Everything's blue in this world
Spilling out of my head
The Downward Spiral - Nine Inch Nails/Coil
Cracks in relationships don't always appear with the destabilising force of an earthquake; a dramatic and progressive rupture threading across the landscape, threatening to swallow everything down into some unknown abyss. The reality is that more destruction is contained in the gradual hairline threads, less obvious, wrapping themselves around the foundations with quiet stealth developing into fissures until all it takes is one tap to make the walls collapse in on themselves.
Looking from the outside, you might assume that Hyde's assault cracked us wide open. The reality is that our relationship was doomed to be broken apart in a million different ways from the first time we saw each other at Lily's pool party. Everything that transpired over years and years of lies and deceit laid the weakest of foundations. Now all I could do was try to control where the fragments fell.
"Where are we going?" We didn't speak for four city blocks. I was royally pissed but for the life of me, I couldn't determine what was causing me the most distress. Hyde? Volkov? The agency? My family? What I couldn't think about was Ethan. Because if I thought about Ethan, I would want something more and right now, more was not on the cards. Not until this shit played out.
"I believe that we might need to strategise."
"You're fooling yourself. I doubt that we are on the same side."
"And what side are you on, Mia? Your agency has sold you out. Prostituted you to shift a minor irritation aside."
I figure he's talking about Hyde. "That was my choice."
"I see." The look on Volkov's face says he doesn't believe me. Is he right? Was I manipulated into putting myself on the line to ensure Ana's safety and eliminate Hyde? And if so, who exactly is pulling my strings? Volkov watches me expectantly.
"Hyde was getting in the way and making threats against my brother."
"Ah. So your decision to entrap Mr Hyde was personal. Your director will be glad to know how his resources are being used."
"My director can get fucked. Agents do what we have to on the ground to get the job done." But something in his tone tells me that he knows exactly who my director is and what he might think. I expect him to say something about insubordination but he doesn't.
"Mia, do not mistake my meaning. I agree that the ends often justify the means. That is why you and I need to talk further."
The stillness of his body is disconcerting. As if all the control in the space lies within his mere presence. The representation of power is undeniable but given the resources at his disposal I have to wonder what he wants with me.
"Talk." I'm determined to hear him out. It might be the only way to find out what's really going on. And to keep Ethan safe from my family.
"We will talk soon enough." And with that the silence descends again, wrapping around me like a blanket.
Surprise and fear hit with a double punch when we pull up at Sirens. With no more conversation, he ushers me from the car and down into the bowels of Club Orpheus. I expect to go through the same sort of clearance at reception that I go through with Elena but Volkov gets none of that. He walks straight past the red head and her guard dogs and leads me to a spacious office at the rear of the building. Volkov's meatheads leave us at the door, planting themselves on either side of the entrance while we cross into the inner sanctum of a space I have never seen before. Once we are inside, I see photographs on the walls - a much younger Elena and Volkov, Volkov with a striking looking man who I can only assume is my maternal grandfather, Vladimir, a youthful Vladimir with a version of Elena, perhaps my grandmother. I wonder what she was like.
"Please, sit." He waves me to a chair before crossing to a sideboard to pour two healthy serves of vodka. He doesn't ask and so I don't refuse. Even though it is still mid-morning.
"So you really are still in charge of this whole operation?" It's more a statement than a question but I want him to confirm it.
"As I said, I maintain a presence but Elena is the figurehead. As long as she is alive and well, I monitor from a distance. That has become problematic and I am having to prolong my stay in the United States." I glance around this room. No cameras so no surveillance as in other spaces within Orpheus. He notices my gaze. "We cannot be overheard in here."
I tip my head to the side and smile. "So I could kill you and your goons wouldn't try to come in and stop me."
He chuckles. "Quite."
"As tempting as that might be, I would prefer to interrogate you first." I cross my legs and lean back in my chair, relaxing for the first time since we left the safe house.
"What do you want to know?" he responds with a grin.
"I take it that since you are still here, you have no idea where Elena is."
"No. I know exactly where she is. However, her absence has made the situation in Seattle unstable. It is all I can do to prevent another situation."
"You mean a challenge." The thought of the bloodshed of 2004 is terrifying. I shrug, trying not to show fear on my face. "I find it difficult to give a shit whether Elena manages to hold on to the crown. And if Kazanskaya ends up self-destructing as a result, I fail to see that as anything but a positive result for everyone."
"Do not pretend to be naive, Mia. If they think Elena is dead then your father will be taken out as one of her inner circle. Your brother is still her business partner. Your entire family is under threat. You might not give a damn about Elena but she is all that stands between you and your own demise along with everyone you love and hold dear."
Swallowing becomes an optional extra as my mouth dries up. He has just confirmed everything that I feared about this situation. Showing emotion is a weakness but I'm struggling to hide all those tell tale signs of my fear. My eyes are focused on my hands as they shake on my lap. Eventually, I look up at him, at this uncle I refuse to acknowledge.
"Why do you give a shit about any of us? I'm sure your business interests will continue as they always have. You would no longer have to return to the United States. There is no love lost between you and Elena, so I can't see you grieving your family."
Lifting the crystal tumbler to his mouth, Volkov drains the last of the liquor as he studies a photograph, the one of him and his father, on the wall. Without turning he talks.
"Things with the Bratva were a mess after the second world war. My father did a lot of good in keeping the Kazanskaya organised and setting up legitimate business practices here. He was a force of nature. A strong man when ruthless strength was required and I was trained to be his soldier. His warrior and enforcer. I was born to the role and I excelled at it. But he was not a good man. Not a good father or husband. My mother was the matriarch, ruling over the family with an iron fist, but she could never rule my father. When he sold my sister off in marriage to Lincoln, my mother railed against the decision. She could see what sort of man Ilya was and she begged my father not to let her go. Elena was a child and she didn't deserve that life but my father only had best intentions for the organisation in his mind. My sister was a means to an end. Collateral damage.
My parents fought about the marriage and in the end my mother died. I would like to say that it was the result of a broken heart but my father threw her down the stairs in a fit of rage."
He has my undivided attention with this confession. "Why was he never charged with her murder?"
Glancing down at his empty glass for the first time since he started speaking, he sniggers. "It's a challenge to charge someone with a murder when the body cannot be found. My father ordered the body be disposed." He pauses long enough for me to catch a flicker of remorse in those cold blue eyes and then just as quickly it's gone. "I was good at my job."
Holy Jesus fuck! What sort of family is this?
"Elena was branded. Who did that?" I have a sick need to know this piece of information. Elena implied that her brother was a monster. I made an assumption that he did it and enjoyed the process. Have I misjudged him?
He briefly pinches the bridge of his nose. "Elena and I were both trapped by circumstance. I am not proud of my actions but my father would have been more ruthless. She might have lost a battle to infection if he had been the one."
"If you're looking for sympathy, you're wasting your time. With all due respect, I think you're a sick fuck."
"Good. That kind of thinking might keep you alive."
I'm not surprised that he would encourage me not to trust him. "Good to know. However, if there is any chance that I might turn out like you, I would rather die, fuck you very much."
He laughs out loud. "You have the fighting spirit, Molyshka. I am indeed, as you say, a sick fuck." He crosses the room and lowers himself into the seat opposite mine. "If you are at all interested, Danir is holding Elena on his ship, against her will. Insurance that he will get what he wants."
"And that would be?"
I'm pretty sure that the colour has drained from my face. There are some things you really can't hide. Not if you're trained enough to see the tells, and Volkov is well-trained.
"Danir plays the long game. A grudge that he has carried on his cousin's behalf for a very long time."
"Seven years seems an extraordinary time to wait. Besides, Jenna seems to be enjoying her life."
"Ah, but in his culture, she is merely a woman, prone to hysteria and unable to truly atone for her sins. This is not about Jenna per se. This about family. A debt to be paid. An eye for an eye." The intensity in those hard cold blue eyes seems to be willing me to make the connections and accept his version of the truth. A truth that has a target painted on my back.
"If Danir wants me dead, why not do it? Why this elaborate plan of funding Ethan?"
"Danir's acquisitions are not limited to beautiful young women. I can only assume that he has other uses for your Mr Kavanagh. Either way, once his little sponsorship deal is done, he will own you both. Or he will kill you."
Ice cold dread floods my body and I can't hide the tremor in my hands. Clasping them together, I hold them on my lap, trying desperately not to let my emotions show. Danir wants Ethan for his sick sex games. Another acquisition to be placed God only knows where. I can't let that happen. I can't allow Ethan to become a sex slave. Tears threaten but I'm holding back everything as much as I can. Volkov must not see me as weak or he will refuse to share any more information, and I need him. If I have any chance of saving Ethan from Danir, then I need help and Volkov is the only person who seems to know what the fuck is going on. Taking in a deep breath I lift my eyes to his.
"How do I stop this from happening?"
Concentrate. For fuck's sake, just try. I want to lift my head up, look around, but every time the lights hit my eyes and my vision swims as a thousand rays of diffused light spread out in front of me. My skin itches and my mouth is dry but I know I'm in better shape than some of the others, who sway on their feet. I look down and become completely preoccupied with my hardened nipples peeping through the holes in the mesh fabric. Gold. I like gold. I look good in gold. I like the contrast on my dark skin. All that glitters is…
We're being herded like cows. That makes me smile and I want to make a joke. Baa-aaa or moooo. I giggle to myself but I don't make a sound. The girl next to me stumbles and I reach out a hand to steady her. I know her.
"Ssh…you're alright." Her face turns up to mine but her eyes are blank. Pupils fully dilated and lips slack. Nobody home. Nope not at all. "Ethan is going to buy me. And then I will…" I frown at my own words. No, that's not the plan. I shake my head, intending to tell the girl about the plan before a strong hand grips my arm.
"Mia!" Isaac barks at me, pulling me away. The other girl sways without me and I think she's going to face plant, then she pulls herself upright. Good girl.
I look down at Isaac's fingers digging into my arm. That's got to hurt so I make the sound more because it seems like something I should do rather than what I want to do.
"Ow!" He releases me and the white skin starts a return to olive. That's gonna bruise. I study my arm but can't feel a goddamn thing. Stupid, stupid drugs.
Instinctively, I pat my side, looking for the phone that Volkov gave to me but there was nowhere to hide anything in this dress so I had to leave it behind. Dress. No, it's not a dress. It's wrapping. Ready for unwrapping later. The big reveal. But of course, they can see everything. I look down with another giggle. Yes, all perfectly presented, not a feather out of place. Beautiful plumage. My snickering earns me another frown.
"Did you growl at me?" I smile up at Isaac. I've always liked Isaac. However, since my darling uncle got me into the 'program', I suspect that Isaac is really working for Danir but for the life of me, I can't recall why I think that. Perhaps it's because he doesn't answer my questions about Elena. Like he knows where she is but he won't tell me. Volkov thinks she is on Danir's big fancy boat. The Loveboat. I start humming the theme tune.
"Ssh, Molyshka. Behave yourself."
It's my turn to frown. "He calls me Molyshka." Looking up, I know that Ethan has to be on the other side of the one way glass. My arm lifts to wave, to let him know I know he's there but Isaac grabs my hand before I can raise it. An involuntary pout appears, as my hand is forcibly lowered. Isaac is probably right. I'm being a dumbass but all the shit in my system is taking the edges off my less than stellar performance and my body has a will of its own.
The program does this to us. It's a daily regimen of drugs and mission. They work our bodies and minds from first to last light, day after day, until we don't know what day it is or where we came from. How long have I been in the program? To be honest, I couldn't tell you. Days, months, years. I've tried to keep track, to keep my mind but I have to surrender to the program to keep Ethan out of this mess. It doesn't matter. As long as he is safe.
Swaying on my feet, I gyrate to a rhythm that I'm sure only I can hear. Love, exciting and new…come aboard, we're expecting you… I glance around and the other girls are the same. Swaying to their own music, like one of those silent discos. The ones where everyone listens to music through headphones and they can choose whatever song they want to listen to. All the program participants are hearing a different song and swaying out of synch to each other. That's what you get when you go on Farad's happy juice and brain washing diet. According to Jenna, he was very excited at my late enrolment. Apparently, I'm a prize. Whatever the fuck that means.
Elena tried to keep me out of the program. All of those warnings about staying away. She knew I would appear on Danir's radar soon enough and being involved in the program would seal my fate. Volkov thinks that Danir agreed to fund Ethan because he knew Elena would not let me go through the factory program. Acquiring me would be the ultimate revenge. So Elena, for all her flaws, tried to keep me out of it. She just didn't count on the CIA and their sick agenda. Darling Uncle Volkov is sure that my bosses are selling me out, knowing that Danir or Farad or whatever the fuck his name is, would be frothing at the mouth to have me. They've offered me as bait. I'm a sacrificial lamb, I always have been. Just like I was with Hyde. I wriggle like the little worm I am on the end of their hook, doing my best to entice Farad to bite so they can reel him in. I just hope he wants me more than he wants Ethan.
"Ladies, thank you." And just like that, we're being herded back through the door. I search the faces for Lily. I've only had a quick glimpse and we haven't been permitted to talk. Hell, through the haze, I'm not even sure if it's really her. Then I see her across the other side of the room. Oh, Lily, Lily, Lilypad. What are you doing here? Did Lincoln promise you the world and then toss you into the viper pit? And the others. Brie and Katja. I'm pretty sure they are here too. I just can't fucking concentrate enough to work it all out. Because they keep feeding us the happy juice and my brain keeps tilting off its axis.
The corridor seems inordinately long. Much longer than I recall. We're taken into holding rooms. No time for small talk. How are you? Have they given you the juice, too? It's a fucking mind trip, huh? No, no, you look great. A little strung out but they only want to fuck you so no biggie if your head isn't in the game. Just lay back and think of England.
How many days have I been here? Six? Eight? Twelve? My uncle delivered me to the factory after we talked. After he convinced me that selling my soul would be the only way to save Ethan, to save my family. We always thought that the factory was part of Sirens, a few dedicated playrooms to completely screw over the girls put up for auction. No. The factory is underneath Esclava. Fucking Elena. What a crazy bitch my mother has turned out to be. She's been preparing Danir's girls in the factory for years. Part of the deal Volkov had to strike with Danir because she couldn't keep her fucking cougar hands off my brother and her sadistic ex lost his tiny wee mind. Now, all of us are in deep, deep shit and Farad has been biding his time, plotting how to take us all down. Lucky me, lucky me, lucky me. Born in the shallow end of the gene pool.
Jenna was assigned to the program as Danir's eyes and ears. Volkov is convinced that Jenna got suspicious about me when Elena refused to get me on the auction list. Now Elena is being held by Danir until I am reprogrammed and ready to be shipped out. I should be happy. At least I know where she is and for now she is safe. Danir's insurance policy. Meanwhile, here I am on the inside of the auction and now that he has seen that I've gone through the program, that I am compliant and malleable, Danir is going to change his mind about giving Ethan the money to purchase me. Happy, happy, joy, joy. My life's aim, to be a rich man's toy. But at least my Ethan, my love, will be safe. And once he has me, he can release Elena and leave my family the fuck alone.
"It's your turn, little one. Put on your biggest smile." How long have I been waiting? It could have been minutes. It could have been hours. Thank fuck for the couch. Isaac drags me up by the wrists and leads me from the room. Isaac. What a big fucking disappointment he has turned out to be. I always thought he was in love with Elena but he's Danir's man through and through. I look up at his stern profile, so beautiful, so treacherous. I think we're going back into the bar but we end up weaving through the maze and I'm in a play room. Platforms with chairs are placed around the perimeter of the space, creating a wide circle. That's where the buyers all sit, one hand on the buzzer the other on their crotch, their faces hidden in the darkness of the outer reaches of the room. There are six in total. A small raised stage in the middle of the room is lit up. I'm guessing that's where each of the seventeen girls will be presented. A lot of dirty money will change hands tonight.
Isaac hauls me up onto the platform and signals to the chain hanging down from the centre and the cameras around the room. Oh, this looks like fun, I hope they get my best side. My legs are still unsteady in these platform heels and I almost topple off the side but then Isaac steadies me.
"Follow the instructions, carefully. Put your hands above your head." He has to help me but eventually I get there. I feel the cuffs going around my wrists and feel that moment of panic flood my system whenever I am restrained. I breathe deeply, bringing my nerves under control and soon I'm tethered. Just another piece of well-seasoned meat for auction. "If they talk to you, make sure you turn to face the speaker." He whispers in my ear. I'm sure that makes sense to somebody but not me.
"Miss G comes to us from one of Seattle's finest families. She has been a star pupil in the program. As such, she will only be sold to an off shore buyer for international placement." A female voice booms out from the sound system into the otherwise quiet space. Jenna. Our MC and auctioneer for the evening.
"What the fuck?" Somewhere in my drug-addled brain I register Ethan's panicked voice and turn to face him. I will him to calm down and let it go. "Danir, you said…" My husband doesn't sound very happy. Nope. Not at all.
"Sit down, Mr Kavanagh." Jenna's voice is authoritative. There's a struggle somewhere to my right. The unmistakeable sound of someone being evicted. Well, I guess that takes care of that. I'm now, officially, on my own.
"Gentlemen, we are opening bids at $250,000," Jenna's distinctly middle eastern accent drawls out. I wonder why she anglicised her name. I'm sure her Saudi name is quite beautiful, although perhaps unpronounceable. She continues, "As usual, press your green buzzer to confirm a bid. Flick the red switch if you wish to withdraw your interest."
A buzzer goes off to my left and I turn my head. I can't make out who is in the chair but they look short, composed, as they lounge back in their chair. Not Danir. Certainly not Volkov. Perhaps one of the Guangzhou triad.
"Do I hear $500,000." Now that's more like it. I don't mean to be insulted. I'm not vain but I know my worth. I pull myself up on the chain, thrusting out my tits and offering them for the bidders. This is fun. A buzzer goes off to my right.
"$750,000." Ooooh, you get two tits and a pussy for that kind of money. I peer into the darkness trying to see who my buyer is. "She has had only one lover." How the fuck does she know that? What the fuck is going on? Then I remember Hyde and smile at the floor. Oh, we've fooled them.
"One million dollars." And the crowd goes wild. Or they would if there was a crowd. Instead the room goes very quiet.
"Any more bids, gentlemen?" Waiting, waiting. No more takers? I pout. "Sold, to Mr Danir."
Fuck! It worked. And then before I can do a little victory dance, Isaac drags me off the stage and sends me back to my holding pen, has me re-juiced and sent into a haze that might have lasted days because the next lucid thought occurs when I register that I'm in a bed in some sort of opulent over-decorated nightmare. The room is dim but the unmistakeable smell of an overblown budget with no taste hangs in the air…along with salt sea air? I sit up in the overly large bed and try to look around but my vision is off and my head is pounding. Closing my eyes against the light, I try to bring my erratic breathing and the arrhythmic beating of the drum in my temples under control. As the pain recedes, the distant thump of rotors combined with the gentle sway of the room confirms that we're at sea and that sets off a whole new round of panic.
I check myself under the covers and although I'm naked, the sudden movement setting off the headache again. I don't feel any of the tell tale signs that I've been violated in any way. Relief floods through me, easing some of the pain in my head, enough for me to swing my legs out of the bed. My bare feet sink into a plush carpet. I imagine this will be a bitch to clean if I throw up so I quickly stagger to the open doorway of the bathroom and empty the meagre contents of my stomach into the toilet before rinsing my mouth out with water from the tap. A quick glance in the mirror confirms that I look like shit. Without hesitating, I step into the shower and try to claim back some sort of humanity.
When I emerge from the bathroom, I feel more like myself. Just naked. A quick check of the room nets me no more than a silk bathrobe so it will have to do. A tentative twist of the door handle let's me know that I'm locked in and when I check through the peephole I can see one of the Bratva boys stationed outside my room. I turn my attention to the small balcony and discover it opens. Peering over the side, I note that here are at least eight decks above the water line, maybe more and I appear to be on the sixth. That means there must be at least three below. The ship looks to be somewhere between 150 and 200 feet long. Danir obviously has far too much money. I check out the layout of the balcony trying to estimate my chances of scaling the outside of the ship. It could be a little hit and miss finding a room that isn't locked from the outside but it's worth a try. I'm just about to throw a leg over the side when I hear the door to my stateroom being opened. I quickly run back to the bed and lie down, pretending to be asleep.
"You're awake." I open one eye and am surprised to see Elena standing in the middle of the room. Dressed in a soft blue pants suit, her hair stiffly braided and her face made up to hard perfection, she looks no worse for wear as a result of her forced imprisonment. Either Danir treats his 'guests' well or she is not to be trusted. Why am I not surprised? "Good. It's time to go to work."
Since I'm not completely convinced where her loyalties lie, I go with my training.
"Work? Yes. Yes, of course." I slowly prop myself up on my elbows, demonstrating all the outward signs of drugs wearing off and wait for an explanation that I'm not really expecting to get. I'm sure that Danir likes to keep all of his staff slightly off kilter. Seeing Elena here, calling the shots would be one way to throw me off my own game. That and the happy juice, of course, which luckily, seems to be mostly out of my system. I guess he doesn't feel the need to worry about my cooperation in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
"You're presence is required in the theatre." The boat has a fucking theatre? Perhaps it's bigger than I thought.
"Sure. If you can find me something to wear, we can get going." Standing up, I tuck the robe carefully around myself. Flashing my mother is not on my top ten list for the evening.
"You won't need clothes, although you can wear the robe while we move through the ship. After a while, you will find that any clothing will simply get in the way."
"Fair enough. So what show are we watching?" I move toward the door in an outward show of compliance. Inside I'm churning over her comments. If Danir wants me for international placement, why would he let anyone else touch me on the ship?
"You are the show." Oh, shit. Maybe my luck really has run out. Danir really does have money to burn if he can spend a cool million on me as entertainment. I'm hoping Elena might let a little more slip if I prod gently enough.
"Danir made the purchase. He said I was destined for an overseas buyer."
"Mia, you are a stupid little girl. I warned you not to go near the club. I tried to keep you off the auction list. You wouldn't listen. So now you are property of Danir. He will do with you, exactly as he wishes. Now, before we both get tied to a flogging post, move your ass and let's get to the theatre."
Elena calling the shots was not expected. The way Volkov made it sound, she was being held prisoner, so I don't quite get why she's ordering me around on Danir's behalf. What I won't do is antagonise Elena further. If she's working for Danir then I will need to be careful. If she's really being held against her will, then I will need to be even more careful. I'm just glad that Ethan isn't caught up in all this shit. Maybe, if he's back in Seattle, there might be a way that he can get all of the girls on this ship off safely. I'd like to share that intel with Elena but think better of it. Until I know what her situation is, I can't trust her. But I can keep her close.
"Lead the way." The Russian tank of a guard falls in behind us making any sort of deviation impossible. Not that I would try. Not until I know a little more about the layout of the ship. Elena leads us to an elevator and we descend two floors. The doors open onto a large reception area and I see a set of double doors ahead of us that I could imagine would lead to some sort of auditorium space. I expect to move through them but she takes me to a side door and swipes a card over a security panel. The door opens into a long, dimly lit, narrow corridor and beyond to a backstage area. A small group of people are moving about with headsets on, taking and issuing whispered instructions. A man stands by the curtains just off stage, deftly unfurling and looping a coil of rope. I know that silhouette. I'm fucking married to it. Jesus Christ on a popsicle stick!
Elena grips the collar of my robe, and I'm too stunned to do anything but step out of it. Then she ushers me forward and I move to stand next to Ethan.
"Shulun'ya." He doesn't look at me and the name is a barely audible whisper that I'm sure only I can hear. I, however, can't stop studying his profile.
"What the fuck are you doing here?"
"Shhh." Finger held to his lips, he silences me. Then some new age crap zen-like music starts to playing and he turns me around. Without hesitation, I grip my elbows behind my back and he begins weaving the rope around my arms to keep me in place. Once he has me secure, he uses the remainder of the rope to lead me on stage to a smattering of polite applause. And while we begin to go through one of our suspension routines, I can't help but think we're both completely fucked.
A/N: Apologies for the long delay. Another major change of work role on top of a long overseas holiday has made writing daily a challenge. There may be more delays leading up to the end of the story but you will be happy to know that we are almost there. For those of you who have read Going Grey, we will be travelling south toward Haiti where the Elysium will intersect with the boat that the Grey's are all on for Kate and Ethan's wedding trip. I'm thinking that we might be two or three chapters away from a grand finale. Hopefully, all before Xmas but I hope you will be patient. Please enjoy!