avi_icon.gif francois_icon.gif

Scene Title Salt/Wounds
Synopsis In Hana's absence, Avi and Francois step up and work together as Wolfhound's leaders.
Date May 29, 2019

“Yeah it's basically a done deal.”

Voices carry inside the cavernous interior of what was once a police precinct at the turn of the 20th century. Avi Epstein’s deep voice and his lack of care for who overhears him even moreso.

“Officially June 3rd, but we picked up a security gig for the World’s Fair before that t’pad the budget.”

Duffel bag carried in one hand, Epstein walls with a confident and even stride through the brick-walled halls, shoes loudly clapping against the concrete floors. He stops by a ground-floor office, phone held up to his ear with his other hand, and looks at the short row of desks inside.

“Well, I mean, we have a fucking jet. That thing drinks money.”

The small number of desks weighs on him. But Avi breaks away, headed for the green-painted stairs, ascending the clanking metal steps with a brisk pace. When he reaches the second floor, Avi can't help but smile when he sees the brown paper wrapping covering the office door at the top of the stairs.

“I gotta call you back, I need to unwrap a present to myself.”

Epstein walks over to the door, setting down his duffel bag with a whump, then reaches up to pick at a corner of the paper.

“You too, Rachel.”

The paper tears sharply

One Hour Later

Major Epstein’s Office

The Bastion

Phoenix Heights, NYC Safe Zone

May 29th


“Honestly? What surprises me the most is how little shit’s collapsed without her.”

Feet up on his desk, kicked back in his reclining chair, Avi Epstein looks at home behind the repurposed oak desk sitting in his round tower office. The solitary window to the outside shows an urban panorama of Phoenix Heights, mostly rows of residential buildings and bodegas. His desk hasn't had a chance to get cluttered yet, save for a photograph of Emily from when she was only ten years old.

His focus isn't on sentimentality or the view, however, but the silhouette of his recently promoted peer, Major Francois Allegre. Avi motions from where Francois stands in the doorway to one of the low-backed leather chairs on the opposite side of his desk. “I'd still like to know what the fuck happened with her,” Hana. Their evaporated and ostensible leader. “But she'd set stuff up pretty well for us to run without her direct supervision…”

In his lap, Avi plays with a busted toy of sun-bleached plastic. It looks like it might be a wind up robot, the kind that would walk all on its own or maybe shoot sparks out of its mouth. A six inch scale model of a very real threat in this day and age. Except the robots Praxis Heavy Industries builds don't need winding.

"Almost as if by design."

Francois detaches from where he'd hung off the doorframe, moving into the office proper. Everything smells of raw stone and paint and cleaning agent, which is not in itself unpleasant, just. Empty. There is room for their voices and foot falls to carry in a different kind of acoustic to the wider spaces of the Bunker.

He shifts the chair to a more comfortable angle and sits, spine curled comfortably, slouchily forward. And by the way, there'd been no implication of conspiracy in Francois' tone — he does not believe that Hana Gitelman always orchestrated her vanishment. His voice is more fondly resigned to the fact that the Major would prepare for any eventuality, including the hellish nightmare in which they have been left alone in charge.

It's not that bad.

"What's that," he says, a nod towards the toy that Avi is occupying himself with, and multitasks too by reaching for the picture frame to angle it around and see the photo being depicted, head tilting.

“It’s some trash,” Avi says, responding to nearly anything Francois had said. Though he means the beat-up plastic robot. With a click-click-click, Avi winds it up and sets it down on his desk. “Found it on Brighton Beach when I went for a walk…” He lets the little robot go, and with a whirring noise it ambles across the desk drunkenly. “Used to be a place you could get fried dough and hot dogs out there, right under the Ferris wheel. That hurricane during the war flattened it to fuck.” The little robot wobbles, tips over with a clack of plastic on wood, and kicks about helplessly until it winds all the way down to stillness.

Sighing, Avi slouches back in his chair. “It’s hard t’find good hot dogs these days,” is the most mundane and pointless thing that’s come out of his mouth in days. “Hey, back when you were workin’ miracles,” Avi suddenly changes the topic, “did you ever get fucked up?” He squints. “I mean, like, proper fucked up. Lost a hand or something? Could you fix your own shit?” His reasoning behind wondering is likely dubious. He is an Epstein, after all. They are nothing if not dubious.

Francois puts the picture frame back in its place.

"Non," he says. "Not that badly, in terms of maiming. Almost, once, though, with frostbite." It would be easy to imagine hysterical violence checkboarding Francois' history, but his overwhelming memories of his past paint a panorama of hardship — exposure, starvation, beatings, survival, with little glimmers of the heroism that gets attributed to him. It had been a task, not to make Victors entirely miserable. But this diversion down memory lane barely goes a few steps before he redirects focus back to Epstein.

Now, Francois' hands creep over to the robot, but only to set it back on its feet. "There was a great cost in the healing. If I lost a hand, I think, back then, I'd have done more injury to myself to bring it back. Slipped into a coma, brain damage, months of recovery. Or perhaps I'd have just died, if I'd lacked the reserves to compensate.

"I haven't seen how different it is," he adds, "for Nathalie."

Her name makes Avi shrink back in his seat, eyes downcast to the surface of his desk. He shifts his posture, legs hooking under his chair, scooting forward and looking up at Francois more intently. “Did you ever heal someone… wrong?” The tone in Avi’s voice isn’t one Francois is immediately familiar with, in and of the fact that personal conversations between the two had been kept to a minimum during the war and well after. But eventually Francois recognizes it for what it is. It’s fear.

“I’ve got this…” Avi stumbles over false starts and nervous falters, “uh… I’ve been having some fucking issues. Ever since I got healed,” no need to name names, “it’s been fucking impossible. I almost fell up a fucking flight of stairs when I got my eye back, but I’ve been… Sleep is basically impossible without medication. When I’m awake I feel fucking manic, just— it’s wild highs and incredible lows, sometimes in the same day. I feel like I’m vibrating apart at the seams.”

This isn’t a conversation Avi signed up for. But he’s managing it because somewhere in that thin thread of hope, Avi feels Francois might have encountered something like this before.

Francois' expression already gives it away: nothing is particularly familiar about what Avi is saying to him.

But he is also thinking about it, and isn't quick to speak. Concern is written into the lines of his expression and he stops fucking around with Avi's desk decor, hands folding against the edge of the desk. "When Nathalie told me she held both conduits inside of her," he says, and seems to stop, thinking, restart. "I used to think it was a godly thing, the healing. I didn't know about superheroes and villains, I just knew that I had been given something for a purpose, and so it felt like something holy. In time, I was disabused of that notion.

"But when she said she wielded both, I felt something a little like I did back then. That something divine existed and walked the earth, and it was the merging of these two powers. I told her she was a guardian." His fingers splay, as if to dismiss his own moment of ecstatic insanity. Not what he's getting at. "I don't know what it means, really. What it means for you, to be touched by this ability now. But I know it must still have its limits. That it can bring back flesh, but not spirit."

His mouth skews sympathetic. "Perhaps it has done something to you, something wrong. I think perhaps, though, you are recovering. Injuries— alter. You lived with yours for a long time." He pauses, there, attention inquiring.

“Would've been ten years in December, with the eye…” Avi says quietly. “The knee, right in November. The miscellaneous bullshit around those who the fuck even knows anymore. I got knocked around more times than a prize fighter and I'm pretty sure I had fucking brain damage by the time Pollepel went down.” Avi looks down at his hands, then up to Francois. “I feel like a different person now. I feel better than I have in fucking years and it…” he looks away, stare furtive and words nearly as much. “I feel like a different person.”

Avi looks back up to Francois, shaking his head in that he can't believe he's somehow launched into this conversation. “Sometimes I look in the mirror and I don't even fucking recognize myself. I keep getting disoriented, angry…” he stops himself because he realizes how it sounds. “Maybe you're right. Maybe I just need to readjust. Part of me just…” He sighs, shaking his head again.

“I gave you the top floor tower office,” Avi suddenly changes the topic. “Because I hated stairs. I guess that's moot now.”

"You should speak to someone," Francois says, disregarding the change of topic, and after realising for three seconds he wasn't going to suggest such a thing due to— something, something about it not being his place, or perceptions of machismo, or seeming like he is deflecting his capacity to help, a lot of silly bullshit, really, that he almost aggressively shoves aside. He has enough weird masculinist emotional repression problems in his own marriage, let alone a working partnership — and from himself, no less.

Because Avi seems more able and willing to display vulnerability than himself or Teodoro put together, which is kind of embarrassing, for them. "You are a different man. We are different men, when we go through something that changes us. You can speak to me anytime, but a professional would likely do you a better service, as a doctor would for wounds. Wounds are what Berlin has taken care of, but unfortunately, she can't get to everything."

He knows, very profoundly, the limits of what is otherwise an awesome power. Also, I guess he's going going to wheelbarrow every Wolfhound member to therapy, this year.

"And oui, I noticed. Please do not think all our meetings will be taking place here, as a result."

The noncommittal noise Avi makes in the back of his throat is equally as dismissive as it is reflective. He steals a quick glance of Francois before looking down into his lap while shaking his head. Everything Francois has said makes sense in that frustrating way he used to attribute to Eileen before history happened to her. But he has even less ground to stand on when it comes to dismissing Francois. He could make up any number of excuses to push Eileen’s advice away, but in as much as Francois has let anyone on Wolfhound in, he's spotless.

That's how Avi knows, or at least pessimistically presumes, that he isn't. Spotless. He just has nothing but jaded internal logic to base that on. But it's never stopped him before. He's an Epstein.

“Monroe.” That's how Avi tries to steer everything away from himself again. “This shit is clearly something we need to deal with.” Rather than his own mental health. “Even Hana thought so before she flipped the fuck off the edge of the world. She'd started to pull together what info we have on him, and I think we should double down. We don't need our full roster, even with all the retirements, on the SWAT contract full time…”

Avi rises up from his chair and rakes his fingers through his hair. “We need people looking for Monroe, because the longer we let that cancerous little twat keep spreading, the sooner… uh… that one got away from me. Whatever, fuck him and I want us doing the pushing.”

Francois lets it go — he could stress that the mental health of a commander in charge of the wellbeing of others is deserving of priority, but he thinks they are not totally dissimilar, in some ways. One of those ways being the necessariness for an idea to seed and take root.

The matter is tabled, for now.

He sits back out of his slouch as Epstein sets the agenda, watches him as he stands, allows a quick smile at Epsteinisms as they emerge. "He will know we are after him now. If he knew of Devon, he will know every other name and face associated with Devon. The silver lining being that we do not have to be so secret in our efforts — it is probably better to appear predictable, if he has any means of watching our movements. He will expect us to interview the Institute captures. He will expect us to try to dig up the past.

"I don't suppose he would think that Wolfhound could be bought, would he?" Francois opens his hands. "He obviously has resources. Money. If our government affiliations would make us an undesirable prospect, he has still left a trail of finances and personnel, we just need to find it and bait it somehow."

“That'd be easier with Hana,” Avi begrudgingly admits, “but we’re more likely to get her to use a single emoji than lend a hand there. So…” He doesn't have an immediate answer, instead exhaling a steady sigh through his nose as he turns to look out one of the tower windows.

“Maybe this is good. Maybe not having an attack dog like Gitelman at the helm could lend some credence to the idea. But we've been sticking our thumb pretty far up his ass if he's as tight with the Institute remnant as it seemed.” Avi rests one arm on the window frame, looking down to the street below. “I talked to Huruma, given that she and Monroe used to run together. Apparently she hasn't seen him since before the war, and I'm willing to believe her on that. She's never done us dirty before. Or ever, really.”

Avi turns, putting the window at his back as he leans against the frame and crosses his arms over his chest. “She said we should consider talking to your boy Curtis. He ran with Monroe’s crew around the time Arthur Petrelli was still a solid rather than a liquid. Devon said they'd alluded to spies, and… I'm just fucking grasping at shadows here now. But I sure as fuck don't think we should put him or Huruma on Adam’s trail. Too much history, right?” He doesn't sound sure of himself.

Linking his hands behind his head, Francois listens, head tipped a little in concession at exactly how much name taking they've been doing in Adam's alleged territory already. "I'll have a better idea of that credibility when Rue and I get in a room with the captures," he says. "I suspect it will be a cold trail, but one we'd be remiss in not pursuing it. Like you say, Hana's departure might make us seem like a group of renegades without purpose, in need of a contract."

He smiles. Fun joke.

"And we have the advantage of having people he once ran with. Huruma and Curtis shouldn't be burdened with exploiting their history — not alone, anyway — but I would trust Huruma with baiting a connection." She plays as subtler hand than most of the other hounds, never mind Curtis, whose name prompted just that vague hint of strain from Francois' expression.

He jolts a shrug. They only need to get close enough for a thread of a lead. "What is this man's agenda now, today? If he worked in anyway parallel with the things Volken wanted after the war, I would have heard of it."

“No fucking idea. He went after Berlin, tried to recruit her with a sympathy play that almost worked.” Berlin for business, Nathalie for personal matters. That is how Epstein compartmentalizes. “If we look at everything the Institute's been doing since the fall of the Ark, it's a lot of genetic research. We've got that mad science bullshit form Sunstone, the Deckard kid saying they stole his ability and gave it to the other guy we rescued. So, artificial ability transfer? Then whatever the fuck he did with Devon… robots…” Avi throws his hands into the air.

“There's so many fucking angles on this it's a dodeca-goddamn-hedron,” is Avi’s calm assessment. “What I know for sure is that fancy chopper that was doing comm scrambling and offloading those robots at Sunstone was a Praxis Heavy operation, start to finish. Ivanov and Curtis both agreed. So either he's buying hardware from them or we have a way bigger problem.”

But it's with some measure of regret that Avi adds, “Honestly it might be worthwhile to reach out to Richard. He was neck deep in some bullshit that might've been related last year, and he's been really fucking quiet lately and somehow has his fucking ability back?” Avi doesn't sound too sure of that. “At the very least he's a fucking spider that picks up a little bit of everything.”

"An arrangement with Praxis?" Francois asks Avi, the room, the universe. "Big machines in return for research, funneled to Chinese interests? America isn't buying, after all." One hopes, anyway. They've already made those mistakes, in living memory. "But there are easier ways to earn money."

He doesn't expect Avi to answer him. Defining the parameters of all they do not know, and should try to find out.

Praxis Heavy, however, feels further afield than they are inclined to operate, especially down one technopath who could do it so quietly and precisely. Imagine the expression on Vincent Lazzaro's face at the news of Wolfhound abseiling into foreign territory, over which the United States have a delicate diplomatic relationship being catered to as they speak in the form of a fun fair several miles from where they sit now.

It is in his nature to bait out information, or creep closely to it. He can't say he didn't understand Devon's impulse, to play at bait.

"If Praxis values its reputation, perhaps they will cut him off if the information of their tech being used to protect war criminals gets out, is publicised. Footage, if we have it, or classified reports. Unless we can exploit their connection by locating him, it might be worth the trouble in attempting to compromise it. Remove a resource."

Avi nods, still slouched back against the window. “Smoke him out,” he says assuredly. “We don’t have any footage from Sunstone, but we might be able to pull something together. I’m getting the feeling we’ve been one step behind this asshole for years, without even realizing it. We’d been chasing the Institute all this time, without knowing it was his smug ass in the big chair.” Avi bobs his head in a slow up and down nod.

“Honestly, this is one of those times I wish Vinny would slither his way out of a drain pipe to say hello,” Avi is reluctant to admit. “Irwin was about as precise an operation as anyone could’ve hoped, and we wouldn’t have had the resources to do even half that damage without cooperating. So many of us are still on the back heel, not trusting the government that we basically fucking grew ourselves. Blood of tyrants, tree of liberty and all that shit.” But Avi sighs, there is no sublimating secretary in the room.

“We need intelligence, we need actionable evidence, and we need a team,” Avi says as he slowly extends three fingers. “We don’t have the first,” he rolls one finger back into his fist, “we don’t have the second,” which leaves his middle finger sticking up. “So fuck us, I guess.” But he’s smiling. He’s always appreciated a good challenge.

"If anything would bait the Secretary of Homeland Security out of hiding, it would be tactics involving the leaking of classified information," Francois says, wry. But he has seen, a little, the way this administration operates. The publicising of known public enemies in anticipation of Odessa Price's arrest had not gone unnoticed, at least not by him.

He smiles thin at Avi's listing off of what they do and do not have, and moves to stand up as well, hands against the desk. "We have a team," he reiterates, straightening. "That is more than I was conventionally used to, in the old days.

"Did you wish to talk to Richard, or shall I? He is due to help renovate my apartment." Inquiries into megalomaniac agents of notoriety could be made in around advice as to plumbing configurations and wall replastering.

The noise Avi makes is a noncommittal grumble in response. “By all means, take the lead with that one. The last two times I’ve seen him he locked me in a room with Emily or I was fucking concussed.” Avi rolls one shoulder slowly. “I’d rather not roll those dice again right now.”

Avi looks over at Francois, up and down, momentarily assessing of both the man and the situation. “But I mean, we do have a team, don’t we? Might be a few short, but when’s resource scarcity ever stopped us?” He manages most of a smile, then exhales a sigh that propels him away from the wall and into motion, pacing the floor.

“Fuck. Never thought this is how I’d spent the tail end of my life,” Avi admits with a laugh. “You ever think you’d actually make it this far, old man?”

Even a few short, there is a community of people they can call on — this being something of a revelation, after so many years operating so tightly within the confines of their own hierarchy. Even his husband has one copy of himself who would offer up assistance, if Francois were to demand it. And his mouth twists a little at mention of the locked room incident that suggests he had maybe heard tell of this.

He waits patiently while he feels Avi make some assessment of him, hand on the back of the chair he has pushed back in to the desk. Francois is twice the age he looks, but even his physical self has finally hit somewhere in its mid-40s. There is still a piece missing from the curl of his ear where Sasha Kozlow bit away a part of it and laced the ragged edge over with scar tissue. Layers of cardigan and cotton disguise the fine lines in his stomach where Carlisle Dreyfus plunged a knife many times into his belly, one humid summer in Louisiana, where he was meant to die.

Or meant to live, depending on your point of view.

He smiles, abrupt, white teeth and crows feet. "I am well past my borrowed time," he says. His own returning glance up and down — the renewed balance of Avi Epstein's posture, the return of two eyes and their direct, clear focus. "I think you have only just begun yours."

That has Avi’s eyes wide and back straight for a moment, as if Francois had fired off a gun in the room. It only lasts a moment, and when the look fades Avi’s turning to the door of his own office.

“Well fuck you too,” is Avi’s casual farewell.

They’re bonding.

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