Here Is Anywhere


avi_icon.gif huruma_icon.gif

Scene Title Here is Anywhere
Synopsis Two days before the operation against Shedda Dinu, Avi Epstein makes a confession to Huruma.
Date February 25, 2020

The cold won't abate until the last frostings of April and May. Some time far ahead, hard to really see. Even then, the nights will remain coated in a chill, dusk and mornings damp with the dews of spring. Wind is no different- - it lingers throughout the months, warping up and down between gusty and gentle. The clouds are gray, white, or invisible against blue. The most rollercoaster of the seasons. Nature has a hard time deciding if she wants to wake up or not.

Today the sky has been disturbingly blue. Any clouds were wisps on the wing. Dusk is a contrast of pink, yellow, blue. Only now do heavy clouds lurk in the horizon, creeping closer.

Huruma needed the air. Even if it is brisk despite the sun, it's fresh. Even with the threat of rain, it's palatable. Fortunately, the nip can't make it through her jacket. The sun's descent was close and she saw the shiver coming in. It's quiet, save for drowsy birds in trees down below, the grind of an engine in the distance. Peep frogs arguing in the bushes.

Everyone else out there is the same as ever. They go on. So does she, but not in ignorance. Not in unbridled mourning. Somewhere in between, where Huruma can think about lost fellows and a smiling Nathalie LeRoux and feel- - grounded. She can work with this, even if sometimes the call for no walls is stronger.

Air is doing her head some good.

Funny that air comes with the wander of smoke at the roof edge where she leans heavily, eyes on sky. That's doing her some good too. Certain things, constant.


Huruma knew this was coming. Felt the storm moving its way up the stairwell long before it joined her on the cold roof. Avi Epstein’s silhouette in the roof access doorway is darker than the dusk sky. Much as the feelings tearing him up inside. “I just…” he takes a step back, “I can smoke anywhere.” He says, uselessly. As if that would excuse him from this unexpected entanglement.

Cold air into lungs replaces the small rush of smoke leaving through her nose; a short look over her shoulder just confirms what she already knew. Elbows against the edge of the roof, body leaning against it, Huruma's eyes catch Epstein's silhouette and flick away again.

"That's a lot of trouble for nothing…" If he really felt the need to pivot and dip, he wouldn't have bothered excusing himself. The drawl of her words lacks edge, unsurprisingly. She has no reason to posture.

"Here is anywhere." While technically true, she obviously knows damn well that isn't what he meant. Rather than a cigarette, her otherwise quiet lift of peace offering is a small glass cylinder, the inside a corkscrew.

“You are technically right,” Avi admits, maintaining his position by the door. Technically right is his least favorite kind of right. At least when he’s in the technical wrong, anyway. “Weird question for you…” he asks, finally willing himself to walk forward. Though he’s outwardly calm, Huruma can still feel the tempest of emotions churning deep.

“Do you happen to have, like…” Avi comes to stand beside Huruma, tugging a cigarette out of his pack, “one to, let’s say two million dollars in play money kicking around?” He glances over at her, tucking the cigarette between his lips as he pats himself down, trying to find his lighter.

Huruma leaves her offering- - still good, presumably- - between fingers even as he begrudgingly joins her; the glass blunt only briefly changes hands so that she can produce a metal lighter from her pocket. She flicks it alive, bobbing orange flame held out for him to use. Avi's question comes while her features are half-lit by sunset, dulled light on her now more quizzical look.

"That depends…" Pale eyes narrow just-so. "…on why you're asking." It's a weird question, sure. But Huruma knows it's going somewhere, so she waits patiently for it to come around. Go on?

Avi fixes a look on Huruma, then down to his cigarette. He leans in toward the flame, inhaling softly to light the head, then exhaling a puff of smoke out the sides of his mouth. “We’re broke,” he says in a flat and matter-of-fact tone. “Don’t… don’t tell anyone.” He already regrets having said anything. “The bounty money not rolling in has fucked us. Hana was the financial brains, fuck even Francois was pretty good at it. But he’s in rehab and Hana’s…” he blows some smoke out into the air.

“The NYPD contract will cover us through until July,” Avi says with a slow shake of his head, “then we’re running straight into the ground. Overhead costs are just… it’s too much. Everybody’s salaries, equipment upkeep, this fucking building and the electricity draw. Fuck, every single time we light up the Tlanuwa its like fifteen grand in jet fuel. And when we aren’t using it for business purposes it all goes straight in the shitter.” He’s made a couple emergency flights.

“This might be it,” Avi says quietly, defeated. “Hana was the glue that kept all this shit together… without her I’m just— I’m a fucking grunt with a desk.”

Huruma slides the lighter back in her pocket, bringing her smoke back to herself. A draw of it is held through the rest of Avi's words, the heels of her hands on the roof's edge when she exhales. The ritual gives her time to just watch the smoke instead.

"She was." The tip of Huruma's tongue glides across her teeth, the pearl shine of her gaze angled elsewhere. "Glue. She knew it wouldn't go forever. At least…" Dark fingers turn the screw of her pipe, idle in the way she stares into it. "Not without evolving."

They've been inching there, but now- - it's jump or fall. She has no trouble in seeing which way things have been leaning, and yet- - her boots dig in. So to speak. Huruma's dusky voice is low, more level than dark, more ponderous than brooding,

"We could sell the Bunker. I may know someone." One brow arching up, she takes another shorter draw, considering the darker clouds rolling in on the far side of sunset. "I have money." And no desire to offer a number, though Huruma does give Avi a sideways look on thinking about it, lip twitching. It's hard to tell if she's irritated or amused- - or both. "Part of it being what assets Adam left for me to liquidate, years ago."

Avi’s expression is hard to read but his emotions aren’t, there’s a pang of guilt when Huruma mentions assets left behind by Adam. Guilt in that he’s tempted by them. “Let’s sit on the Nazi gold for now,” he jokes. As much as he can about that, at any rate. “We probably could sell the Bunker, you’re right. Hana put a lot of work into this place and Rochester’s on the upturn, we might be able to get a few million for a space like this.”

Shifting to look over at Huruma, Avi cocks one brow up. “Who would you trust to sell this thing to, though?” Then, more guardedly, “and do you think Hana kept Post-It notes anywhere about any death traps she might have built into this place? I’d hate to sell it and find out later it turns into a fucking spaceship.”

"Oh, I don't know… sticking it to him with his own capital…" Huruma murmurs, though she doesn't fall for the temptation of persuasion. If they need it, they'll have it.

"I have an idea where some physical notes could be…" Other than this, "Bring a technopath in to play minesweeper? As much as I would enjoy watching the Bunker stand up and walk away." Huruma's humor stays on the quiet side, same as him. It's a cautioned place to be. Though she wants to change the subject, she decidedly does not, yet.

"Celerity may be interested in some minor acquisitions in the state." Huruma stops her fiddling with the pipe in her hands to let it light in her mouth again. After a shorter puff of smoke she straightens, leaning her hip against the wall.

"Other than cash and real estate… unless we want to fundraise for Wolfhound with a calendar- - private security operations." Straight-up Mercenaries. "Perhaps find a corporate patron, if the NYPD passes on a new contract."

Avi makes a noise in the back of his throat. “I don’t like the idea of being sold to a corporation,” he says in his usual, paranoid tone. “I trust Yamagato about as much as I trust Praxis, and I don’t know if Raytech’s pockets are deep enough to afford us in any meaningful way. Ain’t exactly much American Industry these days in need of their own paramilitary force.”

Taking a bit between his thoughts, Avi drags off his cigarette and comes to stand beside Huruma against the edge of the roof, looking out over the city lights of Rochester. “Maybe it isn’t about who we sell ourselves to…” he says after a while, exhaling smoke from his mouth in the same breath. “Maybe there isn’t really a need for a dedicated group like us anymore. Every day I come in here and it’s just a ghost town. So many of us retired or moved on to something else and… I mean fuck, maybe that’s the point, right?”

Avi looks over to Huruma. “The fuck were we fighting for if it wasn’t to try and make the world safe enough to live in? I’ve been… fucking— fighting since I was the age the kids are.” The kids being Devon, Colette, Lucille, Adel, Rue, and Noa. His extended and estranged family. “But for what?” He almost says more, but a knot of guilt spinning in the pit of his stomach cuts him off.

“Wolfhound wasn’t a company,” Avi says quietly, “the business was always a facade to make sure we could finish the job even though the war ended. Maybe…” he looks at his cigarette, then over to Huruma. “Maybe the war’s fucking over.”

He's right about the corporate angle. Huruma just sighs through her nose, a silent agreement. Those lights speckling the skyline multiply in a slow, daily rhythm. Her eyes move to Avi as he settles next to her, mouth flattening in response to his words. Ghost town, moving on after the Finish Line. Even with the PISEC clusterfuck, there's not a need- - not like there was. Huruma looks up at the last, brow creased together at his assessment; she looks away a moment later, frowning faintly.

"It's just turned into a different war." Something a little worn seeps into her voice. Not that she wants to be a part of it, but. "I suppose now it's 'keep working and see what happens'." Once the contract ends, then what? They'll need to wait and see, especially with the oncoming weeks. Doing that was not in her plans, but she can't even be sure what those were. "Fuck." A breath and a half later, there's the smallest of laughs.

"Oh, yes…" Huruma holds out her pipe in front of Avi. A more obvious peace offering. "…sorry for drinking your desk liquor at the Bastion." It's not her fault it was left unsupervised. Something else seems caught on her tongue, stalled and obvious.

Avi can't see it when the empath winds a thread through him; through the knot of his guilt and stress and what comes with. The grief is heavy too. Her mental touch only absorbs; waiting, watching, measuring the weights in thoughts and chest.

“Huh,” Avi says under his breath, looking out at the skyline. “I blamed Francis, yelled the fuck at him too.” He laughs, perhaps a little bitterly. “He’ll be fine, ain’t nothing I haven’t said to him before, and he probably deserved it for something I don’t know about.”

Sliding an askance look to Huruma, Avi grows silent again. He watches her from his perch at the edge of the roof, then looks past her to the space where they’d held a rooftop party after the Ross Dam mission. His heart sinks a little, head dipping down. “We should probably… head inside soon, or something.” His heart isn’t in that, thought. “Gotta get up at the ass-crack of dawn to play human shield for SESA tomorrow.”

This roof has a lot of memories to it. Huruma knows that. Though she doesn't look, that feeling of hollow reminiscing tells her plenty.

"He'll get over it…" It's Francis. He's used to reaping what he sows- - the life of a trickster is a rocky one. As for heading inside, "We both know you're not feeling like turning in." Huruma's words carry a puffed laugh, and she turns to the side, leaning on an elbow at the roof's edge. "Means tomorrow is sooner, besides…"

Amusement stays on her lips though not her eyes; the focus she gives Avi is softened some in its concentration, rather than hardening in thought. The slight upward angle of her mouth slides away, replaced by a brief but pronounced downward tick. "Avi," It's not at all difficult to see her silent warring, and then the flicker of putting her figurative foot down. "I need you to answer a question."

Avi makes a small sound in the back of his throat, then draws in a deep breath and exhales a sigh as if Huruma was asking him to lift the building on his back. It’s a feigned put-upon affectation he uses to keep people at arm’s length. But, he can’t do that as easily with Huruma. His emotions are as plain as day to her.

Avi isn’t put-upon, or even so much as frustrated.

He’s just concerned.

His habit of acting as if under burden isn't unfamiliar, of course. Huruma sees him do the same to any number of people, masking over whatever it is that is actually rolling around. The shroud seems to her, more common than ever. It is one of the reasons why Huruma hasn't yet attempted to talk about Nathalie.

Although she cannot make someone else speak, she can lead the horse to water. This is no different. Huruma pauses, measures. A few, quiet seconds of estimating the distance between here and honesty. A few seconds for tension to gather over shoulder and spine.

"…Do you trust me?"

“If you asked me that ten years ago, I’d have laughed in your face.” Avi says with a slow shake of his head, his focus unmoving from the city lights. “Then I also would’ve run away. Very fast.” He adds with a snort that’s almost a laugh.

Finally, Avi does turn to regard Huruma even if only in profile. “Now? There’s only a handful of people I do, and nearly all’f them are here in the Hounds. You earned that trust, Huruma. A long time ago.”

Avi's snort may as well be an out-loud laugh; Huruma lifts a brow to it, mouth pursed to hide her own amusement. An elbow props against the brick, chin on the back of her hand while she idly snuffs out what smolders in her other.

"You'd have tried…" She looks out of the corner of her eyes, expression still held. Until it isn't, and a tiny, closed smile betrays her tease. "To run." She may have let him.

Ten years is a lifetime ago- - Huruma doesn't need to say it for them both to know it. Now and again- - it doesn't seem so far back to her.

"Sometimes I- -" Huruma banishes the smile and instead presses her tongue to the back of her teeth. She shifts to tuck her pipe away in a pocket, running the now freed hand over her head, itself ducked.

"It is only… different to hear someone say so. And I will do my best to keep it. Not to mention… there is a relief in knowing that I am not hallucinating." Spoken as someone who has, it appears. "No matter what happens with Wolfhound, or Dinu, or Mazdak," Huruma's murmur carries a drop of venom, and she doesn't finish the thought but for a smaller, "Thank you, Avi."

There’s a sound in the back of Avi’s throat, somewhere between a grunt and a grumble. It takes him a moment to look over to Huruma, expression tense and emotions and unusual tumult that she hasn’t ever really experienced before with him. It takes her a moment to really feel what it is he’s feeling.

“Yeah,” Avi says dismissively, leaning away from the railing. But she knows, more than anyone, that his heart and his words don’t match.

He flicks what’s left of his cigarette over the railing, then turns for the door. “Don’t mention it.”

He is brushing her off, but he knows what she knows. That he can’t hide what he’s feeling from her.

And that’s appreciation.

Because this may be the first and last day anyone has ever thanked Avi Epstein.

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