Mineshaft III


avi_icon.gif nick_icon.gif

Scene Title Mineshaft III
Synopsis After a harrowing encounter with Eileen Ruskin, Nick comes to terms with Avi's deception.
Date July 13, 2018

Rochester, West Downtown

The bar is the sort where the music’s loud and tinny and the lighting dim, mostly coming from strands of old, mismatched Christmas lights strung along the walls. It’s hard to see the face of the person across let alone someone at another table — which makes it a good place to meet and talk in private, while in public.

Nick’s at a table in the back corner where he can see both exits and no one can sneak up behind him. He’s had quite enough of that, thank you. A glass of whiskey sits in front of him, though it’s not his first. He stares into its amber liquor as if there were answers written on the bottom of the glass to the dozens of questions flurrying in his mind.

Unfortunately, there answers aren’t that easy to come by.

The intrusion of evening light through the door into the bar is unwelcomed by everyone in its path. Heads turn to the tall man in the doorway, shooting accusing glances that reflect off of his aviator sunglasses. It's too dark for them now, he doesn't much care.

Avi Epstein shuts the door behind himself and ambles through the bar. No one but Nick recognizes him, everyone sees that he's open carrying on his hip. No one criticizes his entrance, or the stiff and limping gait he carries himself with.

Ruskin,” might as well be motherfucker with the way the surname is delivered when Avi reaches the table. Pulling out a chair, Avi settles in slowly and keeps his bad leg extended. He says nothing else, just reflects Nick’s face in the lenses of his sunglasses.

Nick’s blue-eyed gaze rises at the sound of the door, before dropping again to contemplate the inner secrets of his Jameson. His brows draw together as he hears Avi move closer and then sit across from him, and it’s a long, tense moment before he looks up.

“She has the kid,” he says flatly. “I need to find Gabriel.” Lifting a glass, he takes a swallow, before speaking again.

“I don’t understand what the hell is going on, but the kid comes first. And she’s not here, if you think it’s another trap. Can’t promise I’m not being watched but I haven’t seen a bird in this bar, so that’s that.” Nick glances up, but the bar’s low ceilings have no rafters for a bird to hide in.

Avi closes his eyes, fingers pinched at the bridge of his nose and jaw set. He’s silent for a long time, ignoring the elephant in the room to ask, “What the fuck is that thing? A clone?” He says that with the earnesty of a man who has dealt with his fair share of shapeshifting clones. “Because if this is fucking Sylar again, I’m going to start fucking shooting people at random just to be safe.”

For all that he jokes, there’s a fearful part of Avi that worries his life has become one drawn-out parody. “Seriously though, what the fuck is she? Because we watched her die, Nick. Eileen is dead and gone,” that much emphasized in vague recognition of the proverbial elephant. “I need to know what the fuck is going on.”

She’s not Sylar. Nick shakes his head, and there’s a long moment where it’s only too obvious he’s weighing what to say.

And what to keep back.

“Not dead. Not completely, and you knew that,” he states flatly, eyes narrowed and shadowed by furrowed brow. There’s hurt in them. Accusation. Apology. Nick Ruskin rarely wears one emotion at a time.

“She’s from a parallel dimension or something like that, from what I can gather. It’s how Danko and Ramirez are here too. Lang. None of them should be walking around and yet they’re here, and they’re not quite the same people we know. Her history’s different. You weren’t someone she trusted.” Nick’s hand moves by long forgotten habit to the inner pocket of his leather jacket, where he used to keep cigarettes, then falls back empty on the table.

Behind his sunglasses Avi slowly blinks a single time, then takes the sunglasses off — revealing a black eye — and rests his head in his hands. After a moment he breathes in deeply and then exhales a sigh. “Whatever that fucking zombie told, the kid isn't your sister. Not even in part, not even kind of. She's a child who read the most detailed book on your sister’s life she ever could.”

It's reductionist, but it's the way Avi sees it. “Sometimes— she'll say or do something but it's— it's fucking shadow puppets, Nick. It's her ability. We mourned Eileen, and she's gone. This is just a fucking kid who deserves to have her own fucking life, not…”

Avi hesitates, then slouches forward and drags his fingers through his hair. “Not what she wound up getting…”

“Fuck that, Avi,” Nick growls, leaning forward. He looks like he might want to give Epstein a second black eye to match the first.

“Her consciousness is in that kid, and you fucking know it. Her body died — her… I don’t want to call it her spirit or soul or whatever metaphysical bullshit but it’s there. And you know it, yeah?”

He leans back, fingers twitching a couple of times against the glass, before he wraps his hand around it. “I figure we’re even, between you hiding that from me and me being used as fucking bait, so I’ll let that pass. We agree that the kid deserves better. I promised Sibyl I’d help her. She wants me to find Gabriel so maybe there’s something he can do.” He doesn’t sound particularly hopeful.

The flash of anger seems to have wearied the younger man. “I don’t suppose you have any idea where he’s at these days? He wasn’t a war criminal so I doubt Wolfhound’s been keeping tabs, but…” he shrugs a shoulder, eyes sliding away again.

Avi smolders, voice tense and struggling not to raise it. “It's a fucking echo. A— a— a fucking after-image burned in a television. Don't let your fucking grief trick you into believing that she's still here because she's gone and she's not coming back.” In all their years together, Nick has never seen Avi truly emotionally compromised. He is now.

“We let Gabriel go in the wind,” Avi just trampled over his own words, trying to backpedal away from the previous outburst. “I don't even know if he's fucking alive anymore. The last time anyone saw him was on the river at Pollepel, and he went in the direction of the island when folks were fleeing.” Wearily, he adds, “Honestly, he doesn't deserve this bullshit anymore than the kid does.”

Nick’s eyes return to Avi’s face and he shakes his head, hand reaching up to shove through his dark hair in that nervous tic that gives him away. “Whatever makes you feel better, old man,” he says. “Whatever it is, it means that the other one is willing to kill the kid if it stays.”

He leans forward again, resting on his elbows, fingers moving to cap either elbow. He lowers his head, his glare intent on Avi’s gaze. “I fucking know she died, but she compared it to Kazimir’s ability. She said it went from the birds to the kid, and it feels true. I don’t want it to be. Not that I don’t want her to be alive, but this half life is no fucking life, and it’s not fair to either of them.”

There’s a beat, pregnant with deliberation, more weighing of the scales on what to say, what not to say. “The other one. Two-point-oh. She has Kazimir’s ability. Don’t let her fucking touch you,” he finally says. “Think I have a very small window of opportunity to try to save the kid somehow.”

His eyes drop, once more looking into that glass of amber. “I can let her go if I need to. Sibyl’s the priority.” His voice is strained, and he glances away, before reaching for the glass to drain the rest of its contents.

"How," is Avi's rhetorical question to Nick. How after all this time did Kazimir Volken find his way back, find a doppelgänger of Eileen Ruskin, How is any of that possible? those questions play out on Abi's shocked and horrified face, which simmers down to silent, smoldering fury. "He… he fucking…" Avi swallows his words, he'll have enough of them for Francois later. That's the only person who's input he cares about on the topic of Kazimir Volken now.

Silent for a while, Avi slouches back in his chair and scrubs one hand over his mouth. There's a lot of things he could say to Nick, but all of them are complicated and not mission-focused. “I know somebody who might know where Gabriel is. I was planning on seeing him soon, because of all this fuck-all nonsense happening.”

Slowly sitting up, Avi watches Nick for a moment and then just looks down at the table. “Cardinal— Ray. Whatever the fuck he's calling himself now. If anybody knows some stupid piece of trivia, he might. Otherwise, I’m at a total fucking loss. Gabriel didn't exactly keep a wide circle of friends.”

Nick lets the glass slide back on the table, leaning back and watching Avi, almost a mirror image in posture and tension. When Epstein speaks again, Nick nods his head in appreciation.

“Ray, yeah. I’ll tell Kaylee to ask him. She and I are working on this together — sort of. She’s pretty intent on saving whatever’s left-” his voice breaks on the last syllable and he looks away again.

It’s a moment before he speaks again.

“I just want her to be at peace, Avi.” The words come in a low voice, not much more than a whisper. “I want to help the kid and free … whatever it is. Echo. Awareness. I don’t know. The other one doesn’t belong here, I know that, but I won’t…” he stops and shrugs. “She’s still my sister. You know?”

Nick closes his eyes. “I’m sorry.” Even if he considers them even, the peace offering is made.

Nick,” Avi’s brows furrow and he looks down to the table, but whatever was going to come after that invective invocation of his name is lost behind Epstein’s teeth. “I'm sorry too…” is something most people don't get to hear Epstein say aloud. It's usually reserved for too-late utterances over friends’ graces.

He's trying to be better about that.

“The thing wearing your sister’s face isn't her. You know how Volken works. That's… just a mask. It wasn't different with Gabriel, it wasn't different with Petrelli. Whether we can… I don't know, exorcise the thing from her, that's another story. But…”

Avi raises his hands in a helpless shrug. Then, silent for a moment, he circles back to his guilt. “M’sorry I kept the kid from you. I… I found her in an orphanage in the Safe Zone. An MP tipped me off about an Evo kid that was going to get snatched up. I never would've imagined she was…”


Avi doesn't say it. Instead, he just shakes his head and closes his one good eye. “Somebody’s looking for her. Might've been Volken.” He refuses to call her Eileen. “Sent a federal agent after her — SESA — the guy I got thrown in prison over. I don't know what the fuck’s going on. But this isn't what I wanted.”

Both hands come up this time to drag over face and through Nick’s dark hair, leaving it even more unkempt and it tends to be. “I know,” he says quietly, when Avi apologizes. All the anger — at least all of the anger that was directed at his friend and mentor — has seeped out of him, making him look even more tired and battered than he was before.

“Eileen’s still in there. In both of them,” he says, firmly. “And still my sister. I owe it to her to try to help her. Or at least not put a bullet in her head. So I’d appreciate it if you redirect any attempts to…” his hand comes up to gesture vaguely.

“Fuck, even if it is Volken. I owe him, too.”

It’s a strange thing to say. Nick’s fingers twitch again, and he sighs. “You have cigarettes on you?” He hasn’t smoked in years.

Epstein can’t looks up from the table for a while, but he still answers in the affirmative. “Yeah, here,” and reaches into his back pocket, producing a somewhat crushed package of cigarettes with a lighter tucked inside — the only thing keeping it from being crushed flat — and slides it across the table to Nick. There’s two bent cigarettes left inside.

“I guess I owe Volken a thing or two,” Avi admits in a quiet tone of voice, nearly lost over the bar’s god-awful music. “I’ve… got a thing in a few days. Wolfhound’s pulling a huge mission for the US Government, probably going to keep me busy for a few weeks with lead up and wind-down.” Finally, Avi regards Nick over the frames of his glasses with his one good eye.

“You’ll tell me if you find her, right?” The her in Avi’s sentence being Sibyl. He reserves proper personhood for those who aren’t among the recently reanimated.

Nick takes the pack, shaking out one of the two remaining cigarettes, bringing the warped stick to his mouth, lighting it deftly as if he hadn’t stopped smoking years ago — after his own run-in with Volken, even deeper in the past. His eyes close with the first long drag of the thing — an addict’s homecoming.

He pushes boht lighter and pack back to Avi, nodding at the other man’s mention of the mission. It’s probably better he can’t help — at least for the Eileen Avi fails to recognize as a person.

“Yeah.” That single, hard syllable is a weighty one, laden with the promise. He rises from his seat, tossing a few bills on the table to pay for the drink, and sets a hand on Avi’s shoulder. “Be careful, yeah? I don’t want to worry about you, too.”

Slowly rising from his seat, Avi shoots Nick a sidelong look and then grimaces. “I’m to old to be careful anymore,” is said with a half-hearted smirk. “So… take your own advice, Ruskin.” Avi pushes his chair in and looks toward the entrance of the bar, then back again.

“I’ve buried enough family already.”

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