Those People


nicole3_icon.gif zachery2_icon.gif

Scene Title Those People
Synopsis Nicole finally lets go of her denial and begins making plans with Zachery for what comes after.
Date July 2, 2021

Bay Ridge: Miller Residence

What a time to have finally taken sabbatical. The darkened sky still looks more like evening than late afternoon. Still, things are starting to improve due to people banding together to make the Safe Zone live up to its name. Hatred has carved deep gouges into its landscape and left ashes in its wake, however.

Nicole Miller should be out there. She should be working.

Instead, she’s sitting out on her back patio in a wicker chaise with a grey towel laid over its forest green upholstery, designer sunglasses further distorting her perception of the time of day with their dark lenses. It’s hard to tell if she’s looking out what she can see above the other houses in Bay Ridge or if her eyes are closed.

Her right hand is wrapped in a bandage, badly burned from apparently doing the human equivalent of blue screening while attempting to relearn how to make chocolate chip pancakes.

She didn’t even want the fucking pancakes, she just wanted to try and remember how to make her daughter’s favorite meal, so maybe she could surprise her when she would finally bring her home.

The thought is dismissed and Nicole leans to the side to shove her left hand into a cooler full of ice, fishing out a bottle of Corona. She twists the crown off effortlessly with one hand and takes a drink.

It was probably a fucking absence seizure. She’s heard about those. One corner of her mouth kicks up in a wry smirk. It would be her turn to have an episode, wouldn’t it? She’d avoided the strokes the others had experienced, but only by virtue of applying hubris and fucking herself up in other ways. Resting her beer against her forehead, her migraine attests to this.

“You know,” she says listlessly, “it’s honestly kind of a relief.”

"What, the alcohol? Yes it is."

The deadpan answer floats noncommittally over from over to her side, where Zachery stands holding a tall glass of… green stuff? It looks suspiciously like some sort of healthy juice concoction. It's for science. Except. "There's vodka in here, actually." He holds it out to Nicole for her to see, like she can somehow detect the alcohol content with her eyes. "I should have added more."

He sounds tired. Work days have been strange, and busy.

Nicole laughs. It’s a throaty sound of genuine mirth. She enjoys her husband’s company, acerbic as he can be. She reaches out and grabs the glass out of Zachery’s hand to sip at the concoction herself.

She pulls a face and holds it out in return. “You’re right. Definitely more vodka. And more expensive than whatever you used.” Her nose wrinkles one more time. “But no.” A smirk plays on her lips. “I meant knowing we aren’t… those people.”

Who they thought they were.

Zachery plucks his glass back, only to down the whole thing in a few glugs. He's not picky, and it's probably the green parts of it that have him pulling a life-questioning face afterward.

“Babe. Gross.” Nicole curls her lip and looks away.

Speaking of life-questioning, though. He opens his mouth to answer, shifting his weight from one foot to the next while staring off into the sky. His grip on the empty glass at his side tightens, while his other hand lifts for an oh so casual scratch at the eyelid underneath an almost convincing looking eye. "Elaborate?"

“You know…” With her head back to center, Nicole resumes her stare up at the sky and takes a sip of her beer. “Finding out that I’m not… That I’m not her, you know?” One corner of her mouth tugs up in a rueful smile. “I kind of get what you were saying before. We can be… anybody, right? So long as we can get… fixed.”

Nicole makes a sound of disgust in the back of her throat. “Ugh. I made us sound like feral cats.”

"We sort of are," Zachery replies without pause, a smirk making its way across his lips. "Born in a shed," he cants his head, eyebrows popping up as his voice lilts downward, "albeit a very fancy one, and then mistaken for old Clarence's white cat that disappeared two weeks ago."

There's a familiarity to his tone, as if it's less rhetorical and more a scenario pulled from memory. Or a fabrication of one, anyway. He looks at Nicole again, this time letting his gaze linger on her face in study. "Are you saying I was right, though?" It's an almost playfully voiced question, but she knows the way in which he slows his words when he thinks he's on the edge of setting off too many Nicole Emotions than he knows how to deal with.

His wife lets out a quiet hah! “Christ, that’s so crass.” That she slants a grin to him says she doesn’t mind. “Look,” her head gives a faint shake, “don’t let it go to your head, alright? I didn’t get as far as I did in Washington by not giving credit where it’s due. But it’s gotta be due.

Nicole frowns thoughtfully, trying to find the right words. “I just… Don’t take this the wrong way, okay?” is a hell of a preface. “But… It’s such a fucking relief.” She lets out a singular bark of laughter again. It breaks into something more sustained, a little bit more on the edge of those Nicole Emotions Zachery was attempting to skirt around, but it still has a slightly different tang to it.

The right words, by the way, absolutely do not exist.

“Do you know what a solace that is?” Which is possibly the most Nicole phrase. “Nicole Miller doesn’t even want to be Nicole Miller!” The arm not in charge of holding her beer slings across her midsection as she laughs.

Solace? Zachery blinks at this word, having not blinked for what feels like about five minutes prior to this.

He stares, expression slowly falling to neutral, listening. It's only after Nicole laughs again that something else flashes across his face — something much more genuine than he usually permits to be on there. Like she's infected him, he smiles, and in one swift set of actions promptly pulls his arm back, flings his empty glass off into the most faroff wherever he can manage, a wherever where it's not their property or problem, and turns to Nicole to offer both hands to her.

"Up." He says, simply, something small audibly shattering somewhere else that isn't here. "Up, up, up, c'mere."

Nicole sets her beer aside, rather than yeet it, because she’s not done with it yet, damn it. Only then does she take Zachery’s hands and let him pull her to her feet. She wastes no time wrapping her arms around his shoulders. “Honestly, I was kind of worried you’d be mad,” she admits.

"Why would I be mad?" Zachery shoots back immediately, relief expended in a laugh that follows. "I've been waiting for this! For an agreement, for some sort of… accord. For you not to be…"

There may be no music playing, but he's pulling her into something anyway, arms loosely around her waist. A mindless not-dance born of energy that, much like the glass, needs to go somewhere. "You know, ah… for you to move forward?"

Grinning, she sways along readily to the illusion of music that drifts between them. “It’s just that we’re supposed to have this life together, right? I worried you might feel…” The grin fades. “That it might hurt to know it’s not the life I want.”

Then she’s leaning in for a kiss, not with any particular heat or need, but it isn’t a chaste thing either. “That doesn’t mean I don’t still want a life with you. I just don’t want us to have… their lives.”

The kiss seems to catch Zachery off guard, but that only results in him pulling Nicole a little closer, so that he can kiss her back, once more with feeling.

But even then his enthusiasm cuts it short so he can pull his face away to look at Nicole's and say, "Great news, then! Honestly, all I'm hearing is…" His tone of voice suddenly more urgently inquisitive, he starts off on a new train of thought entirely and asks, "Do you know why I ran off to England when I did?"

The question darkens Nicole’s mood a little bit. Even if she understands them not wanting to live their originals’ lives, he still left her at a time where she was vulnerable. “I’m not in your head,” she says plainly, but not with bitterness, “so, no.”

"Freedom," Zachery answers, gladness still clear on his face in spite of Nicole's darkening. "Not homesickness, or I would have gone home properly. Not detachment, or I wouldn't have come back. Right?"

He pauses, his arms guiding Nicole in going-nowhere steps still, but slower now that he awaits confirmation. Or, perhaps, whatever might be other end of understanding.

"You came back," Nicole posits, "because someone shot you, and you had few choices available." That too is delivered without bitterness. Her smile returns, small but real. "But I'll concede you stayed because you wanted to."

Leaning in, she rests her cheek against his as they sway. "You're going to have to come up with two more names," she murmurs. "Three if you decide you'd like a middle initial." Her quiet sigh speaks of contentment. "I'm going to be Stephanie."

"Stephanie," Zachery echoes in a murmur, a grin audible in his voice from having been called out. "That's going to take me a little bit. But I'll get there. Let's see… Stephanie chose a new person to be," he muses, as if reading from an invisible book, one hand gesturing outward to no one. "A new name, a new purpose, a new everything but me."

His gladness continues to show, in the way he absently turns his head to kiss the side of hers before continuing, "I don't think I'll need a middle name," he decides. "But what name suits me, other than my own. Sometimes I'd rather not have one at all."

Nicole — at least how she’ll be known still for now — hums happily. “Take your time.” She feels as close to happy as she has since they woke up on that plane. There’s been a lifting of all that grief, because what she’s lost was never hers to lose in the first place. And maybe someone down the line will diagnose her as psychotic for finding herself able even for a few moments able to discard it almost as if it entirely did not matter, but that’s not now.

“I honestly thought Cosmas was rather erudite,” she confides, drawing back so he can see her teasing grin. “But you have to have a name.” For a moment, her eyes almost seem to sparkle the way they did when she possessed her ability.

Or like the real Nicole’s, given that ability was never hers.

“I have to have something to gasp between the sheets.” She bites her lip, a throaty chuckle escaping anyway. “I’m a new invention,” she tells him. Or a reclamation of an old one, given new life. “So, I didn’t have an inspiration to draw from. What about you, though? Is there anyone you once admired? Or just… something that sounded good to the ear?” Nicole’s eyes narrow faintly as she confides, “I’m going to shorten it down to Steve.” HIs face is watched for his reaction to that, wondering how he’ll accept the masculine twist.

She ends up having to wait a little bit, seeing as there's half a murder in still-Zachery's eyes for her speaking the Forbidden Name. Still, the disapproval breaks with a slightly awkward chuckle at her last sentence, even if the stare returned to her implies he's not quite sure she's serious.

He darts a glance off to the side in thought, then says flatly, "I may need you to leave that one by the bedroom door."

Zachery shakes his head. "When I was little, spurred on by my father, I only had one goal — become a doctor. And then I did. And it was everything it needed to be." Pride straightens his spine, even if pain enters his expression just as easily, pulling at the corners of his mouth and knitting his brow. "Except not enough to last a lifetime. I hope whoever moves back in here, when he does," not if, "realises that. That there has to be more."

"I can't do any of that anymore. Not with the memory issues, not with the…" His eyes narrow.. "No one I see feels real anymore. Without the… ability, people are just… meat to me. Whatever name I choose, 'Doctor' won't be part of it, or the inspiration. Or I would have simply gone with Robert Liston, or— Lister, or Stoney, or Kuhl, or…"

He freezes, suddenly, and says through gritted teeth, "I'm going to have to go with Cosmas, aren't I."

Nicole’s tongue touches the tip of her canine, cheeky in the face of his annoyance. He loves her and he knows it, but she concedes with a shrug. She can leave that at the door without complaint.

Unlooping her arms from around his shoulders, she instead cups his face in her hands. “You don’t have to be a doctor. You don’t have to live up to your father’s expectations. I don’t have to live with the weight of this obligation that I have to… guide the country.” Nicole’s brows lift, smiling. “Whatever we decide to do…”

Her expression doesn’t quite fall, but it becomes something more subdued. “We can be anybody we want. You don’t need to stay with me.” While her brows knit, she shakes her head. “And I’d get it. Our entire relationship is something that was forced on us. If you want to play the field, or whatever, do it. We’ve both made ourselves miserable enough.”

"You're right," Zachery replies, his stance relaxing a little. Maybe in more ways than just physical. "I don't need to. And maybe we won't be together in a year. Or a month. Or a week." As if in stark contrast to that statement, his grin flares wider again in some unspoken excitement, and he leans both into the hands on his face and closer to Nicole's face. Just short of touching, he says more quietly, "But I don't really care for the needs right now. I think… I'm going to explore wants for a bit. We'll see where that goes, yeah?"

It may almost be smooth except for that he adds, without pause, "You smell like burnt pancake batter."

There’s a warmth in her that he’s only seen in the rarest of instances since they woke up from the crash. There’d been more of them from the stolen memories, but this is raw and honest. Maybe the Millers were never meant to be together, and maybe they aren’t either. Still, he’s choosing her, at least for now, and she’s choosing him right back. From here on, they navigate together.

But her expression flattens with annoyance that’s at least a little bit not feigned. “Are you having a fucking stroke? God, don’t make me have to call Price.”

A laugh escapes Zachery that is, similarly, more genuine than she's seen from him in a long time. Maybe some filters were removed along with whatever bits of brain they took out of his head at the hospital. "She does know a thing or two about picking new names though, doesn't she?"

Then, unbidden, he pulls his (arguably) wife backwards by the waist, beginning to lead her back inside with him. "Or we can just… explore some. I'm doing great, I promise. Now." He leans to the side to snatch up the beer previous set down, and to lift it for a quick swig, before saying, "Maybe a name that conjures up all the stars in the sky isn't so bad of an idea."

Nicole can’t help but snort at the joke at the expense of Zachery’s co-worker. “She’s done it a couple of times before, yeah.” She’s guided back and snatches a second, unopened beer from the icebox before she pulls the door open and gestures for him to go in ahead of her.

“You think so?” she asks of the name choice, a bit dubious. “I was… mostly kidding, but if you keep this up, it might start to grow on me.” The corner of her mouth crooks up. “Maybe you’re a Tristan or an Elroy.” She squints as he walks past her, sizing him up as she pushes the door shut and locks it behind them. She’ll come back for the cooler later.

"Elroy?" Zachery repeats, turning around and spreading his arms wide as to present himself. "I look like an Elroy? I don't think so. That sounds like… someone with bigger ears than me. And a toolshed."

Nicole presses her lips together, but the laughter is plain in her eyes.

The distraction that led him to go back inside ends up leading to another, and his shoulders rise just as he rattles off without pause, "Do you think I could pretend to be a full American? I don't think I've ever tried a whole accent in earnest. Then again, I'm not sure I want to."

He finds his grin again, Nicole's face studied as he gives her a sharp look and two raised eyebrows. "Do you think I could be a mute? I could pull that off. Right? I think I could."

“I don’t think you could,” Nicole informs him with a shake of her head and a look that really says oh, that’s cute. “Besides, I enjoy your accent too much.” She makes her way to the breakfast nook between the kitchen and dining area and boosts herself up to sit on the counter. It is possibly the least Nicole thing Zachery has ever watched her do. One leg crosses over the other and she opens her new beer, letting her foot sway back and forth idly.

Watching him from behind the sunglasses she wears even indoors, she seems almost content.

Zachery's arms slowly lower, and he follows Nicole with his grin slowly dying. "You don't think I could do it?"

He gestures to Nicole, this time, the to-be-or-maybe-already-Steve. "Look at you," he says, stepping up toward her properly. His voice lacks the sharpness of real judgement, and he cants his head with an eager kind of fascination. "Reinventing yourself like it's nothing. I could do that. I've been other things. I could be quiet."

“I’m cheating a little bit,” Nicole admits. “I remember being someone else. So, I guess this isn’t my first rodeo.” She doesn’t explain what she means by that, instead just returning that cant of his head with her own.

“So maybe you could do it,” she accedes, “but I don’t want you to.”

A look of surprise washes over Zachery's face. This, apparently, is a thought he has to mull over for a moment. He does so with an idle roll of his jaw, before his head dips in accord. Alright.

"You're extraordinary," he notes, putting a hand up in an attempt to delay any response and continuing to say, "I've asked you this before, but I can't recall if I've," he lifts a hand to his chest, looking directly at those sunglasses, and then points the same hand in a loose gesture forward. "Asked you this before. What do you want?"

She takes a moment herself, brows furrowing faintly. “I want to be free,” she decides after a moment. “Nicole Miller has a big heart, a strong sense of duty. She wants to change the world because she thinks it’s the right thing to do.” This Nicole shakes her head. “I don’t want those obligations. I don’t want the weight of the world.”

A hand is laid on Zachery’s cheek, a serene smile finding its way to her face. “I want to be someone new. And I want to do it with you, for as long as we both can stand it.” Her thumb strokes over his cheekbone. “And you should be whoever you want to be. Not whoever I or you think I want you to be. That’s what I want.”

"Then let's earn it," Zachery's answer comes quickly this time, a smile of his own slowly inching wider. "Together. The way I see it, we owe our other selves one more thing, and that's a fighting chance." These words leave him without a shred of doubt, and every new breath he draws to speak only seems to bolster his confidence. "Then, we're out, finding whatever freedom means. Beholden to no one."

He leans his face into that hand, but only for a moment, before leaning it and the rest of him forward and wrapping his arms around Nicole to scoop her wholesale off of the counter while continuing in a somewhat more strained tone of voice and through gritted teeth, "Even if that means I might have to call you Steve."

When she realizes he’s coming in to sweep her up, Nicole sets her beer aside quickly, laughing as she wraps her legs around his waist to provide some kind of counter balance, her hands clasping behind his neck. “If you have to, I’ll accept Stephanie,” she grins. “But only from you.”

Zachery’s wife leans in and nudges her nose against his briefly. “Stephy if you’re feeling cute.” Would he ever?

“So, we’ll get them out of that mess, give them what they need to pick up the pieces when they get back here, and then we’re off to whatever comes next, yeah?” Nicole dips in for a brief and heated kiss. “God, I love you.”

Grinning through the kiss, Zachery returns it while pushing off from the counter, yoinking Nicole with him and nearly immediately crashing into a wall before regaining balance on his way to somewhere more comfortable.

He may not be elegant, but enthusiasm will get them there one way or another, looking uncharacteristically carefree for the moment. "It's because I've got way too much confidence for a man who has precisely zero experience doing anything like this without losing most of my blood, isn't it."

“Oh, definitely,” Nicole laughs as Zachery bumps against the wall. “You fearless idiot.” She laughs through the pain, both physical and existential, and finds a weird sort of hope in letting go of all the things that she thought were hers. Soon, they can give up these people…

And become those people.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License