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Echoes of a Forgotten Life

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He keeps dreaming of running. Running away, as far and fast as he can - it doesn't matter where it is he ends up, it matters where and when it is not. In his dreams, he is small and terrified. In his dreams, his heartbeat is loud in his ears, too fast and strange.

Alexander Molokov has never run in his life. On occasion, there were some judicious retreats, backing down to reevaluate and recalculate the plan, but not running like this, powerless in the face of something much larger than himself.

He tells himself this sort of sympathy is a risk he can't afford, even dreaming, and stops reading the Vassey files before bed.

There's something about Walter de Courcey that fascinates Molokov. He corners him after a match one night, as players and spectators and members of each delegation filter out of the room. There aren't many places to go in Merano, so Molokov asks him to his room to talk. Walter smiles, perfect self-assurance, overlaying just a hint of uncertainty even Molokov's surprised he noticed.

A talk becomes something else as he grabs Walter deftly by the wrists and pins him to the wall. Walter tenses, seems to weigh resistance against curiosity, and hasn't yet come to a decision when Molokov kisses him roughly, teeth marking his lower lip.

Walter's sleeping beside him in a tangle of sheets before Molokov comes back to himself and starts to wonder how this happened. There's something about him. The confidence in his smile, maybe. The conviction that he's a better person than he really is, than Molokov's convinced he is. The desire to see just how far he can be pushed.

Part of Molokov thinks Walter reminds him of someone. Part of him is convinced he's never met anyone like Walter in his life.

Molokov leaves Bangkok feeling deeply dissatisfied. There's no reason for it - he won. He should be triumphant, victorious. Anatoly is returning home. Everything went according to plan.

But it's a hollow, paltry, small victory. Something whispers indistinctly in the back of his mind as he boards the plane to Moscow. He can't hear the words. The words don't matter. Molokov knows the meaning.

A victory, he thinks, shouldn't be like this, just words and chess. There should be blood. There should be screaming and tears and pain. There should be worlds burning at his feet.

He finds himself drumming on the arm of his seat, thoughtlessly, ceaselessly. Da da da dum...