For the Yuletide gift fic exchange.
Set in a not too distant future for the team. Juliet has recently completed her PhD and while Solomon introduces her to his contacts at an exhibition opening, Nikko and Vincent discuss the relationships within the team and the nature of family.
Nikko stood at the side of the room, his back to a heavy wooden bookshelf, and with two exits in sight. Not that he expected trouble, but he'd learned it was always best to be prepared.
Across the room, his father was escorting Juliet around the milling crowd of people, as if she were a débutante at her coming-out ball. Juliet was radiant in a flattering black dress, her hair pinned up to show her neck and shoulders. A delicate silver bracelet glinted on her wrist as she shook hands with an older gentleman; it matched the emerald necklace at her throat and emerald studded earrings in her ears. The set was a gift from the Veritas team, given in honour of her finally receiving her doctorate. And while this evening was ostensibly about the collection of rare Mesopotamian artefacts their team had provided for this exhibit, it was also very much about Solomon making sure that Juliet knew some of his most valued - or at least rich and influential - contacts.
"Doctor Droil looks happy."
Nikko turned to find Vincent at his elbow, seemingly having materialised there. He'd given up being surprised by anything Vincent did or said, though, and just smiled.
"Yeah, she does."
The two men watched as Solomon touched Juliet's arm and moved her on to meet someone else.
"He's proud of her, isn't he?" Nikko said.
"Of course. She was always a brilliant student," Vincent said.
Nikko watched Juliet a moment longer, stuffing his hands in his pockets. "Yes, she's smart."
"One day it will be your turn," Vincent said. "Juliet says you have the brains, when you choose to use them. Dr Nicholas Zond. It has quite the ring to it."
It was difficult to tell if Vincent was teasing him. Perhaps a little, but it wasn't, Nikko, thought, completely insincere.
"I hadn't thought about it," he said truthfully.
"Ah, then it's not the doctorate you envy," Vincent said. "Just the attention he's giving her."
Nikko stared at him, startled. "I'm not jealous."
"Not even a little?"
It was hard to hide anything from Vincent. Nikko glanced at the floor.
"He's proud of her, but that doesn't mean he isn't proud of you," Vincent said softly.
Nikko nodded without enthusiasm. "I'm not jealous," he protested again. There was no question that his relationship with his father was the best it had been in years, no doubt in his mind that his father loved him.
Vincent said nothing in the way only Vincent could. Nikko pulled his hands free of his pockets and tugged at his tuxedo jacket in as dignified a manner as he could manage.
"I mean - it's just -" He pointed. Solomon slipped one arm around Juliet's waist and moved her away from a tall man with his long hair tied back in a ponytail, and towards an elegantly dressed woman in her forties. "Do you think he loves her?"
It was out there, the thing that had been bothering him for a while now. There'd been so much to do in finalising preparations for Juliet's PhD, hours Solomon had spent with her - well, they'd all spent with her, going over her research, drilling her on questions that might be asked of her at the viva voce. But it had seemed more than that; Nikko wasn't sure how he felt about Juliet - she'd never made romantic overtures towards him - but he was uncomfortable at the idea of his father having designs on her affections.
Vincent didn't laugh, as Nikko feared he might. He merely raised an eyebrow. "Not, I think, in the way you mean."
Nikko shrugged, feeling foolish. Vincent could always have that effect on him. One look, one word, and Nikko was four years old and caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
"Consider this. Your father has never remarried," Vincent said. "In all the time I've known him, he's had no long term relationships, has rarely even dated. I doubt this will change any time soon."
"That's kind of sad," Nikko said, having not given it much thought until now.
"Sad?" Vincent frowned. "Is it sad that Maggie has never married nor had children? Is it sad that I have remained single and not fathered a child?"
Aware he was suddenly on dangerous ground, Nikko shook his head.
"No, not at all. I just...I want him to be happy. Calvin seems happy." Calvin was engaged and he and his French fiancée were currently in Rome, retrieving an artefact of interest to the foundation.
Vincent smiled, no trace of anger in his face or voice. "He is. As am I. Juliet is the daughter Solomon would otherwise never have. Solomon is like a brother to me. Maggie, Calvin, you and Juliet are all my family. Not of blood, true enough, but in all of the ways that matter. I, too, am proud of you, Nikko, and the man you've become."
Nikko stared at Vincent, taking these words to heart. He'd lost his mother at an early age, had been raised by caring but always distant professional staff at a number of boarding schools. Family had been a rather abstract concept, meaning people you were related to, but not necessarily having anything in common with, nor spending much time with.
That had all changed one day, when getting kicked out of yet another school had led to his discovering the truth about his father's work. He finally had a chance to build a relationship with his father, and, as Vincent had pointed out, with the rest of the team. Nikko loved and trusted them, would always be able to rely on them, and that was what family ought to mean. Together they continued the work his mother had loved, had given her life for. Her work was the cornerstone that the Veritas Foundation was built upon, it was her legacy they worked to preserve and to advance. It was a family endeavour if ever there was one.
Nikko felt a swell of emotion and blinked hard a few times. He wished he'd had the chance to get to know Haley better, not just because it had been painful to grow up without a mother, but because he knew she had been an incredible woman that he would have been proud to know – that he was proud of.
Solomon propelled Juliet towards them, one hand at the small of her back. She waved her champagne flute at Nikko. "Hey!"
"Did you see him?" Solomon glared over his shoulder at the man with the ponytail. "He could barely keep his hands off her."
"He can barely keep his hands off most people," Vincent observed. "It means nothing, you know that."
So it had been a protective arm around her waist, Nikko realised. A moment of fatherly concern. As usual, Vincent was right.
Juliet drained her glass and shook it hopefully. "I need a re-fill."
"You're already drunk," Solomon scolded.
"No. Not yet."
"I'll wager you were drunk at your graduation party," Vincent said. "I bet Maggie knows." He scanned the room, looking for the woman who knew pretty much everything there was to know about Solomon Zond.
"This isn't a graduation party," Solomon muttered darkly, but took the glass anyway and went off in search of more champagne.
"You okay?" Nikko asked as Juliet took the opportunity to stand next to him and rest her head on his shoulder.
"Yeah. I just need a moment. It's exhausting. All these names. I'll never remember them."
She would, of course, but Nikko appreciated the fact that she wasn't conceited. He reached for her hand and squeezed it tightly.
"You'll remember them," he said. "And when it's my turn, you can help me remember them too."
Juliet smiled. "Of course I will, Nikko."
And of course she would. She'd be there for him, because she was family. They all were. And Nikko was glad of it.