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Cinders

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“Thank you for coming.”

Rachel steps away from the windowed wall and around to the front of her desk. She leans back, flattening her hands against the surface, willing her guest forward.

“You did say you needed me,” Ferdinand says, stepping closer with a smirk. “How could I refuse?”

“I said I needed to see you. You do understand the difference, I hope.”

“Oh, Rachel,” Ferdinand says, clicking his tongue. “I flew all this way for you. Can we skip the games?”

“Of course,” Rachel says with a smile. “No more games.”

“Ferdinand Chevalier.”

Ferdinand whips around at the sound of a familiar voice. A woman in black stands at the other end of Rachel’s office. She pulls off her hood and meets his eyes.

“Veera Suominen,” he says, unconsciously taking a step back. “Well, this is a pleasant surprise. How did you find her?”

“It was simple enough,” Rachel says. “I’m in a unique position to give her what she wants.”

Ferdinand cranes his neck back, still keeping an eye on MK.

“Me?” he asks. “I do wish you’d consulted me before offering me up as bait. You know she’s dangerous.”

“I’ve heard the story, yes. How much was it that she stole from you?”

“Well?” Ferdinand sneers. “How much was it, Veera?” 

“3.7 million dollars.” MK hasn’t moved from her spot by the door. She appears unsettlingly calm.

“3.7 million dollars!” Ferdinand says, clapping his hands together. “Nearly 2 million apiece once she returns it. A rather generous finder’s fee perhaps, but what can I say?” 

His face darkens. He takes a step toward MK.

“This is worth every penny.”

He stops dead, gasping sharply as he brings a hand to his neck. He drops to his knees, leaving the needle suspended in Rachel’s hand.

“Rachel?” he gasps. “What…”

One last time, she looks him in the eye.

“It’s only business, Ferdinand,” she says. He crumples to the floor. Rachel gives MK a nod, then turns away and walks to the window.

The injection was a powerful paralytic; it won’t kill him, though he may wish it had. For now, he’s conscious, a prisoner in his own body.

In the glass’s reflection, she watches MK pull out a knife as she approaches her prey, then kneel out of sight. For a while, all Rachel hears is MK’s voice, too quiet to make out the words, but she can hear the venom well enough. Then, a blade through flesh.

Rachel shuts her eyes. She hears it again. And again. And again.

Then, silence. Nothing but the distant sound of traffic below her window. It’s done.

She feels hands on her shoulders, and in an instant, her back is shoved up against the wall. There’s a knife at her throat, hot with fresh blood. MK’s face hovers inches from hers, hate in her eyes.

“Did you think I didn’t know?” she asks. “Ferdinand was just a grunt. You were behind what happened in Helsinki. Your stench is everywhere.”

“I know better than to underestimate you,” Rachel chokes out.

“So what is this? Do you think I won’t kill you? Look at him.”

Rachel hesitates, swallowing.

“Look at him!” 

MK gestures with her knife, and Rachel follows its path with her eyes. 

“Look what I did to him.”

Ferdinand’s neck and chest have been torn open, staining his clothes and skin dark with blood. His face is frozen in a look of horror. Rachel’s vision blurs. 

“And how do you feel now?” she asks.

“What?”

“You’ve spent the better part of your life tracking down the man who killed your sisters,” Rachel says. “It’s finally done. Is it everything you’d hoped?”

“Shut up,” MK says.

“Did you find justice for Niki Lintula?”

“Don’t say her name!” MK screams, shoving Rachel harder into the wall. “Don’t talk about her like you care! She was just another name on a page to you. When she became a problem to DYAD, all you had to do was snap your fingers and wish her away. While you hid in your glass tower.”

“I assure you it wasn’t so simple.”

“Tell me then. Tell me what I don’t understand.”

Rachel can feel the memories, old emotions bubbling up inside her. Her face twists into a sneer.

“I hated you,” she hisses.

MK pulls back the knife, incredulous.

“So,” she says. “You remember me.”

“You think I would forget that night? When I learned what I was? When I lost my parents?”

“That was—”

“A lie, yes,” Rachel sighs. “I was naive enough then to believe it. But you, the little freak with my face… You survived.”

MK grits her teeth.

“I did nothing to you.”

“You survived,” Rachel repeats. “That was enough.”

Tentatively, she reaches a hand up to MK’s face, to the web of scars on her cheek. MK tenses but doesn’t pull away.

“I used to think about how much it must have hurt. And I would laugh.”

“The lies were worse,” MK says. “They told me it was just a random gas explosion. There was never a lab. There was never a girl who looked like me.”

“And you learned how to believe them. Because it was easier.”

MK’s eyes narrow. In a split-second, the knife is back at Rachel’s throat.

“You are so deluded,” MK spits. “You think we’re the same? You think you’ve suffered like I have? Well, what have you done about it?!”

Rachel raises her chin, defiant. The blade scrapes at her skin. She says nothing.

“You have been living under their thumb since the day you were born,” MK says. “You let them use you. You made your own sisters into your enemy because you were too much of a coward to face the real evil.”

“Don’t act so self-righteous,” Rachel says. “Look at what’s become of you, scrambling around in the dark, hiding just to stay alive. There’s nothing left for you to lose.”

MK shakes her head.

“I haven’t lost myself, Rachel. Have you?”

Rachel scoffs. MK turns her face away, eyes falling back on Ferdinand’s body.

“You were close, weren’t you?” she asks. “Did you love him?”

“Excuse me?” Rachel says, too forceful.

“You were very young when you met him. Did you make the first move or did he?”

“Stop,” Rachel says. Her nostrils flare.

“I saw his face when he looked at me… when he killed Niki. He hated us. He hated all of us.”

“I said stop,” Rachel says, and it takes all she has not to shout it. “Now.”

“You had to know. But you let him use you.”

“You’re wrong,” Rachel spits, and she tries to believe it. “I used him.”

“Is that all it was? I know what it’s like, to feel so alone, so desperate to find someone who—”

Rachel’s hands shoot out, shoving MK away. She tumbles over the desk, the knife flying from her hand. Rachel makes a move for it. But MK recovers quickly, pulling a pistol from her jacket. Rachel stops.

“There,” MK says, training the gun on Rachel. She lets out a small laugh, something like satisfaction on her face. “There it is. You told me this would be an exchange, you give me Ferdinand and I give you information.”

“That’s right. And I’m starting to believe you have no intention of making good on our deal.”

“This was never about a deal,” MK says, shaking her head. “Am I supposed to believe you trusted me? You are more clever than that. You wanted him dead.”

“And why would I want that?” Rachel laughs. “He was a valuable resource to me.”

MK sighs. She considers for a moment, then lowers her gun.

“Because you are not all gone, Rachel. You knew what he was. And there was a part of you that couldn’t take it anymore.”

“Is that so?” Rachel asks mockingly.

“It would have been no problem for you to have him killed. So why contact me?”

“You tell me, Veera. Since you seem to know me so well.”

Rachel steps forward, daring MK to raise the gun again. She does.

“You wanted to bury your guilt,” MK says. “Helsinki still haunts you.”

Rachel laughs. MK closes the distance, pressing the barrel to Rachel’s forehead. Her throat goes dry.

“Good,” MK hisses. “I hope it eats you alive. You killed them. Your own sisters. You think that this makes up for anything?! You think that you can erase what you did?!”

Heat rises to Rachel’s face. She opens her mouth, but no words come out.

“Answer me!” MK screams.

“No,” Rachel says. It comes out a whimper. Her cheeks are hot, and she realizes that she’s crying. She gnashes her teeth.

“No…” she says again.

MK’s breathing slows. She takes a step back, then lowers the gun.

“Consider yourself lucky,” she says. “When I look at you, I still see her face.”

Rachel blinks, and MK is gone. She watches her reflection race out the door and into the hallway. Rachel balls her hands into fists, nails digging into her palms. She brings them crashing down onto her desk. She screams.