Around The Block


avi_icon.gif debra_icon.gif

Scene Title Around the Block
Synopsis The Bastion is haunted by the ghosts of Avi's past.
Date September 10, 2020

Avi Epstein had been warned about this day. A blast from his past had been hoisted on him, like an unsolicited fart in an elevator. A ‘favor’ asked from some old friends. He owed them.

When the silvery-blonde stepped through the front doors of the Bastion, pulling off a pair of aviation shades, memories of a severe looking woman in equally sharp suits trying to pull jurisdiction on him on many occasions. Or when she begged his help to free her son from a prison camp.

Since last he last saw her on the battlefield, time has finally caught up with her etching years into her face, lines worn like badges of honor. That smile though, like she’s just trying to be polite while sucking on a lemon.

“I gotta admit, Epstein, I like your choice in bases.” Was that a compliment? Or sarcasm?

The military grade duffle bag hits the polished concrete flooring with a whomp. A manilla envelope with her personnel folder inside is pulled from under her arm and offered out to Avi. “Officer Debra Hadden reporting for duty, sir.” The look in her eye pretty much said she would prefer not to be, in fact, her smile seems almost strained, lips pressed tightly against her teeth.

“Jesus fucking Christ you god old,” is Avi’s familial greeting, followed by a step in to her and an arm around her shoulders in a quick hug. There’s a lot of things that have changed about Avi Epstein since she last saw him, but violating his own personal space sits right up at the top of alarming in her list. That he has both his eyes is right below it. He also isn’t walking with a limp or a leg brace anymore.

“It looked like a concrete shit-box when I bought it,” Avi says with a dismissive wave of his hand. “I’ve got a seven foot tall gargoyle that does my interior decorating these days.” Avi jerks his head to the side, walking across the foyer toward an open doorway that goes into a furnished lounge.

“C’mon, let me get you a drink. You can leave your bag there, nobody’ll fuck with it.” Avi pauses, reconsidering as he looks back. “Ok, if they fuck with it, it’s open season on them. So, your call.”

What… what just happened?

The woman stiffens with the sudden and totally unexpected hug, even leaning back away from the man. Eyes narrow with suspicion at this change and all the other things that catch her attention. To be fair, Debra expected the growly pitbull of a man she remembers. However, though she won’t admit it, his actions help the tension some. The ice has been broken and both were still civil, not even giving the age comment another thought.

“A drink would be good,” Deb finally manages to say past the shock, because whatever is going on she’ll need one. “Cause, I am clearly not in Kansas City anymore, Toto.” The whole Safe Zone was going to take some getting used too, compared to the relative normal of Kansas City. A bit of culture shock.

“And I’m not worried about the bag,” Debra gives it a good shove with a booted foot against the wall. “I guess it’s a good time for a trust exercise.” If her new teammate wanted to get on her bad side so soon… well that’s on them. She motions him to lead the way.

Avi leads Debra through the foyer and an open doorway down a single shallow step into a recessed lounge. He weaves past some low-set leather furniture near the floor-to-ceiling windows that give a good look at a small outdoor patio space beyond the lounge. A marble statue stands between two windows of a woman hunched forward, searching for something. None of this is Avi’s aesthetic. The gargoyle he mentioned must have done this.

Overhead a geometric arrangement of fluorescent lights brightens up the bar space that lies ahead. The bar has bare stone and repurposed wood texturing, rough metal stools, a very clean look. Avi slips behind the bar, overturning two glasses that he sets on the bartop. “So, I never did find out…” he says, opening a cabinet and retrieving a bottle of whiskey, pouring himself a finger, then the same amount for Debra. “Who’d you piss off to arrange this?”

Avi pushes Debra’s glass toward her and picks up his own. “And why here?”

Sliding to sit on one of the stools, Debra takes a moment to appreciate the decor, pulling the glass to her. “You know how it goes, the longer we stay in the job, the younger the management gets,” she says with a bit of a put upon sigh. Taking up her glass, Deb turns her attention to the liquid. It’s swirled gently as her attention turns to her new boss. “Too many kids running the show, Aviator. Too many.”

A bitter smile if offered to Avi over the lip of her glass. “We had differences of opinion and they got tired of my…. questions,” Debra offers, her voice gruff with her age. She takes a moment to sip the offered Whiskey. “So I was given an offer. Here or forced retirement.”

Turning her attention to the room again, Deb motions to it, “I do like your ‘gargoyles’ taste, so that’s going in your favor. You said tall, I’m guessing Huruma Dunsimi?” Someone has been doing her homework.

“You always had a shit way of bringing up differences,” Avi says out of the side of his mouth, hiding it behind the brim of his glass. “But to be fair, most of the old guard either signed up with the wrong side or weren’t quick enough to avoid getting their asses shot off.”

Avi sets down his glass and leans forward on the bar, looking Debra up and down. “You know I don’t have any desk jobs here, right?” He makes a sour face, looking into his drink like it said something to him. “If you’re looking to commit suicide by way of a job, I really don’t have the insurance to cover that.” He looks back up to Debra, expectantly.

“Really?” Avi gets a flat look, as she clearly doesn’t find that funny. “A desk job?” She pretty much scoffs at the idea, looking at him like he’s crazy. “Have you ever known me to be content with deskwork? Please, I wouldn’t be here if I was.” Sipping the whiskey, she leans forward on her elbows, eyes narrowing at him almost like a warning to tread lightly.

“I’ve worked my ass off to keep up with these kids, Epstein.” Debra growls out between clenched teeth. “I’m not letting some snot-nosed, straight out of college, ‘oh look I have a degree’ kids put me behind a god-damn desk, cause they think I’m some fragile fucking old woman.”

Tipping her chin up ever so slightly, Debra adds defiantly, “Hell, I can still pass the fucking Army PT test.” She’ll never admit that the word ‘barely’ should go at the front of that. She can just barely pass the standard Army PT test. “So don’t worry, handsome, I’m still fit for the field and I have no plans of dying anytime soon.”

Avi makes a noise in the back of his throat. His brows go up and he leans more fully against the bar. “I use to have that delusion, too,” he says with a glance down to his glass, “that I could keep up with the kids. And fuck, maybe if we were still living in the same world we were in ‘97 we could. But kids these days can Superman shit.”

Finishing his drink, Avi slides his glass aside. “Look. I’m not even worried about the feds wanting to use you as a spare eyeball on our operation, we don’t have shit to hide. But if you think I’m gonna’ let you go out in the field and get your brittle old ass shot off…” he shakes his head, brows knit together.

“All I’m saying is I tried t’do what you want to do. I’d be in a fucking wheelchair right now if it weren’t for— ” Avi tries to say Nathalie but can’t bring himself to. “For a healer. For someone fixing my busted ass up. We don’t have one anymore.”

With a deep sigh, Avi scrubs one hand at his forehead. “Deb,” he says softly, “have you talked to Ryan about this? Maybe he could help you think of an alternative that isn’t gonna put you in the ground.”

“My son… is… AWOL.” Debra says, her defensive demeanor crumbling a little, even if she still glares at him like he should know. Not that he deserves it, which she knows.

“After you helped me get in touch with people who could rescue him and all those others. I—-” Debra sighs through her nose and scoops up the glass to take another drink, not really looking at him. “I had them smuggled out of the country. No idea where and haven’t seen nor heard from them since.” She tries to make it sound like no big deal, but he’s a parent… he knows.

Whatever she’s feeling about her missing family, it manifests into irritation. “But that isn’t the point,” Debra growls out, turning the full weight of that gaze back at him. “I get it, we’re fucking old. We’re some of the last of the old guard and I know most of these kids have abilities and I don’t. Just cause I can’t pull any of their mumbo jumbo doesn’t mean I can’t find ways to pull my weight.”

Debra runs a hand down her face. “I’m asking for a chance here, Avi.”

“Sorry,” is something rare from an Epstein, especially Avi.

Avi’s focus is squarely on the bar now, lingers there in silence for a moment, up until he decides to circle around the bar and walks past Debra, over to one of the tall windows looking out into the small ground-floor patio and garden on the other side of the glass. He smooths a hand down his face, lingering at his chin, before that hand falls limp at his side.

“They’re gonna treat you like you’re made of glass,” Avi says quietly, focused on the patio through the glass, but stealing a glimpse of Debra in reflection. “We just lost someone in the field, first time since the war. Everybody’s a little on edge.”

“Hey, you just let me worry about that, old man,” Debra says with a bit of an edge to her tone. “I’m a big girl wearing big girl pants.” She offers a tight-lipped smirk, while giving him a matter of fact look. “They’ll learn quick enough that I’m not the average, everyday, doily-making granny.” A hand lifts and she points a finger at him with a look that goes flat. “And if I hear you call me that, boss or not, I’ll punch you.”

The hand drops so she can cross her arms when Debra sits back and crosses her legs. “Speaking of… what’s happened to you, Avi?” He can see the way her eyes move, searching his face, brows lowering with a rare concern. “Hell, I remember you with a shit ton more fire in you.” Her eyes narrow thoughtfully. “And don’t say old age, cause even I know that’s a load of crap.”

One arm unfolds and Debra pushes an empty glass across to him, “Might as well fill em up. Somehow, I think we’re both gonna need it,” she says, giving a nod to his own glass as well.

“You know how to tend bar,” Avi says distractedly, looking out the window. “Do mine too.”

Turning away from the window, Avi looks back to Debra. “It isn’t old age but I mean, it’s part of it. But it’s just— I’m fucking tired. It’s been a non-stop slideshow of crimes against humanity for the last fucking fifteen years and I’m just burned the fuck out.”

Avi walks to one of the stool on the client side of the bar and sits down, elbows on the bartop, pushing his empty glass over to her. “I had a desk job at Langley for a little while. Then when all the Vanguard shit started boiling over in 09, they put me back in the field. New York, Operation Apollo, fucking Madagascar, lost my eye, fucking Antarctica, became Gabriel fucking Gray’s sock-puppet while he wore my face and wormed his way int the government…”

Avi laughs at how absurd it all sounds. “Broke free from Gray, fell in with the fucking Ferrymen, turned into a goddamn freedom fighter, got drunk, got sober, blew up the Institute, watched a bunch of kids get gunned down in a drainage culvert, lived through a Medieval fucking seige, watched someone I loved get picked apart to clean bone like a Thanksgiving turkey, watched America fall completely apart, survived a Civil War, testified before the fucking Hague…”

Sighing, Avi leans over and just rests his forehead on the bar. “Adopted a girl. Found out my friend was living inside her mind. Lost the girl because I accidentally killed a fed. Go to prison. Get broken out of prison by one of my subordinates. Convince the government not to execute me and my subordinate. Uproot Humanis First survivors. Lead a fucking strike on Fort Irwin. Find out I had a kid with Sarisa that she hid from me. Find out that kid died.”

Avi folds his hands over the back of his head and just lays his face on the bar. “Try to keep business from going bankrupt.”

He hesitates.

“Yeah I think that’s everything.”

Then, looking up from the bar, Avi adds. “Oh, and my other daughter got turned into a tree.”

Hopping off her stool, Debra slips behind the bar and looks over what’s there, making sure to glance back to ensure Avi knows she’s listening. Settling on what they have already been drinking she works on pouring out another finger each. However, she pauses and she turns her focus back fully to the man on the other side. She can’t help the incredulous look as he gets into the girl he adopted and—

“Wait. Did you say a…. tree??”

A brow lifts in disbelief. In fact, Debra almost doesn’t want to believe him, except for that look. She knows it too well, it stares back at her in the mirror every morning. “Shhhit, Avi,” Debra hisses out in sympathy adding more liquor to his glass, then adding an equal amount to her own, while pushing Avi’s glass toward him. “That is a crap hand you’ve been given. There is just some stuff you can’t learn from files.”

Pushing the glass towards him, Debra studies him carefully as if seeing him differently all of a sudden. “You seeing anyone about all that?” A shrink she means. It’s an honest question. “I still for go for what happened to Jane,” she offers up to soften the blow of the question. There is guilt as she looks down at her own glass, brows pulling into a frown. “Lately, we talk about Ryan and his family too.” She murmurs against the lip of her glass, before taking a drink.

“I drink a lot and make questionable life choices.” Avi says in deadpan response. “Sometimes my family members punch me in the face. But hey, I have both my eyes again and I don’t walk with a permanent limp so…” Avi shrugs, listlessly, then turns to regard Debra.

Avi walks back to the bar and picks up his glass, making a feigned toast to Debra before just kicking it back in a single swallow. “Good to know you have your shit in order. We have a good healthcare thing. Huruma picked it out.” Avi narrows his eyes. “You know her? About twenty feet tall, long fangs and big eyes. Looks like she’s going to come out of a ceiling vent and drag you away? Great girl.”

Setting his glass back down on the bar, Avi wipes his mouth with his free hand. “There’s bunks here if you don’t have your own place, but everyone here’s old enough to be your fucking grandchild so let me just say it doesn’t have the energy you might want. Rent’s dirt cheap around us, lots of open spaces.”

Bowling past any pretense for emotional accountability, Avi looks back to the foyer. “I’m going on record saying your nuts doing this, just so you know.”

“Avi.” Debra delivers his name just as deadpan as his words, but there is an edge of concern there too. It’s clear she wants to say something, but instead, Debra sighs out her nose and shakes her head, “Nevermind,” she growls out and downs the last of her own drink, but by time she sits it on the bar and rests both hands on each side of the glass, she changes her mind. “You know what…. No… Fuck it, I’m going to say it.

“Get yourself a shrink, old man.”

She holds up her hands, defensively. “I hated the idea too, but after I blew up on someone and punched them…” Debra thinks on it, stepping out from behind the bar. “In fact, I think it was you, bloodied that nose and contaminated the goddamned crime scene. They required I see someone to keep my job.” Which she hated, by the way. “And you know what. I kept up with it, cause it helped. In your position, you need it, especially with that much child loss in a short time.”

“You’re a ticking time bomb,” Debra says with the weight of experience behind her.

“And I know I’m nuts, s’why I’m perfect here. I’ve read the reports… and I know you.” That last coming out of nowhere on the tail of the recommendation.

“I might’ve shot some people that didn’t need shooting.” Avi admits flatly. His mind wheels back to Lowell, to his murder. To how quickly he killed. “We’ll see,” is typical Epstein dismissiveness. He may have changed on the surface, but there’s rot inside his facade that does down to the foundation. That hasn’t changed.

“Check in with Dunsimi, she’ll have all the necessary paperwork.” Avi assumes, at any rate. “Familiarize yourself with the squad, figure out if you wanna pull the parachute and bail out of this crashing plane. You know, the usual.”

“Haven’t we all,” Debra comments blandly, unmoved or affected by that little confession. She doesn’t pursue it, this was only day one after all. Instead she shifts to lean a hip against the bar and adds a splash more alcohol to her glass.

Picking it up, she swirls it around in her glass with lips pushed flat in thought. “I don't think you understand. I don’t have the option of bailing. It’s this or muumuus and bingo.” The glass is brought to her lips, where she murmurs, “Fuck that shit,” before downing it. “So good or bad. For better or for worse, I’m in it for the long run, handsome.”

The glass is set on the counter gingerly, Debra’s attention on him out of the corner of her eye. “Now. I think I will go about finding Dunsimi and securing a bunk…. At least, until I can find a place.” Moving for the door, she stops herself with a hand on the frame.

“I know I’m supposed to keep an eye on you all and yes… I’ve read all their files. And I might be a stubborn- crazy -bitch, but I'm more on your side then you think, Avi. Like you said, time and people change.” Her hand pats the doorframe, before leaving him there, calling back, “Think about that.”

Yeah,” is Avi’s typical noncommittal response to everything. He knows he’s avoided something like this for a while, a hint of government oversight. But as political gears shift and new eyes fall on Wolfhound, he knew these sorts of things would eventually happen.

“The little spies room is on the right, if you need to tinkle.” Avi says with a motion back toward the foyer. “Or radio back to base camp about my bowel movements!” He shouts after her. But Debra doesn’t dignify him with a response.

Avi is quiet for a while, lost in thought, hunched over the bar and staring into his empty glass.

“Do they even make mumus anymore?” Avi mumbles to himself.

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