Some Reason to Be Angry


lance_icon.gif nicole3_icon.gif

Scene Title Some Reason to Be Angry
Synopsis Nicole checks in with Lance for an off the record debrief.
Date April 22, 2021

Fournier-Bianco Memorial Hospital

It isn’t like she liked hospitals much in the first place — she supposes few do, given the circumstances that brings one through their doors — but she’s really starting to grow a distaste at this point. She’s spending too much time in these facilities herself, and now she’s looking after her husband while he recovers from his injuries. That had been a terrible discovery. However, they’re lucky, and he’s likely to recover fully, given time.

But he’s not the only person in this hospital she’s here to see. Stomach dropping, Nicole Miller simply stands outside the door to the room where Lance Gerken is recovering from his own injuries.

For a long time, all she can do is stare at the white board with his designation written there. Not his real name, out of an abundance of security, but she still knows it’s his. Her badge — the federally granted one, not the one hanging around her neck that proclaims her VISITOR — gives her that right to know.

Softly, she knocks before she finally places her hand on the door and lets herself in.

The steady blip-blip-blip of vitals is audible when she steps inside, a constant rhythm reassuring those present that the patient’s status is stable. Said patient - Lance Gerken, despite the name on the door - is laid back in the bed, covered in fresh linens, his features pale and wan.

There’s an old walkman-style cassette player in his hand, resting on his chest with a finger tapping out a rhythm against the side of it, a pair of cheap headphones leading from it to his head. His chin bobs a bit too, his eyes closed and probably unaware of her presence just yet.

But he’s awake, aware, and capable of listening to music at least.

For a moment, she considers accepting that as enough, turning around, and leaving. But she’s made of sterner stuff than this, and Nicole will not let cowardice get the better of her.

So, she closes the door behind her, hoping that the sound of it will announce to him that he has a visitor before she finds her way to the edges of his vision, then the end of his bed. “Hey,” she greets, voice breathy, smile small.

Maybe it’s the door, maybe it’s her voice, or the movement near the bed, but Lance’s eyes flicker open. There’s a broken blood vessel or two in his left eye, staining the white of it a bit red, lips that are chapped and rough curving into a smile at the sight of her.

“Oh, shit,” he says, voice a bit ragged, but the tone of it warm, “Did I forget to fill out my timesheet?”

Nicole laughs in spite of herself. A short breath of one, anyway. “Yeah.” Her smile quavers at the edges. “You’re way behind on it. I’m gonna have to start processing this as LWOP if you don’t get your shit together.”

Pulling the armchair meant for visitors away from the wall, she turns it around to face toward him, rather than him having to turn his head to look at her at his side. It’s not a small piece of furniture, but she shows no sign of needing to expend any great effort.

Settling down, Nicole folds her hands in her lap and draws in a shaky breath. “You did good out there, kid. Real good.”

“‘Course I did,” Lance replies with a smile, weak though it is, eyebrows lifting, “Told you this is what I was trained for.”

He shifts– feels a pull– and stills with a grimace, adding, “Could’ve done… better on the open shootout part, though, I think. I’m more a sneak around and jump ‘em guy. Fair fights are for suckers.”

“Fair fights are for suckers,” Nicole agrees solemnly, then lets out a breath that’s ragged around the edges. “In spite of that, I…” This part is difficult. It’s not going to sound particularly nice, but it’s been bottled up so tightly that it’ll explode in other ways if she doesn’t let it out.

“I recommended you for this assignment, just how you wanted me to.” The guilt in her expression is unmistakable. “And it’s nearly cost you your life. I feel like I did during the war. After my squad had to be sacrificed in order to secure information that would ultimately lead us to Fort Detrick, I retired to the war room. I helped strategize and plan our next attacks. I made decisions like this.”

She looks away from Lance, afraid she’ll lose her nerve if she sees the look on his face as she carries on. Whether it’s pity, annoyance, concern, it doesn’t matter. It will rattle her right now. “I coordinated the best targets to strike. I… helped choose which outfits would go where, knowing full well that I sent some off to be annihilated.” The haunted look in her eyes only abates because she closes them. “The sacrifices we made in blood so that we could have all of this…” Their democracy. Their way of life. This better government that means to uplift and support them, rather than stamp them out. “And they call me a hero for it. I don’t feel like much of a hero.”

It’s without reluctance that she looks back to him again. There’s sorrow there, worry. “Wouldn’t feel it if your blood was on my hands, too.” She smiles sadly and thinks of Ben. “Even if you died a hero yourself, a dead hero is still dead.”

Lance listens as she talks, because it’s easier to listen and because he’s pretty sure she’s mostly saying it for herself than for his benefit. As she looks back, he shifts - more carefully this time - to sit up somewhat, hand drifting over to touch a control to slowly lift the back of the bed to a slightly more vertical position. Not completely, though.

What he says once he does, looking at her with a serious expression, is: “Did you get to read the mission report?”

She resists the urge to rest a hand on his shoulder and encourage him to lay back down again. He’s not trying to be ambulatory, just to reach the remote that lets him prop the bed up enough for him to be more comfortable in this moment. “Yeah,” Nicole confirms in a soft voice. “But if you have anything you’d like to say to me about any of it, I’m all ears.”

Canting her head, she clarifies, “On or off the record.”

“Good. Then you– “ Lance hesitates, glancing to the door. It’s closed, but when he looks back the steady blip blip blip of his vitals cuts off – demonstrating that nobody but them are hearing what they’re saying in the moment. He probably shouldn’t be using his abilities, but this doesn’t seem to be too much of a stress on him.

Then he’s looking at her seriously, taking a moment to gather strength before saying quietly, “Then you know how many people we pulled out of there. And you know– you know that none of those people were ever going to leave there alive, unless it was for something even more fucked up.”

With the way Nicole’s eyes widen, it’s hard to say if she did know that or not. Or if it’s just the concern she feels when she no longer has the auditory indication of his current vitals. She watches the monitors for a time to make sure this use of his power isn’t proving a detriment to him.

“Tell me exactly what you saw.” She and Zachery have been too busy having their own drama to really discuss it, and Lance is the one with the investigative training.

It’s a reaction that makes Lance frown– didn’t she just say she got to read the report? But then, not every report is accurate, now is it?

“I don’t think,” he says slowly, “I’m probably supposed to, but– ” He clears his throat a few times, “I mean, your husband was there so– get me some water and I’ll go through it.” She’s shown trust in him more than once– he has to trust her in return.

“You know how it is,” Nicole murmurs as she moves to stand. “You joined the department for a reason.” It’s encouragement to read between the lines there.

Smiling, Nicole excuses herself to the hall briefly to fetch a couple glasses of water for the two of them. His has a lid and a straw. Once she’s swiveled his tray in front of him, she sets the glass down, then takes her own seat again.

“Alright, Agent Gerken.” Perhaps she’s got her tongue in cheek there, but she looks serious enough. “Fill me in.”

A grateful smile, and Lance lifts a hand to take the cup from the tray. He takes a sip from the straw, then sets the cup back down, hand resting beside it with IV tubes draped across the bed.

“So,” he clears his throat a little; he talks slower and more carefully than usual. Sore throats are a common risk of being in hospitals, after all, and he doesn’t want to strain himself or lose his voice. “One of the first things me and Liza found out - while hiding from a Torchlight patrol in a secret basement that was also looking for our target - was that Kate Archer’s ‘sister’ Cecilia was just an alias of hers. I guess it’s easy to fake a second identity when you’re a teleporter. We found her wife and kid, kept them away from Torchlight, got them safely back to home base.”

“Anyway, one of our teams found your husband and some refugees from one of their sectioning centers,” he grimaces, pausing to take a sip, “Girl named Esme, some invisible guy called Claude– anyway. After that, we got a mission parameter change from the White House. Hit the sectioning center.”

“So you maintain that you were given orders to instigate what the United Kingdom could have framed as an act of war against them?” The operation was supposed to be quiet. Find their target, get out. But if what she’s been learning is true, someone ought to go to war over this. Just… not them. Not while these states are far from united.

She scrubs her hand over her face. “I caught up to him earlier.” Zachery, she means. “Good job, doing exactly what I asked you to do.” Nicole smiles. It has a sad quality to it. “Anyway… What exactly were you instructed to do? Liberate targets? Destroy resources…?”

Wince. “Don’t put it like that,” Lance mutters, taking a sip of the water again as his gaze drops, “I mean, yeah, technically. We were trying to get the family members of the people who we’d found and– well, anyone else we could liberate. It was in the ass-end of nowhere, it should have been a milk run. We didn’t expect…”

He exhales a sigh, “Just– dozens and dozens of people. Medically sedated, negated, God knows for how long, some of them. God knows what they had planned. And worst– you remember that asylum seeker I helped interview awhile back? The actor, off River Styx?”

Nicole’s poker face doesn’t hold as the information is being recounted for her in real time. She doesn’t show horror — though she feels it — but her jaw sets, her gaze lowers, the corners of her mouth get tight. She’s furious.

“Chambers,” she responds without missing a beat, without delving further into other questions. “Yeah.” What about him?

“He was asking for asylum because his co-star got killed, right? And he was convinced it wasn’t an overdose, that she was assassinated, right? Only…”

Lance’s tone tightens, his fingers tightening a little around the cup.

“…only she was there, and alive, just in a medicated coma like the rest of them. They faked her death and made her disappear where they could do whatever they wanted. To her, and who knows how many others.”

Slowly, Nicole shakes her head, disbelieving. “That… doesn’t make any sense. They wanted to shut her up and end her activism,” allegedly, but also fairly likely, “so why not just kill her?” Her brow furrows. “What’s the point in keeping her in a medical coma? With all the trouble gone through to have people believe she’s dead, why would they want to have her alive after all?”

There’s a moment spent in quiet contemplation while Nicole allows Lance to simply breathe and have another sip of water. She remembers what a bitch recovery is. She’s been down that road more than twice. It saps the energy. “Based on what you observed, do you have any speculation as to why they would do this, Agent Gerkin? What they might have been doing?”

Another sip of water, and Lance draws in a slow breath then exhales it– eyes opening again to look up at her, and there’s something simultaneously dark but bright and sharp in them when he does. “There’s only one reason,” he says quietly but with an underlying anger to it, “To fucking experiment on them.”

“So– “ He coughs, grimacing, and then lifts one hand to curl a few fingers inward, beckoning her closer.

With a slow breath taken through her nose, she tries to combat the feeling of tightness in her chest. It isn’t just that she’s mad — she is. It’s a human rights violation on one of the grandest scales, but it’s more than just that. She’s scared.

There’s concern as she watches him cough, waiting a moment for it to subside before leaning in toward him.

As she leans in, Lance leans in as well and fixes her with as dead-serious a look as she’s ever seen in his eyes. “Don’t you… fucking…. dare feel guilty for me getting hurt… when it meant we saved all those people from that,” he says in hushed, hoarse tones, “That was worth… more than a bullet in the gut, and you– you fucking know it

He’s young, and he plays around the office, sets up pranks, and tells jokes… but deep down, Lance is a soldier, and maybe for the first time she can see that without any facade to hide it.

“So don’t you… don’t you dare turn this into some reason to be angry at yourself.”

It takes her by surprise. It isn’t that she can’t see seriousness in him — she can, and it’s why she didn’t just lie and say she recommended him for the assignment without actually doing it — but to have it employed against her in this way is enough to throw her.

Her mouth gets small and hard, brows knit over the storm brewing in her eyes. Nicole sniffs hard and looks away in that fashion that people do when they know they’ve been told something true, and they don’t like it.

“Don’t tell me what to do, Gerken.” She darts her gaze back to him with a sharpness, in spite of the way she’s obviously trying to keep it together. She knows he’s right. He did the job he sent her there to do, even if it became something far more than anybody involved suspected.

And he did it well.

“I—” Nicole’s voice catches and she turns her face away as she sets her jaw, expression furious for the way she keeps coming close to breaking down. “I can’t help the weight on my soul, knowing you were nearly another soldier I sent out to die on the battlefield. Feeling that guilt is what makes me good at what I do.”

A deep breath helps her regain some of the ground she’s lost on keeping her composure. “Guilt means I’m unwilling to throw lives away on anything that isn’t truly goddamn important.” Now it’s her turn to fix him with a serious look, one that implores him to listen to her words. “If you meet someone who tells you they don’t feel guilt when someone dies on assignment, and you believe them? Don’t do a fucking thing they tell you to do.”

Lance looks at her seriously for a moment, then sinks back a bit against the pillow with a sigh. “Okay. Fine. I’ll take that. But– don’t tear yourself up about this one,” he implores, fingers curling about his water cup and bringing it up. He takes a slow sip, eyes closed, before continuing.

“It ended about as well as it possibly could. And we saved people. If it makes you feel better– “ A twitch of his lips, “— if you ever did throw away my life for a bad reason, a giant stone woman would show up to punch you.”

“Ah.” Nicole leans back in her seat again now that their moment of intensity has passed. There is solace to be found in the fact that it did turn out as well as it could have, given the pear-shaped turn the assignment took. “Cash.”

There’s a quiet chuckle that follows that. “Yeah. We’ve met.” Nicole’s lips twist into a little smile, gaze going distant. “About ten years ago. In a rose garden. When I needed a friend.” Another quiet laugh. “She’s good people, and I’d deserve it.”

“You know her?” A flicker of surprise that she knows who he means, and then Lance smiles faintly– a bit sadly. “She’s still there. In the garden, I mean. She just… stands there, most of the time.” His gaze dips down to the cup in his hand, “I wish she’d… anyway.”

He shakes his head slightly, “Anyway. Feel guilty if you have to, but don’t… let that stop you from doing it again.” His eyes flicker back up to her face, “I’d just sneak along anyway and you know it.”

“She’s one of Ingrid’s friends,” Nicole offers in explanation, whether that means anything to him or not. She doesn’t elaborate further. The topic is difficult, she can tell, and she has enough of an inkling why.

So she offers a brief and tired ghost of a smile. “I know.” Trying to keep Lance out of anything he wants to be a part of is an exercise in futility. “But I should let you get some rest.” Nicole pushes herself to her feet.

“Probably,” Lance admits reluctantly, looking up to her as she rises, “But– serious. Don’t beat yourself up over me getting hurt. It was worth it– more than worth it.”

He smiles, then, if wearily– the conversation’s taken its toll. “But thanks for caring. And visiting.”

“Hey, I may be kind of a prickly bitch sometimes…” Nicole smirks faintly at her own expense. “But you’re one of mine.” Door pulled open, she steps into the hall. At first that seems to be the end of it, but then she leans around the door frame again for one last parting word. “I’ll swing back around tomorrow after I’ve visited Zachery..” One brow quirks up, her smirk turning conspiratory. “Maybe I’ll bring you some contraband.”

The door closes quietly behind her.

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