One Drink


avi2_icon.gif emily2_icon.gif

Scene Title One Drink
Synopsis Eventually you have to say goodbye.
Date January 22, 2021

There’s still a hint of light out still by the time Emily Epstein is headed home today.

Though the winter nights are long, there’s always a threshold where the light starts winning again.

Keys jingle in the lock, and the apartment is lit only by the dim shades of blue outside and the occasional splash of pale yellow from old street lights. Julie isn’t home, likely won’t be home for hours given that it’s a Friday night. As she shuts the door behind herself and maneuvers toward the light switch, Emily can feel the palpable sense of relief of coming home.

It was a long day at Fort Jay. Work-related conversations still toss and turn in her mind. Details of a domestic abuse case against an Expressive spouse, discussions with more senior agents about how those kinds of responses are handled jointly by the NYPD and SESA. So many protocols and procedures. So many details. It’s no surprise she’s been distracted enough to miss a few small ones before the light comes on.

Because someone is already in the apartment, sitting on the couch in the dark. Someone who only becomes visible once she turns on the light.

“Hey kiddo.” Her father.

Emily and Julie’s Apartment
Jackson Heights

January 22nd
6:56 pm

A scream wants at once to come. It's beaten down by an instinct to control her voice instead, a kneejerk reaction to weaponize it. She recoils back still, blue eyes wide and full of fear. By the time she reaches for her words, knives in them, she knows they're not needed. She sees who she sees. She knows who it is.

It doesn't help.

Emily doesn't know when exactly in her panic and fear that she produced the gun in her hand, just is suddenly aware it's there in her hand. Her chest heaves, but her arm is steady. Her trigger finger somehow has more sense than the rest of her had, holding off on lying on that dangerous nub of metal.

"What the fuck do you think you're doing?!" she shouts at him, elbow locked.

“Visiting my daughter.” Avi says without so much as a hitch, retrieving something that was hidden beside his body from Emily’s perspective. She recognizes it the moment he has it in his hand, but is only certain what it is once Avi sets it on the coffee table. It’s an old bottle of whiskey with a single glass’ worth left inside.

“Grab two glasses from the kitchen,” Avi says in a tired voice, slouching back against the couch. “Figure it’s time we have this talk, before it’s too late for either’f us.” Normally he isn’t sober when he gets like this, but he doesn’t seem drunk.

Now her arm begins to tremble, and she lowers her arm. Her shoulders are next, and she's shaking like a leaf before she knows it.

"You call ahead like a normal fucking person the next time you want to come over, do you hear me?"

Emily's eyes are wide, locked on his, or at least, what she can see of them. Her fear is visible, palpable, begging to be diminished— and he, feeling like he has the very real power to do that. But in exchange for that outburst, she hears him all too well. She feels—

Her eyes break off, tears blinked away. The gun is set down on the kitchen counter as she floats that direction wordlessly. She takes a deep breath in, hand closing into a fist. She holds it, willing herself to not cry.

Feelings have been hard lately. Harder than ever. Especially when it brings up memories how the surprise just now did.

Her forehead twitches as she tries to pull herself back from the panic. The bottle. Focus on the…

She remembers that bottle. It was old, nearly gone. It sat on her desk at home for nearly two weeks before she decided to be merciful and return it back to the drawer it'd been stolen from. Something had unsettled her about it, made her believe that… it just should be left the way it was. It had felt purposeful.

Did he figure out it was her, finally?

"What do you want, Dad?" comes from her just as tiredly as he'd spoken moments ago. She shuffles into the kitchen to open the cabinet with cups.

Avi’s silence is in ways telling. Slouched back against the sofa, he stares up at the ceiling. “Had a dream a couple of nights ago I was visiting your grave on your birthday,” he says casually. “My therapist said unresolved issues fucking whatever.”

His what?

“How much do you remember Tay?” Avi asks the ceiling, changing conversational gears without warning. He stares up, eyes unfocused.

They're physically far enough away he can't hear how her breath leaves her like she's been punched. Emily finds the glasses and snares two between the fingers of one hand with more purpose than before, pulling them down. If this is what he wanted to talk about, they might need more than that paltry pour that's left. She turns back to look his way before slowly letting her rest of her body follow.

Is she surprised to hear he has a therapist? No, she supposes. Is she surprised to hear him talk about having one?

Emily sets the glasses down on the coffee table, sitting not on the sofa but the worn-out old recliner next to it. So many things in this place were new, but that fucking recliner had followed them from Elmhurst on. Maybe Julie had kept it because for a while it was a piece of Emily to hold onto while she was physically absent. Now, though, it stayed anyway.

She's been silent all the while. Only after she sits does she volunteer in a voice closer to a rasp than she'd like, "I don't know."

Her mouth hardens into a line as she takes in a sharp breath through her nose to clear it, trying to work her way fully past the tears that still, for some reason, want to come. She chances only a glance at her father before looking at the glasses again. They're each eight-ounce things, far larger than prescribed for an alcohol of this kind, but it's what's available.

"I was so young, Dad. I remember him on a screen more than I remember him in person. Video calls home to let us know he was doing okay. I asked him all kinds of stupid shit— I don't even remember what. Stupid kid stuff."

"When he was coming home, if he had a bedtime." Emily looks at the bottle almost longingly. "Stupid shit."

It's so comparatively little. But she remembers.

Avi’s head bobs in wordless recognition while affording a brief look at Emily. “It was a long time ago,” he says quietly, then leans forward and picks up the bottle of whiskey by the neck. “You know, you get mad like he did,” is the most that Avi has ever talked about Emily’s late brother as far back as she can remember.

“He’d slip out at night when he was younger than you. I’d slip in his room while he was out, wait in the dark for him to come home, and we’d have a little dust up.” Avi twists the stopper at the neck of the bottle until the cork plonks out. “He was a big kid. Wasn’t long before he thought to take a swing at me. Got me good a couple times, too.”

Avi pours half of the whiskey that’s left in the bottle in each glass, then sets the empty bottle down on the table. “He knocked out one of my teeth the last time we had a fight. Put me down good. I think that’s what changed everything. He realized he was stronger than his father.” Picking up his glass, Avi looks over to Emily. “Few weeks later, on my birthday, he got me this bottle of whiskey as a peace-offering.”

Sitting back with the glass cradled in both hands, Avi looks down into it and sighs. “He left for Afghanistan a few months later. We were going to share the last of the bottle when he got home.”

People process their grief different ways, but Emily and her father are more similar than she wants to admit. She's known about the bottle and its significance for all of two minutes. With a vacant expression, she can't bring herself to touch the glass she's been poured.

Her jaw works in silence, her hands coming to clasp between her knees in her lap. She slouches over until her elbows are on her thighs, head bowed, eyes closed.

Of all the shit she would've expected to hear about, much less talk about.

When she sits better upright, Emily thumbs the side of her eye. Her hands don't know what to do with themselves after, her eyes away from Avi and then back to him.

"Why now?" she asks of the drink being poured, because she can't think of anything else remotely productive to say. If this is therapy in a sense, then she feels obligated to do more than shut down. No matter how unfair it is to her in that process…

She glimpsed his pain for just a moment. Later, she might be angry again. For now, she lets him have this.

“Bottle disappears one day, I panic. It’s like I lost him again, you know.” Avi’s tone is conversational, his affect distant, as if he were talking about something that happened a decade ago. “Bottle shows back up on my birthday — his birthday.” It’s only then that Avi’s voice tightens, shows a hint of the emotion he’s experiencing. “Nobody snitched on you…” he adds, “I’m not mad. I just think it’s time.”

Avi rolls his wrist around, watching the whiskey swirl at the bottom of his glass. “You never really had a chance t’mourn him. Hell, t’even know him. I’ve been holdin’ on to this bottle for fucking decades. Carrying it around from one warzone to another like my fucking life depended on it.” Slowly, Avi looks over at Emily. “I wanted t’say goodbye. I wanted us t’say goodbye.” The monumental effort this is taking feels almost unreal. It is the single-most vulnerable moment Avi has ever exposed to Emily while sober.

“Figured… if you had questions. If you wanted t’know anything…” Avi fails to find purchase on an end to that sentence that satisfied him. “Or we could just drink in silence.”

When you're that young, there's so much you don't know about the people who should be close you. Like their birthdays. Like her father's. Like Taylor's.

"I remember him talking to Mom once," she says tersely as she leans forward slowly to pick up the glass. "About you. He asked about you. She— answered." Her eyes roll under their lids with a small shake of her head. They can both imagine the type of answer she gave. "He…"

"He, uh…"

Her eyes are watering again, and she has to take a breath to ease the tightness in my throat. The whiskey in her glass trembles for a moment. "You fucking broke into my house, you crazy person," she laughs softly down into her lap, seguing away from her story with no warning. "Again."

And back again, just as abruptly.

"He didn't believe her exactly, but he said he wished you'd show up for us. Be there. I don't know if he was worried I'd turn out like him or…" Her shoulders lift in a shrug and she looks more intently down at her drink. "I don't know. I dunno if anyone ever expected me to get this far. Not after… everything. Not after last year."

Emily starts to lift the glass but can't manage it, too upset to. "I don't know what I'm going to do when the anniversary rolls around," she admits. It's so close now she could blink.

She doesn't know what to ask. She's stalling. Rambling. Hell, she'd have more to ask about Nathalie than Taylor.

But they're only burying one of Emily's siblings today.

"When did you know you wanted to stay? When you found Mom again?" she asks abruptly. She still can't look up. "Was it Tay?"

“It was a lot of things,” is typical Avi deflection. Remarkably, he recognizes it. There’s nothing typical about that reaction. “Tay was a part of it. A big one. You were too. I… I really, always did want to be a better part of your life. I just never knew how. I mean, I got into fistfights with my fucking son.”

Avi closes his eyes and hangs his head, sweeping one hand from forehead to the back of his neck. “I don’t know what a functional parent looks like, Em. Roy was the closest I ever had, but I was a fucking adult by the time he came into my life. I don’t— I never knew how t’raise a family. And before I knew it I didn’t have a fucking family to raise.”

With eyes fixed on the untouched whiskey in his glass, Avi grows silent for a time. There’s storms behind his eyes, but for once that’s as far as they go.

Drinking in silence and sitting in silence are an awful lot alike. After one too many moments of it pass, Emily decides she likes neither.

"I love you," she offers up abruptly. She even looks his way. "You're fucking insufferable because you have this terrible habit of leaving even when you show up, but I do love you. You've…" A faint breath of laughter sighs from her nose. "You never held back with me. You were always honest, or at least, I believed you were. I felt like I could ask you anything, when you were there."

"That was what I needed most growing up. I didn't know what was going on with me. Nobody would give me a straight fucking answer what was wrong with me, what was happening to me, but you— you were fucking honest. You broke it down in ways Mom was— I don't know— afraid to, then. Like she wanted to let me be normal as long as possible, when…"

Emily casts one hand in a melodramatic overgesture at the rest of the apartment to indicate literally everything else.

She was Avi Epstein and Rachel Raith's daughter. She was never going to be normal.

"It's easy to say things like it's been a decade and a half and rose-colored lenses or that if you had been there, maybe there'd have been more opportunity to fuck up, but…" Emily holds onto her drink a little more tightly. "Also have to give credit where credit's due."

It’s hard to tell how much Avi is listening from his impassive expression. His attention remains fixed on the whiskey in his glass, the last real tangible piece of his son he has left. “I wish a lot of things…” Avi finally says, swallowing loudly between sentences. “But that won’t change anything. I gotta focus on shit that isn’t broken beyond repair.”

Avi finally stops rolling the whiskey glass around, but he doesn’t dare lift it yet. It’s as though the glass weighs hundreds of pounds and the thought of drinking it requires such herculean effort. When Avi finally looks over to Emily, it’s with a softer expression than earlier. “I love you too, y’know. M’sorry if I ever leave that in doubt. I don’t think I’ve ever known how to actually… show that to anyone.”

He turns away, looking back to the glass. “I just don’t want you to turn out like me. I want you to be happy. To…” Avi remembers something, and his jaw tenses for a moment. “I want you to love, to be able to trust.” His fingers tighten around his glass.

Emily's eyes narrow with the force of keeping tears inside her eyes where they belong. "Trust got me a whole lot of nowhere," she says aloud in a whisper, like speaking the cynicism too loudly will doom her to pessimism for the rest of her life. Somehow, after everything she's been through, she still doesn't want that for herself.

"People pass these comments like you're so bright, but it doesn't mean shit if you're not smart," she feels. "I have this great big brain or whatever going for me, and I couldn't see the forest for the trees. I couldn't see the threat right in front of me until it was too fucking late. I trusted all the wrong people and let my heart get the better of me."

"I tried, in the end, to use my ability on her. To make her stop. To let me go. And now my ability— it's—"

Shaking her head, Emily nearly downs the bit of whiskey she has before she remembers its importance. She settles it back down on her knee, throat working. "For now, I'm just trying to be stubborn enough to survive. To keep going." With a rough shake of one shoulder that wants to be a shrug, she says, "See how that works out for me, maybe."

She looks back over to Avi with a faint pass of a smile. "If you're any indication, I've got a long road ahead of me yet. No matter if I have to be dragged down it kicking and screaming."

Avi swallows audibly, looking down into his glass. His jaw works from side to side, his better judgment battles with newfound instincts that revolt and confuse him. He looks side-eyed at Emily, opening his mouth to say something and then not. His eyes wander the unfamiliar apartment he’s invited himself into. The silence between them becomes comforting, until it suddenly feels overwhelming.

“Back in…” Avi starts to say, then hesitates. “Last year. When… ah. When we went on that Op to California. Wolfhound.” His sentence is clipped apart and haphazardly formed. “Devon…” Avi trails off again, looking down into the whiskey. “How… how much have you two— talked. Like really talked?” Avi looks up to Emily. “About— about everything he went through?”

Emily waits until he gets it all out, at least. She doesn't look at him now, speaking slow. "If Devon and I have anything to talk about, that's between him and I," she points out in a way that sounds like a warning. "But the thing that's made our relationship work is we don't go picking and prying at each other until everything we don't want to say or deal with is exposed."

He'd made the mistake once before of trying to force her to do just that and it had cost him.

"We bring it up on our own, whether it's because it's too much to handle and we need each other, or because we're finally ready." Now she glances back toward her father. "It's the only thing that makes having so much luggage between us any kind of bearable."

But she pauses anyway. Considers. "Was it bad?" she asks warily. "I … saw an aerial shot of what happened to Praxia. How it…" The look in her eyes change as she starts thinking. Her words slow, the rest of them coming out on a delay.

"… fell in on itself."

They're the catalyst she needs to look back toward him with sudden urgency. How could she have been so stupid and wrapped up in her own business until now? Why hadn't she asked about this further? She knew— she knew the other Devon was almost certainly being held at Praxia.

It's clear she wants to ask. But she pulls herself back from the edge with a quieter voice, one that's filled with uncertainty. "I'll… talk with him. See if he's willing to tell me about it."

“It—was bad.” Avi’s words slip awkwardly out of his mouth. “Don’t. Talk to him about it, I mean. I shouldn’t have brought it up, I just…” Felt guilty remains unsaid, those words are too powerful for this moment. Too truthful. After everything else Emily had said, was truth the right choice here? Or was the lie so terrible, so massive that he had no other choice but to live it.

Avi shakes his head, looking over to Emily and slowly lifts his glass up toward her. “I’m trying to be less shitty, but… it’s going to be a long road.” His stomach twists into knots. “Please don’t let that look too bad on my annual performance review,” is said with a crooked smile. A mask for the discomfort.

Emily manages a smile for his sake in return. He's still shit at certain things, but she can see he's trying. "You've still got some black marks to come back from," she warns him quietly. "But you're making progress."

"I'll try to go easier on you. If not for my sake, then for Tay's. He'd… not want to see me run you off while you're trying. He'd want us to be a family."

Maybe she's wrong. Maybe his feelings would be more complicated than that. Most likely, were he alive, they would be. But she's not got that insight. She'll work with what she only hopes the case would be.

Emily lifts her glass to tilt back her first sip of the whiskey, the scent of it cloying strongly in her nose and the taste of it stinging her tongue and throat. Try as she might to keep a straight face, a muted cough leaves her when she sets what remains of the pour down on her knee again, head shivering on her shoulders for a moment.

"Holy fuck, is this what I have to look forward to when I try the bottle you got me?" She coughs lightly against the inside of her wrist before letting out a different, stranger noise.

A laugh, small and brief.

“Nah,” Avi says with amusement, a catch-all for everything she’d said. The silence that follows carries the weight of understanding, but also unspoken acceptance. He’d try harder, and she’d go easy on him. His stomach twists again thinking about that. But in the end, Avi brings it back to the whiskey.

“I bought you good booze.” Avi explains, lifting his glass. “Your brother would drink toilet water.” To which Avi raises his glass in a toast, then tips back his first last sip.

To Taylor.

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