Simple and Stupid Impulse


avi_icon.gif eileen2_icon.gif francois_icon.gif

Scene Title Simple and Stupid Impulse
Synopsis Everything must come full circle.
Date December 26, 2019

The Bunker, Rochester

Some nights he dreams of Taylor.

Others are a blur of less familiar faces that he cannot seem to place but his heart feels like it knows. Maybe they’re Ferrymen. Maybe they’re soldiers with dog tags strung like nooses around their necks. It doesn’t matter because they’re always dying or already dead.

The nightmares are frequent enough that he rarely jolts awake anymore. Instead, his eyes open and acclimate to the dark in near silence. There’s his heart pounding in his ears, of course. And the thin sound his breath makes when he dares to let it out through his nose.

Sweat plasters sheets to skin and drenches the hair thinning on his scalp. When his pulse slows and rediscovers its natural rhythm, he thinks he can hear the snow gathering on the window sill outside, or maybe — just like almost everything else — it’s only his imagination.

Rochester is so quiet.

Death must be quiet, too. Does the afterlife sound like a racing heart — or like falling snow?

Do intrusive thoughts make noise? These are loud enough that they should.

The clock on his nightstand reads 2:42 AM.

The noise Avi makes when he rolls over is somewhat ursine in nature. He fumbles for the alarm clock, turning it toward himself, face illuminated by the red glow of the numbers. “Fuck,” he exhales the word, letting the clock go and falling back onto the bed. At any other time in his life, there would be a sidearm on his night stand. Wilby used to occupy that space, before he’d given it to Huruma on the eve of raiding Fort Irwin, the day before he thought he’d die. Now, Avi’s sidearm is more understated, hanging in an underarm holster on the back of his chair across the room.

As he makes another grumbling sound, Avi swings his legs out of the bed, feet flat on the floor and hands scrubbing over his face. He feels around on the nightstand for his phone, but it isn’t there. That elicits another long-suffering sigh.

Avi’s quarters are barely lit at this hour. Distant city lights from across the river in Rochester pass through partly closed blinds, turning into pale blue horizontal lines that divide him up into pieces in ways more material than the more metaphorical way his life has. His bare shoulders bead with sweat, which he can’t be sure isn’t from a cold rather than a nightmare. But in the dark, in the moment, neither matter.

He’s fairly certain his phone was there when he last closed his eyes. His door was shut, too, but now it’s hanging open approximately half a centimeter. Small details, when considered in isolation, might not be cause for immediate concern. It’s easy to misplace a phone, especially after a glass or two of straight whiskey — and doors do occasionally pop back out if not fastened in place.

The problem is that it’s impossible for someone with Avi’s training to consider things in isolation.

Someone entered his room while he was asleep.

Something stirs on the windowsill, obscured by an opaque layer of frost that clings to the glass. Like the piling snow, it’s white. Avi imagines he sees a solitary eye studying his silhouette through an opening in the ice, but before he can even take a step in that direction— it’s gone with a flourish of wings.

Birds are not unusual in isolation either.

Whoever is responsible for his missing phone and the cracked door at least left him his gun.

It was only after seeing the bird that he got out of bed. He'd spent enough time around Eileen in those years past to have learned a thing or two about their activity cycles. Birdwatching from the walls of Bannerman’s Castle, where she'd explain to him the difference between a grackle and a cardinal. He couldn't be sure the bird at the window wasn't an owl, but paranoia often refuses to let coincidences lie.

Avi is nothing if not paranoid.

Sluggishly pulling on his pants, Avi walks over to the small circular table in the middle of his bunk that's cluttered with old mail and business paperwork. He fishes around in the stack, looking for where he might have otherwise laid his phone, but doesn't find it. Exhaling a heavy breath, he moves to the desk where a slightly fire-warped picture of Emily as a little girl is tucked into the corner of a corkboard alongside his son's high school graduation photo.

Avi rummages through two drawers, finding a magazine of ammunition rather than a phone. It's sign enough as he reaches for the handgun in the holster, snapping the magazine in and then chambering a round. It's an unnecessary maneuver but an intentional sound. Devon or Lucille will see it as playtime is over and that he's not in a joking mood. A less invested intruder may take it as an escalation, a sign to back out the way they came.

As he stands alone in the dark, Avi finds neither reaction.

No Devon. No Lucille.

Outside, a tree creaks. Branches rattle against glass. It’s cold.

Avi needs to look within.

The Bunker is a sprawling compound connected by long, narrow hallways and subterranean tunnels that provide more places to hide than there are cameras monitoring the grounds.

His uninvited houseguest could be anywhere, but it’s a safe bet they aren’t within earshot. In the uneasy silence that follows, his mind pursues other possibilities. An assassin would keep to the living quarters and systemically eliminate targets in adjacent rooms, and Avi’s throat is still intact. That can be ruled out.

A missing phone implies espionage. The ghost of Jensen Raith warns him that his physical records and computer network are both at risk.

If you were a thief, impatiently implores his brother-in-law’s voice, where would you go first?

Gitelman.” Avi grunts out as he takes off out of his room, bursting through the door like a dog that just realized it’s time to go for a walksie. Barefooted and half dressed, Avi isn’t confident enough to be sure he didn’t misplace his phone to start shouting around the Bunker like a senile old man. They make that joke about him enough already. Instead, he keeps his gun at his side, skulking down the hall and listening for sounds of intrusion.

When he reaches the stairwell, he angles a look up at the security camera positioned there, but there’s no one on the other end anymore. With Hana gone there’s not enough security to go around. Automated systems are minimal, alarms are silent. That it’s so quiet is the only thing keeping him from flashing back to Bannerman’s Castle during the siege. There was always noise there; people, dogs, eventually gunfire, screams.

He’s halfway down the stairs when he realizes he hasn’t been paying attention. That he had been thinking about that place, that night, and everyone that died there. He hesitates on the stairwell, trying to remember the duty roster for the night. Huruma is in the Safe Zone, that much he’s sure. Lucille’s with family, Devon’s probably with Emily. Nathalie?

By the time Avi snaps to again he’s in the hallway between the barracks building and the main office. Hana’s office isn’t too much further down the hall. Avi moves up against the wall, easing down the hallway, and his paranoia has him leveling his handgun out ahead. He can’t be sure if this is a paranoid reaction to a flashback or a rational thought. A rational reaction. Every time he thinks about calling for help his mind goes back to his phone, to finding where it went, whoever has it. He stops, swallows audibly, and lowers his gun.

“What the fuck am I doing?” Avi asks himself, slouching up against the wall and pressing one hand to the side of his head. The thought occurs to him; maybe there’s no one here after all. Maybe this is exactly what he warned Emily about.

Post-traumatic stress.

Post-traumatic stress, it turns out, has a hand with which to dig the muzzle of a pistol into his temple. It’s not the type of weapon that requires a hammer to be pulled back, either; the only thing positioned between Avi and a retirement plot six feet underground is the slim width of a trigger.

“Be quiet,” answers a soft voice, “and place the gun on the floor.”

It’s been a long time since he’s heard it, but too familiar for him to easily forget even if he might have tried to at some point during the intervening years.

Eileen still smells like cigarettes and clean, freshly scrubbed skin, although the floral note of her favourite perfume is absent. That’s not something you wear on an infiltration mission. She’s dressed in blacks instead, including the fitted calfskin gloves covering her hands.

On the bright side, Avi probably knows what happened to his phone.

“Oh, great,” Avi exhales in a startled whisper, “fucking dracula.” The gun isn’t put on the floor. Instead, he calls her bluff and angles it with a bend of his elbow at her midsection with a shaky hand. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d pointed a gun at someone he loved, probably won’t be the last. His expression isn’t as stony as usual, isn’t hidden behind a mask of sarcasm either. He’s too shaken and too tired to affect a proper facade. Instead, there’s a shift of anger and frustration that washes into a pale impression of grief as he keeps that black silhouette between iron sights.

“Why don’t you… get on the fucking floor,” Avi mumbles, briefly motioning to the floor with his eyes. “What the fuck are you doing here? Where’re your little fucking buddies? Is that why your fucking puppy, Finn, was at our fucking Christmas party? He lift a fucking key card off of Rue when she had one too many?” Avi’s jaw sets, shifts from side to side. “Sibyl isn’t fucking here.”

There are a great many things Avi keeps well-informed on, but the particularities of Eileen’s life and the fate of Sibyl Black is not one he’s ever found purchase on. It is a blind spot wide enough to his shame inside.

Eileen’s mouth flattens, which is perhaps a strange reaction for someone immortal to have when looking down the barrel of a gun. Nevertheless, she keeps her own raised and level with Avi’s head.

There’s a timeline that runs parallel to this one in which she tells him she is Sibyl Black. She cries, or maybe he does, and they put this misunderstanding behind them like everything else they did to each other before they found common ground in Madagascar.

That timeline is not this one.

In this present moment, the only thing Eileen is more afraid for than her life is the cover she’s fought to maintain. She thinks about what she would lose if Iago Ramirez and Joshua Lang knew who and what she really was, and it makes her heart drop in a way that having her head blown off does not.

So she says instead: “I’m not here for Sibyl.”

Her eyes flick past Avi, searching the darkness beyond both of them for any kind of movement that would suggest he isn’t the only light sleeper in the building. Seeing nothing, she returns her focus to the man hunched in front of her.

“You look less pathetic than the last time I saw you. Let me guess: LeRoux?”

“I ate a salad,” is Avi’s glib response in a breathy whisper in such close proximity. He doesn’t smell of an excessive amount of alcohol, unlike her memories of him. A little, the aroma of a couple glasses of whiskey and a few cigarettes cling to his breath, but not the stench of an alcoholic. Avi gently moves the barrel of his gun up against Eileen’s side, even as that movement causes the gun at his head to press a crease into his brow.

“Which one of us shoots first?” Avi asks her, twisted awkwardly to look at her in this tangle of intentions. “Or is this a count to three murder-suicide?” His brows rise subtly, eyes glassy and red at the edges. He doesn’t believe her, and he’s hiding his anxiety and actual fear behind gallows humor like he always does. She remembers the state he was in at Bannerman’s Castle before the raid, when he threw a half-full bottle of beer at Lynette. She remembers the drunken rants in the early morning hours, the struggle to get sober enough to drive the kids out of the castle with Brian.

But that Eileen is dead, as far as Avi is concerned. All he’s looking at now is a well-dressed ghost.

Avi laughs, at first just a cough of a laugh and then a wheezing hiccup that spills into near giggling. “Jesus fucking Christ are you the Ghost of Christmas Future?” He eases the barrel of his gun into her side a little more. “Come t’show me my grave?”

It takes all of Eileen’s concentration not to flinch. Her facade holds, and she is silently grateful that the shadow they’re standing in is too long for Avi to easily distinguish between the colours blue and green. The only way to describe her eyes in this light is pale.

Her Bright counterpart would have pulled the trigger by now. Splashed his brain and little fragments of skull against the wall and the floor they’re both demanding the other surrender down to. She would simply roll his body onto its back with her foot and commit the image of his decimated face to memory like it was nothing.

Like he was nothing.

“I had a vision,” she confesses beneath his laughter, “that Francois Allegre was dead. My birds showed it to me. I wanted to see if it was true.”

Avi’s expression is for once not a cipher, he plainly shows Eileen how he read her assertion. His nostrils flare, jaw trembles, she can feel the subtle vibrations all the way down into the barrel of the gun pressed into her side. “You son of a bitch.” He read it as a threat. The muscles in his shoulders tense, forearm flexes, a bead of sweat runs down his brow to—

Crack. In the sleeping stillness of the Bunker, sound carries loud and fast that the slamming of a door is tantamount to a gun going off.

(Of course, if a gun does go off, they'll all know the difference very quickly.

But it's just a door, having been gripped fast by a third party and hidden behind as he listened. Francois is not dressed for combat, but he does in fact have his own weapon, sidearm held down and close, because the last time he'd wandered around his living space at night without a weapon upon investigating a mysterious sound had gone exceptionally poorly, and that was years ago. He listens, hears familiar voices saying strange things, and hears the rising growl in Avi's voice which likely means things are going to go to shit sooner than later. He doesn't care to enter a hostage situation, and he knows what happens when you open fire on someone like Eileen, and the power she wields.

So the door is slammed and) Francois moves into shadowy view, ignoring the way sweat has prickled cool on his brow and slicked the palms of his hands and his heart hammers frantic beneath muscle, prickled skin, thin sweater fabric.

Francois’ appearance elicits a play on Avi’s behalf. Forward movement, scraping the barrel of the gun against his forehead until he’s closed the distance between her wrist and elbow with his face and impacted the flat of his brow against Eileen’s forehead.

In short: Her relief at seeing Francois alive and well is short-lived.

There’s a moment in which it looks like she might go down as one leg buckles beneath her, but the force of the impact isn’t strong enough to knock her unconscious. She’s quick to right herself by using Avi’s shoulder as leverage with her free hand at the same time she brings up her bent knee into his diaphragm, just below his ribs on the centerline of his body.

His breath spills effortlessly from his lungs, and his next few attempts to choke back air make him feel like a fish twisting out of the water.

This would be the part where she puts a bullet between his eyes if that’s what she came to Rochester to do, but it isn’t — so she doesn’t. Eileen drags herself off and away, blood already filling her nose and mouth. The edges of her vision are blurry, too, and so she’s doubly careful when she points her weapon somewhere above Francois’ head and fires off two shots in a bid to force his retreat.

The raven was right. She shouldn’t have come.

There we go. Much louder than a door.

Francois darts in close, nothing superhuman in his speed — just reckless, which makes up a lot of ground when it comes to stealing up the advantage. His hand closes low on Eileen's arm, sweater fabric protecting bare palm from imagined threat, and he slams her wrist hard into the wall — a third gunshot, puncturing the ceiling and raining down a burst of concrete dust — at an angle that pinches pain around her shoulder socket. Fingers tingle numb, and the pistol slips loose in her grasp without falling away completely.

This happens in almost a second. The next second involves: moving in a pivot, then, to best press his elbow into her collarbone, to pin her in place, to get his own gun under her chin. She has only a moment before the trap closes around her.

It’s enough. Eileen has not forgotten how adept he is, but this is the first time she’s experienced his talent wielded in a way that hurts rather than helps. She lets the pistol go, fingers abruptly slack, and does not dwell on its loss. One less thing for her to navigate.

Francois’ elbow hits the wall; the Englishwoman has angled her body toward him at the last possible second, and although the maneuver does not free her wrist from the vice that is his clenched fist, it positions her within striking distance of his face.

Her nails are not long enough to do lasting damage. There’s not enough strength or power in her free arm to break his nose with her fist. These fleeting thoughts tick by faster than her consciousness can process them. Even Eileen is a little surprised when she goes for his lower lip with her teeth.

Less so when she catches it and bites down with enough force to open it.

Pain and numbness both flood Francois' mouth, and it's excruciating enough for his mind to conjure all kinds of associations — the invisible stab of necrotic force, withering flesh, and maybe that is ash he tastes instead of blood. Panic is like a hit of adrenaline, and he blindly brings up his pistol in the crush of their bodies and squeezes the trigger.

Blood spatters on the wall as a bullet carves a slice across Eileen's ribcage, ill-aimed but enough. Francois' face is already white as he rears his head back, levering a step backwards. The dim shadows of the Bunkers corners all seem to roil with embodied darkness, the ghosts of the past alive and well, even if only he can see them.

The sound of that gunshot is like a starter pistol to the race horse that Avi Epstein presently is. With his breath back, all Eileen sees of him is the broad-framed silhouette practically galloping into her field of view. He clips Francois with a shoulder as he rushes past, throwing his weight against Eileen in such a fashion that he knocks her square off of her feet, one boot flying off to clatter on the floor. However, in the dim light of the hallway and the chaos of a close-quarters fight, Avi didn’t plan the tackle.

He just acted.

They don’t hit the floor. Avi and Eileen go careening past the floor from Francois’ point of view, blurred by reflexive tears welled up in his eyes from the pain of her bite. They dip down past the horizon line at the top of an open stairwell, sailing over two thirds of the stairs before colliding with the concrete steps. This is where they begin to become disentangled, with Eileen’s right shoulder smacking into a step and Avi’s left elbow doing the same. She’s younger and lighter, which works in her favor for that first impact as they become a fan of limbs and grunts, skimming off that struck step like a stone on open water.

It’s then that they collide with the floor simultaneously, twenty-two steps down from the hallway to the barracks. Dim lights make this space a haze of sharp angles and looming, brushed-steel forms seen in a tumble of vision as Avi collides back-first into a tall stool at the kitchen island. The stool topples over him and goes noisily clattering to the floor, Eileen sliding into it seat-first.

Their bodies come to a stop as they slam into the kitchen island, rattling the chef’s block full of knives cutting board up above.

It’s not the first time Eileen has been shot.

It is, however, the first time in almost a decade that she’s been shot and bled. Avi can hear her wet, haggard breathing as she gradually becomes aware of the injury and its implications. There is no conduit to siphon back in the life that’s ebbing out of her, no protective bloom of dark, roiling energy to reduce her enemies to ash. Only pain, only fear.

People do terrible things when they’re afraid. Eileen is no exception.

Her dominant hand trembles as she reaches up to clutch at the edge of the kitchen island. The other flattens against the gunshot wound between her ribs. She pulls herself up with a shrill keening sound that reaches Francois’ ears all the way at the top of the stairs.

After the first gunshot, quiet is no longer being taken into consideration.

It’s her reflection in one of the knives set in the chef’s block to her right that ultimately draws her attention away from her injury and the man on the floor at her feet. Eileen shakily slides it out between her fingers at looks back toward the stairs.

They’ll know she doesn’t have the conduit now. She’s in real danger, and the only way out is through.

In the hallway, Francois is looking at his hand after touching his face, studying the dark red blood that shines and coats his fingers as if truly expecting to see ashy flesh fallen away, but it's not. He knows what it means, but it's hard to think of what that means.

The echoes of the clattering crash downstairs catch in his mind on a delay, as does Eileen's piercing whine floating up the staircase. Francois reaffirms the feeling of the pistol in his hand, and pauses at the top of the stairwell so he does not simply ragdoll down it while the edges of his vision shimmer blackly. The lower half of his face is pain and he doesn't trust himself to speak, so once steadied, starts down, footfalls unquiet and quick.

As Francois descends, Eileen unceremoniously steps over Avi and begins her climb. She has some sort of vague awareness in regards to her missing boot, if only because the floor feels colder on one foot than the other, and even then it occupies almost none of her focus.

Out. Out. She has to get out.

Her progress is much slower than Francois’, and so when they meet it isn’t in the middle of the stairwell. It’s in the bottom third. Panic seizes what’s left of her mental faculties; adrenaline keeps the knife’s grip firm in the knit of her bloodied fingers as she buries it into his gut and wrenches it all the way up to his sternum in the same motion. It comes out too clean to come into contact with any of his vital organs, not that Eileen is looking.

She wants to be sure, regardless. Loses count of how many times she’s stabbed him by the fifth or sixth strike. When she stops, it’s because she can’t feel her hand anymore and has lost the ability to wrench the blade free again.

Avi isn’t entirely aware of what’s happening, ears ringing and head throbbing from the fall. He’d not intended to go this far, not intended to push himself so hard since he was healed. That’s about as far as his train of thought goes by the time the sound of screams become clear over the tinnitus ring. He sucks in a sharp breath, exhaling a ragged, “Fuck” in a near whisper. Trying to lever himself up with one arm, he is rewarded with a shooting stab of pain from elbow to shoulder. He falters, but doesn’t stop. There’s a tearing sound only he can hear and feel in his elbow, but he’s up on his feet.

All Avi can unleash is an incoherent scream as he grabs one of the downed stools by the leg, swinging it from right to left as he steps forward. The stool impacts with Eileen in the most graceless of ways, catching an arm from wrist to elbow between two of the legs. The remainder batter her in the side, doesn’t quite get the knife out of her hand, though. It falls to the floor with a metallic clatter with Avi moving in to close the distance behind the swing.

Maybe there's another timeline where Francois raised the pistol in his hand and emptied it into the figure racing up the stairs towards him. Maybe in that timeline, he'd had his wits about him, or had done so in a panic. Regardless, what prevents him from shooting her is a simple and stupid impulse: he doesn't want to kill her.

The gun clatters and bounces off the stairs as sharp-edged stainless steel sinks into his torso.

Losing faculty of limbs and direction, Francois sinks onto the stairs. The knife is still buried in the mess that its made, caught in muscle and cartilage, and his hand curls around it but doesn't pull. There's no sound out of him, air knocked out of his lungs, but a horrible, damp sounding gasp inwards, and then a cough that sprays blood thick and dark.

He drags himself to huddle against the wall, and then stops moving as his vision starts to close around a pinpoint. He can hear grunts and clatters and cursing, but all through cotton wool, or a thousand yards away.

Eileen doesn’t hear anything at all.

She’s not Gabriel Gray, who would be able to withstand both a gunshot wound and the blunt swing of a stool that’s a quarter as heavy as she is. She crumples under the impact in a way that suggests to Avi she won’t be able to get up again.

Fuck,” Avi exhales breathlessly, hands trembling. It takes him a moment to understand the carnage that has happened within four minutes since Eileen first came up behind him. He repeats that again, “Fuck!” Louder, this time.

What the f

Not Long After

Francois Allegre is dead or dying. Right now, it’s impossible to know which.

There’s blood caking on the wool blanket slung haphazardly across his middle, blood on the gurney, blood on the snow. Francis Harkness stands off in the near distance, talking to a police officer with his father. Neither of them saw what happened.

Francois’ face is so lumpy and pale, like Teodoro crafted it from memory out of wax with his bare hands. If he’s still breathing, no one can see it.

Intermittently flashing red lights belong to an emergency response vehicle parked outside of the Bunker, where at the vehicle’s rear Avi Epstein confers with the paramedic, his own face hardened into a stony expression that befits the man he was before Madagascar.

There is fury behind his eyes.

"He was fucking stabbed," Avi shouts at the paramedic, "exactly how much more detail do you need? Do you need me to put a finger in each one of the stab holes for you? Or can you take your fucking dick out of your hand and do your fucking job."

On a perch, high above the ambulance on a flickering lamp post, a white raven considers the scene.

You shouldn't, the raven had corrected her mildly, but you will.

Because you always do.

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