The Ugliest Wreath


colette_icon.gif nicole4_icon.gif

Scene Title The Ugliest Wreath
Synopsis In the hours before the siege of Bannerman's Castle, two sisters remind each other of their unbreakable bond.
Date December 19, 2011

Bannerman's Castle

In the weeks since her rescue from the Mount Natazhat facility, Colette's recovery has been a painful and slow process. Her physical injuries took two and a half weeks to recuperate from, including having to re-learn how to "see" while blinded. Her voice came back after seven days in Pollepel, she was able to walk again after ten, and now nearly a month after her return she seems better than she has in longer than she was captive for.

Colette is a resilient young woman, but her recovery was hastened by favorable conditions. Tasha's loving care ensured her spirits were kept high, Nicole's constant check-ins and presence reminded her of simpler days, and when Tamara returned Colette's recovery drastically improved. Surrounded by an embarrassment of love, she is in spirits that Nicole hasn't seen since they first arrived in New York so many years ago.

Over the last few days, Colette has been pushing herself hard trying to rebuild lost strength in her arms and legs from months of inactivity and captivity. But for as much as Colette seems fine, Nicole knows the truth. Colette pushes her problems down, her coping methods are ignoring everything, keeping moving, not stopping herself long enough to think about anything. Keeping busy is exactly what she's done, exactly what she's doing tonight.

Pollepel Island is hauntingly quiet in the wee hours. When night falls activity the island comes to a grinding halt. With little electricity to go around the castle is dark and somber feeling. Those protected — imprisoned — under the dome huddle together in the shared living spaces, waiting in hope against hope that this will all be over soon.

Colette isn't one of those people, she isn't hoping that things are going to blow over. Isn't asleep like most of the castle. Instead, she's creeping around the castle in the dark of night with a cardboard box under one arm and a bundle of long, thin sticks in the other.

The jacket Colette wears is more suitable for early spring or late autumn; black denim with white wool padding. She's got dirt on her jacket, on her equally dark jeans, and her patched up sneakers. It looks as though she's been out in the woods away from the castle. Her nose is red from cold, blind eyes needing no light in the dark.

From the castle courtyard she ducks into a mess hall set off of the courtyard. There's usually not anyone in here at this hour of night, especially when the lights have gone out and what little illumination remains comes from oil lamps. Carrying her bundle she stops mid-stride and exhales a breathless, "Sis?" Surprise, more than startle.

Some people don’t want to sleep and some people find they just can’t. Others simply don’t have to. Nicole isn’t difficult to spot in the dark. Her eyes shine like a beacon. Fixing on Colette’s form, it isn’t entirely unlike the effect of spotting an animal in the woods, light reflecting off the eyes to give them away. Except that Nicole’s eyes are the light.

“Sissy.” Nicole’s smile is faint, but visible. She’s seated on one of the benches with her back against the table. A hand braces on her stomach and the other on the table’s edge as she rises to her feet. “What are you up to?” Besides running from her problems. If it were an Olympic sport, they’d both be gold medalists.

“Uh —” Colette takes a step back, as if she’d been caught doing something she wasn’t supposed to. It takes her a moment to realize that she isn’t doing anything wrong. “Oh,” she shifts her weight to one foot, rests the weight of the cardboard box against her hip, and carefully shifts her handling of the branches under her arm. “Foraging?” She grimaces, then takes a few meandering steps across the mess hall floor to where Nicole is sitting.

With a slight noise, Colette sets the cardboard box down atop the table, then rests a knee on the bench seat as she sets down the branches. There’s a look, blind as it is, over to Nicole. It’s a suspicious thing, not in motive but in concern of wellness. Considering her sister, Colette swings her other leg around and settles down to sit on the same bench seat as Nicole. She pushes the box a little bit further up the table, brows furrowed, then scoots over closer.

“Can’t sleep?” Colette asks, plucking at the corners of the box to pull open the folded top. She doesn’t wait for an answer, busying herself with removing three spools of colored yarn, lengths of copper wire, and some old t-shirts of bright, primary colors from the box.

There’s no outward suspicion that answers Colette’s fidgeting. It’s so typically her as to not warrant misgiving. Her collection is eyed with unveiled curiosity, however. When she’s joined, Nicole gratefully reclaims her seat with a quiet sigh. It feels better and better to be off her feet these days. She isn’t sure she can say she’s enjoying this last trimester.

“When have you known me to sleep?” The tease is gentle, like the ruffle Colette’s hair receives from Nicole’s warm hands. Big sister presses a kiss to little sister’s temple and looks over what she’s foraged. “Could be asking you the same question.” But she already knows the answer. Only one of them has an ability to blame for their restlessness, however. “I’m glad to see you,” Nicole murmurs quietly, shifting closer to share her warmth with her sibling. The night is cold, and she can mitigate some of that, at least.

“What are you going to use all of that for?”

Colette offers a sly, askance look at Nicole for a moment, as if to imply I’ve seen you sleep. The brow raised in that look is like an exclamation point on the unspoken sentence. Leaning against Nicole, Colette answers questions otherwise more complicated to convey in a look. “My sleeping schedule is all screwed up because of how long I was out for. Tamara and Tasha are asleep, an’ I didn’t wanna’ disturb ‘em by fidgeting around in our small room.”

Leaning her weight off of Nicole, Colette pulls the branches closer. They’re thin, springy things. The kinds of green shoots of growth that come from young trees and are unsuitable for fire. She’s gathered dozens of them, little switches enough to smack every misbehaving person on Pollepel with. Fortunately, they’re not for discipline.

“So, I got the idea of like…” Colette waves at the box. “I know shit’s like… bad. The dome, the…” she waves around, “everything. I’d probably be just— I dunno, fuckin’ brooding or something. But I’ve got an embarrassment of good reasons to be happy right now.” That comes with a pointed look to Nicole. You’re one. “It’s almost Christmas, an’ everyone’s so just— sad. So I thought I’d do something about it.”

The gathered components on the table suddenly make a great deal more sense, in a way that hits with a wave of childhood memories. Before things were their worst, back home, there was a day in 1997 when Colette was just six years old the week before Christmas. Two sisters sat down at a table, with a box of crafts and green branches, and made wreathes to decorate their bedroom doors. Colette wound up covered in glitter and puff paint.

One of the last Christmases she spent in that house. With her little sister or otherwise. There’s a tightness that grips at Nicole’s throat, unexpected. A smile reaches her eyes just ahead of the glassiness of unshed tears. “This is a great idea, ‘Letty.” A far more productive use of time than how Nicole chooses to occupy hers - which is by brooding, like Colette is warding off.

“Where did you get that, huh?” Nicole’s arm snakes around Colette’s back so she can gently place her palm against the side of the younger woman’s head and tip her toward her for another kiss to the top of her head. “Certainly not from me.” Certainly not from the people who raised her. In spite of all the everything outside of this little bubble, this moment is perfect. It’s like it was before. Before the world went to shit. Before she ran off to college and her little sister as she knew her was lost.

The other arm comes up now so both can wrap around Colette’s shoulders and hold her tightly. “I’m sorry,” Nicole whispers against her sister’s hair. “I know you hate it when I get like this but… Just let me have this for a second, okay? Consider it my birthday gift this year.” Tears finally slide down her cheeks, but only a few. She isn’t outright crying, just a little overwhelmed. She’ll blame the pregnancy hormones.

“I love you. I have always loved you.”

Just like the voicemail Nicole left the day she let everyone believe she had died.

“I never hated moments like this,” Colette whispers, reciprocatingly winding thin arms around Nicole’s torso above her precious cargo. “I just… didn’t know how t’appreciate them. I was embarrassed that you cared so much,” she rests the side of her head against Nicole’s collarbones. “I didn’t understand, like…” her voice gets small. “I didn’t understand how t’love anyone.”

Closing her eyes, she breathes in smell of Nicole’s skin at her neck, noticing the lack of cigarette smell other than the latent odor on her clothes. There’s a smile at that, and the embrace tightens ever so much. “I have two… amazing people who taught me how t’love,” Colette explains in a hushed voice. “How t’accept who I am,” comes softer, along with a contented relaxing of her shoulders. “An’ I’ve got a sister who always loved me, even when I was hard t’love.”

In spite of being an adult now, Colette seems so small in Nicole’s arms. It’s a different sleightness to the matchstick thin and dying girl she’d pulled out of Mount Natazhat. Something more vulnerable, emotionally. After a moment of that silent vulnerability, Colette exhales the slightest huff of a laugh out her nose. “Y’know, this’s the first time…” her lips crook into a smile, “we’ve all been together under the same roof. Ever.” She looks up, more to the underside of Nicole’s chin than anything. “Me, you, Tamara, an’ Tasha. If it weren’t for the end of the fucking world, this’d be…” she trails off, then closes her eyes again. “This is nearly perfect.”

“I don’t think either of us did, Sissy.” Nicole smiles, an expression more felt against her sister’s crown as lips curve upward. They’ve always loved each other, sure, but neither of them ever really knew what love really was, what it was supposed to be, how it was meant to be made manifest. They’re fractured in ways that only the other understands. It’s part of how and why they love so fiercely, when they choose to allow it.

“You are never hard to love, Colette.” It’s so rare that she uses her sister’s proper name outside of an argument. It’s only ever meant to convey the importance of what she’s trying to say, and this? This is fucking important. “Difficult to understand sometimes, but so was I. It has never, ever been difficult to love you.”

Nicole takes one of her sister’s hands and places it on her stomach just so. There’s a flutter of movement beneath the surface. “Don’t forget Annie,” she says with a small grin. Obviously, they can’t. Now that her family is whole again, Nicole’s able to concentrate on the fact that it’s about to grow by one. As much as it terrifies her that she’ll make all the same mistakes she made with Colette, she has faith that her sister won’t let her. At least, not as spectacularly as she did the first time around. “I’m glad we’re all here.”

You too, is spoken silently to the additional presence in her mind. It causes her smile to fall away as guilt renews the hold it’s had on her. We won’t be like this forever. I’ll figure something out.

“Annie’s a name for orphans. You mean Colette Jr,” Colette helpfully corrects her sister, followed by a crooked smile. Though that joke is a deflection, if small, away from the overwhelming emotions that Colette is experiencing. Sitting up straight, Colette brushes that hand across Nicole’s stomach and smiles with earnesty. “This girl’s going to have like,” her nose wrinkles, “four moms.” Milky white eyes flick up to look at Nicole. The implication of we’re all going to make it out of here comes firmly with the look.

Nicole snorts and fixes her sister with a look that holds too much amusement to convey severity. “It’s supposed to be short for—” Her head is given a shake. “Never mind.” The orphan Annie angle never really hit her until that moment. It makes her reconsider, but in that way that she files away her thoughts to be revisited later. Maybe one more pass over the list of names when they get out of this place. There’s time.

“She is,” Nicole agrees. “More than that, when you take into account Ben’s… family.” She isn’t talking just about his daughters. Huruma springs to mind in an instant, and that’s not an unwelcome thought.

If she doesn’t share her sister’s optimism, Nicole doesn’t show it. What she lacks in positive thinking she makes up for with determination. They — She has been through too much and come out of it intact too many times to let the streak end now. “I missed you so much, Sissy.”

“It’s short for my sister’s name is best, obviously.” Colette playfully teases, leaning up to brush a reciprocal kiss to Nicole’s temple, then down to the curve of her stomach. “I— I really missed you too. M’sorry about being a shit sister for a long time. I had —” She falters, closing her eyes. “I was more worried about my own bullshit than you,” sitting up straight again, Colette starts to pick through the craft supplies on the table. “An’ I know you’re gonna want t’say you were bad too, but… it doesn’t make it right, just because someone else did it.”

Colette’s brows knit together, and she unspools some of the wire, then takes a few of the branches and starts twisting them together. “S’weird t’say, but I think I’ve… kinda’ grown up a lot. Self-awareness’s kinda…” she hesitates, stopping the work with her hands. Then, looking up to Nicole, Colette watches her sister with a long stare. “I never once stopped loving you,” comes suddenly and with emphasis. “Not once in my whole stupid life,” she looks back to the wreath components. “So… don’t drag yourself too hard,” is mumbled, “because— because I still want to grow up to be like you.”

“We’re all more worried about our own bullshit than the people around us.” That’s Nicole’s experience, at least. It’s just that in her case, she considered Colette to be part of her own bullshit. It’s not a terribly charitable or altruistic way to look at familial obligation, let alone love, but there it is. Nobody said Nicole was good at coping with literally anything. “You don’t need to apologize.” But it’s good that she did. “We were both terrible to each other at times.” There’s regret in her tone, but it’s not as strong as Colette’s heard it previously.

At Colette’s proclamation, Nicole looks bittersweet. “What? Rudderless without a career to throw yourself into, pregnant and unmarried? Those aren’t very good aspirations, ‘Lette.” While she’s hard on herself, she isn’t putting any muscle into it. It’s still meant to be somewhat lighthearted. “I don’t want you to be like me. I want you to be like you. Which is a bit like me, but way better.”

Colette snorts and shakes her head, that noise fluttering into a restrained laugh. “High School dropout living in a leaky castle with two teenage girls?” She arches a brow at Nicole, head tilting to the side as she starts to twist the branches again, binding them with copper wire. “Taller,” even if just, “mature, educated, well-dressed, worked for the President.” She looks up from the wreath. “This might come as a surprise t’you, but like, you always were my inspiration.”

Looking back to the wreath, Colette starts twisting more wire around the bent branches. “When you left home, I wanted to be independent like you. I wanted to be successful, an’ have a nice house, an’ y’know… stuff.” Her thumbs trace over the smooth bark, catch a knot and circle it idly. “There’s not a lot’f future left for someone like me. Never finished school, get all cross-eyed at math. You know— probably a criminal record?” Probably. “M’always gonna’ be living like this. An’… all I wanna’ do is like,” she wrings her hands around the branches. “Jus’ be able t’have a normal life. Live in a nice house, with…” the corners of her mouth come up. “With the two girls I’m somehow lucky enough to have not driven off…”

Colette lifts a hand, sweeping under one eye to push away a tear. “I don’t think m’ever gonna’ have that. An’, s’all I want. More’n anything else… s’just… family life.”

It does come as a surprise to her. When Nicole gave up leather jackets and acid wash jeans for pencil skirts and blazers, her sister had made faces, made comments about how Nicole wasn’t herself anymore. In many ways, she wasn’t, but the person Nicole was before Linderman scooped her up out of her gutter of self-pity wasn’t a person she liked very much.

Mention of having worked for the President sinks Nicole’s heart like the Titanic. Maybe she’ll never be able to truly move on from those days, from the person that she was when she thought she’d lost everything. (And Colette is everything to Nicole.) Ultimately, it’s that reminder that she has regained more than she’s lost that keeps her from dwelling on the momentary reminder of her old sorrow.

“Sweetheart…” Warmer hands overlay Colette’s, stilling their work so they can be grasped and brought up to Nicole’s mouth. A kiss for the backs of knuckles on each hand. “If you want a normal life, I will make it happen. It may not be in New York, but we’ll make it happen. For you, for Tasha, Tamara… I’ll give you whatever you want, ‘Letty.” Whether or not she can make good on that promise remains to be seen, but Nicole is confident in her resources. Confident in her ability to secure new identities and disappear. “You have us. You have your family. You’re going to be an amazing aunt. I can’t think of anyone else I want with me more than you.”

Nicole’s lips turn upward in a smile, the kind that they used to share between one another when they were up to something that their parents weren’t aware of. Signifiers of lies gotten away with. “You want to know a secret?”

Colette draws in a slow breath that comes with a shuddering and emotional, ragged edge. She smiles, then shakes her head slowly and looks up at Nicole with an inscrutable — but clearly positive — expression. She doesn't answer, not right away, but instead reaches for one of Nicole’s hands and threads their fingers together.

Squeezing her sister’s hand, Colette seems more contented now at the promised prospect of a normal life. She rolls one calloused thumb over a knuckle, then finally nods a few more times in gradually resolved agreement. “Don't keep me waiting,” she says with a coy smile. She's always hated waiting for surprises.

Colette’s impatience earns her sister’s laughter. “I’m terrified,” Nicole confides. “I don’t know how to be a mom.” Even as her sister’s guardian, Nicole never attempted to behave as Colette’s mother. Evangeline was never the best role model for what a mother should do or be, either. In some ways, Nicole views her attempts to raise her sister in the light as her mother’s attempts to raise her: she loved her well enough, but she failed her so many times.

“I didn’t intend for this.” She never intended any of the times before either, but they never made it to the point of being a problem. “But you know what? Knowing you’re going to be there with me?” Older sister leans in to bump noses with younger. “Makes me excited.” They’re going to face this together, and figure it out as they go.

Nicole disentangles their fingers so she can cup Colette’s face and wipe away the traces of her tears. She smiles, bright blue eyes half-lidding and she leans forward on instinct before catching herself abruptly. There’s no retreat, just this paralytic realization about what she nearly did. An act she’s engaged in many times before without a second thought, and now it gives her pause. There’s no more warmth or amusement in her expression, just wide eyed apprehension. As she speaks, she’s fixated on the shape of her sister’s mouth. “That sickness they said he had… What was done to us…”

Her eyes come up again, blue meeting a shade of green that’s made vivid only by recollection. “Do you ever wonder if it’s inside of me, too?”

Colette's expression shifts, jaw unsteadying, and she reaches up to take one of Nicole’s hands in her own and gives it a squeeze. “We’re nothing like them.” It's emphatic, resolute, and without qualification. Their parents were both monsters in Colette’s eyes, and she and her sister are survivors. The line is clear.

“You are going to make an amazing mother,” Colette whispers, slipping her hand away from Nicole's and instead choosing to hoop her arms around her older sister’s shoulders and draw her into an embrace. “Because you care. Because you're a survivor. Because you're not going to have to do it alone.”

For the first time in their lives, Colette brings Nicole’s head down to her shoulder, having finally found the strength to be the supportive one. “We've got each other, and we've got family. We’re nothing like our parents. And we never— not fucking ever will be.”

Instantly, Nicole is clutching at the fabric draped over her sister’s shoulders, nails digging into that instead of skin as she presses her face against the side of Colette’s neck and sobs. Admitting to her fear was never difficult. Admitting to it out loud to the one person who could say definitively that she might just be the apple laying at the base of the tree, though, had been a tremendous act of courage on her part. The answer to that question has always scared her.

Colette’s answer is the opposite of what she expected. It discredits her assumption and her own asparity about the kind of person she is, the kind of sister she’s been, and the kind of mother she may be.

“I’m so fucked up,” Nicole whispers against Colette. The tears are slick against both their skin. For several moments, it’s all she can do to breathe and force herself to calm down. “What if I mess up the way I messed up with you?” The stress of the last few weeks has finally caught up to her, and now that her sister is well enough to stand on her own, Nicole is able to let her own breakdown come.

Nicole breaking down nearly breaks Colette, but after the last couple weeks she’s found more strength than she’d ever thought she had. Leaning back, just enough to look her sister in the eye, Colette lifts up a hand and brushes it across Nicole’s cheek. “You. Did not. Fuck up. With me.” Fingers track to the back of Nicole’s neck, squeeze there gently. “I’m the person I am because’f you,” she murmurs, letting her forehead come to rest against Nicole’s, nose to nose. “In spite’f not finishing school, I’m not like— a complete bag’f trash. M’happy, I’ve got people who love me, got people I love…”

When Colette shakes her head, her nose brushes against Nicole’s. “Me’n you’ve been through so much shit together,” she slips close again, head moving to her sister’s shoulder. “We did the best with what we got. Sometimes…” there’s a bubble of laughter that threatens the edges of crying. “Sometimes you just gotta make the nicest wreath you can, with the garbage life gave you.”

Whether Nicole agrees with her sister’s assessment of having or not failed her, she lets it go and wipes her nose with the back of her sleeve. Fat tears still slide down her face, but the worst of it has passed. Being the one to cry in front of her isn’t new, but this dynamic is, and Nicole is so very, very proud of her baby sister right now.

Well, she always is. Even when she’s getting into trouble.

“When did you get so wise?” Nicole asks in a voice made ragged at the edges by the outburst of emotion. “Huh?” Finally, she presses a kiss to Colette’s mouth. Brief. Sisterly. Like it’s supposed to be. “I love you, ‘Letty. Never forget that, okay? More than anything in this life, I love you.

It all comes back to Colette. Every sacrifice Nicole has ever made. Even the terrible decisions were made with her sister in mind. Leaving Nicole Nichols behind to become someone else was the easiest decision she ever made, because she couldn’t go on living in a world that didn’t have Colette in it.

A flutter - a kick - inside of her causes Nicole’s expression to falter. Maybe she’ll miss that when it’s over, but for now, she could do without the fetal tae bo going on in her stomach. “Junior thinks you’re pretty great, too,” she chuckles, the twinkle returning to her eye.

Leaning in slowly, Colette lets her nose touch Nicole’s one last time before leaning back. “M’not wise, I just fuck up enough t’know better.” Or maybe, in her own way, that’s some shape of wisdom. When she leans back, one hand comes to rest on Nicole’s stomach, and it’s clear Colette’s finally started to cry. She blinks back tears that wind up dribbling down her cheeks, swept away by one swift hand, replaced instead with emotional laughter.

“I come second now,” Colette professes, drumming fingers on Nicole’s stomach. “Me’n you, we’ll always be who we are. But— you’n her?” A smile spread across Colette’s lips, teeth toying with the bottom one, brows knit together. “You’n her are gonna be something special.” That said, she scoots back and lifts her hand from Nicole’s stomach, bringing her legs back around to one side of the bench.

“You’re gonna make a wreath for her,” Colette explains, taking some of the bundles of sticks and sliding them across the table to her, along with copper wire, the wire cutters, and a smile. “It’s gonna be the ugliest wreath we’ve ever made,” comes with a bubble of laughter that threatens to break into crying.

“An’ she’s gonna love it.”

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