“You see, everyone’s a liar, babe, and that’s the truth…I said everyone’s a liar, baby, and I got the proof…get that boy up on the stand, and watch him raise his red right hand…” – Nick Cave
* * * * *
-They were together last night. He was fucking her last night. Him. And her.-
Scarlett stood at the big wooden doors to Baelian’s office, trying to push thoughts of Eden out of her mind, the files she held in her hand almost burning with the wealth of information within.
Baelian had summoned her for an update on her ‘activities,’ and that was exactly what she would give him. No more, no less.
-And we won’t talk about your ‘activities’ with my former fiancé-
She’d been ushered onto the top floor by her employer’s secretary almost immediately when she’d arrived, the woman clearly having been given explicit instructions to give the redhead’s anticipated visit precedence over his morning appointments.
Taking a deep breath, Scarlett swung the double doors wide and strode across the carpeted floor, her high boots creaking slightly as she crossed the empty space between them.
“Morning sunshine,” she said dryly, putting one of the two coffees she was carrying on the desk and looking up at the somewhat bleary-eyed man.
Baelian stood at the window with his hands in his pockets. He’d been watching the brightly lit world beyond with a deadpan expression, leaning against the metal frame as he studied the myriad of cars swarming like ants far below, tiny coloured flecks that were people going about their business.
-We’ll never be like you. None of us. It’s our blessing and curse-
Blinking at Scarlett as if he wasn’t yet fully conscious, he crossed to his desk, a silent nod the only response to her greeting as he reached for the coffee and brought it to his lips, taking a sip and making a face at the heat of the liquid burning down his throat.
Scarlett settled herself into a plush chair, lifting her own paper cup to her lips and inhaling the rich aroma as she took a mouthful of coffee, silently praying to whatever god was listening for the strength not to let her emotions get in the way of their business.
“So what’s falling apart today…where are we at?” Baelian asked blandly, moving to sit in the leather desk chair and nursing his coffee in his hands. He didn’t even know why they bothered ordering takeaway when they had a state of the art machine just down the hall.
-Something about the rustic quaintness of the paper cups, perhaps?-
Resting his head back, he turned red-rimmed eyes on the woman across from him, sighing.
“How’d it go with the Nazi?” he continued, his gaze flickering over the papers that Scarlett held, a flash of curiosity sparking.
Scarlett furrowed her brow and opened one of the manila folders, pulling out 12 glossy photos – some of Steiner getting off a plane, some of Claudia and Steiner at their first, then second social encounter. She slid them across the desk to Baelian, who sifted through them in silence.
“Steiner will be the death of someone, not sure who or why yet,” smiling as she shook her head, she chuckled, “Probably you…you are his favourite.” Baelian’s face remained passive and Scarlett sobered quickly, nodding as if confirming some unspoken query. “He’s a loose cannon…” she paused, choosing her next words carefully, “And Claudia now has another…hobby. She plans on ‘treating’ him, and as far as I can tell they’ll be scheduling regular sessions when he returns.” she sighed. She was tired. “I don’t know if that giant pain in the ass is a lost cause or not, but at least if he’s coming back here regularly we can keep a better eye on him. I don’t like the idea of Claudia messing with his mind, though…you know how obsessed she can get. I just hope that it doesn’t make things more problematic than they already are.”
She reached over to the desk and pointed to a few choice photos, very careful not to touch Baelian or to make eye contact with him for more than a second. The photos between them were bright and full of colour, making their subjects emotions clear. Steiner always looking gruff, and Claudia looked like she’d discovered something new and very interesting.
“I’m awaiting your orders on this one…my opinion is that a funeral is best…” Scarlett smiled sardonically, “But then, it always is.” She settled back against her chair, fiddling with the shoe lace of her left boot. It was a childlike gesture, something that she did when she was thinking – looping the lace around and around til her finger went white, then unwinding and repeating.
She watched Baelian as his cobalt eyes scanned the photos, no trace of emotion on his face while considered them – except a slight perk of the brow at one of Claudia with ‘that’ light in her eyes. He nodded and took another sip of coffee, then sighed.
“Orders are pending,” he said. “Regardless of what Steiner may or may not be, he’s handy in a fight and we’ll need him eventually.” A hand came up to brush back his hair, his shoulders rising and falling in a shrug. “We’ll see I guess. If he kills me, well…” his intense gaze fixed on her and a wry smirk threatened at the corners of his mouth, “I guess you’ll have to deal with the fact that he beat you to it.”
Scarlett smiled at that, a cold and empty smile that didn’t reach her eyes. She let her gaze shift to the beautiful dark wood before her and she made a face.
“Now wouldn’t that be a disappointment, trust the Nazi to ruin my fun.”
She flicked emerald eyes up to Baelian’s face, finally really looking at the man who had been part of her life for so long – a man who, with those luminous blue eyes, could hypnotise even the smartest woman and turn her into a flapping mess. Those eyes were now hooded, veiled…shadowed with dark circles like bruises.
It made her angry.
She let the anger fill her, that happy warmth that she knew so well settling into her stomach as she glanced down at the other file she held.
“And now for item #2 on our list…” she said in a tight voice, “Lucas contacted me a few days ago asking for a DNA test. At first I thought he was fucking with me, but despite his occasional idiotic actions, I don’t think he has a real death wish…” she took a deep breath, resisting the urge to throw the papers at his boyish face, “Here are the reports he wanted…outlining the relationships he has with us all…” she pushed the ugly yellow folder towards him, her green eyes blazing, “And I will bet my fucking life that you already know what that report says…and have been keeping it from him.”
Baelian had been watching her silently, a dull kind of emptiness in his eyes as she’d joked about the Nazi, as if he were waiting for the other shoe to drop. When it did, he let his eyes shift to the folder, blinking at it for a moment before levelling his gaze on her.
“And you went ahead and authorised a test utilising my personal samples and Black Family Inc. property without my approval or signature why, exactly?” came his response, finally, his head tilting as he stared at her with that bottomless gaze. If one stared at him long enough, they’d have seen the slight shift in his eyes, a swirling darkness and something foreboding gathering itself just beneath the surface. “As I recall, all and any tests involving core family samples need to go through me. Or did I miss something? I wasn’t aware you were at the beck and call of our associates.”
Scarlett stilled, feeling the emotions shift swiftly within her.
-Fuck it, we’re both suckers for punishment-
She narrowed her gaze slightly.
“This is true, but you also asked me to look into all goings on within this family, and that’s what I did. I use everything I have to explore anomalies, especially when someone comes to me with such an odd request…because he wouldn’t have done it if something hadn’t spooked him. Lucas doesn’t know about the results yet, I’ve made sure he won’t find out…for a little while, at least.” She grit her teeth as he stared at her, defiance rising within as she steeled herself against his silent intimidation. “You said yourself once that I could have found out about my own history any time that I wanted by using the labs, that was your excuse for not telling me, don’t you dare spank me like a child for doing so now. Like everything that is necessary, once I knew I brought it to you…” she perked a brow, “Besides…Lucas isn’t just an associate, is he? He’s fucking family!”
Scarlett was surprised to find that she had risen to her feet. She knew that she was being emotional…she was frustrated and tired and the cracks were starting to show about her edges – but she just couldn’t contain it anymore. Clenching her fists until her long stiletto nails almost drew blood, she sucked in a deep breath and flopped back into the leather chair.
She had to get a hold of herself. This wasn’t like her at all.
“Look, I’m sorry I didn’t check in with you first. But I won’t apologise for doing my job.”
Baelian shifted in his chair, his eyes flickering over the folder briefly before he brought his gaze back to the redhead opposite him. He put the coffee down carefully, a small distance away from him.
“Lucas, as you’ve suddenly and oddly started calling him, has been receiving the same anonymous messages that I suspect most of you have and, like most of you, he seems to have chosen to allow his fears and insecurities rule his common sense…” Both hands came to rest on the desk, fingers splaying on the hardwood surface. “Someone is fucking with all of us, looking for weaknesses. And finding far too many,” he stopped, his expression still passive.
“My ‘excuse,’ as you conveniently choose to paint it, was that you could have made the choice to betray me and cross reference your DNA without my permission at any time…in which case we would not be sitting here, or you could have simply put in a request for it. I would not have stopped you. I would have signed the approval myself…but since we cannot afford to deal in hypotheticals, let us be blunt. We both know I couldn’t have stopped you finding out what you wanted about yourself, but for propriety’s sake and because you are my blood I chose to let that fact slide. It was your secret to discover and no one else’s…” Baelian paused, his eyes growing colder, brows furrowing slightly. His hand shifted suddenly, slamming down on the folder between them with a harsh slap of his palm. “This,” he said, his voice sharpening, “This was not your secret, or, quite frankly, any of your business. He is not your family. There is neither Black nor Kensington in these results, which makes it none of your concern. You hold access to more of my past and more of my secrets than almost anyone, but that does not give you the right to prance about playing Mary Sue Smart-Ass as if you had the keys to the kingdom. Most of this information has the potential to destroy lives. If I choose to withhold it, then you can rest assured there is damn good reason. And if I needed you to know, you’d be aware of that too…because I’d tell you. This wasn’t your job,” he scowled, something very much like disgust painting his features, “But you’ve gone to great lengths to conveniently paint it as such. This, my dear aunt, is you being reckless, emotional, irrational and presumptuous…which, let’s face it, is hardly unexpected given the circumstances…yet it leaves us in a somewhat awkward predicament. So what now?” He sat back in his chair, his jaw tightening as he waited for a response.
“Fuck off with that aunt bullshit,” she said, fuming at his comment. Her arms came up, crossing across her bosom as she made a face, “And so what if I’m emotional? Isn’t that what being part of this family is all about? I learned from the best, right?” she shrugged and looked away, furious at herself…and the situation.
Scarlett had begun to understand, in recent times, that despite being a rather seasoned killer courtesy of this ‘family,’ she was still much younger than almost everyone around her – Baelian, Alina…Grigori…Claudia…Eden – and her social experience with other humans was somewhat lacking. She’d never had to be a people person before, not for her work…or for her life.
-Ugh, is this what fucking being human is? Take it back, this is shit-
She slouched slightly in the black leather chair, her chin jutting out in a defiance and determination that was completely false. She felt the beginning of tears prickling at the back of her eyes, and she knew her peaches and cream complexion would soon betray her, her cheeks flushed red when she was about to cry. Which was hardly ever.
-Keep it together.-
“What do you want from me?” she said finally, softly…her voice cracking ever so slightly.
“Damned if I’m calling you every day with every little fucking thing. Can you imagine, while you’re off with one of your harem, if I just kept ringing every five minutes…talk about cock blocking…” she blinked rapidly, “I’ve done this job for 10 years and I’m not about to jeopardise it…but I’m also not your lackey. You asked me to look into these messages and the goings on, to try and find an answer. I won’t apologise for doing what I thought was right.”
Baelian’s eyes lowered to the folder and he slid it back to her, perking a brow.
“When I found you, when I offered you a job and access to all my resources and secrets, I decided to take a chance on trusting you with them, because I knew that you would be less emotional, more ruthless and less moody than I was…which, for reasons I don’t have to explain, is extremely useful to me…” He studied her body language for a moment before leaning back in his chair, making a conscious effort to not look too much like a stern parent. “In this space, here, you and I have existed perfectly for a very long time, because no matter what was going on in our world we could safely remove emotion and idiotic whims and just get the job done. Loyalty never mattered, family never mattered. All that mattered was you and me and the mission. We both sacrificed for it…but we both agreed that it was more important than either of us…” he paused, a hand coming up to rub at his eyes.
-I’m so fucking tired goddamnit-
“When I heard of your engagement to Eden, despite your myriad of excuses for not telling me and your presumptions at my reaction, my main concern was always for the integrity of our arrangement here…because if anyone knows jealousy and hurt and insecurity, it’s me. I knew eventually all this, this here, would be endangered because of your feelings for her, because of my past with her and because of who and what she is…” Clasping his hands in front of him, Baelian licked his lips, trying to delicately consider his next words. “You are not my lackey,” he agreed, nodding, “But you are my employee and my weapon. Whatever blood connection we share, our respective partners, my mental illness, your ego, how much I want to fuck you, how much you want to kill me or anything else out there…” he gestured beyond the window, “None of that should touch or affect our arrangement. I feel, under the circumstances, that this has now been compromised.”
Blue eyes fixed on Scarlett again, the darkness swirling, mixed with a sudden gentleness that washed through the edges of Baelian’s gaze.
“It’s understandable, your heart has been broken. But now we need to decide what we’re going to do about this because that,” he pointed to the folder, “should never happen…and I’m sorry auntie, but your ‘I’m doing what I thought was right’ excuse is bullshit and we both know it.”
Scarlett was staring at him, green eyes wide, her lips parted slightly as he spoke, every sentence chipping away at her resolve just a bit, until her lip was trembling and a solitary hot tear rolled down her cheek. She blinked in surprise – Baelian, to his credit, had the decency to lower his gaze.
“Scarlett…” he corrected himself.
“It won’t happen again.” Her tone was sharp, if a little defeated, her forehead creasing as she shook her head. “I never have and never will put anything before our cause…but…” she faltered, trying to find the words. “I just wanted to connect with someone. I needed…it won’t happen again.”
“No it won’t.”
She steeled herself, nodding and swallowing the lump in her throat that was choking her. She was tired of being a slave to the feelings swirling round inside her. She felt completely off balance, like she was losing her grip on her control…and on everyone around her.
“What do you need me to do?” Scarlett asked, frowning and sitting up a little straighter, “Because unless you fire me, I’m not about to quit and become a fucking heiress…” she forced her gaze up to meet his, trying hard not to sniffle and surrender all credibility. Baelian’s eyes were narrowed, intent, his brow furrowing as he offered her a nod.
“I’m revoking your access to those samples. From now on you’ll need me and a limited code to get to any of them…” he shook his head, then tilted it to stare at her, “I expect this arrangement to be a temporary one, as inconvenient as it is. It’s getting complicated now…” he let his eyes shift to the window and sighed. “Life would be a hell of a lot easier without love,” he muttered, then glanced at her, “What are you going to do about Eden?”
She hadn’t been prepared to talk about her, to hear her name on his lips. To see the flickering images of the two of them wrapped about one another within her mind…touching…laughing…kissing…
The tears came thick and fast, then, making her emerald eyes shine like red-rimmed gemstones.
“I don’t know what to do…” she croaked, finally giving up on dignity, “I’ve never done this before…I’ve never loved someone, not like this…and I’ve never lost something but still had them right there in front of me…” she tried to regulate her breaths, but the tears just kept coming, all the heartbreak of the past few months pouring out of her in an avalanche of emotion, “I need some help…I’m so alone…I have no one, I don’t even have a friend that I can call…”
-Oh shut up. You sound pathetic-
“Everyone has someone…I’ve only ever had this one job…nothing else…even Asinoe! She was my job…whatever splinter of friendship I thought we had was fucking fake! And even that’s gone…”
With soft and mournful sobs her hard exterior split, leaving her blubbering and sniffing out her heartbreak. The walls that she had worked so hard to build around herself, those which were supposed to keep her safe, had clearly done too good of a job in keeping her isolated from those around her. No one had ever been able to get even remotely close.
“Asinoe is a fucking sociopath, and even she still has you…” she muttered, pushing the thoughts of Eden from her mind as the tiniest spark of anger reignited, the black swirl of jealousy twisting its sticky tendrils around her heart.
-Everyone has you. Even my fucking fiancé has you. And how awfully convenient that you sent me off with Claudia while you were ‘checking’ on Eden…-
Baelian had been watching Scarlett in silence, his blues eyes widening slightly, then narrowing as his forehead creased in perplexion, his gaze skittering away.
‘I’ve never lost something but still had them right there.’
-Welcome to the fucking club, Scarlett. Cry me a river.-
He chewed on the side of his lower lip thoughtfully, blinking for a long moment before bringing his attention back to the redhead before him, his eyes closing then opening again at her final dig.
-Oh yeah, Asinoe has me alright…-
Without a word he nodded, an almost wry and bitter smile alighting his features as he shook his head, sliding out from his chair and moving to pull a tissue box from the nearby shelf, walking it over to her and offering it up.
“Love is a pain in the ass,” he murmured, wiggling the box at her.
Scarlett sniffed, drawing up a tissue and bringing it to her nose.
“Thank you,” she croaked. She dabbed at her eyes, black mascara bleeding across her cheek. “What a mess. Well…fool me once…maybe I’ll stick to men, they’re simpler after all…” Scarlett laughed coldly and looked up at Baelian’s concerned face, “Most of them anyway.” She blew her nose and threw the tissue into the bin beside the desk, taking another handful and sighing heavily. She hadn’t meant to fall apart like this…she had no idea how to even begin to gather up what was left of her dignity. Or if she even wanted to.
She glanced at Baelian again, standing there before her. His expression had shifted, he was just watching her now, a faint glimmer in his gaze, his arms crossed over his chest, the tissue box tapping against his side.
“How do you get over it?” she asked him solemnly, “I don’t know if I should wait it out…or just throw everything away and start again…” she started to pick at her fingernails, feeling suddenly awkward, “Maybe I should just get a cat.”
She heard him place the tissue box on the desk, his long limbs folding as he crouched down before her, those eyes shining with sudden mirth.
“I find that a readjustment of attitude helps to dull the emotions,” he said flatly, tilting his head, “Like cutting off a limb. Love is an unnecessary impediment to the bigger picture.” A hand reached up and raked through his hair and he perked a brow. “Cut the bitch off, fuck someone just to spite her…the nearest available candidate, then move on. You don’t strike me as the type who needs to confuse matters with the weakness of love…what a fucking waste.”
Scarlett looked at the man in front of her, blinking at his words and suddenly not feeling so small.
“I don’t really know what type I am in this instance,” she confessed, making a face, “One experience is hardly enough to determine a pattern…” she finished wiping her eyes and straightened in her chair, gathering herself.
-Back on the horse-
“So, now that Claudia’s in hospital, would you like me to continue monitoring her…just to make sure? I can have all her mail checked before it gets delivered…” she frowned slightly, “These texts are still being sent, and it makes me nervous…how much they know…”
“Wow Red, seriously?” Nikolai collapsed into sudden laughter, pushing himself back from where he was crouched and scooting to sit with his back against the desk, his legs sprawling out. “I practically just threw myself at you and you barely even noticed. You have been hanging out with cunt too long…” sparkling eyes glimmered with amusement and he shook his head.
His sharp laughter almost made Scarlett jump out of her chair, cold dread shooting through her as she stared at him.
-Oh you motherfucker…-
“I’d be insulted if I had the capacity…” Niki went on and grinned, drawing up one leg and resting his arm on his knee, “Offer still stands though, you wanna get to the Iron Maiden, I know where to fuck her so it hurts,” he winked at her. “As for Claudia I wouldn’t worry too much. She’s pretty tough, I reckon anyone who goes her will end up the worse for wear of the two…three…whatever…” he sniggered again, shaking his head.
The bastard’s laughter was infectious. Once she was over the shock of his change, Scarlett also began to chuckle.
“You’re such a cunt,” she laughed, balling up some of her tissues and throwing them at him. “Maybe I have been spending too much time with women, but shit, you know we don’t have a ‘professional relationship…” the possibility danced unbidden through her mind as she spoke, and a tiny butterfly stirred in her stomach as he ducked out of the way of her tissue with a chuckle.
-Are you fucking suicidal? This is Niki. Also, ew. That’s just…weird.-
“…and you already get more pussy than I do, thank you. Appreciate the offer, though,” she added, as the damned butterfly kicked up again. She could feel a blush creeping ever so slightly across her ears, and again she reminded herself of who and what she was dealing with.
-Lunatic. Madman. Like a fucking Batman villain. Bad. Breathe. Deep breath. In and out.
“Professional relationship my ass,” Niki scoffed, “I’m not proposing here, nor do I want or need another goddamned cunt thinking they own me…” blue eyes glimmered with mischief as he gazed up at her from the floor, “But I know you’re thinking about it. I’m thinking about it. I’ve been thinking about it since the last time we tussled…” his lashes fluttered slightly and he bit his lip coyly, “You hurt me…and it’s all I’ve been thinking about ever since…” Wide almost childlike eyes peered at her, drinking her in. “Why should Eden have all the fun?”
Scarlett smiled wryly and shook her head.
“You may not want complications, but they tend to follow you around…you get people addicted and you know it. We have too much to do at this present time to get…distracted.”
-That’s not a no-
“One problem at a time, Niki…” she said softly, studying his feigned look of innocence, “And don’t look at me like that either! You’re trying to make a crocodile look like a turtle and it’s so not working…” her emerald eyes darkened.
-One day…one day we might see who’d really win a ‘tussle’ between us. One day…if I lose my mind enough.-
Nikolai blinked slowly, his smile tightening as something dangerous danced behind his gaze.
“You know, Red, my offers don’t come easy or often, despite what you might believe about me…” he rose slowly, leaning against the desk, fire flashing in his cobalt eyes. “The time for you to pick a side is coming, and I do so very much hope you pick mine…” he grinned at her, his hair falling in his face as he leaned forward, “Mine is the fun side.” Leaning back, he crossed his arms, his expression growing harder as he looked her up and down. “I’m not going to insult either of us by pointing out that in your current state l could incapacitate you before you made it to the door, if I wanted to…and I do want to…” that languid smile returned, “But I like you, Red, and I’m more interested in seeing what you do now that you’re free from the brainwashing of the fucking Iron Maiden than I am in raping you until you scream for it…” He laughed jovially, like a child amused by a wonderful new friend they’d found on the playground. “Or maybe I just want to provoke you until you hurt me…who knows? My psyche is all fucked up. I’d bathe in your blood and use your entrails as a scarf then tell you I love you, and mean it. I’m not right in the head…”
Niki raked a hand through his hair again…and then all at once confusion danced through his features and he was Baelian again, frowning and looking bewildered at the sudden change in stance.
“I’m sorry…what were we talking about?”
“Oh…nothing…” Scarlett replied immediately, tossing the last of her used tissues in the bin. She had become very very still as Niki’s less than subtle threats doused her like a bucket of ice water. If there was one thing that she dreaded and feared, it was the violation of her body…and she knew his modus operandi wasn’t something to dismiss.
She sat there watching Baelian struggling to pick up the thread of their conversation, her mind echoing with Niki’s warning about picking sides.
“I was asking if you wanted to meet at the same time next week?” she said casually, her gaze lowering in deference, “And…saying thanks for letting me cry at you. I’m sorry I was being such a girl…” She eyed the toes of her boots…she suddenly wanted to be out of that office very badly.
‘…I know you’re thinking about it. I’m thinking about it. I’ve been thinking about it since the last time we tussled…it’s all I’ve been thinking about…’
Baelian merely nodded at her thanks, still seeming a little confused – as if he wasn’t sure that he remembered her crying at all. Still, he didn’t want to give her any cause to doubt him or his authority under the circumstances, so he just gave her a tight smile.
“Next week will be fine,” he told her, watching as she stood abruptly and gathered her things, and frowning at her sudden haste. Scarlett forced herself to move slower, her breath catching as he struggled not to let her nerves betray her.
“Well…sure. If you need to reschedule, just let me know, otherwise I’ll see you next week…” she turned on her heel and took two steps towards the door before pausing to glance back at him.
-…the time for you to pick a side is coming…-
“Thank you for today,” she murmured, her eyes not quite meeting his, “I’ll do better, I promise.”
“I’m sure you’ll do exactly what’s required,” came the reply, his intense eyes fixing on her as she offered a short smile and turned to hurry out of the office and down the hallway, past the handful of employees only just arriving to start their work day.
“I need to go back to bed,” she muttered to herself as she slipped into the lift, a gasp escaping her as a hand slammed against the closing doors behind her, keeping them open.
Niki stood in the hallway, smirking at her, his luminous eyes damn near glowing with dark promise as he leaned against the doors.
“If you need a bed, I can suggest one…” he crooned, “But once you’re there, you’re right…you’ll never want to leave…” He grinned at her, then inclined his head politely, stepping back to let the doors close, “Later Red. I’ll be thinking of you.”
“I bet you will…” she replied as they clicked shut between them. Scarlett stared at the doors, the lift beginning its descent as she released a breath that she hadn’t realised she’d been holding.
-I bet you will.-
Written by E.Kelly and N. Ristovski.
All characters and story lines remain the property of N.Ristovski and the Underground. All character writings within the Underground are fictitious. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2017. Natalie Ristovski.