Chapter 9



Good thing Pete was scheduled to come in tonight. She desperately needed an update on all those transmissions. By this time, the boys down in MacTac had probably come to same conclusion about possible secondary and tertiary locations for Vostochevskaya's major monetary strongholds but they could better triangulate the digital payments with cash from outside. Such was life in the digital age; the police knew how to hack bank accounts, too.

When she arrived downstairs, she found Pete seated at the bar with a couple of Max's underlings. Marie had never seen Pete look so... well, so much like a douchebag fratboy. His hair was styled, for one: shiny and somewhat stiff with product. His clothes were a little too tight, with his chest a little too bare. And was that a pinky ring on his right hand? He and the underlings each had a girl on their lap and a shot glass in their hand. A bottle of something clear and unlabelled stood, opened, on the bar. Going by the frequent uproars of laughter, they were having themselves a grand old time.

Marie tapped Pete's shoulder with her riding crop. He turned, as did his new friends. With a grin that couldn't be described as anything but smarmy, Pete leaned towards to bar and shot off something in a drawling Russian before Marie could switch brains to translate. Whatever he said had the other two gangsters howling with laughter.

She put her hands on his hips, her annoyance not entirely faked. "I do have better fish to fry, little man."

Raising his glass, Pete said, "I'll see you later. Keep her warm for me." He pushed his girl off his lap, gently, but still a push.

Marie turned on her heel and marched upstairs. She didn't look at Pete again until they reached her room. Pete settled into his usual place on the bed. He had his blank expression on again which revealed more than a frown ever could but suspicion still nagged at the back of Marie's head.

"You were awful chummy," she said.

"I'm blending in. I get more information if they think I'm a countryman instead of an Americanised Rus."

"I thought your accent gave you away."

He shrugged. "When I'm surrounded by native speakers, I get better."

He sure did. "So, International Man of Mystery, what story did you give them?" asked Marie.

"I'm here via London where my family moved when I was ten which explains my accent. I work as a longshoreman, same as in England. I like to work hard and play hard. Everything they wanted to hear." Pete expression twisted slightly. "I think they might be trying to recruit me. Should I accept?"

"You're asking me?"

"Of course. You're in charge of this op."

"I don't know, Pete, you seem to be doing a lot of things independently."

His forehead furrowed. "Are you angry? I thought you'd be pleased that I was taking initiative and gathering as much information as possible."

"You're a contact not an operative," Marie snapped.

"And you chose me to be a contact because I've had previous experience as an operative," Pete retorted. "So tell me what you're really angry about."

Marie rubbed her eyes. "I don't know. Forget it. I'm just tired. I need to finish this op before I lose all faith in humanity."

Gently, he took her hands and just held them. Pete topped six-and-a-half feet. His hands were the size of dinner plates. Her own hands disappeared between his fingers. He could crush them even without the use of his powers and for the longest time, Marie had admired how he used them to create instead.

"You will solve this," he said. "I know you, Marie. You're stubborn, brave, foolhardy, smart, you never look before you leap, and when you hit an obstacle, you throw everything you've got from every angle until the obstacle falls down. And do you know why?"

"Because I'm too stupid to stop hitting my head against a brick wall?"

"Because you care about other people so much," Pete corrected. "Sometimes I think that's where you power hurts you the most. You can see all sides of the argument because you can literally see what it's like to walk in someone else's shoes. You want to make the world better because you can't stand to see anyone suffering. And you pretend to be a bitch because otherwise, you think you'll fall apart."

Marie folded her lips between her teeth and bit them hard enough to hurt. "You always make my crazy seem like a good thing."

"That's because it is." He grimaced. "But because we are timed and I'm supposed to be doing my job, I have an important piece of information to pass on to you."

"What is it?" she asked him.

"There was a video of Illyana in Semyonov's harddrive."

"What?!" She hadn't pegged Semyonov as the type of scum that was into kids and she was rarely wrong. But if Pete found the video... Dammit. Dammit! She missed something. Something important. She felt it, like a hole left in her gums after getting a tooth kicked out.

He nodded, his jaw and the muscles on his temples stiffening. "She's in a small, dark room. There seemed to be a bed of sorts in the background, a lighter rectangular object."

"Was there audio? Or a date stamp?"

"No date stamp. The audio is muffled but we're working on it." Suddenly, Pete went completely metallic. "We're so close! What's stopping us from tearing Yana's whereabouts from those... those... "

"Legal procedures. Ethics." Marie placed a hand on his metallic arm. "We might skirt the line, Pete, but we're not like them. We won't use violence to get what we want."

"They hurt Illyana!"

"And they're going to pay for it," she said. "But not like this. Now calm down. You can't help Illyana by being all 'roid rage-y."

Pete sat, pressing his fists against his thighs. One square inch at a time, he reverted to flesh.

"I've combed every inch of the place." And what I couldn't, Lebeau did, Marie mentally added. "They must have a second property, maybe more, where they're hiding any other kidnappees. Here's a list of the likeliest places in order of importance. Tell HQ to stake as many of them out as possible." She fished a much-scribbled-upon take-out menu out from under her mattress.

He took the list and folded it into his jacket pocket. "I was talking to those men to see if they might let anything slip. Russians can be quite boastful after a few bottles of vodka."

"Not you?"

"I don't think I can get drunk. Part of the mutation. Transforming into steel speeds up my metabolism immensely."

"Well, that explains the slabs of muscle under your zero percent body fat," Marie muttered.

Pete blushed. She would have counted on that reaction to her comment as recently as a week ago but she was so unsure of everyone these days. "Look, while you're here, maybe I can listen in on some private conversations. Max and Stefan sometimes use the noise of the party to do the accounting."

He nodded and placed himself in front of the door. All the better to act as a barricade. Marie sat on the bed and poured all her energy into accessing all of Logan's powers. She winced as she felt her body shifting out of Sauron's shape. It felt like stretching a cramp out.

First, the odours and noises bombarded her, tipping her backwards on the bed with her hands to her ears. She noticed Pete as a giant block of ozone and pennies creaking over her. The speakers threatened to vibrate her spine right out of her backbone. Slowly, she hauled the sensed back, little by little, ignoring everything but two square inches at a time starting from a point on her bed.

She moved on to each bedroom on the third floor. Stacey filed her nails as her john gagged on his own spit, too orgasmic to care. Gemini whispered all sorts of highly improbable things. Marilyn's high pitched voice egged her john on. Marie moved downstairs. Same scene on the second floor. And on the main floor.

On a whim, she expanded Logan's senses even further, out to the Genie's grounds. Suddenly, Marie caught the scent of blood. A lot of blood. Sobbing and stifled thrashing. The tinny sound of metal against something softer, rubber or cloth or a body--

"Dumpster, two houses down, in the alley," she hissed, grabbing Pete's arm.

He boosted her up into the attic exit then jumped up after her. It was a strain to move quietly and quickly over the rafters and out the skylight. They didn't have time to shimmy down the rain pipe and the dumpster was too close to the entrance today. The bouncers would hear their landing for sure. Pete took one look over the ground, then back over his shoulder at her.

"I'll catch you," he said.

She nodded.

Shifting to metal, he leaped. As soon as his feet brushed the ground, he rolled on a shoulder, and came up, only slightly unbalanced. Transformed back into flesh, he waved Marie down. She jumped into his arms and they both rolled away to transfer the weight.

The sobbing was gone now. There were no sounds at all, nothing outside of normal city noise. But the scent of blood remained on her nose. More, spreading over the sour stench of household garbage. She ran faster. She let Magneto loose and flew, propelled by the earth's magnetic fields and the old terrorist's righteous indignation against all who dared hurt his people.

They passed a cloven hoof attached to a delicate human ankle and nothing else. Marie swallowed her vomit back down.

The dumpster was closed. She tracked a smear of blood down one side and a grouping of four streaks that could be a handprint, please God. Pete threw the lid open. Deep gouges destroyed her distinctively huge brown eyes, a small hole gaped in the middle of her face, two incisions bled from the top of her head where her ears used to be. Even without her features, even without the hooves and blunt-tipped fingers that didn't even have fingerprints, Marie knew this body used to be Blitzen.

"We have to call it in," Marie said.


"We need to call it in. While the evidence is fresh."

"But there are tracks back to the Genie," said Pete. "If they raid it, they could bust up the op. Illyana--"

Marie pulled the wire off Pete's shirt. "Calling all units. Homicide at Ocean and Avenue K. Primary MacTac--"

Pete snatched the mic back. "What about Illyana?"

"Illyana's still alive--"

"How do you know?"

"-- and if we don't gather this information, we won't be able to get to her in time either."

Pete stepped back. His face blanked out.

"We need to get back to the Genie," Marie said. She pulled at Pete's wire. "Get rid of that."

"I can't... where--"

"Stuff it down your pants or something."

Pete rolled his eyes at her but obeyed. They ran back even as he was still re-arranging the front of his pants. They reached the back yard as police sirens rang in the distance, too far for the bouncers to be overly cautious. Marie gave them about fifteen minutes to get here, which wasn't a bad response time at all. Leaving Pete to cover her back, she climbed up the rainpipe to the roof. The stupid dominatrix costume was absolute shit for this kind of work. She hoped she wouldn't fall off the roof and die. Or worse, break half the bones in her body and still live.

Plastering her body against the freezing slate roofing tile, she inched towards the escape hatch. Pete's head popped into view moments later. His shoes had the tread to stand. He opened the hatch then held his hand out for her. Marie accepted and he dragged her in. They were working on unlatching the entrance to Liz's room when the squad cars blared down the street. Marie dropped into the room first. Pete followed yanking the door shut with him.

"Get naked," she ordered.

Pete whipped his shirt off. He wouldn't have time for the pants. Marie quickly cuffed his hands together at the front. Alibi covered. Sweaty, breathing fast, they looked precisely like a couple going for round two when Basher kicked open the door.

"You." He pointed to Pete. "Out. Liz, with me."

"What's going on?" Marie asked as Pete pretended to work at his handcuffs.

"Just shut up and come with me."

"My boy--"

"Forget him! We got cops." He dragged her to the next door, kicked it open, and pulled Stacey out as well.

"Who the fuck called the cops?" Stacey demanded. "What're we going to do?"

"You're going to fucking shut up and run, bitch."

Security and hookers streamed down the stairs and out the backdoor that most of the women didn't even know existed. Marie didn't see many second-floor girls; security must have had orders to take the highest paying hookers first: her, Stacey, Gemini, Masque and Greenback although Greenback must have been an afterthought. There was no extracting Marilyn from her room without a crane. They were shoved into a dark-tinted SUV. Basher crawled in behind them. Tank slammed the door to the driver's seat and gunned the pedal as Basher smacked the headrest, growling, "Go, go, go!"

The SUV tilted around a corner. The girls screamed. Marie joined in. Basher whipped his head around.

"Shut up! All of you, shut up. D'you want to be pulled over?"

"If we're going to get pulled over, it's because of Tank's fucknuts driving!" Stacey yelled.

"Yeah," said Greenback and Gemini.

Tank glared at them through the rearview mirror. "Bitch, when we get out of here--"

Stacey flipped him both fingers. "Fuck you. I drag in ten Benjamins a night, dick wad. You better take care of me."

Tank twisted around but Basher clapped him on the shoulder. "Watch the road. And drive careful. Remember the plan."

"What plan?" Marie asked.

Basher handed a water bottle to Masque. "Don't worry about a thing, girls. We won't let the pigs getcha."

They all took sips from the metal bottle. Marie took a small sniff before she had hers. It smelled like a sports drink, strong enough to hide any drugs. If she didn't drink, Basher might use stronger force. Or worse, keep her from the new hiding place. She compromised by taking a sip.

After five minutes, the streetlights swam languidly with every turn. Sounds dulled. Marie groaned inwardly. The drink was spiked, all right. This was a good test of whether or not those addresses she'd Pete were of any importance. If they weren't, she was hooped. Speaking of hoops, the SUV's interior seemed to be spinning around and around and--

--dodged between two fallen buildings. His stolen potatoes bruised his legs straight to the bone but he kept running. He needed to sneak back into the ghetto before the soldiers came or they would take him away, like they took Isaak and Rahel for not wearing their stars--

-- yeah, take my cock, you fucking filthy mutie. On your fucking knees like the whore, you are. Take it, take it, take it--

"--de los grandes y algo de cambio. ¿Tú?"

"Más o menos lo mismo. Yo--"

--traced the contours of Kitty's hip with his brush. She giggled, tickled, but allowed him to continue. He would paint water lilies on the softness of her thighs, so when she moved, the lilies would bob as though--

--"tired of cleaning up after your goddamn mess, Belle. You funded this... this..."

"That's rich coming from you. You're happy enough making seven figures each time you drop by some gangbanger hovel--

After what might have been hours, Marie deigned to open one eye. Her vision shook. Her head throbbed. Her mouth tasted like a sewer rat crawled into it to die a week ago. She pulled herself to the edge of something flat and soft that might have been bed to barf down the side of the musty blanket covering the mattress. Benzos. Why did it have to be benzos? Morphs, and roofies never had this effect on her but prescription Xanax messed her up good.

She needed water, needed to clear the drug out of her system ASAP. Sliding one leg over the edge of the bed, Marie tested her steadiness. Her knees wobbled and she fell backwards, barely catching herself on her elbows. One hand slammed against her eye. That was going to leave a mark. She rolled onto her stomach to keep from choking on her own vomit and passed out again.

-- wrapped him in their warmth. The fire was alive. It spoke to him sometimes and sometimes it actually seemed like a language, like those nonverbal dog languages on TV. He cupped both hands around the little flame. It jumped from his right hand to his left, flickering, dancing. He laughed--

--crunched under his fist. Blood splattered. He wiped his lips clean with the back of his hand. The chump got up, too stupid or broke to stay down. Feeling pretty generous thanks to the five hundred already in his pocket and the rye in his gut, he stood back in a defensive position.

The guy kicked him in the balls. And smiled.

Now this fight just got persona--

--knotted the ribbon and stepped back. "What d'you think, ma ti?"

Laura studied herself in the mirror seriously. She did everything seriously, his little girl did. Eleven going on seventy.

"It is sufficient."

"Sufficient, hein? Pleased t'have met with your approval."

Her shoulders twitched. Her fingers trembled just the slightest bit. He could have slapped himself for using that tone of voice with her. After everything she'd been through.

Crouching down, he took her hands in his. "Ti'La, I ain't angry--

--stared at the blank screen of his email, fingers on the keyboard, unable to type anything past the greeting. What could he say?

"Hi Mom & Dad, doing well at Xavier's. I'm getting A's in Trigonometry, Chemistry 1, and Beginner telepathic shielding but I almost failed my last American History test. How's Ronnie doing?"

Yeah, that would go--

-- needed to control his temper. Med school made you crazy, everyone knew that. He'd never do it again. He wasn't like that. He'd find some other way to unwind, maybe hit up the racquetball court or take up something new.

Problem was, he'd texted her this morning and she still hadn't replied. He'd apologized already! He even made plans to change. How were they supposed to stay together if she didn't co-operate? He didn't mean to hit her, never wanted to see her cry, but she always had to be so--

"-- worried. Please, don't go out again."

Mike turned away. "You don't understand. I'm doing this so Mom doesn't have to be worried any more. We can be rich again, Petey. Do you remember what that was like?"

He didn't. But he nodded anyway.

"I'll be home Monday. Tell Mom... tell Mom something. She always believes--"

Marie woke up again. She was still on the floor. The door opened. Someone's feet approached. Someone's knees dropped beside her, with a bottle of water and paper bag smelling of hotdogs with all the works. The scent threatened to pitch the contents of her stomach violently outward.

"Mar--Liz? Try to eat this."

Massive man-paws helped her up to a seated position. Marie's head lolled back and her vision was all wobbly which was probably why she thought it was Pete kneeling beside her with food in a lunch sack.

"I have to go. I... I can explain. Please try to eat."

Not-Pete even sounded like Pete. Smelled like him. Dressed like a thug-life douchebag so it couldn't be Pete. Not her friend. Not him.

She drank half the water, inhaled the hotdog, and downed the rest of the water before curling up into a ball of hell. She really hated benzos.

--smelled her fear. He stepped between the two of them. "I don't think the lady wants to go with you, bub."

The man sneered. "This is not your business, American."

"This doesn't have to be a scene. You can walk away now."

Five of the man's friends surrounded him. He cracked his neck. If these people wanted a scene, he'd oblige--

"-- one more night and we can stop," Mama said.

"I'm tired of sleeping in the car," said Mikhail.

"I know, darling, but we'll be finished soon." She turned to him. "How are you, Piotr?"

"I'm all right, Mama. Just a little--"

-- wasn't fair! This wasn't his life, dammit! He wasn't trash; he wasn't meant to be trash. He didn't belong on the street with the junkies and hobos, who were too lazy to get a real job. He didn't deserve to look like this. He just needed one step up and he could get his life back.

That's all this deal was about. Just one step back to a real--

-- dug in deep, recalling all his hate, all anger, all his past, everything that was his life until this point, until this day in this beautiful house that exuded warmth, with children who looked up to him as though he was a hero, and a friend, a dear friend, who thought nothing but the best of him. And he could not be angered. He fell back, panting. The satellite dish had not moved.

Charles took one step closer. "You know, I believe that true focus lies somewhere between rage and serenity. Would you mind if I..." He put his fingers to his temple.

Despite everything inside him raging against such an invasion, he found himself agreeing--

Marie bolted awake at the insistence of her bowels. She lurched up to her feet towards the door only to find it locked. She pounded on the door with her fists, yelling, "I need the fucking bathroom!" then stopped to stare at her hands. They were still green. Her scales decreased in prominence but her skin was still green and textured like leather. Usually, when she passed out, the powers she accessed faded away. What did this mean? Why did she still have Sauron's appearance?

"Hold on, hold on," someone-- Tank?-- said from the other side of the door. "Bathroom's downstairs. I ain't cleaning your puke up again, bitch!"

She was too frantic to even flip him the finger. Her head throbbed. Her stomach cramped. Her skin crackled with... with something. Like little static shocks zapping between her hair follicles. After she finished with the toilet, Marie stared at herself in the mirror. Well, she tried to; she still saw double and was having a hard time staying upright.

Green scales and dark brown hair, check. She lifted a hand and accessed Pete. A headache drilled between her eyes but her hand went metallic. The drill turned off as soon as she boxed Pete up again. She pulled on Logan's powers, hoping to cure the drug hangover with his healing factor. This time, the headache hit her between the eyes and at the top of her head. Gasping with the effort, she boxed Logan up again. She fell to the floor, twitching.

Great. Fucking fantastic. She was tweaking down on benzos God only knew where her equipment was. Marie became aware of a weight on her neck. Her collar. The collar with audio transmitters disguised as spikes. She unbuckled it-- it took several tries with her twitchiness-- to make sure this was hers. It was. And she had one last transmitter. As long as it was on, any of her contacts could pick up the transmission.

And suddenly, Marie remembered Couldn't-Be-Pete. She'd chalk it up to delirium except for the remains of a jalapeno smokie with banana peppers, fresh onions, mayo, and ketchup on the floor. Marie, not Liz, ate her hotdogs like that. The only person besides Lebeau who would have known that was Pete. Pete who had suddenly turned into exactly the kind of guy the bratva recruited. Who'd been reluctant to call in a murder. Who spoke perfect Russian in her benzodiazepine-induced memory regurgitation. Who answered to the name Piotr. Marie drew her knees up, rested her head on them, and remembered to breathe.

A few hours later by rough estimate, Marie felt somewhat human again. She immediately staked the new place out. This building was smaller with more regular, rectangular rooms. She figured they were in a renovated pre-war walk-up, one of many along the docks on the verge of gentrification because a Manhattan address near a noisy port was still coveted to anyone with too much money to burn or too little sense to shop anywhere else.

The rooms had no outside locks meaning Max and Stefan's underlings didn't have time to even get the basics settled in. Half of the girls were all too happy to be kept on a steady diet of carbs and pills without the effort of having to spread. Added to that the bone-deep distrust of baseline police, the four armed guards were enough to keep them in line.

Their guns and the girls' lethargy kept the guards comfortable as well to the point where Marie's wanderings were given only half an eye. She kept her movements slow and rambling, like the dazed stumblings of a chronic pothead with the munchies. For effect, her first stop was the makeshift kitchen.

The floor plan made canvassing the place much easier. On the other hand, security became just as easy. Instead of three floors and tonnes of walls to hide behind, they only had two floors and an open space. She was no waif; the brick pillars would do nothing to hide her. Again, the working rooms lay upstairs but instead of a narrow, blind-sided stair, access to the second floor involved a wide staircase that played a central role in the architecture. Not too bad for a dockside property. Once upon a time, these must have been factory floors, the rooms being the old middle-management offices looking down on the working masses. There was simply no place to hide.

She had one transmitter left in her collar and no way to gather information from the Vostochevskaya. That meant she had to MacGuyver some sort of receiver. It had to be small enough to be easily concealed but powerful enough to go through any soundproofed walls. A fantastic idea if she actually knew how to do that. Lebeau knew how to adjust pre-existing receiving devices of which she had none. Magneto had the skill to manipulate fine metallic components within those devices but, then again, she didn't have any. She flipped through the usual suspects-- Logan, Pete, Pyro-- no one knew much about electronics. One of the truckers who tried to touch her the first time she ran away had put together an amateur radio but it came in a kit.

So listening into the transmissions herself was out. She needed to be able to wander through the building to get a feel for it. It was so frustrating. She had the Genie all figured out, the crannies to hide in, the ventilators that carried sound. Now she'd have to do it all over again without back-up while security had their backs up, suspicious of any false moves.

Marie studied the layout again. There was something off about the main floor. She couldn't put her finger on exactly why. If only there was a way to get blueprints, or a measuring tape. Hell, she'd settle for an outside view of the building. Also, a pony and a tropical island. Dammit. She made her way back to her room to regroup.

Lebeau was waiting there for her. Of course he was. Because the last twenty-four hours hadn't been sufficiently traumatic. "There's the bitch face I know and love," he said.

"Someone should tell the Vostochevskaya that they suck at hide-outs." She let herself fall face-first onto the bed.

"Maybe but they're great city drivers. My guys were barely able to follow you."

"Where are we?"

"Along Twelfth in Hell's Kitchen. One of my people followed the van."

Twelfth Street. Close to the docks. Close enough to dump a body in the water, Marie mentally translated. "Next time, just read my notes. I put this place on the watch list."

"What watch list?"

"From the papers on Semyonov's desk. The ones I read that day when I planted the bug on his computer."

"I heard nothing about other properties, sha."

"I sent this one with Pete."

Remy just stared at her for a beat.

"What?" she demanded.

"I been listening in on your guys, too. They ain't heard about other properties either. I know they ain't heard anything from Semyonov's house, not papers or digital files. You're welcome, by the way."

"What for?"

"Setting up a fight with Semyonov's boys while you were last there."

"That was you?" Marie asked. "You sent your people into a fight? Semyonov's boys don't play, Lebeau. They could've gotten killed."

"Easy, sha, I sent another gang, not my own."

"That doesn't make it any better."

"You got your info, didn't you?" Lebeau snapped. "Though who the fuck knows where it's gone. Fact is, MacTac's worried about how little information you're getting out besides the transmissions from the Genie."

"What're you talking about?" Then she got angry. "You better not be implying what I think you are."

"You got two contacts outta here. One of us ain't doing our job."

"You're trying to get me to ditch Pete. To rely you more than him."

He held his hands up, palms out. "Just telling you what I know, sha."

"Get out."

"I just--"


Marie slumped into bed. She was afraid Remy might be right. It added up. The ease with which she connected with Semyonov after mimicking Anne Rasputin. The two little boys pictured in Andrei's music room. Mikhail, bearded but with something of Anne around his eyes. Andrei's stories of how much Piotr hero-worshipped his older but more reckless brother. The names themselves, popping up in her memory even though she'd never touched Semyonov, Max or Stefan. Mikhail and Piotr, Mike and Pete. Anne. Aleksandra. It could be coincidence, of course, and Lebeau's damn influence but--

Goosebumps rose on Marie's arms. She rubbed them down, her head thundering with her own pulse. This wouldn't be the first time someone she thought she knew ended up crooked, starting with Pyro's terrorist inclinations back in her Xavier's days, all the way to Warren Worthington III and his ties to The Guild. Twenty-one months, two weeks, and four days ago, she closed the case that made her career as a detective. Tonight, she almost regretted it.

Someone rapped at her bedroom door the next morning, softly, almost politely. Marie squinted at the boarded windows of her room to gauge the sunlight. They couldn't possibly be back in business. She was not in the headspace to put up with this bullshit. She might hurt someone for real.

The door opened. Pete--Piotr?-- slipped in and said, "The boss wants you." He looked worried.

Sure, he always looked worried. Was he really though? Was this part of his act, like he claimed, to get in with the bratva? He had transformed himself pretty damn well for someone who supposedly couldn't act his way out of a paper bag. Marie dragged herself up on her elbows. He came to her side immediately, a gentle arm around her waist.

"My God, what did they give you?" Not a trace of an accent in his voice. Handy trick that. He brushed her hair back. Lines bracketed his mouth, worry furrowed his brows. Was it real? "Ma-- Liz? Do you need more water?"

Or was she letting Lebeau get to her? This was Pete. Pete. "I'm fine. Which boss?"

"Semyonov. His car's downstairs with the engine running so--"

"So we can't possibly keep your boss waiting."

Pete went metallic. His arm cooled around Marie's back and she pulled away. Stood up all on her own, too, goddammit. He just sat there, his steel face unreadable.

"Well? Take me to your leader already."

"We need to talk. After your visit." He sounded like Pete. He dressed like Stefan.

Siphoned memories popped open and closed, like a hundred manic jack-in-the-boxes, speaking in Russian, insinuating in drawled English, sniping in German, growling. Each pop of memory rammed a penny nail of a headache deep in her brain. Marie curled her fingers into fists so she couldn't hold them against her ears. That never worked anyway.

Semyonov met her at the door, a rare occurrence. He hunched over his cane, a smile playing at the corners of his lips. "I have something to show you," he said, holding an elbow out.

Marie forced the voices to shut the fuck up as she tucked her hand under his arm. "Hello, dyadya."

"You are well?"

"I'm fine. Settled into my new place."

"A new place?"

"The old place got raided."

Semyonov snorted. "This is what I told Maksim and Stefan. Keep a light touch. The younger generation, always thinking it knows better."

"Spoken like someone who's never been the younger generation," Marie teased.

He laughed, a creaky noise from disuse. "You like the piano. I have a piece I want you to play."

He led her to the music room. The baby grand piano stood open, all its surfaces buffed to a mirror sheen. On the stand were five pages of sheet music. The notes looked hand-written. Marie leaned in close to take a better look. It was hand written; erased pencil marks and dots of corrective ink studded every sheet.

"I don't know this one," she said.

"Of course not. It is an original. My Aleksandra wrote it."

Marie sat down on the bench and began picking out the harmonies on her right hand. It did sound familiar, like a tune from her childhood. Her left hand wandered around the melody, gently adding whole-note chords. She could have sworn she'd heard it before but she couldn't quite place it. Unless...

She delved deeper into all the little boxes with Pete's psyche. The more she opened, the easier the piano piece came to her, the notes flowing without the aid of the sheet music. Anne hummed this piece to her sons when they were young. When she'd been trying to put it together.

Marie's fingers twisted over the next bar. Oh God. It was all true. Her oldest friend, Pete, was really Piotr Semyonov. And he'd lied about it! He must have known about this all, and he'd used her to-- to what? To get revenge? After Mikhail's death, did Piotr-- Pete-- also rejoin the Vostochevskaya Bratva? Was he even now working his own blood retribution for Illyana's kidnapping?

Her fingers stumbled again and this time, Marie couldn't stand to access any more of Pete's memories. Without her borrowed piano prowess, the notes were an incoherent jumble on the stand. She turned to Semyonov with a sad shrug. "It's a pretty hard song once you add it all up."

Rather than being angry, Semyonov appeared to be pleased. "Aleksandra had talent. She could have been a professional concert pianist."

"Why didn't she?"

"Ah, husband and children. I've told you how precocious Mikhail was. I would not have been brave enough to have another child after him. Thank God, Piotr was such a good, quiet baby. You barely knew he was there. The child would not even make a noise when he cried."

Where are they now? Marie wanted to ask. She needed him to say something along the lines of just down the street or even died in a car accident. Anything that would disprove her theory. But she also knew she couldn't risk pulling him out of this fantasy just yet. Vostochevskaya or not, Illyana was still missing. And Marie still didn't have a killer to arrest.

"When you get to my age, you long to see the fruits of your labour pass on to your children. And their children. They--" he gestured to the rest of the house behind the closed door of the music room-- "think I am a workaholic, I believe is the right word. That I do not step down because I do not wish to. No, I do not step down because there is no one who will run this empire as well as it deserves to be run."

"Who're you waiting for?" asked Marie. "Max seems to be doing an okay job."

"Oh, yes, so okay his largest venture to date was raided by the police!" Andrei snorted. "When I was his age, the police feared my raids. They could do nothing to me. I do not want an okay job. I want the best job."

"You want Aleksandra to inherit."

"She is the smartest, the bravest, the truest child--"

"She left us." Both Andrei and Marie whipped around. Max was at the door, bracing his arms on the frame. His expression was blank as always but the tips of his fingers were white against the moulding. "You precious Aleksandra left the family, dedushka, and she will never come back. When Mikhail did come back, he was so green, he got himself killed at the first war he ventured into."

"You had him killed!"

"He ran into a fire fight when we told him to retreat."

"You should have--"

"What, dedushka? I should have run in front of the bullets to save your precious Mikhail Aleksandrovich? He was crazy."

"Do not speak of him so!" Andrei had spittle flecks on his cheeks. He'd retreated to speaking Russian, Marie realised. Her brain hurt as she switched it to Pete's memories to catch up with the argument.

"He was a drunk and a coke head, and loyal to the family only insofar as it would give him access to both poisons. And Illyana will die because you are too stubborn to acknowledge that Aleksandra will never return, not even at the threat of her daughter's death. Her hatred for you is that strong." Max sneered, one of the only expressions Marie had ever seen on his face. "And I am beginning to understand the depth of her hatred for you, you old fool."

"You will apologize!"

"Never. Never again." Max released his hold on the door frame. He stood straight, took a deep breath, and mustered his expression back into blankness. "While you have been reminiscing on the good old days these past years, I have been running the empire. I have the contacts now. I control the cash flow. You are living on my whims, not the other way around. But because I have been raised correctly by my father, your son, I will continue to support you in your old age. Because you are my grandfather, you fucking miserable old man. I hope you choke on your own bitterness and put all of us out of your misery."

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