Within Me Comes A Calling


avi_icon.gif berlin_icon.gif

Scene Title Within Me Comes a Calling
Synopsis Berlin finds Avi.
Date March 30, 2019

He never answered.

It took reaching out to Hana on the other side of the world in Israel to track his phone to a location within the Safe Zone. The several hour ride back with Harkness and his son was punctuated with awkwardness and frustration, spent entirely in isolation in the back of a pickup truck. The time spent traveling gives Berlin perspective on the phantom visitation in Epstein’s office, on the paternal question scrawled on a post-it note, on the whole reason she went looking for him in the first place.

The route from Rochester to the Safe Zone is a familiar one, taking I-90 for an hour east to what's left of Syracuse, then hopping on I-81 south for the remaining four and a half hours, cutting sharp east at the ruins of Binghamton and the small shanty towns that have sprung up around it, to join I-86 east all the way to the coast. It's mostly rural, winding highways through forested hills and ghost towns. Occasionally transient colonies pop up, trade outposts, reminders that life is still clinging in the war-torn fringes of America. But mostly it's just dark and lonely.

It's only when the silhouette of Manhattan, trimmed by sentry floodlights and high concrete walls, comes into view that it feels more like home. The Safe Zone might as well be a beacon in the darkness of a ruined world, a shining city on the coast with all the potential to be something great, and all the possibilities to become something terrible.

Just like Berlin.

17th Precinct Building

Phoenix Heights

NYC Safe Zone

March 30th


It took Berlin a while to walk here from Floyd Bennet airfield, where Harkness and his son stopped their long drive. Whenever here is.

The address Hana provided for the location of Avi’s phone is an unusual structure. The 17th Precinct building in what is now Phoenix Heights was abandoned before the war even started. It's an old building, vaguely castle-like in its appearance and overgrown with crawling ivy and surrounded by a partly torn down chain link fence. Avi’s beat up old pickup truck is sitting out front, along with a small trailer containing a generator and construction equipment. The generator is running, connected to tall construction lights surrounding the front of the building, whose heavy doors are thrown open.

Piles of old, broken brick line the pothole riddled street along with pieces of broken cinder block and smashed drywall. From inside, a steady and rhythmic smashing sound reverberates out into the street, the distinctive sound of a sledgehammer hitting stone, and the frustrated grunts of the man swinging it.

The gift of time has given Berlin a chance to calm, coming off the anger that drove her to hunt Avi down in the first place and replacing it with a heavy regret she can't quite shake these days. Her ghost spoke her own worst fear to her and she's still not sure what he was. She has guesses. None of them are comforting.

She approaches Avi's truck first, breathing out her relief. But then she really looks at the building. It has a too familiar look to it, familiar in the way that nightmares are familiar and always lingering in the corner.

The smash makes her jump.

Shaking out her hands, she heads into the building, following the sounds. Even though she knows they're not a good sound. They couldn't be, in a place like this.

The noise isn't coming from too far inside. Through the wide open double doors there's a spacious foyer with crumbling, industrial revolution-era masonry. Two walls are missing from where they clearly should be, opening up the space even more. Their absence is marked by straight angles on the floor where chips of masonry still stick to the concrete. Just past that, silhouette by the glow of a hanging electric light, Avi Epstein glistens with sweat, wielding a sledgehammer in both hands.

But it's a wall that he's taking his aggressions out on, not anything as dramatic as a person. Stone shatters under the blow of the hammer, and Epstein grunts with the impact. Flecks of brick and cement clatter to the floor, and Avi winds up again for another swing, hearing Berlin's footsteps but not looking at her.

“If you're here to quit,” Avi cracks the sledgehammer against the wall between his words, “you can leave your letter of resignation on my fucking desk.” Another grunt, followed by another crack of the sledgehammer against the wall.

There is no desk.

"I'm not here to quit," Berlin says, which surprises even her, "even if you all would be a lot safer if I did." She comes toward him in a circular fashion, surveying the open space, but mostly headed in his direction. "I don't think it's the conduits, I think it's me," she says, picking up a piece of former wall before she comes to a stop nearby. Not so near as to get in the way of his swing, though. She understands this particular urge.

"That's why I started looking for you, but that's not why I'm here now." Her objects shifted the moment she couldn't find him. Whether or not he is her father by blood, she can't help wanting him to be.

Which might be why she hasn't asked for a blood test. If he's not, then he not. If she never knows, then he always could be.

"Have an extra sledgehammer?"

“Harkness and The Boy are supposed to be bringing some by for tomorrow,” Avi says as he continues to take swings at the wall, still not pivoting to face Berlin. Admittedly, that explains the construction equipment that was in the bed of the truck on the ride in. After four more swings, Avi exhales heavy and panting breaths and slams the sledgehammer head-first down against the floor. He leaves it standing there and waves Berlin at it.

“By all means,” Avi says as he wipes his forearm across his brow. “We can take turns being obstinant fucks with a hammer.” He makes a beeline over to a metal thermos, popping the top off and drinking noisily from it. It's probably not vodka. Probably.

First, Berlin pulls off her jacket, tossing it to the side before she takes hold of the hammer. "Well, I don't see any guns here, so a hammer will have to do." Picking it up, she takes a moment to get used to the weight before swinging it at the wall where he left off. She's silent for several swings, getting into her own momentum. Then she glances over at him.

"Why would someone need a post-it note to remind them to get a paternity test?" Apparently, she's going to open with this, instead of explaining herself at all. She probably plans to get around to it. Eventually. "I would think that sort of thing would stick in the mind."

Avi sets down his water bottle with a loud clank of metal on concrete. “Stay the fuck out of my office,” is how he chooses to respond to that question. He pivots to Berlin, at least as well as he can without twisting his bad leg, and walks with a limping gait right over to her, looming at her side in such a way that she can't swing the sledgehammer without either hitting Avi, or moving away.

You don't get to lecture me about remembering basic shit.” Avi says with a jab of an index finger at her shoulder. “Ms. I can't control my fucking ability and didn't tell anyone for seven fucking years until I killed a guy.” He slides his tongue over his teeth. She can smell the stale stink of cigarettes and sweat at this distance.

She opts not to swing, resting the hammer on the ground instead. His return volley brings up a glare, moreso for the fact that she can't even hit something to offset it. She takes in a sharp breath when he pokes her, too. Her head tilts to one side as she takes a moment before responding.

"You know why I didn't tell anyone. You know because it was all over your face when you found out," she says turning to take a few steps away. She doesn't get far before she turns back to look at him. "And when I try to go do something about what I'm turning into, you blocked me. You could have disavowed me for the sake of the unit."

“If you think rotting in a prison cell is doing something then you haven't learned a single fucking thing since we took you on!” Avi shouts as he snatches the hammer by the haft and just hurls it a few feet away with a riotous clatter. “You wanna do something? Maybe fucking talk to Francois who had to control literally that ability for like a thousand fucking years or whatever!”

Avi steps back, throwing his arms up into the air. “Maybe talk to somebody with some measure of fucking skills, maybe dig up Gabriel Gray’s rotting fucking corpse and hold a seance and see if his fucking ghost will help you!” He just keeps getting louder and louder. “But no, you go behind my fucking back while Hana is away and try and turn yourself in and you didn't think I'd get that phone call?

His face is red by this point, jaw trembling and hands closed into large fists. “No!” Avi shouts with a wave of one hand wildly in the air. “I didn't pull you out of that fucking lab so you could go and wind up on another fucking table being dissected by SESA or god knows what the fuck literally anyone would do if they knew you had Kazimir fucking Volken’s ghost in your back pocket!

"I have Francois up here," Berlin says, her voice raising, since he took the chance to throw stuff, leaving her with little else, "and Gabriel. Two Volkens. You think I haven't asked them? I have. And I'm trying to tell you, it isn't the ability, it's me." She runs her hands into her hair, as if taming it down would calm her somehow. "Being in a cell would keep other people safe. I'm not safe, with or without the conduits. They're all up here, pushing on me. Telling me everything. But you know what they agree on? It's the vessel that directs all this stupid shit, not the other way around."

She puts her hands on her hips, looking up at him, red face and all, volume and all. He's not the one she's afraid of, after all. "I was trying to do the right thing. I didn't want you to talk me out of it," she says, working to keep her voice more level. It only works to a degree. "I don't want to be in another lab, but I don't know what else to do."

And when those words are out, something changes and she looks away, trying to hide the tears that push their way down her cheeks. She brings her hands up, trying to wipe them away. "Avi, I don't know what to do," she says, voice breaking.

Bullshit,” Avi says with regards to basically everything, sweeping one arm in a gesture as broad as his statement. “You don’t have Francois up there, because the real flesh and blood Francois is here, the one who’se lived for years without that ability, the one who’s your friend.” Avi continues to stare down at Berlin, neither budging from one-another’s face. “There’s a million ways you could’ve handled this, and you chose the worst possible outcome!

“If I didn’t talk to SESA, they were going to do a full fucking investigation!” Avi’s voice rings off the walls. “Do you know what would’ve happened? The Safe Zone fucking Siren would’ve had an article about how we hired a fucking murderer. We’re already on this ice after the shit Demsky pulled, and that would’ve shone a light on me, and her, and the whole fucking squad!” Avi’s voice cracks as he shouts, nearly making himself hoarse. “But you didn’t think of that! Because as much as you say you’re worried about everyone else, the only person you’ve been thinking about is your fucking self!

While he yells, Berlin works on stopping herself from crying more. And yet, her face is still tear stained as she looks back at him. As much as she might want to hide from what he says, she stays put and takes it. Because he isn't wrong, which sinks in during a length of silence that follows.

"You did hire a murderer. Or you're keeping one on, at least. But you're right. I have been thinking about myself. I didn't think how turning myself in would affect the team." She pauses, pushing her hair back from her face, like she isn't accustomed to apologies. Or words like them. "But I haven't only been thinking of myself. I don't want to hurt the others. And I don't want to make you cover up any other of my mistakes. I thought going away for a while would protect the others. You. I still think that." She lets out a softer sigh, wiping at her face again until it's closer to dry. Nevermind the smeared mascara. "Wolfhound is the first family I ever had. But I don't know how best to take care of it."

She reaches over to put her hands on his arms, like she might be trying to steady him. "You can yell at me, I know I earned it. But please, will you help me?"

Avi freezes, as if she were a bear that stumbled out of the bushes and started sniffing at his pockets. It isn’t because of the conduit, it isn’t because of what she did to that scientist, it’s because out of all of the weapons that she’s been given, out of all of the lethal training she’s received since joining Wolfhound, Avi fears one specific thing the most.

His heart.

So he looks away, brows furrowed, lips downturned into a frown. For a moment it feels like he’s going to dismiss Berlin outright, that he’s going to push her away and tell her to fucking deal with it. But instead there’s nothing, there’s just his silence in this old abandoned building. There’s the rumble of the generator outside.

There’s the look he gives back at her, his face half shrouded in shadow. “I didn’t need the reminder because I already did it.” Is an opaque statement for half a second. “Elmhurst had a cheek swab on file. A nurse there owes me.”

Avi looks down at her hand, then back up again. “Congratulations.”

“You’ve got shitty DNA.”

Berlin stays put, half out of worry and half out of stubbornness, like she might be planning to wear him down and make him help her. But she isn't really prepared for what he actually says. So she stares at him for a long moment, waiting for something else, some follow up comment. It's where she would expect him to take it back. Or anyone to, really.

"Is— that what you wanted?" she asks first, then she leans back, letting go of him as she shakes her head. "Don't answer that. But I don't know if I should apologize or not. I'm not… if you don't want—" She stops herself, lips pressing together as she looks back to him. "You were family anyway. I hope you know that."

She once saw the world where her mother loved her; she considered it a gift. She wasn't sure there was one where her father did.

But she hoped.

"I don't mind my DNA."

Closing his eyes, Avi exhales a breath through his nose and remains perfectly still. Bears don’t attack people who think they’re dead. Maybe that’s not his rationale. Like always, he doesn’t so much answer anything she’s asking as make leading statements that could be read multiple ways. “Yeah,” is such a non-committal thing to say to what amounts to multiple questions. It’s said with such disinterest that it’s practically sighed at her.

But it isn’t disinterest.

Because he’s attacking her.

No, wait.

That’s a hug.

“It was never about what I want,” Avi says into the top of Berlin’s head, nose pressed into her hair and arms around her small shoulders. He closes his one good eye, breathing out that sigh of yeah into her scalp.

“It was about you,” Avi says with his hands gripping against her back. He can’t say it. But this is more of an answer than she’d ever thought to have.

This is affirmation.

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