by Vanzetti

They are talking behind closed doors again, and Sark doesn't like it. Strange how much emptier the facility seems now with three of them; he felt less isolated when it was only Sloane and himself. At least he believes that to be the case. It is instinctive for him to know certain things about the people around him: where they are, what they want, what they may do next. How they make him feel is not among these. Closed doors, however, are a different matter.

His earliest memories, the earliest ones he's sure of, are of arguments behind closed doors, shouts and crashes and a woman crying. No, she is saying, you won't take him, I won't give him to you. Earlier than that he has nothing certain but color and texture: dark, polished wood, flame above a melting white candle, the stiff roughness of a rug beneath his cheek. Even now a woman's voice raised in a certain tone can send him grasping at those cobweb memories. He appreciates Irina's deliberate speech.

Had Irina Derevko's eye been on him from the beginning? Had her hand guided him at school, chosen the extra lessons--marksmanship, spycraft, hand-to-hand combat--that set him apart from the other boys? If so, he was grateful for the edge she gave him in the violent world of the boys' dormitory. He was grateful as well for the opportunity to leave that world behind, to taste the colors and textures of the world outside: the smoothness of leather, the softness of cashmere, the weight of a silver knife against his palm, the reflection of candlelight in a glass of claret. The recoil of a gun in his hands and the bright and dark of blood from a fresh wound.

Perhaps it was inevitable that her organization would please him. Her welcome, at their first meeting, ended with the words, "Moya dver' vsegda dlia tebya otkryta." My door is always open to you. She taught him to pick his own methods and then his own missions until he could understand and even question her decisions. He preferred her undemonstrative manner, although it left him to imagine her pride in him. But he was not without evidence, surely: the room she kept for him wherever she set up her headquarters, the objects she acquired on her own travels and left there for him, smooth shapes, some in precious metals and others carved from wood or stone, the fine vintages he sometimes found in his hotel room after a long day.

He reminds himself of this evidence as he watches the closed door. Irina and Sloane were old acquaintances. Old friends, even. It would be natural for them to meet in private to take their decisions. It did not occur to him that their alliance would weaken their individual ties to him, and he turns the question over in his mind. Should he have foreseen it? Was it a mistake of inexperience or of misplaced trust? Would Irina... No. He will not consider that.

He concentrates instead on a memory that usually comforts him--the lacquered surface of a secret panel opening under his fingers, precisely where Irina said it would be--a dark passage to slip through--the boots of the pursuing guards thumping above him, so loud that they will never hear him--the icy air that meets him as he exits into the basement of another building, turns up his collar and prepares to walk away into the street.

He shifts in his chair. The sweater he is wearing itches. The door remains closed.


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