avi_icon.gif huruma_icon.gif

Scene Title Touchstone
Synopsis "Ah, aren't we a fucking mess?"
Date December 15, 2020 — December 31, 2020

The Benchmark Recovery and Counseling Center
Red Hook

December 15th

Huruma had attempted to avoid this as long as possible; she was succeeding on her own terms. She knows she would have addressed this in the future. As any person can tell you, nothing ever works exactly how you want it to. Not always in the negative way, either. Sometimes, the world just likes to push your plans ahead, ready or not. She had wanted to have this conversation. Procrastination tempts your luck- - so perhaps the pieces in place did want her to get it over with.

Huruma lingers in the now empty group room, the meeting having let up only a short time ago. The light switches off under her fingers as she cracks the door. Listening. Not listening to the hall beyond, but to the swirling haze of emotions which constantly floats around the Benchmark.

The miasma is a psychic construct she grew accustomed to during her stay here. Not negative nor positive. A perfectly balanced sensation, planted here in this place for better or worse. A poltergeist?

There are, here and there, minds she recognizes. Huruma knows precisely where to go and where not to go, sometimes with great purpose; such as Avi Epstein's presence at the Benchmark. At first the temptation for interloping was there- - Huruma quelled it quickly, reluctant to treat this as if it were no big deal. Because it is. A big deal.

Months he has been coming here, now; she isn't sure how often, though she knows that he keeps coming. There's nothing that Huruma cornering him would accomplish; he has his space, he needs it.

Today, however… Huruma can sense him down the corridor before the door to her darkened hiding place; a conflicted grumpiness tells her, you can wait longer, you don't need to do this now, should you wait? You can.

Indecision crackles in her nerves, despite her intent. Pale eyes close for the span of a breath before she opens the heavy door and steps out at the end of the hall, chin down, though eyes lifted. The window in the door still has a paper taped to the front, only bold letters of an acronym filling it in.

When Avi rounds the corner coming down the hall there’s a weight to him. His shoulders are slacked, his brows furrowed, lips downturned into a frown. He looks his age in that moment, a little slouched, a lot gray, and so very tired. It doesn’t take more than two steps for him to notice Huruma, an unanticipated bystander to his own tumult. She feels the storm in him, like silt at the bottom of the ocean, freshly stirred up.

“I brought my own car,” Avi says as he starts to walk again, closing the distance between them. “Unless you’re here for stalkers anonymous, in which case that’s two floors up and first door on the left.” He rolls his eyes, slowly walking past her, though not with any real haste.

The stirring of sand is not an unfamiliar sensation, and it takes a moment of time and a certain hand to reach through the cloud in the water. It's easy for her. She cheats. Huruma watches him in silence even as he moves closer, only seeming to generate power enough once he ambles through her bubble.

"A meeting would defeat the purpose." She throws her dice and lands it on a mild return, hands moving into her pockets, elbows loose. Huruma considers him as he passes by; a few steps on, she slinks into his wake to follow him, one last glance back to the darkened door.

Silent again, all sound shoes on tile. A shift in her manner is easily felt when it does come.

"For the record, I'm not. Stalking you." Not on purpose.

Avi pauses just long enough to give Huruma and up and down out of the corner of his eyes, then starts walking again. “Well you’ve sure got a weird way of showing up wherever I am. Checking up on me? Making sure I’m taking my meds and sharing with the class?

For all that Avi sounds frustrated and perturbed, Huruma can tell that he isn’t. There’s a simple defensiveness in everything he says, a shield that works for so many other people except her and those who have known him the best and the longest. It doesn’t hurt that she’s both.

It rolls off like droplets, as always. Despite the tiny frown, she trails on muted steps, breath a sigh in her nose. There are a lot of things that Huruma could snipe back at him, yet… she doesn't have the energy for that particular game.

"I'm not sure." Maybe. Instead, Huruma's response is neutral, carrying a depth along with it to at least keep it serious. It may be a jest otherwise, but for now it isn't. Just the truth.

"I've been coming here a long time, so…" So she already knew whenever they were both here. Could have done this at any point. Coincidences are something that Huruma always second guesses. "…Uncanny timing."

Avi hesitates, losing his brisk cadence of departure. The sudden reorientation of the conversation catches him off-guard and he angles a look over his shoulder to Huruma with one brow raised over the frames of his sunglasses.

“I’m going to get a late lunch,” Avi says as if she hadn’t just made that admission. “There’s a roast beef place that just opened in Ferrymen’s Bay, it’s gonna be that. So if you’re up for it.” Avi inclines his head toward the door.

Hesitation is matched with only a stare. Arguably the most common response anyone can get. For now, Huruma doesn't press for details on his habits here. She notes the small things, though, without a signal, filing them away even as she falls into pace with him - - using that as her answer. Up for it.

The ride will probably make some room for talk, or at least the opportunity. She took a rideshare anyway.

"… Beef, or "beef"?" Huruma lifts her hands to mime air quotes, doing her best at quelling a smirk while she works away at Avi's remaining bristles with a softened humor. "The health department isn't quite what it used to be."

“Oh, it’s horse.” Avi says with both certainty and nonchalance. It’s hard to tell if he’s fucking with her or not.

“But it’s a really juicy horse.”

No, he absolutely is.

Five Days Later

Red Hook Market
Red Hook

December 20th

Colorful Christmas lights zig-zag across the vaulted ceilings of the Red Hook Market, they twinkle out of sync with the normal white string lights used to accent the marketplace. Walking between vendor stalls in a picture of surreal mundanity, Avi and Huruma are doing the most basic and banal thing possible.

Christmas shopping.

“It was her.” Avi says as he looks at a pair of hideous socks with a cartoon cat on them. “Emily.” He sets the socks down in disgust and looks over at Huruma. “The whiskey.” The whiskey he’d made such a big deal about over Thanksgiving. “I’m trying to decide whether to tie her to a boat anchor and drop it in the Hudson, or launch her into space for the rest of her natural life.”

Though Avi’s joking, Huruma can feel the threads of anger and anxiety twisting him up inside.

"You could always get her some ugly socks." Huruma's idea is much less extreme, passed back with a sober look between Avi and the knockoff merch he's rifling in. Though she jokes right back, the sense of quiet gives away the presence of a hand twisting blinds open, just a sliver.

Huruma moves from one table to the next, this one full of crates packed with vinyls. Ah, jackpot.

"You have it back…" The empath rests her hands atop the ribbed texture of album edges, eyes on Avi. "To whatever end, it is done. All that is left is either engaging her…" Huruma raises a brow, a subconscious thing that more or less tells him what she thinks. "Or, you can stay angry."

"You know that I know, just how much it upset you." One hand gently flips an old jazz album over in lean fingers, Huruma's eyes skimming the contents.

“It’s not even that, it just…” Avi picks up a pair of ugly socks without even thinking, looking at the rainbow-shitting unicorns knitted into them. “I’ve been holding on to that bottle for almost twenty fucking years. Like… what, kid’s gonna roll on home one day and be like ‘gotcha, dad’, and we’re gonna have some big fucking laugh about his funeral over drinks?”

All the while that Avi is talking, the clerk at the kiosk of hand-sewn clothes is just sort of trying to not listen. She’s re-folding clothes she already folded a moment ago, eyes fixed on the floor.

“I don’t even have anything Nat left behind…” Avi adds in a quiet voice, staring at the socks. “I moved everything from her bunk in Rochester that she hadn’t moved yet. I… I set everything up. Just like the stupid fucking whiskey. Like she’ll just walk through the door, punch me in the shoulder and call me dumb, and it’ll be like nothing ever happened.”

Rubbing his fingers over the fabric of the socks, Avi stares in silence at nothing in particular. His jaw flexes, throat works up and down, and a pit of grief widens into a yawning chasm. He clings to its edge, as desperately as he clings to the memories of his lost children.

It is for his sake that Huruma doesn't watch his struggle with her gaze; only with the invisible web of her vicinity. She can feel the awkwardness emanating from nearby, yet at the same time- - everyone lost someone- - so that same feeling has a silent understanding brushed overtop.

Somewhere between bitterly remarking on Taylor and the wrench of a fresher wound that is Nathalie, Huruma has conducted and concluded a wordless exchange with the kiosk. When she speaks, everything has already passed, two albums having slipped away in a fabric bag, the aura of a public exchange still hanging.

For all the exposure, there remains a distinct lack of judgment in the air. The depth of despair that licks at his heels shies back. Just enough. Stabilizing a non-substance at the soles of his feet, enough support to help Avi keep his grip until they're alone.

"I can't tell you how to mourn," Huruma's voice stays low as she tries to shepherd Avi away from the display of garish items with a guiding hand at his shoulder. "Or how to remember them." She'll support however he does it, though.

Provided that he doesn't put up a resistance, that herding leads to one of the operating corridors off of the market floor, a whisper of cold squatting in the stairway up to a rooftop exit.

"You do. Have something… at least, it would be to me." A flimsy gesture indicates, well, him. "I know that not everyone feels the same about the gift of life." But Nat did is what goes unsaid.

Avi swallows tightly, looking down at the socks in his hands. He’s frozen like that for a little while, and to the outside observer it seems like he’s lost in thoughts. Only Huruma can feel himself struggling to untangle from the knot of guilt he’s tangled up in. Though his outward reaction seems to be the same dismissal, the same willingness to just lay tangled up in a net of his own emotional discord Huruma can feel that internally it’s different.

“How much for the rainbow-shitting unicorn socks?” Avi asks the vendor.

It’s different because he’s cut his way free, just a little.

Six Days Later

The Bastion
Phoenix Heights

December 26th

It isn’t clear who decorated Avi’s office with garland, colorful lights, and a wreath. Maybe he did it himself, but he isn’t owning up to it.

Seated at his desk as Huruma comes in, Avi looks up from a stack of paperwork and throws his pen down at it. “Close the door,” he says gently, “we got a new lead and I need to talk it over with someone other than the fucking voices in my head.”

It’s a poor-taste joke, but it also isn’t a joke at all.

In the grand scheme of decoration, minimum effort is still something. Huruma hasn't bothered finding out where it had come from the first time she saw it. Perhaps there are puzzles better left unsolved. Huruma closes the door in her wake, the knob a click of confirmation. She slides her way down onto the seat across from Avi.

"Must be a good one, then. If you've decided to outsource." Her response is measured out in a balance of passive return of not-joke, and seriousness fitting the atmosphere. "… Subjectively good, I suppose." Go on.

“You remember these two?” Avi says, sliding dossiers on Donna Dunlap and Doctor Adrienne Allen across the table. It’s hard not to remember Donna Dunlap. She had eluded Wolfhound in their Detroit operation, only to be caught at Sunstone. Allen, however, has been a ghost this entire time.

Leaning back in his chair, Avi angles his head to the side, brows furrowed. “Bounty on them is enough to make sure we break even next year if we don’t get a single other job.” Last time they went after Dunlap, Avi didn’t have a single bit of hesitation. Now, however, something seems to have changed. Huruma can feel the thread of indecision wound around his intestines.

It's certainly not the file on Dunlap that Huruma picks up first; Allen has some distant familiarity, yet she plucks this one out first, leaning back and crossing knees to look through the contents on her lap.

The top billing does sound nice. Huruma looks back up to where the other dossier lies, jaw shifting as she turns the same look to Avi.

"Mn. Should I be asking 'what's the catch', or 'what's wrong'?"

“Yes.” Avi says with a sigh as he sinks back into his chair. “Everything I’ve read in Dunlap’s file says she was given the short end of the stick in life, straight through the eye.” He pantomimes a little jabbing gesture. “Picked up by the Company at the age of fifteen and then press-ganged into Arthur Petrelli’s Kill Squad at the age of 16.”

Avi scrubs a hand over his mouth. “She spent ten years playing involuntary hitman and wound up damaged goods from it. When the Institute rolled over the Company…” Avi shuffles through his files, pulling out one with several colored tabs on it. “She was basically told by…” his eyes track side to side, searching for Albany testimony. “By Desmond Harper that she could either join the Institute or eat a bullet.”

Avi throws the file down on the desk. “So in spite of all of this, she hooks up with Doctor Allen. Everything we got from Allen before Shedda Dinu abducted her from a federal transport was that she and Dunlap were romantically involved. That they just wanted to be left alone.”

Scrubbing one hand over his face, Avi shakes his head. “I don’t wanna go after ‘em.” He admits, openly. “But if we don’t, someone else is going to and they’ll probably either kill whoever comes after ‘em or wind up dead themselves. But if we take them in, there’s no guarantee Dunlap’s Lifetime Original Picture backstory is going to matter a hill of fuck to an Albany Tribunal. You know how many Kill Squad members got released?”

Avi makes a zero with his index finger and thumb.

“They’ll try and execute her, and god fucking knows they’ll probably do the same to Allen for all her involvement in the genomics branch of the Institute. Everyone lower on the food chain already got their slap on the wrist.” Avi says with a bitterness in his voice. He stares down at the files.

“Ten years ago they would’ve been in the Ferrymen’s custody, and Dunlap would’ve been no different than Ben Ryans or the other Company folks we converted.” Avi admits with a hand raked through his hair. “Ten years is a lot of road to walk.”

The description of not only Dunlap's circumstances but Adrienne's serves to remind Huruma of where they'd be long before Avi ends with it. She is reading the same paragraph in Allen's file twice now, mind astray. That feeling is almost visible in her features, knowing quite well that it's close to her story too.

"You're right. If we don't, someone else will." Huruma murmurs, setting the folder back on the desk while wearing a not dissimilar expression from his. Troubled and silent, at best. She remains the latter for a time after the bookending of ten years, eyes ahead on the surface of the desk.

"So," Deliberation took a while longer still. "How could we kill them without killing them?"

Avi breathes in deeply through his nose, then looks down to his desk with furrowed brows. They were on the same page, because of course they were.

“Million-dollar question, ain’t it?”

Quite literally so.

Five Days Later

The Memorial Wall
Ferrymen’s Bay

December 31st

“Not sure why I thought this would be quiet.”

Avi Epstein stands at the top of a flight of stairs headed down to what would otherwise be an unremarkable stretch of pier wall hanging off the coast of Ferrymen’s Bay. The first active port in the city after New York fell but before the Safe Zone rose from its ashes. A place where tens of thousands of photographs, missing persons posters, newspaper articles, and mementos have been left by those in mourning during and after the war.

Today, thousands of people have flocked to the memorial wall to solemnly celebrate the new year. It has become not only a tourist attraction for the Safe Zone, but a space of public reflection and remembrance of when the Civil War began.

Sighing into his gloved hand, Avi turns to his guest for the night with a dour and disappointed expression. He hates people. He hates crowds.

"It's no Times Square." Huruma makes the comparison with ease, even though it's apples and oranges. Her hands are buried in the pockets of her coat, eyes skimming the little sea of heads.

Crowds for her are… touch and go. Knowing what he knows, Avi knows she must be taking broad strokes. It is good enough for a light read.

"Hm." The dark woman's features shift as her mouth purses. Huruma raises one hand to gesture in passing to the buildings closest to the bay, lips ticking up at the corner. "Everyone has their attention elsewhere, if that helps." It may, though the aversion has always been strong regardless. "We've already come all this way." Her eyes lift up and away from the pier to skim the length of the shoreline, the buildings on their other side, back towards the central point of the crowds gathered. "There does seem space to wander, though." She adds, mutedly.

Avi grumbles, because he always does, and yet he continues walking down the steps with his hands tucked into his pockets and his head down, as if someone might recognize him. Except he’s not a celebrity, and no one cares he’s here.

Candlelight bathes the memorial area, there must be thousands of them now, running the full length of the memorial interspersed with dolls, photographs, flowers, and personal keepsakes. Every day cities around the country are still finding the bodies of those lost in the war, and every day it keeps getting harder to tell just how many memories are lost here. Some people stand, others sit and kneel, but few are celebrating.

Avi looks back to Huruma as he walks around the periphery of the group, rankling a little crowds. She can feel the pressure of anxiety in him and knows where it’s from—numerous wars, crowds, explosives—it’s easy to manage, for her. His bipedal antianxiety drip.

Ask her any other day, and Huruma would simply call this a type of exposure therapy. It's not a chaotic crowd, even if it is a crowd. It's nobody that pays much attention to them, even if it is many people. These are the small things. They won't fix a problem… but perhaps make it less of one.

He never needs to ask her, anymore; Huruma can now, with confidence, tell when she's needed on the inside, sandpapering down the sharp edges as they emerge. Never removing them completely. Blunting it. A lot of things can become bearable again- - even meandering along the outskirts of a vigil.

Standing to Avi's side with breath cold in front of her mouth, Huruma sighs, voice a murmur and pale eyes on the wax stars along the pier. "I think… for every year, fewer candles."

“Yeah.” Avi says in monotone delivery, scanning a space of the memorial through a gap in the crowd. “Fucks me up seeing faces I recognize on there. Ferrymen that didn’t get to Canada. Ones who went missing before the war.” Brows furrowing, Avi is washed over by a sense of regret.

“Makes me wonder where we’d be at if I came around sooner…” is Avi’s way of saying he’s sorry for contributing to the wall in his own way. “If Sylar hadn’t made me his convenient disguise, he’d never have gotten close to Petrelli. If I’d just…” He cuts off the end of that sentence, and from what was bubbling up inside none of it would’ve been good.

Avi clicks his tongue, looks at the backs of people as if they’d done something to affront him, and then keeps walking down the wharf. “This fucking city is like a scab I can’t stop picking.” Every day he remembers why he was thankful Wolfhound settled in Rochester, initially. Being back here, full time, hasn’t been easy.

At first it falls on Huruma to fix the invisible approach to spiraling with a narrowed look. The journey to what ifs is never very kind for any of them. Avi has a stranger set than most. Huruma allows him a stride on her before she quietly sidesteps after.

"There is really something… compulsive to reopening your wounds." She doesn't need to say precisely why she understands; the past speaks just as easily as it does for Avi. If she had 'come around' earlier, things would have changed. Such feelings as that, though… Huruma looks up and back to the candlelight, wall, silhouettes of bodies.

"I can't say I don't do the same." Sinking rather than swimming. "But you know that." Huruma's breathy laugh is a touch salty, though only just. "I could choose worse ones to claw at. At least this one has good with the bad…"

One more small laugh, there for when she states the obvious, "Ah, aren't we a fucking mess."

Avi looks back at Huruma, at first like a wounded animal wary of a stranger, but then the expression softens to a wounded man wary of making connections. “Yeah,” he says the way he always does, then looks back to the mural.

Avi stands there in silence for a while, arms crossed over his chest and brow furrowed, all the way through a distantly shouted countdown from a harborside bar. When the cheering and shouting starts in the street, apart from the silent sobriety of the memorial, Avi’s shoulders relax just a touch.

He lets the weight go, just this once.

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