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Insult to Injury @dorminchu


So the days leading up to Mr. White's arrival ticked by without incident.

Madeleine kept herself under a self-induced state of house-arrest; there was no point putting her face into the minds of the local populace more than necessary. She didn't have her laptop to work with, but she had her phone and managed to scrounge up some pen and paper. It was the need to understand precisely what she was up against which motivated her now.

Nothing much to speak of in Paris. But several key figures in the MSF were currently under investigation and from what she could gather, it didn't look good for them or the organisation on the whole. That stuck around the headlines, right next to some lesser story in the corner about pharmaceutical companies cooperating in tandem with the Red Cross and guiltless MSF figures to ensure there was no repeat affliction throughout the entire continent of Africa. The last she had read of Guinea was this: The Republican Guard had been fully reinstated a few days ago, and PHANTOM's presence subsequently vanished out of the public eye. Fitting enough.

Madeleine didn't see her face or name mentioned anywhere. Perhaps the incident in Paris had been covered up already, or else wasn't noteworthy enough to be dwelt upon.

On the topic of PHANTOM: The two men who had escorted her into Sion were never around the premises of the safehouse simultaneously. And if she had reason to leave the premises, each time it was with a different associate. In the evening, through the glass doors that led out onto the balcony, she'd seen the armed figures silhouetted in the light from the terrace, blending into the shadows. She did not interact with those men and had never seen their faces. They did not talk to her or each other at length. It was the knowledge that they existed which kept her on the alert.

For the rest, the PHANTOM crew would come and go about much like chaperones. Whenever she had cause to leave and returned to the safehouse there were men checking over the rooms and furniture as though she were some VIP. It got on her nerves pretty early within the first week but she tolerated it out of consideration.

Still, she had to draw the line somewhere. "I don't want them in the house when I come in," she'd told Safin at the start of the second week. "Around the premises if necessary, but that's all."

Safin had paused. "That can be arranged."

Safin would enquire occasionally about her work as a psychologist, or how she was getting along, as if he even cared for any of it beyond the simple pretence of conversation. Madeleine kept her answers rote. To his credit, he never attempted to coerce a response outside of what she gave him. But every now and again, in passing, he would hover in a room, just observing her in-action. She told herself this was just her mind searching desperately for clues where none existed and refused to acknowledge him.

But sometimes she imagined there was the flicker of some quiet curiosity in his expression, no longer trapped behind the old front of stoicism. Madeleine wasn't sure what to make of it. Safin was far too aloof to consider talking to outside of his role as security—but he would acknowledge her in passing with a curt nod, perhaps by name, and despite the apparent danger hanging over her head Madeleine soon felt as though he was becoming another part of the situation to be understood without fret or further analysis, like wallpaper.

She sounded like she was developing some kind of complex, no doubt brought on by a lack of stimulation and outside communication. It wasn't as though she were particularly outgoing to begin with. Safin really couldn't have picked a better person to place under surveillance. He had not questioned her motives, such as when she'd bought herself new clothes. He had not isolated her beyond the necessary precautions—she'd ensured he had no reason to do so.

The scenery had changed. Her habits remained the same.

She had no way of knowing anything for sure until her father arrived. And how convenient for him that he could afford to be delayed a few more days while she was at the mercy of his response. She hadn't known she could summon up such a vicious level of contempt for a man she hadn't seen in years. She would have to be at her best when the time came. If only she knew when exactly, she could plan ahead.

After two days it happened. The sky outside was turning pink when the car came up the drive and she heard the men outside conversing. No one ever visited the premises. So, it was either the man she was expecting, or she was about to learn who was after her.

After passing the security check, Mr. White stepped over the threshold into the entrance hall. He was greyer around the hair and his cheeks were sunken. He was dressed smartly for the weather—perhaps he'd just flown in from a meeting. Still, he looked to Madeleine as though not a day had passed since they had seen each other at her graduation. His face was not prone to give anything away, but his eyes softened in a sympathetic manner. "Hello, Madeleine."


"Weather's lovely, you know. No sense in keeping the blinds drawn."

"I suppose."

Mr. White did not remove his coat. He glanced from his daughter to Safin. The latter had no reply.

"Will you be staying?" Madeleine enquired.

"I'm afraid I can't. I've got to attend a meeting in a few hours. But that's old news—how are you getting on?"


Mr. White's mouth was a thin line. "Well, then, I'll get right to the point. I came here with a proposition in mind. I'm offering you a position in Norway. Full-time."

Madeleine hesitated. "I don't understand. A position where?"

"Think of it this way: You already know how to take care of yourself and you've got the psychologist cover. That can open up a lot of doors. This will be safer than running around constantly. You won't be bothered by anyone too unscrupulous once you get into the right clinics. You wouldn't even have to lay a finger on a gun if the idea displeases you. I think it would be very beneficial in the long-run. All you have to do is make the proper arrangements and we'll be able to proceed from there."

So, this was the reason her father wanted anything to do with her. She'd been a real tool to expect otherwise. To think he would actually give a damn about her after all these years! It was far too optimistic.

"Who is after me?"

Mr. White paused. A frown set the lines in his face into sharp relief. "After you?"

"I've been uprooted from my previous life. And you know, I'm not very happy about it but I can at least go along with the situation. But from the moment I arrived in Sion there's been no trouble. After two weeks I don't have a clear understanding of who is after me, or what their aim is, only that I'm supposedly in danger and it's taken you this long to tell me about it yourself. So now I have to wonder, who was it that decided to start an insurrection in Conakry? In Paris?"

"Dr. Swann," said Safin tersely.

Madeleine only had eyes for her father. "Now that I can ask you in person, I've been thinking: did your people have something to do with it? Perhaps the crisis in Paris was a manufactured one, meant to frighten me off."

"Crisis? What crisis?"

Madeleine scowled. "If you didn't like my choice in men you could have said so."

Mr. White scoffed and shook his head. "No, no. That's not it. I kept out of your business for your protection, Madeleine. But I was always thinking of you. I did what I could to give you an education and let you live outside of this circle as long as I was able. I wanted to give you the chance to live as you wished. And you've done no wrong here."

"Then what has changed?"

"You were not the real target in Conakry," said Mr. White, "well, not in the way you imagine. There are people—forces, that wish to cause our family harm. For the sake of your safety I will leave out the details for now. But these people want to use your life as a bargaining chip for my compliance. That is why I had you moved to Sion. If you were to come to Norway you would be out of their line of fire, so to speak."

"All of a sudden?"

His face turned grim. "Madeleine, I don't want to lose you the way I lost your mother."

Madeleine could have said many terrible things. She looked into the old eyes and felt tired. "I thought I had done everything I could to live outside of your reach, and I preferred it that way. Evidently I wasn't as thorough as I would have liked to believe." The look in his eyes was sickening. "This is all you wanted to tell me?"

"No, not all. I'm glad you're settling in all right. And I've heard you were of great assistance in the MSF from Safin." He forced a smile. "You've grown out your hair. It looks lovely. That's all I wanted to tell you."

Safin tensed at the mention of his name. Madeleine turned upon him in her unresolved anger and muttered, "Well, that's considerate of you."

"Now," said White, "I have business to attend to. But Madeleine, please think on the idea. Whatever your decision, I'll need an answer by tomorrow morning."

He left soon thereafter. Madeleine stared at the door and the empty space his body had occupied shortly before, thinking. She got up.

"What do you think you're doing?" said Safin.

"I'm going after him."

"Have a seat."

Madeleine had enough of this. "He's my father and I'll talk to him if I wish to. I've waited two weeks to be disappointed and I'm not going to let him get away."

"My instructions were clear. You are not to leave unaccompanied. Step outside now and you will be shot on-sight."

Madeleine wasn't so eager to test him all of a sudden. "Well, it doesn't matter what he would say, I've probably heard before. Just ask my mother."

"I thought your mother was dead."

"Oh, I'm glad you're keeping score."

Now Safin grew very still. A flash of red came in the black eyes. Two weeks did not leave a lot of room for prolonged familiarity but Madeleine knew it was a look of utter contempt.

"You claim to despise running around like a fugitive, and yet you've given no indication you comprehend the circumstances on a level beyond a tertiary understanding of SPECTRE's operations. This situation goes beyond whatever happened in Conakry and your little family spat. If you were to accept your father's offer it would only benefit you. The details and morality involved are of no concern to you. At worst, allowing König to depart with a rejection will give him just cause to consider getting rid of you. At best, it will make your life considerably more difficult than if you had put aside your pride to begin with. If you value your life, you will understand that hearing me out is a better alternative than trying my patience. Sit."

His voice came as if from a dead throat. Madeleine had no more defiant lines to spew and slowly went over to the kitchen area. She took a seat at the clear glass table, feeling trapped in her dismay.

"You will apologise to König in the morning and accept his offer properly. Do I make myself clear?"


"Then think on your approach."

Madeleine thought. Then she got up and checked the larder. She eyed the bottle that had not been touched. Usually she didn't drink very much, but this entire situation was so miserable that she suddenly found the idea more tolerable than sobriety.

Safin didn't even ask what she was doing. He just watched her opening cabinets. She slammed the glass on the counter, pour herself a glass. She drank a quarter of it, shuddered. Then downed the rest and cringed slightly. But it was taking effect and she relaxed her shoulders. "Oh, I know," said Madeleine, "you think you've got me all figured out."

Safin threw her a look as if to say: think? But Madeleine missed it, staring over into a darkened corner of the room the light did not touch.

"Obviously I'm never going to have a normal life. This isn't even the first time something like this has happened. I doubt it will be the last." She looked up from the glass, squinted at him. "And you know, I've always wondered why he let me go as far ahead as I did. He must have seen something in me that I didn't. Or he just wanted to get me out of the way of his work. I told him before that I never wanted anything to do with him or his sick life." A crease appeared in her brow. "Or you."

"Dr. Swann."

"Really," Madeleine grumbled, "you've already called me Madeleine. No need to stop."

"You're intoxicated."

"Oh, don't look at me like that."

"Like what?"

"Like I'm some sad little animal to be pitied." Madeleine regarded the bottle with a level of interest that suggested a mid-life crisis onset. "I wonder how much of this I could drink before I pass out." No answer. "Not going to stop me?"

"I'm not your keeper."

Madeleine did laugh. It was a hard, angry sound. "God, you must despise me."

"My feelings are irrelevant."

"You didn't even try to deny it. I wouldn't, either."

"I can assure you that drinking half the bottle isn't going to help."

"What would you care about helping me?" Madeleine spat. "All you've done is threaten to shoot me in the head or keep me under house arrest unless I comply with your demands."

"It's my job to keep you alive. Nothing more."

"Oh, that's right. You've been assigned to me. Did my father select you personably?" Safin threw her an odd look. "Personably? No, that's—fuck. Personably."


"Look, I'm a mess! All these years of trying to prove a point to… I don't know. I'm just going in circles around for the rest of my life. Do they pay you to listen to me?" No answer. She chuckled miserably. "At least I don't have to kill anyone. I just ruin their lives and they crawl back every appointment. I didn't like working there, everyone wanted to be friends." She walked back to the table with a slight hitch in her gait but did not sit. "It was easier in MSF, at least. At least it felt like I'd accomplished something."

"It is not your job to be the world's saviour. There are those that will die in your stead, not because you are evil but because it is inevitable."

Madeleine grew pensive. "Do you ever just… grow to tolerate someone?" Safin was watching her now. "Well, it could be anyone. A friend or a loved one. What starts as co-dependence becomes something less so, as you grow and change. And eventually you start to grow apart from one another. There comes a day when you can't avoid the topic anymore, so you decide it's enough, you have to let go of the past, but deep down you know this relationship means more to the other person than you. So you let them stick around, not because you care enough to get emotional about them anymore, but because it's something to occupy your time. Like keeping a routine, you know? And pretty soon those unremarkable memories are all you have left. You're trapped in that sense of obligation that doesn't seem to represent you anymore, but at the same time nothing has changed. You've only fooled yourself otherwise." The quiet swallowed her up after talking for such an extended period. Then Madeleine shook her head. "It's strange, I don't even know you, and…"


"I don't know."

Safin confiscated the bottle—only a quarter-empty. "You should try and sleep, for now. You'll need to be at your best in the morning."

Madeleine nodded, petulant yet unable to muster the strength needed to protest. She really wasn't as drunk as she looked. In place of her anger remained a terrible, aching void that she could speak to more intimately than most living people. Now Safin took her by the arm as though she were an unruly child.

"For God's sake," hissed Madeleine, "I'm not hopeless."

Safin didn't answer. She leant into him to see if he'd brush her aside. He didn't make note of it, just helped her up the stairs, back to the room. Once through the doorway, she turned. Words stuck in her throat, then dislodged. "Well, good night," said Madeleine.

"Good night, Madeleine."

She closed the door, waited for him to retreat back downstairs. Then she changed, sat on the bed in silence. Though it was the nature of his job to remain abstruse, Madeleine recognised her own, damning flaw. It was the flaw of the lonesome, this esurient desire not only to be understood, but appreciated by someone else.

After tonight she'd forget she had tried to open up to anyone besides her reflection, and inevitably go back to regarding Safin and his crew with a measured level of indignation and caution. All she had to do was sleep it off and she would be fine.

Madeleine did not manage to get much sleep.

Another shapeless nightmare awaited her. When she awoke she was afraid to look at the clock, wishing she could force her mind to settle down. She lacked the weakness to allow herself room to cry, so her grief stuck around in her stomach like a tangible weight. She was surprised she had not broken down under the influence, but then, she hadn't had a terrible amount to drink and stoicism was ingrained in her nature more resolutely than anything else.

She heard Safin moving around downstairs. Rousing, she checked the time—four AM—stumbled out of bed, put on a proper shirt and pants and crept downstairs. Safin was in the kitchen area. The skylights were on. The radio was also on, playing music.

Up until now Madeleine had almost never seen him dressed in a manner that didn't cover his throat. Now she could ascertain that the scarring continued down his neck, hypothetically across his right or left shoulder. His gloves were off, revealing the hands were damaged to a lesser degree. How bad the damage was in total she could not determine, but she caught him studying her and hesitated before fessing up:

"I couldn't sleep."

Safin didn't acknowledge her beyond a side-glance. It was unreasonable to try and force a conversation. A man like Safin probably didn't stay up having pep-talks with his clients anyway. Madeleine let face fall back into a resigned scowl.

"I'm sorry for carrying on the way I have," she continued. "It wasn't just because I was drunk." She looked back at the radio, agitated. "I'm sure I've caused you enough trouble as it is."

"Not particularly. Would you like some tea?"

Madeleine accepted the offer if only to be polite.

"You know, I don't think I've ever seen you sleep," she noted.

"I sleep when I can." Madeleine studied him with a new reason for detached analysis. "You're not really going to try and criticise my lifestyle?"

"Well, of course not."

He paused. "You were angrier before."

"Am I supposed to be angry for the rest of my life? Can't I be allowed to feel anything else?" Safin threw her another quiet look. "Well, you seem to have made up your mind about me," she muttered.

"It almost sounds as if you've missed our conversations."

Madeleine scoffed. "It sounds as if you're getting too comfortable around me."

Silence rescinded. The song on the radio changed and Safin spoke again: "I wonder, what you were doing in the middle of a place like Africa if you wanted to get away from danger?"

"I knew the risks when I took the offer. Are you going to suggest I was foolish?"

"No. Just a bleeding heart trying to make herself feel better about living in a criminal element. Afraid of genuine human connection, so you overcompensate by telling yourself you feel nothing for anyone. But it eats at you, which compels you to throw yourself headfirst into peril regardless and the cycle repeats ad nauseum."

Madeleine was torn between a measure of indignation and begrudging interest. "Is that how you view me, or the MSF?"

"If I were to concede either way, would it bother you?"

"I haven't got a clear idea of your reasoning, so, no, it wouldn't particularly offend me."

"The observation had more to do with criticising the MSF than you. Primarily the type of people they attract."

"You think they're not up-to-snuff?"

Safin paused. "They could use a review."

"All right, fine. In what capacity?"

Safin looked up. "They don't often get to the root of the crises they combat. They only negate them for a little time, as with medicine. They have no official means of protection from those who stand to destroy them, aside from outside sources and government cooperation, which are not always reliable. And they've depended upon the goodwill of donations. If an overwhelming crisis were to occur and cast them in an especially unfavourable light or destroy too many of their numbers, what would happen?"

"I'm not sure what you're getting at."

"Well, it would be easy enough to take over and destroy the organisation from within. Or else rebuild it in whatever capacity one saw fit." He smiled. "One doesn't have to be part of a criminal enterprise to be pragmatic. You seem to be hung up on that idea."

"Are you going to lump me in with the MSF, too?"

"No, you don't act like a typical candidate. You've simply appropriated the position as a means of self-preservation."

"Well, that would make it worse than if I were genuine, no?"

Safin shrugged. "Better or worse? It's all relative to what you're trying to accomplish, Dr. Swann."

He spoke like someone who had been doing this for fourteen years. "I've told you, just Madeleine. You're doing this on purpose now." Another round of silence. "I'm starting to think it was better when you didn't talk."

Safin hummed along with the music in lieu of an answer, leaving Madeleine to reflect. When you were so diligent, overly accustomed to living in a mire of furtive half-truths, you could become compromised in another way entirely. She had the terrible feeling something was amiss but could not place it for exhaustion's sake.

"Suffice to say," Safin concluded, "I cannot change your father's mind any more than the man he answers to. But I can prevent you from suffering the same fate as your mother."

"It's funny. I never told you how she died, is there something I'm missing?" Silence. "No, really. I'd love to know what you have to say."

"She was shot twice, in the chest and the head. The report would indicate—"

"I didn't ask for her autopsy. I'm asking what you think happened."

"I know König had a wife and that she died in January of 1996. I know also that you've expressed a distain for your father's career. You were put through several boarding schools shortly after your mother's passing. You did not adopt the name Swann until after you graduated from Oxford. It wasn't your mother's maiden name."

"I shot him in the head," Madeleine muttered, if only to divert the topic.


"The man who killed my mother. I shot him and he just ran off. I never saw him again. Ever since I was a little girl I hoped it killed him."

"Perhaps the hitman was trying to go after your father."


"Evidently he did not anticipate you would be there to intercept, or that König would allow his late wife to answer the door in his stead. So you really saved your father's life, and the hitman was probably executed for his failure."

"Are you insinuating my father allowed my mother to be killed?"

"Not necessarily."

Madeleine squinted at him. "Why are you so interested anyway?"

"I'm not, really."

"Well, in any case, you can't promise me anything, you're trying to recruit me. That's why you let me get drunk."

"I'm offering you an out. It has nothing to do with your drinking. Though, with all your resistance, perhaps it would've been simpler to have let you go to the door." Madeleine stared at him in slight concern. He stared back, unflinching, then added, "But I don't think there's any need for it now."

"What's the matter with you?"

"Nothing to speak of." The water was simmering as he indicated the drawer to his right. "Take your pick. It'll be a few minutes."

Madeleine got up, noting that he turned away from the steam. She knew that he wasn't doing this to be kind. He was only operating this way to keep her morale stabilised. With the same detached manner she selected her mug and a teabag, poured the water, watched the steam billow up. He was not to be trifled with.

The radio kept playing. The sound of the water simmering put her in a strange state between alertness and something more soporific; evidence of her own exhaustion, no doubt. She realised she hadn't moved when his arm came around her as if to turn off the burner—at the same time, she found her shoulder grazed against his chest. A lack of words invited tension.

"Madeleine." He reached over and turned off the burner. "You don't have to stand there."

His demeanour remained sangfroid. Madeleine pulled away. She took the mug, scorching against her palms.

"If you continue to run away from this life," said Safin, "as you have your emotions, you will inevitably wind up dead. But if you decide to embrace it, you'll be able to help people for more than the sake of satisfying your ego. And you won't have to rely on your father's good-will."

"You don't have to try and win me over," she snapped. "I've heard enough of that already."

Everything about her current situation told Madeleine to despise Safin without reserve. At the same time, she found it difficult to dredge up any hatred towards him that wasn't skin-deep. He was just a man doing his job. He had no quarrel with her that she didn't choose to incite herself. If anything he'd tolerated her childishness and her family drama with a remarkable level of professionalism. The most incriminating act he'd taken thus far was to pitch the idea of living as an informant in a way that didn't seem completely despicable—and it was precisely the reason he shouldn't be trusted.

Madeleine could only bottle up her emotions for so long before she spilt over. His words were simply the catalyst. Yet again she'd been let down by her father after so many years of silence. And here she was, opening up about her family troubles to the man who probably wanted to sign her up as an informant in the first place. She no longer had the excuse of alcohol to justify such candidness.

So the idea of breaking down in front of him was almost intolerable. It was shortly thereafter that she became aware of the tightness in her chest, the sting of tears that wouldn't fall, only brimmed. The only way she could think to save face was by lowering her head, feigning interest in her steaming mug.

It was inevitable that he should notice. But he allowed her time to compose herself. Madeleine drank her tea though it was a bit scalding if only to spite the ache in her chest. She went to take her mug to the sink. And at the counter she wondered once more what a man like Safin got out of this. Either he was exceptionally patient or there was another catch to the situation she was still unaware of.

The additional time she wasted on speculation cost her. She blinked and watched a lonely teardrop fall and burst upon the counter.


He was too far away at this angle to have noticed. Something else had given her away. The lapse into stilted silence, the exhaustion in her shoulders. All he'd ever done in the time she had known him was scrutinise. She heard the purposeful gait behind her and trembled.

Once at her side, he touched her arm with a naked hand. Madeleine turned sharply and betrayed herself all at once under the skylights. Before he could speak she tried wrenching her arm free but he wasn't having it. He'd seen enough to understand how pitiable she was.

It was a confusing sensation to be comforted in spite of one's emotional duress, shameful and relieving. It was such a lonely idea that she hid her face against his shoulder, half-surprised to find he exuded tangible human warmth. She expected to be dissuaded. But soon enough his other hand came around her back and steadied her.

Eventually Madeleine had composed herself. Without looking at him she could tell his thoughts were elsewhere. He held her for the purpose of containment, nothing more. She turned her head lightly into his cheek in search of solace.


He released her and she felt the human warmth recede with him, keeping her at arms' distance. Without thinking of the consequences she reached up and touched his face. He did not flinch but there was a tightness in his jaw. Slowly he reached up and took her wrist, bringing her arm down to her side. She squeezed his hand.

"You're grieving," he said gently. "It's understandable, given what you've experienced, and nothing to be ashamed of. Allow yourself this much while you can, then try and sleep."

She departed, up the stairs, down the hall, went into her room. The curtains were drawn and the door to the bathroom was ajar as she'd left it. In the bathroom the light was still on. She sat on the seat of the toilet with her heart in her throat and pushed her face into her palms and trembled.

Right now she had more of a connection to her faux-life in Paris than the one she had thrown aside back many years ago in Altaussee. And here she was spilling her guts to the security. She wasn't even drunk! It wasn't a very good look no matter how you spliced it.

Undoubtedly he would think he had her sorted out. Or perhaps she was not the only one feeling jaded and underappreciated? No, she was not listening to that little voice in her head.

So she freshened up, returned into her bedroom, killed the lights, and took a seat in the chair opposite the door. Her mind was still buzzing. Now there was only the sliver of light beneath the door and the sound of her drumming heartbeat. It was several minutes before she heard the gait coming up the stairs and down her side of the hall. A soft shadow appeared in the line of light below the door, then resolved into two columns of dark.

"Madeleine." She got up and opened the door to meet the dark eyes with a strange, charged silence that bred complicity. "Are you all right?"

"I'll have to be," she said, then felt a little guilty. "I shouldn't keep you."

"It's no trouble. I'm waiting to hear back from someone myself." Safin was watching her very carefully. His hand rested with casual resolve upon the doorjamb. "I thought you would be asleep."

"So did I."

Her eyes fell to his mouth for a split-second. She thought again of the unexpected warmth beneath his skin. The hand on the jamb tensed along with his body in an almost imperceptible way, then she locked eyes again.

"Then, I'll take my leave," said Safin primly.

"No, wait a minute."

He paused. "It's almost five in the morning, Swann."

"And clearly you have nothing better to do then humour me. Why don't you tell me what this is really about?"

The light was at his back and she could see the smile, now, a real one that touched his eyes. Madeleine's stomach fluttered in a manner that often precedes the sheer and terrifying exhilaration brought on by a steep drop. She refused to let her feelings surface beyond the initial veneer of agitation.

"All right."

He took his hand off the jamb and grasped the side of her neck with enough force to make himself clear. Madeleine had just enough time to splay one hand to his breast before he pressed his mouth down onto hers.

Well, thought Madeleine, perhaps it explained some of those odd looks. But it also opened up about a dozen more questions, and now wasn't the best time to start trying to sort them out. Hers was a brittle and melancholic character, not the type to resort to an amorous fling for any other reason than a welcome lack of thought. This was hardly the proper time or place for such a mid-life crisis. And engaging further in this current course of action was akin to signing her own death warrant. Yet after so many years spent adhering to caution without reward, she had simply burnt out. She lacked the will to care about what was safe in favour of allowing time for a more selfish inclination.

Really, had he nothing better to do than encourage more terrible life choices? Why else make himself so complicit in her self-destruction, if not to ascertain further leverage over her?

Oh, hell, why not find out? She probably wouldn't get another chance. She made a fist against his shirt and pulled him closer until she could feel his teeth flat against her tongue. A low sigh came from somewhere in his throat. His palm flattened on the base of her spine and then she was in the clinches.

It wasn't long until Madeleine slipped away to bury her face in his neck. She felt a crooked, alien smile spread upon her mouth as though she were still intoxicated. She couldn't remember the last time she'd smiled like this while sober. Safin tilted her head up. He was breathing evenly but the eyes had come alive with undisguised interest.

She said: "Now what?"

Without another word he stepped fully over the threshold and took her to bed.

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