Visit From A Not-Daughter


emily2_icon.gif nicole3_icon.gif

Scene Title Visit From A Not-Daughter
Synopsis While Zachery's in surgery, Emily makes a stop by the ICU.
Date November 8, 2020

Fournier-Bianco Memorial Hospital

Deception isn't Emily's favorite pastime by any means, but she knows how to make a lie sound convincing. When she presses the call button at the ICU and is invited in to the nurse's station, she explains she's the patient's daughter, coming in to check on her since her husband had to step out for a while. She's met with sympathy, to which she awkwardly smiles, and then she turns her head toward the room she's indicated to.

The young woman who steps into the doorway of Nicole Miller's hospital room is definitely not her daughter, but she pulls the door closed behind her with all the quiet care of someone more familiar with her than she is.

When Emily turns back to look at the woman in the hospital bed, her blue eyes reflect caution, uncertainty— curiosity. She bites back asking if the woman is awake. If she's resting, she likely needs it. It'd be best to just be a silent companion.

Resting, certainly, but not asleep. The change in light from the door opening and shutting again grabs Nicole’s attention. She turns her head and squints across the darkened room, trying to bring the figure into focus. “Princess?” Even though she murmurs the name, she’s uncertain of what she sees.

No. This blonde is far too tall. Ingrid is much shorter. Nicole blinks heavily, fighting against grogginess caused by intermittent sleep and painkillers alike. Finally, she can see the approaching woman’s face. “Emily.” Her voice is like gravel from disuse, and from an abundance of raw emotion over the last two days.

“Did Fort Jay burn down and they need me back to work immediately?” Only the right half of her mouth comes upward to create a lopsided smile.

It's on drawing nearer that Emily suddenly looks as though she'd like to be anywhere but close, her eyes flickering with an impulse to draw away. Nicole wasn't a person she could ever envision being like this. And she still doesn't even know what precisely happened— it's a hunch and a lie that's brought her here while Zachery was wheeled into surgery several floors above this one. She doesn't know what to make of Nicole's condition, both her physical one, and the lack of shock over seeing her.

"I don't know," she admits with a small, forced smile, coming up to the bedside to be in better view. Her steps have a third leg— a forearm crutch borne by her right hand helping to steady her just in case she loses her certainty in her footing. She begins to work the implement off so she can angle to sit in the chair left close beside the bed. "But if work burnt down, all the work burnt down with it. You're good to rest a bit longer yet."

That's the most Emily can manage with a good humor, though, concern pulling her eyebrows together in an upward furrow. "You doing okay?"

“I admire your optimism, Epstein,” Nicole quips tiredly. There’s never a reprieve from work where the government is concerned, even if the whole place were to burn down. “Sorry, I thought you were someone else when you first came in. I promise I haven’t given you some kind of cutesy nickname.” She’s been known to bestow them from time to time, after all. “That one’s solely reserved for Ingrid.”

Through it all, while the conversation is fluid, there’s still only proper movement from one half of her face. “I’m alive, so that’s a start. It’s good to see you and all,” Nicole says with honesty, “but how the fuck did you even get up here?” She knows how locked down the ICU gets. Also, it looks strange the way only her right eye squints, while the other eye just kind of… droops. All the same, she’s not complaining or seeming to be angling to have the younger woman tossed.

"I figured," Emily drolls in reply to the nickname, just a little too monotone to be serious. "I'd have had to have done something deserving, for that."

The question Nicole has for her brings her to shake her head. "Can't you see the family resemblance?" she asks in the same overseriousness, lifting one hand to gesture at her face. Her humor finally cracks its way through again as she adjusts the crutch in her lap, getting up her nerve to swing back around to a proper, honest answer. "I ran into Zachery. He, um…"

And just like that, she's brought to a full stop, unable to put it into any single set of words. Her brow furrows sharply before she finally shakes her head. "He didn't say much, admittedly. But he was stressed, worried about you, and directed me to a coffee machine by the ICU before he went back for his procedure. So I just…" Her shoulders climb in the beginnings of a shrug, holding there rather than coming down. One hand turns over in her lap, palm up. "I assumed, and was right." Unfortunately.

Beyond that, she hadn't really thought this through much. Now she's here, without a lick of an idea what lead to what happened, or what she invites herself into by being present. Isn't sure, even, if she should ask. "If you want company while he's gone, I can stay." Emily can at least offer that.

“I do,” Nicole responds with a warm kind of amusement, even while Emily’s playing things cool and dry with her delivery. Emily and Ingrid don’t really look all that much alike, but they — and Pippa — have the same shades of blonde going, at least. She’ll blame the sleepiness, the dim lighting, and the spot in her vision for the mistaken identity.

But mention of her husband chases away that humor and Nicole feels her heart drop into her stomach. “He went through with it?” He’d said he would, of course. He was committed to his course of action, and she’d have been hypocritical to demand he not pursue his own answers. That could break them.

Nicole draws in a sharp breath, the kind that usually serves as a prelude to tears, but nothing comes just yet. “Thank you for… for listening to him. He’s not good at showing it, but I know he values you. I—” Another one of those half-smiles, and half of a sympathetic look. “When we were planning our wedding, he wanted you there. I wanted you there.” Because of what Emily has managed to be to and for Zachery in regards to an ear and dispenser of decidedly-not-dubious advice. “Are you okay? Really?”

The way Nicole's expression falls when Emily says where Zachery is brings her to regret having said up front where he currently is. But there's an adage that got her through difficult, earlier years: bad news doesn't get better with age. It would have come out at some point during this discussion, so why not rip the bandaid right off?

"Yeah, he—" Emily's expression caves with guilt, apology. "He said something about a procedure with his brain?" She sounds worried, but she also doesn't press for details. "I told him I'd stay until I knew he was okay. He tried to fight me on it, but I put up a better one."

Her smile is weak after that, one that flickers away when the wedding is brought up. She kept it together much better upstairs in the moment, glancing off of topics one after the other. She remembers all too suddenly the other honoring context her name had been invoked in, and her hand tightens into a ball in her lap.

"I-I'm fine," Emily lies, and it's all too easy to see through it between her posture and the strain of her voice. A beat later and she draws in a deep breath to steady herself, renewing her smile. Her eyes continue to lie, though, containing more moisture than she thought. "I'll be fine. Each day I gain more progress, and…"

She laughs, and somehow that's what causes a tear to work its way loose. Quickly, she lifts a hand to wipe it away. "He gave me an earful about swimming in pity for myself." In case it wasn't clear, she stresses on an amused breath, "I needed it."

Nicole is quick to wave away Emily’s concern for her feelings with her functional hand. “I’ve known about it. He’s going to be fine. He’s in the best hands here.” She’d just maybe thought that with what happened to her, maybe he wouldn’t have tempted fate. But she can just as easily envision her husband standing at the edge of a cliff in a storm, beating his hand against his chest and shouting into the wind and the rain a defiant chorus. Come get me!

More easily in fact.

And she doesn’t call Emily out on her deflection. “He’s good at that.” Because Zachery’s already handled that. “I’m glad you’re recovering. They say I will, too.” Nicole can only assume Emily’s concern is genuine. “I had a seizure,” she explains in a quiet voice. “And it caused a bleed in my brain. The left side of my body is paralyzed, but…The doctors seem to think not forever.” Which is good, or she’d be crying right alongside Emily right now. “I’m glad you’re back.” She’d feared the worst, but she doesn’t need to hear that.

"You'll fight," Emily is sure. "It won't be forever."

There's a calmness verging on serenity as she insists as much, one palpable as she meets Nicole's eyes and offers her a small smile. It's not entirely pleasant, still tinged with lingering sadness. "I'm sorry to hear it happened, though. You would have thought… enough bad things had happened this year already. 2020 can literally fuck right off."

"A little over a month left now and it can't end soon enough," the younger woman adds in a murmur that loses volume throughout its life.

Emily shakes her head once. "Zachery will be fine," she knows. "He's too stubborn to be anything but, even if he's miserable while he's doing it. I was more worried about you, if you were down here alone while he was gone. I know it's not like we've ever really talked much, but I figured it had to be better company than being stuck alone with … whatever passes for cable television these days."

She lets out a faint laugh. She knows how devastatingly boring it can be stuck in a hospital room for days on end, trapped in a bed one way or another.

“Well,” Nicole shrugs one shoulder, “I’m good for a fight at least.” Not the way she used to be, and never for this kind of battle before, but she gave birth in a cabin without painkillers, so she’s ready to handle this.

Nicole’s own smile in return is sad. It occurs to her now that Emily doesn’t know the half of what she lost. She was — well, indisposed for the revelations. Even taking that moment just to realize and recount the things the year has taken from her brings a tear to run down her cheek.

“I… I don’t know what to say,” she admits, reaching up to wipe away the dampness from her face. “You’re a good kid, Emily.” She stops, takes a moment to correct herself. “You’re a good woman.” She may not have gone through some of the trials that her peers did, but Emily Epstein is far from childhood at this point. “Thank you.”

Turning her attention to the blackened TV screen — she hasn’t even bothered to turn it on — Nicole takes a moment just to take deep breaths and keep her urge to cry under control. The drip of medication through her IV has her threshold for all of that drastically lowered. Emily hasn’t yet made the list of people Nicole is comfortable being openly vulnerable with. Though, given the current circumstances, some of that can’t be avoided.

“Did he say anything before he went in? About me?” Slowly, Nicole’s gaze tracks back to Emily, anxious about what the answer to that question might be.

Emily's still in the midst of sitting there with a blank expression over Nicole's acknowledgement of her growth when the question comes. Her features change very little as she admits, "He didn't say much of anything. I think he was still half-convinced I was just a figment of his imagination, and do I blame him for that?"

No. Of course not.

"It's outpatient, though. So he should be back soon." She smiles that reassurance.

No, she really doesn't know the half of it.

"I know he's worried about you. To the point it looks like he hasn't slept for about as long as you've been here." The observation is light, gentle, as is the follow-up. "Maybe general anesthesia is the only way he figured he'd get any shut-eye with how concerned he is."

Nicole’s lip trembles when she hears it doesn’t look like her husband’s been sleeping. She looks away from the blonde again, eyes squeezing shut. (Well, one squeezes. The other less so.) “He’s going to leave me,” she says with certainty. “And he’s right to. It’s only a matter of time.”

Opening her eyes again to blink rapidly, she lets out a hard exhale. “Things get really complicated when you decide you want to be with someone for the rest of your life,” Nicole warns gently, turning back to Emily with a shaky half-smile. “But don’t ever let that stop you. The good times are worth it.” The smile falls, there’s just the sadness left. “We were supposed to have more good times. None of this should have happened to us. Life has a sick sense of humor sometimes.”

Emily thinks on it for a moment before shaking her head. "Of all the shitty things Zachery's done… I don't think him leaving you when you need him most is going to make that list. Whatever happened, whatever happens—"

One shoulder tips up in a shrug. "He cares. He's worried. If he didn't, if he were going to leave, don't you think he would have already?"

She knows better than anyone anxiety doesn't work like that, especially if it's founded in well-formed concerns. But maybe it needs heard.

"Someone once told me—" And Emily takes a moment to blink and fish for the sentiment, because while it's important, it's mired in less pleasant memory. In something that'd rather be drowned out. She tries to salvage it anyway, to make one part of it worthwhile. "That life is a fucking pit of broken glass, and it has a bad fucking habit of waiting until you've found something worth finding that it decides to remind you of that in the most brutal ways possible."

She pauses then, some of her own hurt in that. Or maybe it's some of Nicole's own, reflected back at her as Emily meets her eyes.

"But it's like you said. The good moments… they somehow make it worth it. They at least make it worth fighting for more of them." She swallows hard, her voice suddenly raw as if it's her that's been crying for days. "And it's not over yet," the young woman adds quietly. Not just the bullshit and the fighting, but the chance for future good moments.

“That sounds like something my husband would say,” Nicole observes with a breathy chuckle. “Except I don’t think he feels like he ever needs the reminder.” There’s a moment taken to properly mull it over as a kernel of wisdom, rather than just a sentiment she can associate with Zachery’s outlook on life.

Another one of those smiles, but this one is a little stronger, a little less morose. “I hope you’re trying to live by your own words there, Emily. You… I know things have been hard for you. I can’t imagine what you went through… But you’re going to be okay.” A little bit of mutual assurance rarely goes amiss. Something tells Nicole this is what both of them needs right now.

It might be too presumptuous, but Nicole reaches out toward Emily, hoping for a hand in return. “Thank you for not leaving me here alone.”

This is the moment where Emily stumbles, like a cat who shrinks back when finally shown affection in return. She holds Nicole's eyes just a little too long in her own before she breaks off, looking away, down, anywhere but at her again. They finally close to ensure it.

Jesus Christ. Her ability. How long had she…? Emily forces a smile in an approximation of she's fine, or at least she will be, even as her eyes open to look down at her lap very intently. If she hadn't noticed 'til now, maybe the slip hadn't been long. She hopes, at least. And if she couldn't tell, did it matter?

It did. Of course it did.

The movement of Nicole's hand catches her eye and brings her to look up again. She considers it for a moment before her eyes soften and she reaches out timidly. "Of course," she murmurs. Her grip is firm as her hand slides into Nicole's, though. A moment passes in silence, one Emily is more than comfortable to let pass. She finally lets out a faint laugh on her breath, though.

"Between you and me," she confides abruptly. "I'd not mind much if work burned down. Means I'd not have to get my shit together and go back. Could spend just a little bit longer 'figuring my shit out'… which is code for sitting at home doing nothing, of course." The smile she wears enters only her eyes, lips barely moving except to speak again. "But I just sit, I'll never start moving again. Never move … past it, you know?"

She's sure Nicole knows. She feels foolish for even having said it.

Nicole laughs in spite of herself. A good, hearty one. “Oh, gosh. I’d be beside myself. I don’t know how to function without it.” That’s a reputation that Emily would have been made aware of even before meeting her in person. Nicole Varlane, married to her work. “If you wanted, I could ask to conscript you for a bit. Take you on as my assistant.”

She hopes that’s an encouraging prospect. “Give you a chance to ease back into the whole mess.” There’s a look given to her immobile left side. “Heaven knows I could use the help for a bit.” Turning back to Emily, she shakes her head. “It’s up to you, though. If you want to jump back in, I get that too. I do hope you come back, in whatever capacity that needs to be. You’ve got the makings of a great agent. You’ve got instinct, dogged determination, compassion… That last one people forget about a lot. They discredit it, but it’s key.” On this point, Nicole is firm, though not quite stern. “If you can’t feel for people, you have no business doing the job.”

Glass-eyed and fishlike in expression isn't a look Emily means to keep reverting to, but the prospect of being off cases, potentially, sounds so appealing — until it's countered by potentially being in a position of greater scrutiny. She's halfway to brushing the offer off out of hand when something compels her to wait until Nicole's finished.

It doesn't help her out as much as she thought the few extra moments might. She inadvertently ends up meeting Nicole's eyes again, getting a feeling that pairs up with the compliments she's been paid. She sees where it comes from, the nuance and insight distinctly foreign to her now— she doesn't think of herself like this. She's lost her confidence, which colors the way she sees that compassion and determination in herself in particular.

Emily looks humbled, shoulders shrinking in a more open tell than usual at how off-guard she's caught by this. Her words even feel heavy when she finally speaks. "We should probably talk about this when you're not fresh off a seizure and I'm… actually back in the office. If… if you still feel like you need that when I'm finally back, ask me again."

"I appreciate it, though. The opportunity to … find my way not in the field. I don't— think that after everything I've been through that I'll…"

Apology reflects in her eyes before she looks away, frustrated with herself at her choice of words, her behavior.

“Administrative work is important too. Oversight doesn’t happen by itself.” Her smile is gentle. “No one can expect you to want to run headlong back into that after what you experienced.” Nicole squeezes Emily’s hand gently. “That you’re considering it at all is… It’s a lot.” This is helpful to her. It’s talking about work, planning for work, which is almost as good as actually working. “And if you decide it’s not for you, that’s fine, too.”

But Emily isn’t the only one humbled in this situation. Nicole takes a deep breath and breaks her gaze away from the younger woman. Like it or not, her capacity is going to be considered diminished. Especially if Richard or Yi-Min explain what happened and how. “I’ll ask you again,” she vows. “And you can either take it or tell me to fuck off. No hard feelings either way.”

Not the most professional choice of words, but they’re not at work, and she’s an Epstein. Nicole closes her eyes heavily. “Going to have to ask Zachery to bring my sunglasses when he’s able to travel again. These headaches just won’t quit.”

Emily can't do much, but she can at least help with that. She shifts in her seat, the bag worn slung across her shoulder that was sitting more or less behind her shifted into her lap. "Here…" Digging a hand down into the bag's contents, she produces a pair of sunglasses, opening her palm to offer them out, reflective blue shades up.

They're aviators, because what else would they be.

"I know they match your eyes and all, but I'll want those back, eventually." The beginnings of a smirk play at her lips before fading. "They're my go-tos."

The sunglasses are accepted with a murmured thank you, breathy with relief. It takes a little fumbling to settle the aviators in place with only one hand available to her, but with a little patience and only minimal swearing, she manages. It’s not an unusual sight to see her wearing sunglasses around the office. Or it wasn’t before she lost her ability. She hasn’t had much call to hide her eyes since July.

“I’ll be sure you get them back when I have my own again,” Nicole promises. “These are way too nice to part with for long. I get that.” Tipping her head back against the pillow, obviously exhausted, while not quite yet tired, she asks, “You talk to Lance lately?” She’s going to assume yes, given how close the other junior agent seems to be with her. “He tell you about the prank I nearly killed him over?”

An involuntary laugh peals from Emily, one filled with as much secondhand embarrassment as it is actual amusement. "No, I haven't talked with much of anybody yet since I've been back. Jesus Christ, what'd he do now…?"

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