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Scene Title Hustle
Synopsis Everybody's got one. James Dearing is no exception.
Date January 2nd, 2020

The Bunker, Garage

Rochester, New York

9:12 pm

“Which brings me back to the story Avi was telling the other day…”

Sometimes there’s weeks of downtime between assignments. Wolfhound hasn’t steadily had a major operation for over a year. The NYPD gig is a solid one, but the call for riot enforcement in the Safe Zone is minimal. Plans to expand Wolfhound’s contract to include the Military Police’s operation on Staten Island fell flat on its face after Francois was nearly murdered, and the company has been in something of a tailspin ever since as Avi struggles to maintain a thousand day-to-day operations largely on his own.

“…where he was talking about how, and somebody correct me if I’m getting this wrong…”

So for the times when Wolfhound is on-call for the NYPD, hours are spent in the Bunker. Moments like this, where on-duty officers sit around jawing with one another becomes a roulette wheel of casual company. Tonight, it’s just Francis Harkness — in the middle of telling someone else’s story — alongside James Dearing, two beers into the night and two hands ahead at poker, and February Lancaster who is currently sitting on an a straight flush of hearts and is pretty sure Dearing is bluffing.

“…but Sylar pulls a fighter jet out of the air with telekinesis…”

Francis hasn’t won a hand of poker in nearly a month, mostly because he keeps playing with Huruma and thinks he’s going to be able to bluff her one day even though he insists that she utilize her ability against him. Also, he talks way, way, way too much.

“…while they’re trying to get ahead of an airstrike about to hit the capital of Madagascar.”

“Jesus Christ,” Dearing interjects with a hand coming up to his forehead, “play your fuckin’ hand or fold.”

“Sorry ah,” Francis lays down three of a kind with a pair — a full house — “yeah I’m calling.”

It’s an ordinary night.

“Shut the fuck up,” Rue snorts. Her demand has nothing to do with whether or not Francis intends to actually play his hand. “That did not fucking happen. There is literally no way. I don’t fucking care if it was—”

She stops and blinks down at his hand. “Huh. I thought you were playing threes and sevens.” For a moment, she looks doubtful about her hand and glances across the table to Dearing. Pressing her cards against her chest, careful not to obstruct the view of cleavage she always wears on poker night, she frowns and reaches for her beer - her third - for a drink. “What’cha got, partner?”

“Do I look like a fucking cowboy t’you?” Dearing says out of the corner of his mouth, slapping his cards face down on the table with “Fucking fold” added like punctuation. Francis cracks a smile and angles a look over to Rue, one brow raised.

“Hey, I don’t make these things up,” Francis says with a spread of his hands, “I just tell ‘em like I hear ‘em.” While he’s spreading his hands, two queens and an ace fall out of his jacket sleeves and land on the table next to the rest of his cards. Francis’ eyes dip down to the cards, then flick up to Rue across the table, then to Dearing who has gone statue still.

Huh,” is the last thing Francis says before Dearing bolts up out of his seat and grabs Francis by the collar, hauling him over the table as he screams in frustration.

“You ride like one,” Rue responds easily, lifting her shoulders in a shrug even as she snickers quietly. She’s about to put her cards down when the rest of Francis’ fall out of his sleeves. The snicker turns into out and out laughter as she sees what’s happened.

“Dearing!” The redhead’s voice is raised to call out over the sound of his own frustration. “Dearing!” Her cards are laid out flat on the table as she rises to her feet. “I still beat his ass!” Rue gestures with one hand to the table in front of her. “Look who’s the queen of fuckin’ hearts, boys.”

Two inches from putting Francis through a wall, Dearing lowers a clenched fist and deposits the younger Harkness rather forcibly back into his folding chair. Jaw flexing, Dearing stares down at Francis’ shit-eating grin for a second longer, then wildly waves on arm toward the door shouting, “Get the fuck out of here!” Francis slithers out of his chair, grimacing, and slinks past Rue with a quick flash of a look to her and then incredulously down to her cards, before finally slipping out of the door.

“Fucking son of a bitch,” Dearing mutters, rubbing one hand down his face. “How many fucking times has that little shit done that to us?” He asks, looking over his shoulder to Rue, then down to her cards on the table, brows furrowed in scrutiny. Now paranoia has him wondering, how many times has she?

Rue coughs against the back of her hand to stifle more laughter as Francis slinks away. She’s aware of how serious this situation nearly became - Dearing has a hell of a temper - but it didn’t, and so she can still laugh about it, if slightly nervously.

Of course, it’s all fun and games until Dearing’s paranoia turns on her. Rue holds up her empty hands in surrender. “You wanna search me for extra cards?” Her fingers wiggle briefly. “Go right ahead if it’ll make you feel better.” She risks casting a glance in the direction Francis has slipped off in. “I know better than to try and cheat at cards around here.”

Dearing slides his tongue across the inside of his cheek, then over the front of his teeth before hissing out a sigh. “Yeah,” he says with deflated anger, scrubbing one hand at the back of his neck as he starts to pace anxiously. “That little shit doesn’t have half the common sense you do and somehow he’s got both of his fucking legs intact still.” The anger will pass, even though Dearing isn’t usually one to let something simmer like this for too long. His anger is more of the note taking kind, making a list, checking it twice, putting the naughty folks through a wall with his fist at some later date.

“Whatever,” Dearing mumbles, tugging his jacket off the back of the chair and slinging it on hastily. “I’ve got somebody I’m supposed t’meet tonight anyway, so…” he shakes his head, trying to not let it get to him, but he lets everything get to him. He didn’t even take the bait Rue left out for him. Whatever’s on his mind has to be more impactful than a game of cards.

That wasn’t the expected reaction, and it has Rue’s brows lifting slowly. “Oh…kay,” she breathes out, relaxing her posture and lowering her hands. Surrender recanted. “Sounds like it’s not someone you’re excited to meet.” That has her worried. Sure, the list of people Dearing actually likes seems to be a short one, but this seems like more than a minor annoyance. This level of agitation seems worth investigating.

“You want a ridealong buddy? Some backup?” Rolling her shoulders, the redhead straightens up, frowning thoughtfully. “I obviously had nothing better to do than to play cards with you chucklefucks, so.” Rue flashes a grin. “Let’s go take care of business and then I can help you work out some of that tension. You can toss me around a bit.” That probably means sparring.


Dearing takes a couple paces away, then stops and angles a look over his shoulder at Rue, brows furrowed together. He almost says something, then stops and shakes his head. “Not tonight,” sounds unlike him. There’s a tension in Dearing that Rue isn’t sure she’s ever seen. Not when they were in Detroit scouting for Institute Remnant, not even when she first met him at the Ross Dam. Something’s under his skin.

“I’ve gotta…” Dearing trails off, scrubbing a hand at the back of his neck, “I’ve gotta work this one solo. I’ll swing by your place tomorrow. I’m off work anyway.” Which is a way to say he won’t even be back this way tonight. Dearing tries to smile, but it doesn’t come off as genuine at all. “We good?” He asks, looking for an escape route.

Dearing’s response does literally nothing to alleviate Rue’s worry. “We are,” she confirms and goes on to add, “I am,” then refutes with a lift of her eyebrows and a look that tells him he’s not wriggling out of this one as easily as he might like to. “You are clearly not.”

All the same, she holds her hands up once again in surrender. “Your business is your business, unless it becomes Wolfhound business. That’s the way. But… You’ve got me on your side if you need anything, okay?” The sentiment and the offer hang a moment before she makes a show of backing off a step. “You’ve got me spooked, Dearing. But I trust you to take care of whatever it is.” Just like she’d want him to do if their roles were reversed.

There’s a sourness in his expression, a look to the card table and then back to Rue. “S’olright,” he says dismissively, waving one hand in the air like he was dealing cards. “It’ll all sort itself out, y’know? Just got some personal business — side hustle — I’ve gotta take care of. We aren’t exactly rolling in work, even with that NYPD contract, y’know?”

Dearing takes a step back, glances at the door, then angles a look at Rue. “What’re you doing on the side, anyway? You’re keepin’ all sorts of weird hours lately.” She isn’t and that’s a weird thing for him to say. But it’s also an entirely Dearing deflection.

“Side hustle,” Rue repeats, eyebrows lifted. It follows, given things he’s said to her when they landed the NYPD contract in the first place. “You’re not wrong. New York’s been entirely too well behaved to make a living,” she jokes. She could say maybe she’s better with her money, but she certainly had more opportunity to earn more of it before he came along.

But the row of dead soldiers at her corner of the table isn’t enough to keep her from doing her job. Rue’s head tilts to one side quizzically, those brows coming now to knit together. “What? Just because I’ve kipped off now and again with—”

Mm. Rue catches herself just short of inviting a conversation with her lover about her other liaisons. That would be perhaps the opposite of fun even to begin with, and cruel to Dearing if she’s being generous. “No. No side gig,” she steers things back around. “You looking to recruit a new Mary Kay rep?”

“Yeah, delivering a smoky eye instead of a black eye these days,” is Dearing’s tongue-in-cheek way of deflecting from a real answer. “Anyway, if anybody’s looking for me tell ‘em to go fuck themselves, as per usual.” He adjusts the collar of his jacket and steps to the side entrance of the garage, propped open by a cinder block.

“Oh hey, side question…” Dearing asks, turning around slowly. “You remember that Sunstone op we did?” He jerks a thumb over his shoulder as if indicating the direction of the past. It’s a weird thing for him to bring up a year after the fact.

The snark earns a chuckle. “You’ve got the smoky eye down,” she confirms. “Winged liner could use some work, but that’s what you’ve got me for, right?” While he heads for the door, she starts to gather up the empties. She’ll make Francis play 52 pick-up.

When Dearing speaks up again, Rue lifts her head, inquisitive expression on her face. “Yeah,” she responds. The bottles clink in a dissonant chime as she loads them into the crook of her arm. Not only does she remember…

She dwells.

“What about it?”

“Nothing,” Dearing says after a moment of thought, “I just… I’ve been starting to wonder if we shot ourselves in the foot there.” He fiddles with a zipper on his jacket. “We haven’t exactly had a big payday since then, not like we used to. Fresh off the war we were rolling in money. This place was stocked, we had cleaners coming in every week to keep the place in top shape. Now Gitelman’s gone,” he gestures around, “we’re playing cards in the fucking garage because the wiring burned out in the lounge and Epstein hasn’t hired a fucking electrician yet.”

Dearing makes a face, dissatisfied. Frustrated. “This NYPD contract sucks. We’re splitting our hours driving five and a half fucking hours each way for weekly rotations and a quarter of the money we made busting bounties. I’m just not seeing a future in this, not like I used to. Epstein’s fine and all, but he doesn’t have a fucking lick of business sense. If this shit keeps up… I dunno how much longer I’m gonna hang around, is all.”

The sentiment is something of a test, and Rue can tell. Dearing’s fishing for her thoughts, looking to see if she sticks up for Avi or agrees with him. They’ve been down this road before, over less consequential things. Now, though, it’s about futures.

Rue's face remains passive while Dearing airs his concerns. Normally, this is where she would square her shoulders and defend Avi's decisions and leadership. Tonight, though… Tonight, she shrugs. "I don't know what's going on with him. You're right, though. It's pretty fucking clear we're in trouble, and he can't do this on his own."

Frowning, she steps forward a couple paces. "But he won't ask for help. So what are we supposed to do?" For once, it seems she might have one foot over the line into Team Dearing territory. "The NYPD contract is garbage. Best we could do is go help establish the wild frontier? But fuck that." Rue hates admitting this. Hates this feeling that she’s questioning Avi, especially when he’s not around to defend himself. “If you’ve got something better in mind, I’m all ears.”

“It’s like I used to say before I joined this operation,” Dearing notes with a noncommittal shrug, “when the world was on fire and being LAPD didn’t mean a fucking thing anymore.” He runs his hands through his hair, then offers a what can you do about it shrug to Rue. “Every man for his fuckin’ self.”

Dearing isn’t cut from the same stock as the rest of Wolfhound, he doesn’t have the history, these people aren’t his friends — not in the same way the old-timers are. He’s always been a mercenary and that he’s stuck around this long has been a testament to the financial leverage Wolfhound was able to offer. But now, as the money dries up and the opportunities thin…

“There’s other PMCs out there, ones operating overseas. Fuck, there’s ones operating out in the Dead Zone too, doing corporate espionage on whatever survived the EMP.” Dearing shifts his weight to one foot. “Whatever pays, it doesn’t matter. But you and me?” Dearing motions between himself and Rue. “We don’t do the same work. You want to pretend to be all tough and disconnected, but you aren’t. You’re a softie at heart and these assholes mean more to you than you’d admit.”

Dearing exhales a sigh and adds, “You don’t have the range I do.”

He’s struck a nerve. It wouldn’t be so darn effective if he wasn’t right.

Rue, true to the fashion she’s just been called out for, stands her ground and squares her jaw. Refuses to indulge in the desire to look away from him or soften around the edges and get retrospective or some utter fucking bullshit like that. “So then why are we having this conversation?”

Her gut churns once, because she suspects she knows the answer to this. “You’re one of the best operatives I’ve ever worked with, Dearing. Any outfit would be lucky to fucking have you.” She could rattle off a laundry list of reasons why this is true, but one thing Rue doesn’t suspect that James Dearing struggles with is confidence.

“My people mean something to me,” she admits without shame. “That’s what gives me motivation to do this job. It’s not the money or the fame…” A frustrated sound comes from the back of her throat. “If you’re leaving, then… Thanks for not blindsiding me with it. But you’re my people, so I hope you fucking stay.”

Now, she lets her gaze shift toward the ceiling. “We’re a good team, you and I. I won’t say it isn’t tempting to go somewhere else if you’re heading that direction. This… This isn’t what I signed up for some days.”

Dearing makes a noncommittal noise in the back of his throat. “I’m sure the folks who left you to drown in a drafty castle were your people at one point, too. Shit changes. People change.”

Scratching his neck, Dearing looks around the garage. “Look, there’s a couple of different opportunities out there is all I’m saying. Wolfhound’s nice, but it isn’t the be-all-end-all. There’s private gigs here in the city, lot of independently wealthy folks looking to move back in and stake a claim, and they want private security. Admittedly, they want people like me,” he says with a joking flex, “but you’ve got tenure on your side.”

“Outside of that,” Dearing exhales a sigh, “there’s always Durandal. They tried to poach me twice before, but I’m not skipping off to fight someone else’s fucking war in a desert. I joined the police to avoid that shit.”

"Always a bridesmaid, never an astronaut," Rue jokes irreverently while Dearing flexes. It allows her to play off the fact that he's right about what came before. The Ferry had been her people, and some still believe she never was one of theirs. In some ways, she never will be, for the reason he just laid out.

She knows she has talent. Knows she has skill. And worth. But she'll never have what he has. What anybody fucking else in the field for Wolfhound has.

"I fought my own war. Don't need anyone else's. Glad you didn't go for them." She smirks faintly, "Nobody's offering me a different gig, so…" So here she is. Maybe here she'll stay. "Why don't you look into SCOUT? You have the resume. Demsky would rec you."

Rue suspects she knows the answer to that. "Must be nice to be wanted and have options," she chuckles without the apparent bitterness that should be implied by that.

“Oh boo hoo, poor Rue isn’t having shit drop in her lap.” Dearing says making face cry-hands at his eyes.

Dearing shakes his head and makes his way to the garage door. “No interest in going on the books with the police again, I was a shitty cop, an even worse Lieutenant. I don’t think the current way the wind is blowing’s gonna be really great for the kind of police officer I used to be. Besides,” he looks back to Rue, “one of these days somebody’s gonna find out about the shit I did in LA, and it’ll be easier to roll with it here than under scrutiny like that.”

Boo hoo earns him a one finger salute and a roll of her eyes. "Please."

When she's about to make some ill-advised retort about how she clearly makes more money than him, or at least manages it better, he provides the answer to her question that… Doesn't surprise her. And he doesn't seem to expect her to be, either. "You aren't wrong about that." She's cagey about how much she actually knows, but he has to know someone like her did some digging.

It's literally her job. That she still has it while not being able to conjure fire or bench press a city bus means she must be doing something right. Or maybe he just suspects she's earned her position in other ways.

"We'll cross that bridge when someone actually manages to rebuild it." Rue shakes her head. "Every one of us was someone else before the war. All that matters to me is who you are now."

Dearing kicks his brows up and presses his lips into a thin line. His expression conveys intense whatever energy. He makes his way for the door out of the garage, a haphazard wave over his shoulder might have been how he dismisses his way out of the conversation. Except he pauses at the propped-open door and thinks on it a moment more, then looks back to Rue.

“I’m still figuring that part out,” Dearing says, before stepping into the night.

They have that much in common.

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