangers to one side until she gets to the section where she hangs her blazers and jackets.

Black leather is selected and pulled on, in no particular hurry. “I can’t risk anyone else on this. I don’t know who else to trust and…” Dark blue eyes look him up and down. “You aren’t in any state to follow where I need to go.”

He isn't, and that knowledge is enough to bring Zachery's gaze sharply to a window as he bites back an unnecessary comment. This last month or so can go fuck itself very much.

"You can't make that decision for others," he ultimately decides to say instead, anger back in his voice even if it's lacking from the look of defeat he shoots Nicole, his free hand curling into a fist at his side. "Surely you can trust the others who were in the crash with us," he argues, insistent but level. "Let them decide whether the risks are worth it. They're in this too."

“You think any of them are equipped for this?” Nicole asks, incredulity in her tone. She turns to face him fully again after she closes the closet door. “Maybe Tetsuyama, but for all I know, this is some JSDF fuckery that we’re dealing with.”

The last step in Nicole’s process of getting ready is to unwind her hair from the bun on top of her head. She rakes her fingers through her hair and shakes it out, like it might help her think. Her hands stop mid-ruffle, gaze wandering some mid-point in the air between them as she considers.

“If I say I’m going to bring someone with me — two someones — will that be enough to satisfy you?”

"Do what you want," Zachery says, a little too quick and acidic for his own liking. A noise catches in the back of his throat as he struggles to find the right words. When he does, they're strained with exasperation. "Even if I were in a state to come with you, I wouldn't want you to involve others purely for my satisfaction. That defeats the point of trust, doesn't it?"

Quiet desperation has sunk its claws into him, and he breathes out an ill-timed chuckle once he hears it on his own voice. "Just… think, for a minute. Please - maybe ten, if you can spare them." He certainly sounds like he thinks she could, even if optimism is a strange look for him in his current, slightly disheveled and injured state. "I want you to be better off, too."

That acid may as well have hit her in the face for all that she flinches at it being projected at her. Head turned away and eyes squeezed shut for a space of time that stretches into a handful of seconds.

“You can trust me while still wanting me to take precautions,” Nicole reasons, voice gentle, but guarding a fresh wound. “Which I’ll do, because you’re right.” As much as she hates to admit it, she shouldn’t go alone. It’s not like it was when she had her ability at her disposal.

But she still has her pistol and a spare key to Ryans’ house. She’ll be well-armed. “I don’t… I don’t know what else you need from me right now, Zach.”

"Just…" Zachery starts a sentence with all the intention to finish it, only to find the bottom of his thought process having fallen out. He chuckles again, humourlessly, followed shortly by him gritting his teeth while a hand comes and rubs at tightened jaw muscles.

"I'm just afraid." The truth leaves him in a rush, and louder than it needs to be, like maybe it'll help the sound move away before he can hear it for himself. "I've been afraid. I can't do anything, so…"

He shrugs against his crutch, his stare at Nicole losing some focus as he abandons that line of thinking. "So — I just need you to keep being smart. And, preferably, not lie to me." He doesn't sound hopeful about that last one.

“I know, love.” Maybe she does. Maybe she says she does because it makes sense that he is, even if she didn’t know that he was afraid before that moment when he said so. Whatever it is, Nicole closes the distance between them, cupping his face in her hands and leaning up to press a kiss to his mouth.

“I have to try. You know I do.” He’s been doing everything he can to find answers. Now, it’s her turn. Her right thumb caresses over his cheekbone, left hand gliding its way from his jaw, following the length of his neck and settling at the curve where it meets his shoulder. “I’m going to give an envelope to Lucille. It’s going to have the exact address of where I’m going. If I don’t come back, she’ll open it and you’ll have everything you need to start digging into it.” No lies. Just… only partial truths. Omissions meant to protect him.

The longer he keeps her talking through her plan, the more she begins to realize she doesn’t have one. That her plan had been to jump in the truck and make her way toward Harlem, then carry forward on foot. The more she actually thinks about it, the more she realizes it isn’t a plan at all.

“Do you want me to make dinner?”

A hurt delays the answer to her question. It shows in Zachery's unchanging expression when she kisses him, and the lift of his face when her hands leave it.

It doesn't feel the same. Nothing quite does. And partial truths are not good enough.

But they have to be. Life, apparently, goes on, no matter how hard he might disagree with the how of it. The notion that he should have any control of any situation is discarded, and he lays a hand across the one at his shoulder.

"I want you to take care of yourself," he finally grates, with about as much life to his voice as roadkill possesses, "but we can start with that."

It's a small victory, but he'll take it.

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