000

.

to eat a piece of bread

Mordecai lay on his back. He stared at the ceiling, sated in a brand new way, deep in thought. Innochka loaded another ball of sticky resin into the pipe, smiling.

"You look very content," Mordecai said softly.

"I am," she said.

"You're welcome," he replied, and she laughed.

"And you?" she asked. "What do you think, my Ochki?"

He wasn't sure how to reply. The experience was strange. The mechanics of it always sounded unappealing from his first education on the matter. He acquired an familiar mental distance, almost as though watching himself from across the room.

"I'm certain I'm doing this wrong," he said, lifting his hands from her.

"No wrong way," she whispered.

They'd proceeded slowly, with Innochka stopping when she sensed he grew too nervous or overwhelmed. She took his hand and massaged it, talked softly about something unrelated until his heart stopped pounding and they began again, slowly, patiently. She allowed him to get used to having her this near and being this bare. She did not insist on talking. She let his stumbling experimentation go on in a blessed, meditative silence. As he grew gradually more comfortable his analytical side began to weigh in on the interaction. He measured the curve of her waist and the rise of her shoulder, the depth of the hollow of her throat and how his lips felt against it. Once his lips were on her he found them eager to remain, wandering over flesh until something about lips alone wasn't enough and he had the insane desire to bite her neck. She flinched.

"That all right?" he panted.

"Hmm. Yes. Bite it off," she purred.

Mordecai startled. "Are - are you sure? I mean- I will if you want me to - but -" he blinked. Frowned. "That was a joke, wasn't it?"

She smiled. "Yes Ochki."

"People joke during this?"

"Of course," she replied.

That made him nervous anew, so they stopped for another sip from the opium pipe. The narcotic haze allowed for the full emergence of the erotic one, made it easy to ignore his internal objections and let something more basic, more animal, come to the fore. He closed his eyes and gave her her freedom of him, let her touch him however she wanted. With her somatic encouragement he finally let go, allowing his body shift into the instinct he'd been resisting. One his mind shut off he knew what to do, how to move, and it was then that his many long held questions were answered - these sensations were the driving force behind so much in the world, and as ridiculous as it remained at least it now made sense to him, because nothing had ever made him strain and cry out that way. It was as good as being shot was bad, so good at the conclusion he thought he might split in two.

As quick as it began it was over, and they lay there breathlessly, clothes and sheets strewn about. He had to close his eyes against the mess of both the room and their bodies. For a long moment he was gutted with a squirming, guilty shame. Had he really done that? He put his face where? At the time it seemed like the best possible idea and he'd wanted it with everything in him. But now...

He kept his eyes shut against Innochka as his stomach churned. Probably she was just as disgusted by the mess they left, by the thick - sort of - bodily - thing they just did. When he opened them again Innochka was filling the pipe. She seemed entirely unashamed. Smiling, happy he thought, content even. Not disgusted at all. Something about that settled him. If she wasn't concerned by the thickness in the air than maybe he oughtn't be. She was, after all, the tour guide for these lands. The sherpa on this particular Everest. Maybe this was how it was supposed to be. Messy. A messy sort of…a messy activity. A messy good thing. Like oil on his hands, from working on the train.

He watched her take a long deep drag off the pipe. He didn't care about the mess anymore. He wanted more of her pipe. He wanted more of her hands.

But more than that, he wanted food.

"Are you hungry?" he asked.

ooo

"Is perfect," Innochka purred.

"It was specifically calculated to be perfect, what did I tell you?" Mordecai said as he cut into his own stack of French toast. "If anything you put too much syrup on it."

She shook her head. "No such thing."

"There is such a thing. It can overwhelm the texture, make it soggy."

"I like soggy."

"Well that's - that's just wrongheaded of you."

"Okay," she chuckled, and continued eating. "Thank you for making this."

"Of course," he said. "Grenki for…for Grenki."

She laughed, running her foot up his calf under the table. After breakfast they fell back into more opium-tinged somatic escapades. On a blanket on the floor, in fact, by the window. The blizzard outside was so heavy and fierce as to cause a whiteout, making his apartment surreal with sourceless, colorless light.

"We're on the floor," he said. He'd never normally lie on the floor, but somehow it had seemed like a great idea when Innochka suggested it. That was the least of what he agreed to. In that flushed, breathless state he found himself consenting things he didn't know existed a week ago. "The floor is…I mean, that's just…dirty." He sighed, but his objection had no real bite.

She laughed. "This floor, I would give birth on."

Mordecai flinched. He raised his head and looked at her in alarm.

"No!" she said. "No no! No babies. No babies ever." She made her fingers into a cross and hissed. "Never, never ever."

"Oh, thank god," he said. "Don't scare me like that." He rested his head back onto her chest.

"No no no." She shuddered. "This floor, I mean…much cleaner than bottom of jungle."

"Well I would hope."

After a long moment Innochka stretched. "I take bath, I think. You come with me."

"We won't both fit in there."

"We try."

"I - no. I'm certain of the dimensions."

She wrapped her arms and legs around him and pouted.

"No!" he said, annoyed. "Innochka, I assure you, I know full well the spacial features of that bathtub and can tell you without the slightest vacillation that - " He stopped himself. Looked down at her amused expression. "You - you're joking again, aren't you? You're making a joke?"

She bit her lip. "Yes," she said. "We would be like - like fishes - like the, uh - the little fishes - in - in the can?"

"Sardines?"

"They are the fishes?"

He nodded. "They are the fishes."

"Okay," she said, and kissed his nose. "Fishes."

He blinked. "That made no sense."

She shrugged.

"Now you're just being silly."

She nodded.

"Enough silliness," he said. He rose off of her and helped her up, then put his glasses back on. "I'll run you a bath."

ooo

The water took a long time to heat up due to the enormity of the cold outside, but eventually Innochka was happily deposited into the bathtub, the last of a little candle flickering in the windowsill. He sat on the floor next to her, leaning against the tub, reading a book aloud. Bertrand Russell's "In Praise of Idleness and Other Essays."

"I'd kept setting this one aside," he explained, "But now may be the time for it. I like to think that - " He paused. "Innochka. You're not paying attention."

She looked at him, startled. "I - oh."

"Is this boring you?" he asked pointedly. "Boring you to tears? Would you rather something simple? 'One Thousand Leagues Under The Sea' perhaps? 'Alice in Wonderland' maybe? How about 'Fun With Dick and Jane'?"

Her eyebrows raised. " 'Fun With Jane and Dick'? This is sexy book?"

He blinked. "No. God no, it's-"

"Sweet tells you there is a party? Yes?"

He nodded, half-heartedly flipping through the tome in his lap. "Yes. You seem to find it upsetting. Why?"

She looked pensive. Stirred the water around. "Is…not good. When Grandfather does these sudden things."

"You're worried about your share of the take? Your buyout?"

She nodded. "My freedom."

"I don't see why a party would interfere with the monetary agreement the two of you agreed upon. If anything it's merely an annoyance. And it might not even happen if this storm doesn't settle down soon. The roads will be blocked."

She was quiet a moment. "Yes," she said. "Yes Ochki, you are probably right."

"I usually am." He thought a moment. "Speaking of work, I was wondering - who killed Natasha Orlov? Do you know?"

"Hmm," she said. "Could have been many people. Many enemies. In this business there are - there are many predators in jungle. That will honor a threat to a daughter even after the father dies."

"Why? That seems like a lot of extra work for what at that point was just a formality."

"As example," she said.

"To whom?"

She shrugged. "We who stole the goods. To us."

Mordecai gave her a skeptical look. "Well that's stupid. What sort of lazy reasoning is that? They can't figure out who made off with their loot so they slaughter some unrelated young woman? Just to make the point that - what point? That they are willing to kill? Yes, we know." He rolled his eyes. "They may as well have just picked a random prostitute off the street for all the good that -"

At the word prostitute Innochka jerked, causing bathwater to slosh over the side and down Mordecai's shirt. He jumped.

"What?" she cried. "You think, because she is prostitute, she deserves to die?"

Mordecai was distracted by the water on his back. "What? No. That's not what I-"

"All men! All men, you are all the same!" Innochka suddenly stood, splashing more water out of the tub. She grabbed for a towel.

"You're getting water everywhere!" Mordecai exclaimed.

"This- water - water, I don't care about water," she said, furiously wrapping the towel around herself. She stomped into the bedroom, leaving wet footprints and cursing in Russian.

"What is wrong with you!?" Mordecai cried, following her. She began to haphazardly put on her clothes.

"You think because a girl works she should die - she is worthless, yes? This is what you all you men, all you think - a girl who - who works - she has no brain, no mind, just meat to - to you - just meat!"

"What? That's -that's not what I said!"

"Is what you think!" she snapped. She poked him hard in the chest. "Is what you think."

He was silent, shocked by her aggression.

"See?" she said. She stomped out into the living room and shoved her feet into her shoes.

"What - where are you - are you leaving?"

"Yes, I go!" she said. She violently put on her coat and hat, then opened the door. Mordecai rushed forward, pressing it shut.

"You're not going anywhere in that storm, Innochka. Why are you acting crazy?"

"Oh! Oh you think I am crazy!"

"I'm getting that distinct impression, yes!"

"You think I am crazy, yes, crazy Innochka!" She shouted. "Out of her mind, she has no mind! Only the body, only the gun, only the dress, never the mind! Stupid чертов men, with - with no sight or - or heart!"

"I don't know what you're talking about!" Mordecai shouted.

"Fine! Fine! You know - you know where I grew up?"

"No, enlighten me," Mordecai snapped, crossing his arms.

"Where I grow up it is pigs and shit and pigs and shit! Do you understand! Dirt and pigs and shit! I grew up in чертов shithole. I was pretty girl - after my father died, I was pretty girl and did what I did to live! To eat! But no man understands this - what do you think?" She said, pointing in his face, baring her teeth. "Do you think the girl, you think she like being your meat? We like your vodka breath and stink? No!" she cried. "Is to get away from pigs and shit, pigs and shit! To eat a piece of bread! Eh? You think we like it?"

Mordecai slowed, analyzing her words. "We," he said, after a moment. "Innochka, were you - did you - "

She scowled. "Girl comes from shit and works at bar in Moscow, is picked up to wear pretty dresses, and never did a fuck on anyone. This is fairytale. Was not a bar. Was a girl house. I worked in girl house. Okay?" she snarled. "I meet Dimitri in girl house."

He let this tick over in his mind. "So…so you…with Dimitri?" He looked up at her, horrified. "With him? And how…how many others?"

She cried out in frustration. "It does not matter! It does not matter!" she shouted. "Why - all men - why does this matter, why does it matter to you? You think, every time, I got stupider? Less a woman?" She began to cry. She struggled with the door. "Let me go out!" she demanded, and in his sudden tornado of thought he loosened the grip on the door and she stomped out into the hall.

The Family. Their ill treatment of her. Their refusal to take her seriously. Dimitri's intrusive sense of ownership over her. Everything snapped into place like a puzzle did hadn't quite realized was unsolved. The content of the secret he'd located within her on the river boat, years ago.

"Innochka, wait," he said, and followed her out into the hall. She was sobbing, slamming her hand on the elevator button. It refused to light.

"It's out," he said. "The elevator always goes out in this weather."

She started down the stairs.

"It's twelve floors," he warned.

She continued down.

"Wait!" he demanded. He caught up to her, taking her by the shoulder.

She wriggled out of his grasp. "Let me go!"

He caught her by the shoulders again.

"Stop this!" she shouted, pinwheeling her arms.

"Innochka, listen - just - listen to me!" He grabbed her by both shoulders and pushed her against the wall. Next to them a door opened. A tired looking, jowled man peered at them with flat eyes.

"Keep it down out here," he drawled.

"This is no business of yours and you don't want it to be," Mordecai growled.

The tired man seemed neither threatened nor convinced. He looked to Innochka for confirmation.

"Fuck off!" she spat.

"Right, then. Welp. You two enjoy each other."

Once the door shut Innochka resumed her struggle. Mordecai pushed her into the wall even harder.

"Now you listen to me," Mordecai hissed. "I don't know what you're talking about, or why you are talking to me like it's my fault. It wasn't my vodka breath, Innochka, and it wasn't my stink. It wasn't and it never will be. I've never so much as step foot in one of those places and you know this."

She looked up to the ceiling. Tears ran down her face. "But you -"

"No. Never me. I refuse to stand here and be held accountable for the actions of Slavic trash."

She closed her eyes. "You think I am trash," she whispered.

"No! Not you! Inncohka stop - being - I don't mean you. I mean them. The men! The…the vodka-stink men, The Family, whoever is so blind that they reduced you to - whoever it was that - you're not - you're not trash. I've met trash and you've never been trash a day in your life. So stop with whatever self image problem you're having and stop - stop being mad at me and making a scene."

She went silent. Swallowed. Looked at the floor. He released her shoulders.

"You are very polite. Sweet Ochki," she whispered, sounding defeated. "After storm passes, I will- I will go."

"Why?"

She glanced up at him but quickly looked away. "You do not want me. I am..."

She did not continue. Looked at the floor.

Mordecai hesitated. That sort of past did bring up several questions but only one was important to him. He tried to proceed gently.

"When was this? When did you work there?"

"Before I joined The Family."

"So, ten years past. Is it…is that part of your work with The Family currently?"

She looked up sharply and scowled. "No. Never. Never again."

Relief flooded through him. She did not show any signs of illness, anything she could have spread to him. So long as she was firmly out of that line of work any concern he had was assuaged.

Innochka continued. "But this you would not know, by the way they ask. And you ask, now. Once a whore, then this is for always, yes?" She sighed. "You do not have to want me anymore, Mordecai. I know. You are so proper. This is why I call you my prince. And I am .. I am just - "

He shook his head. "I'm no prince. Innochka, I grew up in - I also grew up in pigs and shit. Just…New York style pigs and shit. Roach infested tenements, complete - complete poverty. I had nothing. I also did what I needed to do to eat a piece of bread, and came a long way from that in my time. I was given weapons and money and clothes as well. And it's not as though we have a residence at the Waldorf Astoria at the moment. What we do for a living isn't exactly classy work. I don't think either one of us is in a place to look down on the other."

She looked up at him, baffled, her gray eyes huge and watery.

"Listen. You are by orders of magnitude the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. You would have had to be either excessively foolish or excessively moral not to capitalize on that. Had I been born female with even a fraction of your visual inventory, who knows? It might have been me in the girl house." He took a deep breath. "Innochka, I don't care what you did before. Please come back upstairs."

She hesitated.

"Please," he said, and extended a hand to her. "Grenki."

Her eyes were wide. Her lower lip quivered, like Rose's used to.

"None of that," he said. "Come on."

"Okay," she whispered, and took his hand.

ooo