Mineshaft I


avi_icon.gif rue2_icon.gif

Scene Title Mineshaft I
Synopsis I've been here before, I know where it goes.
It goes down.
Date January 17, 2018

The Bunker: Avi's Quarters

Rue drove all evening to get to New York City at nightfall. She spent the evening and the wee hours knocking on flophouse doors and kicking over trash cans in every rat’s nest she knew of, asking about what anyone knew about what the dead SESA agent might have been mixed up in. Everyone has a secret. Drugs? Gambling? Sex? She would find his once someone decided to open up to her. After daybreak and breakfast, she knocked on the door of Childs’ brownstone.

The trip to see Gillian didn’t turn out the way she hoped.

Well, it wasn’t entirely a waste. Rue at least was able to find out some information about the kid’s whereabouts, if not specifics. And at least she put bugs in ears of her contacts in the Safe Zone, with instructions to call her with a specific message if they have information. She’ll find a way to break away and make the drive out at the drop of a hat if she has to.

Then, she spotted her tail. That did not go as well as she hoped it would either. She bit off more than she could chew. A bruiser Rue Lancaster is not. The outcome of that little skirmish came with its own discoveries, which she fully plans to quiz her partner about first chance she gets.

She made the all day drive back to Rochester with a cracked rib. When all’s said and done, she’s been awake for twenty hours. And that’s without any painkillers, caffeine pills or amphetamines. When she trudges back into the building, she looks like hell and feels worse, carrying a cardboard box by its notched out handles.

Striding down the corridors at a pace that lies about her current energy and pain levels, she stops one door before the one to her own room. Shifting the box to her hip, she pounds on the door with the side of her fist. While she waits, her fingers dig under the band of her knit cap to pull it down her forehead some to disguise or provide an excuse for the sweat there.

Avi Epstein answers the door to his quarters in a navy blue suit. He hasn't worn a suit in a long time from Rue’s recollection. Sunglasses perched on the bridge of his nose, he looks at her with a steely expectancy. He says nothing, just steps aside to allow her space to come in, then quietly shuts the door behind her.

Epstein’s quarters are immaculate and also bare. His bed is a double mattress on a plain frame in the far corner of the room. Blinds are drawn so it's dark day in and day out. He has a single circular wood table with one chair for furniture, and a small desk with a closed laptop on it and a photograph of a blonde girl no older than ten who looks strikingly like Raith’s daughter Julie, save for a couple of details.

“I didn't expect you back so soon.” Avi finally admits. “It's… good timing.” He pushes his sunglasses up the bridge of his nose with two fingers. “What’d you find?” Aside from a box.

“This is your shit.” Rue sets the box down on the floor and nudges it with the toe of her boot. “Your records.” Her face wrenches up in pain and she fixes him with a Look that could be a warning or self-projected anger. It’s hard to tell with her sometimes.

Her hand is still on the door behind her. “I left my phone in the car.” There’s an implication there that’s clear. “I’m going to go get it. It’s nice out. I don’t mind going back out.” She isn’t. Not yet anyway. Only after she’s taken a walk out by the river.

“You got any aspirin?” Rue shakes her head quickly, dismissing the request. “Nah, fuck it. Something harder. Or rum. I don’t fuckin’ care.” A breath is hissed between her teeth as she wrenches the handle behind her back, turning to step back out into the hallway without giving him the answers he wants.

“You can fill me in here.” There's a weight to Avi’s voice, and he pulls out his one, solitary chair for her to sit. He doesn't pay the records any mind. “Weather’s shit outside.” Limping over to his desk, Avi absolutely has plenty of things for pain. Pulling out a drawer there's a rattle of pill bottles.

“How bad?” Avi asks, back to Rue and rummaging through the bottles. “Codiene or Excedrin?” There's a fire-damaged photograph on the table that Rue only notices when the chair is moved. Jensen, Avi, Sarisa, Adrianne — some time in the early 2000s, in desert camouflage, smiling.

“If something’s broken I'm gonna make you see the doc,” Avi adds, coming back to her with a pull bottle in each hand.

Rue stands in the doorway, staring out into the hall and listening to Avi’s voice. To the rattle of pills in plastic containers. Tension is evident in the set of her jaw, in the line of her shoulders. Blue eyes shut heavily as she heaves a sigh of resignation, turns back around, and shuts the door behind her again with her foot.

“Codiene.” She all but snatches the bottle out of his hand. “I’d just chew the Excedrin like it’s fuckin’ Pez.” Rue fumbles with the cap a moment before achieving success, shaking one more pill out into the palm of her hand than is strictly necessary. She swallows them dry. Recapping the medication, she passes it back to him.

Nails dig under the band of Rue’s hat again, this time to pull it off and toss it carelessly onto the bed. Her coat’s the next thing to follow. Then her sweater. It’s warm inside compared to out there. Once she’s down to her plain black tank and skinny jeans, she takes the previously offered seat. Her eyes find the photograph and she can’t help but smile faintly. “Hey, look at that. Auntie Adie.”

His question is avoided. More time is needed to decide what her cover story is, and he needs to listen to what she has to say. The smile fades and she takes a shallow breath, wrapping one arm around her midsection. The other rests on the table. There’s a moment where she isn’t sure where to start. What to say. “The apartment’s been rented out to someone else. I did what you told me to do, I checked it. Checked with the landlord, too. Which is how I got your shit back.” She knows he doesn’t care about that. “Had to make it look like I was there on a legitimate mission. Not just sticking my nose where it doesn’t belong.” Which is pretty much exactly what she’s been doing.

“She wasn’t there. But she was at the other address you gave me.” Emphasis on was. “You said she’d know what I was talking about, but she clammed up. When I mentioned you… That conversation was over. I left her instructions to call me if she finds anything out about where she is now. We have a code, so it’ll look like I’m being sentimental with an old friend.”

Rue fixes Avi with a steady gaze when she finishes speaking. She’ll let him respond to that before she gives him the rest of the rundown.

Sighing deeply, Avi scrubs one hand across his neck and paces the floor. He looks anxious, looks nervous too in ways that Epstein usually doesn't. Sliding his tongue over his teeth he curses under his breath several times and then goes back to his desk for the photo there. He takes it back to Rue, sets it down next to the picture of the Royals.

“This here,” Avi offers quietly, “is a collection of the things that were most important to me in my whole fucking life.” Whether or not Rue is included in that in any capacity by her proxy to where he's gesturing is intentionally vague. “That's Emily,” he notes with a tap of two fingers to the girl. “My biological daughter,” clarifies distinctions.

“My son died in Afghanistan. My wife left me after that. Emily hasn't spoken to me since 09.” Probably when that picture was taken. “The only fucking thing I had left was my goddamn job.” The CIA. “Then the world took that from me.”

Avi grows silent, breathing in deeply before tucking his hands into the pockets of his slacks as he exhales a sigh. “That kid I sent you looking for,” he's being unusually candid. “She was like a therapy dog.” It sounds cold at first. “In every way they are. I thought I saved her from an orphanage, but she saved me from eating my gun.”

Swallowing audibly, Epstein is visibly shaken. “I shouldn't have roped you into this.” He swallows again, hand on his cheek, moving to cover his mouth and then helplessly fall to his side. “I'm sorry.” Epstein said what.

Holy shit.

The photos are looked at, but not touched. Examined and details committed to memory out of habit. His words ring in her ears, confusing and alien coming from him. Like she should be making sure this isn’t an illusionist she’s talking to. Especially when he apologizes.

“No,” Rue agrees quietly, “you probably shouldn’t have.” Slowly, she pushes to her feet, steps forward and reaches out to rest one hand against the back of Avi’s neck, leaning in to rest her forehead against his. “But I’m in this now. You aren’t alone.” Her thumb brushes over his jaw, touch meant to be reassuring.

“You’ve never been alone.” That’s firm, too. “God, you… Fucking dumbass. I’ve always been here.” Rue laughs shakily, grimacing after. Takes a breath to steady herself. “You were there for me after… After Griffin. Talked me through all the shit, in your way.” The fact that killing the man who killed the woman she used to be didn’t ease her soul. Didn’t bring her back. Didn’t fix anything.

Then she withdraws enough to look him in the eye. “I’m not going anywhere.”

“That's the fucking problem,” Avi says coldly, “Rue. You keep…” he breathes in deeply and scrubs one hand over his mouth again. “I appreciate your help. I shouldn't have asked for it though, because…” he takes her wrist in hand when she takes the pills. “These bruises probably aren't from records.”

He lets go of her wrist, slowly. “I don't like to willingly put the people I think of as family in harm’s fucking way. It's hard enough with you being in Wolfhound,” he takes a step away. “Harder than I thought.”

Avi breathes in through his nose and laces his fingers behind his head anxiously. “But that's business. This is my stupid shit that you shouldn't be getting the shit kicked out of you over. That's non-fucking-negotiable.”

“You can’t change it.” The way she feels. Rue shakes her head, unaffected by the way he pushes her away verbally. Relinquishing her hold on him when he steps away. “We’re soldiers, Av’. I know what I signed up for just as well as you do. Statistically speaking, my life isn’t going to be a very long one.” She’s not her aunt. Doesn’t have that kind of training. The decades of military discipline. It’s been learn-as-she-goes, and it’s been a rocky road. “I don’t know about you, but I’m going to enjoy what I have while I’m still alive to do it.” As much as she appears to enjoy anything, which seems to be very little these days.

Her breath comes as a shaky exhale. Her eyes close heavily. There’s the codeine. Her stomach was empty. Her brows knit for a moment and she remembers she needs to be looking at him when she speaks. “I’m in this already. There’s no extracting me now, so you’re going to let me help you, or I’m going to go poking around on my own. I’d rather continue on this path armed with information.”

Rue steps back and sinks into that chair again, leaning heavily against the table now and catching her breath. “SESA knows I’m involved. And no, that’s not where the bruises came from.” Blue gaze is slightly unfocused now, but sweeps Epstein up and down once. “You need to tell me what’s going on, because I should be dead right now, but I’m not. I need to know what I almost died for.”

“I. Don't. Know.” Avi’s response is a flat one. “And you're better off bailing here. The SESA agent I killed was after a kid I'm watching and I don't want you to know more. This was transactional, Rue, and the transaction was a mistake.”

Avi slides his tongue over his teeth. “I appreciate that you did this for me, but it's clearly a more fucked up situation than I realized. You went out of your way for me.” Avi scratches one hand at the side of his head. “I owe you, and let's… call it at that.”

“I'm not putting you in this deeper. Not— without thinking on it more, if ever.” Avi’s shoulders slack and he goes to the bank door and puts his hand on the doorknob. “I need time to think this over. She's… at least following my orders. So that's something.” The last bit feels like an afterthought.

The woman’s hand slams down on the tabletop. “Damn you!” Her voice is a frustrated shout, eyes focused now in her anger. “You don’t. Get. A choice!” That freckled face is growing paler, though. She needs to rest. She needs to see a doctor. And she isn’t going to do either until she’s either satisfied, or he carries her there.

“There was a Pure Earther tailing me. At least, that’s what the agent said. I gave as good as I got.” There’s a flicker of a grin at that. She’s not entirely helpless in a scrap. “But he was an electrokinetic. That means he wanted me alive. He had his hands on me. He could have killed me so easily.”

Rue’s gaze has hardened into a glare, her nose wrinkled up slightly. “I’m wrapped up in this now, whether you like it or not. Any time I try to do my fucking job in the city, there are going to be people thinking I’m skulking around for you.” She blinks, and her eyes stay closed just a little too long. Her expression softens again.

But her voice carries a razor’s edge still. “If you take me off of this, I’m going to call up the nice agent that saved me. And I’m gonna fuck him and find out what he knows.”

Avi opens the door slowly. “Go for it, tiger.” Two fingers point out the door. He’s more disappointed than mad. “But I gave you a chance to step back. To give me some fucking time to figure this out. So if you want to go get killed, I think I've got an address for a noose shop that'd make it quicker.”

He keeps pointing out the door. “I asked you to help me because I respect you, and because I thought you knew when to take a hint. Whether that opinion stays is up to if you can control yourself.

Well, he knows where to hit to make it hurt. It feels like a blow to her already cracked ribs when he chastises her like that. The worst part is that Rue knows he’s right. The noose comment, though? That was unnecessary.

Rue pushes to her feet again, and crosses first to the bed to gather up her discarded outerwear, holding it bundled against her midsection with one arm. “Fine. I’ll play it your way. When you’re ready to bring me back in, do it. Because I’m going to worry sick about you until you do.”

Now they’re framed in the doorway, engaged in some stupid staring contest that most outgrow by junior high. Quick as can be, her free hand finds the back of his head and drags him in toward her for a brief, but heated kiss.

“You started it,” she whispers against his mouth when they part. Then pats him on the cheek.

Avi’s a cold fish during the kiss, brows furrowed, shoulders stiff. He watches her over the frames of his glasses, his glass eye slightly off-center. Leaning back and away, he watches her for a long while in silence. The nod he offers her is respectful, terse, and juxtaposes with the incongruent fact that he's in a suit.

She's right on one part, though. Avi wordlessly agrees with Rue as he shuts the door. He started this.

Nambiza. We need to talk.”

And he knows how it ends.

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