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Good Boy

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Bangkok, 1980

Dusit Thani Hotel

            “Who was that?”

“Freddie, you are being ridiculous-”

            “I’m being ridiculous. I’m being fucking ridiculous?! Check a mirror, asshole.”

            The Russian scowled across the room at his second; the bags beneath his eyes looked particularly racoonish in the dim light, dark in his pale face. He could pull the sunshine act out of his ass all day long, but Freddie would know better every time. “I do not have to deal with this right now. Leave- I am on the phone.” With the curtains drawn and the room all a wreck, long shadows cast over his thin features, he almost looked intimidating… almost.

            Not to Freddie, in any case.

            “What, I’m not allowed to ask questions now? I’m not putting up with this shit,” he spat, advancing on him with his fists curled. He wasn’t even really all that mad. He was just being Freddie, which, as much as he hated to tell himself that, meant that he would be fine in twenty minutes.

He wasn’t going to hit him, anyways – there was a time when he might have, early in their relationship or before. Before he’d forfeited his goddamn title to the bastard, and all for the sake of begging Walter for a favor.

A pretty damn big favor, if he was honest, but still.

He’s still not sure how they got him out, only that Walter had connections and they’d been on a plane to the States within the week, hardly able to keep their hands from one another. And he still wasn’t sure how pictures of it hadn’t ended up all over the front page of the Times.

(It was one of those unfortunate little side effects of his time with Florence: he hated to be alone, needed the touch, needed to know he was there, that someone was there- but that wasn’t important right now. Now he was pissed, just for the next twenty minutes and he didn’t have the time or the patience for nostalgia.)

(They had their whole lives to be sappy like that.)

(He just wants to yell. He’s going to fucking yell.)

            Unfortunately for Freddie, he wasn’t any more intimidating than his (fiancé) (friend) (lover?). Anatoly raised on skeptical eyebrow, hand still covering the warm plastic mouthpiece, not even pretending to cower.

He had never indulged Freddie like Florence had.

            “What exactly are you putting up with?” he said quietly, exasperated, and his accent wasn’t quite as thick as it used to be; despite himself Freddie liked the fact that he’d left a mark on him besides the purple string of bruises that had faded a week ago, from his ear to his collarbone.

            “Are you fucking kidding me? Are you fucking kidding me?” He can’t help it, he’s a firework, a human explosive miswired a thousand times by parents who never wanted to look inside his head and see the damage. Florence had been so good at that. She was a fucking genius – she knew how to move them around without disconnecting anything, without grazing the nerves. He missed Florence.

He refused to think that Anatoly might miss Svetlana that way. Svetlana was a bitch – Florence had only been called one.

            “You’re not going back. Fuck you.”

            Fuck him for thinking he could just leave Freddie. Fuck him.

            Anatoly’s face darkens and for a moment Freddie remembers that he’s a Russian – the Russian – he is another person, sometimes, the person he was before, and Freddie knows next to nothing about that person. “No, I am not- but I do not see how that is your decision to make.”

            “Don’t give me that bullshit,” he snarls, mostly out of desperation. If he lost Anatoly now then what was the point of the past year? What was he going to do – go back home to an empty apartment and sit down with no one to help him back up? No chess, no Florence – no Anatoly. Nothing. He’d be damned if he was going to let this mudak, his bitch, take everything from him and just leave like the rest of them. “What about me? You didn’t leave for her, you-”

            Then he is human again, and his dark eyes lighten with anxiety. His children he had said before, moaned about all night long after he’d seen Molokov’s sinister smile in his direction. They had his children.

“I cannot let them threaten my family, Freddie.”

            “Like you give a shit about them!”

            He fumbled for some breakable object, anything, and hurled it with what felt like venom searing in his heart, the vein in his forehead throbbing – the picture frame on their nightstand shattered against the opposite wall. Anatoly was silent, casting his eyes at the glittering fragments on the hotel carpet, white like Freddie used to be, like everything he could so easily leave and just disappear into the nowhere he came out of in the first place.

Finally, he sighed, closed his eyes and brought the phone back to his ear. He turned away to murmur in low, stressed tones the Russian word for goodbye. Freddie knew it, knew the familiar, foreign syllables by heart. There are words in his vocabulary that stand out like scars made by those tiny shards, blood red and irreparable, too intricate to ever fix with the blunt tools of time. Hello, goodbye, good night, I love you.

Teb’ya lublyu, Freddie.

“Freddie, she is no threat to you…” he said, glancing up at him wearily as he set the phone back on the receiver, and Freddie sneered. He could taste Svetlana on the air between them, again, like always lately.

She tasted bitter.

            “If it’s so easy to say then why don’t you prove it?” This couldn’t be happening. Freddie could feel his throat constricting in anticipation, even as he sat beside him, reaching desperately for an anchor. Anatoly curled his fingers around his absently and relief washed powerful and irrational through him.

            He couldn’t just leave, not without Freddie. He had to know he couldn’t just leave-

            “The Soviets want the title.” Anatoly pursed his lips, seemingly unaware of the churning indignation in Freddie’s gut. “They will have no other reason to…”

“You can’t just throw the match!” He was aware that he sounded utterly disgusted. Anatoly cast him an irate expression, scowling again, but he wasn’t done. “You’re better than that. You’re the goddamn champion, for good reason-”

            “You might have been playing,” Anatoly interrupts, angrily. He was starting to redden with frustration, something that Freddie was normally proud of. “If you had not forfeited, who is to say you would not be the champion now?”

            It stung, as it was meant to. He scrambled to defend himself, flush spreading down his neck. His hand tightened near-painfully around the Russian’s. “You’d still be trapped in that communist hellhole if it weren’t for me-”

            “And my family would not be in danger, Freddie- I cannot just leave them like this!”

            “You can’t just leave me like this! You’re playing like a novice. Get your shit together – I know you’re better than this. You’re better than me.

            It was almost pleading – Freddie hated to beg, but he knew what buttons he had to push. Even stubborn as a mule, Anatoly swayed like a flower in the wind to Freddie’s manipulations, every time. Some chess master he was.

“Well I am glad you can admit it,” is all he could say but it’s choked, and there was alarm in his eyes that made Freddie’s chest tight with morbid satisfaction.

            “You aren’t letting the reds walk all over you,” he continued while he still had his attention, aware that he was twisting the knife from the way Anatoly’s expression twisted with it, just the barest twitch. Anatoly may have been a better chess player, but Freddie would always beat him at poker.

            “I am only taking precautions. My wife will-” Anatoly attempted again, but it was no use reasoning with Freddie when he was like this.

            “She’s not your wife,” he hissed, his eyes narrowing to slits, and before Anatoly could even find the words to try and placate him he had yanked his hand away with a dangerous look in his eye.

“She’s not even your wife, they’re barely even your fucking kids. Tell me-” he bit out, grim satisfaction ripping into his chest and up through his lungs, metallic like blood, at the devastated sight of his expression.

“How often do you honestly see them? How many of their birthday parties have you been to?” No response. He tried harder. “You’re not their fucking father-”

            He watched in slow motion as, in the space of a moment, it backfired. “I have to go,” Anatoly spat, and as he whirled from the room the door slammed behind him with a vibration that sounded distinctly like goodbye.

            Freddie’s hand stung with the speed of his withdrawal, brows furrowed and jaw set in a scowl. He didn’t have to ask what was so urgent. It had been in the papers all week, this impending disaster.

            My wife, come to Bangkok?

            Everyone had been so certain that he was the nutjob and he could hardly make an argument there – but watching his partner come undone at the seams, he had to wonder if insanity loved company as much as misery obviously did.

With a heavy sigh he shut his eyes and turned over, faceplanting into the pillow and curling up around it. A frustrated scream was building hot and silent in his chest.

There was no use in throwing anything else; they would only have to pay for it when they left.

            (If they left.)

            God dammit. He missed Florence.

 

 

            Anatoly wasn’t back until late that night, until well after Freddie had given up on his coming back and had dozed off, hanging half off the side of the bed. He woke him with a whisper, faint and amused, and crawled up beneath the covers with him in the darkness.

            It always went like this, with them. The words were forgotten by dawn, sucked away and swallowed with slow, deep kisses at midnight.

            “Teb’ya lublyu,” he murmured, moaned, grabbed his shoulder for anything to hold onto as Freddie sucked furiously at his pulse point.

            Mine, mine, you are fucking mine.

            “Love you,” he mumbles instead, under his breath, and tastes the smile sweet on his lower lip. “I love you.”

Don’t leave me.

            He said that he wouldn’t, but words had never meant much before. Not with Florence, not with his mother, his father. Not even really with Walter, who always said he talked too much. Why should they mean anything now?

            Anatoly threw an arm over him and drew him in, right to his chest where it was warm and safe and Svetlana was only a word that meant nothing – didn’t exist, didn’t have to mean a goddamn thing to Freddie Trumper.

 

 

            The bitterness crept back in the morning.

He left with barely a peck, one eye on the door until he was through it and halfway down the stairs, into the lobby.

“She’s here,” is all he had said, and somehow Freddie had found it in him to bite his tongue and merely glower at the wall as he nodded in reluctant acknowledgement.

It had been coming for a week, maybe more, but it still seemed so fast and not fair, and he wants to tell everyone he sees on his way to get coffee from the breakfast being hosted in the lobby that he hates that stupid Russian and his whole family. They’re all the same, all the reds. Never trust a Russian.

            There was little for him to do in Bangkok – years ago he might have gone out for a drink, played chess with himself, or perhaps even put on an easy smirk and placed himself where anyone might find him in the crowd, soaking up the attention. Now, he left only for his coffee and returned to lock the door and curl up on the bed, and tried not to imagine Anatoly at the airport embracing the woman he hadn’t seen in over a year now, almost two.

She was blonde and beautiful or so the pictures in his wallet had said. Their children, too. What could he possibly offer in comparison?

            Sometimes he wondered why the fuck Anatoly would give up the life he’d had for an asshole like him; but, then again, it was Russia they were talking about…

            He wasn’t sure what he expected – for Anatoly to appear with blondie in tow, two little ducklings trailing behind, or for Anatoly not to come back at all. If he left him here, stranded and lonely, it would only be what the cynic in him had expected.

            Either way it made him so anxious that his hands shook, pacing and pacing around the little room, around pieces of shattered glass that he knew neither of them would touch or talk about or even call room service to clean up. It was too real, too vivid – they didn’t want to know that there was something so deadly between them. It could sever the tether, Freddie thought to himself, those thin slivers shining between threads – could make them strangers in an instant; neither of them wanted that, of course.

Codependency is ‘unhealthy’, but who honestly gives a shit?

            He ended up clutching the pillow to his chest and breathing, deeply, just breathing and not thinking at all. Not about Anatoly and not about Florence and not about the bitch Svetlana, and her stupid blonde hair, and her eyes and her children that Anatoly liked to call his. He didn’t remember ever being anyone’s child but Florence’s.

            Perhaps this is how his father felt about him. Nobody wanted a child that had overstayed their welcome.

 

 

Some time later there was a sharp knock at the door.

            To be very honest, Freddie wasn’t used to having callers. He never had been, and especially since Anatoly – the moment his home was emptied of Florence, they had no visitors. None Walter and his ‘friends’, who came periodically to check that yes, the scandal was still alive and well, and no, neither of them had any regrets that they wanted to air like dirty laundry on international television.

            Walter hadn’t really spoken to him in a while. Freddie sullenly refused to wonder if it was his own fault.

            Abrasive, they called him. Maybe he’d be less abrasive if people would just leave him the fuck alone when he asked them to.

Anatoly was no fonder of the press than Freddie (especially once he was in the West, and they had poison ink to spare for him, the papers in Italy and America and possibly in Russia – but they didn’t talk about Russia, didn’t even dare to think the word) nor had he ever been very sociable. They’d hidden away for a year, emerging from their perch on the twelfth floor in Manhattan only for chess and occasionally coffee. It suited Freddie just fine.

            There was a pain in his side where he’d slept on it funny and, groaning under his breath, he rolled over to try and rub it away. He saw no good reason to sit up – it was probably just another fledgling journalist looking for their big break, begging for a picture or an autograph or some quote for their article on the championship.

On how Sergievsky was even more fucked in the head than his predecessor.

            Well. Freddie wasn’t about to tell them he wasn’t.

But it wasn’t any of their goddamn business.

“Can’t you just fuck off?” he started to groan in response to the next flurry of raps, clutching the pillow tightly to his chest, but he stiffened at the meek sound of her voice.

“Hello? It’s-”

“Florence?” He sat up so fast that his neck cracked, staring at the patterned wood. Florence. Florence Florence Florence-

He’d spent so long forgetting everything, Florence included – still, he was up, on his feet at the door opening it up for Florence who stood on the other side in jeans and a t-shirt, so different than he remembered, exactly the same. Looking at her was like looking at a portrait of the past, altered and faded with age – she wasn’t wearing makeup, not even her favorite shade of maroon polish on her nails. She was Florence, but she wasn’t.

Florence knew him. She did not. Although, she seemed to think she might; her knuckles were white where they clenched her purse, anxiety underlying her expression.

Faintly, he repeated it. “Florence.”

“Ah- Freddie.”

She offered an awkward sort of smile, raising her hand and waving her fingers. What do you want? But no, that’s rude – he grits his teeth at her voice in his head. Now it echoes outwards, destroying the silence of the hall, disrupting the low buzz of his mind. “I wasn’t… expecting you.”

There was a long, awkward pause. Freddie couldn’t seem to arrange the words jumbled in his head into a proper sentence. Finally –

“What are you doing here?” he asked, too-sharply, voice only vaguely uneven. Nice poker face. For the first time in a year he was faced with his problems, the source of them all, all compressed into this woman-shaped space.

No. Florence was no woman. She was better than them. A mystery, still, but a whole lot fucking better than that stupid blonde bitch Anatoly was pining after. Florence. “Florence, what the hell are you doing here?”

“I was told this was An- Mr. Sergievsky’s room.” She certainly didn’t look like she was about to explain where she got that information, glancing past him and into the unlit room. She looked so much older than she was, the shadows under her eyes so much more prominent without the shadows over them.

He wondered if she’d slept recently. He wondered if he’d look the same, worse, without Anatoly to keep him stable and satisfied.

(Mostly satisfied.)

Stepping into her line of vision, he shifted uncomfortably, mouth thinning into a line. “You woke me up.” Never mind why he was here when the room was booked with Anatoly’s name, practically infamous now. Place the blame on her, make sure she knows that you’re the boss – all those things he’d learned by example, all those things he’d done to her that he couldn’t ever seem to stop.

“… The next match isn’t until tomorrow.”

Right. Chess. That’s why they were here – for chess.

(Not for Svetlana. Not for anything to do with her. When they left, she would, too.)

(For chess.)

“I know. I’m here to see you. Not him.” Not like in Merano, the furtive looks, the way she’d said his name. He wondered if he’d ever get over that.

Not likely.

(He wondered if he’d ever stop wanting to brush that stray hair from her face, roll his eyes, smirk, lean into her hand as she patted his cheek in return - )

(Less likely.)

She didn’t touch him now, although he was sure she must want to, just peered at him like she was seeing him for the first time. (He wondered if he looked any different, now, to her.) (He wondered a lot of things.) “Freddie… I’ve missed you.”

He can imagine the gentle way she’d place her hand on his arm but she didn’t dare, not now, not after a whole year, a year and a half without a word. (He wondered if she had ever wanted to call; if she’d forgotten his number yet.)

“I’m trying to sleep,” he tries, but it’s weak and he grimaces, ducking his head. “Why did you come here, if you were looking for me?”

“I thought that he might know where I could find you - can I come in?” (Always so polite, Florence, you’re such a Brit, Florence.) He took a breath and stepped aside reluctantly, nodding.

She seemed to deflate with relief, nodding in return, in understanding, as she slipped past him and into the dim room.

(She’d always just understood him with barely a fucking look; he wondered, ached to know if she could still do that crazy little trick where she read his mind, fixed everything with a wave of her manicured fingernails.)

(Florence.)

But Florence was a woman, even if she was an exceptional woman. He couldn’t trust her to save his life (though she had, so many times) and he couldn’t let her back in, and this was already a mistake and Anatoly wouldn’t like it at all –

He wasn’t sure he liked it, either…

“It’s late. I’m sorry,” she began, eyes cast curiously on the clothing trail trickling from the open suitcase half-underneath the bed. He’d given up his all-white attire, in recent months, except for his favorite pair of pants; it was hard to tell, now, that they belonged to him.

They’d had shocking success keeping news of their love affair out of the papers – the story went that Freddie had seduced the Russian with talk of freedom in the West, not with his lips and hands and touch and tongue.

Walter had helped with that, of course, but it was only a matter of time.

“Don’t be,” he said instead, letting loose a dormant sigh of resignation. There was little room to sit; he offered her the cold edge of the bed where Anatoly had been sitting just an hour ago, awkwardly: “I don’t have coffee or anything-”

“There’s a first for everything,” she murmured, with a secret smile that would have been a laugh two years ago if they were in their living room instead of this tacky hotel room with the glass swept under the bed and the blinds closed – he reached to correct that now, afraid to be alone with her like this, cornered.

Merano lingered between them like dirty air. Freddie swallowed, refused to look at her. “There might be some downstairs, if you…”

“Forget it,” she said, patting his hand. There was intent somewhere buried in her eyes, just out of reach – she meant to be discreet, but Florence had never been able to keep things from him. “Maybe we should go to your room?”

“Ah – no, that’s – alright. It’s… Actually –” He cleared his throat, daring to glance up with an awkward knot twisted in his gut. “This is my room.”

Florence made him feel thirteen – like she was his babysitter, his first crush, his aunt, the mother he never had doting on him, all rolled into one; his first erection and his first love and his first friend. For the first time since they’d arrived in Bangkok he felt warm instead of just sticky.

I love you, I love you, words he hadn’t been able to say in too-long and they’d rolled around in his skull until the walls were worn to the breaking point. It meant so many things – so many more things than she probably thought.

I love you; not like Anatoly, not like anything, anyone else. Just… like Florence.

I love you.

(She’s going to find out, sometime. Might as well be now.)

Not that he was going to tell her – but she was a smart girl, right? She could figure it out on her own. She had more tact than Freddie, might even leave without saying a word about it. (But what was she there for?)

“Is there a reason you wanted to see me?”  Freddie raised an eyebrow, watching already as her eyebrows furrowed at the queen sized bed beneath them, fingers smoothing carefully over the patterned comforter.

One bed, two people… Something wasn’t going to add up, eventually. He rushed to cover it up, already cursing himself. You could have just lied! Jesus! You’re worse than he is! “I’m exhausted.”

No, don’t leave me, don’t leave, don’t leave-

All of this, and he’d been the one to leave her stranded in Merano after a petty fight; a stupid, petty fight that he’d tried so hard to regret.

You wanna lose your only friend? No, please, don’t leave-

So he’d left instead. (Somehow, it made a lot of sense back then…)

“I haven’t been able to get a hold of you.” She looked almost sheepish, looking up from beneath her lashes with a hesitant smile. Their gazes grazed one another and it stung – Freddie snapped his head away, coughed into his fist.

“I didn’t change my number. Or my address.” Why didn’t you come back? You always come back. Don’t look, don’t look – he met her eyes again, searching for some answer, and was met with overwhelming pity.

“I’m sorry, Freddie. I didn’t think… I wasn’t sure-” She paused, wrinkling her nose and softly sighing. “You seemed happy. In the interviews. I watched… all of them.”

“So why are you here?” He didn’t mean to sound accusatory except he did, frowning. “You really shouldn’t be here.”

“Officially? I’m here to see the tournament.” She smiled wryly, tapping her nails on her thighs and shrugging her shoulders as she looked back to her lap. “I suppose I thought I’d run into you eventually…” She trailed off, searching in the thread count of her pants for something else to say to him. “How is he doing?”

Right. Right. Anatoly. Chess.

(This was all beginning to feel a bit surreal…)

“Fine,” he muttered tersely, beginning to lose an edge of that nostalgic fondness for her. What time was it? He’d been gone for hours now, just gone like Freddie wasn’t back here waiting for him –

But right now he had Florence. Right. He had to worry about Florence first, and then about Anatoly and that woman.

She didn’t look very convinced, but then Florence had always been able to see right through his bullshit. (and let go of it, too)

(God, he’d appreciated Florence.)

(He still appreciated her now, didn’t want to let her leave, but at the same time he desperately needed her to – before he forgot what he wanted again, or who he was, or whatever had happened that had ended with Anatoly in his bed and Florence cast off somewhere unknown where he couldn’t reach her and wasn’t sure that he wanted to until right now when he knew that he certainly did, he fucking missed her, needed her. Florence-)

“I wanted to apologize,” she admitted, with her back straight and her eyes fixed on him intently. “For what I said, back there. I’m sorry. I – well, I regret it.”

Not as much as me.

“… I’m sorry.” It’s such a half-assed apology and he deserved to be smacked for it, but he wasn’t about to design anything more elaborate. He pulled a face and she looked like she wanted to laugh; biting her lip, she reached out at last to fix his hair.

“Well thank you for that,” she murmured, lips curving again into an amused smile. The touch of her fingertips was almost too warm, and Freddie felt his breath hitch. Things seemed to thaw between them, dangerously warm and watery in a way that could carry him away. He leant into her hand, sighing deeply and relaxing for what felt like the first time in months.

No, no – Anatoly would be back soon…

“You should probably go. It’s getting dark.” The words were forced, insincere. Impersonal. She frowned as she nodded, the rejection immediately setting in, and he didn’t want to see it, didn’t want to know what he was doing. (again) (what he was always doing to people)

(Who were other people, anyways – people who weren’t Anatoly?)

“Would you mind if I came back? I was hoping…” She trailed off, checking to be sure he was following what she was saying. He pretended that he wasn’t, his heart strangling him, beating so hard he was sure that Anatoly would hear it all the way at the embassy and come back to check he hadn’t died…

If he even cares.

(Sometimes his pessimism gets the best of him.)

(Most of the time.)

“I don’t know if he’d – um.” He still couldn’t manage a simple sentence. God dammit, Florence. “No, I – that would be – fine.”

Freddie sometimes forgot that he was an adult, and then how to act like it; as Florence stood and smiled he stood beside her, and when her palm slid along his arm in a gentle motion like she was reclaiming him he stood stock still and stared at her, trying so desperately to find what he’d lost in her, some piece of himself that was missing. She’d absorbed it so thoroughly by now, but he was sure if she’d let him he could fish it back out – he just wasn’t sure he’d want it back, by that point, half-digested by the acids in her affection, the kiss she placed on his cheek, entirely too close to his mouth.

Fuck.

Like a live wire he stumbled away, grabbing for the nightstand for support. “Oh –” Florence caught the frame just as it fell – it was by no means repaired, the glass long-gone and probably never to be replaced. It was the picture that she was interested in, though, forgetting him momentarily as she squinted at it in shafts of the late afternoon sun.

Double fuck.

He barely remembered taking that picture – they had been at the New Year’s celebration just minutes before, and someone had had a camera (possibly Jack, he thinks it must have been Jack because he remembers that they’d done shots at his house afterward and ended up piled in bed and – well.) and snapped a picture and told them to kiss, for New Year’s, and Freddie had said fuck it and he’d turned and grabbed his face and kissed him because he was a little tipsy and a little high on life, and on New York and Anatoly, and it was his favorite picture, Jesus, the only one he probably had of them, of those moments before their lips had touch, two grins preserved forever in a broken frame.

Now Florence was staring at it like it all made some bizarre sort of sense, her gaze slowly sliding back to the floor where his boxers (she wouldn’t recognize them) lie alongside Anatoly’s, a tube of lube carelessly lying out on top of the pile.

(Not that they’d had time to use it, really, but that was Svetlana’s fault.)

(Everything was Svetlana’s fault, in Freddie’s world.)

            “This is your room,” she commented, slowly and deliberately, as though he hadn’t just said that. He swallowed, shrugged. There was no meeting her eyes now.

            “He booked it.” Of course he did, he was the champion.

            He wasn’t bitter about that, either. Nope.

            “You both…” She glanced at the bed one more time, not uneasily but with some similar emotion – disappointment, perhaps, looking back to Freddie with her lips pulled into a tight smile. You sleep together. “Oh, Freddie.”

            Oh, Florence.

            “Yeah, yeah.” He exhaled like a grumpy old man, swatting her away when she tried to touch him again. It was hard to swallow. He could barely think through the buzzing in his brain. So she knows. Whatever. She knows…

“You were right.”

            “Was I?”

She took him by the wrist – so carefully, like she was afraid to break him. He was glad that someone could see how close he was to snapping these days, even if it was Florence and even if she was going to disappear into the city again, another city. This time it would be her choice, at least, but somehow that didn’t seem comforting. She gave a breathless noise like a laugh, and her eyes hurt to look at. “I’m so proud of you, Freddie.”

            He bristled. “For what?”

For fucking around with a guy? Finally?

(Like he hadn’t done that before?)

            He couldn’t get more honest than that. Fucking around with the guy that she had it bad for last year, that Russian dude.

Fucking the Russian. My God.

            What the hell had become of his life? He should never have left Florence in that – that pretentious city in Italy.

            “You know what I mean.” Her smile was so warm it burned him; he didn’t know what about it hurt, only that he wishes he still knew her so that he could fall into her arms and bury his face in her neck, and cry for everything that was happening and he could feel would happen soon. About Anatoly, and Svetlana, and how much he missed her. Florence. “I’m happy for you, sweetie.”

            But –

“I’m sorry,” is all he could think to say, in return, just staring at her warily, anxiously. Perhaps he was right – perhaps she still could read his mind, if he just let her know that it was okay.

If she could, she didn’t say a word – just wrapped her arms around him tightly and squeezed, and pretended that there weren’t a few tears caught in her throat.

            “Don’t be. I’ll call,” she promised as she pulled away, kissing his cheek again. He shook his head, shoving his hands into his pockets so she couldn’t see them shaking.

Don’t leave, don’t leave, not until I’m sure he’s staying.

            What the hell was wrong with him, anyways? Florence was just a woman he hadn’t seen in nearly two years, who he would never have been able to love, anyways. I love you I love you. Just a woman, distractible and nagging and controlling and Florence. I love you. Just a woman…

            Maybe if he told himself that enough he’d actually believe it.

            (There is no drowning out the chant in his head.)

            (I love you, come back to me.)

            “Wait –” But he didn’t know what to say, what would make her stay with him. Helpless, he reaches for her again, giving himself over to that child of a man he used to be for her. (He’s still that man, exactly the same – it’s just, he’s queer now.) (Probably. Not… not definitely…) (But that doesn’t have to be a problem, does it?)

“Florence, I’ll – call. Okay?”

            She blinked in pleasant surprise, a smile slowly spreading on her face again. (God, he hopes she isn’t going to think he’s trying to get her back.) (Not that way. Had they ever been that way?)

“Of course. I’ll give you my number – hold on.”

            She took a card from her purse – was she carrying that when she got here? It’s floral and it’s hideous, but what does he expect from her, honestly – and searched for a pen as well, seeming unaware of the tension flexing between them with each silent moment. Freddie felt like a live wire again, a ticking bomb, but he didn’t know exactly how to ask her to fix him, or if she even could anymore.

She handed it to him without ceremony, but her hand lingered there and her eyes met his again, and he wanted to cry.

            “I really have missed you, Freddie,” she said, as though any of this were her fault anymore.

            He wants to say I’ve moved on and maybe, we’ll see, because it would be so much easier to say than please don’t leave me again and what if he doesn’t love me like you do?

Anatoly was not Florence; maybe that was part of his problem.

            Maybe Anatoly could still be in love with that she-devil he calls his wife, Freddie’s personal demon; maybe Freddie could still go back to how things were, maybe they both could. But then he would have to give it up, again, the way he’d defined himself, and his life, and those midnight kisses and touches and Anatoly’s fading accent and he doesn’t think that he could do that, not ever, felt like a traitor for thinking it at all.

            “I’ll call,” he repeated near-desperately, and his arms around her must have been bone-crushingly strong, but Florence would never complain. She knew, had always known, how Freddie worked; how he had to love her so much to make up for all of the people who had never bothered to love him and all of the people he could have loved but didn’t dare to and all of the things he felt that he didn’t know how to say, especially this, especially I love you and please love me, too. He felt her nails groove into his back, half-heartedly keeping him there.

            When he released her, the card still clutched in his hand leaving inky stains in the sweat of his palm, Anatoly stood blinking in the doorway.

            “Miss Vassy?” he asked, polite as ever, and she lit up like a Christmas tree in red and pink, nodding and sticking out a hand. He took it easily, shifting his gaze only briefly to Freddie who couldn’t comprehend the sight of these people in the same room, the connection of their hand so close to him.

            “It’s good to see you,” he smiled, and Florence backed toward the door with a nervous smile. Freddie couldn’t even bring himself to wave goodbye to her.

            “You, as well. Don’t lose that,” she said, nodding to the scrap of paper in his hand. Anatoly’s eyes were drawn there like two dark magnets, questioning, and Freddie shoved it abruptly into his pocket. He hoped absently that the ink wouldn’t smear.

            “You do not have to leave –” Anatoly started to protest. They ignored him.

            “I’ll call you. When we get home.” We. She nodded again and he imagined he saw that disappointment infiltrate her gaze as she turned away; the door closed quietly in her wake, nothing like Anatoly’s exits, always loud, always dramatic.

            “I see that you have kept yourself entertained?”

Don’t look so amused. Bastard. He nearly pouted, crossing his arms defensively. Svetlana slid back into his mind like a viper, heavy and toxic, darkening his day.

            “She came looking for you, looking for me.” No, that didn’t make sense. He grimaced and shook his head, trying again. “She- it’s no big deal.”

            He tried not to think about the fact that Anatoly was never quite as jealous as he was, or at all. He tried not to think about the niggling possibility that ate holes in his mind for rational thoughts to escape through that told him Anatoly just didn’t care.

            Don’t leave me.

            “I didn’t say it was,” Anatoly shrugged, smiling widely as he offered him his open arms. “A hug would be wonderful, if you are giving them out. I have had a long day.”

            That’s cheesy. “Is your wife here?” Smooth.

            It was so hard not to sound accusing when he wanted to tear his hair out just thinking about it; Anatoly wasn’t helping with the pained way he smiled at him. He could smell the foreboding news far before it reached him and the Florence-shaped space left behind was gaping, sucking like a black hole – reminding him that everything could go back to exactly as it had been before.

            Don’t kid yourself.

            Anatoly eyed him carefully, approaching like he would a wild dog, hands on his shoulders, keeping him at arm’s length. “Freddie.” He began, like everything he said was one deep breath before the plunge. “We need to talk.”

He was going to send everything they’d worked for to hell; he was going to give everything up and Freddie didn’t have a fucking say, when did he ever have a fucking say? He grabbed him back, clutched him tightly and dug his short nails into his skin like a frightened cat clung to its master.

(He had a cat once, a long time ago; it had always been so terrified of gravity, of something so inevitable that Freddie had scoffed and called it stupid, and invited it inside his shabby little first floor apartment in Brooklyn and fed it scraps of everything he ate even when it was nothing.)

(Cats got along with Freddie like nobody else, perhaps because they had the same priorities.)

            “No. No. You’re not leaving.” He didn’t think he’d ever be able to breathe again, eyes darting desperately over his face. The pity glowing like dying embers in his eyes was positively sickening.

Don’t you love me?

“I love you. You said – you promised. You fucking promised.”

            “I met with Svetlana.” He said it like a death sentence, and Freddie imagined plucking that platinum blonde Barbie head right off her shoulders and tossing it over a cliff, far away from the two of them.

            “And? So what? So what, it doesn’t mean anything! Nothing’s changed-”

            “They are threatening my children, Freddie,” he snapped, quickly losing patience with him, with himself. If Freddie were completely honest, he knew that Anatoly wasn’t nearly as eager to skip away from their relationship (whatever they were calling it, now) as he was painting him. “I have responsibilities.”

            “You had children before! They’re bluffing.” He shook his head, so far from caring that he sounded desperate, crazy, that he wanted to laugh at the irony. Now he was crazy, right. Well. He was going to drag him down with him. He wasn’t leaving, he wasn’t fucking leaving. Didn’t he know that wasn’t an option? Didn’t he know Freddie would drown if he did? “You’re the one who left them.”

            “I am not going to risk my children’s lives. Or Svetlana’s. I am sorry, Freddie, I did not – I did not anticipate this.”

            There was something so broken in the way he spoke and he knew. He fucking knew. “What the hell am I supposed to do, then?” he snapped, voice wavering like his vocal chords were strung so tightly with emotion that they might snap at any moment. The pieces of him had never quite lined up, and Anatoly was only going to shove them further apart, make it impossible. “What am I supposed to do? You’re what, just going to up and leave me here? In Bangkok? The tournament’s not even over!”

            “They will not let me keep my title, anyways.” It was obvious he tried to smile but there was no hope for it – no hope, no hope. You’re pathetic.

            He could hardly breathe, hardly even look at him his heart was pounding so frantically. “What am I supposed to do? Just – just – go back home? Just go back and sit there? I can’t do that – I’ll come with you!”

            Even Anatoly couldn’t help but stare at him, almost pityingly. There was no trace of consideration, not even for a moment. “You wouldn’t.”

            “I would! Swear on my life, I would.” Freddie wondered where his anger had gone, and if it was anywhere nearby, if he could possibly get it back. He wanted to wrap himself up in it like he always did, like what usually came so easily – but the lump in his throat is making it difficult to so much as look at him, let alone hit him. “I’m coming with you.”

            “Freddie, you are being ridiculous.” Worried exasperation etched itself temporarily over the heartbreak lurking beneath the surface of his expression.

Of course, he hadn’t been with Svetlana all this time. He’d been by himself. Mourning.

“You will be fine. You will go home – and you can call Florence. I will call –”

            “Fuck you,” was all he could manage to say, and then, “Fuck yourself.” as he shoved him out of the way, hands searing where they’d touched him. He was halfway out the door, down the hall, down the stairs, ignoring his pleas, ignoring his increasingly urgent calls behind him. There was an incessant throbbing between his eyes – he couldn’t tell if he was going to cry or bleed or scream or die, just drop dead right there in the lobby.

            He might as well.

            “Freddie! Freddie, where are you going?! Freddie!”

            Fuck him. Fuck him. He didn’t need Anatoly-fucking-Sergievsky – except he really, really did, with an intensity that made bile burn in the back of his throat.

            But fuck him. He was going to find the embassy if it was the last goddamn thing he ever did.

            Why not sell the soul that he probably didn’t have, anyways?

            He hadn’t even noticed the scrap of paper fluttering to the floor…

 

 

           

 

Bangkok, after dark

Downtown

            The streets were golden but Freddie saw in nothing but red as he tore through them, past drunkards and partygoers and prostitutes and tourists like him, fans even; no one dared to stop him in the middle of his rampage, and they were lucky. Freddie’s fists were clenched and ready to connect with the first face that came close enough to his.

            He wanted to kill him, and kill all of them, and most of all he hated himself because he could have had everything he needed (besides those kisses-touches-Russian words he’d never be able to pronounce, and Anatoly Sergievsky and his stupid curly hair, and his stupid accent, and his stupid everything, so fucking stupid, traitor, commie bastard-)

            He hadn’t called Anatoly a communist in almost a year. (something that he would be proud of, if it weren’t a lie)

Don’t leave me, don’t you dare leave me!

Why didn’t anyone ever listen to him? Why was he disposable? Why was he second? At least with Florence he had always come first, even to her, and fuck if he wasn’t an idiot for saying “seeya!” and letting her leave him again, just walk right out of his life when she’d wanted to kiss him so badly he could see it in her face. He could have done it, he could have brought the madness to an end and put the world back on its axis and Florence would have made him cocoa and sat with him on the couch and let him tell her for hours about the Russian and their years apart, and everything-

            Freddie’d show him, he’d show them – he’d go do it himself, then, if Anatoly wouldn’t let him come along. He’d get a fucking visa all on his own, go apply for citizenship. He’d go red if he had to – fuck it, why not? Why not?

He had nothing left otherwise.

            The idea of going to Russia hasn’t fully sunken in yet. He hadn’t thought it through at all, hadn’t considered any of the consequences – Florence might be able to calm him now, if only she were around. If only anyone were.

            He’s blinded by angry tears by the time the blood trail begins to cool and he’s left stranded, lost – this wasn’t a part of Bangkok he’d ever seen on a tour guide. It certainly wasn’t the embassy. Not that he knew where that was, anyways.

            He hadn’t thought this through, had he?

            (When did he ever?)

            (For someone who played chess for a living, he didn’t have much of a predilection for foresight.)

            Still, he was Freddie Trumper and he liked to think no one had forgotten his name quite yet. At least not while it was still tacked onto Anatoly’s, even as a side note – but everything about him right now, from his bloodshot, streaming eyes to his disheveled appearance probably screamed addict! and prostitute! more so than lost! Help me!

            Fine, then. He would just have to find his way back himself.

            Anatoly would call him an idiot. Florence would tell him to just ask for directions, Freddie. There – they had something in common, after all, besides being the only two people in the world who had ever given Freddie Trumper the time of day.

            “God dammit.” He cursed, looking around in desperation for any of those golden crowds, those vibrant camera flashes and lanterns and damn it, damn it. How much time did he have, had Anatoly said? A week? Less, probably. How long did it take, exactly, to get a visa – was it even possible? He was relatively certain, now, that Walter wasn’t going to do shit for him. He was just a name drop now, not even a huge one except on the circuit where they still remembered his trailblazing days.

But what did he do anymore, really? Sleep with Russians, feel the insanity slowly creeping up on him? He hadn’t played a game of chess in weeks.

It was funny because he hadn’t felt so sane in years, and he was still off his rocker.

            And to top it all off, at some innocuous point on his walk Freddie noticed – well, he chose to notice, actually, when it became so apparent that he couldn’t ignore it anymore – that he was being followed.

            There was only one man at first, a stranger in navy blue loping along on the other side of the street. Freddie forced his paranoia down and continued walking, searching for a glowing sign to light the way – the Holiday Inn, perhaps, or even a Burger King, anything. Anything. He hadn’t been really afraid of the dark in years but Florence had kept a seashell-shaped nightlight in their bathroom for the nights he woke gasping in terror and had to curl up on the mat beside the tub to calm down, washed in the ocean-blue light like Florence’s soothing voice. He got that same gut-wrenching feeling now, as one man became two and then four. Ahead, behind, beside –

            They were boxing him in.

            This would never have happened if you’d behaved like a civil human fucking being.

            Still, it was possible… possible, not probable, that he was simply being paranoid.

Just to be certain he made a sharp turn, heart pounding, into the nearest alley and prepared to sprint.

            Three feet in, he skidded to a stop, stammering profanity like a plea to God. Dead end. Good going, Trumper.

            “It is rather late to be out walking alone, is it not, Mr. Trumper?”

            Freddie spun so fast on his heel he went stumbling back into the brick, rough and cold against his back. Alexander Molokov, as well-dressed and cordial as ever, stood blocking the mouth of the alley. Seven men formed a semicircle behind him, dressed all in navy uniforms. They stared back at him with mirror-image smirks and scoffs.

God dammit.

            He supposed that his connection with Anatoly would do him no good here, but he could try. When in doubt, bluff. Come on, put that poker face to good use.

            “Maybe. Seems like you’ve got a lot more friends than you need.” Keep it bland as possible; his throat tightened, his nerve endings seared with anticipation. This was it – he was going to die here, and it was all his own goddamn fault. (Unless it was Anatoly’s fault, in which case, he felt even worse.) “I was just getting back to my room.”

            “Ah, yes. You are a little far from the Dusit Thani.”

Pleasantly, Molokov strode toward him, all glinting teeth and diplomatic attitude, neglecting (on purpose, Freddie was sure – that fuck) to mention how he knew where they were staying. He wondered blankly how long he could possibly keep up the charade. “In fact – I was just asking my dear comrade Petrovich here if you might appreciate an escort back.”

            “I’ll be fine, really.” His back was already to the wall, and there was no place to run; he regrets giving up on his gym membership now, although he’d never actually used it anyways. He’d never had many illusions about why Molokov kept men the size of these monstrosities at his side at all times. Florence called him paranoid; he called it practical.

            Expect the worst, and he’d never be disappointed. He sure as hell wasn’t disappointed in his own predictions now.

            “Do not be ridiculous.” The darker man flashed a shark-like grin and Freddie felt the prickle of frost in his veins – he bristled, as though intimidation were even plausible. “We would not want you to get lost… I am sure Anatoly Sergievsky would be beside himself with worry.”

            “I was supposed to meet him…” He began, but Molokov only shook his head in amusement, motioning for his cronies to close in around him. He began to pace around him in slow, even strides, like a metronome. Circling, circling… It would have been calming had he not been sure he was going to be brutally murdered.

Fucking politicians. Why can’t they just leave me alone?

            “Here is the deal, Trumper.” Abruptly, the façade was over – when Molokov’s eyes met his again they were shards of dark glass, and he felt his heart stutter. “Anatoly Sergievsky must come home. He is a security threat.”

            “There is no deal. I don’t control him.” Scowling, Freddie jutted his chin out, fists clenching at his sides stubbornly. Hell if he was going to be intimidated like this. “He’s not my property.”

            “Really?” Molokov smirked, cocking his head in mock curiosity. “That is not the – what is it? Word on the street.”

The thrill of anxiety it sent through him was slightly ridiculous, in the circumstances. News of their affair getting out was the least of his problems, but the idea that Molokov knew about it just seemed dirty – he wrinkled his nose, tensing defensively. “It’s none of your goddamn business.”

“Is that a confession?” Blandly, his expression mildly curious, mildly amused, he continued in his circling, scrutinizing Freddie from every angle – a hand shot from nowhere to jerk him away from the wall and suddenly he had nothing to lean on, staggering and whirling around, finding a solid wall of well-dressed men with thick brows, dark hair, darker eyes boring into him.

Jesus, he’s going to kill me and hide the body.

No. Fuck off, leave me- leave him alone.”

Don’t say us. Don’t say us.

 Freddie’s gaze flitted nervously from man to man; their uniformity was almost as astounding as it was creepy. In the tense silence, they looked to Molokov for orders; he wondered if he’d had a promotion, recently, or if perhaps he was more important than he had initially thought. Neither option made him feel any better.

Anatoly was going to kill him if Molokov didn’t.

            “Perhaps I can make it clearer to you – I am not asking you to accompany us. That is an order.”

            “I don’t take orders from communists,” he spat, twisting towards the voice. He heard the whistling a fraction of a second too late.

            Something heavy met the side of his head, then perhaps a club or the meaty hand of one of Molokov’s men – whatever it was, Freddie could say nothing more, choking and crumpling to the ground in a heap.

            “Tie him. I will get the car,” he heard Molokov order crisply, distantly, as the blackness edged in around him. He was hardly aware of the hands grabbing him and hauling him upright – he was nowhere, and the last sound he heard was the smooth motor of the Russians’ vehicle purr as it carried him away.

 


 

Bangkok

Location unknown

            He awoke, groggy and aching, in total darkness. His arms screamed with the first attempt at movement, twisted behind him at the most painful angle.

            As far as he could tell, this was not a hotel room. This wasn’t even a cage, or a prison – more like a dungeon, but that might just be his imagination running away with him. Still, it was a reasonable assumption. The air was cool and almost damp with the familiar humidity – they were still in Bangkok, (thank fuck) or so he assumed – and no matter how he squinted, no image appeared in the dark slate of the room before him.

            It was several long moments before he remembered it, really remembered; the lump on the side of his head throbbed in time with his pulse and he was almost glad that he couldn’t reach up and feel for blood, afraid that he might find it slathered over his fingertips, crusted into his hair. (Now was, of course, the time to be worrying about his hair.) (What else did he have to do? He couldn’t very well escape like this.) There was the distant sound of metal clanging, like a door, and he thought that he could hear the steady breaths of a nearby officer, one of Molokov’s henchmen posted to watch over him until he woke.

            He wondered how they were supposed to watch him in a fucking abyss and then, absurdly, which of them it was.

            Perhaps it was Petrov-whateverthefuck again, Molokov’s pet; or perhaps the other, the one with the thin nose whose eye Freddie had caught as he was going down. That one had looked at him like he wanted to eat him and Freddie shuddered to think that he’d been left with a cannibal.

            (They were Russians, not savages, but sometimes Freddie liked to pretend they were one and the same.)

(Just for fun.)

Anatoly wasn’t anywhere to be seen, nor coming to the rescue, not even close; he could be halfway to Russia now and Freddie would have been too late to catch him, to even attempt to follow. Had he even gone looking for him yet? Probably…

Did he really have any chance of finding him, though?

Probably not.

That was fine by Freddie. He tried to look at it that way, as stay away from my boyfriend rather than hopeless, rather than you’re a stupid fuck who got themselves kidnapped, you’re thirty fucking two! and you’re going to die, and it’s your own fucking fault.

If he didn’t live to see Anatoly again, at least he wouldn’t have to live without him.

It was a morbidly comforting thought; he began to relax, squinting his eyes uselessly, licking dry lips – when was the last time he’d had something to drink? All he can remember is that damned coffee he had yesterday – or today – when was it, even? Where was he?

“Thank you, comrade, you are dismissed.”

Molokov was, as always, chillingly polite upon entering the scene; although Freddie couldn’t see him he could plaster the correct grin onto his face in his imagination, the one that made him look more like one of those frightening deep-sea predators than a real person. If he peeled away the layers of diplomacy and formal clothing he suspected that was what he’d find. He strained his ears and, too loudly, heard those steps approaching him.

The lights flickered on; it took him several minutes to adjust as it flooded the room, cheap fluorescence. It was a wide space, abandoned – it looked as though it might have once been a warehouse or perhaps a makeshift parking garage.

This was definitely on the outskirts of the city – or, at least, nowhere near the cameras. Millions of chess fans weren’t paying to see a desolate wasteland like this, or to learn about Thailand’s lively child-trafficking culture. (Freddie wondered vaguely, irrationally if that was what he’d stumbled into before shaking the thought from his head.)

Of course they were in the slums. No one would think to look for him here.

The man departed swiftly, before Freddie even had a chance to take a hard look at his face and memorize him for later. They all blurred together in a mob of dark hair and suits and thick, difficult accents. He’d thought Anatoly’s was bad, two weeks ago, but Molokov’s was unquestionably worse.

(Maybe that had something to do with the fact that Freddie was starting to remember that he hated this guy – for a good reason, now, but not so much back then.)

It was a good thing that he’d never have to be able to fake one. He was a Bronx kid through and through.

“Trumper.”

Freddie sneered at the sound of his own name being pried from him, so garbled that he might as well just let him have it. He had never liked his father’s name, anyways. Molokov merely smiled at him, as though this were any normal day – a drink at a restaurant, discussing their new terms. Freddie was supposed to be the negotiator, now, wasn’t he?

Speaking of a drink.

He licked his lips again, convulsively, and curled his lip like a growling dog as he was approached. There was something demeaning about being forced to remain seated while a man shorter than him stood over him like he was deciding his fate. Freddie didn’t like to think that anyone decided his fate besides himself, and even then, he had to admit that it wasn’t very often a conscious choice. “Untie me.”

“Now, what makes you think that I would want to do that?” Alexander’s eyes glittered like a beetle’s. Freddie shifted uncomfortably, hissing as the rope cut into his arm. He couldn’t be certain, but it felt like he was bleeding.

Fucker.

“I don’t care what you want!” Gnashing his teeth, he jerked against the bonds again – fuck. “Fuck.” Yeah, definitely bleeding. “You’re not going to get anything out of this, you know.  He was going back anyways.”

“It is always best to have a bargaining chip. We have to be certain.” Bland, Molokov circles around him again, the motion becoming eerily familiar. “You are not the first, you know.”

“What the fuck does that mean?” Stung, he fought to stay still, his arms throbbing – they’d soon go numb behind him but he was too preoccupied to care. “I’m not your pawn. You can’t just –”

“Do you really believe that Anatoly would have had no other lovers, before you?” He chuckled and it was the most horrid, unwelcome sound Freddie had ever heard. He felt his stomach lurch, sick with the realization he could feel looming on the horizon. Don’t fucking listen to him, don’t –

Anatoly had never wanted to talk about before and Freddie had been fine with that, great even – he didn’t want to share his sorry past, anyways, and he didn’t want to think of Florence when it still hurt so much, and somehow it had slipped his mind that Anatoly had a ‘before’, too, and it was longer than his, and probably worse, if it had included Molokov –

“He has had as many women as he has ever wanted. I was surprised,” he commented, his gaze prickling at Freddie’s skin; he looked him up and down, circling around behind him. “To see the latest.”

He paused, lips curving into a cruel smile. “But I am sure it is only a fluke. You are an anomaly.”

It strikes an ugly chord that he’d buried in his chest some time ago but still lit up like an exposed nerve, years surging forward to echo: the slam of the door, the pieces of his childhood chess set scattered about the room, the board lying broken on the floor –

“I’m not his whore,” he snarled, and jerked against the rope again.

There’s only a split second between the last syllable leaving his throat and the pain exploding in his right temple. A choked grunt is forced from his chest. His eyes are watering when he manages to look up again, glaring as much as he can.

“You have no fucking right –”

“I do not think you are in any position to be criticizing me, Trumper.”

The Russian’s teeth gleamed and Freddie was, somehow, too proud to shrink back into his seat as was his first instinct. His footsteps disappeared behind him again – he was fairly certain, now, that he was just doing it to disconcert him. (It was working.) “This is the only thing you are worth to me, you know. I could just as easily kill you, otherwise.”

“I’m not scared of you.”

Baring his teeth like a cornered animal, Freddie lurched, the chair legs slamming back on the floor after a moment of crazy tilting. He stomped his foot, shaking his head furiously. “Let me go! I swear to God–!”

“You swear what?” Molokov was steadfastly amused; he’d made it very clear that he had no intentions of letting him go, at least for now, but Freddie couldn’t help the surge of panic that made his brain feel hot and his fingertips feel cold. Adrenaline was making him dizzy: the only coherent word left in his mind was escape, and just behind that, Tolya.

There was a door on every wall, but only one was labelled in unlit neon, ‘EXIT’. He wondered if that was even the exit – probably not, if Molokov had put him here to deliberately confuse him.

“You cannot hurt me, Trumper. Do not delude yourself.”

He opened his mouth to rebut, his chest now tight with anxiety, and couldn’t find the words. In a panic, he spit the first thing he could think of. “Try me.”

He didn’t like the way that Molokov’s lips curved, his teeth unnervingly white against the dark of his face. It struck him as sadistic. The fluorescence did funny things… or, maybe, he actually was the devil. Freddie wouldn’t be surprised.

“You ought to watch your mouth.”

Anatoly was going to be so fucking mad at him if he got himself killed. He snarled, panic beginning to constrict his lungs. “Watch your fucking mouth. My government will have you dead in a fucking hour if you touch me –”

Blood welled in his mouth before he even felt the pain explode against his jaw, head snapping to the side with a hiss; the shape of Molokov’s palm glowed puffy on his cheek, throbbing. He spit blindly at him, eyes streaming.

“God damn it,” he heard himself groan; he kicked out wildly, trying to catch him in the shin where he knew it would hurt the most, but he was already circling around him again, voice echoing from behind him with a sinister undertone.

“Your government has yet to even begin searching for you, Trumper, so if I were you, I would shut my mouth.”

He found that he was trembling, the sharp copper taste in his mouth nauseating. There was nothing to do but breathe, raggedly, and spit onto the floor. Crimson droplets spattered the front of his jeans. He stared down at them, trying to regain some semblance of balance. His ears were still ringing from the force of the blow.

Somehow he managed to find the mettle to force another sentence between his teeth, keeping his eyes squeezed tightly shut as he said it – just in case.

“Make me, asshole.”

Sometimes, he questioned whether or not he actually was suicidal.

Molokov clucked his tongue and rested his hands on his shoulders, squeezing with mock affection as he leans down to his ear from behind. Freddie tensed, expecting another blow. “You do not want me to do that.”

“I want you to let me go. Now.” He swallowed and it was more audible that he liked. The silence was allowed to go on for far longer than he was comfortable with – again, he suspected it was intentional.

It wasn’t as though it was difficult to tell that he’d been unsettled already.

“I think,” Molokov said after a long moment, voice echoing faintly from the far walls above the buzz of the overhead lights. “That perhaps it is time you are taught a lesson.”

No, no, no no no. No lessons. “Don’t touch me,” Freddie growled, rather uselessly – Molokov almost seemed to humor him for a moment, pulling away and releasing his shoulders as he straightened up – Freddie took a deep breath to steady himself only to have the panic spiral around his lungs, crushing them with the distinct sound of a zipper being pulled.

“What are you doing.”

He went still, eyes flying open, staring at the far wall. His voice was strangely uneven; he wasn’t sure how to fix it, hardly noticed, actually. He imagined Molokov’s deadly grin again and felt the tingle of gooseflesh as it rippled down both of his arms.

There’s no answer, only the sound of his soft steps echoing off the cement; he sees the dark of his shoes and his eyes snap shut again, afraid to look. No. No. No.

This can’t be fucking happening.

A little more urgent, now, his voice near-cracking. “What – what are you doing?”

He could feel his presence as he stopped and stood before him, too close, and told himself very firmly (very angrily) (fuck you, fuck you, he’s just a fucking chess second) that he wasn’t afraid of Alexander Molokov.

No. Nothing to be afraid of.

As it turned out there were a lot of things to be afraid of when you were tied to a chair in an abandoned parking garage. Nearly everything, actually.

(And everyone.)

“Open your eyes.”

The cordial tone had evaporated from his voice once more, just like it had in the alley, leaving it crisp and cold; Freddie felt his fingers on his chin and gnashed his teeth as it was jerked up. He refused to comply, kicking out at him again; Molokov twisted his fingers suddenly in his hair, short as it was, and yanked it upwards. Freddie yelped.

“Mother fucker!”

He tried to twist away, thrashing, the metal chair legs scraping horribly against the cement and echoing through the empty room. Tears of pain pricked at his eyes; he could kill him, he could fucking kill this bastard. Molokov leant down again to speak directly into his ear; Freddie could swear he felt the ghost of his smirk against his earlobe.

“You will cooperate. Now,” and he pulled back, and Freddie had no choice but to look, and he felt his stomach lurch at the sight of the dark head of his cock as he pulled it from his pants with a quick stroke. “We will begin.”

“What the fuck is wrong with you? What’s wrong with you?” Thrashing again, Freddie howled, dimly aware that he probably looked far from sane.

Reporters would have a fucking field day.

“Don’t touch me, don’t fucking touch me you commie piece of shit, I’m going to have you shot-”

“Watch your mouth,” Molokov snapped, and jerked his head down by the roots of his hair to level his mouth with his protruding member. Musk filled his mouth as he choked on his breath, gagging already.

“Get off of me!”

“There are plenty of other ways I could occupy your mouth, Trumper. I suggest you do as you are told.”

He can’t get enough air in his lungs – his chest is heaving, in panic more than indignation now, more than anger. It overrides everything and he clamps his mouth shut instinctively, every muscle tensed and trembling. As though that would stop him.

Anatoly wouldn’t think he’d cheated on him, would he?

With Molokov?

No, that was ridiculous.

But Anatoly couldn’t save him, either. Was he even looking? Don’t leave me, please don’t leave me. What if he thought that Freddie had done the leaving?

Molokov forced his head down and pressed his cock to his lips; he could sex already, just from the strength of the scent. Was he – ugh. Sick bastard, getting off on this. He was excited, to say the least. Freddie drew his lips back and bared his teeth in warning, staring almost uncomprehendingly.

“You have permission to open your mouth now,” Molokov murmured, smooth and sickly sweet like every nightmare Freddie ever had when he was young and vulnerable and his mother had dragged a string of strange men through the house like a pedophile parade.

No, don’t think about that.

His mother would have slept with Molokov, if she’d had the chance.

He sucked at his cheeks and glared up at him defiantly, jerking his head back far enough to spit blood against the hard flesh. “Fuck you.”

Eyes flashing, the Russian twisted his mouth into a frankly terrifying grin and reached into his suit jacket. Freddie’s eyes followed his wrist warily, his heart still seizing. “That was not very wise of you, Frederick.”

“Don’t call me that,” he snapped back, because why the hell not. “Fuck you. Don’t fucking touch me. Don’t touch me.”

What else can he possibly do?

Except, he was beginning to realize that there were a lot of things that this Molokov might do – and, at least for now, he was at his mercy.

Well fuck that.

“I will touch you as I please.” Alexander cocked his head, a slow, easy smirk spreading across his face like oil – Freddie could vomit, wanted to. Anything to get the sickening taste of blood and fear and salt out of his mouth. The grip on his hair slackened for a moment and, in a horribly pseudo-affectionate motion, those cold fingers smoothed through his hair, petting it down against his scalp. His skin crawled at the contact.

“I will do whatever I want with you. No one will stop me.”

Freddie opened his mouth once more, filling his lungs for a scream that never came as his eyes filled with the reflection of the light off of the metal revolver held so casually in Molokov’s hand. He withdrew it slowly, the dark of his eyes deepening as he savored the twisted expression of fear on his captive’s face.

“Open your mouth, Frederick,” he taunted quietly, so quietly, so softly that Freddie couldn’t even distract himself by listening for an echo, a repeat that wouldn’t come. He didn’t need an echo – didn’t need to hear it more than once to feel a chilling understanding quiver in the depths of his gut.

“Make me,” he said again, though the oxygen had already been sucked from his lungs and left him wheezing. He was sure that he would suffocate if his heart beat one more time, but it kept on thumping, so hard that his ribs ached with the strain of keeping it contained.

The metal was colder than his fingers, by far – though Freddie wouldn’t believe that Molokov was any more human than the weapon he held against his temple, pressing oh-so-gently, as if to say ‘I could do it.’

With his finger resting on the trigger, Freddie believed it.

“Open up.” He pictured that smirk, again (didn’t think he’d ever stop picturing it, now, even years from now, even if the very thought ended up splattered the color of tomato paste on the floor an instant from this one) and, with his eyes fallen shut, let his lips part with shaky reluctance.

His gag reflex, which he hadn’t seen in months, returned with a vengeance as he felt the barest weight of him bitter on his tongue. Molokov’s fingers were tight in his hair again, jerking him forward, forcing the length into his slack mouth.

“I am sure that Anatoly would love to see you like this,” he commented from above. Freddie couldn’t even muster murderous thoughts, too horrified with the whole situation – his head throbbed with what felt like an impending aneurysm, clotting with too many gory possibilities. He suddenly regretted his savvy for extrapolation; Molokov just kept talking, keeping the gun pressed casually against the bare, tender skin on the side of his skull.

“How does it feel, Trumper?” He purred, and it was so loud in his ears, somehow managing not to be washed away by the roar of adrenaline making his throat convulse against the salted head of him as it nudged there. Would serve him right, he thought desperately as he gagged, weakly trying to back off and stopped almost immediately by a cold pressure against his temple. He could have sworn he heard his index finger tighten, just a fraction, around the trigger; everything was buzzing. Molokov’s voice was low, rough with smug, sneering arousal. “To eat your words.”

Make me, he’d said, make me.

Jesus Christ, he was going to be sick.

Why couldn’t he keep his fucking mouth shut? Why couldn’t he have stopped and asked for directions? Why couldn’t he just have a rational conversation, like a normal human being – like an adult?

He could imagine Anatoly watching this – fuck, for all he knew he was, maybe they had cameras, maybe they’d taken him hostage, too, who fucking knew anymore – and the way Molokov’s cock must look sliding between his trembling lips, the way his eyes have watered over and he wasn’t crying, he wasn’t, he wasn’t, but it had to look like it with his face contorted and streaked with tears and there was nothing he could possibly do to look dignified right now, but Jesus, it bothered him.

He sure as fuck wanted to cry, but Molokov didn’t have to know that. He wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction.

When he finally snapped out of his horrified reverie the thrusts were sharper, more erratic – he couldn’t breathe and Molokov was dragging him off of his cock by the roots of his hair, leaving him to gasp and sob and generally humiliate himself as he fisted himself a centimeter from his face, panting, “Mouth open, Frederick.”

No matter what he called him, Freddie felt violated. Every pore, every nerve in his body felt violated now, mouth full of so much salt. His lips hung parted on command, the mouth of the gun caressing his cheek. The chair rattled with the force of his shaking.

He was expecting the first sticky shot that hit his throat but it didn’t stop him from choking on it, coughing horridly and spitting and shutting his eyes. It was fortunate, because the next spurt gummed his eyelashes, down his cheek. He groaned, struggling weakly. “Fucker.” His voice was hoarse, but it was there, and he felt a distant glow of satisfaction even as come smeared his lips and, worse, shot into his hair.

God, he wasn’t going to be able to explain this when he got back. If he got back.

If there was a ‘we’, anymore…

Molokov swiped a thumb over his lower lip, murmuring condescendingly. “Good boy.” Bile rose in his throat again, angry and nauseous. Fuck you. Fuck all of you.

The Russian straightened up and tucked the gun back into his jacket with a smirk caught on his face like a thorn. Freddie would be willing to tear himself apart to tug it out and deflate him like a balloon. He gritted his teeth against the bloody aftertaste the kiss of the metal left on his temple, a thousand angry retorts buzzing up his throat, a kicked nest of bees.

Oh, he’s going to see him hang one day.

Amused with the livid expression on his face, Molokov stepped back and let his eyes roam his face – presumably, to appreciate the view. He smirked at the way the muscle in his cheek twitched in helpless aggravation. “Depraved is a good look on you.”

Freddie bit on his tongue so hard that his mouth flooded with blood again, nostrils flaring. Temper, temper.

“You are a fast learner? Wonderful!” Flashing another shark-like grin, the other man met his eyes and clapped his hands together once in sinister satisfaction, a universal gesture – down to business. “Well. Now that you know your place –”

“Rot in hell,” Freddie muttered under his breath, swallowing convulsively at the lingering traces of spunk in the back of his throat.

“ – I will be leaving you.” He paused to catalogue his response, apparently deeming it appropriate. Freddie imagined smashing his skull against the concrete floor. “Only for a short time. I have business to attend to.”

Freddie snarled as that hand rested on his head again, ruffling his hair like a child. He couldn’t bring himself to kick – his stomach roiled with disgust, with shame. What would Anatoly think? (He couldn’t think of Florence, wouldn’t dare even imagine her expression at the sight of him now.) (“I’ve missed you.”) (Not like this.)

Molokov smiled, and suddenly he was all diplomacy again, nodding his head as he stepped away and patted the gun in his pocket, watching the color again drain from Freddie’s face as his eyes followed the motion.

“Do not miss me too much.”

On his way out the door labelled ‘EXIT’ – so, that was the one, or else he really was fucking with him – he brushed his hand against the wall, and left Freddie to listen to the echoes in darkness.

 

 

Everything was slow. Quiet.

Freddie’s heart seemed to beat once every hour. He licked at the inside of his mouth, wincing at the dryness. (Was anyone going to bother to feed and water him, or would they just let him wither away?) (No, not as long as he was useful.)

To his knowledge, only one of Molokov’s men had returned to stand watch over him in the endless stretch of nothing. One set of footsteps, each echoing deafeningly alongside the obnoxious sounds of his breathing, come to stand some distance to the side of him.

He wondered if the mystery man had any idea where he was going, and if so, what the fuck were the commies feeding their agents that gave them night vision?

Anatoly had yet to come and rescue him.

Freddie was glad, somehow; he wasn’t keen on becoming the helpless princess in his own twisted fairytale.

Molokov did make an excellent villain, though.

            It felt like it had been hours and his stomach hadn’t even begun to settle – there was a low buzzing, and he couldn’t decide whether or not it was just in his head. Maybe it was the sound of his thoughts bouncing around inside his skull, or the bees still caught in his throat. I’ll make that bastard pay.

            There had to be some way out of this, but he couldn’t fucking think.

            All he had in his arsenal was time.

            Time to think.

            Time to berate himself, over and over. Time to make him sick all over again over his own goddamn stupidity – time to think about Anatoly’s frustrated face as he left, time to think about Florence’s card stowed away in his pocket where he couldn’t reach it –

            Concentrate.

            The silence stretched on and his mind was an empty, open road; periodically clearing his throat, he shifted as much as he could, moving his arms to try and force the circulation back into them. The rope scraped against his skin. It hurt, but it was warm, and he was alive.

            He would just have to content himself with that, for now.

 

 

            There were about three seconds of thrashing and chaos before Freddie realized that he was awake – more than that, he was on the ground.

How he’d managed to fall asleep upright and covered in Molokov’s come, he had no fucking idea. He looked around wildly and found that it was no lighter than it had been when he’d fallen asleep – in fact, it almost seemed darker. His legs were leaden; his elbow connected with somebody’s nose, the heel of his sneaker on somebody’s shin. Russian curses bounce off of the walls, merging with his own vicious verbal assault.

“Don’t touch me, don’t fucking touch me –” he snarled, and there were definitely multiple men pinning him down now, and they were all much stronger than him, and Jesus Christ he had to piss.

How long had he been here?

It felt like nighttime, but then, that was probably only because it was dark.

He grunted as his head met the floor with a crack, his struggling brought to a sudden halt. He was helpless to resist, grunting as he was rolled onto his front, arms jerked so hard behind his back that he howled. “Get off! Get off, get off of me, I swear to God!”

Cold circles of metal snapped audibly around his wrists. Somebody stomped on his ankle and he kicked the opposite foot angrily as pain shot down through his heel, up through his tibia. He heard a muffled grunt in return, a Russian obscenity that sounded vaguely familiar (he’d probably heard it at least once, in bed or bent over the couch, or on the table, or in a bathroom stall somewhere) and feels a flare of ugly triumph color his cheeks.

“Comrades. That is enough.”

Molokov’s cordial tones rang like steel through the cacophony and almost all at once the noise stopped; they are left for a moment to listen to the ragged sounds of their own breathing, his men and Freddie who had found himself with his face in the gritty dust, his ankle throbbing in agony, his arms again rendered useless.

Fuck, I’ll have ‘em all killed.

Revenge, however, was apparently a long way off. Molokov was kind or cruel enough to flip the switch by the exit door and Freddie’s eyes screamed at the unnatural brightness; he squeezed them shut, not nearly quickly enough. Bright spots danced behind his eyelids like fluorescent demons.

Fitting, if he were going with his earlier Alexander-Molokov-is-actually-Satan theory.

Something told him that Anatoly might agree. Something told him that anyone who had ever had extended contact with that man would agree.

Fuck. Anatoly.

What time is it what day is it-

“Let me go,” he demanded, and without even opening his eyes he knew that Molokov’s beetle eyes were glinting with dangerous anticipation. He snorted as he drew closer, leisurely, seemingly unperturbed by the volume of his footfalls in the otherwise silent space.

“I thought we had gone over this.” He shook his head and reached into his jacket, so fucking casually. Freddie’s heart stopped all over again. The Russian sighed in contentment, waving his free hand as the gun peeked from beneath the heavy fabric. (He must be sweating his fucking balls off.) “Bring him. I have set up another room.”

How many fucking rooms did he have? This whole building? This whole fucking city?

Everyone in the goddamn world was working for the reds.

Paranoid my ass.

He hissed explosively, dragged upward by his wrists at what he’s certain is the most deliberately painful angle, his eyes watering. “I said get off!”

Whichever one of them it was holding him, he wasn’t responsive; Freddie felt an absurd sense of betrayal, and then wondered if it was the same one he’d kicked in the crotch.

Whoops.

Like he needed to be making friends with Russians, anyway.

“This way.” Molokov sounded bored and it made him tense, heels sliding along the floor as he was shoved toward the door on the far right. He glanced over and found him standing there, observing with a neutral, if vaguely amused, expression; he curled his lip, anger surging up through his throat again with a growl.

“I would suggest that you keep your mouth shut now, or I will reconsider allowing you to speak with your friend.”

There wasn’t any chance of keeping the hope from burning plain to see on his face, but it didn’t mean he was any less suspicious. “What are you – hey, fucking quit it, will you?” The man whose hands were wrapped around his biceps wasn’t fazed; he shoved him the final feet toward the door and through it, leaving Freddie to stumble blindly into a dilapidated hallway.

“Jesus Christ,” he spat, twisting in his grip to face Molokov a little more desperately. “Is he here? Where is he? Let me go.”

“I do not see what would possibly compel me to do that.” The Russian examined his cuticles with bland disinterest; he must be lapping this up, the sick bastard.

(Freddie does not think about the taste of him now stale in his mouth.)

(He’d never get rid of it – it’s under his tongue and between his teeth and stuck in his throat like glass and he needs a fucking glass of water, and he needs to piss, god dammit.)

“You are currently a very valuable piece in the game, Trumper. I should think you would understand that.”

The way he said it made them seem almost like accomplices and Freddie’s chest tightened with another helpless stammer of anger, heart beating out a rhythm of war. I’ll see you fucking hang.

He pulled at the cuffs, huffing a sharp breath.

“What the fuck do you know about chess,” he sneered; it made him feel better for a moment, if nothing else.

Some of us play board games.” Molokov smirked and patted his cheek as he brushed past, leading the way. “Others live in the real world.” The hall sloped gently upward and lead to what once must have been a glass door; it had been boarded up, but Molokov twisted the knob easily and stepped aside with the same superior smugness to gesture them in.

“The value of a pawn is the same either way.”

“I’m not your fucking pawn.”

“A pawn does not choose its allegiance, Frederick.”

“Stop calling me that.” Florence’s angular visage flashed again to the front of his mind, and the disapproving looks she used to give him, when he left his empty coffee mugs around the house or when she found him holed up in the bathroom with a pack of cigarettes. Frederick Trumper.

What are you, my mother? Get outta here, Florence.

He hadn’t had a cigarette in years, but he could use one about now.

Molokov offered no snarky reply and a vicious, pathetic sense of victory thrilled through him before they stopped; he stumbled and looked around, stomach plummeting as he realized where they must be.

The floor was decorated with broken glass, the tile peeling; the desk was coated in dust, papers scattered everywhere, files and forms, names he couldn’t read. Through the cracked and broken shards of glass still left in the ceiling, he realized that he had been right – it was pitch dark, the dead of night, presumably. There were dozens of chairs upturned in the lobby, lying at crazy angles amongst tattered coffee table magazines. He glimpsed what must be an aged and long-unused stretcher peeking from a hall to his right –

An image of a mental asylum flashed through his mind and he cringed despite himself.

Jesus. I hate hospitals.

“You will say exactly as I tell you, and you will have two minutes,” Molokov told him idly, already dialing into what must be an old payphone. Freddie could hardly believe that anything here worked, even the lights – it must have been abandoned years ago. Even the vandals and the street rats had had enough of it by now.

The words filtered through to him a few moments later and his painful excitement was reignited with an ache in his stomach. He licked his lips, refused to ask for anything but Anatoly. “Where are we?”

“Ah, yes, Anatoly.”

The Russian smiled and Freddie lurched against the hands holding him in place, a frustrated hiss escaping him. “Let me go,” he snapped, twisting to snarl at his captor; it was the man with the thin nose, a thick eyebrow rising as he looked at him. He didn’t look any more impressed than Molokov.

“Quit your squirming,” he muttered, jerking him roughly back into place by his shoulders. The child in him wanted to stomp his foot.

“Yes, he is right here. Safe and sound, I assure you.” The deadly tone had crept softly back into Molokov’s voice while he wasn’t listening; his imagination spiraled away from his grasp, hearing Anatoly’s tight, frantic voice in the forefront of his mind – he wasn’t sure it was entirely his imagination. He clenched his fists behind his back, and the cuffs dug into his tendons.

“Of course, of course. You know what we want.” Humming, Alexander leant against the wall, his thumb stuck into his pocket. Casual. Like any of this was fucking okay. He continued, pleasantly. “He is quite eager to speak with you, if you have a moment to spare.”

Stomach churning, Freddie strained again against his captor and was allowed to stumble to Molokov’s side, nearly panting. “Give me that,” he grunted, twisting his arms uselessly. Molokov smelled entirely too clean, like aftershave. Freddie wondered if it was necessary; maybe people could actually smell evil.

(Not that the bastard needed any help in that department.)

The older man held the phone out, against his ear. “Speak,” he told him, flashing those too-bright teeth of his. At this proximity again Freddie could vomit, involuntarily reminded of the taste in his mouth; he held fast to his sanity, though, as Anatoly’s voice flooded his ear, sharp with anxiety, just as he’d imagined it.

“Freddie, Freddie.” He sounded winded with relief. Freddie couldn’t blame him – he was dizzy, too, although that might have been the dehydration. “Freddie. Are you hurt? What has he done to you?”

“Fine, I’m fine – Jesus,” he said, smiling shakily, wishing that he could clutch the plastic tightly in his fists just for something to hang onto. He felt Molokov’s eyes burn against his cheek like a match held just too close (enough to singe the hairs), and had half a mind to kick him in the shin. Again. “What day is it?”

“Sunday.”

Three days, nearly. Anatoly sounded exhausted. Freddie wondered how long he’d been unconscious, the first time and the second. The lump on his head had been the least of his worries since he’d woken up here. “Where are you?”

“No fucking idea.” He grimaced at his own honesty.

“You are frightened,” Molokov murmured, soft and low, watching him with glinting eyes. Freddie ignored him; he felt his lips twist in disgust.

“He has not hurt you? I will not let him hurt you. God, Freddie.” Too late. He wondered if he was crying. He sounded like he had been, tired and hoarse. Swallowing, the guilt beginning to eat at his stomach, he opened his mouth to reply – apologize, maybe, for once in his life.

Molokov pulled the phone from his ear abruptly.

“You are frightened,” he said again, covering the receiver with his hand. Freddie stared for a long moment without comprehension; when it finally dawned on him (God, he’s tired) he narrowed his eyes, sneering.

“Fat chance.”

Shrugging, Molokov brought the phone back to his own ear and continued on as if nothing had happened. “He is alive, as you can hear.”

“That wasn’t two minutes,” Freddie protested, panic ripping into his chest like a  loudly, his heart hammering again in alarm. He felt as though something had been physically ripped away from him, the brief protection of Anatoly’s voice stripped back again to expose the raw nerve beneath. God dammit, he’d fucked it up again –

Every fucking time.

“Christov. Quiet him.”Molokov held a finger to his lips; immediately, the man behind him planted a heavy hand over his mouth.

“Ah, nothing,” he said with a wide smile, slightly louder. Freddie thrashed his head from side to side, “Continue. What are you willing to give us in exchange?”

“Mmmph.” The sound that escapes between the Russian’s (Christov’s?) fingers is as furious as it is pathetic. Freddie struggles violently against the metal around his wrists, twisting and kicking. Another man – whose name he didn’t know nor care to (they don’t need names, fuck them) (I’m not your fucking pawn) – grabbed him by the shoulders and slammed him into the near wall, hard enough that he choked, spit flying as the hand was removed from his mouth. “Fuck you –”

“Excellent,” Molokov raised his voice, presumably for Freddie’s benefit, and he must have been beaming or he was doing a damn good job of sounding like it. Asshole. “I will meet you outside of the embassy at quarter to seven. Do not forget to bring your passport – you will be needing it.”

He set the phone back in its place, and Freddie exhaled angrily, his face mashed into the wall with a hand on the back of his head, turned to the side to watch him helplessly. The Russian turned to him on his heel, diplomacy fading into deadly silence. He narrowed his eyes, but his smile remained.

“You are very disobedient, Trumper.” Freddie searched fruitlessly for some scrap of humanity left in his expression – fucking communists, they’re not human, none of them – and found only frigid half-anger. He shivered involuntarily, abruptly reminded of his aching bladder. “Perhaps another lesson is in order.”

“Call back, let me talk to him,” he groaned. (He didn’t plead, he wouldn’t.) He had his pride. Anything to avoid thinking of what other punishments Molokov might think up for him.

 Punishment? He’s the one in the wrong!

“I need to talk to him-”

A horrifying smile unfurled on Molokov’s face, almost mad – but then again, Freddie had always thought he looked a little bit off. Guess I was right.

“Ah, but think of it as practice!”

“What the hell does that mean?” He felt as though he’d already said that once tonight. (Probably.) (It was hard to remember anything clearly since the alley, but that could be the concussion.)

“Anatoly Sergievsky will be coming home, with an escort of course.” Molokov cocked his head, watching his face in mild amusement. “You will not be speaking with him again.”

He would really, really love to pretend to be nonchalant but it was impossible with the rate that the panic was rippling through him, exploding at the base of his skull and filling up his lungs.

“No,” he heard himself say, almost hoarsely. (he hadn’t had anything to drink in days, days, what the hell?) “No. He can’t go back. I’m not – I’m not letting you do this-”

“Very noble, Trumper.” The way his lips curved did not seem in the least congratulatory; instead he was amused, smirking and reaching to clap him on the shoulder. “Who is to say that he does not want to return to his home and his family? You are no compensation. I am sure he will be much happier.”

“You don’t want him, you want his goddamn title! He would have given it to you anyways!” He bared his teeth, beginning to feel feral; he wondered if this was how Anatoly had felt and suddenly found himself dizzy with a violent whirlwind of empathy.

No wonder he’d run from Russia like a dog from a cage.

Molokov was shaking his head, beginning his infernal circling again. Freddie felt his eyes on him from every side, his chest constricting with blind anger. It was impossible to twist and follow him; instead he stood, hunched, and endured the burning on the back of his neck.

“You do not know that you are naïve, do you?” Freddie wanted to rip the chords from his throat and choke the vibrations – his hands twitched, twisted behind him, but he was stubbornly silent.

It was time for another approach, one that he had never been successful with.

Ignore him.

“There is more than one way to win a game, Frederick. The title is inconsequential.”

Not going to happen.

He felt the sweat gather on his brow and clamped his mouth shut tighter, biting on his cheek. Molokov paused before him, leaning in to examine his expression with amusement.

Get out of my face.

“Anatoly does not belong in the West. I am sure you have seen this firsthand.”

Against his better judgment he allowed the wave to strike him, flooding his mouth, his nose, with memory – Anatoly pressing him against the stall door the first time they had gone out to see a movie together; Anatoly’s hand in his, thin and cool, trembling with excitement on the plane ride to New York; the flustered way he’d waved his hands as he stumbled, pushed, off the curb and his accent thickening dramatically as he’d yelled over the blare of traffic, and Freddie had smirked; Anatoly wearing t-shirts in the winter, laughing at him, “It’s not cold until it’s ten below.” and “Celsius, Freddie.”

            And Molokov stood watching him with that knowing expression that made Freddie’s knees weak with sickly, dizzy anger.

            He refused to ask that bastard for anything. I’m fine.

            Florence had made him soup when he was sick and he had secretly loved it, had stayed in bed an extra day every time just because he liked the warmth and dragged Florence in with him, curling around her, exhaling.

            He blinked, hard. Damn it. Concentrate.

            There wasn’t any time left for useless memories, not now.

            “Now, as for your punishment…” Molokov grinned suddenly and Freddie’s heart nearly plummeted straight into his empty stomach. “Comrades. Escort our friend here back to his room.”

 

 

            A couple of hours didn’t sound like such a long time.

            Freddie was mutinous by the time he found himself blinded, shoved into the back of what must be the car. He couldn’t remember the trip here but he imagined that it had been nearly identical to this one.

            He also imagined that the car was black, possibly with a red interior. He wasn’t sure why that was important, but then, he couldn’t think very far past the throbbing of his bladder in this position.

            “I have to piss,” he said, loudly. There couldn’t possibly be more than three other people in the car. His hands remained cuffed behind him, wrists twisting restless and raw. There was no response; the radio was turned on low, and he could hear the buzz before the words. It probably wasn’t anything he could understand, anyways.

            Wriggling, he bared his teeth against a building groan – “I said, I have to fucking piss.” He kicked out blindly and heard the thunk and skid of his sneaker screeching against the window. The vehicle jerked to a halt, nearly throwing him to the floor. He couldn’t help the whine that escaped as he fell forward, the buckle digging into his lower abdomen, panic worming through his vein at the possibility that he might actually lose it –

            Well, fuck Molokov. He deserved to have his upholstery ruined.

            The night had been so much longer than he had expected, and not once had he asked for food. Molokov had brought a bottle of water, at one point, only to pour half of it onto his face. (His lap was dry now, thankfully, but probably not for long at this rate.)

            He refused to think about his ‘punishment.’ He refused to think about anything but Anatoly. (and the way the piss is already halfway through his urethra, burning as he clamps desperately down on it)

            Some guilty part of him was relieved to feel the end of his imprisonment approaching with every smooth-gliding second.

            Don’t leave me don’t leave me don’t leave me.

            Anatoly would be waiting at the end of this ride and Freddie would get to go home, and everything would be okay. (As okay as things ever were, as okay as they’d been before this, better, he’d make it better.) Molokov couldn’t touch him.

            He had to have told Walter about this. Florence. Somebody.

            They’d get him out.

            Molokov couldn’t fucking touch him.

            I swear I’ll see you fucking hang.

            “I said –”

            “For God’s sake, Trumper.” Molokov sighed, sounding horribly bored with him; it drove him mad, the way the Russian’s moods would swing. He was interested, attentive, cruel; then he was aloof, leaving Freddie in the darkness with only his thoughts. Worse than a fucking woman. He didn’t know which of them he preferred, only that he could still taste him in his mouth.

            What if Anatoly did as well? What if he asked questions – Molokov was a persuasive man. It was probably in his job description.

            (Did they have job descriptions for psychopaths like him? Or was he simply taking liberties?)

(Probably a little of both.)

(Fucking communists.)

            He was always sure that if Florence could hear what he was thinking, he would have been smacked many more times than he actually had been. (A total of one incident back in Merano, which he had to admit he had deserved.)

            “I’m not a dog! You can’t just tie me up and expect me to piss myself!” He snapped, glaring in the general direction of the rearview mirror. His wrists were going to be bleeding or broken by the time he got those damn cuffs off. “Stop the car!”

            “It is not my job to preserve your dignity.” The fact that he was answering at all must have meant they were close – Freddie had belatedly begun to realize that he favored uncomfortable silence, utilized it. Well. Not anymore. Freddie wasn’t going to let him.

If there was one thing he knew how to do it was make a motherfucking scene.

            “It’s not your job to kidnap me either!” Well, probably not. But it was also probably well within his boundaries. Walter had some shady little tricks up his sleeve, too.

            (Freddie is eternally glad he’d decided not to go to law school.)

            How Florence had done it he had no fucking idea. She had even less patience with politics than he did.

            The car was gliding to a slow stop, and Freddie braced himself to be manhandled again. Molokov had merely snorted at him; the sounds of the car doors opening and shutting, the hum of the engine, were background noise to the increased volume of the humming in his veins. Tolya Tolya Tolya.

            It had hardly sounded like Anatoly had any kind of handle on the situation over the phone, but somehow Freddie still found it in him to believe that he would pull the answer out of his ass. Anything was better than trepidation.

            (When exactly had he become an optimist?)

            There’s a line between optimism and denial, sweetheart. You just crossed it.

            Large hands dragged him out in a bruising grip around his biceps – Petrovich, he thought abstractly, because he was the stronger one, wasn’t he? Not that there weren’t at least half a dozen others – and deposited him on the concrete, leaving him to stumble wildly, blindly. He felt a sharp pang in his gut, clamping down again on his bladder, gritting out, “Will you just let me piss?”

            This was so fucking humiliating. Never mind that that was the point.

            Where is he?

            His thighs are beginning to cramp with the effort of keeping it under control – when he did regain his balance he immediately rocked back on his heels, nostrils flared. He took a calming breath. “God damn it, let me–”

            “Fine, fine,” Molokov sighed somewhere to his left, evidently with greater things to worry about right now than his captive. “Go. Comrade Petrovich will escort you.” Freddie almost found it in him to be offended, but not before he was being hauled by the same meaty pair of hands into a cool, close space – presumably an alley.

He twisted his head this way and that, raising and lowering his eyebrows in a desperate attempt to loosen the blindfold. The man behind him (Petrovich?) smacked him across the back of the head and jerked his zipper down so hard he was surprised that it hadn’t broken off, and he nearly lost it. A strangled noise escaping him, his knees trembling. “Ah–ghh-!”

“Be quiet and do your business,” the man growled, too-close to his ear. He dug blunt nails into his skin – and Freddie found, to his horror, that he couldn’t do it.

For the love of all that’s fucking holy –!

Jesus Christ, he was going to humiliate himself – he coughs, half-concentrating on the act and growing more agitated by the moment. “Yaknow, if I could use my hands for a second –”

“Trumper.”

He felt his name breathed in utter loathing against the back of his neck, stiffening when he felt a hand roughly invading the opening of his pants. He stomped back on his foot immediately, cringing when he realized (belatedly, painfully) that he was wearing steel-toed boots.

“God dammit,” he groaned, face flooding with color, shaking his head; his whole body was trembling but there was no way he could do this with his forehead against the brick and his arms pulled behind him like he was some kind of criminal, cock hanging limply, twitching with the strain. “Forget it, just – just let me see him.”

All he was going to be able to think about was his fucking bladder now. Wonderful.

Petrovich was evidently just as unamused, the sneer practically radiating from his face and into Freddie’s mind. “Fine. Come.”

He was no more gentle putting him away than he had been taking him out and Freddie trembled again, the pressure of his zipper being yanked back up causing his control to slip just for a moment – a spurt escaped, hot and painful against the front of his boxers.

“Shit.”

White pants. He had to be wearing fucking white pants.

He took a deep, shaky breath and nearly missed Anatoly’s slow-boiling voice as they emerged from the alley, back into the early morning sun. “… Where, I want to know where he is!”

Anatoly was damn near hysterical by the time Freddie was in earshot; flushed hot and hopeful, he strained against his bonds. “Tolya?” He stumbled as Petrovich gave him a shove, legs too shaky to hold him up. Molokov’s hand – it was growing all too familiar – rested lightly on his back, supporting him casually. The gesture must have caught Anatoly’s gaze, and without a moment’s notice he exploded.

“What the hell have you done to him? Freddie.” He sounded anguished. Probably looked it, too. Freddie shook his head frantically again; the cloth held, tight as ever, rough against his skin. Could use some moisturizer.

He was aware that he was a wreck, but he’d deal with that later – when he wasn’t doing the pee dance in front of several armed Soviet agents.

“Ah-ah.” Molokov’s shark-like smile made its return; Freddie recognized it in his voice and tensed, gritting his teeth against the chill of it. He shifted again on the balls of his feet, taking a deep breath. Just hold on a few more minutes… “Hand it over, and I will release him.”

“You said that you wouldn’t hurt him.”

“I promised him alive. I can still retract that statement. Now, for the paperwork…”

“Let me speak with him,” Anatoly pleaded, an anxious undertone in his voice that made helpless anger well up in Freddie’s gut. He jerked his wrists, twisting the metal furiously.

“Let me go, asshole.” He spat in what he imagined to be Molokov’s general direction, curling his lip. Another spurt escaped him; he seemed to shrivel, his voice cracking under the stress. “Damn it.”

“What, what is it?” In an instant Anatoly’s voice was joined by his face, the knot behind his head yanked free. He stumbled toward him, heart expanding to fill his throat, unable to say anything for the first moment as Anatoly caught him with gentle hands that slid up to cup his neck, down along his ribs as if checking for breaks. He found a bruise and Freddie leant away from it with a hiss, shuddering again in rapidly escalating deprivation.

“N-ahh, n-othing, I – oh, fuck.” He shut his eyes, shut him out because this was it, really, he wasn’t going to be able to –

Je-sus…

Anatoly crushed him into a hug, anxiously trying to coax the words from him, and Freddie choked as he felt his bladder give. Angry tears stung his eyes. The wetness of it seemed to sear his thighs on the way down, staining his pants, filling his sneakers – it was audible, to him at least, so he just stayed very still and very tense about the shoulders and hoped that Anatoly would say nothing. He could probably feel the stain of his blush against his neck, anyways, if he couldn’t feel his piss wetting his legs.

He tensed, for half a second, before pressing his lips to his temple reassuringly. Long fingers stroked agonizingly gently through his hair; he felt rather than saw Anatoly’s deathly glare as he levied it at Molokov. “You will let him go. Now.”

“I have fulfilled my end of the bargain.” Freddie wanted to light a match and burn that voice from the air, along with the tang of his loss of control. He imagined Molokov spreading his arms, that insidious smile on his face. He curled his fingers into Anatoly’s shirt and pretended that Molokov had never existed, twisting his wrists restlessly behind him. “It is time that you do the same, comrade.”

“I am not your comrade,” Anatoly seethed, fiercely wrapping his arms around his lover’s waist. Freddie was glad; there was really very little else to hold onto and though he felt them, a million retorts that rose like ghosts with a vengeance deep in his chest, he found that the breeze that cooled his damp legs took his voice with it. “I am here. Do what you will with me – but let him go, first.”

“I do not think so.”

He sounded almost sorry and Freddie wondered vaguely if he could manage to fake the expression as well. I’ll see you fucking hang. He exhaled, the buzzing returning to the base of his skull – angry, anxious. “If you will just take a moment to step inside of this building?”

“Freddie,” he said in his ear, and Freddie clenched his hands into fists, braced himself for it. Don’t leave me don’t leave me – “If I go, they will leave you alone.”

“I want to go with you.” It was supposed to be a demand. He tried again, the desperate edge to his voice wobbling. This wasn’t how he’d seen it happening in his mind, this wasn’t what he’d planned for – now all of the maneuvers he had floating in his brain were worthless.

(Only a pawn, only a pawn you’re only a pawn-)

(What did that make Anatoly, then? What did that make Molokov?)

“I’m going with you,” he said again, but Anatoly was already kissing him and he couldn’t even bring himself to jerk his head away, stock still with that leaden weight filling his stomach and lining his capillary walls with concrete, sticking them shut.

“I will be right back,” he promised. “We can talk then. Alright?”

No. Not alright. Freddie hated the smile he felt against his lips. He hated everything. He hated Molokov, whom he was certain was sticking around to keep an eye on him while Anatoly signed away his soul. He’d only just gotten it back, it seemed…

“No,” he said out loud, but his voice bounced pathetically back from the brick as Anatoly’s back disappeared inside the embassy building. The door swung heavily shut behind him.

“Now.” The scrape of his shoes against the gravel was the only warning that Freddie received before he felt a hand wrap into the collar of his shirt from behind, yanking him roughly to the side. He stumbled right into the arms of the bulkier man – Petrovich, he assumed, the one who had taken him into the alley. Why do I care what their names are, anyway? “It seems that you have had an accident.”

Flushing, Freddie narrowed his eyes and spat, shaking, “Whose fault is that?”

Molokov quirked his lips and tilted his head, examining him in eternal amusement. “Just do not get my seats wet, or I will have to punish you when we get back.”

“Wait–”

No, no, that’s not right – that’s not what you said! Alarm blasted through the gum in his veins like fire. He turned his scandalized face toward Molokov, looked desperately past him for Anatoly’s face, for Florence, for anyone.

“I do not have time to wait for you, Trumper.” He motioned to his men almost lazily as he turned on his heel and waltzed toward the entrance.

“Make sure he is secure. I will be out momentarily.”

“You said you were letting me go! You fucking liar, I’ll kill you, I’ll-!”

The gaping mouth of the open car door, sleek and black and windows tinted, stretched wider as it swallowed him. He went sprawling across the leather seat and directly onto one of the buckles with a grunt, nearly choking on the scent of his own piss as it filled the closed space, soaked into the seat beneath him.

Molokov was going to fucking kill him.

Not if I kill him first.

The door slammed shut behind him, separating him from the Soviets for the first time in what seemed like his entire life, trapped here with metal cuffs digging into his wrist bones so sharply his eyes watered. He twisted, doggedly searching for any sign of Anatoly, and took deep breaths.

He won’t let them do this.

Don’t leave me, don’t leave me.

Through the glass he saw Anatoly emerge, saw him turn to Molokov in fury. His voice was blurry, as though he were hearing it from underwater. “Where is he? You bastard, you said you would let him go! Let him go!”

“I will let him go as soon as the paperwork is cleared, comrade. Rest assured.” Molokov’s teeth must have been gleaming. Freddie could tell, just from his tone of voice. “He is safe in my hands. Now, if you would, Christov here is willing to escort you back to your room for the time being.”

He felt like he was trapped on the inside of a television screen – he kicked out, helpless and unable to even sit up in his position. “Let me out!”

No amount of screaming was going to make up for this.

I’ll see you fucking hang, I swear to God.

Anatoly shrugged the man’s hand off in annoyance, taking a step toward the car. “Freddie?” He whipped his head toward Molokov, who looked about as innocent as he was tall. “You can’t do this. He does not belong to you – I have already told De Courcey that you have him.”

“Oh, I am aware.” Molokov shrugged. “I will deal with De Courcey.”

“I am not leaving until you let him go.” Anatoly’s face was probably pale, but Freddie couldn’t see it any longer. He fell back to the seat with a muffled curse, the circulation returning to his arms.

“You will do exactly as I say,” Molokov said, even and casual. “You know the consequences.”

“Freddie–” Anatoly turned his urgent voice back on the car. Freddie felt it reverberate through his bones, wondered what he had wasted away into. He was dizzy, his stomach growling, nearly drowning out the Russian’s words. “Freddie, I love you. Freddie.”

And then his voice faded, by increments and grunts, and evidently he was struggling but there was no help for it and Freddie listened as he was dragged away, and buried his face in the seat, and pretended that he hadn’t given up just for a moment.

The driver side door clicked open. He didn’t look up, just mumbled, “You’re not letting me go.”

“No,” Molokov said simply, twisting the key in the ignition. “Did you think that I would?”

“No.” Freddie lied sullenly, smoothly.

Trusting Russians. Look what Anatoly had done to him. He sneered and thought of Walter, then Florence. He didn’t think of Anatoly, couldn’t, yet. How many people knew where he was?

“I did not think so.” The car glided smoothly again through the streets of Bangkok. Freddie closed his eyes and thought of anything else. Let Molokov think that it was over; as if Freddie Trumper wouldn’t get what he wanted in the end.

Let them take him back, then. Let them taunt him, tease him, degrade him. It wasn’t anything new.

I’ll kill you.

He wasn’t done yet.

 

 

            It was all-out war the second he was pulled out of the car.

They put him back in the chair, of course, as soon as they managed to drag him back into that infernal building – he didn’t go willingly, or easily.

            He kicked and screamed and wrestled and he was sure that he’d just knocked someone’s tooth clean out of their mouth when he’s rolled over, tugged into a sitting position, and before he could even begin thrashing again someone swung something heavy – is that a gun? – at his face.

            It collided with a crack! and Freddie howled like a dying animal, blood filling his mouth. He kicked wildly, blindly, at his assailant and they caught his ankles in hands like huge vices. He felt hands at his armpits, yanking him up, shoving him back down.

            Molokov’s voice echoed impassively from somewhere behind him. Freddie imagined him standing off to the side, watching his men subdue Freddie like they would a snapping dog. “You are going to end up making things very difficult for yourself, Trumper.”

            If it’s supposed to be foreboding, Freddie hasn’t yet gotten the memo.

            “I hope for your sake that the seat of my car is in pristine condition.”

            “Fuck yourself,” he spat, aimlessly. A mouthful of blood splattered the floor. He pulled his teeth back and prepared to spit again, Anatoly still buzzing in his veins.

Revenge revenge revenge – the ropes tighten around him and he arches against them, gnashing his teeth. “Augh!”

            “Watch your mouth, Trumper.”

            He had barely an instant of anticipation before something harder and heavier connected with the back of his head, and in an instant everything was dark.

Chapter Text

Date unknown

Somewhere in Russia

            Ugh…

            It’s impossible to know how much time has passed; disoriented and sick, he blinks into total darkness.

They’ve stopped moving. He’s fairly certain that he’s not in a car, anymore, if only because the seat beneath him is hard and unforgiving. His mouth still tastes like rust. The blood crusted beneath his nose itched like nobody’s business – twice as much because he has no way to scratch it. His arms are numb but he’s almost completely sure that they’re still twisted behind him, and it would be painful, if he could move a fraction of an inch. The rope scratching and digging in just above his elbows doesn’t have a lot of give, though. It’s wrapped around and around his chest – if he had bothered to look down he would have realized that it was knotted just beneath his heart.

Could still shoot me there, if they wanted.

He wonders (in disgust) if Molokov just wanted to see him squirm.

What a sick bastard. Fucking communists-

            … But where is he?

            Freddie becomes aware, suddenly, that he’s alone; for the first time in what feels like a week, a month, he’s alone – there is no one breathing down his neck. It’s eerie, in a way. Not as relieving as he thought it would be. He can breathe, can say whatever he wants. No one will bash his face in for it, or smack him upside the head-

            What if they can hear him?

            A deep sense of paranoia sets in, one that he hasn’t felt since Anatoly came into his life – he feels it in his bones and in his gut and in his muscles, all tensed all at once, eyes darting frantically around the room. It’s darkness everywhere: nothing but damp, silent darkness.

Where is Molokov? Where is he? Where is anybody?

Have they abandoned him – is he going to die?

            “Ah, comrade. You are awake.”

            The single bulb above his head is dim and casts dirty light on the close walls; still, it seems too bright after the darkness and he cringes with a pained sound. “Jesus-”

Molokov’s voice swims in his ear, amiable as ever. Freddie was only beginning to recognize the familiar razor-edge to it, and he realized with a vague horror in the back of his mind that Anatoly must have known it so much better.

            The click of his shoes on the floor is perhaps the most horrifying part, slow and even, bouncing echoes and echoes from the walls. He circles him like a shark; Freddie imagines him licking his lips in anticipation.

            Wouldn’t it just be fucked up if that was how it ended? Frederick Trumper, 32, killed and eaten by mysterious men in black. No suspects.

            He’s fucking delirious. He needs to stop thinking.

            “Where am I?” he demands, voice reedy and it’s almost comical except it’s really not, not when he’s here tied to this chair.

            “We are in Russia.” Molokov answers promptly, honestly. His teeth gleam. “Welcome to the motherland.”

            Freddie doesn’t like the glint in his eye as he glances him over, always so detached and pleasant until he isn’t. He can’t tell if he’s being sarcastic. It doesn’t sound like it. He doesn’t like anything about this man, or this room, or anything about this.

            Russia?

            “You’re fucking kidding me.” A smirk, and silence. He starts to panic. “You – no. No! You’re fucking kidding me! There’s no way you could have gotten me over the border – there are regulations – I don’t have a fucking visa!”

            “You have a passport and a forgeable signature.” Examining his nails, Molokov gives a deep sigh. Is that exasperation? Bastard. “You underestimate us, comrade.”

            “Don’t you fucking call me that!” It chokes him, wraps around the insides of his throat like deadly ivy. Russia. Russia. He couldn’t be in Russia. He’s treading dangerous waters, he knows – the last time he’d mouthed off…

            No, he wasn’t going to think about it. Don’t think about it.

            It was hard not to think about it with the evidence still dry and flaking from his chin.

            Molokov is circling him again – fucking circling, around and around, wasn’t he dizzy? Freddie would be dizzy – and he chuckles at the high pitch of Freddie’s voice. “You are very sure of yourself, for someone who is tied down. Very securely, mind you.” He stops and plucks at the rope, smiling, satisfied with the tension in it. Freddie attempts briefly to work up a spit, teeth bared at Molokov’s proximity.

            “My government will have your head on a platter,” he snarls, as though he really believes it. But it has to be true, doesn’t it? “Walter’s a CIA man – he’s got my back, he’s not just going to let you take me.”

            Like a fucking chess piece. You’re only a pawn.

            “I am aware of De Courcey’s status, yes, thank you.” He’s always so fucking amused, about everything. Freddie makes an ugly noise, finding the brief reserve of energy to give a hard jerk at his restraints. He regrets it. The flesh has to be torn by now, and the more he tenses the deeper it cuts. He winces, leaning back, relaxing. Ugh.

            “He knows you have me,” he says again, almost petulantly. That’s what Anatoly had said. He has to trust someone to come and get him out of this mess.

            Now’s not the time to be paranoid, Freddie.

            “Oh, I am sure he was informed…” The soft noise of rubber crunching against concrete echoes crazily, from every angle. He can shut his eyes all he wants but he can’t stop hearing the circles he makes on the floor, around and around. Stop it, stop it. He can imagine that fucking smile, the one that made him look like he could snap him up and eat him in one bite. “That does not mean anything for you, unfortunately.”

            “He’ll send someone for me.” Freddie refuses to believe anything else, mostly because the possibility is terrifying. He cracks an eye open and tries to stop him with his eyes alone, to trip him on a line of concentrated hatred.

It’s not going so well.

            “He will do no such thing.” Molokov stopped before him, turning to give him a chilling smile. Freddie wondered abstractly if he’d been taught how to do this sort of thing – was intimidation as much of an art in Russia as it was in the States?

            “De Courcey and I have an understanding,” he continues, cocking his head and watching Freddie’s expression. He steels himself, if only not to give him the satisfaction, but his insides are quivering with betrayal at the very idea.

Behind his eyelids he could see it as though it had actually happened – Walter and Molokov, grasping one another’s hands, smiling those twin unsettling smiles.

It’s been a pleasure doing business with you.

How many times had he heard Walter say that, smooth and suave, on his behalf?

Was he really that fucking naïve, that he thought he was the only one Walter was working for?

Before he can so much as open his mouth, though, the Russian is circling him again. Fucking circles – fucking communists – What the hell was he trying to do? Hypnotize him? Make him puke? He’s doing a fantastic job on the latter, but maybe that’s just because Freddie hasn’t eaten in…

Jesus. How long has it even been?

“I am not concerned about your government, Trumper. Nor am I concerned about the Vassy woman.” Rolling his eyes, he straightens his jacket. “She is only a complication. Easily dealt with.”

“What –?” His heart stops. “Don’t you touch her! I’ll fucking kill you!” It takes all of two seconds for Freddie to process the threat and less than that for him to start thrashing again. There’s bile rising in his throat, panic surging through his intestines and his veins – the lump on his head throbs like a ticking bomb. “She hasn’t done shit to you!”

His vocabulary dwindles rapidly. The echoes in this room are so much closer, louder – there are no windows and only one door.

An interrogation room? Probably. Something like that. Russia in its entirety is a prison to him, anyways.

Molokov watches him in cool silence, until he runs out of air in his lungs and is left gasping for it, chest restricted by the rope. His head is swimming. Everything is dark – the corners of the room, Molokov’s eyes, everything, everywhere.

“Are you done having your fit, or shall I fetch you a pacifier?” The words are like sandpaper; he wants to throttle the thick of his accent right from his vocal cords. Behind him, his hands twitch uselessly. His fingertips are numb; they catch on the air.

“If you ever lay a finger on her I swear to God –”

“You swear what?” Supremely unconcerned, Molokov smiles wryly at him – he doesn’t appreciate the effort it takes to keep his chest from caving in, just thinking about living in a world where Florence isn’t. “You are not in any position of power, now, do not delude yourself. It is painful to watch.”

“Don’t touch her –” Anatoly’s face flashes behind his eyelids and terror chokes him up again. “Don’t touch him either!” He wonders how much of his skin he’s torn away, or if it only feels like it because Molokov’s words are all edged with thorns. “Do whatever the hell you want with me, I can take it.”

He’s not begging, of course he’s not. That’s what the bastard wants.

Freddie isn’t giving him an inch.

“My, my. So self-sacrificing.” He simpers, pressing a hand to his chest. “I am sure the tabloids would love to quote you on that.”

There’s a gruesome turn in the air. Molokov steps close behind him, leaning down to whisper softly against his ear. “Do you know why that is?”

He’s stubbornly silent. There’s nothing and no one in the room to distract him, just Molokov, his breath hot against his ear. The rest of him is left to freeze.

“Humor me, Trumper.”

“Why should I?” Sneering, he twisted back until they were eye to eye, blue to black.

“There is no one more popular than a rehabilitated antagonist.” The Russian stepped away, smirking at the disgusted way his face twists. “Keep that in mind.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He’s sweating. He wonders how he has enough moisture in his body to sweat right now – his tongue feels dry and useless in his mouth. He swallows, glancing around – the door is still and sealed and silent as ever. He can’t move his arms.

“I hope you are not expecting anyone to come and save you, Trumper. You are only going to be disappointed.”

He’d thought the darkness was stifling before. Molokov slams the door shut behind him, leaving Freddie to nothing but his own thoughts.

You’re only a pawn.

 

 

            This is worse than the parking garage.

            Freddie spends what feels like hours mentally cataloguing the damages done, just to pass the time. His nose is broken, probably – he can breathe out of it, with difficulty, but the sound it makes is horrid and he inhales almost as much blood as he does air. He starts breathing through his mouth to counts of five – he’d learned the technique ages ago in the anger management therapy sessions that Florence had occasionally (discreetly) forced him into.

            Breathing through his mouth comes with a few drawbacks, too. It feels like he’s inhaling the darkness, letting it live and fester inside of him, little tumors lodging all along the walls of his arteries. They’ll rupture later, miniature panic attacks. Hopefully not all at once. Hopefully while he’s alone, when Molokov can’t smirk at him and drag the gun up over his Adam’s apple like he’s drawing pictures in his skin. Possessing him.

He shudders.

            It was loud, too, his own breathing – it’s all he can hear. In, out, in, out, in, out, and the tiny increments in which it speeds up or slows down seem enormous.

            It’s making him anxious. He misses his Xanax, for the first time in years.

            I hate pills.

            He hates Molokov more, though, and he hates Anatoly just a little – for half a moment, less – for being such an idiot. For letting himself be fooled, for letting himself be taken like a fucking chess piece. Who’s the pawn here?

            Some part of him recognizes that Molokov is trying to fuck with his head. (and, honestly, he’s succeeding)

            Another part of him, much louder and more violent, is throwing itself at the walls of his mind in an animal rage. I’ll see you fucking hang.

            Fuck that. He’s going to kill him with is bare hands.

            He’s never going to hurt anyone that Freddie loves again. Fucking never.

            He exhales and holds it, struggling to maintain some semblance of control. He can’t see a thing – there are no windows, he remembers, only one door. No other furniture but this chair and him on top of it. The floor is bare concrete beneath his frozen feet. Molokov is probably watching him from somewhere, waiting for him to crack so he can taunt him for it later.

(Or punish him, if he was still on that whole domination-submission kick.)

(Freddie really fucking hopes not.)

He continues with his inventory, stubbornly glaring at the ceiling. His nose is broken, his arms are probably some kind of mangled – he can’t be sure how bad it is until somebody unties him, and hell if he knew when anyone was going to bother to do that. His pants are stiff, finally dry, but he already has to piss again. His stomach feels shriveled, groaning at him periodically – he snaps at it to shut the fuck up, then regrets speaking at all. His throat is sore. His mouth tastes awful. His chest feels too tight and he’s certain that he’s going to pass out soon – he needs the sleep, anyways, natural sleep.

He’s also pretty sure that he’s not supposed to sleep if he has a concussion – God only knows if he does, he doesn’t remember how to tell, he doesn’t particularly care – but what else is there to do here than think?

That’s exactly what that bastard wants. He wants him to think and think and think about what’s happening, about where he is, about what’s going to happen to him and about all of those stupid fucking riddles he’s been talking in just to confuse him until he’s just as crazy as everyone always calls him.

I’m not fucking crazy!

He’s not sure what purpose his compilation of grievances serves, except as a distraction. It feels like there should be some kind of sound – pipes dripping, maybe, or the creak of cell bars. Other prisoners shuffling their feet. This has to be a prison, right? There are other people in the world. Somewhere.

Molokov was out there somewhere. Watching.

Come to think of it, he has no real way of knowing if there’s another person in the room with him. Maybe there’s been someone standing behind him this entire time – it’s not as though he could twist around to see them –

Goosebumps crawl up his neck and he clamps his mouth shut again.

The door remains shut.

The only sounds are his own breathing and his heart, which throbs painfully, malnourished in his chest. He sucks in another breath, trying to sit up and stretch his torso to allow his lungs to fill all the way. It’s no use. He sits heavily back in the chair, closing his eyes, licking his dry lips.

He doesn’t want to expose his throat, in case there really is someone behind him.

 

 

            Pain explodes in the side of his head – Freddie awakes with a jumbled stream of expletives that burn on his tongue, burn in his throat. He hopes blindly that they burn whoever just hit him.

            He feels like he’s going to be sick and he’s not even awake. “Mother fucker.” Behind him he hears the soft scrape of Molokov’s soles. Circling.

            “That is not very polite,” he comments, with the most disapproving expression, and his voice is infuriatingly smooth. Freddie’s feels cracked. Freddie feels cracked. “I thought we had addressed this.”

            He feels absurdly like a child being scolded – and, even more absurdly, like he’s actually done something wrong.

            He squints into the yellow light, cracked and dirty from a single incandescent bulb somewhere over his head – it seems so bright, and he knows it isn’t but anything is better than the nothing he’d been waiting in for what seemed like so many hours.

“I have yet to hear any word from your government…” Molokov is conversing as he walks, apparently unperturbed with the lack of response. Barely awake, Freddie already feels the murmurings of anger bubble in his empty stomach. Ugh…

            He stops again, peering at him blandly. “They do not seem too keen on getting you back... I am not surprised.”

            “Walter’s going to blast your brains out,” Freddie spits, the fire dripping from his lips – or maybe that’s saliva. How the fuck had he even managed to work up enough saliva to drool? “I hope I get to watch.

            “You had best start praying.”

Molokov’s voice drops as he fingers the outline of the gun through his jacket, a gesture that is becoming horribly familiar. He feels himself tense without actually authorizing the action and then squeezes his eyes shut against another building surge of unruly anger at himself for being so easily manipulated.

            “I don’t need to pray. Three people know where I am–” he began heatedly, twisting violently in an effort to follow the unnerving sound of his footsteps.

            “And how do you know that any of them care?” He can practically feel it in the air, the way he raises his eyebrow. Condescending bastard. His throat itches – he wonders if he really could spit fire, right now. “None of them have come to rescue you.”

            “Anatoly cares. Florence will care.” He takes a deep breath, futilely. “The CIA will fucking care.”

            “Are you sure?” He almost seems surprised, and it throws Freddie off. Furrowing his eyebrows, he twists again, trying in vain to see his expression. “I was under the impression that you were more of a liability than an asset to yourgovernment.”

            The words taste bad; they sting, and he wants to clear them from his ears like dirt, like an unwelcome insect, and flick them into the nearest trash bin. He doesn’t think there is a trash bin in this room. Where the hell am I? “They sent Walter to protect me from slimeballs like you–”

            “De Courcey? His orders were to watch you.” The Russian laughs, incredulous. “I do not somehow think that anyone was worried about your safety.”

            His skin prickles, doubt clinging to the words as they filter through. “Well they were sure as hell worried about Anatoly!”

            “We had an agreement,” he says again, smiling widely. Sinister. Freddie wonders how he even had enough blood in his body to heat his face like this.

            “What does that have to do with anything?” His voice is too loud in the empty room. It echoes crazily, cluttering his ears – he has to concentrate to hear Molokov’s reply.

            “We had an agreement,” he repeats, cocking his head. “As I said. There is more than one way to win a game.”

            “If we’re in Russia then Anatoly can find me.” He clings to the spark like it’s his last hope – it might be. His heart pumps weakly, unable to find enough air, thoughts spiraling dizzily like melting snowflakes. There is no wind to keep them aloft, nor air in his lungs. “He’ll find me.”

            “Anatoly is safe at home with his wife and children.” The smile turns nasty in the blink of an eye. “He has no use for you anymore.”

            “I know what you’re trying to do,” he seethes, and doesn’t care if he sounds paranoid, because when has he ever cared what the fucking communists think of him? What anyone thinks of him? “I’m not stupid.”

            “You think you are so special? Anatoly is a married man.” Molokov shakes his head pityingly and continues to move around him, slow, methodical. It’s like a metronome, his measured steps. The echoes from the concrete feel like they’ve been carved into his eardrums already. “He knows his priorities.”

            “You don’t know a fucking thing about his priorities.” Freddie feels like gnashing his teeth, but then, he refuses to act like a zoo animal.

            (Molokov’s more animal than he is.)

            (Shark.)

            “I have known Anatoly much longer than you,” Molokov says evenly, amusement radiating faintly from the walls. “I know exactly what goes through his head.”

            “You don’t know him. I know him,” he insists, as if that will stop the uncomfortable heat of uncertainty from chewing at his bones. “He defected. For me.”

            He defected because he wanted to get out.

            Molokov seems to sense that he doesn’t need to say anything; he looks at him for a long time and lets the silence grow between them, the bulb flickering erratically. Freddie bets that it’s been rigged that way – Molokov, this room, everything has been designed to make him feel like the ground isn’t real anymore and that he’ll never touch it again, even with his feet on the floor.

            He hasn’t stopped to wonder why he’d hit him at all, but he hasn’t stopped tensing with every subtle movement of his hands, either. “I’m not afraid of you,” he says into the silence, and the lie echoes in the shell of his ear. The hell you’re not.

            “That is a shame.” Dipping his head, the Russian drew the gun from his jacket again and sighed as he turned it over, bored. “You will learn… Open your mouth.”

            Freddie stared at him. “Excuse me?”

            “Open it.” It’s a brisk command, so automatic that he nearly does it. Nearly. “Are you daft?”

            “Are you?”

            This is not the time to be talking back, he thinks to himself, and clearly the butt of Molokov’s pistol feels the same way. It collides with his skull with a crack that echoes more inside his skull than outside of it, leaving him stunned and breathless. “Fuck.

Molokov draws his arm back again, his eyes narrowed. “Language, Trumper.”

The second blow (the third, if he were counting the one that had woken him) is much more highly anticipated; it almost makes it worse, the way he waits for it, the vein in his temple throbbing. His stomach heaves mutinously. Blood rings in his ears, but it doesn’t wash away Molokov’s words. Only a pawn, only a pawn. Was this what it felt like, to be a captured piece on the board?

He’s thinking in chess metaphors. Again.

This fucking place is going to drive him insane if it hasn’t already.

He tastes rust more strongly in his mouth now, grimacing, eyes streaming. “What the fuck was that for?”

The metal strikes the opposite temple, and he kicks out, yelling. The person who may or may not be behind him says nothing, does nothing to protect him. The bulb above him burns through his eyelids and the gun taps against his cheek, cold and casual.

“Do not get mouthy with me. Learn your place.” Molokov’s voice is cold and silky smooth. Ice for the wounds.

It doesn’t make him feel any better.

Fucker.

His head feels too hot in comparison to the rest of him now, his mouth hanging open as he pants. His nose is burning – he’s not sure, but it feels like it’s started bleeding again.“I am not surprised that your CIA man hasn’t started searching for you,” he’s saying, and Freddie can barely process the words but they’re going to stick. They all do. “You are nothing but a brat. They are just glad to be rid of you once and for all.”

“You don’t know anything.” His voice sounds far away. He can’t seem to catch his breath; his head is pounding, pounding, his skull still vibrating with the force of impact. There’s a (presumably loaded) gun pointed at his face.

“They would not be the first to feel that way about you, would they?” There’s something insidiously awful about the way he says it, personal; Freddie tastes an ugly sort of bile in the back of his throat just listening to his voice. He smiles darkly. “Would they, Frederick?”

“Don’t call me that. You don’t know me,” he says, his eyebrows still furrowed – with pain or with suspicion, he’s not entirely sure. A little of both.

Molokov gives him his most dangerous smile, stalking closer. “Wouldn’t your father be interested to hear about your little affair?”

Fuck off.”

Alright. So he’d hit a nerve. Don’t give him the satisfaction. He swallows and stares at him, hard, fighting not to look at the gun glinting in his hand. There’s a smugness about him that fills the entire room with an oppressive thickening of the air. “I think that he would be very glad to see you in good hands.”

“Whose? Yours?” He scoffs, and is it just him or does he sound a little bit off his rocker? When don’t you sound batshit, honestly? He’s almost as sick of his own voice as he is Molokov’s. “I’m in nobody’s hands.”

“But you are at my mercy.” It’s a warning as much as it is a reminder. He feels the metal caress the hollow of his throat and fights the compulsive urge to swallow. Molokov’s eyes glitter. Sadistic bastard. Getting off on this. “Are you ready for your next lesson, Frederick?”

“Shove it up your ass.”

Does he have a survival instinct? His heart has already leapt into his throat, which is inconvenient as Molokov has shoved the gun against it painfully. His finger is on the trigger. Of course it is. Freddie exhales and pretends that he’s not trembling. “Don’t–”

“Be careful.” It’s almost a whisper. Molokov knows exactly how to play him, and it makes him so angry. His mouth is full of yellow jackets, angry and ready to sting.

If only he could open it.

It’s sealed shut with growing panic as Molokov drags the mouth of the gun to his ear, clicking the safety off audibly. He presses it to his temple, casually. “What would your father say about you now, hm?”

“My father is none of your business.”

He was a deadbeat, anyways. Freddie will always be bitter about that. Right now he’s more concerned about where the hell Molokov was getting his information. Somebody had told him which buttons to press – there were only so many people to choose from, and Florence was at the top of the list.

She wouldn’t.

Well... Would she?

If Molokov and his men were threatening her, as he’d hinted, then…

No, no, no – Freddie has to force himself to sneer as Molokov leans closer to him again, his breath reeking of mint so strongly he could gag on the nothing in his stomach, still churning. “Get out of my face,” he rasps.

“Disobedient boys never grow up, do they?”

He hadn’t ever wanted to hear the sound of Molokov’s zipper again, the teeth parting like vicious dogs. “Don’t touch me.” That’s panic, in his voice – it was impossible to catch it in time and there it was, flying from his mouth like so many of the things he’d let slip, expletives and explosions on television, in front of an audience of thousands, hundreds of thousands – here it doesn’t matter that he has an audience of one. He’s beginning to realize, thirty-odd years too late, that his words have just as many consequences as his actions do.

There’s a gun to his head, though, and that’s all he can think about. Molokov practically purrs in his ear, too close (he can probably hear Freddie’s heartbeat, can probably hear every frantic thought escaping in every panting breath), “You have always been worthless. It’s about time you got used to it.”

“Don’t touch me,” he says again, his voice tight as the rope he’s straining against.

Molokov tastes like salt and garbage. Freddie flashes his teeth and quickly puts them away when he hears the distinct sound of him squeezing his finger around the trigger. “For a gay man, you do give terrible head, you know.”

“No.” He won’t. He won’t. Not again. He can barely think, let alone play Molokov’s little power games.

Isn’t that the point?

He knows what he’s doing. He knows what he’s doing, and he still can’t stop the visceral fear from climbing up his spine like a fucking ladder, tapping sharply on each of the vertebrate. Molokov smiles, his lips pulled back from his teeth, and Freddie sees the shark in him again.

Had the Soviets made him into this half-human monster, or had they picked him just for that reason?

“Now. Open your mouth,” he says dangerously, a fist curling into his hair and jerking so hard he wants to throw up. Wouldn’t it be funny if he did? He wouldn’t be smiling then…

The pistol is shoved against his temple. His life suddenly seems very, very short.

He blinks back sudden, stupid tears, nose wrinkled, and opens his mouth.

“Good boy.” He closes his eyes. This is nothing like it is with Anatoly. This is something that he’d enjoyed, once, and been good at, too – Anatoly would spread his legs and groan and –

Molokov groans above him as he fills his mouth –

Stop – no – I said no!

It doesn’t really matter what he says, though, does it?

There’s no one here to witness it but it somehow it feels like everyone is watching – disgusted, disappointed – as Molokov thrusts into his throat and tightens his finger on the trigger as he comes (“swallow, Trumper… good boy”) and he’s in fucking Russia, and no one comes to stop it. No one.

Not even Anatoly.

Dimly, he hears Molokov’s zipper being pulled back up. His hair is tangled and greasy under his hand – he can’t even bring himself to lean away from it, too busy being sick at the taste in his mouth. He stares at the corner, catching his breath. His eyes are stinging.

“Who would want you now?” Molokov asks nastily, and reaches up to tug the string. The light snuffs out all at once. Freddie hears the door swing open and slam shut.

“Fuck you,” he says into the darkness.

His voice is scratchy, hoarse. There are tears sliding down his cheeks and he can’t remember how they got there.

In his mind, the man who doesn’t stand behind him smiles like a razor blade.

 

 

Humans beings aren’t meant to live in darkness.

Freddie’s not even sure he’s human anymore. Freddie isn’t sure of anything. Molokov is gone but his voice is ringing in his ears, in the room, as though the echoes have been trapped and preserved just to torment him.

Who would want you now?

He’s in Russia and nobody is coming for him, not Walter or Florence or Anatoly.

His mother probably doesn’t even know he’s gone missing.

For the first time in his life he feels cracked, and maybe, maybe the newspapers had been right about him all along.

What was he worth, anyways?

This is exactly what Molokov wants. This is exactly it, this horrible, bone-deep sense of paranoia – of worthlessness. He can still taste him in the back of his throat. It churns in his stomach, sickeningly, the only nutrients he’s consumed in days.

That’s fucked up.

Even the snarky voice in the back of his head seems exhausted, too tired to speak up more than once in a while. Florence would ask him if he was sick, tell him to lie down, she’ll make him some soup and be in in a minute.

Florence is nowhere in this box of a world, only Freddie and darkness and Molokov’s lingering presence.

If he squeezes his eyes shut he can feel the phantom pangs of fear that had come from the metal on his skin and the hand in his hand and he shudders, but if he waits just long enough they fade away. Maybe he can sleep…

 

 

The door slams open and before he can sit up the light is flooding the room again.

“What–” he starts, wide-eyed, and suddenly everything is cold.

Petrovich grins sadistically as he shakes the bucket over his head, making sure every last droplet of icy water falls over his head. He splutters, every muscle and nerve in his body screeching for warmth, blinking the water from his eyes. “What the fuck is your problem?!”

“Sleep well.” With a chuckle, he reaches up to click the light off again.

The door slams shut. Freddie shivers and stares after him, miserably.

Guess sleep is out…

 

 

Molokov returns what must be hours later, unfazed when he finds him still-drenched and teeth chattering. “How did you sleep, comrade?”

Fine.” Freddie glares, curled as much into himself as he can manage. He’d been visited more than once over the course of the night – every time he’d slumped in his chair, every time he’d let the dizziness chew at the edges of his conscious thought there had been another bucket over his head. His ass is probably frozen to the chair.

The ropes are slippery, though, on the plus side – they slide against his skin as he shifts, and he likes to think that they’ve loosened at least a little.

(Freddie has never been much of an optimist, but now is as good a time to start as any.)

He smiles pleasantly. “That is good to hear… I have a game for us to play, today.”

So it’s daytime? That little bit of information lifts pounds off of his chest, and he sucks in a breath, watching Molokov cautiously. His mind is whirring. He wonders if they’re ever going to let him see the sun again – then he wonders if the sun even comes out in Russia, or if they were just a nation of vampires. It wouldn’t surprise him.

“I don’t play games,” he says sullenly. Molokov’s grin widens.

“Do not be silly. You have played games for a living! This is no different.” The double entendre makes him grit his teeth. The bad taste hasn’t left his mouth; he’d tried, vaguely, to catch some of the water running off of his head in his mouth to wash it away but it had tasted dirty and too-cold and he’d spit it back out, alone in the dark. “Come now, Trumper, do not be a spoilsport.”

Incredulity wells beneath his teeth like oil. Are you fucking serious? “I’m not playing any of your sick games.”

Walter is coming for him. Someone is coming for him.

Just hold out.

He’d be damned if they broke him like this.

(He doesn’t think of how it was alone in the dark with the knot over his chest making it impossible to breathe, to feel anything but panic and guilt and a terrifying kind of sadness that he hasn’t felt in so many years and God dammit, no, he won’t let them do this to him, not again, he’d only just clawed his way back out of the pit.)

“How do you know that you will not like them?” He circles around, voice silky, persuasive. Molokov is a con man just like Walter is, a liar by career and probably by nature. “Come now. I will even untie you.”

He sits up a little straighter. “I’m fine.”

If he looks down he can see the dark bruises climbing up and down his arms; they probably stretch across his chest, too, his whole body. His nose is swollen. He doesn’t even want to know what his head looks like. (How many lumps must there be now?)

Molokov takes a pitying look at him and Freddie notes, suddenly, the glint of metal in his hand. That’s not a gun…

Before he can speculate and conjure up a thousand more gruesome possibilities he feels it sharp against his neck, pressed lightly, sliding along and leaving a thin, stinging trail.

“Stop.” His voice fails him, fading to nothing. His eyes are wide – he stares at the wall and pretends that this isn’t happening, this isn’t happening, he isn’t here. It’s hard to forget Molokov, though, when he’s all around him, inside him – the taste and sight and sound and razor-touch of him are choking the memories out of him, leaving him stranded here in a too-vibrant moment of terror. “Stop.”

Molokov presses the knife to his neck again an makes an identical cut beneath the first. They’re shallow, meaningless; his whole body feels hot. “No. I do not think I will.”

“Stop.” He counts them in quick succession, although the strokes themselves are agonizingly slow. Five, six, seven, eight, nine – he’s going to keep going until Freddie begs him to stop.

Freddie doesn’t beg.

“You are very mouthy.” Twelve, thirteen, fourteen – “Would you like me to quiet you myself?” The cuts trail slowly closer to his throat; he winces preemptively, and each one stings worse than the last. Deeper. Wider. The knife disappears, and Molokov leans over him, using his fingers to pry the edges of the last one apart – Freddie trembles, feels tears of blood well up and trail a slow path down his neck.

He says nothing. He’s not supposed to.

Molokov smiles like a piranha. (The shark is there, though, lurking. Waiting.) He digs his nail into the fresh wound, scraping it slowly along; Freddie feels his intestines twist into nauseated knots. Wrong, wrong, wrong, stop.

“Stop.” His voice is still hoarse, crackly. His stomach makes a loud noise of protest, and Molokov throws his head back and laughs.

“Are you hungry?” Freddie doesn’t see what’s so amusing about that. He shakes his head in a silent, jerky motion. The scathing words he’s been trying to collect scatter again and he gives up recalling them, sealing his lips shut. “Speak up, Trumper, or you will get nothing.”

He doesn’t say anything. Molokov releases him, begins his circling again. He murmurs, and it’s too loud in the shrinking space – Freddie closes his eyes again so he doesn’t have to see the walls closing in on him.

“For someone so demanding you are being awfully quiet, Frederick. I am almost impressed.”

“I’m not afraid of you,” he feels the need to say again. Maybe if he says it enough he’ll actually believe it.

Then he can work on Molokov…

Freddie doesn’t know a lot about guns and knives – he’s spent far too much of his life absorbed in tactics of war and so far removed from the real world that it’s hardly even something he can joke about – but he knows that they can kill him, if he lets them.

“That is unfortunate for you.” Out of nowhere, he feels fingers in his hair, pulling sharply upward – Freddie kicks into the air, gasping. “Fuck.”

“Your CIA has yet to contact me about your whereabouts.” It’s hot against his ear. It sears into his brain. Fuck. Fuck. “They do not want you back, it would seem.”

“They’ll put a bullet through your head,” he grits out, tears leaking from the corners of his eyes.

Walter. Walter would come for him. He’d send someone for him, at least.

Panic was setting into his bones again.

He had to send someone.

“You were a security threat.” Snorting, Molokov pulls back and strokes his hair down against his head again; his scalp still tingles painfully goose bumps rising beneath his fingers. “A public figure, perhaps, but not a desirable one. They are glad to be rid of you.”

“I’m a fucking American citizen,” he snarls. They can’t just leave me here.

“You are no more an American than I am, Trumper.” The glint of dark amusement is back in his eyes – he’s circled around again, leaning down to meet his eyes. “Do you know how long your government has waited for an opportunity to denounce you?”

“I’m an American–!”

“Not anymore.” His voice echoes from every angle. Freddie is sure that he’s going insane. He thinks of Walter, desperately. Walter and his wide smile, white teeth, hands spread.

It’s been a pleasure doing business with you.

Oh, God. Molokov sees it on his face and smirks as he continues. “You are a Russian citizen now.”

“I don’t have a fucking visa.”

Molokov’s hands are quick and tight around his neck. Freddie kicks again, connects with his shin – he barely has a moment to feel a flicker of triumph before Molokov’s cool fingers crush his windpipe shut, accent thick and furious in his ear. “Shut your mouth, Trumper, or I told you I would do it for you.”

He tries to nod, his mouth falling opening like a helpless fish. There’s nothing in his stomach, nothing in his lungs – he chokes, a pathetic, tiny noise and Molokov releases his throat. Gasping desperately for air, he doesn’t see the gun swinging at his head.

It collides with a noise that vibrates in his skull and all down his spine. He chokes on his breath. “O-kay.” Coughing, gasping, face wet, throat throbbing – “Okay!”

Why are you keeping me here?

“You are worthless,” Molokov spits, vicious. He’s so close to his face that Freddie can feel the spittle on his salt-stained cheeks. “Your government does not want you – no government would want you. You are nothing but a delusional brat who insists on causing problems for everyone you meet.”

The papers had said the same thing. All of them. He steels himself, turns his head away – Molokov yanks him back, his fingers bruising his chin.

Look at me when I am speaking to you, Trumper.”

He looks at him, his eyes still watering. His chest is heaving painfully. Molokov stares at him for a long, charged moment and then comes around to yank the ropes tighter around his body, squeezing the life out of him –

– and then they go slack, falling all around him, the circulation rushing back into his arms like so many needles –

“You wonder why everyone has left you?” His head is spinning; he tries to hold up his arms, sluggish and frozen, adrenaline pushing insistently through them like fire, it burns it hurts and Molokov grabs him by the bruised and bloodied bicep and throws him to the floor, landing a savage kick to his ribs.

Choking, Freddie kicks out again, weakly, attempting to curl around the swiftly blooming bruise – with a crack, Molokov’s boot collides with his side again. He stomps on his ankle and Freddie withdraws his kicking foot quickly, pain radiating through the bone.

Someone is sobbing. It might be him. Everything is blurry…

“Useless piece of shit,” he hears snarled from a distance – or is it in his head? He doesn’t know anymore – and feels every line of the pattern on the rubber sole as it crushes his shin. The nerves all screech at the same frequency; the bone doesn’t quite snap. “You will rot in here for everything you have ever done.”

The assault seems endless. He misses the chair.

There, at least, the threat is written in steel.

He reaches up and his clumsy fingertips meet something slick. The cuts on his neck are bleeding – fresh-cut gills. He sees scarlet.

(Maybe they will help him breathe in the darkness.)

Molokov’s voice won’t stop ringing.

He doesn’t remember hearing him leave. He lies curled into a ball on the floor, his body wrecked and throbbing. Don’t touch me…

The light stays on, this time. It’s blinding. Somewhere outside of here Anatoly is sitting with a faceless woman, probably sipping his tea. Oblivious. Unconcerned.

Nobody is looking for him.

Freddie sits up shakily, and sobs, and it’s pathetic.

 

 

At some point he manages to remember who he is.

Glad as he is to have his arms free, if not yet fully functional, there’s only so much room to explore before he has to admit to himself that there is no way out.

The door is locked. (of course it is) The floor is cold. The chill seeps into him from below (his pants are still damp, will never be dry at this rate) and creeps up, wrapping its tendrils all around his wrists and ankles and his neck, where it clashes with the hot bruises throbbing where Molokov’s boot had violently kissed the skin.

The only other option is to sit back in the chair. Freddie thinks he would rather gouge his own eyes out. There is no man standing behind him. There’s no one at all.

He’s grateful for the sickly bulb, at least, even as often as it flickers. There’s no room for his nightmares where it’s light.

(Molokov exists, light or dark, watching, ringing.)

He curls his arms more tightly around his knees.

His stomach groans more frequently now; he’s weakening, barely able to lift his head when it begins to droop on his shoulders. He should be doing something – plotting his escape, as though that were really an option.

He’s begun to feel like a rodent in a box. The far corner has been designated the bathroom – he’d managed to fumble the zipper on his pants down, after several desperate tries, and christen it. He’s beginning to forget what the air should smell like – all that’s here is blood and urine. There are no windows he can open to wave the smell away. Not that he can smell it, anymore. His nose has swollen shut, bent at an awkward angle. He’s afraid to touch it.

            The light is burning into his retinas. When he closes his eyes he sees Florence and Anatoly and Walter and his father all in neon hues. His mouth is dry, salted.

            Isn’t anyone coming for him yet? It can’t have been more than a few days-nights-whatever it is now. He hasn’t had anything to drink in several of them… Hasn’t had anything to eat in even longer. He wonders deliriously when Walter is coming for him, the lazy bastard.

He’s taking his damn time, isn’t he?

            Molokov’s suggestions have caught like burrs onto his innermost thoughts, though, memories too – he thinks of Walter and that salesman’s smile of his and wonders if he’d ever been genuine with him at all. He hadn’t seen much of him in Bangkok. Hadn’t seen him at all in the year and a half preceding it, except to hear his voice in low, heated discussions that Anatoly had always promptly ended the moment Freddie had walked into the room.

            (“Who’s that?” and, “No one.” and, “You’re a fucking liar, you know that?”)

(The springs in their mattress had positively wailed, almost as loudly as Anatoly.)

            He’d never told him what those eleven-at-night conversations were about. Freddie could never be bothered to ask again. There was so much else he could be doing, they could be doing, like curling up in bed together, breathing in one another’s soft exhalations.

            Anatoly wasn’t coming for him either. Would he, if he knew where he was? Or was Molokov right?

            Bullshit.

            He begins to miss Molokov’s presence as much as he dreads it. It’s easier to believe him when he has nothing to do but ponder.

            Who could miss that bastard?

            He needs a doctor. Someone. Anyone…

 

            The sound of the door clicking open makes him flinch, scrambling to his feet and shrinking back against the wall like a cornered animal.

            “Comrade. You are looking well.” Molokov smiles and it’s dangerous already, and Freddie can still feel his bootprints black and blue on his screaming shins. The men had returned,twice in the night – their names are foggy in his memory but he knows he knows them, familiar leering faces, familiar buckets filled with iron-flavored water that filled his lap and his mouth and drenched him to the bone.

His legs shake. He feels the wall behind him with open palms, as if searching for some hidden switch that will let him out of here.

            This isn’t Scooby-Doo.

            “I hate you.”

            “You hate yourself.” Lips twitching smugly upwards, Molokov strides into the room and looks around, assessing. The sound of his shoes on the concrete is enough to make Freddie grit his teeth and groan. His stomach is heaving, empty. “Have you enjoyed your freedom?”

“Freedom.” He echoes it like a foreign word. His palms are sweating. He’s still not sure where he’s getting the moisture to sweat. He licks his lips. “Right.”

            “Come now, do not be petulant. I am being very generous.” His voice is deep like the chill of the gun pressed to his temple, metal sticking frozen to his skin even when he dreams. Assuming he dreams. He hasn’t really slept, as far as he can tell.

            His stomach groans, loudly, and his hands clench into frustrated balls at his sides. Don’t give him the satisfaction. Molokov spreads his hands smugly. “Are you ready to admit it yet?”

            “Admit what?” He doesn’t even know what to expect from their conversations anymore. (‘conversation’ is entirely too civilized a word for whatever they’ve been engaging in, but he’s too dizzy with hunger to think of what to call it)

I’m hungry.

            He jams his fist beneath his ribs angrily.

Stop it.

            Molokov looks at him pityingly. His eyes are so dark, even now when the darkness has retreated. So that’s where it’s all gone… Freddie is pretty sure he’s gone delirious with hunger. “No one is coming for you, Frederick. It is time you gave up on your childish fantasies and faced up to reality.”

            “I’m not a child.”

(Have I ever been anything else?)

He swallows like sandpaper, glaring at him with as much heat as he can muster. It’s like it’s been sucked out of him, tugging his willpower along with it. I just want to sleep. His feels the exhaustion in his fingertips, in his toes, in the roots of his eyelashes – a persistent ache that made it hard to so much as lift his chin obstinately.

He did, anyways. Freddie Trumper wasn’t letting a red bastard best him.

Not even now, when the reality of it made his knees quake.

I’m not paranoid! He’d been right all along.

Molokov raises an eyebrow at him and it takes him longer than he’s proud of to realize that he’s looking at the stiff yellow stains on his pants, which probably smell to someone who hasn’t been cooped up in this god-awful room like a prisoner for hours-days-weeks-months. He flushes darkly, barely hearing his words even though they tangle around him like barbed wire. “What else would you like me to call you?”

“Nothing. Don’t call me anything.” He shouldn’t be talking. His eyes flit in a panic to his hand as it moves, heart skittering anxiously – he doesn’t know where the next weapon is going to come from.

“Nonsense. I must call you something. You are under my jurisdiction.” The Russian cocked his head, speaking lowly, amused as his eyes follow Freddie’s. “You are afraid of me. Very good.”

“I’m not afraid of you.” It’s getting old. Freddie has to swallow again, with the way the words jumble and get stuck in his throat. He coughs.

            Molokov is faster than he remembers; he has the gun in his hand, pointed directly at his head. Freddie goes still, nostrils flaring. I’m not afraid of you. No, of course not. Of course –

“Will you admit it, then? Tell yourself the truth, Trumper. Who is coming to save you?”

            “I don’t need saving,” he mutters, instead of Anatoly, because (honestly) he’s afraid of learning anything else about him now when his memory is already fading so sharply. Molokov laughs, approaching him with the gun still raised to his head.

            “No, of course not…” He steps close enough that Freddie can imagine grabbing him, with all of the wild strength that’s been drained out through the soles of his feet, and throwing him down, stomping on his big head. Die, fucking die. He could try. He could – “You are a lost cause. That reminds me; we did not get to finish our game.”

            “You’re sick,” he informs him, helpless to stop him from jerking him forward by the belt loops.

            “Perhaps you would like a taste of lead, if you are so hungry.” Molokov’s voice has gone soft with danger, gleaming like his teeth too-white in his tan face. Maybe it’s just the light… “Come. Away from the wall.”

            The wall is safe. The wall doesn’t shake like his legs are doing right now, so badly he’s afraid he won’t be able to stand up if he follows his instructions but the other option is staring him in the face and hell if he’s going to die today. He takes a deep breath and braces himself, stumbling after him. Molokov’s fingers pinch around his bicep, burning. Is he really that warm? Or is Freddie just freezing to death?

            He’s inclined to think the latter.

            “What are you doing?” He doesn’t like that, he doesn’t fucking like that. Molokov is running his hands over his body, up over his ribcage, back down to squeeze his hips firmly and it’s unnerving, it’s wrong. “Stop–”

            “You are my property and I will do what I like with you,” Molokov snaps. He flips at the drop of a hat, sometimes, so fast that Freddie can’t hope to keep up. He figures he should just keep himself braced all the time, in case.

            But I’m so tired…

            His hands are hard on his hips, pushing him abruptly back into the wall. Freddie grunts, twisting away, but Molokov is stronger than him – has been from the beginning, but especially now. He pins him in place, his thumbs pressing against the delicate bones with a sneer.

            (Everything about him seems delicate now.)

            (His skin burns with the shame of it.)

“I can see what Anatoly found so appealing about you.”

            “What the hell does that mean?” Freddie doesn’t want to think about Anatoly right now, not when his mouth still tastes like Molokov’s dick. Jesus Christ, that’s so fucking sick. “We were-”

            “In love, yes,” Molokov says drily. He digs his thumbs in harder and lets his eyes rake downward. Freddie feels strangely naked; he shivers, tenses, ready to kick if he needs to. Never mind how that ended the last time. “You have mentioned. I hope that you know that you were not the first. Nor will you be the last.”

            “What does that mean?”

            “What – you thought that you were his first affair? Please.”

He can feel him half-hard and pressed against his thigh – he’s entirely too close, he smells as though he’s actually bathed, he’s going to regret touching Freddie at all when he smells himself later – and he absolutely refuses to think about where this is going.

Physically or otherwise.

            “He defected for me.” His voice is stiff. Scratchy. Weak. Molokov’s is a force of nature by comparison, deep and prodding. He grabs him by the collar and rips it viciously in two, the seams tearing – he’s frozen, just hoping that his skin won’t be next.

            It’s strangely similar, he thinks, to what’s going on in his head – but he won’t tell him that. No. No, he doesn’t need to know.

            “He has been looking to get out of the country for years. I am just glad that he has gotten it out of his system, now.” Molokov finishes ripping his shirt into tatters and pushes it from his shoulders, throwing it carelessly to the floor. The wall behind him is suddenly twice as cold. Fuck. “I suppose that was one use for you.”

            “I hope you know I’m taking him with me when I get out of here,” Freddie manages, his voice tight. The doubt that had wormed into his intestines, nesting there, has grown like a parasite feeding on his fear – on every one of Molokov’s razor-edged words.

            There are fingers on the button of his pants. Without thinking he raises his hands to shove him away, violently – he barely manages to push him an inch before the gun is back, pressing into the soft flesh of his (empty) stomach. Molokov growls, “Stay still.”

            The cuts lining the column of his neck throb frantically, and Molokov’s hand slips lower – the other holds the gun to his skin, trailing it slowly upwards leaving angry red marks. He wonders if it’s even loaded.

Why hasn’t he shot me yet?

            He cringes as he feels his fingers wrap too-tightly around his flaccid cock. “What –” It’s too hoarse. “What – are you doing?”

            “Perhaps he thought you were a woman,” Molokov muses. His eyes burn – his cock seems to wither in his hand, shrinking back toward his body. He squeezes his eyes shut so he doesn’t have to watch – whatever he’s about to do. (It’s going to hurt. He can guarantee that.) “No one would believe you were a man.”

            “What are you doing?”

More urgently now, leaning his hips away – he can feel an anxiety attack on the horizon. This feels uncomfortably like foreplay. Tolya, now would be a great time...

            But nobody is coming for him.

            Molokov has him by the dick and he’s smiling like they’re best friends, or possibly as though he’s going to eat him. Whole. (Starting with his dick, probably.) Freddie can’t remember a single fucking time in his life that he’s felt this vulnerable.

            “You cannot imagine the number of women he has slept with,” he continues, watching him, too close too close. He squeezes him and Freddie wants to die of humiliation. “He is a real man. Perhaps a coward, but a man.”

            He wants to retort, sneer right back at him. His cheeks are red.

What kind of man are you, then? You’re the guy holding onto my prick like it’s yours.

            He also doesn’t want to be shot.

            It’s wearing him down, all of this waiting, all of this suspense. He just wants it to be over with. “

Why am I even here?” he asks, as though he expects an answer. Molokov lives up to his expectations exactly.

            He presses him further into the wall, leering. Either he’s supernaturally strong or Freddie really is on the verge of collapsing. His head spins and Molokov jerks his pants down his thighs without any regard for his decency or his protests.

            “You are not a man. You are nothing.” It makes entirely too much sense right now with his brains rattling inside his skull. He crushes him between his fingers and Freddie’s head cracks back against the wall, his agonized panting drowned out by Molokov’s voice. It’s got a hypnotic quality to it, almost. “You have served your purpose and now you are useless.”

            Freddie tries desperately to conjure Anatoly’s face in his mind and even with the help of the adrenaline singing through his veins he can’t quite manage it. He can’t even remember his middle name right now. It hurts. “I’m not – useless!”

            “You are good for nothing,” Molokov murmurs, and suddenly he’s being turned, shoved forcibly, his hands flying up too-slowly to catch himself against the wall. Molokov is pressed up against his back – in horror, he realizes suddenly exactly where Molokov’s been planning to take all of this.

            “No–” He twists with sudden violence, intending to slam the heel of his palm into his nose and bolt but Molokov fires a shot at the wall on their right and he starts so badly that his eyes well up. “Jesus-”

Molokov sneers, biting harshly at the nape of his neck. “Your God will not save you now, either.”

            “I don’t believe in God!” Jokes on you. He hisses, kicking back at him. His foot connects with nothing but air – Molokov grabs his hips and slams him into the wall again, hard enough to knock the wind out of him. A swell of unadulterated fear makes him twist again, despite, panting. “Get off!”

No amount of struggling is going to stop him.

Molokov has two dry fingers knuckle-deep in him before he can scream, but God, does he scream.

Somebody has to be able to hear him, but nobody comes. Perhaps they’re all out there listening, getting off on the dry way he heaves; the way he thrashes weakly, weaker still, until he has no choice but to let his knees buckle. Molokov holds him up with an arm around his middle, burying his cock in him like he’s marking his territory. He groans in that low accent of his in Freddie’s ear and he can almost pretend, for his own sake, that it’s Anatoly.

 If it weren’t for the gun he might have gotten away. Maybe.

The gun is pressed into his jugular. Molokov’s cock is pressed so far inside him he doesn’t know what belongs to him anymore.

You are my property, Trumper.

“This is what you are good for,” he hisses, rutting into him like his favorite fuck toy. Probably not even his favorite. He digs his nails into his hips, drawing blood, drawing another ragged scream from cracked, dry lips. “This is all you are good for, do you understand? He used you and now I am using you, because you are worth nothing else!”

“Please stop–”

Freddie could beg for hours, for the rest of his life, which is beginning to look exponentially shorter with every violent jerk of his body. He feels death in every keen and shudder. Please kill me.

Please.”

He’s sobbing. He doesn’t know when he started crying; irrationally, he’s angry all over again that Molokov can manipulate him this way, so easily.

Make the pathetic American boy cry, yeah. Big man.

Molokov is disgusted – he knows because it radiates from him in sickening waves, smothering him as Molokov forcefully yanked his legs apart to ram into him.

“He does not love you. You have simply – been – deluded.”

He punctuates the syllables with thrusts, force and friction that Freddie will never be able to erase from his memory.

But he can’t stop crying, and it doesn’t hurt any less when he thinks of Anatoly, who had probably had a thousand people before him, when Freddie had only ever had him. It didn’t matter how many times he’d heard him say it, or all of the times he’d touched him, reverent and dark-eyed with lust. Freddie could believe anything right now, and Molokov is supplying the words, delivering them directly to his paranoid brain.

Anatoly probably isn’t even looking for him. He isn’t coming for him.

He doesn’t love you.

Molokov is coming, though, a splash of warmth that fills him deep and makes his cheeks crawl with a slow, sticky brand of humiliation.

No one can see. No one has to see…

It drips from behind him, down his thighs, onto the floor. There’s nothing he can do to stop it from sliding down, thick and sluggish.

His knees buckle under his own weight.

When he finally lets him drop to the floor, pants around his ankles, Molokov spits at his bare back. He imagines that he sneers. “You should be grateful, Trumper. I could have killed you.”

He leaves him in darkness, letting his words echo amid his own sniffling noises.

“At least this way you aren’t completely worthless.”

           

 

He’s only a pawn.

His lungs feel like deflated balloons, refusing to do what they’re meant to – every time he gets something like the right amount of air into them it rushes out in erratic gasps and whimpers and other pathetic noises that he won’t think about, can’t without exacerbating them.

Panic rings in his bones like frantic, off-key chimes of a bell. The darkness sucks into his lungs in huge swathes, rushing to clog up his arteries.

There’s nothing. Nothing.

The nothing is inside of him, he can’t get it out, he can’t – he claws at his chest, gasping, sobbing. Help.

No one is coming to help him. No one is coming to help him. No one is coming to help him.

He pictures Anatoly and a stream of faceless women at the Mountain View – laughing, drinking, talking, fucking. He pictures Walter, shaking Molokov’s hand. Two shark-like smiles, mirrors. (“Always a pleasure doing business with you.” and “Good riddance.”)

He thinks of Florence and his lungs nearly collapse, eyes welling up uncontrollably, spilling over.

Florence, Florence –

She was never going to forgive him, he was never going to get a chance to even try and earn it, he doesn’t deserve it, he’s –

His sobbing echoes a thousand times off of the near walls, over and over, deafening. He mouths the words, chokes on them until they’re silent. They still fill the room, invisible and horribly thick.

Could he do anything right? Anything at all?

I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I fucked up. I’m sorry.

Freddie doesn’t deserve help. He got himself into this mess – he was a fucking mess, bloody and come-stained and piss-soaked – and now no one is coming to help him.

He gasps for air, sobs their names; the lump in his throat grows until his tears are choking him.

No one comes to throw water on him tonight. He thinks that Molokov may come to visit, but he can’t be sure – the door does not remain closed, in any case. Perhaps the man will come back to stand behind him and wait his turn, knife glinting in hand. Perhaps he should just tip his head back, expose his throat and wait for it.

He can’t fucking breathe.

No one, no one, no one is coming to help him…

 

           

            Freddie is pale and quiet when Molokov returns, several immeasurable increments of time later. He doesn’t lift his head from the wall immediately, too exhausted.

            “Ah, Frederick. You aren’t looking so well, comrade.”

He looks up blankly, his arms wrapped loosely around his knees. His brain has been muted to a dull buzz. “What?”

There is nothing, nothing, nothing in his head.

He’s right on the edge, though, and when Molokov’s smile widens his grip on himself tightens almost painfully in terrified anticipation. Don’t hit me. He can’t, he can’t take it, he can’t take this anymore –

No one is coming for him.

“Did you get enough sleep?” The shark of a man is pacing toward him, leaning down to feel his forehead in mock concern. The memory of his hands on him makes him shudder and turn away – too weak, too hungry, to hopeless to move any further.

There’s no fight left in him. He’s used it up.

“No,” he croaks, and he hopes he catches the accusing tone in his voice. “Fuck off.”

He doesn’t know why he expects mercy this time around.

He finds himself on the ground, his ears ringing. There’s a new lump on his head to add to the collection. He can’t even find that snarky little voice in his head. His lip has finally split and he sucks it into his mouth. The salt makes him gag.

“Know your place, Trumper.

Molokov is circling him again as he tries to sit up, his arms trembling too much to push him all the way up. His stomach makes a pitiful noise, acid churning restlessly. It’s eating at him from the inside out.

(Maybe one of these times Molokov will open the door and he won’t be there at all – just another stain on the floor.)

The floor had been perfectly clean, actually, when he’d gotten here – smooth and dry and cold. Something else he’s managed to ruin.

“Are you ready to admit it, then?”

“No one is coming for me.” He hears it in a monotone – he’s almost sure it’s coming from his own mouth. He doesn’t look at him, but he knows he’s smiling that shark-like smile.

“Very good… Not even Anatoly Sergievsky?”

His face contorts. Fuck you, but he doesn’t dare say it, even in a sob. “No.”

He’s beginning to see it – the cracks in him, himself, and Molokov liked to stick his fingers in them and pry them apart, wider, for everyone to see.

He deserves it, he deserves it; he’s going to die here and he’s going to be glad when it finally comes –

“Speak up.” The gun is at his chin again, pushing it upwards. He glares weakly at Molokov, who stares down at him in vicious triumph. Even this close, his eyes are black. “Well?”

“You’re a bastard,” he says instead, and spits blood in his face.

You hate yourself.

He’s starting to think that Molokov is just right, right about everything, and maybe he’d better give up now before things get really bad.

Molokov smacks him so hard across the face that he cracks one of his teeth, sending him flying to the other side of the room. Blood pours from his mouth. Freddie fights to sit back up, to roll away, but the butt of the gun is already smashing down on his nose – he feels it break a second time and howls wordlessly, scrabbling for some kind of control. The gun slips easily through his blood-slick fingers.

“Wrong move.” Molokov murmurs, deadly soft, and rolls him roughly onto his stomach. His bruised cock scrapes on the cement, earning another pitiful whimper. “Hands and knees, Trumper. I have one more lesson for you.”

“Please,” he sobs, his voice thick with another spatter of blood. His nose is officially swollen all the way shut. His voice shakes, erratic and messy. “Pl-ease let me g-o.”

Please kill me.

Please.

He never thought he’d be begging a Soviet for anything, but what does it even mean anymore? What does he have left, except the pain and Molokov?

“Hands and knees.” The Russian nudges him none too gently with the toe of his boot. “That was an order.”

He’s going to stomp on his fingers next. Freddie can’t stand the thought; somewhere in the back of his mind a person formerly known as Freddie Trumper screams no, no, he needs them, he needs them to play – he yanks them back and slides his hands beneath him, heaving upwards valiantly. Somehow, he still cannot imagine a life without chess.

His damaged knees are throbbing; his face is throbbing. He’s not sure if it’s tears or sweat or blood dripping from his chin, or some combination of the three.

How long had it been since he’d played a proper game of chess?

Well. With someone else. Someone other than him.

(He avoids thinking of them, their names, in case Molokov is planning on washing them right out of his memories because as much as he doesn’t want to remember them right now, while the wounds of betrayal and regret are still wide and bloody, he couldn’t survive if he forgot them.)

He finds himself on his hands and knees. It hurts to move this way – to move at all, actually. He still feels violated. “Please, don’t – please.”

That’s it. He’s broken him.

Game over.

Checkmate.

… So why is he still here?

“It is about time that you gave up on your little friends.” Molokov sounds far from impressed – the mocking tone has gone from his voice, and now it’s just cruel, the pad of his thumb brushing roughly at the mess he’d left behind. “They are not coming for you. They do not even like you.”

He says it like it shouldn’t be surprising, and honestly, at this point, Freddie agrees with him. Who would want you now? Who had wanted him, even then?

“You are too arrogant for your own good, Trumper.” He hears the gun click behind him – the safety is off, now. For a blissful moment he thinks he really is going to shoot him. Instead, he makes a list – he talks while he works, pinching and prodding, as if making sure he’s secure. “You are worthless. You are detrimental – you are psychologically impaired, and even if you weren’t, you are obnoxious.”

“I’m not,” he mumbles feebly, and Molokov smacks him across the back of his head.

“Your father did not want you, your mother did not want you – tell me, Frederick, did the Vassy woman want you? Did she miss you?”

The way he says it makes it sound ugly, impossible. I’ve really missed you, Freddie… But she hadn’t looked that badly, had she? It’s hard to remember – he conjures up a portrait of her, alive, healthy, a glow about her. A wide, coral-colored smile as she wrapped her arms around him.

The bottom of his stomach gives. It grumbles.

“Well?” He’s waiting for an answer. He’s got him where he wants him already – Freddie screws his eyes shut and mutters. “No.”

“No, what?” The gun nibbles at his earlobe seductively. He shakes his head, trying to clear it. It’s useless. His head is full of dark and nothing, Florence and Anatoly and Walter. (But shh, he shouldn’t think of them, he should be focusing.)

It’s impossible to think clearly. All he hears is buzzing.

“She looked okay,” he said, voice tight with uncertainty. That’s apparently good enough for Molokov. The gun is taken away from his skin entirely and he’s able to relax for a moment, assuming that the worst is over. Or – perhaps not the worst, but the constant cold reminder of his own mortality.

It’s brief.

Molokov doesn’t have to wrestle with him to get his thighs to spread, although Freddie is shaking like a leaf in terror as he does it. Please, God, not again – He doesn’t fit himself between them, though. There’s a moment of frightening calm.

“She can live a real life now that you are gone. You Americans, you are all the same. Ignorant and self-centered, obsessed with money.” He scoffs, and suddenly his fingers are spreading his ass cheeks apart like butter – Freddie feels the muscle clench down instinctively, pain shuddering up his spine a second time.

Molokov chuckles darkly in return. “You do not want to do that.”

He doesn’t get a chance to ask why not.

The gun is twenty times colder against the inflamed skin between his legs. His whole body jerks away from the sensation, violently, but Molokov holds fast around his empty stomach and shoves it harder up against him.

“Stay, Trumper.” He warns, ignoring Freddie’s trembling, the way he’s shaking his head, over and mouthing desperate pleas that he can barely put a voice to.

“Please,” he gasps, reaching up to scrabble at his iron arms. Molokov nudges the gun against his sphincter, expectant. No. “Please–!”

“I said stay still,” Molokov snarls and Freddie can’t even imagine his expression for once – he can’t, he can’t he can’t he can’t he can’t –

The metal is unlubricated and doesn’t slide smoothly for the first inch, inch and a half – Freddie goes stock still, trying not even to tremble because what if he sets it off?

Molokov’s voice plays like a terrifying record over the roaring of adrenaline in his ears, vicious and vindictive. “How do you like this game, Trumper? Tell me.” His finger is on the trigger. Freddie knows without even twisting to look. Don’t look. Please don’t. He shoves the gun up further and Freddie prays to God that he doesn’t clamp down, panting loudly, nearly sobbing.

“Well? Tell me.”

“Don’t shoot –” He’s sobbing in earnest, his whole body seizing with the sheer willpower it takes to keep from clamping down and trying to expel the foreign object. It’s not quite as thick as his cock had been but it’s longer, reaches further into him and he brushes against the nerve and Freddie shudders with devastating realization.

Molokov can make him do whatever he wants.

No one is coming to get him.

So as his cock twitches in unwilling interest, he sobs out, “Please don’t shoot.”

Molokov just smiles sadistically, twisting the metal cruelly up inside of him. Freddie imagines the pressure of his trembling body all around it bending it in half, pulling the trigger with it –

“Tell me,” he repeats, low and silky and too-close to his ear, too close, too much. “You hate Walter De Courcey.”

Walter is easy to hate. “I hate him,” Freddie whimpers, his toes cramping. He clenches his fingers, makes his hands into fists as though they will protect him. “I hate him.”

“Who do you hate?” He wants to hear him say it. Freddie spews the words, any words. All of them, if he wants.

Please, please, please don’t shoot!

“Walter,” he gasps, his knees giving way briefly as Molokov thrusts the gun up inside him at the most excruciating angle. It doesn’t bend, but he thinks he feels it tremble with him. God, don’t, please don’t! “Walter, I hate Walter.”

He doesn’t owe Walter anything. He’s not coming for him.

No one is coming for him.

“You hate Florence Vassy.” Molokov continues down the list briskly. His arm is tight around him, but Freddie isn’t struggling anymore. He’s barely even holding his own weight. The gun is buried what feels like miles inside him and Molokov has his finger on the trigger and – “You hate her.”

“I hate her!”

He wants to sob. He does, once, as her face flashes adrenaline-clear before his eyes, watching in horror as he betrayed her. Again. Jesus Christ, he was fucking crazy, he’s going fucking crazy. “I hate her! I h-ate her, I –”

“You hate Anatoly Sergievsky. You hate him.” A sharp thrust – Freddie panics, tries to pull away as it grazes his prostate. Molokov purrs, “He hates you.”

“He hates me,” Freddie gasps, his vision blurring. There are tears dripping from his nose. His heart is pounding harder than should be possible, so strong, so frantic – he’s so weak, though, can’t even sit up. “He hates me. Please –”

A vision comes to him, unprompted, of Anatoly’s face twisted in utter disgust at the sight of him now, submitting

“You hate him.” The sneer is evident in his voice alone, echoing around them. “I will shoot, Trumper. Do not think for a moment that I won’t.”

“I h-hate him,” he manages, and it hurts almost as badly as Florence. The doubt that’s been festering in his gut explodes upwards, takes his heart as well. A streak of shame brands itself across his heart as his cock slowly fills. Molokov presses deliberately on the nerve, so hard that Freddie chokes. “I hate him – I hate him –!”

He’s desperate. He hates him. He fucking hates him.

Molokov still isn’t satisfied. “I thought you might like this game.” There are fingers, suddenly fingers wrapping lightly around the throbbing head of him. Bastard –

 He wishes he were passed out an hour ago, or dead on the floor. Florence and Anatoly inhabit his mind, filling it with their voices, their disappointed faces.

“Would you like to come, hmm?”

“Just don’t shoot, don’t shoot.” Freddie can’t stop sobbing now that he’s started, convulsing with his own self-loathing. Molokov is stroking him in time with each short thrust of the metal into the abused flesh. “Please don’t shoot me.”

Of all of the places Molokov could shoot him, this was easily the worst.

He can’t remember saying ‘please’ so many times in his entire life, outside of his bedroom. (He hates me.) (I hate him.)

Anatoly would never forgive him if Molokov made him come.

Florence would never forgive him for giving her up so easily.

Walter is the one who traded him away in the first place.

No one is coming for you.

“You are a worthless whore, aren’t you?” Molokov snorts. His grip is too hard but the gun is nudging insistently, wracking his body with shudder after shudder, his balls drawing up to his body.

He feels sick, with fear and shame and horrifyingly unwanted arousal, burgeoning until – until – no

“Please –” and he doesn’t even know what he’s begging for, his stomach twisting and shuddering like he might really throw up; his cock gives a final pathetic twitch and he doesn’t feel the pleasure for more than a moment before blacking out.

He opens his eyes several minutes later. There is nothing inside of him. He’s lying in a film of his own spunk.

Molokov is wiping the gun clean with a dark blue rag – the color of his jacket – watching him as he leans against the door. He curls his lip.

“Are you ready to admit it?” he asks, cool and casual. Freddie can still feel his arms like iron around him. His fingers around his cock.

He shudders and curls around himself, and something hot trickles down his thigh.

Probably blood.

He hopes its blood, anyways.

Nobody cares, not even him.

He says nothing, and Molokov only stares at him for a long time. He leaves him to wallow in their combined disgust. Florence and Anatoly both turn their backs away and walk right out of his head, too repulsed by the display to even try to help him.

And Freddie lies on the stone with the bile caught halfway up his throat.

Worthless whore. He is a fucking whore, Molokov’s whore, Anatoly’s stupid whore –

He hates me.

I hate him.

Freddie can’t think of anything anymore.

 

 

He only vaguely remembers being manhandled back into the chair. His arms are bound tightly behind him; the rope work is less intricate, now, as though they know.

Freddie doesn’t struggle. He stares at the wall.

I hate them all.

(Who is he?)

His mind is not a prison. His mind is nothing. Nothing.

Nothing left.

The sound of the clippers seems distant, but he feels them buzzing around his ears, around his head. His hair falls in clumps into his lap, onto his shoulders. It litters the floor in brown clumps, like his thoughts, scattering…

He knows the man, doesn’t know his name. Doesn’t ask. The man doesn’t speak to him, either.

He leaves and takes the buzzing with him.

The world is silent.

Dead.

It occurs to him, fleetingly, that he doesn’t know what he looks like anymore. Probably horrible. Exactly as much of a mess as he feels like, maybe worse. Does it matter? He should be dead already. He’ll beg for it, if he has to.

(It seems strange that he’d been begging for exactly the opposite, just hours before.)

Every heavy breath he takes feels wrong, wrong, wrong.

He could just stop breathing. He could be nothing, too.

This body is heavy and swollen and aching. It’s too much. Nothing more than he deserves, but it’s too much. He thinks (as much as he can think) that he would do anything to feel nothing at all. To be someone completely different.

No one is coming for him.

Molokov returns. (he knows it’s Molokov only because his voice is imprinted on his mind like a set of shark’s teeth, words sunken so far into his subconscious that he’ll never escape them, that they’ve begun to sound identical to his own) Two men whose faces Freddie can’t be bothered to recognize bring in something metal, bulky, and begin setting it up; Molokov circles, once, tightly around him, before coming to block his view.

He leans down to stare into his eyes; Freddie blinks slowly, breaths still coming in ragged pants. His eyes are burning. He hasn’t stopped crying. Molokov’s lips pull back in a deeply satisfied smile.

“I have gotten a hold of a wonderful bedtime story for you, comrade.”

Good. Good. Bedtime. He needs to sleep.

He hopes he never wakes up.

It’s hard to tune Molokov out, though, when he’s got him by the brain stem like he does. He’s forced to stare him in the eye, squinting, waiting for the punch line. For something.

There has to be some reason that he’s still breathing. Some way he’s useful to him.

Please, God, let me be useful for something…

“I thought that you might want to know how your old friend has been doing these days,” he says, pleasantly, as though he’s offering Freddie some fantastic gift – Freddie just feels sick. Friends? He doesn’t have friends – his friends hate him. Everyone hates him. I hate me. He wants to be sick.

“No,” he says pitifully, his voice cracked and broken.

Please, no more –

Molokov steps aside. A projector screen has been erected behind him. Freddie watches helplessly as it flickers to life, the light clicked abruptly off over his head, and Anatoly’s smile is brought to life in enormous, painful clarity.

He backs away from the camera and reveals the scene – it’s Christmas Day, or something like it. Two near-identical little girls are delighted to have him fold his legs beneath him as he sits on the rug beside them, handing each of them a small, wrapped box. On the couch beside them a beautiful woman he’s seen only in photographs smiles faintly as she watches the exchange.

“I don’t want to see anymore,” he croaks, the longest coherent string of words he’s managed in what feels like days.

Molokov pats him on the head. His fingers are unusually warm. Freddie’s scalp is unusually cold. His eyes are glued helplessly to the screen, watching as his most secret dream crumbles into nothing before his eyes.

He does not love you.

“You see,” Molokov says, and he almost sounds sympathetic. His voice is hot beside Freddie’s ear. “He is perfectly happy.”

Anatoly does look happier here, younger even. The crow’s feet have retreated from the corners of his eyes.

Freddie feels like sobbing. His chest aches.

Molokov smiles blandly.

The reel keeps going, bringing him new images – fresh wounds ripped into his already unravelling mind. Anatoly smiles; he laughs; he gathers his family into his arms, and kisses them, and loves them, and Freddie is still here. Bloody, shivering. Alone.

Are you ready to admit it?

He’s ready. He’s far past it.

He’s nothing.

Molokov leaves him to the click of the projector and his memories, as bit by bit they’re torn to tatters.

 

 

You are worthless.

You are worthless.

You are worthless.

You are worthless.                                                                                                                  

You are –

“Comrade. I thought that you might be hungry.”

Freddie blinks sluggishly. He turns his head, and it feels like his neck might snap. Good. He hasn’t looked away from the screen in hours.

Molokov has what looks like a fat sandwich on a plate in his hand, a plain plastic bottle of water in the other. Freddie’s swollen nose twitches; he’s sure that it must smell delicious. Better than the box he’s been living in, anyways.

His stomach growls. It’s about as pathetic as he is.

The Russian comes towards him, without malice, but Freddie tenses in anticipation of the blow he knows is coming. It must be.

Why are you still breathing?

He hopes desperately for it, closes his eyes – the reel behind him clicks again.

The blow doesn’t come.

He opens his eyes. Molokov is holding the sandwich under his nose. He tastes turkey on the air, and despite himself, he feels his mouth begin watering.

“How are you feeling?” Molokov murmurs. His voice is soft, devoid of threat; the only other sound is Freddie’s ragged, erratic breaths, coming obnoxiously through his mouth. He nudges the bread at his lips, gently. “Come now. You must be hungry.”

Freddie’s head spins. This can’t be Molokov. You haven’t earned it –

He opens his mouth to say so and then slowly closes it around the crust, trembling. He hasn’t had anything in his mouth but blood and come in as long as he can remember; this is heavy, real, and sour in the best way against his palate. He watches Molokov the whole time, wary, but the older man only watches him back with a bland smile. The warmth of his congeniality makes Freddie shudder, swallowing hastily.

“I’m sorry,” he blurts, because the only thing in his head is an endless stream of apologies and a dull scream. Kill me, please, kill me. “I’m sorry –”

Sorry for being alive, sorry for being him, for being obnoxious and self-centered and arrogant and American and Freddie and sorry for being at all.

I could be nothing, too.

It aches.

He knows that that face is still on the screen. He can’t even think his name. He can’t think of any of them.

He’s forgotten the little things already. He doesn’t remember the details of their faces; their smiles, their voices. Hers and his and everyone’s.

No one is coming for you.

“Shh.” Molokov soothes, bringing the sandwich insistently to his lips again. “Eat.”

A few straggling tears slip hot down his face. He must be filthy. He feels filthy. (Inside and outside and everywhere, everything.) (Only a pawn.) “I’m sorry.”

“Eat,” the other man insists. He strokes his thumb beneath his ear. Something throbs, dully, but the contact is warm and gentle and good. Freddie closes his eyes again and takes a slow bite. His lips are shaking.

As he chews, he hears Molokov straighten up and circle around him again – the soft sound of his boots on the stone is almost calming. The reel stops its infernal clicking and Freddie could sob in relief.

Instead he swallows, painfully, and rasps, “I’m sorry.”

Molokov returns swiftly to his side, tipping his chin up with warm fingers. “I do not want to hurt you anymore, Frederick. But you must understand.”

He does understand. He does. “I want to die.”

Molokov nods sympathetically. Freddie is soothed by the dark of his eyes; he feels the knot of anxiety tangling up his arteries begin to loosen, and the way the guilt dims with it is miraculous. “You have a choice, comrade.”

“Kill me,” he begs, automatic, and then snaps his mouth shut with instant regret. Don’t interrupt.

You’re worthless.

“You have a choice,” Molokov repeats, setting the plate down gently at his feet and unscrewing the cap from the bottle with a swift twist. He holds it up in offering. “Open up.”

Freddie is willing enough. He licks his lips and parts his lips, tipping his head back. Molokov tips the bottle carefully into his mouth, allowing a tiny stream to fall past his teeth, so cold that he winces.

The bottle disappears, and while he’s busy licking the remnants desperately from his lips Molokov speaks again, seriously. “You are not your country, Frederick. They do not miss you. You should not miss them.”

He tries not to think of the CIA man with his too-wide smile, or of the tiny flag on his side of the chessboard. Chess is worlds away; chess is nothing to him now. I could be nothing. The words stick in his head, along with everything Molokov has ever said. He blinks at the revelation.

“I don’t.”

“Oh?” Molokov raises an eyebrow. He leans down to retrieve Freddie’s sandwich for him, apparently pleased with the color in his face. “You are not a democrat?”

“No.” He’s not anything. He doesn’t know what he is. “I…”

“It is a shame that you were not born into the party,” Molokov laments. He holds the sandwich nearly to his lips again – just out of reach. Beyond the cavalier façade his eyes are glittering darkly with satisfaction. “You could be very useful to us.”

Useful. Freddie strains at the word longingly, the overwhelming ache returning with a vengeance.

Molokov pauses for a moment, allows the offer to sink in. The implication, rather. There is no offer.

You’re only a pawn.

Whatever he might have been, he’s useless to them now. Useless to Molokov, useless to everyone. The sandwich is moist and succulent on his tongue as he opens his mouth, mechanically, to take another bite. It’s just turkey on rye, but there’s nothing ‘just’ in this tiny box of a world.

Freddie swallows past the lump in his throat with difficulty. His eyes sting. “I’m s-orry.” His voice wobbles, on the verge of another breakdown. “I would –”

“Yes?” Molokov is intensely interested in what he has to say, and it’s so startling that he lets his mouth hang open for a long moment as he tries to recall the scattered words, concepts. He swallows again.

“I would – I’ll do whatever you want.” That’s obvious. He doesn’t have a choice, anyways. Doesn’t particularly want one anymore. It’s easier, having the choices made for him.

He’s so tired...

Molokov’s smile consumes him.

“Well. We will see about that, won’t we?”

 

 

It nearly drives him insane to be left alone again.

Molokov had long since untied him, even patted his head when he’d left. (“Good boy.”) He hadn’t allowed him to keep the bottle of water, or the empty plate.

His own muddled thoughts echoed loudly in the confines of his skull.

When the men returned to fetch him, to yank him out of the fetal position, some nagging sense of finality stuck beneath his fingernails. They didn’t need to drag him – he would have gone willingly – but he does dig his heels in, wide-eyed when he sees the open doorway facing him. “Wait –”

Is there really still a world outside of his head?

“Alexander Molokov has ordered you be brought to a new room,” one man informs him. With real nutrients fueling him, if not real rest, Freddie notices that he doesn’t recognize this one. The other, blond and thin-nosed (Christov?) is sneering and silent.

He nods, though, because I’ll do whatever you want and he’d meant it. and he holds his breath as he crosses the threshold, irrationally afraid that he’ll die if he inhales oxygen that hasn’t been recycled by his lungs a hundred thousand times.

Strangely, he finds that he doesn’t really want to die anymore.

Freddie takes very little note of his surroundings as he stumbles along obediently, preoccupied with an ethereal sense of hope like he hasn’t been able to dredge up in so long he’s forgotten what it’s like. His lungs don’t feel sunken so far into him that he can’t reach them anymore. His heart beats, and he doesn’t wish that it would stop. Every step he takes away from that stale and dreadful room leaves him buzzing.

Something is happening. It’s not his place to ask what.

The hall is lined with balls and long stretches of blank stone wall, punctuated by wooden doors identical to the one he’d stared at in so much terror. It’s silent, possibly soundproof. He sees no other prisoners, and is secretly glad for it.

He supposes it won’t really be a secret, though, if Molokov happens to asks him about it. He can’t lie to Molokov.

They turn a corner, and there he is, dressed in royal blue. It can’t have been more than an hour or two since he’d seen him last but Freddie is still taken with the enormous displacement of fear, from his heart to his head.

Molokov can do whatever the hell he wants to him. He can hurt him, kill him... He can save him.

But he’d given Freddie the option.

“You are looking much better, comrade. Perhaps we will have to feed you more often.” Molokov is smiling, extending a hand. Freddie forgets for a moment that his arms are free and just stares at it dumbly, heart pounding with thoughtless anticipation.

He blinks, finally holding up a shaking hand – Molokov grasps his wrist, a little too tightly. He draws him into the cell beside him – the bars are somehow friendlier than his tiny, closed room had been. They seem to whisper words of encouragement as he passes them. This cell is better furnished: there is a bed, at least, shoved up against the wall, something that must function as a toilet in the far corner. Freddie’s bladder gives a pleased twinge at that.

Now isn’t the time for bodily functions, though. “What – do you want me to do?”

Because there is no reward without payment, and he is still filthy, useless, worthless Freddie Trumper.

Molokov smirks. He gestures for the two men to leave – only one, the larger, actually does. He pulls the door shut behind him, and Freddie swears he hears the click of a lock. “You hate them. You are not one of them, are you, comrade?” Molokov is asking, and he has to really concentrate to form a coherent answer. He’s already nodding furiously.

“No. No – I’m not – I want –”

He doesn’t know what he wants. He doesn’t know what Molokov wants. He’s pretty sure that they’re destined to be the same thing.

“Come here,” and he crooks a finger, and Freddie trips over himself rushing to his side. He trembles with the promise of forgiveness. I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

“Very good…” He circles around him slowly, looking him up and down. Freddie licks his lips and stands as straight as he can. He is unaware of how much he looks like a soldier.

(A battered, broken soldier trapped behind enemy lines –)

But… Molokov isn’t the enemy anymore.

Is he?

“Get on your knees.” The command is low, casual, but Freddie responds immediately – anxious to please, he falls awkwardly down on one knee, then both. They throb, and his inner voice tells them savagely to suck it up.

He cranes his neck to look at him from the ground. Please. Please.

The gun is conspicuously absent. Still, he knows exactly where to look for it.

(He doesn’t look.)

“Comrade Christov here was curious about the progress you had made these past few days,” Molokov quips. The thin-nosed man steps away from the door, sneering down at Freddie with his fingers already at the zip of his pants. Of course. “I told him that he would have to see firsthand. You want to be a Russian, don’t you, Frederick?”

“Yes,” he says helplessly, and opens his mouth exactly when he’s told.

It tastes like blood and salt and shame and salvation.

Molokov watches him. He smiles.

“Good boy,” he murmurs, and rests his palm heavily on Freddie’s bobbing head. Freddie whimpers with pleasure.

 

 

“Spa-see-bah.”

Alexander doesn’t wince, but it’s a close call. He nods encouragingly and pats Freddie on the head, as he’s grown accustomed to. Freddie is unshaven, wobbly and hoarse but he smiles with a pathetic sense of pride as he’s touched.

“Correct.”

They’ve been at it for hours. He’s getting sick of being this close to him – he smells horridly of urine, still, and body odor.

It’s been two weeks since Bangkok, and he will admit that the process has been rushed.

Or perhaps Trumper had just been exceptionally easy to break. His general mental state had been far from stable to begin with.

In any case, his superiors will only let this go on for so long until demanding some profit from the venture. Alexander detests having to justify his sadistic tendencies to anyone – but then, it shouldn’t be very difficult.

Trumper was cracked. Now, he only had to train him.

He held up another flash card. They were medium sized, with bold black print for easy reading – the kind that Russian students might begin learning English with in grade school, one simple word at a time. “Now. Tell me, what is ‘please’?”

Freddie is absolutely butchering the pronunciation of his native language, with vigor. Alexander thinks vaguely of bashing his own head into the nearest stone wall.

The cells are cold; the American smells like an outhouse. Alexander reminds himself again to get him into a bath as soon as possible.

Face twisting, Freddie mangles his mouth around the word – “Pah-bal…”

“Пожалуйста,” he interrupts with a sigh, turning the next card over. The pronunciation isn’t really the object at all – Trumper is never going to need to know any of these words, any Russian at all. But the steps of the age-old process are always the same, and it would be foolish to forget any of them.

Break them down, build them back up – obedience and assimilation went hand in hand.

It wasn’t so much that he should be Russian as it was that he should think of himself as a Russian. Only then would he be able to put him to any real use outside of these bars.

Freddie stumbled over the words, one after another. The only two that he could with some degree of confidence pronounce were ‘yes’ and ‘no’.

Alexander holds up another card and lets his mind wander away from the broken, messy syllables. He can see it already – he knows just how to make it happen. Trumper’s face on television screens all over the world, head shaven and eyes dull. Denouncing his own country, in full uniform. A slap in the face for every American; a pat on the back from each of his comrades. Perhaps a new office, even.

He could just as easily kill him, but what a waste of time that would be.

So he sits on the bunk beside him and listens to him splutter through another set of words, and contents himself with imagining the way Anatoly’s face will twist seeing that this man has been broken just like the rest of them.

It was, after all, only necessary. A matter of state security.

Trumper is only a pawn.

But a pawn, if pushed, can be transformed… into any piece he chooses.

 

 

“Your first assignment will not be difficult,” Molokov begins, and every muscle in Freddie’s body goes taut with something like pride. The blue of the stiff fabric against his skin makes him look even sicklier pale than he had realized before, dark on white. It looks as though the dye is bleeding into his flesh where the bruises linger, huge and hungry, even after the vigorous scrubbing he’d been given in the baths that morning.

It’s very easy to forget who put them there; even easier to assume that he’d earned them. That he’d deserved every blow and more.

Comrade Molokov was very generous for letting him live at all. Let alone bringing him here, to his office.

The room is sparsely furnished and deceptively mundane. There is a mahogany desk littered with papers, embossed with the same wreathed star insignia that lies on Molokov’s lapels; there is a filing cabinet behind the desk and an impressive swivel chair as well, navy blue. The floor is sleek and wooden, the walls deep cream. The shades are drawn. They are on the third floor, from what Freddie can remember of the trip up here. He had wrung his hands the whole way, making eye contact with no one.

“I want you to go downstairs –” Freddie breaks out into a cold sweat almost immediately, says nothing. No, no – he relaxes as Molokov continues, voice deep and calming. “And I want you to take care of something for me.”

Freddie has never held a gun in his life. (Someone had offered him one, once, but he can’t remember his name or his face or exactly what he’d said – something about hoodlums in Bangkok, maybe.) (Why had he been in Bangkok? Nevermind – it doesn’t matter.) He turns this one over in his hands gingerly, feeling along the metal shaft.

He would wonder what his first assignment was, but he’s not sure that he’s allowed to wonder.

“Do you know how to shoot a gun, comrade?”

He’s afraid to say no. He swallows. “Ah –”

“No, I did not think so.” A cruel smile unfurls on his face; Freddie does his best not to shiver. He steps out from behind his desk and crooks a finger, beckoning Freddie to follow him. No one accompanies them as they leave his office and tread together down the hall, Freddie stumbling behind him like an anxious child, gun clutched to his chest. “I will show you.”

The last place that Freddie wants to be so soon after his ordeal is the ground floor; they descend to the familiar, quiet hallway, and the silence is beyond unnerving.

Behind each door there is someone screaming, someone as worthless as Freddie had been.

Begging for their life to be ended.

They deserve what they get.

He’d deserved it.

Comrade Molokov had taken him in – given him shelter, a second chance. There’s a faint knot that lingers in his chest, just beneath his heart, which tightens when he thinks about it.

He’s bound to him as tightly as he’d been bound to the chair all those days and weeks and months – however long it’s been. (He’d seen sunlight for the first time, earlier, through the blinds mostly-shut over Comrade Molokov’s office windows, and had been absolutely breathless.)

If he has to thrust a gun up between some unfortunate prisoner’s legs because Comrade Molokov has told him to, then he’s going to do it.

Never mind that his legs are shaking again.

The door they stop beside is identical to the one he’d stayed trapped behind – actually, Freddie has no way of knowing whether or not this isn’t the same room. Ice creeps from some unknown place in the center of him, where Molokov’s words are nested smooth and silky, chilling his bone marrow. He holds out his hand and Freddie hastily places the gun in the center of it – it looks much more at home curled beneath Molokov’s dark fingers.

He clicks the safety off with ease and lifts the gun in one hand, pointing it straight at the middle of his forehead. Freddie doesn’t breathe.

“Squeeze the trigger,” he murmurs low, and smirks as he lowers the gun and presses it back into his hand. Freddie exhales, and it sounds more like a wheeze. “That is all you have to do.”

He steps back nods to the door. “I will be waiting.”

The gun is heavy, heavy and cold in his hand. It feels like the words have managed to squeeze into his veins and clench his fingers for him. The temperature drops. With a swallow and a mechanical nod, he rests his trembling fingers on the handle and creaks the door open, slipping inside.

In the wooden chair set in the center of the room, facing away, there is a small, lithe figure with dark hair. They shudder; Freddie feels the motion of it rattle his ribcage, race down his spine. There’s a flash and he’s in the chair again, tied so tightly he couldn’t even breathe, you are worthless you are worthless, you are worthless, no one is coming for you –

He raises his hand and the gun comes with it. The mouth gasps. He imagines little balls of lead rolling forward, falling from the tip and bouncing harmlessly off the stone.

He can feel Comrade Molokov’s eyes, dark and expectant on him through the wood.

His finger freezes to the trigger.

The figure in the chair tips its head back and sobs, and the sound rips through him like a machete. The gun falls from his hand; he fumbles for it, barely catches it before it hits the ground, and the head twists back at him in desperation.

Freddie’s throat seals abruptly shut.

It’s a child, just a child – a boy no older than he’d been, when – when what? He can’t remember, can’t remember, but it’s just a child, a little boy with bloodshot eyes like his and blue eyes like his and, and, and, “Please.” His voice is scratchy. He says it in Russian. “Please – no!”

Please, please don’t shoot –

It’s impossible to aim the gun like this. He’s never aimed a gun before. He’s never held a gun before –

Cracks, scarlet on gray, peel the lobes of his brain apart and Molokov’s eyes loom like headlights, blaring through the static.

A single shot rings, is muffled by the sick, heavy sound of gore spattering the opposite wall. Freddie gags.

He doesn’t remember leaving the room at all, finds himself with is knees against the stone, his head at Molokov’s hip. There is a hand stroking through his hair. His head is buzzing, leaking – the only things that stick are words, sharp and bloodstained and his hands feel like they’ll never be clean again, and God, where is the gun, where is he –

“Good boy,” Molokov praises, and pats his head. “Very good”

Freddie clenches his fists in his lap and squeezes his eyes shut as the world falls out of his head, leaving it empty and open.

Good boy.

Good boy…

Chapter Text

Moscow, 1980

Sergievsky household

            “Thank you,” Anatoly murmured tiredly, accepting a warm ceramic mug from his wife. She smiled just as blandly back at him, nodding, sitting beside him on the couch and sipping at an identical mug of tea with no pretense of anything but the usual, mutual consensus of this is what we have settled for.

            It was easy to forget, with Freddie and his firecracker romance, that he and Svetlana weren’t the most terrible couple that had ever lived. In fact, they worked almost well together, like some well-oiled machine; it had been nearly twenty years now –

(When was their anniversary, again? Natalia would know)

            – and, he had to admit, Svetlana probably knew him better than anyone he had ever met. Even including – well. He didn’t think of him, anymore.

He tried not to, anyway.

            It was no use thinking of things, people, he couldn’t have. He’d spent his whole life chasing the impossible and now he’d finally been dragged, forcibly, back to reality. He wanted to believe that it was a good thing. Now, he could be the husband and father he had always imagined he could be if he weren’t so damn distractible.

            He also couldn’t play chess, or make long distance calls, or leave the house at all without feeling as though he was being followed. It was possible (probable) that he was just paranoid, but it was much more probable that there was at least one agent on his case, now, after the ruckus he’d created.

            If he could just worm his way back onto the circuit, perhaps he would be able to stop thinking about it. Chess could be the solution now, instead of the problem.

            But, no – no. That was ridiculous, he could never expect to be given a place in the Russian circuit again, or anywhere at all. He wasn’t going anywhere. To the Soviets chess was nearly sacred, and Anatoly was the ultimate sinner. Born and bred to be the champion, and he’d left the regime in a blaze of glory – to go to America, of all places. Traitor. He thought briefly of his youngest brother and smiled wryly despite himself around the rim of his mug, barely even tasting his tea.

            His brother Alexei, the fanatic, and Anatoly, the lecherous traitor. He may as well throw Arik into the mix. Arik, the drunk. The failure. The outcast. The black sheep.

At the very least he could comfort himself with the fact that he wasn’t Arik.

            Morbidly amused, he let his eyes slide from the screen. The news was never any good, mostly propaganda and as he’d heard enough of it to last him several lifetimes the television stayed on mute when he was in the living room. Svetlana was no more interested than he – but then, suddenly, out of the corner of his eye –

            “Freddie,” he gasped, choking off at the end as the mug slipped from his grasp and cracked against the floor, dark tea seeping into the rug. He hardly cared, about that, about anything but the man on the screen. It was only his back and those weren’t his clothes, that wasn’t even his haircut – but –

            No, God. No. No.  His eyes fixated on Molokov’s hand, blurry on the figure’s shoulder. No, God- Fuck. Freddie.

            Freddie.

“Christ – Anatoly!” Svetlana was already out of her seat, watching incredulously as he fell to his knees before the television and fumbled with the volume, listening to the drone of the reporter, spewing “uplifting news” about officers returning home, of the hard work the government was doing to keep its citizens safe.

“Who is that? Is that him?” Like a drowning man, he pointed frantically at the screen, gaping up at her as though she had any clue what he was talking about or who Freddie was at all. “Is that him?!”

“What are you raving about?” She frowned, and went to grab a rag from beside the sink, some cleaner from beneath it, shooing him so that she could kneel down and spray the stain before it set. “Be quiet. You are going to wake the children.”

“He said he was going to let him go.” He slammed his fists weakly on the floor on either side of him, staring helplessly as Freddie’s back disappeared into a building he knew so very well. Rarely did Anatoly want to cry and scream and wail like he did now – even on the flight home, he had at least had the comfort of knowing that he had made the right choice, that Freddie was safe and alive somewhere in the world, if not with him.

“You are going to have to explain yourself in a little more depth, thank you.” Svetlana is nothing if not open with him, glancing up tersely from her scrubbing. On the stairs, he heard the shushes and tiny footsteps and couldn’t find the energy to tell either of them to go back to their beds. Let Svetlana do it – they don’t listen to you, anyways.

“He can’t – he would never have agreed.” Dumbfounded, he’s still staring at the screen at the commercial break, a droning housecleaning advertisement flying right over his head. “He wouldn’t.”

“Who are we talking about?” Sighing, she finally threw her cloth down and straightened up in annoyance, giving him her full attention. He wasn’t willing to give her his – but Svetlana, whom he’d always suspected would have made a great chess player with the proper training, had a way of snapping him back into the moment when he traveled off like this.

She grabbed him by the collar and yanked him right back up and onto the couch, hair tangled around her, nose wrinkled irritably. “You will explain the mess you’ve just made for me to clean up.”

“Freddie,” he replied, voice failing him altogether.

All he could see was Freddie, Freddie in Moscow, Freddie who’d actually kept to his godforsaken word for once – kept his misguided promise from a month ago, thirty four days actually, if they were counting (Anatoly was) (not on purpose) and come here like the idiot he was, just waltzed on into Russia on Molokov’s coattails and expected things to be okay.

If Freddie had managed to get his visa, after all, then Molokov must have had something to do with it. Anatoly clutched at his stomach, face gone flushed red to bone white all in an instant.

Molokov wasn’t inclined to dole out favors for free.

“I have to go see him.” Svetlana narrowed her eyes, her grip tightening near-painfully on his shoulders. Her wedding ring, which somehow still existed on her finger after the past two years, the past twenty, dug through the fabric and would surely leave a perfect crescent mark in his skin for later, if he remembered to look for it.

“You are not going anywhere until you answer me,” she warned, pale blue eyes searching his like they were archives. He was afraid that she might actually find something if she looked long enough.

Because he hadn’t ever explained to her what had happened in Merano, or in Bangkok, or anything in between.

She had made her assumptions and he had let her and that had been the end of it, because it had to be, because “the Vassy woman” was a convenient explanation, because they never talked about the women he slept with, because he’d never even told her that he was attracted to men in the first place or about his brother, or Molokov even, because everything was just going to have to be fine, because Anatoly had no other option.

His other option, though – his preferred option – was here, in Moscow, so close by he was shocked that he hadn’t felt him like an aneurysm upon arrival.

“I- do not have an answer you want to hear.” Swallowing, he managed to rasp it out, eyes darting back to the screen as though it would provide her the answers for him. The next story was playing and it was probably meant to be inspirational, but it was driving Anatoly mad. “Turn that off.”

“Now you want it off?” She shook her head, purely exasperated, and released him long enough to stride over and bend down, switching the television off entirely. There was the distinct patter of little feet again as she approached the stairs – she paused and narrowed her eyes up them, warning. “Natalia, do not let your sister leave her bed again. I am not joking.”

“Yes, mother,” he heard them chorus in chirpy angel’s voices. He didn’t believe them for a moment, but then, they were his children – and he expected no less from them.

“Anatoly –” she began, but he shook his head, exhaling a shaky breath.

“I do not want to talk about it. I have to go – I have – business to attend to.”

“You have no business anymore.” Crossing her arms, she blocked his path to the door, to the stairs, effectively just with the icy way she stared at him. “Do not take me for a fool, you know better. What has gotten into you?”

There was a pleading note in her voice, as there always seemed to be – to let her know him, to try again. Svetlana had not given up as easily as he had, the moment he had taught Freddie to speak the words and heard them murmured, clumsily, back at him. Still, there was a certain nostalgia with Svetlana – it was pesky but constant and he couldn’t shake it. It was not hard to lie to her when he knew that she knew the truth. It was much more difficult to keep those whole two years a secret than it should have been.

He had thought that his days under Soviet supervision would have made him an excellent liar, and if not, the chess would have done the job. But all the chess had done was ruin his life, and Freddie’s as well.

Freddie. Shit.

“Svetlana, I do not have time to explain – I will explain when I find him.” He strode around her, ignoring the hand that shot out to catch his arm, and took his coat from the hook. She watched in something akin to disbelief.

“And I am just supposed to accept that?”

“Sveta – please.”

She hardened her gaze, swiftly marching around and extending her arms to block his exit. He teetered back on his heels, uncertain how to go about getting around her now, chewing at his lip.

“… He is important.” He finally sighed, resigning himself to explanation, however brief he could manage to make it.

“Who is Freddie?” She says his name like an unpleasant taste in her mouth, wrinkling her nose at the harsh, foreign syllables. “The American? Your second?”

“Yes, my – second.” He coughed, wringing his hands anxiously and glancing up at the clock. How long could he wait? How long had Freddie been here? If Molokov had never let him go, then he’d been in his custody for over a month already…

“What is so important about him?” From the look on her face she knows that she’s not going to like the answer, but then, with Anatoly that was nearly always the case. She should know that by now. (She does, but she’s worked so hard to get him back here – and he knows that, and he’ll have time to feel bad for it later when his bones aren’t vibrating with the horrifying sight of Molokov’s hand resting on Freddie’s back like he owned him.) “You are not leaving until you answer me.”

“He is important to me. Sveta, please,” he says again, a desperate note ringing in the air between them. It’s quiet for a long moment, and her eyes flit to his wedding ring, eyebrows pulling together. Piecing it together, as she always did.

“I do not understand.” She doesn’t want to. She meets his eyes again, hesitant now, as though wondering if asking is in her best interest. She has never been able to stop him from straying before and, honestly, she had given up on the whole idea of a monogamous marriage a long time ago; but Anatoly couldn’t leave her now, with the children and the government looking over their shoulder.

Anatoly wants to explode. He wants to scream, and go back home, back to New York. He doesn’t know when that became his home but now that it was, he could never think of Russia as his home again, only his default.

They called Siberia a prison, but he thinks he would rather be there than here.

“I love him,” he tells her, loudly, and the silence is deafening.

“He – is a man.” She’s not naïve. It’s not as though she’d never guessed, not as though she couldn’t have guessed – but she hadn’t wanted to know, and even now she doesn’t want to know, especially now. She’d just gotten him back here. Practically dragged him. “Anatoly. You have a family here.”

“I love him,” he repeats, but his voice wavers. He’s afraid to cry in front of her – somehow he’s always avoided it, even in the dark after a day of practice, of Molokov’s fingers around his throat, of the other obscene things that had happened to him over the years – all in the name of chess, of course. “I have to go to him. I – will bring him back here, and – then we can –”

“I will not let you bring that man into this house, Anatoly.”

“I was not asking permission.”

“The children will ask questions. The Soviets will come for him.”

“I will not let them harm the children. Tell them what you want, Sveta, I have to go – I have to make sure he is not hurt.” He knows that he’s going to be hurt, of course – he hadn’t looked too great the last time he’d saw him, and that was more than a month to go. His stomach clenched again in gruesome panic. “I will be back.”

He slips into his jacket and is out the door before she can tell him no.

Svetlana stares pink-cheeked and empty out the window as the car backs from the driveway and onto the street.

 

 

 

 

Moscow, 1980

Lubyanka Building; Molokov’s office

            Red did not at all suit Freddie Trumper; it was a good thing, then, that Freddie Trumper didn’t exist anymore.

            “Comrade Trumper,” Molokov purred, striding to the desk at the far end of the room and turning on his heel to face him, hands clasped behind his back. “I have another assignment for you.”

            Nodding, Freddie stared blankly back at him. His back was straight, his eyes focused but empty, pale blue and bloodshot. The image of the screaming boy was still imprinted on his retinas, but he had no words to voice it – nor was he probably allowed.

He could safely say that, now, his only goal was to stay out of trouble.

            And, of course, to serve mother Russia.

But that was hardly something he needed to think about.

            Smiling at his response, the other man nodded to the door. Freddie didn’t turn to face the men he heard padding up behind him, not even when one placed a heavy hand on his shoulder – he knew, by now, whose hand that was. “Your comrades Petrov and Christov will be helping to acquaint you to the city. I expect glowing reports.”

            If you fuck this up it’s back to the chair. Be a good boy. Do you understand?

            He can be a good boy, he can be. Freddie understood very well what he meant, and tried not to sweat too much as he nodded again, allowing Petrovich to pull him toward the door. The gun is a comforting weight inside of his suit jacket, although he had barely a clue of how to use it. There’s still blood caked beneath his fingernails…

            “You will return before six this evening. After this you will be expected to be able to navigate on your own.” With an amused look, Molokov gestured out the window and addressed the other two, more experienced agents. “It is a beautiful day, comrades. Do take advantage… I will be here when you return.”

            Petrovich smirked, his thin lips curling so that he could hardly see them. His hand tightened possessively around Freddie’s shoulder, jerking him toward the door. Christoff eyed him with sharp, eager eyes – it seemed that all of the people in this building were eager to see him broken, or to do it themselves.

            He couldn’t blame them, though, because it wasn’t his place.

            Unquestionably, he’d endure whatever these two had planned for him today. Nothing could be worse than the chair. The cell. He shuddered. Nothing.

            So he followed them out through the lobby and into the cold sunlight, and did not think of anything but the low hum of Russian, the street signs and shopfronts, the culture of his new home.

            If this was what it took to make his life worth living, then he would let them take as much advantage as they liked.

 

 

            It occurs to him, belatedly, that he can’t read Russian any better than he can speak it – worse, in fact, because Molokov had never made him scratch his clumsy pleas into the dirt. The street signs, the advertisements, are all alien to him – everything is alien to him.

            Comrade Petrovich’s hand doesn’t leave his shoulder the entire time it takes them to leave the building and walk a good distance, apparently aimlessly. He converses, laughs, with the other man as though they’re old friends, and Freddie remembers Molokov and doesn’t feel left out at all.

            This is his home. This is his life. He’d chosen this life.

            Comrade Molokov had chosen him.

            He wishes that he could take notes, except that Comrade Molokov would probably prefer them in Russian, and try as he might he could make no sense of the characters staring back at him from every building, every sign, and every taxi cab. Even so, everything – from the crisp fabric on his shoulders to the chill of every gust against his bare face – feels holy to him while he’s here.

            I’m home.

            He’s calm. He’s ready. He will not let Comrade Molokov down. He’s been so good since he got here, he’s made so much progress. He can do this.

            They seem to be travelling nowhere, but Freddie is careful not to think of it that way. Instead he admires that his Comrades seem to know exactly where they’re going; he admires the way the foreign words flow from their tongues as they sit down and order at the bar and tell Freddie to find somewhere to be, something to do.

            The bar is full of strangers who look at him and do not know who he is or who he used to be. (He doesn’t know who he was, either; they have something in common, at least.) But Russians are friendly, even more so than Comrade Molokov had lead him to believe; they offer him drinks, which he cannot politely refuse and nurses nervously for one hour or two, maybe, however long it takes before Petrovich returns to yank him out of his chair, murmuring gruff and sweet, “Come, comrade, for the rest of your training.

            He nods, face gone pale. “Of course,” he agrees (of course he agrees) shakily, and follows as he’s lead to the door. The other patrons pay no mind to him, wary of men in suits. This is Moscow and they are far from unaware.

            They lead him out into the autumn chill again. People on the sidewalks give them a wide berth. Freddie blinks uncomprehendingly at a group of children that barrel past, laughing and shouting.

            He knows he was a child once, but he can’t remember…

            But it was pointless to remember back then, when he’d been useless and filthy. Comrade Molokov wouldn’t want him to remember that – then he might slip back into his old habits, and he’d be a liability. Freddie wants to be an asset. Freddie wants to be in Russia – he wants to work for Molokov, do exactly as he says, and know that this is exactly where he’s meant to be. This is where he’s useful.

            The alley that he stumbles into is not any warmer nor any more inviting – it’s dim and the brick is stained with something dark, the ground damp. There is a Dumpster nearby giving off a foul smell, which he pointedly does not wrinkle his nose at. He felt his heartbeat thrum and focused on that instead, and on Comrade Petrovich’s large fingers as they closed around his biceps and he was shoved up against the wall, biting his tongue to prevent a pathetic noise from escaping.

            He shouldn’t do that. They would want to hear, probably – he unfastens his teeth and lets out a whimper in compensation. “Ahh – where are we now?”

            He’s supposed to be learning the lay of the land but he hasn’t a clue how to even read the street names, let alone pronounce them. Let alone navigate them. Comrade Molokov would punish him if he came back with nothing at all.

            “Oh, it does not matter. I will find you a map.” Comrade Christov is the only man in view – he shrugs casually, smiling. His canines seem slightly too sharp. If Freddie hadn’t been so thoroughly trained to think of him (and all of them) as friend and not foe, he would be right on edge. As it is he just swallows, nodding, his cheek scraping the brick.

            Comrade Petrovich yanks his belt loose and his pants down his thighs, to his knees. “Spread your legs,” he commands, low and menacing – as if he needed to be. Freddie did exactly as he said, hardly noticing that he was trembling. It wasn’t his place to question.

            There was a cold, smooth object – a rod? A glass bottle? – pressed between his legs and he clenched himself shut instinctively, rising on his tiptoes. It shoved insistently inside, just a fraction of an inch. Freddie’s head spun. The two men behind him were laughing at something. He gritted his teeth and shut his eyes and didn’t ask, didn’t ask why.

            He must have done something to deserve this.

            He’d take it even if he hadn’t.

 

 

 

Moscow, 1980

Somewhere downtown

            Navigating the busy streets of Moscow at this time of year – the bite just coming into the air, the women still hanging their laundry out to dry strung between buildings – was agonizing. Even more so than driving in the city normally was. Anatoly made it halfway to Lubyanka Square before abandoning his car on the side of the road, fumbling with his seatbelt and stumbling out onto the sidewalk like a drunk.

            Freddie’s blurred image on the television screen was all he could see. He had to remind himself that it wasn’t polite to shove, that he couldn’t just plow through the clumps of friends and lovers on the sidewalk, chattering about their day.

It was going to be dark soon. He had to find him, before it did.

            Before Molokov did anything else to him.

            Looking anxiously to the building towering in the distance, he sped up and nearly missed the characteristic sound of Freddie’s yelp from a slip of an alley between a bar and a dry cleaning business.

            “You like that, do you, comrade?” That voice was familiar, too. Anatoly stopped and stepped back, peering into the dimness in growing trepidation. Two large men in tan Soviet jackets crowded another, scrawnier man against the wall and –

            “Yes,” the smaller man gasped, and didn’t at all sound like he meant it. His voice shuddered and cracked, tortured. “Yes, I – I like that.”

            “I think that you should thank me for it,” the larger of the men taunted, his hand moving, a gleaming object disappearing from Anatoly’s line of vision. The smallest man’s breath hitched in a near-sob. “Go on.”

            “Th-ank you,” he moaned in return. From where Anatoly stood it looked as though his legs would buckle any moment, but he still couldn’t quite see why. His body was too-skinny, his voice too raw, but he couldn’t mistake it. He found himself abandoning his good judgment just like he had the car, on a whim, as he stepped into the alley and tried to make himself appear taller.

            “What the hell are you doing?” His shout echoed off the brick, bouncing back and forth and side to side until it died at the opposite end. The less bulky assailant twisted back to look at him and nudged his crony hard with an elbow.

            “Let him go!” He took another step forward, prepared to shove them aside, although he doubted that he could actually overpower either of them. In the time since he’d been sentenced back home he’d grown gaunt and inactive, preferring to stay in bed than go outside where he would be followed and watched.

            The larger man turned to face him and he caught a glimpse of the bottle in his fist before he looked up and realized that he’d been right – Freddie’s head was twisted to the side, his eyes squeezed shut in pain. His hair was buzzed nearly to his scalp. Freddie. “Get away from him!” He heard himself shouting but he couldn’t remember authorizing the words, already balling his hands into fists as he advanced on them.

            He doubts that he actually looks all that menacing, but Freddie looks frightened. The man jerks the bottle from between his legs casually, holding it up in a shrug. His eyes are dark, unreadable. What are you going to do, hm? Tolya. Long time no see.”

            “Don’t call me that,” he snaps, stepping around him. Freddie stiffens when he lies a hand on his back. “Wouldn’t your master like to know you’ve overstepped your boundaries?”

            “I have no boundaries.” Petrovich’s eyes gleamed manically; Anatoly did his best to keep his legs straight and still. He did remember this man.

            “Whatever your orders were, I doubt this was included.” He glanced down at Freddie’s exposed thighs, flushed and speckled with something that Anatoly very much doesn’t want to think about. He strokes his thumb reassuringly against Freddie’s neck, glaring at his captors. “Leave. I am not letting you take him back.”

            For a moment he thinks that Petrovich will simply wrap his enormous hands around his neck and crush the threat out of his vocal chords; but he’s backing away already, beckoned by his comrade whose name Anatoly can’t put his finger on. He sneers past him, at Freddie. “You remember your orders, Trumper.”

            “Of c-ourse,” Freddie says, nodding, strangled and anxious. “I will be back by – by six. Tell Comrade Molokov that I will be back–”

            “Sure.” Snorting, he turned away. The two of them disappeared onto the far street, leaving Anatoly and their captive to the silent chill of the narrow alley.

            Comrade Molokov. Anatoly doesn’t know that he likes hearing those words from Freddie’s mouth. He clamps down on the growing knot in his stomach, smiling tensely as he turns back to Freddie. “Are you alright? God, Freddie, I’ve missed you.”

            Freddie doesn’t look as though he’s missed him at all. He’s pale and edgy, his limbs shaking – he doesn’t move to roll off of the wall or even pull his pants up. “I don’t know my way back. I was – supposed to be learning the street names – God damn it.” The last bit comes out in a breathy, desperate sort of noise, his eyes falling shut and his forehead falling back against the brick. Anatoly hesitantly reached down to help him, tugging a belt loop upward. Freddie did nothing more than wince.

            “You do not have to go back, now.” He was waiting for some sort of elation. He was waiting for Freddie to tackle him, tell him how much of a bastard Molokov was. Freddie cowered silently. “I will not turn you in. I have strings that I can pull – I will get Walter on the phone. I am sure he has been looking for you–”

            “I need to get back. Comrade Molokov says that I have to be back by six, or he’s going to – to…” His voice fails, his face gone absolutely ashen. Anatoly stares in dim recognition of something he’s seen countless times, coming and going from Lubyanka Square.

            There’s a couple of ways to test it, but he doesn’t think he wants to know…

            He has to know.

            “Freddie,” he says slowly. Freddie doesn’t so much as look up. He’s got his back to the wall now, leaning on it heavily, as though trying to get as far from him as possible without running away. “Freddie – you know who I am.”

            “You’re Anatoly Sergievsky.” The way he says it is awkward. Foreign. Anatoly feels a chasm open somewhere between his lungs.

            “Freddie. It is me. You love me.” He reaches for his hand and is almost surprised that Freddie lets him take it, with the frightened way he’s eying him. Suspicious, almost. Dim. “I love you. I have not seen you in – in months.”

            After a long pause, Freddie finally clears his throat, reluctantly speaking. “My name is Comrade Trumper. Frederick.” He coughs, turning his head to the alley’s mouth longingly. “I really have to be getting back, I don’t know what time it is.”

            “It’s quarter to four.” This isn’t Freddie. Where is Freddie. Anatoly was struggling not to panic now, squeezing his hand, pressing closer. His other hand cupped his jaw and Freddie barely breathed. “Freddie. No one is making you go back there.”

            “Comrade Molokov will be disappointed.” The anxiety creeps into his voice again, stifling. He sounds as though he can’t breathe, either. “I have to follow my o-orders.”

            “Since when do you take orders from Soviets?”

            “I have to follow my orders.”

            “Freddie…” They were going to report him – worse, report him to Molokov. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. No time to waste, then. He was certain he could snap Freddie out of it, but he couldn’t do it here. “I’ll bring you back.”

            “Please.” Freddie’s eyes widened – they were bloodshot and he looked exhausted. What have they been doing to you? “Please, thank you – I have to be back by six.”

            “You’ve mentioned.” The smile is going to fall right off of his face and crack in two on the dirty pavement. He extends a hand. “Come on. I’ve got a car.”

            “Okay,” Freddie agrees with a gusty sigh of relief, and places his hand readily in Anatoly’s.

 

 

            The car ride is expectedly awkward.

            Anatoly is thrumming, his heart stopping with every bump in the road. Their car is old; he’s rarely ventured into the city since his return. The winter was coming fast and it was time to start planning their move back into their apartment, back to the city, where at least the government would keep them warm.

            Personally, Anatoly wouldn’t mind living in the dacha for the rest of his life. He knew that Svetlana didn’t share the sentiment.

            Freddie is silent, which is unnerving in itself. He’s never known Freddie to allow silence for more than a few short moments, except occasionally in bed if his lips were otherwise occupied. This Freddie doesn’t look like he knows what a bed is. He doesn’t cross his legs or bounce his foot like Freddie; he doesn’t tap his fingers or play with the rearview mirror like he always had in New York, didn’t make sarcastic comments on passerby. He didn’t say a word – he sat there, still and silent, staring at his hands in his lap.

            Anatoly wondered if it was more awkward because they were strangers, or because he was essentially kidnapping him.

            “We’re nearly there,” he tells him with another strained smile and Freddie dips his head like he’s used to it.

            “Thank you,” he says again. Anatoly jerks his gaze back to the road, the chasm in his chest tearing wider.

            This isn’t Freddie. Not his Freddie, not even Florence’s Freddie.

            What did Molokov do with him?

            “How have you been?” It sounds as absurd as he’d thought it might. They’ve left the city boundaries and crossed onto the dirt roads outside of it, a long stretch of highway. Commuters zoomed past them in both directions, eager to get home, anxious to get to work on time. His knuckles were white around the wheel. “I must confess, it’s been boring without you.”

            In the mirror he could see Freddie blinking at him, uncomprehending. “…I’m sorry?”

            He plowed on, trying to maintain his cheerful façade. “My wife was not pleased to hear that you were here – I was not either, actually.” He sounds hysterical. He needs to get a handle on himself. “What are you doing in Russia, Freddie?”

            He doesn’t want an answer. He definitely doesn’t want an answer.

            “Russia is my home,” he says with a touch of pride, so well-rehearsed that he flushes with the way he’s been waiting to say it. The car swerves a little; they’re lucky that Anatoly doesn’t crash it into the nearest pole.

            His voice is stretched so thin and scratchy it might as well be made of paper. Sandpaper. “No, no, actually, I do not think it is,” he says with something resembling a laugh. He thinks he might have gone right off the deep end with him, just seeing him like this. He thinks that he’d like to kill Molokov with his bare hands for what he’s done to both of them. “Russia was my home, Freddie. Never yours. Now both of our homes are in America.”

            Frail as he is, Freddie’s face hardens immediately. “I’m never going back there,” he spits, as though it’s the vilest thing he could have suggested. He focuses his glare out the window, lip curled – he almost looks like Freddie again, bizarrely.

            Anatoly wants to touch his hair. It’s so short, choppy – whoever had done it hadn’t taken very much care with the razor.

            The car slowed as they approached the house and Anatoly eased on the pedal, shifting gears. Freddie blinked as they stopped and looked up, alarmed and shaky again. “What – this isn’t the place, this isn’t where I have to be!”

            “I will take you there,” he repeats, smiling tightly. He has to buy them some time. He hopes that Svetlana will change her mind upon seeing this living, breathing, pathetic, broken man.

            Then again, the last two might only apply in Anatoly’s head. He still remembered Freddie as he was – the memory was slipping in the face of reality. Meek, obedient reality…

            He can’t just let Molokov get away with this. It had to be illegal. Somehow.

            (He really doesn’t think he can count on that.)

            “Come on, come in,” he beckons as he slides out of the driver’s seat. The soles of his feet tingle with the knowledge that he’s not safe, not even here. He’s certain there’s at least one government man around, just watching as he’s been paid to do. Keep surveillance on the traitor, Anatoly Sergievsky. He fights a scowl – he doesn’t want to make Freddie any more skittish.

            He got out slowly, cautiously looking around as though he expected to be ambushed any moment. “Comrade Molokov said to be back by six…”

            “I will have you back by six,” Anatoly promised. He smiled again and extended a hand. Freddie was hesitant to take it this time but he did. His hands were unusually cold. “Come inside. I am sure Svetlana will have dinner started.”

 

 

            Upstairs in their attic bedroom, the curtains shift as two little girls peek down at the two men in the driveway curiously.

            Emilia turns to her sister. “Who is that man? I haven’t seen him before.” Her sister gives her a long look, old enough to be suspicious of any strange man in her yard.

            “He’s a government man. Look at his uniform.” She points, narrowing her eyes at the characteristic tan jacket. “He looks like a soldier…”

            “Don’t point!” Her sister smacks her finger down. “That’s rude.”

            “They can’t see us!”

            “Well… Maybe we should tell mother?” Emilia chews her lip, endlessly nosy. She doesn’t really want to have to tear her eyes away but the man will be downstairs in just a moment anyway, and then she can get a closer look. “I hope he stays for dinner.”

            For once, her older sister agrees with her. “Okay. We should dress up. We never have guests.” But Emilia is already flouncing down the stairs in excitement, blonde bouncing around her head. With a frown at her dresser drawers, Natalia reluctantly trailed behind her.

            Their father’s key is already in the lock – downstairs, the smell of cooking beef is twice as pungent. Emilia’s stomach growls; she wanders into the kitchen where Svetlana is setting the table, neat and precise as always. She turns and frowns at the sight of her daughter peeking in. “Emilia, dinner is not ready – you know I do not like you playing with the silverware before it is time to eat.”

            “Daddy brought a friend home,” she quipped, and slipped around her mother to hop up into her chair. Svetlana turned to purse her lips in disapproval, the words filtering through to her slowly.

            “A friend.” Anatoly doesn’t have friends. “What kind of friend?”

            “Svetlana!” Anatoly’s voice shatters the homey quiet – she turns slowly and watches as he pulls a thin, twitchy-looking man inside behind him before shutting the door. “I have brought a guest for dinner, I hope you have made enough for five.”

            It travelled unspoken between them, a single frigid line of thought that clashed between them as they met each other’s eyes.

            How dare you.

            How dare I?

            Anatoly was stubborn, but he couldn’t possibly be this stupid. She furiously turned away and began slicing the loaf of rye on the counter. “There is plenty to go around.” She managed to remember her English, although she was unable to smile. The girls exchanged a nervous glance, their eyes fluttering about the stranger still standing in the doorway, wringing his hands. He was staring at the clock doubtfully.

            “I have to be back by six,” he says, and Svetlana gets the feeling this isn’t the first time he’s said it. Anatoly tightens his grip on his wrist, practically dragging him into the kitchen.

            “Of course, I will have you back by six.” It’s quarter to five. “Sit down, take off your shoes – where are your sneakers?”

            “Comrade Molokov gave me my new uniform.” Freddie sounds proud of himself; Svetlana slams the knife down, sweeping the crumbs on the counter into her palm and walking them to the garbage bin. “If I follow my orders he’s giving me my own office.”

            Anatoly’s smile turns painful, like if he parts his teeth for even a moment they’ll crumble. Emilia pats the seat beside her, beaming. “Hi!”

            Blinking owlishly, Freddie found himself pressed down into the seat beside the bouncing girl, completely at a loss. “… Hello.” Molokov had taught him how to obey orders, but not how to interact with children – or civilians at all.

            “My name is Emilia.” She said it proudly in English, leaning into her father’s hand as he stroked her hair, almost proud. Her lessons were paying off. “Are you a soldier?”

            “Ah – no.” He didn’t think he was. He frowns, unsure now. She’s unperturbed.

            “Do you work in the city? I like your suit.” She reached over the table to touch his jacket and Svetlana looked murderously over his head at her husband. Anatoly pretended that he couldn’t feel her eyes like chips of ice embedded in his throat. “What’s your name?”

            For a moment he looked almost confused, and cleared his throat. “Comrade Trumper.”

            “I told you he was a government man,” her sister said fervently, in Russian. She still clung to the door, too nervous to approach the strange man sitting at the table. He smelled like beer, but he didn’t appear drunk like her uncle did when they saw him on Rozhdestvom or on May Day, visiting their grandparent’s home. Svetlana shooed her.

            “Go to your room,” she said firmly, glancing to Emilia without much hope. “I will call you when dinner is on the table.”

            “Why doesn’t she have to come?” She frowns, staring at her sister with a quiet sort of frown. Svetlana shook her head and leaned down to kiss her forehead, patting her cheek.

            “Go on. I will try to send her up.” She doesn’t promise anything, smiling weakly. Behind her Anatoly is fiddling with the coffee pot, asking loudly, “How many sugars would you like, Freddie?”

            “I’m not allowed to have coffee,” Freddie sighs, leaning his head into his hands. All that Anatoly can think is that he must be tired; he persists, sitting in a free chair and placing a hand over his, ignoring the way he stiffens. How long has it been since somebody touched you like this?

            “Well, you are allowed here. How many sugars would you like?” He counts them mentally, watching his lips and waiting for them to form the familiar shapes. Ten sugars, four creams. (“It’s divisible.”) (“How do you figure?”) (“By two and a half, dumbass.”) Freddie just grimaces. The coffeepot growls.

            “I don’t think I’m allowed.” As though Molokov has to authorize his every move. Everything he eats, drinks, touches. His lungs fill with fire for a brief moment; he could douse that man in gasoline and yell until he combusted, and they were safe, and Freddie was Freddie again. Freddie. “I don’t like it, anyway.”

            “Anatoly, I would like to speak with you in private.” Svetlana stands with her arms crossed in the doorway, her eyes burning with the same brand of fire. He looks up at her slowly, refusing to feel guilt.

            “Later.” He tries to brush her off, absurdly, as though she’d really allow it. Freddie is oblivious, looking hilariously awkward as Emilia continues to tug at his jacket, talking his ear off. She’s slipped into Russian; Freddie doesn’t seem to care.

            “Not later.”

“After dinner.”

            “Now.”

            Freddie watches anxiously as he pushes himself from the table, reluctant and reminiscent of a kicked dog. The clock reads 5:05.

            “I have to be back by six,” he calls, rubbing his clammy palms on the front of his pants. Anatoly waves a hand, nonchalant. The hand on the clock twitches another centimeter.

            Emilia tugs his jacket again. “Is that blood?”

 

 

            “What were you thinking?” The words burst from her in an explosive whisper the moment they’re alone. Anatoly winces and brings a finger to his lips, knowing as he does it that it will only make things worse. It does.

            “That man is not staying in my house!” She’s upset. He hates when she’s upset. Things were going so well.

            But he can’t regret it. He won’t. Freddie.

            “It is not for forever. I can call Walter – I’m sure he’s been looking. He’s a public figure, Sveta.” It’s a weak argument, made weaker still by the last admission. If Freddie was a public figure, then he was valuable; Walter wasn’t the only one bound to be looking for him now. “Just for the week.”

            “I will not have you putting my family in danger. Haven’t you caused enough damage here? Let him go, Anatoly.” Her cheeks are flushed, her long nails dug into the meat of her palms.

            “I won’t let them have him–”

            “He does not even want to be here! Let him go back to wherever he wants to go, he is not my problem.” He feels the heat rising in his spinal cord snap tautly, unstable, and narrows his eyes.

            “You’re being heartless,” he spits, under his breath. He waves a hand toward the man in the kitchen who is not Freddie. “I am not going to just hand him over to the Soviets.”

            “But you could! And spare us the visit – if you have lead those men into my house again, I swear. Anatoly.” She blinks hard enough that he almost feels badly. Don’t cry. We’re a family.

            They were a family.

            “The children still have not forgotten the last time you left us,” she says lowly. He comes hesitantly forward, wanting to comfort her, wanting comfort himself. Why was everything always broken, here? With her. With him.

            Maybe he’s the problem.

            He shakes the idea from his head. “I will call Arik,” he murmurs as his arms encircle her waist, not without a touch of desperation. “He will take him – and I will make some calls.”

            “You know they’ve tapped the phones,” she whispers. Together like this, they’re both frightened in unison and Anatoly remembers a time that he loved his wife, those few and far between moments.

            “I will find a payphone. It is not impossible.” Optimism. It never failed. (It always failed.) He smiles, presses their foreheads together. “I only have to get him out of the country, and then things will return to normal.”

            Her features contort – even tearful and strained, she was strangely beautiful. He hates his parents for arranging this disaster of a marriage. “No… no.” Her hands came up between them; he stepped away, as though she had actually pushed him. “Do not do this to our family.”

            Her voice is quiet, but her words are loud.

            “Svetlana–” Her hair is long and silky blonde and he can still feel it brushing his knuckles. She stares at him, hard and silent, and his voice fails him; he glances back into the kitchen. Freddie is still conspicuously absent.

            She’s right, of course. Always right about him. Everyone is right about him.

            But nobody has ever been right about Freddie.

            “I love him,” he says, again, and the heat rushes out like tears through the cracks in his ribcage. Arik, Svetlana, Natalia, Emilia. Freddie.

            “He can stay for dinner.” She touches his shoulder and he leans into the contact like an old man, his hands clutched to his heart as if that will keep it from falling out. After a moment she takes it away, leaving him to grieve.

            The clock reads 5:15.

 

 

Moscow, 1980

Lubyanka Square

            The clock reads 6:24.

            Freddie doesn’t so much as tap his foot.

            “I have to be back by six,” he says again, as though that will make turn the clocks back. He’s nearly doubled over with anxiety; his forehead rests on the dash.

            They’re strangers in a car and all Anatoly can do is agonize over it; even as he pulls to a stop across the street from the ominous building, (yellow, like happiness inverted) he can’t stop stealing glances at the body that Freddie used to inhabit.

            He must be in there, somewhere.

            The nice thing about this Freddie, he supposes, is that he doesn’t sprint from the car the moment he shifts it into park. He does, however, sit up and stare anxiously at him – waiting for permission, presumably. Anatoly twists in his seat, catching his eye.

            “Don’t you know me?” He doesn’t care, he doesn’t care how it sounds. Svetlana can’t be right. No one is right about Freddie Trumper. “Freddie. Look at me.”

            Desperate is becoming a permanent state for him.

            Freddie looks at him. His eyes are empty, pinprick pupils in washed-out irises. Weren’t they blue? They look more gray than anything, now, against the pale of his face. “Your name is Anatoly Sergievsky.”

            “You know me.” The chasm – he hadn’t forgotten about it, impossible – widens. Desperate, desperate… “Look at me.”

            He would have to let him go, again. Eventually.

            Not yet.

            Freddie just stares back in vague alarm, guilty. “I’m looking.” It’s not even sarcastic. Anatoly feels the nausea creeping into his gut; he suspects that his dinner hasn’t even begun digesting.

            “Look at me.” Don’t cry. He’s not even sure he has the tears to spare. Here he is, Freddie Trumper, right in front of him as he’d wished for months – here he is, and he’s not Freddie Trumper at all. “You know me, Freddie.”

            There is a short, dark figure leant against the wall that he refuses to think about.

            Don’t look.

            “That’s not my name.” He can tell that he’s growing restless, and almost welcomes it – his face has twisted in some redundant effort to recall things that have evidently been gouged from his memory. Freddie. It’s stupid of him, so goddamn stupid. He can’t afford to get his hopes up.

            He can’t afford to give Freddie up, either, but here he is. There has to be another way…

            I’ll call Arik.

            He grimaces. He really is desperate.

            The figure steps off of the wall and strides toward them from across the street. With every step his features grow clearer; Freddie glances away just for a moment and it catches his gaze like a thorn, pupils thickening.

            The clock, fixed on the building far above them, reads 6:28.

            “I have to be back by six,” he says again, but it’s faint. The only hint of fear is in the way his legs curl against the seat, the tremble in his fingers. He looks so frail – Anatoly wonders how he hadn’t been blown away, earlier.

            “Please look at me,” but it’s futile. Molokov’s eyes glitter in the orange light as the streetlamps flicker on. Nearby there is a train screeching to a halt, probably boarding. People will be retreating to their homes, settling in with their families. Just where they want to be.

(Still others will be shipped to Siberia, later when it’s quiet and dark and nobody will have any illusions as to where it’s headed.)

(Anatoly has a feeling he’ll be joining them soon enough.)

“Freddie. Don’t look at him. Don’t–” but Molokov’s presence has overridden his, and Freddie is reaching for the handle, his eyes fixed on his face.

Molokov opens the door for him, peering inside. “Comrade. You are late.” His eyes slide over his shoulders and creep like tentacles around Anatoly’s neck. He stares back, eyes cold, chest burning. “Anatoly Sergievsky! What a wonderful surprise.”

They’d told him, of course they had. Bastards.

“It has been a long time,” he continues with a saccharine smile. Freddie swallows, begins to slide out of the car, and Molokov steps aside to let him. He claps a hand on his shoulder, possessive – I own this. “I see that you have met my newest trainee.”

“Don’t touch him.”

“Now, now.” He squeezes his shoulder smugly, and Freddie leans into it. Anatoly wants to burn his eyes from his skull – he can’t take them away from the point of contact. The blurry image on the television had been nothing in comparison. “Don’t be cross. He is my property.”

“You said that you would let him go,” he hisses, his fingers like vices around the wheel. The leather creaks under the pressure. Why trust a politician?

He’s not even sure what Molokov is – sometimes a diplomat, and other times… this. Whatever this was. Freddie was strangely relaxed, eyes darting about, bright again. His tongue darts to wet his lips nervously.

“Would you not believe that he wanted to stay?” His grin widens; they’re on the same level, he and Molokov.

You shouldn’t have trusted me, and

I’m sorry I did.

It wasn’t as though he’d had another option.

“How much do I have to pay you? I’ll write a check.” The government paid both of their bills. Anatoly stared him down, hoping he’s been clear. You are not allowed to have him. Molokov tastes the words on the air, breathes them in with a smile, as though his pathetic attempt at negotiation is refreshing to him. “Take me instead.”

“Oh, believe me. There are eyes on you already.” He laughs shortly. “I think you had better come with me, for the time being. We can continue this conversation upstairs.”

Upstairs. Anatoly glances back at the building, to the clock and then downward at the statue of Iron Felix that stood proudly on a pedestal overlooking the third story. He grows exponentially more anxious the longer he stares at it.

He doesn’t like to think about the possibility that Molokov has earned himself a promotion with Freddie’s capture, but it’s there and it’s real, and it’s going to drive him insane.

He doesn’t like to think of Molokov at all, if he can help it.

He can’t just abandon Freddie here, though. Not with Molokov’s paws all over him. Freddie. He gritted his teeth. “Why not continue it out here?” With witnesses.

Molokov could get away with shooting him in the forehead in the soundproofed safety of his office, but he sure as hell couldn’t get away with it on a busy street.

“You do not trust me?” The other man clutched his chest, feigning hurt. Anatoly’s eyes latched onto the faint outline of his gun on the inside of his jacket. It’s dark to contrast with the one Freddie wears, but he’s seen that bulge too many times to count. He feels a growl building in his throat, protective and suicidal. “I am hurt. Come – it will only be a few minutes. I would not keep Svetlana waiting.”

            There’s an edge beneath his dulcet tones, steel. This is not a choice. Anatoly scowls, twisting his key from the ignition. The car goes silent and all he can hear is Freddie’s measured breaths and his own heartbeat which he’s sure would put a helicopter’s blades to shame. It chopped at his ribcage, mangled it. Freddie, Freddie, Freddie.

            “You know nothing about me. Or my wife,” he mutters, but he’s out of the car, following behind them as they duck through the slowing flow of traffic.

Since they’d taken an interest in him, twenty years ago and then some, he’d known the way from the front doors to Molokov’s office by heart. The knot in his gut throbbed with the irony of the pristine beauty of the pale green walls he’d familiarized himself with as a teenager.

As far as Molokov was concerned, Anatoly’s life had always been his business.

            Freddie wasn’t so familiar, but he trotted after Molokov like the most obedient dog – again, Anatoly wondered if Walter would even recognize him if he did find him. There must be some reason Molokov had gone to all of the trouble to bring him here, do this to him…

            Whatever it was, he was as good as dead if Anatoly ever got his hands on a gun.

            “Why don’t you tell our Comrade here how much you like it here in Russia, hmm, Trumper?” Molokov smiled, sharp and sinister. Anatoly wondered, if he touched his face, if the putrid wax paper façade would peel off and melt between his fingers. Freddie nodded, eager to agree with him.

            “I’m happy here,” he told him, glancing back at Anatoly so sincerely that it’s almost painful. He turns away; for the first time in years he doesn’t want to see Freddie’s expression while he talks. He doesn’t want to see him at all. He feels sick. “Comrade Molokov has given me a second chance–”

            “A chance to work for the Soviets. Yes, Freddie, I’m sure that’s exactly what you wanted.” He’s not sure the American catches his sarcasm, but Molokov does, visibly fighting a laugh. Ha. Ha. Funny.

            “If you would just step into my office,” he hears him say, although his lips are still twitching with amusement. Anatoly glares. He follows in Freddie’s tracks.

            Molokov shuts the door behind them quietly – the click of it is audible in the silence, though, enough to make his heart jump against his ribcage again painfully. Freddie stands eagerly in front of his desk, twisted back to look for further instruction.

            “What do you want, Alexander?” He watches the veiled hardening of Molokov’s expression at the deliberate informality with a grim sort of satisfaction. Maybe I am suicidal. It certainly wouldn’t be the worst thing that could happen, at this point. He’d rather kill himself than let Molokov take away everything else. Even Freddie.

            Freddie swallowed, seeming to shrink as Molokov approaches him. He’s taller than him, but somehow it doesn’t seem like it right now. “You are late,” he tells him, allowing disappointment to color his tone. Freddie goes pale. Paler. “I am certain I told you to be back by six.”

            “I – I know.” Anatoly is scandalized, his knuckles cracking as he tightens his fists. If he punched Molokov now, in the back of the head, they might even get down the first flight of stairs before the alarm was sounded. He takes a step forward and is met with a gun to his head.

            “Step back, Anatoly.” The pretend warmth had leeched from his voice in the space of a moment; Anatoly raises his hands in a wary gesture of surrender, gritting his teeth as he did as he was told. “I do not want to have to shoot you. It would look very bad if our retired champion were to disappear.”

            “Fuck yourself,” he snaps, and then wonders if Freddie’s spirit had simply been transplanted into him. His cheeks flush belatedly, but it’s too late to recall the words; Molokov looks smug again, stowing the gun back into his jacket.

            “Oh, but I do not have to.” His eyes flicker lecherously to Freddie, backed against his desk.

The implication is horrendous. Anatoly shakes his head before he’s even finished the thought, refusing to believe it, refusing to see the uncomfortable way that Freddie has been shifting all night long – no. “You’re vile.”

“What do you say, comrade, shall we give him a demonstration?” He doesn’t wait for Freddie’s input – he already has him by the belt loops, turning him and bending him obscenely over the desk. “Go on.”

I like it here, Freddie had said.

Fucking communists, Freddie had said.

“No,” he protests out loud, and his thoughts are louder. The buzzing in his ears has got to be audible – it should be shaking the floorboards, vibrating the glass of the window until it shatters. This is not happening. “No. Don’t touch him.”

Freddie willingly pushes his pants down over his thighs, and if his hands are shaking, well, it doesn’t fucking matter, does it?

“No – what are you doing?” Molokov doesn’t so much as look back at him; the sound of the metal parting as he pulls his zip down seems to ring in his bones.

“Spread your legs,” he demands, and when Freddie does he purrs as he presses between them. Freddie inhales sharply, his legs shaking, and otherwise makes no sound. “Do you know why you are being punished?”

“I – wandered off. I was late.” Freddie’s voice squeaks at the end, bowing his head. It was like watching one of those horrible American porn videos, the ones with the scrawny boys calling their fathers “master” and begging for punishment. “I’m sorry.”

“I know you are.” Molokov pats him on the head pityingly and Freddie whimpers, shuddering with something decidedly pleasurable. Sick. Sick in the head. He spoke up as his hips hitched and Freddie’s hands flew up to grip the edge of the desk. “This man belongs to me, Anatoly. Perhaps you will remember now.”

He remembers now. He remembers a lot of things that he’d never, ever wanted to –

“Please stop,” he whimpered, and the man behind him breathed hot and moist against his ear, slamming him back against the desk. He cried when he realized that it felt almost good, the way he was rubbing on his insides. “Stop!”

He lurches forward, intent on wrapping his hands around that thick neck of his. Gun or no gun. “Bastard,” he seethes, but there’s metal to his forehead. He stops abruptly, reassessing. In hindsight, no gun would have been preferable.

“Stay where you are,” Molokov instructs gruffly, and digs his nails into Freddie’s hips as he pulls them back against his. The frail man beneath him – it could be Freddie, it could be a seventeen-year-old Anatoly, it could be anyone whining like that, Anatoly doesn’t even know anymore – makes an agonized noise and doesn’t pull away.

It’s senseless. It’s disgusting. Anatoly watches with is hands held up at his sides, unable to bring himself to look away. “Freddie,” he pleads, hoarsely. Freddie doesn’t even seem to hear him.  Too far gone.

He remembers being in that position and the way the edges of the desk, then crisp and new, had cut into his palms and left indents and bruises for days afterward. He watches, rocking on his heels, as Freddie takes it obediently, believing he deserves it for some imaginary rule that he’s broken.

He remembers how his brother had waited in the car each night for him to return, how he’d pieced him back together so gently after every encounter.

No one has been here to do that for Freddie.

For months.

“Good boy,” Molokov grunts. He slams into him once more with a telling noise low in his throat, his eyes falling closed; beneath him, Freddie convulses with a torn gasp.

Anatoly tastes bile.

And when he finds himself in his car again, he thinks too late of crying-screaming-thrashing for Freddie, in Freddie’s place, and he grips the steering wheel and leans his forehead against it and doesn’t listen to the sun go down, unable to hear anything over the scream built up silently in the center of him.

Freddie.

What did I let him do to you?

 

 

 

 

Moscow, 1980

The Sergievsky household

            The house is quiet, but the windows at the ground floor are bright and welcoming. Anatoly practically trips out of the car, strangely exhausted. He finds the door unlocked for him and takes a moment to praise the God he was no longer sure existed.

            “I understand.” He heard Freddie’s shaky, terrified speech echoing in his head, magnified. The dishes are clean and dry, waiting to be put away on the counter. He can’t even find the energy to collapse onto the couch – instead he leans against the wall and slides down, his head tipped back.

            It smells like rye bread and dish soap. The children must be in bed.

            It’s too quiet.

            “Please stop,” he’d sobbed.Freddie hadn’t sobbed. Freddie hadn’t so much as squirmed. He’d gasped and bucked back against him, and afterwards had had his head forced down to lick the desk clean of the mess he’d made.

            It will never be quiet enough again.

            Florence, though, Florence would want to help him. Walter would. Anyone would. If he could just tell them, find them and tell them…

            What was that card she’d given him? It was months ago, and it’s fuzzy in his memory. Freddie had clutched it in his sweaty palm and bid her an awkward goodbye and he hadn’t even known what was going to happen to him.

What the hell had been on that card, anyways? Her address?

            Her phone number?

            Anatoly scrambled to his feet and raced to the bedroom, praying that she hadn’t moved.

            Svetlana is nowhere to be found; she must be upstairs with the girls. She can’t be that angry. He’d done what she’d asked, he’d come back empty-handed. Then again, maybe she was afraid that he wouldn’t come back at all.

            He forgets Svetlana as he drops to his knees beside the bed and feels beneath it for the duffel bag, filmed with dust, full of Freddie’s old clothes. His white jeans are missing – he’d been wearing them when Molokov had taken him hostage. God knows where they are now. He probably made you burn them.

            The smell of the hotel room in Bangkok is so strong he has to hold his breath as he frantically pulls the zipper open and sifts through the fabric and knickknacks and fragments of glass that hadn’t been properly swept up before his hasty departure. He doesn’t look at the photograph when his hand meets the metal rectangle of it’s frame, but he knows exactly what it is.

            If only we hadn’t been arguing –

            But what would that have changed? Freddie would still have a temper; Molokov would still have been out to get him. There was no winning. Life isn’t chess, no matter how much they liked to pretend it was, and they weren’t the kings of the board. Not as long as they were in Russia.

            Freddie in Russia. The thought is still bizarre – wrong.

            He should never have left him.

            It doesn’t take him long to find the scrap of paper floating amongst Freddie’s socks. He yanks it out and stares at the smudged ink, already reaching for the phone on the nightstand.

            Surveillance be damned. He knew how to be subtle.

            The extension rings for a long time – he presses the plastic to his ear and listens to his heart batter at his ribcage abusively, angrily. Why didn’t you save him? He could have, he knows. He could have been just a little more vigilant. Florence was going to kill him.

            If she picked up, that was.

            She might not.

            She had to.

            Her voice is surprisingly alert; it takes Anatoly a moment to realize that people were awake in other parts of the world, going about their days like nothing was wrong, and like Freddie Trumper was in perfectly good hands. “Hello? Who is this?”

            “Anatoly Sergievsky,” he said hurriedly, leaning his head against the edge of the bed. The comforter was cold to his overheated skin. “He is here.”

            There was no time for mincing words. They would have to make do with half-truths and hints, but it would be enough. She was a diplomat herself, had played the part for years at Freddie’s side. Surely she had a couple of strings of her own left to pull. (Hopefully better than his.)

            “There?” Her attention caught, he can practically feel the way she sits up, the tension painting thick lines between them all the way across the continent. “You’ve seen him?”

            “He is here,” he says again, and opens his eyes to stare at the ceiling purely so that he stops seeing Freddie behind his eyelids, played over that desk like a doll. Like a toy. “I thought that you would like to know.”

            “Thank you.” He can sense the way she blinks at him, can guess exactly what she must be thinking. There’s no time. “Did you have anything in mind?”

            “I will leave that up to you, I think.” There’s no time, no time to be lost. He had to get Freddie out of that building. He had to get his family out of this house. Molokov had made it clear – he was being watched. “He is the priority.” But there were other priorities, too. He thought of his daughters asleep in their beds and his knuckles cracked. “Quickly, if you could.” No time. No time.

            She seems to understand. “I’ll see what I can do.”

            “Please,” he agrees, and adds after a moment. “I have a brother. I will call you from there. By Friday.”

            By Friday they could all be dead. He shouldn’t be implicating her. She’s not as far from the arm of the Soviet government as she thinks. Nobody is.

            “Of course.” Her voice is as strained as his. He forgets sometimes that Florence is a person and not just a figment of Freddie’s imagination, a past life of his. He wonders if he would recognize her, if not him. “Be safe, Anatoly.”

            The line clicks and she’s gone again. He takes a deep, shuddering breath.

            Svetlana wouldn’t like it, but she would understand. Arik would have no choice but to take them in – he wouldn’t feed them to the Soviets. Perhaps him, but not his children. He was not as heartless as he made himself out to be.

And Freddie – Freddie would be safe soon, far from Molokov’s bruising fingers.

 

 

 

Moscow, 1980

Lubyanka Building; Molokov’s office

            There’s a heavy, somber feeling in the air the moment Anatoly’s presence is removed.

            He’s escorted away by two men, whichever were the first to answer Molokov’s page. Shaking. Freddie is shaking, too, a little – it hurts to move, but it will hurt more if he doesn’t do exactly as he’s told. Comrade Molokov can’t have forgiven him yet.

            Molokov is bent over his desk, looking hellishly frustrated. There’s still a stain streaked white across it from Freddie’s slip-up; Freddie stands to the side, hands clasped behind his back and rocking on his heels just slightly. He watches anxiously for any sign that Comrade Molokov minds his fidgeting.

            Alexander has bigger things to worry about than the former Freddie Trumper.

            It’s growing dark, and Anatoly will be heading home – or perhaps gone right back to trembling in the parking lot like he had been before all of this. He doesn’t particularly care which. This was, to be frank, his attempt at reigning in a botched operation.

            He’s cursing himself for letting his men have their way with the boy before he was properly trained. They’d left him, vulnerable – all of his work could easily have been undone. He still has yet to catalogue the damages. Freddie appears to be functioning exactly as is expected of him, but there’s no guarantee that the sight of Anatoly hadn’t been enough to trigger some memory, any memory –

            Lord have mercy on Sasha Petrovich’s soul when he was through with him.

            There were limited options, now, as to how to clean up this mess before Anatoly became a real security threat – and he had no doubt in his mind that he would. He was hardly bluffing, when he’d told Freddie that he’d known the Sergievsky man longer than he could even dream. He’d been assigned to watch over his career when he was only fourteen; Anatoly surely had the memory still stamped bloody behind his eyelids.

            Well. Perhaps he had gotten a little carried away with his first assignment… But he’d been young, then, and arrogant with his first taste of power.

            Besides, he’d turned out a champion!

            And a traitor.

            Lifting his head from his hands, Alexander barked. “Trumper. Come here.” His pet trotted (limped) to his side hastily, eyes still darting anxiously over his face. Anatoly’s obviously unsettled him. He reaches up, snaps his fingers before his face, but Freddie doesn’t so much as flinch.

            Good. He was stable – for the most part.

            For now.

            He certainly wouldn’t be after tomorrow, but that was hardly his problem. Alexander growled dangerously, watching the direction of Freddie’s gaze. “I have another assignment for you, comrade.” There was a distinct, deadly undertone to his voice that he saw reflected in Freddie’s shudder. Pleased, he continued, sitting up straight and leveling his trademark smile at him. He was told that it could be truly frightening when he wanted it to be. “Tomorrow evening, you will be visiting the Sergievsky family at their dacha.”

            Freddie comprehends very little nowadays but direct orders; he nods, though, not allowing the confusion to cross his face. Good boy. “Tomorrow?”

            “I will tell you when.” He steeples his fingers, cocking his head. “You will be escorted, and you will take no longer than two hours to complete the task. Am I very clear?”

            “Yes,” Freddie agrees without any thought at all. He hesitates only afterward – if there is any dread wobbling in his voice, Alexander doesn’t hear it. “… What do you need me to do?”

            “I want you to deliver me four bodies, comrade, four in total… The wife and children may be dead or alive, whichever is easiest. But –”

            He narrows his eyes, watching Freddie’s expression freeze in place, and smiles grimly. If all goes well, the threat will be eliminated by this time tomorrow evening – Freddie’s mental state could be reassessed afterwards. Perhaps another trip to the cells would do him good.

            “Anatoly Sergievsky must be dead. That is non-negotiable.”

            Subconsciously, Freddie lips the word.

            Dead. Dead. Dead.

“Right,” he says weakly, after a long pause. “I can do that.”

 

 

 

Moscow, 1980

The Sergievsky household

            The windows of Anatoly’s house are bright against the dusk thickening in the air; a sleek, black car rolls silently to a stop in the driveway.

            “Be quick. We will be back for you in half an hour,” Comrade Petrovich mutters as Freddie fumbles with the car door, eager just to get this over with. He won’t disappoint Comrade Molokov twice. He clutches the gun tightly in his fist and nods belatedly back at the car, already halfway to the door.

            “I will,” he says, loudly so that they’ll hear him and means it. There is nothing he wants more than to go back to the comfort of Comrade Molokov’s hand on his head. I’m a good boy. He doesn’t pay any mind to the way the stoic man in the driver’s seat scowls as he pulls silently back out and glides away.

            It’s lucky that they were here to escort him, as he’d never have found the place a second time on his own. He’d barely paid attention the entire ride here in Anatoly’s car.

            There’s a slight limp in his step, but he still moves like a soldier – back straight, arms straight, the gun in his hand held in clear view. No one could mistake what he was in the blue of his uniform.

            No tiny faces appear in the window this time to observe his approach.

            He sucks in a deep breath, squaring his shoulders. This is it – this is the moment. He can feel it in the electric charge stretching between him and the headquarters, keeping his heart beating in time with the drum of Comrade Molokov’s fingers on his desk.

            His knuckles connect with the door.

            He lied. He isn’t ready.

            He’s barely got the gun raised by the time Anatoly comes to open the door, but it has the desired effect nonetheless. “Freddie,” he starts to say, astonished, when his eyes cross and his hands fly up in slow motion at the chilling glint of the gun before his nose. “Christ – Freddie, what are you doing?!”

The boy in the cell reappears before him, a ghostly corpse folded forward in his bonds, his head split open like a melon in the back. Freddie doesn’t realize how hard he’s shaking until his finger slips from the trigger – he presses it immediately back to it, staring wide-eyed at the spot between his eyes.

“Freddie –!” Anatoly gasps as he tightens his finger on the trigger. He doesn’t glance back to check on his family; Svetlana is bound to come looking for him soon. “Freddie, put the gun down!”

Freddie tries to speak, his vocal cords tight with anxiety. “I have orders – I’m supposed to – to –”

Mercifully, he doesn’t get a chance to stammer the rest out. Out of pure desperation, Anatoly smacks the gun from his hand – Freddie drops it automatically, cringing when it cracks against the step and flashes. The shot is deafening, bullet ricocheting from the house and somewhere into the bushes – Anatoly kicks the gun after it and curses in Russian as Freddie tackles him bodily in a panic. They tumble in through the doorway in a flurry of limbs and curses and the children are screaming in the kitchen –

“Anatoly, what was that –?”

Svetlana rushes out to meet them, slippers sliding on the floor, and stares. Her husband has rolled Freddie, stunned and shuddering, onto his back and is straddling his waist. He glances up to her, flushed with adrenaline and absurd embarrassment at being caught in such a suggestive position.

“I have – got it – under control…” he pants, gathering Freddie’s wrists in a practiced motion and pinning them over his head. There’s certainly no way to make it worse.

She peers around warily for any sign of a gun. “Why is he here?” Freddie is dazed, meeting her eyes blankly – she recoils. “Where is the gun, Anatoly –?!”

“I have got it under control, Sveta,” Anatoly interrupts again, kicking the door shut behind him. It slams, and he hears Emilia shriek again. Svetlana fixes him with a frigid glare. “Go – get the girls, take them to get their things. Tell them we are going to stay with their uncle Arik for a while.”

Arik?” Anatoly manages not to wince as he nods. Svetlana’s hand practically stands on end. “We are not staying with your brother, Anatoly!” Arik, the heathen and the drunk. Abrasive and crude. At least in Svetlana’s mind – Anatoly had hardly expected another reaction from her, but these were desperate times. “I want this man out of my house!”

“Did somebody bring you here?” he says suddenly, turning his eyes sharply back to the shuddering man limp beneath him. Freddie nods woodenly, blinking at the ceiling as though searching for his train of thought. The gun, evidently, has been forgotten. Anatoly prods, wondering how much information he can get out of him while he’s in this state. “Freddie? How many men were with you?”

“Tolya?” Freddie whimpers, like a lost child. Anatoly freezes as a twisted, relentless sort of hope blossoms violently behind his ribcage.

“…Freddie?” He breathes. Freddie’s fingers flex, the tendons in his wrists shifting under the skin as he squirms, staring back at him dazedly.

“Anatoly,” Svetlana hisses, one eye set fearfully on the window. There’s no sign of the Soviets now, but they could appear any moment – swarms of them, in the dead of night, to take them to the next train to Siberia. They had no neighbors on either side to witness it. “Get rid of him.”

“Sveta, wait.” There are wings beating at his insides, making him quiver with excitement. Freddie’s eyes aren’t empty anymore – his pupils are blown wide, with panic, but it’s a blessing to see him alive again. Anatoly brings one hand to his neck and feels for his pulse, feeling his throat work, his heart beat like a caged animal against its bars. He begins to smile. “Freddie. Who am I?”

“Anatoly,” he manages, a bit raspy. Anatoly hastily removes his fingers from his throat. “Tolya? What’s – get off of me.”

He makes no move to escape. Anatoly looks back up to his wife, forgets to repress the glow under his skin, and takes a breath. “You have to take them. Quickly – before they come back. Take the car. They will not be able to follow you if they do not see you leaving.”

“You are not coming with us?” She looks scandalized, narrowing her eyes at Freddie stretching restlessly beneath him. “I do not want that man anywhere near my children, Anatoly–”

“Go get their things,” he urges her, eyes flashing over the living room for anything he might give her to appease her – they light on the wallet lying out on the coffee table. He points, without releasing Freddie. “Take as many roubles as I have left – buy some groceries on the way there, I am sure he will be needing some anyways.”

He doubts his brother has anything of nutritional value in his kitchen hidden amongst the empty bottles. He doesn’t have the time to be concerned for Arik’s well-being today.

“You are choosing that man over your family.” Svetlana stares at him, as if daring him to rebut. He shakes his head, scowling.

“If I go with you they’ll just follow us.”

“Why will they follow us? What have you done?” Her voice is tight with some internal conflict between fear and sheer anger, eyes burning too-brightly. Lord. Don’t cry…

But then, this is Svetlana. She’s no more prone to tears than he is.

(Perhaps even less so.)

“Just take the girls and get their things! Sveta –” He doesn’t have time for this. None of them do. He twists back to look out the window, listens to his children quivering in the next room. “Please. They can’t be here.”

Freddie comprehends none of the exchange, watching the string of Russian words that snaps tensely between them like he might a tennis match. His breathing is still erratic, coming in spurts and then stopping altogether at every creak and crack of the steps outside in the evening breeze. “Tolya?”

Svetlana’s arms are crossed. “I am not going to explain this to them,” she tells him, hissing under her breath. Natalia peeks from the kitchen warily, her blonde curls falling around her like a long curtain. Her sister sniffles audibly and she ducks back into the room. Anatoly glances back at Freddie, then up to his wife, and then to the kitchen where his children were most likely huddled beneath the table they’d been eating at minutes ago.

The guilt wins, at least for now – it spirals like a corkscrew through the tight passages of his brain, scraping every paternal nerve that he has. Grimacing, he looks down at Freddie once more. “I’m going to let you go now.”

“Get off of me,” Freddie says automatically, almost groans it. He squirms – Anatoly carefully releases his wrists and swings his leg back over his hip, getting slowly to his feet.

Freddie lies there, stunned, for a long moment before scrambling to his feet and Anatoly wonders how long it’s been since he’s been given any sort of freedom.

“Sit there – Svetlana, watch him.” He sighs, watching Freddie fall immediately, obediently onto the worn upholstery of the nearest couch as he turns toward the kitchen – Svetlana stands there looking mutinous, her arms crossed tightly before her chest. She watches Anatoly with a glower that he suspected was meant to burn the soles of his feet away so that he can never run off again, with anyone – but especially not with ‘that man’.

Freddie. He was giddy just thinking his name, now.

Freddie. He was there, somewhere. Anatoly had known he would be. He can draw him out, now that he’s seen him…

As he’d suspected, his daughters have squashed themselves beneath the table like fugitives – Natalia is curled about her sister like a mother cat, petting her hair with slender fingers as she cries. She relaxes readily at the sight of him, shifting aside as if to make room for him on the floor beside them. “Father?”

“Natya. Come here – for God’s sake, get your sister out of there.” He smiles, kneeling down and raising an eyebrow at her. Freddie, Freddie – no, now isn’t the time for him. He’ll have plenty of time for him when he’s done his job, as a father. “Everything is alright.”

Small shoulders slumping, she glances hesitantly at her sister before releasing her and crawling on her hands and knees from beneath the table. Anatoly scoops her up into his arms. “Come here,” he sighs, squeezing her to him.

It’s so easy to forget that he’s a father, sometimes; when he can’t feel their hearts beating beside his.

Tending his own children is nothing like tending to Freddie, who only acted like one.

Freddie Freddie Freddie –

Natalia shivers in his arms. “I thought that man was your friend?” she whispers, as though afraid that he’ll hear her; from beyond the archway he swears that he can feel Svetlana’s eyes still burning into him. “Why is he hurting you?”

“He’s not hurting me.” He wrinkles his nose, briefly, reaching with his free hand beneath the table. Emilia unfurls and latches onto it like a baby kitten, hugging it to her chest; she wraps herself nearly all the way around his forearm and he pulls her out like that, gathering both of them against him with a slow sigh. “I have to ask you a favor.”

“You’re going to leave,” Emilia whimpers, clutching her chubby fingers in his shirt. They’re probably sticky. “Will you take us with you?”

“You’re going to take a little drive with your mother, to see your uncle Arik,” he tells her, leaning in to press his lips to her forehead quickly. Natalia’s face crumples with doubt – he remembers too late that she’d never liked Arik any more than her mother had. He turns to kiss her forehead in turn, biting back a curse. “I will meet you there as soon as I’m finished running some errands.”

“What kinds of errands?” she asks, looking past him to her mother for answers – Svetlana must have managed not to roll her eyes, because she seems cautiously to be trusting his word.

He lives for the day that his children stop looking at him that way. Like he’s some sort of vagabond, ready to disappear any moment – Svetlana looks at him that way, too, but it’s dulled over time.

(There’s no guarantee, now, that he’ll live to see that day.)

(He’s not going to think about that, though.)

“There are some government men who need my help with something,” he whispers, as though he’s telling them a secret. Everyone forgets that Anatoly can be a good father when he wants to be – that he used to be a good father, back when the girls were only babies and he hadn’t wanted to rip his hair out by the roots with restlessness. Before Freddie. He forgets it, too, until he sees Emilia’s nervous, giggly smile.

“Can I help?” she whispers back. Natalia isn’t so easily convinced. She’s silent, watching him like he’s the moon. “I want to help.”

“I bet they’d love your help.” Smiling, he ruffles her hair and lifts her into her chair, releasing Natalia as he pushes himself back to his feet. They stare up at him, eyes blue and clear just like their mother’s. “I’ll ask them when they get here – but you have to get your things packed, alright?”

“Why can’t I ask them?” Emilia asks, swinging her legs with endless enthusiasm. Her sticky hands are wrapped around the edge of the chair. Svetlana isn’t going to have time to clean that up…

“They’re very shy,” he says conspiratorially, but his eyes have already strayed back to the living room. His wife stands over Freddie like some tall, blonde vision of a German shepherd – he quails under her gaze. Anatoly has to physically restrain the annoyance he’s sure is rising to his face. “I will ask them. Will you go pack your things?”

Natalia is, surprisingly, the first to move – she pries her sister’s hand from the chair and tugs her. “Emmy,” she whispers. “Come on.”

Svetlana appears in the archway, evidently having grown tired of watching Anatoly’s estranged lover for him. Freddie Freddie Freddie. “Come here,” she sighs, and beckons them toward the stairs. Despite his attempts to catch her eye, she refuses to so much as glance in his direction.

Anatoly watches as his family disappears, his faux smile lingering, and tries not to wonder if he’ll ever see them again.

 

 

Freddie is shivering on the couch like a traumatized child, wide-eyed and glancing around as though he has no idea where he is. (Maybe he doesn’t?) He cowers when Anatoly comes sweeping back into the room.

He crouches before him, taking his hands and squeezing them between his. They’re still so cold, but his eyes have life in them again – Anatoly catches them on his and tries to hold his gaze for a minute. “Freddie? Are you –?” Are you you?

He still can’t quite believe it; but then, he’d barely been able to believe they’d broken him in the first place.

Obviously they hadn’t done it as well as they’d thought.

Freddie shakes his head, frantic. “No. No. Where am I? Tolya?” Anatoly has never seen him so anxious in his life, not even in the car just yesterday. I have to be back by six. He’s staring at him, eyes bulging out of his head. They’re bloodshot, darting too-quickly like he doesn’t believe it’s him. He looks around them, craning his neck. “Where am I?”

“You’re in Russia,” Anatoly says slowly, though he considers lying just to keep him calm. Freddie’s face goes pale in the space of an instant, and he squeezes his hands with what he can only hope is a reassuring smile. His hands are shaking, just looking at him. Freddie. My Freddie. “Freddie, it’s okay.”

“I can’t be in Russia.” Freddie clutches his hands with a strength that he didn’t look capable of, his breaths coming quick and shallow. Anatoly recognizes the panic attack before it hits. “I can’t be in Russia, I can’t –!”

“Hush! It will be okay!” He squeezes his hands again, kissing one. “Just breathe slowly.”

Well, maybe not. The Soviets will be growing impatient soon, with the silence inside the house. No more shots fired – he’s suddenly sorry that he’d kicked the gun away, so thoughtlessly. They could have used it, to escape or…

There were a lot of other possibilities, most of them a tad gruesome, but he didn’t have the time for that right now. (or the mental capacity)

Freddie gulps the air down like he’s losing a race. “Russia,” he gasps, like the world is crumbling around his feet, leaving him stranded on a hostile little patch of land –

That’s what Russia was to him, though, wasn’t it?

“What do you remember, Freddie?” Anatoly is fighting to stay calm. One of us has to be. He’s got one eye glued to the front door – he wants to draw the curtains, but that would draw suspicion. “Freddie. Look at me.”

Freddie doesn’t look like he can focus hard enough to remember his own last name, let alone something as specific as the circumstances of his kidnapping. His chest heaves; his face is going red with the effort he’s making, however subconsciously, to follow Anatoly’s directions, but his lungs apparently aren’t satisfied.

“I have to kill you,” he moans, incoherent. Anatoly tenses; he never stops smiling, but it’s strained. He hears a muffled rustle and prays that it’s only the wind.

“Of course you don’t have to kill me. Who gave you that idea?” he asks, painfully casual. There’s every possibility that the wrong pair of ears might be listening right now. Back in the bedroom, he hears one of the girls burst into tears – he thinks vaguely that it must be Natalia and tries not to let the weight sinking in his chest crush his lungs entirely. “I love you, Freddie. You remember me?”

He hesitates, staring at him half in fright. “I – I think so.”

Anatoly isn’t entirely convinced, but it’s a better answer than the blank ‘no’ he’d received the night before. “I missed you,” he tells him earnestly. He watches Freddie blink the confusion away; he stops withdraw his hands, at least. Anatoly’s smile becomes a little more genuine. “Are you alright?”

“I was going to do it.” The uncertainty etched into his expression morphs, horror replacing it. He tugs his hands away – they’re hot, now, sweating. He wrings them in his lap, leaning away from. “He told me to – he – Jesus.”

“Do you need a bucket?” Anatoly murmurs, because it looks like he might actually throw up – probably on him, if he didn’t move. “I can –”

“No – oh, God.” Freddie brings a hand up to cover his mouth, as if he’s discovered some horrible taste on the back of his tongue – for a moment Anatoly thinks he really is going to puke, and irrationally he holds out his hands as though to catch it. Freddie is staring at him, dismayed. “I’m in Russia.”

“Yes?” Anatoly sidles closer, laying a hand over his very gently.

“Russia,” he moans. “Jesus –”

“We have Jesus here,” Anatoly supplies, lips twisting. Freddie is unamused. He turns his hand over and twines their fingers, holding onto him for dear life. “The same one, even.”

“They’re coming back,” Freddie says suddenly, and whirls to face the door, his face gray. “Jesus Christ. I have to kill you.”

“Or,” he suggests with that same strained smile. “Or we could simply turn ourselves in.”

Freddie looks like he might throw up again, on purpose now, staring at him incredulously. “Are you fucking – joking with me right now?”

He pauses after he curses, his Adam’s apple bobbing nervously. Anatoly recognizes the gesture.

Watch your mouth, brat, Alexander Molokov used to snap, and smack him across the back of the head. The pieces on the chessboard in his memory rattled more with fear than real vibration.

But he isn’t afraid of Alexander Molokov. Not anymore.

“I have been in contact with Florence Vassy,” he says earnestly, gripping his hands between his like he can warm them singlehandedly. He’s Freddie, now, Freddie again with the way his eyes light at her name and Anatoly knows to take advantage of it while it lasts. “She has promised to help us.”

“Florence is British,” Freddie begins, his eyes wide with a fresh wave of panic. Anatoly waves a hand to silence him impatiently.

“She and De Courcey are on their way.” It’s only a small lie. Not even a lie, so much as an exaggeration. He has no idea who is going to show up, only that they had better be prepared to take his children as far from here as possible. Straight over the border, his entire family. He belatedly regrets not calling his parents in the city – but that might have been pushing it.

Freddie clutches him close and Anatoly is reminded that he’s not the only one worried that he’ll slip away. His nostrils are flared with terror.

(He remembers one night, the spider in the bathroom – Freddie wouldn’t like to be reminded of that particular incident. If he remembered it at all.)

(Anatoly itches to try it, just for the smile it brings to his lips.)

Svetlana slips back into the room, the girls in tow – they each carry their backpacks, fat with whatever she’d deemed necessary. Emilia clutched a stuffed cat to her chest, practically pranced over to him.

“We’re leaving,” she tells Freddie proudly in English, and glances to her father for his approval. He smiles weakly; Freddie only stares, face twisted.

“I forgot you had kids,” he mumbles under his breath. You forgot a lot of things.

“You’re going to ask them, right?” she asks, chirping. Natalia is attached at her mother’s hip, trembling with nerves. It takes him a moment to remember what she’s talking about, but he nods belatedly, laughing. It sounds only slightly faked.

“Of course,” he promises, and leans down to kiss her head. Freddie is looking out the window again. He turns his eyes to Svetlana, catches the sadness in them like a cold. “Sveta.”

“Who am I waiting for? A woman?” she asks tightly. She doesn’t shake – her eyes bore into him until he wants to crawl behind Freddie and hide from them. Even dulled, Svetlana is a force to be reckoned with.

“Florence Vassy,” he admits. The woman that you assumed. “She did not tell me when.”

If anything he’s glad that he doesn’t have to be there for that particular meeting.

“Soon, I hope.” Briskly, she shakes her head and wraps an arm around her daughter. “Emilia,” she calls, and the younger scampers to her immediately. Anatoly tells himself that he’s not jealous of that ability. She hesitates, though, when she reaches the door – the children keep walking, seeming to sense the gravity of the situation as they climb into either side of the backseat.

“You are sure you are not coming?” she asks, almost under her breath.

“You can leave me here,” Freddie blurts, although from the way he’s got him by the cuffs of his shirt it doesn’t look as though he plans on letting him go anytime soon. “I’m supposed to kill you, anyway.”

“No one is going to kill me,” Anatoly sighs, praying that it’s true. He nods to Svetlana, gripping Freddie’s wrist in turn. “I will be joining you soon enough. As soon as we can lose them.”

The Soviets are everywhere; he’ll be surprised if they ever lose them, even when they leave the country.

Svetlana doesn’t look pleased. “Anatoly –”

“They are going to be back soon,” he urges, and regrets the sick look it puts on his lover’s face. He wants to kiss it away. He wants to – “Please, Sveta, do not start anything with Arik.”

Her face pinches, and she turns away from him again. “I cannot promise anything.”

Freddie squirms beside him, glancing around in half-curiosity. He’s wary still. “You’re going to get both of us killed,” he mutters, and it almost looks as though he’s mapping the moves in his head – what was it, ten ahead? At least. If he was feeling up to it. Anatoly feels a crush of pride in his chest when he hears the engine roar to life.

It goes on and on, and as it begins to disappear it becomes a purr. It’s not familiar, not to him.

Freddie goes as white as his pants. “Tolya –”

His fingers are too tight now, cutting off his circulation. Anatoly shakes them off with a frown, glancing past him and out the window.

A sleek black car is gliding smoothly into the driveway.

“They’re going to make me kill you,” he chokes. Anatoly shakes his head, reaches up and pulls the curtain shut with a decisive tug. He’s certain that he’d seen the flash of their suits approaching the doorstep.

“They will not,” he tells him firmly, as though that made a difference. “It is only Molokov’s men, Freddie.”

Only Molokov’s men, the ones whom he’d found spreading him apart and shoving things between his legs in an alley just yesterday.

He doesn’t have time to panic. Freddie gets to panic, Freddie hasn’t taken his pills, Anatoly has to –

The door bursts inwards. Freddie lets go of him to clutch at his own chest, gasping for air.

“Anatoly Sergievsky,” Petrovich sneers calmly. He’s got a pair of handcuffs dangling from his fingertips, another from his belt loop. “You are under arrest.”

 

 

 

Moscow, 1980

En route to the Lubyanka Building

They’re seated together in the car – thrown haphazardly, actually, one on top of the other. Petrovich doesn’t bother to buckle them in before he’s slamming the door with enough force to make Freddie shake again, falling heavily back into the driver’s seat and starting the car with an angry roar.

“Freddie,” Anatoly whispers, paranoid that the men in the front will hear him. It’s not as though they’ll really decide what happens to him now – only Molokov has the authority to do that.

Unless he’s ordered them to do what they will with them.

If Anatoly is paranoid, then Freddie is terrified. He opens his mouth to speak and then clamps it tightly shut, shrinking into the seat, curling into himself.

“Freddie,” he says desperately, watching the familiarity drain out of him like dirty water. “Freddie. Look at me. Don’t let them do this to you.”

“Quiet back there,” a man from the front barks. Freddie’s hands clench into anxious fists where they’re cuffed behind his back. He says nothing in reply, just shuts his eyes tightly. Anatoly pretends that he doesn’t hear his labored, panicked breathing.

“Freddie,” he begs, but the only sound is the rumble of the wheels over the dirt. He struggles to sit up against every bump in the road, hands scrabbling at the leather, searching for purchase.

Somewhere in the back of his mind he hopes to God that his brother hasn’t moved in the past three years without telling him. Without telling anyone.

(That would be just like him, disappearing when it’s least convenient.)

Freddie is unresponsive, breathing slowly with his cheek against the leather seat. He’s made himself unreachable again.

Anatoly wants to kill Molokov again, and again, and again, before they’ve even reached the Square.

He’s doesn’t wait for Freddie outside tonight, no, of course not – there is still enough light to see by, and the people are rushing to and from their trains, fleeing while they can. Molokov likes the suspense, anyways – Anatoly sullenly, morbidly wonders if he gets off on it, knowing he always gets to be the one surprising people.

This whole experience positively reeks of his adolescence.

He finds that he hasn’t missed it.

The door swings open on Freddie’s side and Anatoly can only watch as he’s dragged out by his collar, gasping and stumbling awkwardly like he has to relearn how to walk. “Hey –!” he starts to protest, but then someone’s hand is reaching in behind him to give him the same treatment.

They’re walked across the Square in plain view. It’s supposed to be a walk of shame, but Anatoly likes to think that one of the people hastily averting their eyes will try to help them. Or would, in any other circumstance.

Fuck them, then, he thinks, and then thinks that he’s Freddie enough for both of them.

The people here know him, the young ones anyways. The Soviets have pushed chess into a real sport over the years, made him a celebrity – and now a traitor.

They turn their eyes away and pretend they can’t see him. It’s his life or theirs.

Fuck them.

On the third floor Molokov is waiting for them behind his desk, his back to them. Freddie is as green as the walls when they finally make it to his office – he turns, his hands folded behind his back, and narrows his eyes at the two of them.

Anatoly wrinkles his nose and leans closer to Freddie, murmuring, “Let me handle this.”

Because for whatever reason he still thinks he can protect him.

Maybe. If he tries.

(If he tries a little harder, this time.)

“Very touching.” Alexander rewards him with a mocking smile. His eyes are cold, burning as they look past him at Freddie’s trembling form. He already looks like a frightened, beaten animal, but Anatoly is struck suddenly with a horrid anticipation that Molokov is going to make that a reality very soon. “But I am afraid that you and I will have to speak later.”

He walks slowly around the desk, around Freddie who is stranded now, his captor backing away cautiously. “Comrade Trumper,” he murmurs, leaning in close to him from behind. His mouth is too close to his ear; Anatoly feels an irrational surge of jealousy, disgust, and bares his teeth.

His squirming does him no good. Alexander continues his ominous circling, like a shark, toying with its prey – Freddie’s skin crawls visibly, sweat beading on his brow.

Whatever demons he was battling, Anatoly couldn’t reach them anymore.

He growls under his breath, interrupting him again just as he opens his mouth. What do I have to lose? My family is safe. For now. Forever, if he got himself killed – he’d never know the difference. He shoves the morbid thoughts from his mind, lip curled. “He’s not your comrade. Let him go, Alexander.”

“I should think that you know better how to address me, Anatoly.” Molokov doesn’t even look back at him, still breathing against Freddie’s neck. His throat works fearfully. “Comrade.” Molokov’s voice works like hypnosis’, making slow eye contact, low and smooth; Freddie’s expression is tight with fear and possibly confusion.

Please don’t forget me again.

Anatoly swallows as well. The hand on his shoulder tightens painfully.

“I’m sorry,” Freddie manages, half of a whisper. He can’t seem to tear his eyes away from his captor’s.

“I am very disappointed in you, comrade. I thought that I had trained you better.” He’s only scolding, but there’s a darker undertone that puts Anatoly’s teeth on edge. Molokov doesn’t smile, just looks him in the eye. “What were your orders?”

“T-to bring back – a body.” Freddie swallows down the excess words like bile. “His body. I tried to –”

“I did not ask you to try, did I?”

His smile is sudden and cold. There’s no gun in his hand – Anatoly is focusing so hard, trying to capture the movement when it comes but it never does, and his head is pounding – and suddenly he has Freddie by the hair, throwing him bodily to the floor.

Freddie barely throws his hands out in time to catch himself before he shatters his teeth. Molokov’s foot is already shooting out, colliding with his stomach and sinking in, eliciting a breathless gasping noise from Freddie as he curls automatically around it, cradling his damaged organs. He doesn’t fight back; he doesn’t even try to shield himself. Molokov’s foot collides next with the side of his head, leaving him limp, whimpering.

Anatoly wonders how often he’s had this done to him, and then hastily backtracks.

He doesn’t think he wants to know.

(He’s going to find out anyways, isn’t he?)

“I asked for four bodies. You did not even manage to bring me one,” he sneers. Anatoly’s eyes are watering just watching the way Freddie shudders and clutches at his temples, but nevertheless the words send a horrible chill straight to the core of him – he imagines, for half a moment, his children sprawled broken and lifeless before him, piled atop their bleeding mother. The gritty feeling of rage it brings to the base of his esophagus, burning and growling, has him wrenching at the hands of his captor once more.

“God damn it, you leave him alone!”he snarls, but nobody is looking at him. The hands merely tighten, cutting off the circulation past his biceps. He throws an elbow back, rage bubbling like carbonation in his gut, and something collides with the back of his head so hard in return that he feels himself pitch forward.

For a long moment, everything is black –

breathe –

– he resurfaces, choking and grasping at the air as he’s tugged swiftly down the empty hall – there are no men in navy suits here, no people at all, only the pale of the walls that shines in the fluorescence and Freddie’s sobbing breaths as he’s transported beside him, stumbling along to the best of his ability. Molokov is talking. He has to concentrate to make out the words, and even then they echo crazily – the hall seems to tilt down, down, down…

He wonders hysterically if they’re being escorted to hell.

“I’m sorry – I’m sorry, I can do it,” Freddie is sobbing brokenly beside him, a little boy trapped in a man-sized body, in clothes that aren’t his. Anatoly is glad that he doesn’t have to look at him when he’s like it. “I swear –”

Someone, a skinny man Anatoly wouldn’t bother to name if he could with spindly fingers that jabbed into him like tiny knives, yanks a door open and grabs him, nearly throwing him down a set of stone stairs. “Damn it,” he curses, half under his breath as gravity pulls him down, stumbling the whole way.

There’s a chill rising from the floor and snaking around his legs, as though it will chain him to the floor. He’s lost sight of Freddie – he looks around wildly, half-expecting to see his familiar, favorite pair of white pants.

Instead he finds the white gleam of Molokov’s teeth in the dimness.

“Consider this a mercy,” he advises in that silky, asphodel-scented voice of his. There is an empty cell growing closer by the second – he tries to fight it, jerking at his unresponsive muscles but the back of his head is pounding and his muscles feel leaden. “I could have killed you – but that would be such a waste. Do you not agree?”

“Get your hands off of him – he’s not yours to keep!” He can’t stop looking, can’t stop seeing his hands like vices around Freddie’s wrists, his hips. From somewhere behind him Freddie is whimpering.

His own voice rings back at him, a loud, empty echo of desperation. There are so many people, suddenly – too many – when had they all gotten here? What did they want? He wasn’t actually going to kill them –

Suddenly there is Freddie, his shuddering shell of a body pressed up against him – he jerks his arms free and finds that the handcuffs are gone, he’s free –

His arms come around his lover protectively, lip curling in mad triumph –

Molokov merely smiles as they’re crowded into the cell, just the two of them, and the hoard of Molokov’s men seep from the hall like water running into a drain. The turn of the lock is deafening, but Molokov’s voice is quiet, and it vibrates in his very bones as he releases Freddie and stumbles back against the wall, feeling for something to balance him.

“Comrade Petrovich tells me that you were alone when he found you.” Molokov meets his eyes with a cold, easy smile. “But don’t worry – your wife and children will be found shortly. Perhaps I will even allow them visitation.”

“They are children!” He can’t contain himself; Freddie cringes at his volume, clutching the bars. He’s straining to be as close to Molokov as he can be. (his master, Anatoly thinks darkly, and then mentally slaps himself) “You will leave them out of this! They have done nothing to you.”

“What jeopardizes the security of the nation is my prerogative,” Molokov shrugs, spreading his hands. He begins to back away, back the way they must have come, although if he admits it to himself he had spent most of the trip in a whirlwind of hysteria. “It is my duty to protect my motherland. Yours was to represent it fittingly.”

His eyes cut to Freddie, or what’s left of him. Freddie will have imprints on his forehead later from the force with which he presses his head against them.

“You both could use a little more training, I think,” he murmurs, and Freddie nods helplessly along. Anatoly wants to be sick. He thinks he might be – it smells like cold and death and his legs are shaking.

“I can do it,” Freddie moans. He imagines that he can hear his frantic, stuttering heartbeat.

Molokov has already begun walking away from them, disappearing rapidly into the darkness.

“No worries, comrades.” The soft scrape of his shoes was fading, but somehow his voice was not. “I will be back for you.”

 

 

Freddie clutches the bars with every shuddering ounce of strength left in his body, helpless to do anything but listen to Molokov’s disappearing footsteps.

He’s screamed himself hoarse more than once down here – Anatoly doesn’t know that, but he can see it in the lines etched into his face like battle scars. The ground floor is somewhere that he had somehow managed to avoid in all of his years visiting this place – it’s deliberately cold and dimly lit, and Freddie has clearly been here before.

He wonders how many people have died down here – and then, how many have escaped.

(He can’t imagine the answer is in the double digits.)

“Freddie.” He dares to break the silence only when Freddie sinks to his knees. He looks broken. (He is broken, but Anatoly doesn’t like to think of it that way.) Anatoly hesitates before approaching him – this isn’t Freddie, not anymore. At best it’s half of him; he’s afraid to ask what happened to the rest, afraid that he’ll find the answer somewhere in the darkest corners of this room, or one just like it.

He lies a hand on his shoulder and Freddie grabs onto it with a desperation born of weeks with only Molokov for company, looking up at him helplessly. His nails have been clipped short, probably painfully so, but he still tries to dig them into his wrist. “Tolya don’t leave me –!”

“I’m not going anywhere.” Where is there to go? Who’s watching them right now? Someone. Not Molokov – not now – but he’ll be back. All there is to do is wait.

He sinks down to his knees beside him and pulls his remaining hand from the bars, holding it between his. “You’re cold,” he observes quietly, trying to keep the anxious thrum out of his voice. There is a bright side, he thinks desperately, always a bright side. There is always a way out. He’d escape Alexander Molokov’s clutches more than once in his life, just… never so directly.

Freddie blinks oddly, as though he’s not used to being worried over. He nods after a long, awkward moment. “It’s cold down here.”

They’re strangers again. Anatoly grits his teeth against the disappointment.

“You said Florence was coming,” Freddie says into the nothing between them, and Anatoly’s head snaps up. He searches Freddie’s eyes, and though they’re pale as ever, it’s something. There’s a quiet desperation in Freddie’s voice, growing in volume – there is heat between their hands. “She’s going to get us out of here?”

He doesn’t think that Freddie remembers who Florence is, really. He doesn’t know that he cares. Just hearing the familiar way he says the syllables is enough.

Drawing him closer, hands tightening around his, Anatoly nods vigorously. “Yes, of course. All of us.”

Fat chance, Freddie would have said.

This Freddie curls his lip, but he says nothing. That’s a Freddie thing to do, too. He gets like this when he’s upset, when he’s depressed (which was too often, for someone so alive) – he closed his mouth and his mind and curled up by himself for days on end, without making a sound.

They don’t have days.

There aren’t very many ways that Anatoly knows how to draw him out of it: he doesn’t have any coffee, or a hot shower, or a new bottle of lube –

He pulls Freddie’s hands right up against his chest, breathing slowly. “She’s in touch with De Courcey. He sure as hell has to know some way to get us out.”

There’s a bruise set permanently just to the left of Freddie’s temple, like Molokov’s personal stamp on him. It doesn’t sit well with Anatoly – he reaches up as though to wipe it away, listening to the way Freddie’s breath hitches.

He hasn’t kissed him properly in weeks.

“Freddie,” he begins, the word breaking off into breathlessness as he realizes their proximity. If they couldn’t escape, then this was his second choice. “Do you –?”

He remembers when he’d hated Freddie Trumper with every fiber of his being – he remembers, very clearly, when Freddie had hated him.

He remembers Freddie flipping the board in their very first match.

He remembers Merano, and Florence straightening her blazer, holding out a hand to shake. The Merano Mountain View Inn – famous for its peace and tranquility.

Freddie swallows nervously as their lips brush, and he remembers the same motion echoed back in time, to one too many glasses of wine and Freddie grasping at his wrists, sneering, backing with him onto the bed.

It’s so easy to forget his wife, his children. His brother. He’s done it so many times.

“Freddie,” he breathes, and sucks his lower lip between his, holding his face gently in his sweaty palms. Freddie groans, shifting closer – the cell is dark, but it isn’t cold. Freddie’s fingers crawl into the collar of his shirt and he tugs, and Anatoly comes with him willingly.

There is a single mattress in the corner, but God only knew what kind of parasites it was infested with.

No. The floor would do.

Let them watch.

This isn’t quite Freddie, but it’s not hard to pretend that he is. He feels like Freddie; these aren’t Freddie’s clothes, but in the dark, he can pretend that it’s denim covering the confused and growing bulge between his legs, and he squeezes it with long fingers just to be sure. Yes, it’s Freddie – the same length, the same whining gasp, the same ferocious fingers in his hair as he yanks him closer, breathing hotly into his mouth.

“Tolya,” he groans, like he’s just getting a feel for the word. It’s so much like the first time he’d fucked him that Anatoly nearly bends him over then and –

Freddie grabs fistfuls of his curls and thrusts his tongue into his mouth.

Molokov hadn’t taken care of him like Anatoly had. Molokov probably hadn’t kissed him at all – he certainly hopes not. No. He’d beaten him instead, like he had in the office – into whoever this not-Freddie was, this remnant of his lover.

You’re Freddie Trumper, he wants to tell him, and he does with the wet, silent movements of his lips. He wonders if Freddie can remember his middle name at all. He wonders what he knows about himself; what Molokov had let him remember.

He’s going to kill Alexander Molokov, he decides.

Freddie sucks the scowl from his lips with a whimper, pushing closer insistently.

They could kiss forever, but just kissing left them the time to hear the darkness rather than the blood rushing in their ears.

There is no just kissing Freddie Trumper, and there never has been; even with only the shadow of him here, pressed against him, a botched suicide attempt of his from another life, it’s everything he can remember all at once. It’s Merano in a bottle; he slides his hands beneath that hideous suit jacket and slips it from his shoulders, relishes the fact that he can remove Molokov without even speaking. Freddie arches into him, into affection, and whimpers into his mouth.

He needs to feel him, every inch, just to be sure that Molokov hasn’t hurt him too badly – he touches him wherever he can reach, around his back and up his chest, popping buttons hastily free along the way. He falls on him with his mouth open and sucks a trail of healing bites along his collarbone, pressing their bodies together.

There’s so much that he remembers, that Freddie could remember too, if he’d just try. He knows he can make him remember.

Freddie hisses when he touches the back of his thighs, so he slips his fingers into his mouth and squeezes him again beneath the soft fabric of his soldier’s pants. Freddie is not a soldier; he’s a captain.

He can make him remember. He’s going to.

“Oh – Fuck!” Freddie chokes as their hips come together the first time, and Anatoly smiles through the pain, smiles at every godforsaken time he’d ever heard him say that four-letter word.

He remembers the shape of his fingers as they wore grooves into his hips.

He remembers the way he’d rolled him onto his back and gripped his shoulders, clenched his eyes shut like it was the end of the world. Like the chapter was over, and he was afraid to see what came next.

In Merano Freddie had had no basis for what he was doing, no idea that he should have wrapped his hand around him, or rubbed his thumb over the tip of him. Now he does. Now, he’s Freddie – if only for the moment.

And Anatoly arches and gasps and lets him just have him, here in the dark with the stone cold against his back.

He remembers the clumsy way he drives into him, the hasty brush of his fingers, the way he tucks his face into his neck and moans helplessly as he comes, his hips stuttering forward into his own mess.

“Tolya,” he groans, reverently like he used to, almost like he knows what it means.

Anatoly feels the first twinge of pain and lets himself believe it.

Florence, Florence is coming to get them soon… Florence or Walter. Someone.

“Freddie,” he mumbles, gathering him close like a child, his fingers slipping through his short, choppy hair and they drift together in the darkness, together but separate with the aching realization that there is nothing there.

Nothing.

They fall into something like sleep with their limbs tangled and their clothes in one crumpled heap beneath their heads, protecting them from the chill.

It’s there, though. It’s always going to be there.

 

 

Ah –! Let me go, блядь –!”

Anatoly finds himself lifted from the floor by the roots of his hair, and with a strangled noise lashes out at the first warm body that he sees. Freddie whines like a kicked puppy and he thinks he could be sick. “Sorry –” he gasps, but it’s in Russian. He squeezes his eyes more tightly shut, tears beading at the corners of his eyes and spilling over rapidly as he’s dragged to his feet. “Sorry – блядь!” He breaks off again, gasping, scrabbling at the hand in his hair.

“There has clearly been a misunderstanding,” Molokov says pleasantly, somewhere behind him. He twists, hissing, in an effort to face him – he’s dimly aware that he’s still naked. Molokov is speaking in English and it takes him a confused, horrified moment to realize why.

There is a man with his hands on Freddie, on his Freddie on his shoulders, keeping him firmly in place as he stares at Anatoly in terror.

“I am sure you heard me correctly, comrades… I am very disappointed in both of you.”

“Let me go Alexander –” Anatoly’s chest heaves as he feels a hand circle the back of his neck, fingers brushing near his throat. Molokov’s voice has dropped seemingly an entire octave, no longer pleasant.

“Especially in you, Anatoly.” The fingers tighten – they don’t quite crush his windpipe, but it’s uncomfortable to say the least. He kicks back at him uselessly, swatting and clutching at his wrist as though he can force him to release him.

            “You should know your place,” he continues. “I am sure we have had this conversation before.”

            Twenty-odd years ago, maybe.

            “I’m not a child anymore.”

            “You were not a child then,” Molokov sighs. He holds out his hand and someone must put something into it – Anatoly can’t even see him, can’t turn around, can’t do anything but yelp and roll as Molokov drops him, suddenly, and kicks his knees out from under him in one swift motion.

            He’s barely on the ground before the man behind him has come forward to stomp on his fingers stretched out over his head, with a sickening crunch – Molokov’s voice rings through the room with some kind of sadistic pleasure, and he’s cursing in a stream of Russian that doesn’t even make sense anymore, shuddering at the way his fingers burn even when he’s yanked them back to his chest.

            “I can see that you are in need of a reminder.”

            He can practically hear the ghastly smile stretched across his face. He can’t bend his fingers, can’t even feel them –

            Freddie sounds like he’s crying. “Freddie,” he tries, but it comes out garbled with pain. His eyes are streaming, he can’t see – a boot flashes out again to kick him savagely in the ribcage, sending him tumbling onto his stomach, winded and choking on his own breath.

            There is a hand in his hair, again, and he moans as it’s pulled upward, scrambling as he’s pulled right up off the ground. Every nerve in his body is throbbing in alarm.

            “What do you think, comrade?” It’s not directed at him. Freddie shudders, wraps his arms around himself. Molokov smiles as he squeezes his fingers properly around Anatoly’s neck, leaving him to gasp and claw at his hand with clumsy, damaged fingers. “You are not a traitor like Anatoly, here, are you?”

            “Let him go,” Anatoly snarls when the pressure on his throat is briefly removed, but the fingers squeeze down again mercilessly and his voice becomes a gasping whine.

            Freddie’s legs are trembling – he thinks that they might fail him any moment, send him tumbling to the floor. He can see it in his head, feel the ghosts of the pain as they all closed in and beat him the way that Anatoly was about to be. He remembers this.

            “I – No?” he rasps. His head is swimming. Anatoly’s voice echoes in the confines, watery, distant. Freddie Freddie Freddie. He sounds so desperate.

Molokov twists his hand in Anatoly’s dark hair again, pulls his head back, forcing his back to arch. The man who had kicked him – it isn’t one that Freddie knows, or perhaps it is but he can’t recognize him now, not when his eyes are glued helplessly to Anatoly’s exposed and working throat – chops the side of his hand down against the very base of his neck. Anatoly seizes, coughing violently, and Molokov twirls a metal bar ominously between his fingers.

“You don’t sound so certain of yourself, comrade.” His eyes glint like a monster in the dark. “Would you like a turn?”

He holds the bar up in invitation – Freddie watches Anatoly’s eyes flicker fearfully to the metal, then Molokov’s face, then Freddie’s, as if wondering if he’ll really do it. He will. Freddie averts his eyes, ashamed somehow of the thought.

“N-no. No.” He tries to take a step back and bumps immediately into the wall of a man behind him – Petrovich leers as he twists to look at him, thick lips twisted into a grin. “I, I don’t…”

Freddie, he heard Anatoly groan in the depths of his mind, writhing in pleasure-pain.

“Freddie,” he hears groaned from across the room, hoarse.

“Come now, of course you do.” Molokov purrs, holding it out to him encouragingly. His teeth glint, white as his pants, his favorite pants, until he got these ones… (He doesn’t remember, can’t remember, why can’t he remember?) “It will be a good experience for you. Or would you rather the gun?”

“I’d – yes.” He draws another shaky breath, staring at the dull metal before him. Anything. Anything is better than this. He doesn’t want to think about it – whatever Molokov asks him to do, he has to do it. He will.

Will you really?

The voice in his head sounds like his, but it also sounds like hers –

(what was her name?)

– the woman, the woman who’d touched his hands so gently, slipped the paper into them  and clasped them as Molokov did now with the gun, like she cared about him –

(Comrade Molokov cares about him)

And she’d loved him, and he’d loved her, and Anatoly had been there, and he’d loved him, too, and what was it exactly that they were in Bangkok for in the first place?

“Would you like another lesson, Comrade? The blood takes some getting used to, I know. But I am confident in your abilities.”

He can feel his eyes on him, as though the atoms between them have seized his skin with hooks and were tugging him, compelling him – there is an itch so deep in his brain that he wants to fall to his knees and beg for some kind of mercy. Wasn’t this supposed to be his mercy? Why was death so much more appealing?

The darkness that had made its home in the core of him writhed uneasily under Molokov’s supervision. The metal of the gun felt too-heavy in his sweaty palms.

“Do I have to shoot him?” he hears himself asks, dazed. Molokov merely smiles wider and shakes his head, twirling the bar. There is a sickening moment of anticipation.

“Of course not, comrade.”

He slams it down against Anatoly’s ribcage and the roar of blood in his ears isn’t enough to drown out his scream, piercing through the fog with urgent clarity –

            don’tleavemedon’tleavemedon’tleaveme –

            “Stop! Stop!” And there are hands on him again, and he feels the tears on his face without registering how they got there, his organs tearing with every savage strike of the bar – on his face and arms and legs and his back and his stomach, God, right down on his stomach like he means to impale him but stops just short and, “Stop! Fucking stop –”

            “Freddie,” Anatoly gurgles, and there’s red on the floor, red filling up his vision. He lunges toward Molokov with murder in his blood, an inhuman snarl building in his chest at the sight of this man he knows (why, why, why were they in Bangkok?) left defenseless on the cement, convulsing and choking up blood in violent, offbeat spatters almost in time with the erratic blows of the bar.

            “Watch closely, Frederick,” Molokov instructs sternly, lip curled as he prepares to cleave the air in his lungs once more.

            As he raises it above his head to deal what must have been the final blow, Freddie’s fingers slipped – in an instant he remembered, on the most instinctual level, that he held death in his hands and he raised it to point it at the center of Molokov’s forehead.

            “Stop,” he demands, voice trembling with senseless anger, senseless fear. The Russian (wasn’t he supposed to be Russian? who was he really?) turned back to him and straightened up with slow caution, raising an eyebrow.

            There is an arctic moment, the kind that Freddie feared would freeze his memories where they would never thaw within his lifetime. He stared into Molokov’s eyes, half-desperate for some sort of reassurance. That this was okay; that this would be okay.

            He doesn’t want to die here.

            He doesn’t want Anatoly to die here.

            Molokov doesn’t look properly afraid of him. He scarcely has the time to wonder why before there is a gun to his head, cold and probing at the base of his neck, nuzzling there like some affection-starved animal. His gut tightens with painful anticipation, but for once, he doesn’t screw his eyes shut. They’re fixed on Molokov, then past him –

            Anatoly lies limp and bleeding on the floor, breathing shallowly.

            “Would you like a moment alone?” Molokov asks conversationally, but Freddie can see the end in his eyes. He swallows, the lump in his throat suddenly too thick for him to speak past it. He shakes his head, stumbling when he’s released.

            “If you won’t commit to me, then I won’t commit to you,” he tells him, circling around him slowly. The bar is held at his side, nearly dragging on the floor. It’s long and light, but Freddie has seen the damage it can do, heard it whistle through the air. Anatoly groans, a pitiful noise, a dying animal. “Tell me, comrade – do you want to help me?”

            He can’t make sense of anything he’s saying, head spinning. “Wh – no. No. Please,” he begins, but Molokov is already sneering.

            “Doctor,” he spews desperately, dropping to his knees and crawling towards his lover. “He – he needs –”

            “I suppose that is a no.”

            “Please,” he gasps, his lungs constricting. The darkness has leaked into his heart at last, poisoning his breaths. Molokov seems far away, his voice distant and tinny. The gun slips from his fingers and clatters the short distance to the floor. Anatoly is damp with sweat and tears and blood and possibly urine, he can’t be sure, he doesn’t care. He has to help him –

            “I will be back when you are ready to speak with me coherently.”

            It’s like he can’t even hear him.

Anatoly’s ribs are swollen and tender beneath his fingertips as he feels along desperately, looking for some silver lining. It’s gonna be okay. Okay. Okay.

            It’s not going to be okay.

            (who is that woman, what’s her name, why were they in Bangkok, anyways?)

            Molokov and his scoffing men are already retreating leisurely, and Freddie feels his diminishing presence pull him like a tether, straight from his center. He whimpers. Anatoly whimpers as well.

            Anatoly clutches his rumpled Soviet jacket with withering fingers, sticky with blood. He feels over his heart, choking on the words he’s trying to say. They’re all the same, anyways – he reads the shape of his lips, desperate for some connection.

            Freddie, Freddie Freddie…

            “Freddie – you’re back,” he manages hoarsely, eyes glowing with feverish happiness. Freddie wishes that he could understand. Frustration sticks in his gut like tar, stinking – why were we in Bangkok?

            “Please!” he wails uselessly, and he thinks that far away he hears Petrovich snort in response. The footsteps fade gradually, ascending. Leaving them together… alone…

            Then there is silence and cold and dark and nothing, nothing.

            I could be nothing…

            Nothing might be better than something, if the something is this.

 

 

There’s blood under his fingernails.

There’s blood everywhere, actually. Anatoly has only just stopped coughing it up. It’s thick, sticky on his hands. He imagines that the cloth on his legs has disintegrated, replaced by a slick, matted layer like oil pastel. Freddie is afraid to look at it. It’s not red, he knows, but black – it’s not blood. It’s lifeblood.

No.

Anatoly isn’t going to die.

He can’t.

He won’t.

Freddie won’t let him.

Anatoly hasn’t spoken in what must be an hour – it’s hard to tell, here in the cells where the time slips by like sand and Molokov’s words carry some extra weight that he’ll never be able to explain. His chest is still moving with the labor of his breaths, which wheeze between his lips halfheartedly, and his fingers are slackening slowly in Freddie’s collar.

“We’ll be fine. You’ll be fine,” Freddie tells him, listening to his own words fill the room like so much empty vapor. He lets them flow, as thick and awkward as Anatoly’s choking gasps.

“You’re fine. It’s probably just your ribs, you know, when your ribs are broken it feels like you can’t breathe but really you can – or you wouldn’t still be breathing… Would you?”

Anatoly’s head shifts in what might be a nod. He swallows.

“Say something,” Freddie begs, tightening his fingers like claws around his biceps. If it hurts, Anatoly barely seems to notice. He blinks up at him with difficulty, fingers twitching, tightening in return.

The slight tug on his collar is almost enough to appease him.

But not quite. “Say something.”

He doesn’t know what he’s saying. He doesn’t know who he is. His identity has narrowed down to pure, fleeting hues of scarlet anger and even briefer azure flashes of desperate hope to contrast with the burgeoning darkness, which is closing in around them.

Each time Anatoly’s lungs spasm he hears it in the waver of his breath. “Hi,” he manages, and his smile looks like it would peel off about as easily as the thin membrane blood beneath his lips. He coughs, deep and agonized – warmth spatters his chest, spittle clinging to the hairs on Freddie’s arms.

“You’re going to be fine,” Freddie tells him, and he believes it. If he thinks about it hard enough he can imagine them back into the hospital in Bangkok, except now it’s functional – there are nurses bustling, Thai nurses dressed like the prostitutes on the streets during the festival that night.

He still doesn’t remember exactly why they’d been in Bangkok. But it can’t be that important.

“Freddie,” Anatoly sighs, and the sound is chunky, breathless. “Ah…”

“You’re fine. Comrade Molokov will bring you a doctor.” He nods to himself, the story unfolding itself in his mind, painting itself on the stone walls like a bright mural, a dream – he sits by his side in the hospital room, and they smile at one another, and the machines beep steadily and they are alive.

“You’re fine,” he assures him, and he doesn’t even see the painful way he smiles back at him when their noses brush. His lips taste like salt, and darkness.

He remembers when he’d breathed it in the first time, so afraid. I could be nothing, too. It wasn’t so bad as he’d made it out to be. It lived in both of them, now, in their lungs and in their veins and in their hearts. Consuming them.

“It’s okay,” he tells him in response to some unspoken question. He might have made it up. Anatoly looks confused. “It doesn’t hurt.”

No. Dying doesn’t hurt at all. Freddie should know – he’s done it more than once.

Anatoly coughs again, a horrible groaning, hacking sound. “Fred-die,” he moans, suffocating under the weight of Molokov’s words which make up the very air, everything. They eat slowly at his bones until he can’t sit upright. He whines. “Freddie, I l-ove you.”

Freddie loves him too. He smiles.

He talks forever, about this and that – about Russia, about Molokov and the cells, about Bangkok, about chess. “We should play a game,” he says, and “I’ll start – knight to A3.” Anatoly doesn’t respond. His chest is convulsing oddly; there is fluid leaking between his lips. Freddie could talk forever, though, and does.

He leans down to kiss him, periodically, listening for the slow and constant exhale. Anatoly is still. He stares dimly at the ceiling.

“I love you,” he says, desperation tainting the words now. There is no sudden intake of breath. The warmth has leeched from his body, leaving it tender and purple-white, cooling in his lap. “I’ve missed you a lot. Tolya. Tolya?”

The silence becomes hostile as the words trapped in his ribcage begin to burst outwards, a manic stream. Molokov’s voice is ringing in his ears.

Dead dead dead –

Only a pawn –

Worthless –

“Tolya?” he whispers, grappling for the last remnants of his sanity. The blood on his fingers smears wetly around the trigger of the gun, lying beside him on the floor.

He lifts it and stares into the mouth. It’s only as dark as the air in his lungs. He lowers it again, disappointed.

Anatoly isn’t in there, either.

The cell is dark; his heart is dark; the blood on his hands is dark, dark, Anatoly’s blood –

Light explodes before his chest.

Freddie chokes as the blackness wells thickly from his lungs, exactly as he’d thought it would. The gun clatters to the floor.

He finds Anatoly’s hand and clutches him as the warmth grows in a shallow pool around him, and thinks of a woman with a mischievous smile, slipping a white card into his hand.

“I love you,” he tries to say, and it flows silently from his lips to disappear into the dark.

There is nothing white down here.

 

 

The gun is cold and silent on the floor beside the two corpses, twined together like lovers. Freddie’s hand is limp beside it.

Alexander Molokov’s shoes clap softly on the stone as he returns to check on his prisoners – or what’s left of them. The very air smells like death.

He sucks lightly at his teeth, nudging Trumper’s limp hand with a slight curl of his lip.

It’s a pity. He could have been a remarkable asset.

As for Anatoly… well. No one could deny that he’d had his run. Forty wasn’t too young to die, was it?

He bends down to take the weapon from the floor and warm it in his palm, weighing it, casting the bodies a final, blandly disappointed glance. The echo of his footsteps vibrates, soft and sharp, all down the hall as he leaves them where they lie.

            Someone is going to have a terrible time scrubbing all of that blood off the floor, and it’s not going to be him.