avi2_icon.gif rue4_icon.gif

Scene Title Unaccrued
Synopsis Rue returns to the place she once called home and looks to Avi for approval to reclaim her place there.
Date March 19, 2021

The Bastion: Avi Epstein's Office

The day is winding down, but it isn’t quite time to kick back or head home. Avi Epstein still has one meeting left on his calendar: a 6:30, infuriatingly scheduled by Huruma. One she insisted could not be changed. Something about meeting with an interior designer. At 6:31, the door opens and in steps a tall woman in white. A jacket hanging off her shoulders over a buttoned vest, pleated pants. What platform heels, a scarf marbled with ethereal wisps of black, and a black ribbon tied around her throat tie together the leather clutch bag with its black trim and handle, and the hat on her head with the black band. If he’s too disinterested to register her face or give a fuck about it, then it’s sure to be the cascade of ginger hair when she removes that panama hat that makes him take notice.

That bamboozling Dunsimi.

His late appointment is with February Lancaster. The hat is held in front of her, like maybe it’s a shield. Like she could hold it in front of her the way her old partner did. Her blue gaze is cool, guarded in that way he recognized even when she didn’t realize she was employing those defenses.


“Get the fuck out,” is Avi’s casual greeting while his swivels back and forth in his chair, cigar in his mouth slowly composing a text message on his phone with both twitchy thumbs. “Six thirty?” He states with a glance over at Rue and then back to his phone. “Get the fuck out, shut the door, and walk back in and the first thing out of your mouth better either be I’m sorry or I’m extremely sorry.

To emphasize his point, Avi gently motions to the door with one hand. She can see what he’s typing on his phone, it might be related.

my fucking day just now:

“Fuck you,” Rue spits right back. “If I walk out that door and walk back in, the first thing outta your mouth better be I missed the fuck outta your gorgeous goddamn face.” Her jaw is tight, and it might look like she’s holding back laughter, but she’s just barely holding it together at all. Pick an emotion and that’s the one she’s struggling with.

“Do you still drink alcohol, or just the tears you masturbate with?”

what did you do

Avi rolls his eyes.

nothing yet but i might murder a former coworker talk later maybe from prison we’ll see

Setting down his phone on the desk, Avi gives Rue a deadpan look. “I’m trying to dry up,” he says with a slow rise of his hands. It sounds like a joke at first, until she realizes he… isn’t joking. “So, no.”

There’s still alcohol in his office, that little sideboard cart by the window, but still his tone is firm.

“Good for you.” Some of the acerbic bite has gone out of Rue’s tone, but not all of it. She can’t be the one who blinks first here, can she?

Yes, it turns out. She can.

With a roll of her eyes, Rue turns around, opens the door and steps outside. She closes it behind her, leaving her hand on the knob and counts to three.

One… (Fuck this.) Two… (Fuck this.) Three. (Seriously, fuck this.)

The door opens again, and she strides in. “I am extremely sorry,” she begins, just like he told her to, but there’s more to it than that, “that I haven’t had the fucking spine to speak to you in over a goddamn year.

There’s no attempt at hiding the way her fists or her teeth clench. A second with her eyes closed and a breath pushed out is all the centering she gives herself before she’s looking directly at him again. “And I’m sorry that when I did, I let you look me in the eye and walk the fuck away without pursuing you. Like a scared little girl, afraid of Dad’s disapproval.”

Rue shudders when it’s done. “There. There’s your apology.”

“Cool,” Avi says with a distracted tone, pulling out a drawer in his desk. He makes a noise, closes the drawer and opens another one, then finally on the third drawer finds what he’s looking for: a pair of keys on an ovoid fob. He slides it across the desk.

“We changed the locks, got a digital security system thanks to Tetsuyama.” Avi says as if he’s just checking off a box in a list of chores. “Your room’s third on the left right off the stairs on the third floor. It’s uh—unfurnished.”

He kept a space for her.

“What’s your start date gonna be?” Avi asks, his phone buzzing with a received message that elicits a side-long glance. He doesn’t pick it up.

Rue sets her bag and her hat down on the desk harder than she strictly has to, snatching up a tissue from a box instead, lips pursed angrily. “This is the part where you say you’re sorry your lame ass couldn’t even bother with a text message.” The bite is only half-hearted. She can’t manage even their brand of verbal daggers thrown between friends.

The fob is glanced down to, then her gaze abruptly shifts to the wall over Avi’s left shoulder. One more flicker back and forth before it stays there, her jaw set. “I can’t accept that. And… not for the bullshit reasons you think this time.”

Tissue wadded in her fist, the backs of her knuckles press against her mouth like it at all hides the tremulous way with which she delivers her next statement. “You saved me a room, you absolute bag of dicks.” That’s more their speed. Just usually without the impending tears.

“Not apologizing,” Avi says, leaning back in his chair. “I was waiting for you. Because it doesn’t matter what I would’ve sent. I told you to fuck off and come back when you were good.” He points a finger down at the desk. “This is the moment that matters.”

Avi motions to the keys with his chin. “You can accept it, and you’re going to. I don’t give a shit if you’re freelancing or whatever, you’re a member of this team and that hasn’t changed from the day your scrawny ballerina ass begged to tag along or however that went, straight through to today. Once a Hound, always a Hound.”

He’d made the same concessions for Noa, for Adel. Somewhere in the basement there’s a closet with a sign taped to it that reads, “Wireless.” That one he has less hope for, but hope nonetheless.

“I hate you.” There’s no teeth to the declaration, just tears. “All I wanted to know was that I still mattered to you. I didn’t need your stupid, bullshit bootstrapping.” She hates this. That he’s right in this approach in a lot of ways. Strength be damned, she lets herself cry openly. Angrily, full of sorrow, pain. She knows there’s merit to what she needed, too. “I needed you to tell me to stop drinking myself into the grave. To stop looking for death in every darkened alley.” There’s not a chance in hell he didn’t know about her downward spiral, the way she circled the drain while the InSinkErator was running on full.

“I’m here? Because the raid on the Institute was a turning point. It’s when I learned I could really make a difference. When push came to shove, I could – I would put my scrawny ballerina ass between the people who needed protection and the most hellish of dangers.”

Ten Years Earlier

Commonwealth Arcology
Cambridge, Massachusetts

November 8

Long legs cannot carry her to the canal quickly enough. Her friends are down there. She's huffing and puffing when she arrives, greeted by the sight of terrified children coming up the ladder to what they hope will be safety. At a glance, Rue Lancaster may not be much to look at, but her upper body strength is more than enough to pull the children in Veronica Sawyer's charge out of the chokepoint.

Once the rest of the cavalry arrives, she goes vaulting down into the canal without a second thought for her own safety.

Her friends are down there. She has to find—

Avi stammers, stutters and lets out a gurgling gasp of breath. He's trembling from head to toe, looking around with his one good eye and all he can see are muted, dark and screaming silhouettes in yellow fog. The horrors of his life before play out before him now.

Abruptly changing direction in the chaos, Rue makes a beeline toward Epstein. Now is when she does her best impression of her dear Auntie Adrianne, because if anyone could ever make her sit up and listen when no one else could, it was the Queen of Wands. "Soldier! Put yourself together!" she barks. "There's people that need saving!" She sure as fuck can't carry any of the wounded out of this mess all on her own.

Avi grips his rifle with rigor's firmness. Something got through to him through the haze of *. He breathes in, sharp and heavy. Then, seeing Jensen Raith lingering in the open near gunfire, the only drone left sweeping in for a strafe of gunfire. "Fuck, fuck! FUCK!" Pushing away from the wall, he’s moving suddenly with a quickness of a younger man he might imagine himself to be sometimes.

Rue still has her wits about her when Avi goes charging past her, having enough sense to get the hell out of the way of both him and the impending gunfire.

Jensen! Jensen!” Avi runs head-first into the hail of gunfire from the last drone and tackles Raith with all his might, knocking him off of his feet and onto the ground. When the pass is complete, blood covers Raith, blood covers Avi. Epstein's been hit and he’s a weight on top of Raith. But a swearing weight, so this could be worse. Only one of them is struck. Luck of the draw, it's Avi.

Fuck,” Avi breathlessly whispers, rolling off of Raith, leaving a trail of red everywhere from a mangled leg. "Fuck, fucking– fuck." He hits Jensen, with the butt of his rifle, in the thigh. "Move!"

It won't be the first time the two of them have carried him off. Rue's just got to pretend they're all heading to Denny's for breakfast. "Raith, come on!" It's the first time she's dropped the Mister when talking to him. She's still keeping the tone she used to get the wounded man moving, but her voice tremors.

"We have to go.” The urgency bleeds from her voice and hopefully into Jensen’s ears. His very being. “Help me get him topside!" Already Rue is dropping down to grab one of Avi's arms, tugging him upward with Raith's help. "Sorry, Mister Epstein," she mutters under her breath. At least she's almost as tall as the two of them, so it's a little less like a three legged race in gait.

It's a stark change, where it's Rue telling Raith what to do instead of the other way around. It has the desired effect all the same: All three of them are up, and even if slower than desired, they're getting Avi to the edge of the canal. There's more than enough assistance already outside that they manage it without making Avi's condition worse, something it is more than capable of doing on its own.

When it’s over and they’re in the evac truck, only then does Rue finally let herself drain as.

Present Day

“You hesitated,” Rue reminds him, and not in that way she does when she wants to be a bitch about something. “You and Jens both just froze. And I learned I could take charge, and I could call you back.

Ten Years Earlier

Bannerman’s Castle, Dungeon
Pollepel Island

December 19

Converse sneakers slap over stone and water alike as Rue hurries to the door to her cell and rattles it as hard as she can, trying desperately to jar it from its hinges just enough. All she needs is to be able to sneak through. She's so very thin, it wouldn't take much at all, right?

Nothing. The water rises and nothing else gives, except for a section of wall, pouring more water into her prison past splintering wood and dislodged bricks. She screams now to be heard over the roar above and the rushing waterway. Her entire cell is threatening to collapse around and on top of her.

Slowly, a deep breath is drawn into her lungs, one more effort to secure a rescue. “Somebody!” She cries out loudly enough that her throat hurts afterward. “Help us!” Because at least maybe they’ll save the dog that’s come along to apparently assure her she’s going to be okay.

There’s no response to her cries.

For a long time, Rue rests her forehead against the bars of her cell and simply listens to the sounds around her. The destruction up above. The water pouring in over the floor and rising steadily. The groaning of weakening supports. The sound of footsteps on the stairs.


With renewed fervor, Rue leans back and starts pulling at the door of her cell again. “I’m here! Please, somebody!” She looks to the dog – Jupiter – and points him toward the stairwell. “Go find them! Find them and bring them down here! Tell them Rue’s trapped in a well!” She hasn’t got a lot of options available to her at the moment.

Something barreling toward him down the hall causes Avi to let out a startled yelp as he raises his rifle. Realizing that thing is a friendly dog and not a man-eating robot, he hiccups out a strangled laugh. "Fuck, Lassie's here? Great. Great." He and Rue may not be related, but in a lot of ways they are.

"Rue! You stupid trouble-making good for nothing piece of shit!" Avi howls as he emerges from the stairwell.

The prisoner he’s here to free provides her own shriek in response. “Avi!” It’s the first time Rue’s ever used his given name. Hope swells while he pats down his side, then frantically looks around.

“Fuck, fuck!” Avi shouts as she reaches through the bars to grab onto his arm. “Fuck I don't— I don't have the keys! They're on—” Horror etches itself into the prisoner’s features. The keys to Rue's cell are on the only person Eileen trusted to let her out.


Hope withers. “Oh, please. Please don’t let me drown.” With one of Colette’s luminescent butterflies hovering near her face, Avi can see Rue’s eyes shift to look at this gun, then back to his face. Don’t let me drown is not the same as don’t let me die.

Present Day

“I’m here? Because you hesitated long enough not to shoot me when my scrawny ballerina ass begged you to.” Rue sniffs hard and presses the heels of her hands against her cheekbones, gliding outward to the edges of her face to wipe away the wet accumulated there. “Christ, do you even remember that? It was a fucking turning point in my life.” She tries to smile, like maybe she’s meant to show thanks for that.

But the expression twists into a frown. There’s something in her eyes. Fathomless and deeply anguished. The more she replays the events in her mind, the more she really recalls it all. “Do you remember? You grabbed a fucking grenade. You went into a state. You were going to blow yourself to kingdom goddamn come out of some misguided sense that it was the only way to save us from dying under that castle.”

The tears come again. Sure, she’s still angry, but moreover, it is so, so very painful to remember the look in his eyes. How far away he was, how she thought she may not get to him in time. How close she came to losing him. “I reached for you. I made you put it away. Do you remember any of it?” Her voice shakes. Her hands shake.

You held my hand,” she whispers, “and we walked out together.” They’re both alive because they helped each other. How many times did they do that during the war? “Two humans, continually in over our heads.” Even after. Rue lowers her head, her jaw wound tight, anger swelling up again. “I pulled you back.” An exhale comes out as a shuddering sound. “Every time, I pulled you back!”

Snapping her gaze back up again, accusing and betrayed. There’s a loud slam of her palms on the surface of his desk when she leans forward to shout at him, demanding to know: “Why didn’t you pull me back?!

Avi slides his tongue over his teeth, brows furrowed. “Because you never needed me to.”

His shoulders slack, and Avi scrubs both hands down his face. “You’ve got more years on you than I do, I can’t be around being your fucking babysitter. And you don’t need me to. You fucking answered it for yourself. All those times you pulled my ass out? You didn’t need me to do it for you, and if I did you’d just want me to be there to do it again.”

Shrugging, Avi slouches back into his seat. “So you stood on your own. Like we all gotta do, eventually.”

“Jesus Christ.” Rue starts laughing, because she honestly can’t do anything else in the face of what she sees as his willful blindness. With her palms already planted on his desk, she can lean into them and shake. It carries on for several seconds longer than she’d like it to before it all subsides with a heave of a sigh. “No, Avi. There’s nothing wrong with being there for someone when they need you. I don’t know how you haven’t learned that after all this time.”

Standing up straight again, she scrubs the back of one hand under her nose. “And I didn’t save myself. I literally tried to goad some self-important prick to murder me in an alleyway behind a bar. If Richard hadn’t been looking for my double, I’d be dead. Hell, I tried to convince him that I was her, so he’d kill me. If he’d believed me…” She’d be dead. “I didn’t pull myself out of that tailspin. Elliot did. He– I– I–”

Incredulous, she shakes her head. “Eventually. You just got done saying I did it before. You’d done it before, too. Does that mean I should have–” Frowning, she knows this is an exercise in frustration. “Elliot pulls me out of the gutter every third day. But only the ones that end in Y. So, no, I’m not doing this alone. You know why?” Rue presses her tongue against the back of her upper left molars, fixing Avi with a questioning look, but it’s a question she’s going to answer herself. “Because Hounds help each other. They don’t leave each other to crawl back on their hands and fucking knees before they’ll– Whatever the fuck it is that you think you were doing that’s supposed to be helpful.”

The keys are scooped up off the desk and Rue very nearly whips them right back at Avi’s head. The motion is made, but they never leave her hand. “I felt abandoned, Avi. I trusted you the most, and I felt like you just left me.” The next comment she expects to cut, but it isn’t done out of unkindness. “Hana would have come to check on me. She would’ve been an asshole about it, but she would have done it.”

It’s better than the kneejerk comment she wanted to make about why he wasn’t on speaking terms with Emily until recently.

“I don’t see Hana here.” Avi says flatly, his tone cooling. “So maybe you’re a little mistaken there.”

Sitting forward, Avi holds out his hand on the desk. “You can give me back the keys,” he says with a languid look up at her. “Because you’re right, I made a mistake. I thought you found a way to get your shit in order, found someone who knew how to help you get your shit in order, and not just someone to lean on like a dependent.”

Avi curls his fingers. “There’s a fine line between help and enabling. I don’t know how to do the former for you, Rue, and I don’t think you know what that even looks like if you saw it.” His jaw sets. “You need to find out how to stand on your own two feet, or find people who can help you get on them. That’s not me. Not because I don’t want to, but because I can’t.

Every moment up ‘til now, Rue had been prepared to refuse these keys, this position, if it was offered to her. Now that she has those keys in her hand and she's realized she was unconsciously and wholeheartedly embracing the idea of having a place where she really belonged again… She doesn't want to give them up. Maybe that's what he's counting on. She can't tell anymore what's a game with him, and it bothers her. He's changed. She's changed. The two of them are no longer simpatico. No longer in sync.

Rue's expression softens. “During the war, you were the one who gave me the tools I needed to survive.” She waves a hand before he can refute it. “Sure, Hana taught me to fight and how to break a man six ways with my hands literally tied behind my back,” and she has, “and Jens taught me the basics of how to use my looks to be unassuming and underestimated in order to be eyes and ears in the places we need,” and she has, “but you taught me not to freeze in those moments.”

And she has.

“Especially the quiet ones, where I got a front row seat to my failures. Should I have taken the shot earlier? Did I look too interested? Did I search too much for a friendly face in the crowd to know I had backup?” Rue lets out a long sigh and puts her hands back onto the desk for stability, though her fingers stay curled around the keys for now. “Whatever happened, happened. I learned that from you.”

Her eyes meet his. Both of them. That still seems to take some getting used to. “I survived the war because you gave me what I needed in order to not break down crying every night.” This is where her heart constricts. “What I didn't learn was how to stop doing that when the war was over. Losing Dearing, losing…” Devon. “They became what I was unable and unwilling to bury.”

Slowly, her fingers uncurl. She doesn't put the keys back into Avi's hands, but the keys do scrape quietly against the desk as she slides them halfway between them, lifting her hand and drawing it, empty, back to herself.

“Maybe you're right. Maybe I don't belong here anymore.” That brings fresh tears to Rue's eyes. “I wish I did. I wish I was still… enough to be here…”

None of that is why she's here.

“I…” Pushing herself up off the desk, Rue stands up tall. In her boots, she matches Avi for height. “I came here, because I meant, more than anything, to say goodbye. I couldn't… just leave without telling you how much you've meant to me. Yes,” she grants, “we fight, but…” Her throat feels so tight that she'll never get words from it again. “We're still– We're still friends, aren't we?” If anyone could get her back on her feet, “Why the hell can’t it be you?”

Avi opens the drawer in his desk and drops the keys inside. He looks up at Rue, wordlessly, then just sighs and looks at the surface of his desk. “If you gotta ask that question, I don’t fucking know what to tell you. But eventually you gotta stop and take a look around and ask yourself, ‘are the people close to me actually helping me? Or are they helping me ignore what’s wrong?’”

Reaching for his phone, Avi checks the time and then looks back to Rue. “You’re a grown fucking woman who can make her own choices now. You’re not a kid anymore that I need to babysit. You said it yourself, you came here t’say goodbye so…” he trails off, not really sure what to say at that point. “Make sure you say your goodbyes to the others, too. I dunno if they’d ever forgive you if you didn’t.”

Whether she’s correct or not in the category she places Avi in now, Rue’s decided where he belongs in that divide of actually helping or helping to ignore. Now, maybe, she understands a little better why he can’t. The lessons Rue took from Avi were how to ignore everything. To pack it away in boxes and shove them into closets in the back of her mind to moulder and gather moths. And maybe Elliot’s teaching her to unpack all of that little by little, or maybe he’s just showing her how to tie bows on it and make it look prettier. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter.

“Well, I haven’t said goodbye to you yet.” Rue informs him with a tone of voice that may as well tack on a so fuck you. “Don’t embarrass us both here. Just get on your feet, don’t be a bitch about it, shut your mouth until I fucking finish talking, and let me have this one.”

“Aye, aye, captain.” Avi says, turning his chair and slowly pushing up to stand using the corner of his desk to help lever him up in the process. He hadn’t been that slow to move last time Rue saw him. After Nathalie healed him he’d been like a young man again, but the way he grimaces when he pushes himself up from his chair makes it look like it takes some concerted effort. Like no amount of temporary healing can fully undo a face that is readily evident by all the gray in his hair.

Avi is getting old.

“Give me your long monologue and a slap or wherever this is going…” Avi says as he steps around his desk.

It’s hard to see him like that. Hard, but not a forgotten sight. It’s better than it was, she reminds herself. God, she doesn’t want to think about saying goodbye to him because he leaves first. The thought makes her throat too tight and she has to shove it down. Has to cover the moment with a flat look. “It’s a monologue,” she deadpans. But she’s also not lying.

Rue waits for Avi to stand before wrapping her arms around him, fitting herself there, her head at the place where shoulder meets chest. Though her brows pinch, there are no tears. Angry, relieved, or otherwise.

“Thank you,” she murmurs. “Thank you for giving me everything I needed to learn how to stand, even if I can’t always do it alone. Thank you for teaching me how to protect myself when I have no other choice but to just keep going. Thank you for taking in my scrawny ballerina ass when I showed up with a bunch of camera equipment and my father’s old hunting rifle and asked for a place.”

There’s a pause for breath, and it’s an audible one. “Thank you for never giving up on me –” Her voice cracks. “–even when I give up on me.” She steps back, still without any crying on the horizon, and meets eyes with the man she decides to count among her friends when she’s about to have just one in the days ahead. “I love you, Avi Epstein.” She smirks wryly, aware of the levels of discomfort that confession that’s not really a confession is bound to cause. “I don’t mean kiss you in the hallway love you. I mean I love you like the rest of my squad. Only I’ve loved you the longest.”

Rue shakes her head. “Whatever you think of yourself, you are one of the best people I have ever known, and you’re competing with Adrianne fucking Lancaster there, so you know the competition was prepared to smoke you.” That the levity is coming back speaks well for her where her mind’s at. This is more in line with what she wanted this meeting to look like. Not the ugly turn it took when she tried to search for something that ultimately doesn’t matter.

“You taught me that even if I’m fucking terrified, doing the things we do is fucking important. Because there might be someone out there who’s just as terrified as I am, who doesn’t have my skills, who… might not have to be terrified anymore after I’ve done my job.” Rue’s face finally shows all the determination she’s known to possess. This is the Rue who went to war against the government. The one who saddled up to dismantle the Institute. The one who dropped ‘bots with C4 and anti-tank guns alike. The one who marched in to topple the Ziggurat.

It may have taken a long time for her to claw herself out from the rubble, but she’s here now, ready to go fight another battle. “I am going out there to fight Mazdak, because it’s what needs to be done so that nobody else needs to be as terrified as I am right now. Not ever.”

Her jaw sets tight. “I am not a nobody. I worked fucking hard to get where I am and I have the scars to show it.” Her hand lifts, her palm open. “I sure the fuck don’t want to die a nobody.” Rue tries to keep too much hope or apprehension. “So I would like those keys. Because if I don’t make it back, I’d like to die as a Hound.”

Slowly, Rue lets her expression shift, letting a grin crack across her face. “And if I do make it back, I’m going to come back here and ruin your whole fuckin’ day by living up to that goddamn codename you tried to give me.”

The grin fades to earnest solemnity. “If you’ll have me.”

Somewhere in all of that, something must have been going on inside of Avi that isn’t evident from the surface. Maybe it’s decades of government service in espionage, maybe it’s years of trying to navigate around Huruma’s better judgment, maybe it’s just good-old-fashioned toxic masculinity. But whatever was going on behind the scenes only becomes apparent when Rue finishes talking.

When Avi steps in and wraps his arms around Rue in a hug. “You know I love you too, kid.” He says in that liminal space of emotional availability. “And sometimes love means letting go.” He relaxes the embrace, looking up to Rue.

“Find your life,” Avi says quietly, “find some happiness somewhere other’n here.” He squeezes her shoulders, and only now does it become clear what he’s been trying to do all this time. “And if you fail that?” He tilts his head to the side and looks down to the floor. “Then you can die here with family.”

Nathalie, Taylor, Hana. Everyone Avi has ever let get this close has died in some measure. Not because of proximity to himself, but because of the job. And in that, he wants something better for Rue. Something he and his family won’t ever have: a happy ending.

It’s only when her affection is reciprocated after the fact that Rue breaks down finally, letting out one single, strangled sob against Avi’s chest. She’s already reining herself in by the time he’s easing them both back, but she’s refusing to be ashamed of it. Hearing those words after years of needing to find that full acceptance hit her harder than a high caliber bullet to her armored chest.

Wiping her face with one hand, she tips her face up with a genuine smile when she’s done. Gratitude. “You’ll always be the family I chose, okay? I chose all of this. But not because of you. I didn’t blindly follow you out of some sense of hero worship, okay? I followed you because you knew what the fuck you were doing.” The fact that she’d have gotten herself killed if she went it alone is obvious. She's learned a lot since then.

“Well…” Rue sighs, bouncing her shoulders a little. “Keep those keys for me. I like to have my options open. And I’ll need a place to crash if Elliot ever throws me out.” That’s a joke, but sleeping above a bar again also seems like a bad idea. “When I get back, I’m taking you to dinner, okay? None of this not talking to each other bullshit anymore. I’ve had enough family estrangement to last me a while.”

That hat of hers is settled back atop her head, the angle adjusted carefully before she gathers up her purse. “I think I’m gonna go see if I can catch anyone dumb enough to play a hand or two of cards with me. Maybe try to get some stories passed around. I think that’ll be a nice note to go out on. You should come join. I can even pretend I’m surprised you showed up.”

“You’re ruining the fucking moment,” Avi says under his breath, stepping away and gently pushing Rue back at the shoulders. “Play with your friends,” he says with a veiled smile, “I only play poker with employees.” Meaning, come back alive.

Rather than look offended, she only offers a lopsided grin. “Alright, alright.” What peace she can make here has been made after far too many years of searching for it. She opens the door and steps through, but takes a moment to lean back into the office. All that's left is for the bird to make ready to fly from the nest.

“I’ll send you a postcard,” she promises while she waves with a wiggle of her fingers, then she closes the door behind her. A kindness. A closed door doesn't invite further interruptions. It also speaks to finalities.

As she walks down the hall to the lounge, only time will tell if this will be the swan’s first and only dive. For now, she has friends to see and memories to revisit. Validation to seek in a life lived well, because once upon a time, a scrawny ballerina fell in love with the very idea of saving the world.

Unrequited, like the Swan Queen of her favorite show, her love would never be realized. The desire to be a hero feels a lot like the desire to be loved by a prince. But she has before her one last performance. One last act where she may discover the magic to free her from her curse. She searches for something she'll never have.

Swan Lake’s ending isn’t a particularly happy one.

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