The White Silence


odessa5_icon.gif valentin_icon.gif

Scene Title The White Silence
Synopsis It's a long and agonizing walk, and now she has to make it alone.
Date April 8, 2012 through December 23, 2013

She is dreaming of snow.

The chaos of it coming down out of a black sky, where nearby street lamps refract through icy flurry. The experience of standing within a shaken snow globe, and she spins on the frost-covered sidewalk, tall heels scraping tracks on concrete. She lets it all stop, and each individual flake stands frozen in time around her, glittering, gathered into her palm as she moves her hand through it.

A sudden gust of wind intrudes, chilling her, dragging through her hair, knifing past the defenses of her coat, and she shivers in such a sudden and violent manner that she is immediately aware that she is on her back, with a headache emerging out from the depths of her unconsciousness. Thunder rumbles, and snow falls, and she opens her eyes to the sight against of snow coming down, gathering icily in the corners of her eyes, touching her dry lips. The cold seems to wrap a hand around her neck.

On impulse, the snow stops in the air, and so does the next steamy exhale from her mouth, frozen in place. The sound of thunder dims. She sees the sky because the roof is gone, and she sees the speckling of snow hovered in the air.

And beside her, a crumpled figure. His head tipped to the side, grey hair fanned across his brow. Blood is wet in the corner of his mouth, and darker where it is beginning to pool down the front of his chest, and slick on the piece of rebar that pierces through his torso.

With time halted like this, Michal Valentin looks dead.

Two years ago…

Naval Air Station Oceana, Virginia

April 8, 2012

She's seen this happen more than she's experienced it. She became fond of Gabriel Gray in this exact position, with his wrists and ankles bound with medical straps, with the tube sliding up one nasal passage and taped to his face, with his expression soft and sleeping as the sedative negation drug drip drip dripped into his system. His uniform had been white. She can see, down her body, they hadn't changed her out of the clothing since the assault on Oceana.

The flow of time passes through her, around her, as untameable as the wind. Just in sight, an analogue clock tick tick ticks at a faster pace than the dripping of medicine.

The sound of activity outside. The occasional rumble of a truck or a car comes through canvas. She can sense, more than feel, armed guards outside where she's been stored, because she's had free access to camps like this since she fell in with the Humanis First arm of Mitchell's regime.

A figure is visible to the far corner of her eye, seated. Even more familiar. Valentin hasn't looked up from his book, which reads Zapiski iz podpol'ya across a tattered front cover. There is a dark scrape on his chin with a smear of antibiotic, and a white patch of bandaging creeping out from under his collar, around his shoulder. He has one foot kicked up on a knee, which wriggles a little on his ankle in restless energy.

As Odessa begins to recall the events that led her to this place, it dawns on her just how bad this situation might actually be. But, if it wasn’t recoverable… Not dead is a fantastic start to things. Not crushed under the weight of the broken remnants of fighter planes or helicopters or concrete buildings. The rest is less so, but as long as she continues to live, everything else is manageable.

Slowly, her blonde head turns. Her neck makes an audible pop and she groans. She can’t even decide if it hurt or helped. The list of things she could say swims through her head. Michal… Thank you. I’m sorry. You saved my life. That last one might be particularly dangerous right now. And who knows who else might be listening.

Who knows if anyone knows what she did?


“Хорошая книга?” Her voice is a harsher rasp than she expected, throat dry and raw. She swallows and makes a face. It doesn’t help much. “Я с облегчением видеть вас.” Relieved to see him alive or at all, really. How many times has she woken to find him reading quietly? Or watching her when it was plain to see she was plagued by more nightmares. Surely, he must have suspected so many times that she harbored this secret.

He didn’t want to know any more than she wanted to tell.

"It is a classic."

English, crisp and automatic, in a tone that suggests that sometimes, classic literature is worse, and following him looking up and alert at the sound of her voice. He folds the corner of a page under his thumb, without yet getting to his feet or moving closer. Far too unassuming for a man who punched her out cold, too, but such is the affect of Michal Valentin.

He balances the book on his knees, and his hands on the book. "How are you feeling?"

“Uncomfortable.” One might think she might develop a bad case of sympathy for patients past, but a conscience is dangerous in her line of work. Why start now? “A little like I got hit by a truck.” But there’s amusement when she lists her final complaint, “Jaw’s a little sore.”

Odessa closes her eyes and draws in a slow breath. “But my head’s clearer than it’s felt in months. And I’m alive, so…” Her eyes open again. There was a time when negation was agony. Now, it feels a little like freedom. “But forget about me. What about you?” Of course, Michal is her concern. If he hadn’t been, she could easily have left him there.

"Alive," he echoes, a little like well, obviously. "And I am trying to think of the word."

Valentin stands, with a little effort. Creaky at the joints from what is probably just as much the marathon run, holding Odessa in his arms, as the frequent moments of collapse before and after, the piercing strikes of debris that grazed him. The memory of that strange run through the silent, time-frozen landscape is what really sits in his bones, rather than the explosion they were running from, that detonated just after.

He sets the book down on a little table by her bedside, and then sits on the bed a few inches from where her wrist is strapped down. He doesn't touch her, hands knitting together between his knees. "An English word for one who thinks of others. Considerate? That seems okay."

Her throat feels tight and she can feel the prickle of tears that threaten, but it doesn’t come to more than that, mercifully. For now. “Considerate is a good word.” The next inhale is shaky. She feels almost the way she did when they were reunited after the riot. Afraid that the next move he makes will be the knife across her throat. Sometimes, she thinks she’d welcome it. It’s a projection of how she expects lies and betrayal to be responded to. To be fair, her loyalty is not often positively rewarded.

“I was ashamed. Am ashamed.”

The gurney creaks a little as he lists closer to her, his eye contact as unsettlingly direct as ever. "You are ashamed," Valentin agrees, as if he is reading it out of here and not just repeating her words. "You live like they do. In fear of reprisal, of the knife at the throat, of the gunshot to the back of the cranium." Outside, the sounds of the camp continue to flutter in — banal, and everyday, engines and conversation, the occasional rumble of a plane overhead. His voice is very quiet, and fills the space, dirt ground to canvas roof. "You think that what is coded in your DNA is enough of a death warrant, to me, that you concealed its expressions."

His tone doesn't imply she was wrong to think this way.

But she is alive, because he is alive, and he is alive because she is alive. He says, "You know this is past the days of putting mutants in nooses, ano?"

No.” She corrects him. “If you wanted me dead for what’s in my DNA, you would have done it at the Dome.” She gave her back to him even before the negation took her. “I never wanted this. What that man did to me when he restored my face… It restored my ability. I hate him. I hate what he made me.”

The conviction she speaks with isn’t entirely feigned. She’s rather pleased to have her good looks back, actually. “I killed him and I took his ability, too. And it’s going to kill me.” And if Stevens hadn’t done what he did, she would still be dead. Long dead. “I didn’t lie to you then, with the blood test. You taught me to love my humanity.” Now the first tear wells up in the corner of one eye and slides its way down to the hair at her temple. “No, I’m afraid of what they will do to me for who I am. I’m afraid of what you will do to me for lying.”

"Throw you to the wolves," and again, his tone dances through ambiguity — it doesn't sound like the sentence that's coming, but even more narration. About would could happen. About what should happen. Michal glances away from her as if he could see through the tent walls, at they, outside. She knows she's been exposed for her lies, with the negation flooded through her system as it is, with the bindings trapping her ankles and her wrists.

Still looking at that fixed spot he can't see, he says, "I have declared to them the spontaneous re-manifestation of your power. That it triggered in the wake of the explosion, and that it saved us both. That it may continue to have sporadic and dangerous side effects and your recovery will be monitored while our physicians negotiate a continual course of adynomine. That your worth to our cause will prove the worth of such an investment.

"Or I could shoot you now," he says, now looking down to her. "Either is mercy."

“You’re right.” To argue would be disingenuous. “But if I have a choice… I’d rather stay with you.” She swallows hard, but holds his gaze. Her stomach hurts for the anxiety it’s tied itself up in. She knows if he threw her to the wolves, as he said, nothing would be quick about that execution. And what guarantee does she have - does he - have that it won’t happen anyway? The bullet would be the kindest thing.

But still, Odessa is a survivor by nature as well as by design. Any chance is better than no chance. “If you decide you’d rather shoot me… I’d appreciate not being bound when you do it.” Call it pride or dignity. She isn’t sure why it matters to her.

"I have allowed for a choice," Valentin says, final as concrete and rapid setting. "Because you saved us both."

He could extract from her, in return, concrete words of affirmation. Sworn allegiance. To stay with him is not an encouraging line to take, but then again, Michal is nothing but not transparent about what entails staying with him. He reaches into his breast pocket, and takes out a capped needle. He waves it between his fingers, and then sets it down atop the book he set down, and now it is clear: both of these things are for her.

His hands go to the first strap on her nearest wrist, the sound of leather and synthetic fabric slithering together. "You can be with me," he says, "and live, but I will not die with you." Spoken like a man who almost did just that, in a moment of weakness. Clearly, he's not going to permit that to happen again.

"Tell me yes." And then, in a faint glimmer of humour, "In Czech."

Odessa nods her head slowly. To the needle, to his assurance, to the caveat. “Ano. I understand.” There’s still fear, but it’s less now. Her breathing is more even, no further tears. “I don’t— I will not let you die. Certainly not for me.” It’s why she gave him the choice to leave her there on that tarmac, with the promise that she wouldn’t vindictively allow the blast to take them both.

As the bind on her wrist is loosened, she carefully first flexes her fingers, watching him for the impulse to pin her pin place again before rolling her wrist next. He’s seen how she plies her ability with those subtle movements of her hands, and this isn’t that.


"Není zač."

With one fastening loose, this means she's empowered to take care of the rest. And remove the tubing that streams and drips into her system via nasal passage. It will come with an almost instantaneous relief of her power's return when she takes care of that, unless she chooses to dose herself with adynomine first — that, too, is a choice that he leaves with her as he gets to his feet. It's a little like a cage with the door left open by a crack.

And no telling what wilderness lies beyond. "You should get some rest," he says, his voice now pitched a little louder, enough to be heard by more than only here. He is on his way out, touching the opening of the tent, angled sunlight slicing through as he does so. "It's going to be a long war."

FCI Fort Dix, New Jersey

June 15, 2012

Odessa had woken up to an empty bed and the sounds of external assault like thunder on the horizon, and lightning flash in barred window panes. Battle seems to come in one of two ways: the first is slowly, after considerable planning, and often at a distance. The other is like this: sudden, and at your doorstep. By now, she knows not to dawdle — she gets her feet in boots, she finds her gun, she finds Michal. Even as she grows used to moving with soldiers — few who seem to hate her, some who take her at the value of a comrade, most who are indifferent — and fall into their patterns and earn some trust, there is always too much chaotic variability as to who has whose back when shit hits the fan.

Finding him isn't too difficult — look for the nexus of organisation. A young man meets her halfway and leads her right to Valentin. The halls and stairwells of the military prison they've made their current homebase are narrow with tall ceilings, and she emerges onto the rooftop, in the night sky. Men and women both are manning machine guns, engaged in suppressing fire towards where trucks are being used as cover for advancing forces.

Michal has a rifle, and he is staring intently down the scope, his finger straight along the side of the trigger guard.

She takes her place at his side where she belongs. Sleep doesn’t linger in her eyes or fog her brain. Adynomine gives her clarity, or would if she had taken it. He hadn’t given her the order, and she’s promised to prove her worth. For now, she relies on the skills he taught her, rather than the one she was born with, or the one that she stole.

If she’s going to get up close and personal, she has her knives for that, so she favors a rifle herself. She takes aim and waits for a target. When an attempted scramble between two vehicles results in a false start and a leg slips out from under an enemy soldier, sliding into view from behind a tire, Odessa squeezes the trigger. Blood erupts from the wound she’s caused and, unless they have a healer on hand, that’s one adversary crippled. She grins, but doesn’t congratulate herself much, because one good shot does not win a skirmish.

Casings strike the pavement of the rooftop. Muzzle flare punctuates the pre-dawn light. Sparkes fly off the edge of one of the impassive vehicles.

And then the truck lifts into the air as its slung off its wheels, sent hurtling. Someone, panicked and foolish, tracks it with the machine gun, rounds sinking into metal flank as the vehicle goes whistling through the air, directly for them, and it's every man for himself to get out of the way. Valentin is among the first to move as soon as that unnatural lurch shuddered up the vehicle's flanks, diving aside as it slams into the rooftop, crushing one of the mounted machine guns, sending a soldier flying, dead in the air and dead on impact.


"I see him!"

"Take him out!"

Dragging himself to his feet, Valentin does not return to his post. He hadn't done much shooting, himself, and he's seen what he needs to see, amongst which would be Odessa. He reaches out a hand to her, pulling her in close so he can be heard around all the gunfire. Just one word: "Distraction."

If it seems he has a few extra seconds to move before the vehicle strikes, that's likely a trick of the imagination. There's no tell-tale cessation of chaos around them and no one else reacts like something's amiss. But Odessa is standing between Valentin and the danger, her rifle held loosely at one side, her other arm out in front of her as if to ward off the crashing vehicle. The impact against the building sent her stumbling backward, but she recovers her balance at the moment she might have tipped over.

There's a fire and an excitement in her eyes when he grabs her. Not because he's grabbed hold of her. That was already present before then, the thrill of the fight having gripped her just as surely as his hand on her arm.

She nods her head quickly, sobering some. She looks around the rooftop for a moment, searching for—


Grabbing a cylinder out of an open bag of gear, Odessa dashes toward the new edge of the rooftop and lobs the grenade into the mess below, wrist twisting like she's put a little english on it. It hits the ground, bounces once, twice, and stops. People scatter, dive for cover. The gunfire thins out for the moment as people scramble to save their own lives.

Nothing happens.

Slowly, she steps back. A bullet nearly catches her shoulder, but she doesn't seem to notice. Valentin can see the tension in his partner's jaw, the sweat forming at her brow. He knows her tells.

Like a trickle of rainfall, the bullets begin to fly once more. The grenade lifts three inches from the ground. And then it doesn't budge further, much to the likely confusion of the telekinetic and their friends.

"Say when."

The perimeter fence suddenly bends towards the prison buildings, like plastic under great heat, and there's a metallic groan as two of the trucks are propelled forwards, used as cover, as siege weapons. Glass shatters and cracks under an onslaught of bullets from the rooftop. In the semi-dark, they can see unmoving bodies left behind.

One of the trucks tips, wheels lifting dust off the ground. Michal says when.

The detonation of exploding grenade sends a plume of earth and dust into the air, along with a scream. The truck lands heavy back on its wheels, and the second stops moving. Valentin barks an order down the line of the radio, and a chorus of gunfire peppers the approaching enemy — from a new angle. Panicked, inarticulate yells sound out from below, and he lifts his rifle, laying into one of the silhouettes that spill out to the side to avoid this new onslaught.

Lowering his weapon, he nods to Odessa, and then moves. Orders come quick but somehow also unhurried: "Brymer, take the rooftop. Eyes all around, please. Knutson, with me. Let's solve a mystery."

A snap of her fingers is all it took to bring the grenade out of its stasis and Odessa laughs triumphantly at the cacophony and confusion she creates. Her first step back toward Valentin is a half-skip, grin wide across her face as she jogs to catch up to him.

For all that she's jovial, she's also wiping sweat from her face and looking much paler than she ought to. The giddiness should leave her flushed, but the use of her ability takes its toll. Still, she bites her lip and flashes him a look. "Always." With him.

Within the facility, everything echoes — the continual gunfire outside, the occasional detonation, the hoarse yelling of victors and losers both. But inside, too, their footsteps seem to bounce around their skulls as they descend down concrete tunnels on concrete stairs, Michal Valentin an energetic lead, knees up, rifle held close to his person. Most of their comrades have been deployed to defend the building, and so they are, for the moment, alone as he moves through the facility.

He keeps his voice quiet. "Hague has ceased communications. We shall retrace his steps, as a detective would, and see if we cannot crack the case wide open."

His tone is familiar. Vindictively playful, in a way. Sort of like when you watch two dogs playing tug, and remember they are emulating the act of ripping something living apart with their teeth. All games are means of violence, and so violence in itself is a game.

He takes her on a trajectory that she has not walked too often, since they arrived in FCI Fort Dix. Away from the barracks and towards the main block, where you keep the only thing worth keeping in a prison.


Hague is easy to find. Whoever killed him did not think to drag him aside, burn marks up his torso, his face, and black blasted across the concrete walls they find him ragdolled against. With a gesture from Valentin, the time for banter is over, and he nods once and waits in a manner he has started to do, on rare occasion, when no one is looking. With Odessa's help, the world around them grows eerily silent — if a battle rages beyond, sound does not penetrate the bubble of stillness that wraps around them as they, in turn, move silently through it. Valentin levers open the metal door that separates the corridor from the cell block, a loud screech of iron that feels as though it ought to echo, but doesn't.

The balcony they emerge onto is empty, as are the cells to their left. To their right, another balcony and set of cells across, and between, open air that drops down to the ground level below.

Dark figures are made statues in stopped time. Two cells opened, prisoners free. Others wait, nearby. A rescue mission in progress, and now paused.

Valentin steps up to the railing of the balcony, points his rifle over and down. "Frozen fish in a barrel," he says. "Give me just a little head start before you set them thrashing, ano?" And, without waiting for confirmation, he begins to fire.

"Huh." Odessa stares down at the body of the man. Naturally, her first assumption had been that Hague was a traitor, rather than dead. Her brows lift and she frowns. Well, if he'd been alive, she'd owe him an apology. Since he isn't, she owes him approximately nothing. Their enemy, for her part, has been slightly underestimated. She won't make that mistake a second time.

There's no snap of her fingers to signal the use of her ability, the sudden quiet is signal enough. And when they find the prisoners in the process of being freed, she understands now what makes their foes so dangerous. She sighs. "I can smell the desperation in the air," Odessa says derisively, though her voice is a little strained. She continues in a growl, "A little blood will be an improvement."

She's content to lean back against a wall and watch her lover work. Each fish eliminated is another strain on her ability removed. Each death, frozen as it is in time, is a relief to her.

Bullets pass from chamber to barrel, air to flesh. Blood and meatier pieces hang in the air where the projectiles pierce through the other side. Others appear no worse for wear at first.

Until she starts those fish to thrashing, of course.

Odessa wears a feral grin, a quiet gasp punctuating the silence like the report of his weapon just as it all sets into motion again. Blood flies and bodies fall to the floor. The temporal manipulator tips her head back against the wall and arches her back, stretching limbs that are artificially strained by the pull of her power. There's a soft groan of discomfort, but no complaint. The worst is over now. And if she has to do it again, she will.

Bodies drop. Screams ring out. Blood pools. Valentin turns his rifle towards those still in their cells, watches them scurry backwards, hands up, pleading, screaming, grief and fear a potent combination that robs them of their senses. But like Odessa observes: the worst is over.

"Case closed," he announces, with relish.

A week later, they are given the order: withdraw west. The fort is abandoned. The prisoners of war that had lived through the assault are strung from the neck and left for encroaching forces to cut down and bury. This is what victories are, increasingly — skirmishes won and claimed and quickly discarded in the name of agility. Valentin drives them away, leading a convoy that trickles its way out of New Jersey, a slithering snake abandoning a kill too big for it to consume.

It's a long drive. Odessa sleeps, at one point, only to wake again and watch a rural town scroll by. It looks empty at first glance, until she spies a curtain flicker. No, not empty.

Just afraid.

Tillamook State Forest, Oregon

September 28, 2013

They haven't seen battle for months.

Oh, there's been some flares of violence. One supply line disrupted, mostly because they needed to eat. There'd been a strange shift, at a point that Michal couldn't quite identify, when they became the ones stealing bread, hiding amongst the fringes, but he credits that to the fact they are in enemy territory. Collecting information, feeding it back to Mitchell's administration anyway they can, sneaking in the shadows and watching in place of fighting.

They haven't seen battle for months, but the war is constant, dogging their sleep, rising again with the sun. Out here, though, there are times when you could almost forget it. Autumnal colours are painting the leaves, which still cling strong and vital to branches. Valentin goes hunting, on occasion, sometimes with the other men, sometimes with Odessa. They eat rabbit over open flame. Their camp, in the re-appropriated tourist cabins of the forest reserve, is beginning to sink its roots in.

As the sun sets, Michal is taking watch at their perimeters, a camouflaged tree house with a few sundry supplies — food, water, blanket, ammo. He is patient and alert and alone — at least, until she decides to join him.

"I thought you might like some company." And something hot to drink, if the thermos and tin mug she offers him is any indication. "I've never been this far west before in my whole life," she tells him, an absent sort of smile on her face. She sits down next to him, shifting the blanket wrapped around her shoulders to her lap, then shrugging her pack off her shoulder. She carries with her the things she doesn't want to lose, even though they haven't had to leave anywhere in a hurry for a while now.

"It's beautiful here." Leaves change colors like they do back in New York, but it doesn't seem to get quite as bitter cold to do it. She appreciates that about the Pacific Northwest. It's fortunate that there's much to appreciate about their surroundings, because she had hoped the day would not again come where she would be forced to steal to eat again. Of course, she nearly always steals what she wants, but stealing for pleasure is a far cry from stealing out of necessity.

Odessa looks over to her companion, something sad or perhaps just apprehensive in her expression, but she doesn't say anything else.

Michal says oh when she hands him the thermos, a pleasant surprise, and adjusts his sitting so that she can be near and that they both have a good view of the trail beyond, the treeline, the sky. "I like it best," he agrees. "It reminds me of home. When it rains, or snows, anyway. It smells too different otherwise. But we have these animals, some of these trees. This cold."

If Odessa has an undercurrent of sadness, of apprehension to her demeanour, then he is likewise a little distractable, as if he is not completely here. He has not been completely here for the past little while, now.

Maybe it's fatigue.

He sips from the thermos, leans in as if to share with her a secret, and says, "All of this will burn by Christmas."

Maybe it's something else.

"Of course it will." There's a resignation to her tone. "We can't secure it, so we'll burn it." It's something she wouldn't say in front of anyone else. It's something she wouldn't have said in front of him not that long ago. "It's a terrible tactic. People don't understand… They take this all for granted." She, who never saw the world outside properly until she was a grown woman, does not, she feels, take for granted the splendor of this country.

"What the fuck are we fighting for if we're just going to burn it all down? What's left?" Odessa sighs, and moves closer. Her questions are genuine, rather than strictly dissenting. "It's like ruling over a cinder. What's the point?"

Michal laughs. It isn't an open sound, free and easy, but a contained chuckle, a little mirthless. "Think of it like an infection," he advises her. "America is so big, it is able to lop off parts of itself to save the whole. Maybe it was too big to begin with."

He seems to believe it, but that doesn't mean he has to love it. Wars can go on for a long time, but this one feels like it is in its twilight. More news disappears into the black hole of his commanders than orders come out of it. At least they are being given warning before they send an apocalypse in their direction.

"Don't be sad, Odessa. We will spend Christmas in snow country still."

She smiles weakly at his laughter and his rationalization. They may not be of the same mind, but if neither of them are terribly pleased about the method, then that is solace enough. "As long as I'm with you, nothing else matters."

It sounds romantic when she puts it like that, but they both know better. "You know, you're the only person who's ever treated me like… Like I'm human. Not an experiment, a curiosity, or a wild fucking animal." And maybe she is legitimately all three of the latter examples, but she doesn't have to appreciate everything that comes with it.

"I don't think I've ever thanked you for that. Not with words anyway." Odessa leans her shoulder against his slightly. She's a bit chilly anyway. She never has seemed to quite adjust to life without climate control. "Thank you."

Michal opens out his own blanket huddle, bringing her into the wing he makes with outstretched arm. He's not immune to seeking comfort, whether it be bodily warmth, or company, or sex, or even peace, but he does keep his eyes trained on the perimeter as duty demands while still tipping her into this sideways embrace. "You are welcome," he says, simply. "You will see. Tomorrow, everyone else will too."

He must mean a broader idea of tomorrow, a more figurative tomorrow, because tomorrow, what he does is discover that three of his men have defected. The chase through the forest is one to capture rather than kill, while early snow starts to shake from the sky like icing sugar. They manage to take two, and they are given the dignity of execution in front of everyone, a bullet from behind.

The third takes longer, but there is too much woodland to travel through alone. He comes out with his hands up, white with fear, and Valentin has the defector's feet tied to the back of his truck and, that way, he is dragged back to camp, dead before Valentin hits the brakes.

True to his word, Oregon burns by Christmas. They listen to the order given over radio, far enough away to see the wildfires from the sidelines. They are with men who salute it, in the darkness.

Somewhere in Washington…

November 24, 2013

No one defects after the example has been made. But the tension remains. It can't possibly abate on its own. Oregon burns and Odessa turns away from the window to hide the way her tears would glint in the firelight. It doesn't feel like victory, it feels like giving up. Even if what Michal says is true about the country being large enough to have a piece removed. It's with this ire already curling up cozy against her sternum that she reacts to a snide comment whispered from behind.

Not about her, but about him.

The soldier has found his back to the wall hard enough to knock the breath from his lungs and her arm across his throat to keep him from drawing more in before he even has a chance to react. And that was without the use of her ability. "He gives me the word," she warns her prey, eyes dark and glassy with angry tears beneath arched brows, daring him to make a move and take the choice out of her hands, "and I gut you like a fish." Her other hand is wrapped around the hilt of her knife, which is pressing dangerously close to soft belly. "Apologize - now - and maybe you find you're lucky."

She's a good five inches shorter than the man she's holding back, even in her thick-soled boots. But she has raw power in her limbs that is masked by her stature. Odessa hasn't survived this long without supplementing her bag of tricks. She doesn't look over her shoulder when she asks for confirmation. "Michal?" Orders?


Michal is standing. The men are silent. The one held at knife point is staring at him in a manner both challenging and urgent, and slowly disbelieving as further seconds tick by. He can feel the weight of their study — like a circle of wolves, their consideration as much on him as it is upon her. He sees her like they see her — small, white haired, pretty faced, too much power than her skeleton could contain to hold such a larger, capable person as she does. Unnatural.

A mutant.

It doesn't inspire anything worse in him than resignation, mouth made into a flat line. And then she hears him approach, the subtle creak of old boots over wooden slats. His hand, at her elbow, easing then towards her wrist, and then around the clasp she has on the hilt of the blade.

As if he is asking her to dance, rather than give him a knife, "May I?"

There’s a resignation in her, too. Odessa passes off her knife before easing back. There isn’t quite a sigh, but there’s a tension in her jaw and nearly a roll of her eyes for the man she just asked permission to — well, at least maim.

“Of course.”

Every time she steps just barely beyond the line like this, she knows it’s a risk. But she has a temper. It’s a fuel. It’s exploitable. It’s what brought her to this moment in the first place, all of that anger with no outlet. First anger over the loss of her ability, then anger over its return. And no matter what she does, she’ll never belong. Not anywhere. That makes her angry, too.

They've been together for two years, now. It's not impossible that Valentin can't tell all that from her tone, the weight of the moment, the subtle sigh. He takes the knife, allows a hand to linger on her before his focus turns expressly to the man against the wall, who finds that he still has a knife almost casually tucked against his belly. Valentin's consideration of him — upwards — is cold and wintry, until he shapes his mouth into a pleasant smile.

"It is an exciting evening," he says, just loud enough for all to hear. "With excitable tempers." The slow turn of his wrist has the every tip of the knife burying itself between fabric fibres, enough so that the soldier can feel its cool steel on flesh. "But there is one question I would ask of you, sir. Are you a patriot?"

The man's attention slides off Valentin, to Odessa, opening his mouth—

But only lets out a grunt as the edge of the knife slips just a little, reminding him it is her. "Do not fucking look at her or I will take your eyes," is enunciated very clearly. "Answer my question to you."

Squeezing his eyes shut upon seeing no allies, only an audience, the man says, "Yes, sir. I'm a patriot. H-human is first."

There's a silence as the wolves choose to wait and see where this goes next, a kind of morbid anticipation that is drained of the tension that was thick in the air a moment before. Then, the sound of flesh slapping flesh as Valentin gives him a jovial pat on the face and withdraws, knife and all. "Then watch your mouth," he says, turning his back, tossing Odessa the knife so she can hatch it hilt first. "And all of us should lighten the hell up, ya? There are fireworks."

There’s tension coiled tight in Odessa’s shoulders, which she rolls slowly in that way that she does that’s suggestive of a tiger ready to pounce on prey. This time, she’s holding. Her position, her tongue, though her eyes dare that man to say something about her. Every single person gathered knows exactly what she is.

Well, not exactly. Sometimes they forget they should consider her loyal to a fault, if not to a cause.

The knife is caught in the air. There’s no disappointment in her eyes that the man isn’t bleeding out on the floor, or trying to hold his own guts in place. “Ano, moje lásko, máš pravdu.

Somewhere in Washington

December 23, 2013

It would be beautiful, if not for the context. Not that Odessa can fully remember exactly what happened to lead to this moment of snowflakes frozen in the air. Mist of breath like smoke suspended above her face. Missing roof over their heads.

Their heads.

“Michal?” She turns her head slowly, ensuring she hasn’t been injured terribly. When she spots him, she no longer cares for her own injuries. “Michal!” She’s on her hands and knees in an instant, scrabbling across the space between them. Had he shoved her out of the way? There’s a fleeting memory of strong hands against the backs of her shoulders that she isn’t sure is even real, or just manufactured to explain the moment.

Pressing her fingers to his neck to check for his pulse brings him out of the time lock she’s created by instinct rather than intent. “Come on, damn you. Don’t you dare be—”

Time starts again, and reality rolls in on the fragile, crystalised moment of frozen time like a storm. The snow falls in an urgent flurry, and the howling wind seems to toss it even wilder, snagging her hair, falling to gather in the hollows of his eye sockets. The distant pop of gunfire patters at a distance, until she hears bullets carving into shattered brickwork nearby. Enemy forces — are they not all enemy forces, now — are close enough that Odessa can hear their baying on the wind.

Two days shy off Christmas. Their mutual gift had been something resembling safety, in hiding until the season turned. Until summons. Until something.

Not this.

Everything is in motion, except the man she is currently bent over, who lies unmoving, unblinking, unbreathing, as if time hasn't yet resumed for him yet. Even his wounds seem to have stopped, the cold frigid in his flesh, blood flow at an ooze.

With time halted, Michal Valentin looks dead. With time flowing by, it's clear that he is.

“No. No.” Her hands begin to tremble, and not from the cold. “No, please. Michal, please.” Tongue darts between lips, mind races. She starts chest compressions, but she knows already. It ends with her slapping a hand on his chest. “God damn you!”

Odessa pitches forward and sobs, begging silently for any higher force that might exist to give him back to her. She doesn’t - didn’t love him, but they were partners. He was familiar. A constant. The reason she was able to remain a sheep among wolves.

It means she can’t linger. If they find that he’s dead, she’ll follow. Possibly not swiftly.

Anger that he could be taken from her is swallowed for the moment by her sorrow. And she reaches out first to brush her fingertips over his eyelids. If not for the blood and the… Well, everything else, he might look like he’s sleeping. And like so many times before, she rests her hand on his cheek, a fondness felt in her chest, if not shown on her face right now.

“I’m so sorry. I failed you.” She meant it when she said she would not let him die for her. But some things are beyond even her control. The actions Michal Valentin takes himself are one such exception.

Her breathing becomes shorter, shallow gasps at the thought of leaving him there, like that. He deserves better. But there’s no time. Ironic as that notion is, given her ability. Odessa rises to her feet and stumbles once, a wave of nausea hits her and she knows she’ll need to find medical attention herself at some point.

She won’t find it here.

Once he had told her that she should work for the people who paid her the most. In money, bombs, or love. Odessa had thought she worked for bombs. Today, she learns she was wrong.

“You should have let me die,” she tells the man as she wipes the tears from her face.

If anyone was watching, it would seem Odessa Knutson simply disappeared. Save for a trail of footprints in the snow, and intermittent drops of blood.

It’s a long and agonizing walk, and now she has to make it alone.

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