Two Stubborn People Walk Into a Bar


nicole_icon.gif richard_icon.gif

Scene Title Two Stubborn People Walk Into a Bar
Synopsis Current events give Richard and Nicole a lot to drink about.
Date September 29, 2019

Safe Zone: Red Hook Tavern

There’s a lot on Richard Ray’s mind these days.

The weight of much of it is heavy, and he tries not to put too much of it on his wife and partner, on his family, on his friends. They have their own issues, he figures, and while he shares some… the rest of it he holds himself.

Sometimes that weight gets too much for him to hold, and those are the days he’s out of the office. Tonight is one of those nights.

In the dim lighting of the Red Hook Market, in the back of the Red Hook Tavern, Richard’s slouched forward against a booth table with an arm folded on the scratched wooden boards, his other hand idly drawing through the fading condensation on a glass of beer sitting in front of him. It’s low in the glass, and it’s probably not his first.

He’s in his old civvies to avoid notice - BDUs, faded green shirt, that old bomber jacket of his. Sunglasses stand out, but not too much, even down here. People from the old days would recognize the look well.

“Hey! Hey, hey!” A woman’s voice cuts through the static noise of the bar. “Get your hand off my ass, pal! I’m packin’ twenty-thousand volts, and you don’t want any of this.” When Richard looks up for the source of the commotion, he realizes that lady isn’t talking about a taser.

It’s Nicole Varlane.

And maybe he doesn’t exactly blame the handsy patron - who’s now backing away with those hands of his hands up in a gesture of surrender - because she’s absolutely poured into those leather pants she’s wearing.

“Yeah!” she spits out as she grabs her drink off the bar. “That’s fuckin’ right!” She turns away from her harasser and spots— “You!” Uh oh. So much for drinking alone tonight. Confident strides carry Nicole to Richard’s table. Her tall gin and tonic is set down opposite him and she lowers herself into the seat uninvited. “I’d ask how the fuck are ya, but you look like I feel,” she comments bluntly, wasting no time in settling in.

“Oh!” Nicole sits up suddenly, glowing blue eyes wide. “Hang on!” She slides a pair of designer sunglasses off the top of her head and places them on her face instead. “Now we’re a match set!”

“…you can’t fucking see a goddamn thing through those in here, Nicole,” Richard points out in deadpan dry tones, as if he wasn’t just checking out her ass in those leather pants, shifting to push himself up a bit and bringing a hand up to rake back through his hair.

The beer in his hand is raised up as if to propose a toast, eyebrows raising with it just above the edge of his shades, “You look a lot better than you probably feel. The fuck are you doing back in the Safe Zone, I thought you were living with the murder Amish over in Jersey?”

Filter, offline.

“Protects me from having to look at your ugly mug,” Nicole counters with faux bitterness that doesn’t last long enough to inflict any real sting. She snorts a laugh and pushes the shades back up on top of her head.

Her own glass is lifted and clinked carefully against his, because she will drink to that. Whatever it is they’re drinking to. She’ll drink and decide later. “Fuck the murder Amish, okay?” She’s on board with this no-filter thing. “Do you know how out of the loop I am? Also, they’re trying to blow themselves the fuck up out there, so fuck that. Fuck them. Fuck Providence. Fuck all of New Jersey.

Seeming to realize she’s getting a little too enthusiastic with her vitriol, Nicole cools off with a drink from her cocktail, setting the glass back down on the table finally with a thunk! “You know, I thought I could actually like it out there. Fuckin’ quiet, peaceful, no worrying about if my kid’s getting too goddamn much iPad time or whatever. She got to ride horses. Do you know how fucking thrilled she was? I’m bored to tears, but it’s like fuckin’ Disneyland for her.”

She’s losing the thread.

There’s a thread?

“Christ, you? Happy out there?” A smirk, Richard’s head shaking from side to side before he takes a swig of the beer, leaning back in the booth and raising an arm to drape over the back of it, legs stretching out under the table but somehow not kicking her in the process out of some miracle of angles and geometry.

“You need action more’n that. You aren’t made for a farm. But the fuck are they blowing up this time? Did they get stir-crazy because they didn’t have any of my people to blow up,” he deadpans, “So they decided to blow up themselves?”

“I tried, alright? I tried to make it work. For her, for…” Nicole waves a hand through the air between them, shifting over a little further to one side of the bench seat so she can stretch her legs out to rest the heels of her Docs on the seat next to Richard. “I want a cigarette so bad,” she growls, frustrated.

“You know, I don’t even know. One minute I’m in my kitchen with my family, doing the dishes and minding my own goddamn business, and the next, I think I’ve wound up back in the war. I thought maybe someone tripped an old mine or unearthed a fuckin’ torpedo or something.”

For want of something to do with her hands, Nicole wraps it around her drink and pulls it closer to the edge of the table, feeling the cool condensation beneath the warm palms of her hands. She’s restless. Jittery. One black-painted fingernail taps against the glass rapidly.

“But you know what? Fuck Benjamin Ryans!” That tapping finger lifts off the glass, held in the air for a moment to call for a pause to insert a caveat. “But not without a condom. Fool me once, buddy.” The tapping resumes as Nicole rolls her eyes. “You know, I was really starting to think that things might work out again. We were getting along great, I was starting to remember why we were together in the first place, and I was going to suggest maybe we give things another go.” Which is way more information than Richard ever needed about Nicole’s personal life, and she will regret admitting to any of that when she sobers up.

“But no.” Mercifully, there’s a break in her fast-paced rambling so she can take another drink. “You know who shows up at my door?”

“Eileen?” It’s a shot in the dark, although at least a decent one.

Richard grunts, then, bringing a hand up to slide into his bomber jacket and fumbling around beneath the leather and fleece for a moment before managing to pull an old, battered pack of cigarettes from an internal pocket.

Thumb brushing over four filters to count then, he offers the pack across the table with a brow arched upwards in silent query. “Don’t tell Liz.”

You can’t smoke in a bar in the Safe Zone, Richard!.

He forgot.

Nicole’s eyes go wide for a moment. “That’s a great guess,” she commends, “but no. Seriously, though, A-plus.” Reaching across the table, she shakes a cigarette out of the pack and sticks it between her lips before handing it back to him. “Congrats, by the way. Unless she’s kicked you out of the house, leading you to be here, then congratudolences.”

Drink abandoned for the moment, one hand comes up to shield the cigarette out of habit, but the other one comes right up toward the end and snap-snap-snaps until a spark nearly catches the end of the paper. Looking up and past Richard while she waits for her effort to bear fruit, she catches sight of the No Smoking sign and freezes with her thumb and third finger pressed together.

Sighing, defeated, she plucks the cigarette from her lips again and tucks it behind her ear instead. For later.

“Thanks— and no, no she didn’t, just…” A grimace twists its way across Richard’s features, hand vaguely moving in a dismissive motion, “She has a lot to deal with still, she doesn’t need all my… bullshit on top of it. I’m out of the office. On business.”

Important beer-related business, from the looks of it.

The packet of cancer is taken back, and he makes it vanish into his jacket after a moment’s fumbling, breathing out a chuckle, “So I give up, who was it?”

Perplexed for a moment, Richard half-expects Nicole to say who was what? Her eyes widen a fraction as she gets back onto the correct subject, whatever good cheer she had accrued for his newlywed status is washed away with another drink of her quinine elixir.

Nicole leans in close, having to lift one shoe off to booth to plant her foot on the floor again. She waits until she’s pretty sure they’re making eye contact behind his dark lenses. “Adam Monroe,” she hisses, as though speaking the name of the devil too loudly might make him materialize here in the tavern.

Do they even serve appletinis? Surely not. He wouldn’t be caught dead in this hole.

“So the bastard shows up at my door, bleeds all over my front room, and then just says sup to Ryans like they’re old pals.” Nicole pushes back into the booth again, kicking Richard’s side of the bench once as her mouth draws into a tight line. “Hey mate, been a minute,” she sneers, one hand up to puppet Monroe. “I know, right?” the opposite puppet-hand replies, representing Ryans. “We should get the band back together,” Handam Monroe says. “Totes agree!” Benjamin Ryhands chirps back.

Nicole throws both hands up in the air then. “So they walk off into the goddamn sunset together, after locking my kid and I in the basement while the world is blowing up.

See, Richard was just expecting relationship-angst ranting here. Which is what this is, of course. He just wasn’t expecting Adam to be involved, and at the sound of the name he feels himself sober about ten degrees more than he was.

Having leaned forward to listen to her, he leans back sharply… and then he exhales a long, heavy sign, one hand coming up to rub under his sunglasses at his eyes. “They are old pals,” he mutters, “Ryans doesn’t— didn’t— remember most of it though, Jesus Christ, did Monroe at least say what happened— it’s a fucking mess over there, there’s a hole in reality…”

He’s too sober for this now.

A hand comes up, and he states loudly, “Whiskey, please.”

That invitation doesn’t have to be extended twice. Nicole holds one hand up while she lifts her glass to her lips with the other. Tips it back. Back. Back. The empty glass is slammed back down on the table with more force than is strictly necessary. “Another double, please, garçon!”

The bartender just kind of stares at them. This isn’t that kind of establishment.

“Fuck,” Nicole mutters, reaching to gather up their empties. “I’ll be right fucking back, okay? This round’s on me. Don’t like shadow your way out of this or whatever.”

No one hassles her this time as she leans forward and rests her forearms one over the other on the top of the bar, one leg stretched out behind her and dragging her toe across the day’s grime accumulated on the wooden floors while she waits for refills. Her hips sway back and forth idly to the beat of the music being piped over the speakers.

There’s a smirk for Richard when she makes her way back to their booth, pleased that he didn’t decide to ghost on her. Whiskey is set in front of him and more double-gin and tonic for her. Only this time, she nudges him over in the booth with her hip when she slides in next to him. Much easier to hear each other without leaning across the table and trying to talk above the music, but not so loud as to be overheard by anyone else nearby.

Though that ship might have sailed a bit already.

As she rises, Richard turns to watch her; leaning against the wall-side of the booth a bit, one arm still draped over the back, thoughts stirring through the muddle of drunken-ness about Monroe, about Ryans, about his own problems, and about the fact that Nicole Varlane actually looks quite good in those pants bent over like that.

Wait, cut that last one and behave, Richard.

As she claims his side of the booth, he shifts to make room for her, straightening up a bit and reaching over for the glass. Picking it up, he raises it in a silent request for a toast before tossing back a swig.

“I’m so mad,” Nicole says simply, hands wrapped around her drink for the moment. Her jaw is tight and she’s started that agitated tapping again. “He didn’t tell me about any of it, Richard. He just looks at me and says trust me like I’m supposed to just accept that he’s suddenly besties with —” Fingers lift briefly from the glass in a gesture of frustration and tighten again for lack of a neck to strangle.

“How come you knew?” Blue eyes lid heavily and she dismisses the question with a quick shake of her head. “Of course you knew. You know everything before I do. I just don’t get why no one includes me. Colette never did, and now Ben?” She only glances at Richard a moment before diverting her gaze to the wall, rather than see him see her looking as hurt as she feels.

“It wasn’t mine to tell anyone. It was his past. His business.” Richard’s voice a low murmur against the edge of the glass, though his lips purse in a frown, “Half of the time people think I’m crazy as shit when I tell them things anyway. The fact that I’m almost never wrong doesn’t cross their fucking minds, because even if they think I’m right, they just remember all the damage He did and attach it to me.”

A look back to her, and he makes a sound in the back of his throat, “Ben doesn’t like letting other people see his struggles. Or help him. I mean, fuck, he wouldn’t even let us build him a new fucking hand, motherfucker was wearing a goddamn hook like some kind’ve pirate captain.”

Nicole’s mouth twitches in a mirthless smile. “Yeah,” she agrees flatly of Ryans’ propensity to refuse help. “Still, he’s my partner. We’re supposed to trust each other. That’s part of the— The deal.” The job.

“It’s like I didn’t even know him, Richard. He was a whole different person. The Ryans I knew would have helped me—” Nicole catches herself. It’s so easy to talk to him about clandestine issues. He gets it. But it’s not necessarily appropriate. “He wouldn’t have locked me out like that.” Literally or figuratively.

“I know you’re working some kind of Monroe angle,” because who isn’t at this point? “If you catch his scent, or Ryans’… Keep me in the loop?”

Richard draws in a slow breath, and then exhales it just as slowly through his nose, gaze dropping to settle on the glass. “Yeah,” he says quietly, “I will, and you do the same. Ryans’… most of the company, they all lost about— ten years.”

He brings up one hand, thumb and forefinger moving in a snap. “Memories gone. Rewritten. The death of his son. His replacement. His partnership with Monroe. Getting all that back, if he did…” He grimaces, “Who knows what he was like. That man was gone. Until now.”

Gin is swallowed down along with a considerable amount of uneasiness. “He knew me,” Nicole admits quietly, the look in her eyes suggesting she’s somewhere far away from the here and the now. “Monroe, I mean. He recognized me.” Maybe not by name, but by reputation. It was enough to be unsettling.

“I have to play some cards close to the vest,” sounds like an apology. “It’s nothing personal.” Which means she should have a little more understanding for her sister and her ex-partner’s secrecy, but everyone believes their situation is different, somehow. “But if you’re willing to play ball with me, I’ll give back what I can in return.”

It’s waved away. “I know how the game’s played,” Richard dismisses, “No need to apologize.”

The pad of his thumb draws along the glass, and he grunts slightly, “No doubt he knows a lot about what’s going on in the Safe Zone, and I really don’t doubt that he’s been keeping an eye on Ryans. They used to be close, back in the day. Before the Redaction.”

A sip of the whiskey, eyes closing behind his shades, “And I’m always willing to play ball with you, Nic.”

“Thanks,” Nicole murmurs in response to the dismissal of her concern. “You’re probably right,” about Monroe keeping tabs on Ryans. “He knew right where to find us. But he didn’t… realize who I was to him. Or seem to know about Pippa. So I guess he hasn’t been watching for too long.” That’s some consolation. A weight off her shoulders. Although she can’t help but wonder if she’s a target now.

The last comment draws Nicole’s eyes back to Richard’s face again. Slowly, her lips curve into a smile. “Careful, Mister Ray. You realize you’re my type now.”

At that, Richard lets out an amused snort of breath; head turning to look away from the glass and to the woman sitting beside him with a single brow arching up over the edge of his shades. “Oh? What’s that? Ex-special agent that’s tried to blackmail you in the past?”

A grin tugs up at the corner of his lips, and he raises the glass her way before taking another swallow of the whiskey, head tilting back.

Nicole shakes her head, amusement sparkling in her eyes. “Married,” she corrects, reaching out to trace a finger over his ring.

That whole blackmail thing is in the past. Water under the bridge. Debris in the water under the wreckage of the bridge, even. “But where are my manners? You’ve listened to me unburden my soul,” as best she can, at least, “and I haven’t asked what’s got you down.” Her hand retracts, slowly, back toward her drink. “How ‘bout it?”

As that finger of hers brushes over the ring upon his finger, Richard pauses to think— and then lets out a bark of laughter. “Damn, and I thought my romantic background was bad,” he teases, setting down the glass and offering her a lopsided grin, “Guess you’re right.”

The grin fades, though, and he glances back across the bar rather than look at her. “Nn. Him, mostly.” No, he’s not looking at anyone in particular, although she might think it.

There’s a soft giggle that follows his laughter. She can make fun of herself just as easily as anyone else can. In fact, it helps her ego if she gets ahead of it. But she got the reaction she wanted from him, suspecting they both needed the laugh.

For a moment, she thinks he might be meaning the jackass that got grabby with her earlier, cocking her head and squinting as if she’d make the back of someone’s head come into better focus. Then realization comes. “Ah,” Nicole hums sympathetically. “I can imagine that’s a tough shadow to shake off.” There’s a faint grimace that comes immediately. “Pun unintended.”

“You have no idea,” Richard replies with a sigh, setting down his glass and staring down at the melting ice in the small pool of whiskey that remains, “If he’d just stay in the past that’d be one thing, but…”

Frustration tightens his tone, “Anytime I think of something, any time I reach out to find a solution or a tool… he was there first. Every. Time. And he had the resources I didn’t to take advantage of it. It’s bad enough that Edward was always there, but— this is worse. Every fucking idea I have, he turned into an atrocity already.”

Nicole sips at her drink as she listens to Richard’s woes, brows knit together. “When I say this, please know that I am well aware of the distinction between you two, but… He was you. Of course you have the same notions. And he had, what? A decade or two head start on you? There’s not a lot of shame to be found in being behind in this race.”

A hand lifts off the table’s surface to be laid over Richard’s shoulder instead, warm and faintly damp from the condensation from her glass. “The point is that you aren’t making his same mistakes with those ideas. I know it doesn’t feel like much, but… Hold on to it anyway.”

“It doesn’t matter if I can’t do anything with them anymore,” Richard’s hands lift up a bit, then drop down to the table’s surface; his body tilting slightly, resting into the touch of her hand. Fingers rub up over his face as he mutters, “Every time I reach for something he’s already taken it away. Fuck. Do you— do you remember the spires? In Alaska? The fucking— the guy who made them thought he was working for me. For the Ferrymen.”

“I can’t begin to understand what this must be like for you.” Nicole’s words have finally slowed in pace. More carefully measured, less tumbling from her lips. “But you can’t let it stop you. Eventually, you’ll think of something he didn’t. Or you’ll find something he left behind that you can put to good use.” She isn’t even sure what he’s trying to accomplish at this point, but it always involves the greater good, and that’s enough for her to know it needs to be encouraged.

“How am I supposed to think of something that I wouldn’t think of? It’s fucking… nngh,” Richard breathes out a rough, frustrated sigh and reaches back for the glass, tilting it back to finish off the remainder of the drink and thumping the glass down heavily on the table. “And I don’t want to burden Liz with all this because she’s fucking— still having issues after all the bullshit she went through, and…”

“I get it.” Which sounds a little ridiculous after just saying she can’t understand, but Nicole isn’t going to dwell on that too much. “You’ll think of something because you’re experiencing things he never did. There are more resources available to you now than— I don’t know.” Nicole shakes her head helplessly. “I don’t have the fucking answers, and I wish to hell I did. I hate seeing you look like that.”

That hand slides up to rest against the back of his neck, her thumb brushing over his spine absently. “You’ve got more determination than just about anybody I’ve met. If you give up, the rest of us are fucked.

“You’d be surprised. So many doors are closed because of him, so many resources burned— sometimes literally. I don’t even know the full— everything he’s done,” Richard complains in tight tones, “And his last words, fuck, I think— sometimes I think he planned all this. That maybe I just— misinterpreted what he meant before I sent the sonuvabitch to hell. Maybe there’s nothing I can come up with that I— that’s just mine. I’m just here filling the role someone wrote for me.”

He breathes out a long, low sigh as he leans back into that touch, eyes sliding closed, “Sorry. Sorry, I shouldn’t be…” A vague gesture, unable to find the words.

“Upset because your evil twin is a piece of shit that almost tore the fabric of the universe apart?” Nicole leans in, brows lifted in rhetorical question. “Nah. You’re good, Ray.” Nails drag through the shag of hair at the back of Richard’s neck before she brings it back to wrap around her drink again. She brings the glass to her lips and doesn’t set it down again until she’s polished off the last of the contents. Ice clinks against itself, the glass, and her teeth before ultimately falling into the bottom of the cylinder again.

“Come on,” she instructs, bossy as she slides toward the edge of the booth to get out. “I’ve got better whiskey at mine. I don’t wanna cab back to my place alone.”

The drag of nails over his neck bring a sound past Richard’s lips, eyes cracking open to consider her thoughtfully… and then there’s a bark of laughter, and he shifts to pull himself to the edge of the booth and rise. “Yeah, good idea. We probably shouldn’t be…” Whoa, feet, upright, waver. Stabilize.

“…talking about this shit in public anyway.”

Nicole reaches out and snags one of Richard’s wrists when he wobbles, counterbalancing by tugging him back toward her. Consequently, she goes stumbling back a step herself and starts laughing. She probably shouldn’t try to get home on her own tonight.

“Yeah,” she agrees, slinging an arm around his waist and nudging her shoulder into him until he drapes an arm around her. “Let’s blow this pop stand.”

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