Sicilian Defense/Dragon Variation


avi_icon.gif dajan_icon.gif huruma_icon.gif richard4_icon.gif

Scene Title Sicilian Defense/Dragon Variation
Synopsis Avi and Huruma arrive in Madagascar to retrieve Richard and bring him home.
Date January 20, 2020

In each mote of dust, there exists a universe all its own.

At least, that’s how it looks in warm afternoon sunlight. Motes of dust drift like tiny stars, dancing around one-another in the light cast by partially-closed horizontal blinds. The smell of burned coffee clings to the air along with the subtle tang of sweat. A coffee pot salvaged from a trashcan sits on a table likewise rescued from the bargabe, connected to a USB power brick with the power cords spliced together by hand. The coffee is a day old, tastes like an old sock wrapped in tire rubber, and has done nothing to fill Richard Ray’s stomach.

But Richard Ray isn’t in his safehouse any longer. The coffee pot is inspected by a lone figure with high cheekbones and long fingers, dark eyes squared on the splicing of the power cords. The makeshift antenna hanging off the side of the building through the partially-closed window soon draws the inspector’s attention, followed by a look in the direction of the bare mattress that made up his bed. Pressing two fingers to the side of his neck, the inspector speaks aloud to the air. “You were right, he was here,” he says, but no one responds.

Soon, the inspector’s attention moves to a chair partially knocked over on the floor near the door he’d come in through. His dark eyes scan up from the chair to the door, then out to the hall. “He’s on the move, should I pursue?”

A voice calls out in the small, tooth-sized earpiece nestled in the inspector’s ear canal.

«No. We believe he may have headed to the Malagasy Embassy.»

“Further instructions?” The inspector asks, walking toward the door.

«Release the trail. Our work here is done.»

Two Days Later

En-Route to Foibe Avo Mpaiambina
Antananarivo, Madagascar
January 20th
3:46 pm Local Time

Once upon a time, the fourth largest island in the world was hell on earth. In the years leading up to the civil war, the events which culminated in Operation Apollo changed the landscape forever. The island came to a crossroads. The desire to rise from the ashes was there, and the population's heart was there, pushing together and lifting themselves up; but the world isn't kind to the poor, and such a thing seemed a dream in itself.

Luck was on their side, in a way. The destruction brought by the Vanguard not only decimated the will of the people, it left scars across the land itself. In the intervening years, attempts to salvage what they could led them to a discovery of game-changing proportions.

Madagascar's biodiversity was never in question. Flora, fauna, the sea itself endemic to the island. When it split from the main continental shelf, it took a splinter of life with it. It became its own. The discovery of valuable materials under its surface brought about a blossom of movement; while tiny deposits were found in the east of Africa, the quality was poor, brittle, hardly worth the effort to dig; they were splinters themselves, as Madagascar had not only taken with it unique life, but unique earth as well. Whatever had reached desperately up from the guts of the mantle had made it to light there, a hand pressing through crust, holding onto the island's place in the sea.

However these resources had come to be there, the citizens of Madagascar were able to push themselves up, dust themselves off, and become a far, far more fortunate casualty of the Vanguard.

Now, gone are so many of those scars. The deeper ones remain, treated and healed, yet keloid in the way they have changed the texture of the land and people. If anything was certain, however, Madagascar has always been a home, and her children had always been the same; community meant the world, and more then ever. With the help of war heroes and a newly formed government, the first steps were difficult, but proved fruitful. Burned countryside grew green again, forests spreading free and clear, waterways clearing as they made their way back to a deeper, bluer sea, whiter beaches. Agriculture and self-sustaining harvest practices came back in force. Villages found more stability. Towns formed around them. The cities grew too.

The cities are mirrors of one another, slightly different but always sharing aspects in infrastructure, as siblings do. Architecture has shifted, keeping its uniquely calico styles, pieces of its past melded into something new, and special. Antananarivo remains one of the most unique. The diversity of people echoes in cultures, traditions, economy, even food, music, and the dancing languages. Green hills and thick trees surround the capital, a stalwart wall of nature protective of the capital's vibrancy.

Antananarivo's silhouette is not only taller on the rolling landscape, but brighter too. The suburban sprawl looks much as it did decades ago, with red and white buildings, brick and stone, wood and green, the sparkle of water and rainbow of markets. The closer one gets to the city center, the more profound those buildings become, and the more complex. Newer. Bolder. Taller.

There is none of the cold, dark steel and stark, angular sensory experiences one might find in other countries. Here, the air is clean, the infrastructure sound, the urban sprawl almost fiction. Solar panels and self-contained wind turbines coat the bodies of buildings and a few significant skyscrapers, of Malagasy scale. Flora drapes across the city, seamlessly integrated into houses and rooftops, a literal and meticulous urban jungle that works alongside the manmade world. Animals make homes on the outskirts and in certain green spaces within; birds move alongside aircraft in the sky, zebu still a common sight amidst sleeker, smarter vehicles. Small lizards which cling to walls and scour for pests, even troops of lemurs who have effectively become their own subsection of critters accustomed to life around humans.

Culturally, visually, economically- - Antananarivo is a shining example of a new world. A phoenix from the ashes of death and despair, fiery wings supporting the sky.

“You are a lucky man, Richard Ray.” Dajan Dunsimi and Richard Ray never met face-to-face during Operation Apollo, but it was hard to avoid him in photographs following the operation. Whether it was in briefings or in moments of Huruma’s own prideful display. In the years since the war, the head of Madagascar’s equivalent to Frontline has become a world-renowned symbol of heroism and survival.

Never once during Operation Apollo would Richard have imagined sharing a limousine as it ascended the streets of Antananarivo. But while Dajan and Richard may have both cut their teeth living in concrete bunkers and fighting for freedom in a world that wanted them dead, they have both now grown into people that neither would have suspected the other to become. “Lucky, and foolish,” Dajan adds with a rise of his brows and an expression so judgmentally Huruma that it becomes impossible to imagine him as anyone else’s child.

“What were you doing in Baghdad?” Dajan asks with a motion of his chin to Richard. He’d heard some from his mother, but he wants to know Richard’s truth the way the other man sees it. Not as it is viewed from the outside.

“It wasn’t by choice, I can tell you that. And I wouldn’t call myself lucky,” is Richard’s quiet response from the seat across from Dajan, his head turned to watch the city go by; he’s paler than he was weeks ago, features a bit drawn, shaky fingers drumming anxiously on his thigh. A man haunted by many things within and without. If one didn’t know better, they might think they were looking at an addict in the early stages of withdrawal. A cane rests beside him leaning against the seat, its wolf’s head gleaming silver in the light.

“I was abducted, me and my cousin— Nathalie, she i— was one of your mother’s teammates,” he explains haltingly, looking back to the other man with sunglasses hiding his dark eyes, “Mazdak. Shedda Dinu. I don’t know if there’s any difference between them now. Baruti-fucking-Naidu.” His jaw tenses at the last, the sheer hatred towards the man bleeding through his tone when his name is spoken. His fingers stop shaking for a moment, gripping his thigh roughly, and he looks back to the window before continuing.

“Left us in an old bunker. She didn’t make it. I did.”

“Mazdak, Dinu,” Dajan says gravely, looking out the window and through his no-longer scarred reflection. “They are names I have become familiar with in the years since your country ran roughshod over my people’s homeland.” Dajan Dunsimi doesn’t speak of America as liberators. That may have been what happened in the immediate aftermath of Operation Apollo, but the Petrelli Administration bled Madagascar dry, tried to assassinate Dajan and the Prime Minister, and nearly brought the country back to its knees. The Civil War in the States was the best thing to happen to Madagascar since Edmond Rasoul’s death.

“Mazdak tried to offer us an olive branch after we drove out the Old America’s army,” Dajan continues, looking from the window to Richard. “Baruti Naidu is one head, but it has many. He is a powerful, dangerous man across the water. He holds great influence across the African continent, spreads Mazdak’s word.” Dajan squares his shoulders and steeples his hands in his lap. “Dinu is separate. They are soldiers, to the best of my knowledge, sharing an ideology with Mazdak but not beholden to them. We dealt with Alû-Dinu, and we suspected there were others. Your Shedda-Dinu, it would seem, is another. But you can rest here, there are no more Dinu in Madagascar.”

But Dajan remembers the context of Richard’s invocation of those names, and his eyes dip down to the floor and then track back to the window. “You have my condolences.”

There’s no offense taken to the remarks regarding his country; Richard was an enemy of the Petrelli Administration after all, and before that, a criminal. A patriot isn’t something that anyone’s ever called him in his life.

Well, maybe Sarisa once or twice, to annoy him.

Richard’s chin dips slightly instead, accepting the statement as fact, and his frown deepens as the relationship between Mazdak and Dinu is explained. “I don’t care about his ideology,” he replies in tight tones once the man’s finished, turning his gaze back towards the window, “His ideology won’t matter when I’ve ripped every spark of life from every atom of his hateful body and obliterated the ash left behind— “

Subtle wisps of ephemeral darkness fade into existence coiling lazily around his hand, until he catches sight of them out of the corner of his eye— grimacing, his fingers tightening into a fist as he wrestles his emotions back under control, drawing in a slow and ragged breath as they fade once more.

“I’m sorry, Dajan, I’ve— it’s been a week.”

“I sympathize,” Dajan says with a good-natured smile, “in worlds like this…”

“…those weeks feel like that happen daily.”

Foibe Avo Mpaiambina
Antananarivo, Madagascar
January 20th
3:57 pm Local Time

Near the heart of Antananarivo lies a building of classical Malagasy architecture. A blend of old colonial style updated with green technology of the newly ascendant Malagasy culture. The Foibe Avo Mpaiambina — the headquarters of Madagascar’s SLC-Expressive defense force — was once a church and still retains its cathedralesque architecture, though a half dozen other satellite buildings of modern architectural style extend off of it. Guests to Madagascar occupy a fourth floor office with windows overlooking the older cathedral. It’s been four hours since foreigners from America touched down in Madagascar, forty-seven minutes since they were brought to this office to await the arrival of one Richard Ray.

“You’d tell me if they were secretly planning to try me for fucking war crimes or something, right?”

Paranoia is Avi Epstein’s bread and butter. Whether he’s sowing it within enemies, like he did for the CIA for too many years of his life, or whether he’s steeping in it like an old bag of tea. Ever since he and Huruma set foot in Madagascar, he’s been on high-alert. The last time his boots touched Malagasy soil he represented not only a colonizing American presence, but also a corrupt American government that would try to oppress the Malagasy people after routing the Vanguard. To his credit, Avi has every right to be paranoid. The people of Madagascar have not forgotten what happened all those years ago.

But at the same time, Avi and Huruma are guests of a local hero. What they do, and what fates befall them, rest solely on the reputation of Dajan Dunsimi.

“Because I really didn’t come all the way out here t’start a fucking international incident.”

The windows are open. Birdsong outside. The air is warm, unlike the January of New York state. It is also the prime tourist season. They fit right in.

Epstein's nervousness and need to fill silence earns a flat look from Huruma, who is currently leaning on the edge of a windowsill to more or less await the crinkle of tires and the profile of black car. Eyes on the inside again, her posture straightens and she breathes out.

"Yes, I would tell you." She knows it won't particularly calm him down. "Do you need an emotional Xanax?" Huruma raises one brow in inquiry; for all her figurative elbowing, she's being honest. Her arms cross, loose against her chest. "They are welcoming to guests here. Just don't make trouble, and there will not be any."

“Yeah, hit me with the good stuff. If I'm gonna be in zombie worm-slave country I might as well be high as a fucking kite on bullshit magic.” Avi says in one breathless exhalation, moving over to one of the windows to get some fresh air. But Huruma knows they don't have long before their modest amount of privacy is interrupted.

It's only a moment before the doors to the conference room open and Dajan arrives ahead of the newest foreign guest to Madagascar, the very missing Richard Ray. “Mother,” Dajan says with a warm smile, moving directly for Huruma and forsaking any formality as he leans into an emphatic embrace with her, serving as something of a conversational distraction for Richard to find his way into the room.

Apparently no longer missing, Richard still looks like hell; he’s gotten a change of clothes since he was last bleeding, but he’s paler and more drawn than he’s been before, eyes hidden by stolen sunglasses and he looks unsteady on his feet. Fortunately, he has a cane to help with that.

Unfortunately, it’s Kazimir Volken’s cane.

“Pentacles,” he greets in subdued tones, “Huruma. Thanks for… coming all this way. Wasn’t really necessary, though, I’m off to Africa shortly.”

He doesn’t look like he’s off to anywhere except for possibly a hospital bed right now.

She asked, he answered. Huruma takes the confirmation- - is that what it is?- - as a signal to give Avi some relief from the paranoia chewing at him like a zombie worm. The empath doesn't replace it with something else; she just relieves the pressure like with a brain bleed.

Epstein doesn't have a real one yet, so.

As the two men enter the room, Huruma's eyes move to her son and only briefly to Richard; though she doesn't indicate a response to whatever storm is in his head, he knows that she sees it. She always sees.

"I'm glad to see you." They may have had what could have been the rockiest start in the world, but these days it's a far cry from when Huruma attempted to leap over a map table to strangle him. Now it's just the return of a calm embrace, and a press of palm against Dajan's cheek as they part. He's a good boy, right? She had nothing to do with that. Not really. It's kind of… opposite.

"You are not going anywhere." Richard gets it last, Huruma's face turning to him with the sharpness of a compass point.

“What Huruma said,” Avi adds, leaning away from the wall he’d propped himself up against. “You look like shit that another shit took, Richard.” Then he dips a look down to the cane in his hand and some of the color drains out of his face. There is an explicit question burning in his eyes when he looks back up to Richard.

Where’s Hana?

Dajan interrupts the question, though. “My mother and Mr. Epstein are right,” Dajan adds as a third voice of dissent, resting a hand on Huruma’s shoulder as he turns to look back at Richard. “You only just survived Mazdak, they will not give you such kindness again.” And knowing even a fraction of what Richard’s been through, Dajan calling it kindness is a knowing cynicism. “What we need is a plan, and what none of us in this room have is information.”

Richard may look like ‘a shit that another shit look’, but under the surface the empath can tell that his appearance is the least of the problems at the moment. There's a trembling veneer of desperate control holding a tide of anger and grief back, bleeding through an ocean of guilt. He's an emotional time bomb at the moment, and any match could set it off.

Rather than standing or leaning against something, he steps over to a chair and near-collapses down into it, weight sinking forward to rest on the cane between his knees, both hands folded over the top of it. He draws in a slow breath, then raises his head again, watching the trio through the sunglasses he's wearing for a long moment before he speaks.

They want information?

"Mazdak caught Wireless in a technopath trap," he says, tone ragged, "She's alive. But the last ten years or so got torn out of her head before she got out of it. The woman you knew isn't there anymore."

He closes his eyes, then, his head dropping as he says in quieter tones, that guilt swelling up like a tide inside him. "Nathalie's dead."

He gives them information.

All that Dajan couldn't see in Richard on the way up, is all that Huruma can see right now, and more. Her head tips slightly at Avi's blanching, following his line of sight to the cane, until now blurred by an underlying irritation. She doesn't have to ask either, though her intent to provide Richard with a 'we knew most of that' in regards to Hana is brought to a screeching halt. Huruma can even feel the wheels in her head chirp with the stop.

There is no asking for him to repeat himself. Huruma heard what he said loud and clear; her disbelief is rooted on the inside rather than out.

The mire of guilt makes every bit of sense.

The thin webbing across the pressure of his head, threads fraying under the weight of his admission.

Dajan can sense the tension and heat that boil up in her, seconds after. Jaw like a vice and shoulders squared, muscles in her neck flinching in her self-containment. Huruma's eyes have gone back to Richard in the breath between thought, point dulled in favor of grasping the invisible threads holding him together. A threat he can't even see.

“Fuck you,” is Avi’s flatly delivered response, “that’s only kind of funny. Is she fucking here?” Epstein is a smart man, but sometimes his blinders are intentionally glued to the side of his head. There’s no emotional reaction to the news because he flat out refuses it, because Richard is joking. This is like the time he locked Emily in the room with him. It has to be. Because the alternative is…

“If Gitelman’s memory’s been compromised, there’s a chance all of Wolfhound’s intel was too. A decade of our operations in Mazdak’s hands. The shit she knew.” Avi takes that thread and runs with it, leaving Dajan looking all the more worried.

Dajan looks between Huruma and Richard, not sure how to take the context of this revelation or who Nathalie is. Based on Epstein’s reaction to it, that news couldn’t be serious. But then, he sees his mother’s expression and is left wanting for explanation again. “Could you… I don’t follow what’s happening here. Weren’t you kidnapped? How does this connect? What did Mazdak want?”

At the accusation that he’s joking, Richard’s fingers tighten— over the head of the cane, and over the hand atop the head of the cane, his jaw clenching for a moment as he draws in a slow breath, and exhales. He shouldn’t start shouting. He shouldn’t. He really, really shouldn’t, as much as he wants to. As much as Huruma can feel the emotions welling up, that desire to scream, to sob, to completely break down on the spot, held back by a crumbling wall of determination.

“Do…” He pauses as his voice wavers, sucking in another breath and squaring his shoulders before looking up, “Do I look like— like I’m fucking joking here, Pentacles? I don’t give a fuck about the intel, I don’t— Avi, she’s dead. Those sons of bitches took her too, and that mother-fucker— ” A faint sliver of blood wells up on his hand, where a fingernail uncut for a few days digs into the back of it hard enough to cut, knuckles white.

His voice cracks again, and he closes his eyes, swallowing hard. “That… piece of shit… made sure only one of us came out.”

Sometimes worse than a mule. Huruma's brow pinches forward as Avi just keeps blowing through what Richard has to say. Maybe listening. Maybe not at all. His resistance to absorbing his own thoughts and the heel-in-ground refusal tells her it falls somewhere near the middle.

Huruma only looks away from the headbutting to angle a brief, grave look to Dajan. Any question of it being flippant hasn't touched her features, and the glance confirms it. His seeking of clarification on what the hell is going on will have to wait a twitch longer.

"Don't wonder what they know and assume they know everything…" It is the empath's only addition to what accounts for Avi's fuming about intel, voice darkened and eyes narrowed pointedly- - suspiciously, in fact. Whatever it is that she sees- - or thinks she sees- - it is enough. Not seconds after, Huruma steps forward and takes Avi by the elbow to steer him forcibly away from facing Richard Ray; she hisses, "Stop."

A warning if there ever was one, though it's origin seems… obscured.

Avi is as still as a corpse. His expression remains unfocused, eyes distant and shoulders squared with tension. Outwardly he is unsettling in his placidity, but Huruma can feel that what is going on beneath the surface is an unmanageable emotional torrent of which he has little control over. It is the perfect storm of a panic attack and anxiety-induced rage. She can feel the exact moment that he stabs some knife of determination through the buzzing static of that storm raging in his head, enough to say. “Where, ah… is she?”

He can’t say body, corpse, or remains. He still clings to a tether of hope that this is mistaken identity, that this is a ruse, that it’s some rubber decoy stuffed with raw kielbasa meant to look like a corpse. He’s willing to accept any alternate reality other than the one in which he ignored her kidnapping as an outburst and she died for it.

Dajan, reading the room, searches the floor for an excuse to not say anything. When his scanning stare fails to find purchase on anything, he instead offers Huruma a knowing look and steps backwards through the door he’d brought Richard in from, and ever-so-quietly shuts it behind himself. He can be debriefed later.

As the question is asked, simple as it is, the tide of grief and guilt within Richard briefly threatens to surge upwards and overwhelm him. He swallows once, hard, the apple of his throat rising and falling as he pushes back that gorge of emotion.

And possibly a literal one to go with it. He kind of wants to throw up right now.

In answer, he brings one shaky hand up from the silver wolf’s head of the cane he’s been clinging to like a lifeline. Smoky, shadowy wisps briefly bleed out of his flesh to drift hungrily about before he snaps that hand back into a fist, pulling back on the frayed leash that he’s controlling the Conduits with.

“She’s here,” he says in a tone that suggests he’s trying not to break down and cry, “Right here.”

Avi's lurking willpower does much to keep everything in, though the empath hardly moves save for the drop of hand to her side. Huruma all but physically bites her tongue; it presses against the roof of her mouth and against her teeth. The taste is a souring dryness, almost acidic.

Piecing together puzzles is a double-edged sword. Helpful. Enlightening. Betraying. Here it betrays her, and Richard, in a way. Huruma can do the math, and she despises it. Richard's words only serve to give a final tug to the weight in her core, the ashen wisps on his skin almost relatable.

Loss happens. It does. This one, though- - Huruma's breath moves out through her nose as she angles her face away; eyes shut and features rankled, hands at hips, aura like the pressure between twin magnets. Slippery, almost.

There is no register on Avi’s face. No recognition that he can see anything Richard is showing him. Huruma knows that isn’t true, the tumult is hidden like the churn of arctic ocean beneath the ice. There are no words, no way to express the feelings he is overwhelmed by here in this foreign place he has nothing but bad memories of. Hands clench into fists, and Avi pushes his sunglasses up the bridge of his nose to hide his eyes.

Then he turns, sharply on his heels and smashes out of the conference room with all the intensity of a riding bull leaving the pen at a rodeo. Dajan, who had been waiting on the other side of the door, is nearly bowled over by Avi’s reckless exit. He quickly steps out of the older man’s way, watching his departure down the hall. Dajan looks back inside, eyes wide and jaw slack.

There’s no attempt from Richard to stop his old friend from retreating from the room to sort out his emotions, his gaze still on his hands as he lets them fall back down to rest atop the accursed cane that he was given - mockingly, he’s now sure - by the man that’s the focus of his wrath.

Avi’s gotten through disbelief, now he’s into anger. Richard hopes he skips bargaining given the number of would-be Lucifers hanging about these days.

A slow breath is drawn into his lungs, then released just as slowly. “We’ve been manipulated. All of us. For years. Since the beginning. Even Liz, even Magnes, the scale of it just— and now this. We’re all trapped, Huruma. All trapped in a fucking web and I…”

A hand comes up, pulls his sunglasses away, and he looks up at her with haunted eyes, “I missed it. I tried to stop her. God, I tried to stop her…” There’s that guilt again, a tide crashing over the shore.

For all of her own surge of lead in her chest, Huruma turns her head back soon enough. She doesn't look at Richard. Just Avi, eyes sharp even if her face lags behind.

Of course she does nothing to stop him from turning on his heel and crashing into the hallway. Dajan's confusion gets only acknowledgement, Huruma's focus swiveling back onto Richard, onto his hands, the cane. That expression she always gives- - the knowing one- - doesn't disappear, even under Richard's gaze, drawn and sleepless.

"…I know." The empath's answer could be to anything. She will let him choose which, or all. There is no further defining. In the back of her mind she follows the trail of Avi Epstein through the building, intent on snaking invisibly after him until he moves out of range. Her own way of keeping an eye on him, at least for the time being.

Huruma leaves a silence between the two of them that feels as if it lasts a lifetime. Reality says less than a minute.

"You are not going after Baruti Naidu." Dusky words devoid of anger, instead troubled and uninviting of any protest. Do not. "You are going home." And with an outward breath, she adds, "Both of you."

Avi isn’t close enough to hear that directive, but Dajan is. He briefly looks to Richard, offering a wordless apology that he knows fails to deliver on so many fronts. But to Huruma he is more diligent.

“I will let Mr. Epstein know that he is being forcibly deported back to America.” Dajan says, and though it sounds like it is in jest, Huruma is crystal clear that it is not. Deportation may be the only way to get him off of Malagasy soil and out of this part of the world without inciting a war or two. Dajan steps into the room only enough to grab the door handles and bring them shut again. He knows this is not his conversation, not yet.

“They did this on purpose, Huruma, we can’t… we can’t play their game…”

Richard’s head drops a bit, his eyes closing. He knows she’s right. He knows there’s nothing he can do - at least in his current condition. And he can’t stop them from forcibly sending him back home without killing someone he doesn’t want to.

And right now, ‘non-lethal’ combat isn’t something he can count on being capable of.

He pushes the sunglasses back on his face, exhaling a sigh, “Yeah. Home, I guess.”

For now.

It is now that Huruma does give Dajan a spell of her attention, nodding just once at his words; he doesn't need to be like her to see the twist of grief that's been spread around in mere minutes. She may need to give him an assist, though that all depends on Epstein.

One lean hand flexes at her side, Richard's lamenting tacky on her mind. A defiant putty she'll scrape free later.

"Precisely why we are not staying here. This is not chess. It is a new game. And you've no idea of how to play." Huruma knows how he is with metaphor. She's similarly attached. Even though her voice is darkened by- - everything- - Huruma's grasp on her composure remains. It has to.

"Your burden was hers, and hers was ours." Pale eyes cast away from Richard's glasses. "Even if voiced rarely." Her tongue sucks against teeth, an idle, tiny sound of frustration.

"We will figure out a next step." Huruma lifts a hand though refrains from actually offering it. More a beckoning. "After you've rested."

"Maybe then I will teach you the rules."

That almost-extended hand is regarded for a silent moment through dark lenses, and then Richard draws in a slow breath - using the cane to lever himself slowly up to his feet, still a moment as he re-steadies himself.

“Never been much for obeying the rules, but I guess I do need to know what they are so I can break them.”

He smiles, but it’s a faint, hollow thing that’s just appreciative of cosmic humor instead of something to laugh at. The tide of emotions stepped, pushed back into its vault save for what’s already leaked out.

“At least I’ve seen the board finally.”

"If that is what keeps you on your feet." The door left closed and unlocked by Dajan opens again with far less force than before, Huruma's hand clutched on the handle with a wring of pressure. Avi may have had the outward reaction, but hers is being saved.

Cosmic humor is just the kind she needs, in some roundabout way. Something tells her Nathalie would too.

"This time the board is full of holes. So keep your seeds to yourself." Huruma walks ahead without looking back, slowed enough for him to keep up on her escort to the elevator.

Richard nods mutely to that, moving to follow along; one hand on the cane in his hand, the other flexing by his side anxiously. To grasp something, to form a fist, he’s not even sure.

“Let’s go find him,” is all he says as he follows.

Nearby to the conference room door, two figures who had watched the conversation and the ensuing emotional discourse regard one-another with furtive expressions. “This is going to take time,” the old man says, forefingers and thumb pressed against the side of his head, gently massaging his temple. The other, a woman many years his junior rests a supportive hand on his arm and watches Richard and Huruma’s backs getting further and further away.

“We just have to hope that time isn’t too late,” she says softly. The old man nods, adjusting his wire-framed glasses with one hand, turning pale eyes away from Richard and Huruma. “He’ll listen when he’s ready,” she affirms.

“We can only hope,” is his gruff response. No one else interjects on the conversation, pays them any mind, or even notices them in the hall.

Because they were never there to begin with.

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