Waking Up is Hard to Do


nicole3_icon.gif zachery2_icon.gif

Scene Title Waking Up is Hard to Do
Synopsis Remember when you held me tight and you kissed me all through the night? Think of all that we've been through…
Date November 6, 2020

Fournier-Bianco Memorial Hospital

It’s been a rough night at Fournier-Bianco Memorial, both for the patient and the one waiting for her to wake. Nicole Miller looks like she’s been hit by a truck, for all the blue, red, purple and green splotches across her face. She’s seemed to sleep more or less peacefully through the night, but much of that is owed to the medication drip hooked up to the IV in her arm.

Machinery blips quietly, speaking to the steady rhythm of her heart. Oxygen levels have been good. For all it looks as though she’s sustained massive trauma, the doctors seem confident she’ll make a full recovery in time.

But that time has not yet come.

It’s 7:34 AM when Nicole finally opens one eye.

As she wakes to the world, more noises join the fray of organic rhythms filtered through inorganic means. A shuffle of footsteps, the click of a switch. Light blooms into the shuttered room - the source of it being a light that's almost immediately hidden behind the shape that joins Nicole at her bedside.

Zachery comes slowly into focus, with frantic movements, having been in the middle of pulling a dark grey sweatshirt over his head when he looked over. He pulls the sweatshirt properly down in a clumsy, thoughtless handful of fabric, before his movements slow to nothing, his attention fully on his wife's face.

The doctors' confidence had meant little to him.

This means infinitely more.

Struggling to keep the urgency out of his voice, he asks, almost flatly, "Can you hear me?"

It takes only a glance to realize something is still very wrong with Zachery’s wife — beyond the obvious. But from what he’d been told, well… Her left eye remains closed, her right eye is squinted nearly so. There’s a lack of recognition at first, or so it seems to be for the way she’s slow to respond. Like vision and hearing might be on a delay.

That right eye squeezes shut completely now, while the left stays simply closed, like it had when she was sleeping. “The light.” Nicole’s voice sounds like she’s swallowed gravel, thick from disuse and slumber. “Please.


The balm of relative darkness returns to the room with minimal delay, but this time, the shape that moved away from the bedside to make it happen does not again draw close.

"There. Is that better?" His voice is level and controlled. His gaze locked on Nicole's face as his arms cross slowly over his chest and his fingers dig into his sleeve and the muscle underneath.

He knows it is, because there’s an instant note of relief from Nicole, who takes a moment to clear her throat. “Zachery?” she asks out of the side of her mouth. This time both eyes open, but she doesn’t look particularly alert. The way she blinks several times trying to bring him into focus solidifies that. She turns her head as if to scan the room, but her attention snaps back to the shape of him in the dim room. She looks confused.

Then she looks scared. “What happened? Where are we?” It starts piecing together for her slowly. The noises that fill the space, the pain… Where was she before now? Nicole lifts her hand from the bed and reaches out for her husband. The beats of the monitor alert him to her growing panic.

Would Zachery have had his ability in this moment, it might have gone differently. He might have felt more informed, more secure in a decision. Yet rather than dwell on that, or on the hand reached out toward him, his eyes close - removing one more sense from the equation.

Attempting to unscrew his jaw and doing his best to tune out the sounds, his head hangs down as if in deep thought, or disappointment, or possibly both. But before anything else, he offers an explanation: "You're at a hospital. You'll be all right. Stay still. Get your bearings."

That's one question answered. The other he means to answer after, after the calm has come. After he's thought it over just a little longer. Instead, he opens his eyes again when he hears himself say, firmly, "You did this to yourself."

Nicole brings her hand back to the bed slowly, when she realizes her husband doesn’t mean to provide succor. Still, his words see an eventually calming to the spike of her heart rate. She’s in the hospital, but she’ll be all right. Still, she doesn’t understand what he means when he says she did this to herself.

Not at first.

Sagging back against the pillows, she tries to retrace her steps and figure out where she was and what she was doing before she got here.

Let’s not do that again.

“Why do I—” The skewing of her features toward confusion doesn’t quite make it the full way there. It’s looks more like suspicion than confusion, the way that her right eye squints and the brow above it furrows. The left side of her face, however… It’s not a mirror, but a static image. It remains unchanged by emotion.

Alarm settles in again, grabbing hold of her internals by the sternum. “Zachery, I can’t move.” Which can’t be true. She just reached for him.

There's a moment where Zachery's fingers continue to dig deeper into his own arm, hard enough that he might feel it later. As if it might stop him from drawing closer to the bed.

It doesn't.

After one last look across Nicole's form, he steps closer, and quickly. He stops by the side of her bed, casting one quick look toward the nurse call button hanging from the edge of the frame before reflexively grabbing the hand Nicole had reached out to him before. "You can. See?" He lifts it, just a little, and though his expression remains stuck on stony-faced frustration as he studies her face, his fingers press down against the back of her hand. Unnecessary to prove his point, but maybe necessary nonetheless.

There’s an experimental grasp of her hand tightly to his arm, but Nicole still starts to cry, the fear plain in her eyes. “What happened to me?” she begs to know, still only speaking out of the right side of her mouth. The left side droops, like the eyelid on the same side does.

Then, she tries to shift her position in the bed carefully. Her right heel digs into the mattress, but the left leg remains motionless. Her left hand doesn’t reach for the bedrail to help the process. Nicole whimpers and clings fast to her husband.

It's not as though Zachery isn't prepared to give an answer to this question — he's been here a while, long enough to ponder every possible avenue thrice over.

The clinical wins out, as it so often does. "The doctors said you've suffered some brain damage," he answers curtly while removing her hand from his arm, and begins to walk to the other side of the bed. "You've stabilised, they said— but I think…"

He stops mid-sentence, reaching Nicole's numbed side and finds a remote there, clipped to the bed. A push of a button later, and the mattress below her shoulders begins to slowly lift upward until it's a more comfortable angle for her to be propped up against. Which he reaches to try and help her with— except he freezes the moment he looks at her face again. A reminder in and of itself.

When he speaks without thinking this time, it's a lot louder. "You electrocuted yourself!" Anger stiffens the arm he leverages under her shoulder, and he does not break eye contact when he adds with anger now flowing freely, "What were you thinking?!"

"Brain—" Yi-Min warned her. She didn't listen. Nicole is stunned, eyes becoming unfocused as she processes what he's said and what it means. The mechanism of the bed whirrs like the gears in her head. Is she paralyzed? Oh, god.

Nicole looks up at Zachery and finds him staring back at her with that intensity. He freezes and she parts her lips to say something.


But he fires the first volley, and she goes still, remains silent. The stiffness of his arm around the back of her shoulders makes her tense, worried he might lash out more than just verbally. He never has before, but… When has Nicole ever made her husband this angry? When has she fucked up this badly?

Well, it's not like they're in a hearse.

"I was desperate!" That has to be something he understands. "I just wanted— I wanted an answer. I wanted something—"

None of the explanations she grasps for ring quite true. The desperation, sure, but the reality beyond that…

She didn't care what happened to her. She convinced herself that the only outcomes were answers or death. It never occurred to her that there could be something in between. This was never a consequence she considered. Death was easy to accept. This…

Nicole starts to cry.

It brings pause to Zachery's actions, and once again, he pulls away. At least this time he remains standing where he is, within reach— though admittedly, within reach only of the arm that refuses to listen to its owner at the moment.

"Are you less desperate now?" He demands, very much not in a hearse, but with that same pointed focus she's seen before, aimed directly at her. He doesn't need a steering wheel to drive a point home, anyway — besides, the proverbial car crash in this room has already happened.

But he's not done yet. Another volley follows, hands balling into fists at his sides before he unclenches them again by force, refraining from yelling, now, but only just. "Are you happy? Are those tears of joy, then? Are you pleased that as well as dying on the inside, you nearly managed to finish the fucking job?"

Tension wrenches his expression into a sneer that refuses to be worked away— and which matches his tone for one last, cold addition: "Look at you. Getting things done."

Nicole buries her face in the one hand that she can actually lift to reach it, turning away from Zachery and her shame. There’s no words she can offer up in her own defense. There is no defending the decision that she made without him. The choice she made to put herself in danger, forcing him to accept the risks that came with it, and the consequences. If she had died, he’d still be the one having to deal with them.

Going in, she had known it was selfish. She just thought she would either come out the other side with something to show for it — a reward for that risk — or she wouldn’t have to be around to face up to her failure. She can’t even say she never meant to hurt him, because she knew there was a possibility she would. It wasn’t her preferred outcome, but that doesn’t mean she acted without intent to harm.

Every possible thing she can conceive of to say now will only result in another eruption. But she has to say something, doesn’t she? He’d wanted her sincerity before, and here it is again. There’s raw honesty in this self-inflicted pain and the deep red and midnight purple bruising on her face does nothing to hide it.

“No.” Nicole isn’t happy. Those aren’t tears of joy. She isn’t pleased that she almost matched her physical state to her emotional one. “I was wrong.” He may not be ready to hear her say it, but it deserves to be said.

And then, there's just silence for Nicole to cry into, with the distance between them and the darkness to cover it all.

Zachery's monocular gaze remains on Nicole's face for as long as he's got the full force of his anger still with him, but the moment the sharpest edges of his focus begin to dull, he turns it to the rest of her body again. She was wrong, and now, in another way, she looks it. In many ways, but… that one leg's not right. It didn't move with the rest of her when she was shifted. Without lifting the blanket, he reaches to correct it by the crook of her knee, lifting and pushing it carefully to match the other.

"Pippa's being taken care of," he mentions offhand, digging into a whole new set of subjects, for which his tone is still too sharp. "Richard's— around, distraught. Took some convincing for him to leave your bedside for some breakfast."

The careful adjustment of her leg helps break through Nicole’s overwhelming sorrow. It’s a small gesture of kindness when she was afraid he might just turn around and walk away. And maybe even never come back. She’s exhausting his goodwill, and she knows it. This man — this perfectly imperfect man of hers who agreed to marry her in spite of all good sense — is so afraid to trust in anything good and she seems only to continually reinforce this mistrust with her deeds and poor choices. This isn’t a case of if he hasn’t left by now, he never will. This is almost certainly her last chance.

If he doesn’t decide to leave. That jury is likely still in deliberation.

Her tears are under control again by the time he finishes speaking, but she doesn’t speak up right away, sorting out her own thoughts before she does something as dumb as open her exceedingly idiotic mouth. It isn’t that she doesn’t care about Pippa’s situation, it’s just that she took it for granted. Of course she’d be taken care of. Pippa Ryans has a plethora of responsible adults to look out for her.

It’s just that her own mother is often not one of them.

And Richard? Shit. Minnie got him involved. Which… Nicole has to suppose was the correct course of action. Likely she wouldn’t have the luxury of laying here and worry about the lecture she’s going to get from her friend — friends plural — if he hadn’t intervened.

But Richard Ray and Yi-Min Yeh’s ire pales in comparison to how much it hurts to see the way Zachery looks at her. And when he won’t look at her.

“Thank you,” Nicole rasps softly. For helping move her leg. For being here when she woke up. For looking after her daughter. “I don’t expect you to accept it or forgive me, but… I’m sorry.” That needs to be said, too. “Not because of what’s happened to me.” Which is, frankly, horrifying to her at the moment, but she’s still in too much shock, too numb to it to process yet. “But because of what it’s done to you.”

"I don't really give a shit," Zachery says without thought, from over by the foot end of the bed, and his shoulders rise, momentarily caught off guard. But there's no taking the words back now, and when he looks to Nicole again, there is no regret in his expression nor voice - though both make it clear he's still trying incredibly hard not to raise his voice again.

"I don't know if there's anything you can say right now that means something." He pulls away from the bed, pacing in what little space is available. "I thought my problem with you was trust, but it's not, is it? You don't know yourself well enough to even consider trust— and to be honest with yourself for even a moment of your whole, miserable life."

Just as he turns in the broken half-circle he's pacing, he glances up at Nicole again, with just a hint of something surprised lifting his brows— before they're pushed back down again. "I can't even know how well you're doing now, not really, and—" He tries a new sentence, but it's almost immediately abandoned in favour of a new one. "You wanted me not to be fine? Here we are, notfinesville, population—"

Well. All things considered: "Who the fuck knows!"

So much for not yelling.

Moments ago, she’d been glad to survive. Now she desperately wishes she hadn’t. He could be mad at her, but she’d be dead. She’d have paid the ultimate price for her foolhardy choices. He could be mad and stay mad for the rest of his life. He would never have to deal with the fact that it’s destroying her. He may not care now, but eventually Zachery will care about the misery that writes itself into half of her face.

She knows him well enough for that. “That’s not—” It isn’t that she wanted him not to be fine. She didn’t want to hurt him. But she did do that. Nicole doesn’t know what to do with that. How to pick up from it and move on. She can say she’s sorry until she’s blue(r) in the face, but it won’t erase anything.

He just needs to get it out, doesn’t he?

“I’m not going to defend it. There isn’t a defense for it. You’re just right.” It takes every ounce of energy she has available to her not to start crying again. The drip from the IV makes that more difficult, with the painkillers weakening her emotional walls.

The pacing continues. Footfalls grow heavier with anger, gaze averted again. Finally, he grabs the back of a fold-out chair he'd been sitting in before Nicole woke, and sets it down next to the bed firmly enough that it sounds like the screws might just pop from their hinges.

But they don't. They hold, just like the fury on Zachery's face when he sits down on Nicole's right side and leans forward to say, "Very little in this last year has come easy to me."

His elbows dig into his knees, hands wringing together tightly enough to hurt, eye fixed on his wife's face. "Some of it. Not very much. I've had to be extremely conscious of the fact that what I did - what I chose to do - I did for the long term. For once in my fucking life. Ignoring the urge to— just… aim for catharsis and see where I'd end up. I'm barely managing to hold onto that, but remembering it would let me come home to you—"

The fury, by now, is joined by something else. Something much more quietly anguished, something that tightens his throat, halts his breath, and is fought back with all his might as he tries to find the last words that need out. "… It helped. So can we do that together, please?"

Each new, loud sound — be it his voice or the thud of his footsteps or the angry clang of the folding chair — causes her to wince in pain. Nicole shudders when he sits down next to her and leans in, lip trembling as she fails her battle against the onslaught of tears.

She isn’t sure what he’s saying to her when he reaches the conclusion of his thought. Not really. She knows what she’d like it to mean, but she doesn’t dare to hope. “I love you,” she pledges in a shaky voice. Even in this state that she’s in, this is still not the most helpless Nicole has felt. That was back in July, and every day since then. It’s all come to a head that led her to this moment.



Half-paralyzed and terrified she’s about to end up alone.

“I love you,” Nicole reiterates, “but I’m not good at this.” Her voice continues to waver, but she’s not sobbing this time. “I’m not good at grief. I’m not a graceful loser.” And what has all of this been if not the most terrible loss a woman — any person — could experience? “I hoped we’d learn something. I hoped we’d find some answers. I hoped I’d find our babies.”

The last month and change has been harder in a lot of ways. Acceptance of their reality had happened for a time, but once the due date had arrived, it was easy to see how everything had fallen apart again. Even though they’d reconciled, it wasn’t enough. The light of his love couldn’t outshine the darkness of her despair.

And so it wanes, if the hard, unblinking stare that Zachery offers in return is anything to go by.

But the rest of him gives him away mere seconds later, when he leans forward, burying his face in both hands, thumbs pressing tightly against his temples. "We didn't get to start that chapter," he says into his palms, muffled by them and something else more pained besides. "They didn't get to be babies, much less— in a way where…"

Where they might be found again? Where they were ever really there in the first place? As people, as entities in their own right beyond ideas, beyond a pair of concepts. Beyond a symbol now come to represent a failure and continued delusion.

He sinks forward and lower, fingers interlacing firmly at the back of his neck until-

It's fine.

This is fine.

As always, it has to be.

He lifts his head again, straightening his back and letting his hands fall back into his lap, the anger gone from his voice when he says quietly but crisply, "So we just need to make it to the next chapter." But it's his expression that does the trick this time, betraying him in the broken smile he conjures, the way in which he fails to really focus on Nicole's face despite looking directly at her. "Let's try again. How are you feeling? What can I do?"

“I can’t be real, can I?” It’s finally easier to accept Zachery’s theory than it is to believe her unborn children are— She can’t bring herself to even think the word, let alone conceptualize what it would mean. It hurt far less to believe that somewhere in the world, another version of her exists, and that she got the thing she had prepared and longed for. And that he might be there with her.

Nicole draws in a shaky breath and wipes at her face with her right hand, trying to banish the signs of her anguish. She lets the question go unanswered, because there is no answer to it. They both know. To dwell on it, especially now, will only invite more pain.

“I feel like my head is going to explode.” Nicole offers a rueful half smile for that report. “There’s a spot in my vision. A migraine aura, maybe?” It would go right along with the pounding in her head. “Just… Just being here is good.”

Zachery does not immediately answer, nor does his expression change from the forced look of pleasant patience. When he does speak again, it's slow, disconnected. "A spot in your vision. A migraine."

His shoulders are pushed back as he sits and thinks, jaw setting as he breathes - steadily - in and out. He should have words at the ready for this subject. Guesses, at least, regarding estimations, causes, relief. But this query, too, goes unanswered and unresolved. He's got nothing. For any of this.

Instead, he rises from his seat. Too quickly, grabbing the back of the chair with more force than required as he moves it aside and practically slams it into a wall in the process. "I'm going to find you a nurse," he decides, voice still kept level. Disconnected. "For your head. If I see Richard, I'm sending him, too."

His smile is gone now, both hands rising in an attempt to gesture for some sort of calm. "I just need to… clear my head a little. I won't be long - then, I'll stay with you until my biopsy."

She sees it coming, and there’s nothing she can do to stop it.

“Ah-ow!” Nicole howls with pain and presses a hand to her head, recoiling at the cacophonous noise of the chair colliding with the wall. She doesn’t cuss, bitch, or complain about it, however, because it’s the least of what she deserves from him for this, she expects.

It’s with another quiet little groan that she nods her head weakly. “Yeah, okay.” A nurse is probably exactly what she needs right now. “Take the time you need, love. It’s not like I’m going anywhere.” Nicole would much rather Zachery gives himself both the time and the space to do what he needs, rather than return before he’s managed to find his calm out of some sense of obligation to her. If he feels any obligation to her at all at this point. If he doesn’t, she could hardly blame him.

Whether or not he'll find his calm remains to be seen, but the room is too small for whatever else is still building in the meantime. Barely restrained in the way he lingers in the doorway, turning still within sight to look at Nicole.

This time, actually looking at her, rather than past. As though maybe now, maybe for this, he could conjure up some reason to stay. Instead, he finds the opposite, opting to leave with just a few last words muttered through tight jaw as he goes.

"You almost did." Go somewhere, that is. "You could have been gone."

And then, so is he, with only his word to tether him back to her eventually.

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