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Scene Title Offense
Synopsis Few lines are drawn for love.
Date July 13, 2011

Saint Clare's

The day is folding to a warm, humid close by the time Saint Clare's is seeing her activity for the evening. It lacks the sparkle of John Logan's previous endeavors, from the excessive indulgence of the Rookery brothel, through to the clean polish and gaudiness of a theme strip club. The business is closer to the surface, less with the flash of money and more on transaction and going through motions. Music is provided via jukebox or radio, alcohol served in uniform glasses, and women wear what they will, to sell exactly what they wish to, although it usually ends in roughly the same way. Sometimes it's a party, downstairs.

Tonight, it isn't, although business lurches on as usual.

Michal Valentin has his hands on the woman before they can get to the room, which makes her self-conscious but she makes a good effort to hide it, dodging hands that try to bury beneath her clothes or attempts at kisses. She is older than some of the others, which might be why he chose her, her hair glossy black but lines stamped into the corners of her eyes. Her legs are bare and feet strapped into heels, making her as tall as he is, and she finds the room that is generally assigned to her, numbered and marked as unoccupied. She makes a coy show of turning the marker to show different, although Valentin couldn't particularly care less. Of course the room is empty.

How else are they meant to have sex in it. She leads the way in, the room already lit with a lamp dimmed with gauzy fabric, and grips the lapels of brown leather jacket, guiding him inside as his own hand obligingly reaches back to bat the door closed.

The door swings back on its hinges, and it isn't until it's in line with the frame that it does something unexpected.

It bounces back. The culprit is a booted foot wedged between the edge and the frame, the kind that's steel-toed and belongs to the man whose fingers are wrapping around the side of the frame at the same time he's hauling himself into it. Sasha Kozlow's history with whores involves a few bodies in Russia and Eastern Europe that have yet to be exhumed by the local authorities, if the local authorities could be bothered to look into the disappearances of those types of women. Most often, they can't. The same is sadly true in the United States of America, and if this wasn't Logan's brothel, the Russian might be a little less gentle with this one than the situation would dictate to a rational man.

Sasha is, of course, not a rational man. They took his little sister. The gun is already out by the time he's stepping inside, and he uses it to strike the woman swift and hard above her temple with the aim of bringing her to the floor before he's pointing the weapon at the individual he believes is responsible.

She doesn't scream — simply goes down like a sack of bricks and doesn't get up again, at least not immediately.

And Valentin's instinct is not to rush to help her up — at the sound of a third presence, of the swoop of an arm arcing for the raven head of the prostitute he was trying to undress, he's already wheeling back, a hand zooming for his own sidearm until he finds one pointed for his face before he can loose it from its holster. Air hisses through his nostrils, mouth turned into a thin grimace and stare fixed on the younger man that has so rudely invited himself to join the party.

He takes a step back from whore and invader, not taking out his gun but not taking his hand off the handle either.

Valentin steps back. Sasha steps forward. There is very little distance he's willing to keep between them now that he has Valentin where he wants him, which is staring down the barrel of his pistol. "You know who I am," is not a question. Neither is, "Where is my sister?" barked in a tone as hard and thick as steel. After weeks of making inquiries into Tania's whereabouts, he is ready to start with the demands.

Sasha's eyes are unnaturally bright, though this is no side effect of his ability because he isn't using it. The fierce light blazing behind them is something Valentin has seen plenty of times in his experience, and it tells him two things.

  1. The weapon clutched in fingers gone bone-white around the knuckles is not a bluff.
  2. Regardless of Valentin's answer, he is angry enough that he's more likely to use it than not.

That's when Valentin takes his gun out — but it is drawn slowly, and loose on his fingers, safety on and then thrown gently underhand for the bed just left of Sasha — he isn't even putting it within reach of stunned prostitute, letting it land heavy on satin-wool sheets. Though it is tempting to watch the way Sasha winds tendon and bone hard and anemic around his own weapon, in the same way an inexperienced fighter watches the hands of his opponant, Valentin keeps his focus on bright eyes and hard expression.

"Probably Boston," he says, after a moment, his accent rounding his vowels, fitting them neat and conversational above the tension of his voice. "If you shoot me, you will not have a chance of finding her ever again. Even if I live, I would be too offended."

Sasha responds with a short, harsh intake of breath that makes a hoarse sound at the back of his throat. Almost-laughter, and it isn't incredulity that cuts it off. Since coming to New York City, he has found himself standing where Valentin more often than where he's standing now. If he understands anything at all, it's the kind of affront the other man is describing.

"Do not worry," he says. "If I shoot, I shoot so you do not. Live." In case there was any confusion. He keeps the pistol leveled with Valentin's chest rather than his head, and while this doesn't guarantee the lethal shot he's threatening, it provides him with a broader target to aim for, making it less likely that he'll miss should it come to that. "Probably is not good enough."

He wasn't really expecting Sasha to put it away, although there is something psychologically reassuring when the gun is levelled lower. Not intellectually, but, it allows Valentin to think a little clearer. He even steps forward a little, enough that the gun must angle lower still due to the reach of the taller man in front of him. Greying eyebrows are up, confidence asserting itself, kept on a leash though it may be.

"I am in no position to tell you exactly where your sister is," he says, eventually. "Not because I do not want to, but I do not think you would understand all I have to say. «Is Russian better for you?»" His smile edges into life, tentative and crooked, as he speaks the familiar language. "«It was for Tania.»"

"«Your chances of being heard correctly are better,»" Sasha concedes, also in Russian. He has a stilted way of speaking even in his native tongue, but the words come easier and so does the meaning he's attempting to communicate. His beard, unshaven since Tania's disappearance, makes his expression more difficult to read, but all Valentin really needs are his eyes.

Their sharpness tells him that Sasha does not like the way he's smiling. In contrast, the steadiness of his gun hand also means it doesn't matter. Whether or not he shoots Valentin does not hinge on how many of his teeth he shows. "«She is a little girl. Her blood is mine but it is also not mine. Test her, you'll see. She is nothing to you.»"

Hands go up, splay, fingers loose and more a gesture of correction rather bidding Sasha to wait, or showing Valentin himself as surrendering. "«That is true. She is not like you, and she is nothing to me. But she is of interest to others.»" He sends a glance to where the woman, semi-conscious, is unfolding herself from her collapse. A sense of robotic self-preservation has kicked in, and she moves, inch by inch, for the corner of the room to bleed quietly. Away from both men, away from the conversation in a language she doesn't understand. Her tracker anklet scrapes on the ground by the time she's off the rug, onto the plain wooden flooring.

"«The Commonwealth Institute. Do you know it?»"

This feels like a trick question. When Sasha finally answers him, he's still not sure it isn't. "«Yes,»" he says, a single syllable in English or in Russian, short and to the point, but hesitant too. If there's more he wants to say, it isn't worth the risk of incriminating himself further.

Not that he can incriminate himself much further than holding Valentin at gunpoint, but on the offchance that he can— "«Why is my Tania of interest to them?»"

"«I don't know,»" Valentin says, even enough that one could measure a shelf by his tone, and that's meant to portray honesty, probably. "«She fit a profile— her background, her age, her gender— and she was assigned to their custody on research request when she failed to give me the information I promised my superiors. My understanding is that they are keeping check on what the Institute does, and where they go, as they have proven to be unreliable. My guess is that it will come to sabotage and breaking the back of the Institute when the timing is correct. Perhaps you can be a part of it, if you wish to see your sister alive and whole.»"

"«Yes,»" Sasha says again, and this time there is not an iota of hesitation in his tone. His resolve tempers the temptation to lower the weapon, however, and in spite of what Valentin is telling him, he doesn't appear prepared to make peace with the man standing across from him.

For the first time since he stepped inside the room, his eyes dart back at the prostitute in the corner, either to assess her for injuries or to ensure she doesn't have a weapon of her own in hand. He doubts this is the sort of luxury that Logan would allow his whores to have, but with Logan one never really knows. "«Tell me what to do.»"

That's always an attractive thing to hear. Tell me what to do. Valentin expected a variation from the whore huddled in the corner, even, glancing as Sasha does to evaluate her place in the world. They only get a flinty stare back, waiting for the scene to move on, so that she can shut the door behind them and have a cigarette and medical attention, but she isn't about to tell— or even ask— them to leave.

There's still the gun in between them, but Valentin knows it doesn't matter right now.

"«You were given an offer, I understand.»" It helps, to know the details behind the people whose lives you mess with. "«To join the ranks of the Staten Island soldier group.» FRONTLINE. «You will join them now, under Colonel Heller's employ, and when the Department calls on you, you will do as they say, with your new found access and resources. I was once a military man myself. There is an English idiom, about riding bicycles, that I feel applies to your situation.»"

Sasha's nostrils flare around a sharp hissing sound. The tension in his hand holding the gun is visible all the way up through his arm and the shoulder beneath the worn leather of his jacket pulled haphazardly over wife-beater and denim jeans that fit low on broad, muscular hips. Finally, he points the weapon somewhere other than at Valentin, and makes it look as though it's because he needs to scrub his sleeve across his nose and scratch an itch rather than submit to the demand.

There is a reason he isn't a soldier anymore, and it isn't just because he was injured in the line of duty and hospitalized for more than a year. Darkness has crept into his expression by the time he's dropping his hand completely. Resignation, too.

That's probably another yes.

"Dobry," sounds like the praise that it is, for the 'yes' that was not made in any language save for silent submission to an inevitability. Valentin will take it, his hands up, palms open, smile flickering wider but sobering swiftly because though they are both armed, Sasha is the only one who got the gun in his hand at all. "In that case," he says, switching back to his accented English, maybe for the benefit of the prostitute as well as the soldier, "I think my evening at this fine establishment has ended. Give my compliments to the manager for its hospitality."

Valentin missed the memo that sarcasm is meant to sound insincere. He takes a step towards the door, as careful as if he was testing waters.

They are shark-infested, make no mistake. Sasha's gaze follows Valentin as makes his departure, leaving him alone with the bruised and bleeding woman in the corner, who he may or may not apologize to once the door is closed. If he does, it's most likely to be in the form of what Valentin would have given her in exchange for the same or similar services. He has aggression he needs to work out, and beating a Slovak within an inch or two of his life no longer holds the same appeal it did a few moments ago.

"Get out," he suggests.

Gone. With pride that doesn't hinge on the appearances and affects of retarded bravery, Valentin is quick to get out as instructed, efficiency without urgency that nonetheless has him out of the room with the open-shut of the door in good time. He has some phonecalls to make, and some beers to drink.

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