Speed Bumps


aviators_icon.gif clara_icon.gif eileen_icon.gif

Scene Title Speed Bumps
Synopsis Eileen pays Epstein a late night visit and discovers that he isn't as alone as she thought.
Date April 29, 2010

The Bronx

The moon has been absent from the sky for an uncomfortably long period of time as has its diurnal companion, the sun. At night, the only light that illuminates the exterior of the apartment complex where Avi Epstein resides leaks out from dirty glass bulbs affixed to tall street lamps upon which pigeons enjoy perching in the summer months. Lately, however, they've been devoid of any presence except for a large black bird with a dagger for a beak that comes and goes at strange hours and moves so rarely that his neighbors have expressed concern about its behaviour more than once in their native Arabic.

Superstitions vary widely across cultures, but there's just something about ravens that puts most people on edge, and on edge is something that Epstein could probably stand to be. If he was more alert, he might be able to pinpoint the reason why the temperature in his apartment has plummeted over the last few minutes. It has nothing to do with a broken radiator or an open door. The front is still locked, both deadbolt and chain in perfect place, and the apartment itself utterly still except for the energy in the air that hangs around someone when they realize that they're no longer alone.

The apartment's cluttered space gives way to the presence of cold air and intruders with equal ease. Venitian blinds that were drawn over one of the windows serve as something of an awkward deterrent, rattling thinly as cold air blows through their vinyl slats. But no amount of draft or boot touching down on hardwood floor rouses Avi Epstein from his sleep. Curled up on a ratty flannel sofa in front of a television that still loudly plays a news broadcast from CNN, his back is to the television's glow, coccooned in a layer of two quilts wrapped around his body and up over his head. That his apartment still has electricity is a testament to the fact that the Bronx's power grid was not connected to the same grid that Consolidated Edison once helped power, the blackouts haven't hit as hard this far north of Manhattan.

With the window silently shut save for a subtle squeak of the wooden frame, Avi Epstein's life is mirrored by the state of his residence. Newspapers and folders are stacked in equal measure with dented beer cans and boxes of emptied takeout on the coffee table in front of his sofa. A camera hangs over the arm of a ratty recliner near the couch, cigarette butts heap up in an ashtray on an end table at the foot of the couch.

A pair of women's running shoes are by the radiator, probably having been drying from being soaked with snow, a pair of old and worn leather boots sized for someone far larger next to them. No guns, no weapons, it's like he's losing his edge.

After her last encounter with Danko, Eileen would be foolish to intrude on someone's living space unless she trusted them enough not to put a knife in her back or has determined that the threat they pose to her is minimal. With Epstein, it isn't one or the other but rather a combination of both. She moves through the apartment with the confidence of someone who knows she doesn't belong there but also doesn't care about social protocol when it comes to getting what she wants. Bold without being too brazen, gloved fingertips follow the edge of the kitchen counter, trail a slow circle around the lip of a can with a sticky texture, and briefly hover over a stack of paperwork before her hand floats slowly back to her side.

She's been observing Epstein for awhile, but no amount of surveillance could have prepared her for the state of his apartment's interior. The running shoes earn an inquisitive look that's as languid as it is curious. Wife, daughter, girlfriend — there are a few distinct possibilities, none of which are particularly important to her. Epstein's personal life and what he chooses to do with it isn't what brought her here.

Her gaze shifts from the shoes to the man on the couch, and a moment later the apartment is filled with the abrupt snap of the television being turned off, plunging it into complete darkness.

Also a gun pressed into the small of Eileen's back. "Who're you?" Comes the voice of a woman who wasn't there not more than three seconds ago. As if somehow turning off the television had made her more real, the firm kiss of a pistol pressed between Eileen's shoulderblades is an unfortunate turn of events. Directly ahead of herself, Eileen can see the reflection of a blonde woman in the glass of a wide picture frame that contains a painting of the Brooklyn Bridge that probably came with the apartment.

Muted in reflection enough to make details hard to ascertain, she's at least a few inches taller than Eileen, which admittedly isn't saying much. The blonde nudges the gun just a little more firmly against the back of Eileen's jacket, though she's keeping her voice down as if she doesn't want to wake up Avi. "Are you with him?" What the fuck is going on.

It's one of those questions with no good answer. The blonde's face isn't one that she recognizes, and as Eileen studies it in the glass' reflection, she raises her hands — not in a gesture of surrender but to show the stranger that she isn't armed. There is, of course, a pistol in the seat of her leather holster under her coat and a knife in one of its silk-lined pockets if worst comes to worst, though neither weapon is immediately visible.

She takes a gamble, assumes that the running shoes belong to the woman standing behind her, and raises her eyes to meet the gaze reflected back at her. "I'm a friend." Which is neither yes nor no.

Breathing out a sigh, the "gun" is pulled away form Eileen's back and soft, socked footsteps come around the brunette's frame. The woman who ambushed Eileen is taller by a good ten inches, athletic looking, older, long blonde hair pulled back into a pony-tail. Judging from the sweatpants and layered sweaters accompanying socked feet, odds are she may have been in here the whole time. Ethan would recognize her, but the next words that come out of Clara Francis' mouth are almost as indicative.

"Gabriel talked about you a lot," she lowers the remote control away from Eileen that she'd been posing as a gun, grimacing awkwardly, "…You must be Eileen." Treading quietly past the brunette, Clara's blue eyes dip down to where Avi is still coccooned on the sofa, then looks back over her shoulder to the brunette with a furrow of her brows. "He hasn't slept in a couple of days, I don't know how easy it'll be to wake him up if you need something…" is said in the tone of someone burderend with taking care of another person, less so a romantic concern.

A dubious lift of Eileen's dark brows is the only response Clara receives as far as Gabriel is concerned, and it's accompanied by the soft sound of breath being released through her nose — not quite the sigh that the other woman let slip, but something close to it. She's not sure she wants to know what her paramour had to say about her. Suspects it may not have been very kind. Suspects, also, that she probably deserved it.

She moves around the back of the couch to put some distance between herself and Clara, but also to observe Epstein from a different angle. When she broke into the apartment, she half-expected to find a corpse hanging from the rafters or floating bloated in a bathtub filled with stagnant water mixed with blood. Having been gotten the better of aside, this scenario is much more preferable.

"What's wrong with him?"

"It's not his turn," Clara obliquely offers, "so he has to stay home otherwise it looks suspicious." Somehow she assumes that Gabriel lets her in on every minutae of his life, which couldn't be more hillariously far from the truth. Moving over to the sofa, Clara leans over and looks down at the roll of blankets, then offers a look back at Eileen. "He got a letter too that upset him a lot recently, wouldn't tell me what it said, but he burned it in the sink after reading it. He… hit the bottle pretty hard afterward." Treading back from the sofa to Eileen, Clara crosses her arms over her chest, nose wrinkling and brows furrowed.

"I always thought you'd be taller," comes the eventual comment from the blonde, "you… kind've look like you could be his little sister." It's not quite catty, but there's a little touch of posessiveness in Clara's tone, but having spent as much time with Gabriel as she has, it's not entirely unwarranted.

No more letters, Eileen decides. Not without opening to check their contents before they're delivered. Annoyance twitches at the corners of her mouth and manifests as tightness in her jaw and creases where her skin had been sallow but marble smooth before. She places one gloved hand on the back of the couch and uses the other to adjust the blankets at Epstein's neck, satisfying her desire to leave the apartment having done something.

When her eyes find Clara's again, they have an impatient quality that they didn't possess before. "I need to talk to him about the weather." Epstein. Not Gabriel. Her stubborn refusal to acknowledge Clara's commentary about differences in height and differences in age continues, a steelier edge entering her otherwise soft voice. "What do you mean it's not his turn?"

Watching Eileen's movements with scrutiny, Clara eventually looks away when she sees the brunette adjusting the blankets. "They trade places, sometimes Gabriel's him, sometimes he's him. You can't have two members of the CIA's Special Activities Division walking around the city, someone would notice. When Gabriel or— well— when one of him needs to pretend to be Avi for a little bit, Avi stays here instead of being at his place in Battery Park."

Blue eyes lift up to Eileen, and Clara's brows furrow slightly. "They made an arrangement, it's the only reason Avi's even still alive anymore, really. Trust me I don't think he would've made it out of Antarctica if it weren't for that and my attempted reasoning with Gabriel. But— we're here to help him do whatever it is he needs to do in the city now. He hasn't exactly told us, of course. But… that's just how Gabriel is. You spend enough time with him, these things happen."

Rolling her tongue over the inside of her cheek, Clara takes a step towards the sofa, then looks up to Eileen. "If you want we can wake him. He's been sleeping most of the day, it might do him some good to see someone other than me or Sarisa."

That Clara makes no distinction between Gabriel and Sylar gives Eileen pause, and there are a few moments where she looks like she's about to say something, lips pursed, then appears to think the better of it and forces her mouth back into a more neutral expression. What Epstein told her about being on Team Crazy suddenly makes a lot more sense.

That clone has got to go. Although Eileen makes no move to wake him — yet — she tracks her gaze across the apartment to the paperwork she'd almost lifted from the counter by the crumpled beer cans. Even in the apartment's stillness, Clara can't hear the sound of Eileen's thought process, but she can sense that there's something happening behind her composed facade. "Do you have the address for his place in Battery Park?"

"No, I just know he goes out there sometimes. I think it's the same apartment building where that guy Howard he works with got attacked." Clara rests a hand at her jaw, thumb pressing against the side of her cheek so she can nervously chew at the inside of her mouth. "You could always ask him, instead of sneaking around. Sometimes knocking on the door's easier than coming in through the window, and a lot less likely to get you held up by a ceiling fan remote."

There's a crack of a smile on Clara's lips, and the blonde takes a step past the television, eying Avi's sleeping figure before looking back up to the brunette expectanty, as if not quite sure that Eileen's done putting things together or puzzling out her own fit into this situation.

"If I thought he'd answer, I would have." As there had been possessiveness in Clara's tone, there's defensiveness in Eileen's, though it's probably not as sharp as it could be. She already has Lemay's address; now she has Epstein's, too. Determining which unit he shares with Gabriel's self-proclaimed better half is a bridge she'll cross when she doesn't have more pressing concerns to worry about.

The best way to wake him up, for instance. Eileen settles on raising her voice a fraction at first, the hand that had adjusted the blankets coming to settle firm on the man's shoulder. "Epstein."

"Fuck I was hoping you'd go away," is the grumbled response from the sofa, breathy and only partly awake, "or shoot me, you know… one're the o— " A remote control strikes against the back of Avi's head with an audible crack from where it's tossed across the room, back panel flying off and batteries bouncing down the blanket to roll and hit the floor.

"Stop being a bitch," Clara blurts out the way a younger sister might berate an older brother, "have you been awake this entire time?" There's a sharp tilt of Clara's head to the side, heels hitting the floor firmly as she storms into the kitchenette, pausing by where the hardwood floor turns to linoleum to look back into the living room.

"Not…" Avi grumbles, "maybe?" Rolling onto his back, pulling blankets away from his face, Avi stares up blearily at Eileen and— he's wearing an eyepatch. It's a white medical one, probably easier than sleeping with a gaping hole in his face or a prosthetic eye. "Rrrruskin," he notes with a roll of his tongue, "d'you come to rape me in my sleep? Because I don't have any pants on right now."

Eileen very carefully keeps her eyes above Epstein's waist. Her heavy winter coat, leather gloves and wild tangle of brown-black hair beneath her black headscarf all point toward no — she didn't come here with any intention of having her wicked way with him while unconscious. Her mouth is soft and her eyes are dark, but these are things more affected by the lighting in the room than her emotional state.

Those same eyes explore his face instead of hands, and there's nothing hungry or wanton about the way she goes about it. Neither, though, is it a strictly clinical observation. Eileen isn't quite that detached. "Burned it in the sink, did you?"

"Who writes poetry in this day and age," Avi deflects with a roll of his eye, slightly less effective than rolling both but he works with what he has. Shifting to sit up, keeping his comforters wrapped around his legs, there's a rub of one palm against stubble grizzled jaws, then a shift of his waist and a difficult crane of his neck just so he can look left to Clara. "Put on some coffee," at this hour of night, "or I'm not to be held accountable for my actions…"

Slouching back against the sofa, Avi looks up to Eileen, thumb sliding beneath his eyepatch to scratch at God-knows-what beneath. "Next time Luigi wants to send me love-letters, tell him to fold it up into an origami crane and shove it up his ass," he adds rather crassly after the face, both hands moving to cover his face after the fact, thick fingers raking hair back from his face while a light clicks on above the stove in the kitchen, and Clara quietly goes about the process of finding where Avi put the Folgers this time.

"So I hear you're working at a strip club," Avi's been waiting for this moment, "do they ask you to make change when they give you a dollar?"

Teodoro and Raith have either been blessedly kind or know better than to needle Eileen about her job at Burlesque while she's in the room. The closest she's come to having heard a disparaging remark from someone she knows outside the club, save Sylar, was Magnes' insistence that she quit, and while she shouldn't be surprised that Epstein is the one to lob the first insult her way, he might catch her fumbling with it, turning his question over and over in her hands as if not quite sure what to do next.

Figuratively. In reality, her hand at the back of the couch remains where it is and the one on his shoulder withdraws, leather gloves creaking around her fingers as she balls them into a small fist. "I'd invite you to stop by and see for yourself," she says, "but Clara tells me you're under house arrest. What do you do when you want to go to the liquor store? Are you out of mouthwash yet?"

There's a tiny smile of appreciation there, she didn't slap him. "You like me," Avi breathes out, "you really like me." Offering as best of an askance look to the kitchen as he can when he hears Clara opening one of the jugs of bottled water — God knows the plumbing isn't working in this cold — Aviators seems intent on making certain his coffe's being brewed. "Clara hits the liquor store for me, she's the fastest errand-girl a— " the sound of the jug of water being slammed down on the counter has Avi grimacing and looking away, "she's very thoughtful given my predicament." There, he'll be nice.

"What d'you know about my living arrangements with Captain Crazy anyway?" Avi inquires with a lean of his head to the side that is a motion so practiced that either he learned it from Raith or Raith learned it from him, or God forbid they learned it from someone as bad as both of them. "I thought you were out've the loop?"

"We had a disagreement a few weeks ago about whose ability belongs to who," Eileen says, and to emphasize her point, she raises her hand, extends one finger and points its tip at Epstein's head before drawing it across the top of his skull in a smooth, perfectly level motion without any accompanying sound effects. If the pocket watch ticking away in her coat pocket was louder, it might do.

"I haven't been back to my apartment and I don't think that I will." She reaches up to brush a stray strand of hair away from her face, and there's no mark on her pale brow to suggest that Captan Crazy got very far. "Kershner knows I'm laying low for awhile. I haven't told her why."

"Well that explains why he's been such a grumpy gus lately," Avi notes with a quirk of one brow, his eye alighting to the touch of his forehead. "You should've seen the shit we had to go through in Antarctica to get back home though, you wanna' know what's gross? You know how he's got the ability to flake off a few squiggly little proto-crazies, yeah?" Yeah he figures the C-Word is out in the open by now. "The guy he got it from, only the root actually had the ability. You should've seen the fucking mess he made trying to find the right one. It was like somebody raided a cabinet full of strawberry jam and forgot to screw the caps back— "

"Avi." Comes from the kitchenette along with the percolation of the coffee pot. It's enough to get him to stop, and Avi slides down a little where he sits. Sheepishly grinning, Eileen can tell that his smile's more a wolfish one in sheepish clothing.

"So… you come here just to catch up with me and make sure I got that love-letter?" Avi's eyebrow above his patch lifts inquisitively, "or did you find me a spare eye lying around somewhere that I can borrow?"

If Clara's terse invocation didn't stop him, the open palm of Eileen's hand would have. She might not have slapped him before, but restraint is harder to come by where Gabriel is concerned.

Fingers flexing, her hand lowers around the time Epstein is peeling his lips around that grin and slips into her coat pocket for lack of a better place to be. There are times like right now when she's sorely tempted to make scissors of her fingers and pluck out the one eye he has left. Doesn't. Acting on every violent impulse is what her father does, and Ethan is desperately not the type of person that Eileen wants to become.

"I came to ask if you know about a government-funded organization called the Institute," she says. "More specifically, I wanted to know if the name Liette Fournier means anything to you."

When it comes down to actual business, Avi's shit-eating grin is wiped off faster than Eileen's hand could by the seriousness of the noun she just used. Leaning forward, Avi rests his arms over the blankets in his lap, bare feet sliding across the cold, hardwood floor. As he seems to becom ponderous and silent, Clara moves into view from the kitchenette, leaning against a half-wall and post that divides the kitchen space from the living room.

"The fact that you know about the Institute means your life just got drastically shorter in the long run…" There's no joking in his tone now, in that way Raith sometimes loses his jovial nature when things get serious. "They're bad news, huge bad news. This is the kind of thing that comes up decades after the fact and makes historians shake their fucking heads. It's a DoD government research project, unlimited funding, zero accountability. People from the CIA, DARPA — all across the fucking board — got pulled in to work on this. I don't know much, but I know that it's run by a scientist named Simon Broome. Big shot genius, helped unravel the human genome back when bellbottoms were still in fashion…"

Breathing out a sigh, Avi slowly rises up to his feet and in that motion of standing helps guide Eileen away from him by measure of looming, broad-shouldered frame. He isn't wearing pants, but at least he has the decency to have a pair of striped boxers on, hairy legs not withstanding. "You might know Broome," Avi notes conversationally, stretching his back as he leans to the side, "his father was Otto Brum, that's B, R, U, M. Would've been one of the German ex-patriate scientist brought in to work in the states under the auspicies of Project Paperclip back in the fifties if he didn't die during the fall of Berlin. He was one of Volken's co-researchers back in the day when Swastikas were fashionable."

Walking with heavy footfalls into the kitchenette, Avi doesn't stop talking as he moves past Clara. "Broome's taking after his daddy, it looks like. He had a stroke a couple years back, rendered him a parapalegic, he refuses healing… don't know why. He's a grade A fucking psychopath though, if you ask me— and you are."

"I am," Eileen agrees. "I'm also telling you that he's responsible for the cold snap we've been having." She's a lot less comfortable now that Epstein is towering over her but the shadow his frame casts across hers does nothing to diminish her confidence. At a distance, she follows him toward the kitchenette but does not commit to entering it. She stays instead on the other side of the counter, maintaining a barrier between Epstein, Clara and herself.

"The Institute has an atmokinetic in custody. Julie Fournier. Fourteen, maybe. Fifteen at the most." She tracks Epstein's movements through the kitchenette, an occasional glance flickered in Clara's direction as she busies herself with the coffee. "They're doing this on purpose, Avi. And it isn't going to stop."

"What do you want me to do about it, whine dramatically?" There's a look over Avi's shoulder at that as he moves over to the cabinets, pulling out a ceramic mug that reads World's Best Dad on the side, sets it down on the counter and takes out the coffee pot before its finished percolating, lifting the pot up to fill his mug. While he's doing that, Clara makes an uncomfortable noise in the back of her throat and steps away from the wall, moving to the armchair that camera is hung on and settles down into it with a creak of tired old springs.

"Can't we do something about the weather? I mean…" Clara makes a noise in the back of her throat, "Can't Gabriel? There's enough of him, and if he makes more and we set things up right— " Avi's bitter laugh at that from the kitchen comes with a shake of his head and a grumbling groan of how terrible an idea that is.

"Noooo, no, no, no, no. No more." He states from behind the rim of his mug, tipping it back to drink black coffee strong enough to peel paint off of wood. "If the Institute's behind this, ain't no way I can do shit about it. Trust me the stuff I know is only because I heard thorugh the grape vine. That is so far over my pay-grade dying and going up to Heaven would only get me half way. Unless I feel like licking around the vice-president's asshole I'm not ever going to be involved in that project. They've got one member of the Royals in on it, and they sure as hell haven't asked the rest of us."

One Gabriel is enough. Eileen conveys this in the sharp look she directs at Clara by the chair. "I'm not asking you to do anything about it," she says, and although her eyes are on the blonde her words are meant for Epstein. "As far as I'm concerned, you're on one side of this thing and Jensen and I are on the other. I'm telling you because I like you and I thought I'd give you the courtesy of a warning. Take Clara, find a better apartment and stock up on non-perishables. If you don't already own a kerosene stove or heater, buy one."

She folds one arm across her midsection, a bent bird's wing, and exhales a thin hiss through her teeth. Talking has suddenly become very uncomfortable, and not in the way that standing next to Epstein had been. "Hhhn," she states, flat. To Clara: "Have you been vaccinated yet?"

"Nn— No, I haven't I'm not Registered and…" There's a look to Avi, something going unsaid between he and Clara, and the blonde's focus comes back to Eileen. "I haven't. I'm not exactly around people a lot though, either… why?" As if somehow Clara's vaccination isn't important, Avi only stays quiet long enough to take another sip from his mug of coffee, taking the spot she had vacated leaning against the post and half wall near the kitchenette.

"She hasn't had all her shots no, but Gabriel insisted on keeping her," he jokes with a crooked smile. "Look, I am on a different side from you guys, because I'm not under some ridiculous notion that I can change the way this world works. I know how big of a machine we're up against, and I'd rather ride out beneath it as long as I can without trying to be a speed bump under one of the wheels. This isn't some third-world shithole dictatorship we can overthrow with a few heavily armed guerillas and a couple of jets. This is a different war, and anyone not on the country's side is fighting a war of attrition. I know when there's a fight I can't win."


"Sarisa has a plan." That's probably the most worrisome thing Avi has ever said, "If it goes well, the war ends before it starts" Sipping from his coffee again, Avi completely changes the topic when the mug lowers. "You gonna' shoot up some more trucks to make sure Lassie here gets all her shots?"

"No need." Eileen's hand comes out of her pocket with a small ampoule of clear-coloured liquid that she places on the counter with a gentle clink of glass against its surface. The one attached to her folded arm tightens fingers around her side as she steps away, the scuff and tap of her booted feet echoing through the apartment, sounds made pointed and more distinct by the hardwood floors creaking lightly under her weight.

"You'll forgive me if I choose not to put my faith in Kershner," she says, upper lip curling back to reveal a brief glimmer of teeth shown in a sneer, and the expression on her face does not soften when she passes Clara on her way toward the door. A tilt of her head in the direction of the counter and the ampoule glittering in the kitchenette's faint light. "For being there when I couldn't. Thank you."

Looking studiously at the ampoule and then back to Eileen, Clara's brows furrow and her head shakes slowly. "You were there…" the blonde offers in a quiet tone of voice, "maybe not physically, but emotionally? You never left his thoughts for a single moment, and I think— you're probably the only reason he had the strength to come back from the edge like he did." Clara's brows crease together, fingers curling in her lap as she eyes the vaccine on the counter. "I may've saved his life twice… but you're the one who saved his sou— "

"Shut the fuck uppppp," Avi grouses with one hand waving in the air as he walks between the two women. "I am going to go finish my coffee and put on some pants and I swear to God if you two are having a fucking Lifetime moment when I get back out here I am going to hang myself with the withered remains of Gabriel's masculinity."

Eileen doesn't intend on being there when Epstein returns from the bedroom with his pants. All this talk of edges and being pulled back from them makes her feel sicker inside than her gunshot wound or the knowledge that she's just parted with the last dose of vaccine she was allotted. Her own.

She works the front door's locks, her back to Clara and Epstein's retreating form, saying nothing about souls — largely because she doesn't believe they exist, but also because the tightness in her throat makes it difficult to speak. Hinges creak, the door squeaks open and the Englishwoman steps unceremoniously out into the hall, which is a lot less awkward than leaving the same way she came in.

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