Zen And The Art Of Espionage


aviators_icon.gif raith_icon.gif

Scene Title Zen and the Art of Espionage
Synopsis The Kings are reunited.
Date June 16, 2010


There's a quiet comfort in living somewhere off the grid, in an apartment that belongs to an 87 year old Korean War veteran that passed away in the explosion of 2006 but was never recorded among the dead. Harold Atkins may be gone, but his apartment is not forgotten nor do his bills go unpaid. In fact, ever since his death Harold's credit rating has improved dramatically; who says identity theft can't work for you?

It's this dusty and tiny apartment on the east end of Brooklyn where a member of the CIA's Special Activities Division lives his days out when another man is busy masquerading thorugh Washington as him. Avi Epstein has come a long way since the deserts of Afghanistan and the jungles of Madigascar, unfortunately most of that long way has been down.

The apartment is entirely a lonely hovel, despite how the 16 inch television sitting on a tv-tray in front of a coffee table full of crumpled beer cans might make appearances seem. There's another, transient, resident here who he knows isn't home right now, or perhaps she's just lost between heartbeats in time. Either way, when those keys jingle in the deadbolt lock of apartment 13, Avi Epstein knows he's going to be coming home to an empty apartment, quiet time, and a cold beer while he watches Wheel of Fortune.

Live as a paramilitary operator is rough, and oftentimes the only certainty it has to offer is the certain of what a man knows. And today, Avi Epstein's life is very, very politely reminding him, 'You don't know jack.'

All those crumpled beer cans have decided to take themselves a little vacation, or so it would seem, because not a single one of them is in sight on the coffee table that seems strangely polished, given the way the overhead is reflecting off it. Even from the front door, it looks polished. Perhaps more disconcerting still is the smell. Not death or gas or something he might be expecting, but the smell of meat happily roasting away over a fire. Meat and garlic and black pepper and all those wonderful things that Avi never comes home to. But most disconcerting of all? That would be the music coming from the radio, or at least a radio, and the far-too-familiar singing to accompany it.

"I'd like to hear some funky dixieland, and dance a honky tonk…"

The door just closes, slams shut and there's a groaned voice on the other side from the hall. "When I open this door the world is going to make sense again!" It's not so much a demand as it is a begged request, but when the door cracks open there's still that strumming guitar riff and still the fact that his apartment looks clean. Aviators barges into his own home like he— well he does own the place, technically — and slams the door shut behind himself, throwing his keys at the couch as if it had just said something rude to him.

"Jesus Christ, Jensen." Reaching up as if he were to take off his sunglasses, Avi does not in fact reveal his empty eye socket, but just fondles the right arm of the eyewear and comes to stand in the doorway of the cramped kitchenette.

"Did anyone see you come up in here? Did— " he cuts himself off, realizing how much of a ridiculous question it is, letting his head slouch down into his palm and lips press together. "Is Clara here? Did she let you in? I swear to God if she let you in…"

As expected, Raith is not forthcoming with answers, likely only partially because he's distracted with the cooking that he must be doing. But it must not be that distracting, because when he hears Avi shouting at him, he at least has the courtesy to turn the radio- seemingly one he furnished himself- down. But then, he immediately occupies himself with opening the refrigerator. Glass lightly knocks against glass, and what should Raith cause to appear on the counter but one bottle each of bock and porter beers. Then, only when he begins the hunt for a bottle opener does he speak. "If anyone saw me," he says, opening a drawer and retrieving what he needs before closing it, "All they saw was a conservatively dressed man in a worn fedora bringing his groceries home." Which would explain, perhaps, why the ex-spy is wearing a white dress shirt and a pair of slightly faded slacks instead of what he might normally wear.

For now, Raith says nothing else, filling the air with the sound of the bottles briefly hissing as their internal pressures quickly come to equal the outside air. When he turns to face Avi, and to pass him the bock lager, he looks for all the world like he'd just come home from work only an hour earlier. "What's wrong, afraid the neighbors might start talking?" he asks with a lopsided, half-sinister grin that is the King of Swords trademark.

Shaking his head and snorting out a laugh, Aviators reaches out and takes the bottle now that the cap is off. "Huh, that's where it was…" he comments to the bottlecap opener. "I started just using the corners of the counters," and it shows from all the chipped formica peeled off from slamming bottletops down violently to get them to open. "Look, I don't mind if you want to come up in here and play Queer Eye or whatever for my apartment, but…" he doesn't come up with the end of that sentence.

"Skinnybird told me you saw something during the blackout," is not quite a lit as Avi turns his back on the kitchenette and wanders into the living room, looking over his shoulder to Raith and then shakes his head slowly. "They replaced you in Langley, you know… your suit." That Avi delivers the news as an off-handed remark seems inappropriate, but at least his tone seems remorseful. "Adrianne pitched a fit about it."

All things considered, Raith takes that bit of news better than Adrianne Lancaster did. "They didn't replace me," he says, pausing to take a sip of his beer, "They just recast the role and are hoping the audience doesn't notice. Sure sign the show's about to jump the shark." Took it a lot better than Lancaster.

"And yeah, I saw something. Saw you, in fact. No one was more surprised than me, let me tell you."

Remarkably not choking on his beer, Avi turns around and offers a raisedbrow over the lenses of his sunglasses, lips screwing up into a frown as he shifts his weight from one foot to the other and then starts walking back to the kitchenette. "The fuck'd you see?" It's a bit harsh of a request for information, but Avi's always been this way. "Seriously, I— you probably have exactly the right idea about how far up the asses of everyone down in DC this whole thing has gotten, what'd you see?"

Anger is a replacement for nervousness when it comes to Avi, whenever he's honestly scared about something he comes off as pissed, it meant keeping a stable relationship very hard, it also means that more often than not he comes off as a caustic asshole.

"Helicopter," Raith replies simply, "We were flying one. Standard evac, about as bad as the Mog. Us versus the Army or the Guard, judging by the tanks. Like what you hear so far?" The lopsided grin comes back, now slightly more than half-sinister. "About as bad as the Mog because we didn't even get one minute of flight in before a Ma Deuce ripped our tail up. Last thing I remember is that ground coming up at us awful fast." Again, Raith pauses to sip his beer, but rather than speaking again, he turns that privilege over to Avi, instead placing his bottle on the counter and turning the oven off before pulling on a pair of oven mitts.

"Jesus fuck," Avi breathes out into the palm of his hand, the most eloquent response he can give to the revelation that not only is he sharing cockpit space with Raith but that he's doing so on the opposite side of the US Government from anyone else. "Who else was there, in your— in whatever the fuck that was. Jensen this is important did you see Kershner or— " Avi makes a line across his forehead with one finger, "your best buddy? Was he there?" Somehow this all seems to matter more than Avi's beer, which gets used more like a wand, being gestured towards Raith.

"Why were we fighting the fucking military, whyw ere they shooting at us? When did it happen?" All questions that — while legitimate — are largely outside of Raith's knowledge base on visions of the future. "Tell me everything, I need to know everything you saw."

"Just you," Raith replies. The oven door opens, and in Raith's padded, protected hands comes a broiler pan with aluminum foil over the top that is placed on top of the stove. "Eileen was on the radio. There were Ferrymen in the chopper with us. Ferrymen and kids, Avi." After the broiler pan, out comes two giant baking potatoes before Raith shuts the oven with his foot. "Army was using gas. Negation and CS, probably. It was night. I'm guessing they shot us because they saw a bird that wasn't theirs." Off come the mitts, and back into hand goes Raith's beer. And then, he turns back around. "I saw you, I heard Eileen. That's all."

Nodding his head slowly, Avi wipes a hand over his mouth and offers a fleeting — confused — look to the fact that Raith seems to have been baking a casserole. Avi wasn't even sure that the oven worked. First time for everything, today. "Um, this… Christ. Sarisa and I were at a security council meeting in DC when all of that blackout shit happened, I haven't gotten a chance to talk to Sylar yet and Clara said she didn't see anything."

Fingers move from mouth to temple, massage slowly, and Avi slouches one shoulder against the doorjam between living room and kitchen, finally upending his beer and taking a long, slow chug from it. "You were the ideas guy, what'd you make of it? Of the whole fucking thing? I mean— all this blackout future seeing shit— we may still be just shy of the same side of the fence, but…"

Rolling his tongue over the front of his teeth, it's like the words Avi's about to say actually tastes bitter in his mouth. "You did good work, and the agency lost a lot when you went awol."

"We've got some ideas going around." Turning his attention to another drawer, Raith fishes out a butter knife and uses it to push the foil from the top of the broiling pan. "Tell me what you make of this, Avi," he says. 'Aviators' may not be a fan of casserole, but even his spirits must brighten a bit when the pan is revealed to contain two thick, seared T-bone steaks. Porterhouse, from the size of the tenderloin. "Three Ferrymen have gone missing within the past two weeks. "One electrokinetic, probably a target of opportunity. Not a week later, we also lose an augmenter and a precog who shows other people what their future is. Not long after that, the blackouts happen. You want to know what I think?

"I think Uncle Sam is sick and tired of getting his daily news the old-fashioned way. I think some of his nieces and nephews think they've got a way to see what happens before it happens, instead of guessing what might happen based on what guys like you tell them is happening. I think their experiment was less controlled than they intended it to be. And I think what I saw, is the ultimate result of what happens when we try to stand up against the powers that be. Uncle Sam's dead, Avi, but don't worry. I'm sure Big Brother Petrelli will be even fairer and more honest with us." A half-shrug from the ex-spy.

"But that's what I think."

Stepping into the kitchenette, it's crowded, but Avi's eyes while masked behind the lenses of his sunglasses can't hide his posture as he looms over the pan, brows lifting and nostrils flaring as he takes in a breath of what smells a might better than microwaved macaroni and cheese. But for all that he seems hungry, there's an expression that spreads across his face that implies disgust and distaste, maybe it's not the best dinner conversation to be had.

"You're talking like Kershner," Avi grumbles quietly into the neck of his beer, tipping it up to take a sip before walking out of the kitchenette and into the living room again with clunking footsteps. "She's got this… I don't even fucking know, she's got some plan to throw Petrelli right out of power, she hasn't told me all the nuts and bolts yet, but you wouldn't believe the people she's got in on this. That blonde girl that lives here, the one who worked at Amundsen Scott? She's in on it. There's a couple of ex-Company spooks or something that I've seen, my favorite person in the world too." Which is to say Gabriel. "I dunno, it…"

Avi breathes out an exasperated sigh and shakes his head. "I dunno, but you're right. You're right that shit's gone sideways… The Institute's— they're throwing money it at it like they threw money at us after 9/11. Their replacement Jensen is working for them as a government liaison, complete unaccountability and deep, deep pockets. It's like the Vice President's own personal sandbox… I don't…"

Avi sighs and sits down heavily on the ratty old sofa. "Your buddy Sylar's out there somewhere, wearing my face in DC probably. Fuck if I know what he's doing… I dunno what's going on anymore."

"Not like Kershner," Raith replies evenly. Another sip of beer as he follows Avi out, back towards the couch. "You know Sarisa better than I do, so you know she always thinks she has it figured out. Always has a plan. Where do her plans get her? Lying on her back with my thumb shoved into her thigh while you try to fix the radio so we can call for support and evac, and nobody's seen Adrianne for half an hour and the only reason we don't think she's probably dead is because she's the Queen of Cups. That's why I was the ideas guy. Out of the box, big picture. And the big picture is things are fucked. Not fucked up. Just fucked."

Avi Epstein is given a moment to think about that while Jensen Raith circles around the sofa, so they can actually look at each other while they talk. "Whatever reason we were in that helicopter for. Whatever reason America's finest were coming after us, it doesn't matter. You want out of the box, big picture? Here it is. We are going to lose, Avi. We are going to fight the government, and whatever it is we do, even if we do everything right, we are going to lose. We can't change that. What we can change, is what we lose."

Speeding down a highway at eighty miles an hour in the rain, drunk, and seeing a deer crossing out into the middle of the road most people are presented with two options; plow into the animal or swerve. This is something of the same predicament that Jensen Raith is presenting to Avi, with the tempting smell of his steaks filling the tiny apartment by way of the kitchen. Sitting on the sofa feels a lot like sitting behind the driver's wheel, seeing that deer staring into the headlights. What does Avi Epstein do in that situation?

"What's your plan?"

He takes his hands off the wheel.

It was something Raith would do on a dare in the past: Zen Driving. Let go of the wheel and allow the car to steer itself. Slightly more dangerous was Zen Planning. "There isn't one this time," he admits, "Not yet." As if to give his friend an even harder time, Raith has a seat on the sofa next to him, becoming his co-pilot in a motorcar about to spin out of control. "The Ferry makes plans, and the Institute has a bad habit of finding out what they are, usually before we're ready to execute them because we have no way to efficiently organize anything." The Ferrymen, he must mean. "No way to respond effectively to situations, no way to control the flow of information." A pause. "Information. You know how, Sarisa has it all figured out, has everything planned? Maybe she did the hard work for us, already." No plan. Yet.

Sliding his tongue over his lips, Avi rises up from the couch after a few pointed moments of sharing the same space of it with Jensen, as if he wasn't quite ready to be co-pilot to the florious future of being a gigantic lawn dart. "Look…" Avi murmurs, both of his hands waving up and down as he treads past the coffee table and turns around, gesturing flippantly towards Raith. "Just because I was in your vision playing co-pilot to the mickey mouse club, it doesn't mean I was on board with everything. Maybe you were the last boat out of Shanghai?"

There's a long and awkward stare, the silence behind which is filled with the noise of the upstairs neighbor's in the midst of a shouting match over something too muffled to tell, their distant hollaring resounding through the ceiling. "I don't know if you really want her plan, or— I don't even know what you're asking me half the time. You want to pry around in her head, be my guest but keep me out of it. I— " there he goes again, rubbing one hand down his face slowly.

"Maybe when you come up with a plan, we can play who hits the pavement first. I appreciate the fact that you did your maid work without donning one've them frilly outfits, I don't think I could've handled that. But I'm going to have a lot lower blood pressure if you leave…"

"I remind you that helicopter was leaving from a Ferrymen safe house." Avi can think about that, however, on his own time. "Don't need to know what Sarisa's plan is. Don't want to know." Perhaps the most sensible thing Raith has said in a long time. "Let her have her plan. Let her have her plan and her contingencies and fallbacks and everything she's thought of to make sure that she and the fake-you she likes to kiss don't get found out." Wait, what? "I'll give up knowledge of her plan if that means I get the real-you standing in front of me. The you that knows shit is fucked up, and something has to be done now so the damage can be undone later. The you that still has access to confidential information and intelligence resources I don't anymore. The you that can be doing the work here in New York while Big Brother sees you in DC. The you, that can be in two places at once, without being in two places at once."

Zen Spying.

There's that stare again, Avi's blank expression not entirely concealed by his sunglasses, brows knitted together and lips parted in a wordless expression of recognition and, admittedly, atsonishment. Maybe he is getting old, maybe he did miss having the ideas guy around, but the fact that he is willingly going along with this idea despite the fact that he knows the future leads to Statler and Waldorf's balcony crashing down perhaps says something about his Post-Madagascar mental state.

"I hate you," Avi grouses, "and the steak smells delicious."

Looks like Raith finally found his drummer.

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