Work Header

Found is Lost and Lost is Found

Work Text:

"Rescue," says Mama Tenenbaum wonderingly, like a magical word, a word from the angels beating their wings against the skin of their human traps.  A word that sounds like it should echo in the depths, a whalesong of a word, resonant enough to feel in the bones.  "This man is different, mein kleine lieber.  Tell them, Leta," and strokes the dark hair of a little girl whose eyes no longer shine with infinite mystery.  Masha thinks it makes her look sick, makes her look wrong, pale green eyes instead of proper golden ones.

"It's true!"  Leta's sincerity makes her words too-loud in the small safe room.  "At first, he was scary.  As tall as Mr Bubbles, and his hands were as big as my face!"  There are quiet gasps then, because they all know big hands mean big hurt.  "But then he made himself small, like this," and Leta crouches down.  "He said, 'It's okay, I won't hurt you,' and reached out with one of those giant hands."

"And did he?  Hurt you?" one of the others asks breathlessly.  "Did he talk all crazylike?" asks another, and Leta shakes her head emphatically.  Masha suspects this is a fib, because they all know the grown-ups who aren't Mama Tenenbaum are made of danger and crazy.

"Oh no.  He picked me up, just like Mr Bubbles does, and he smiled!  I could hear the angels in him, too, singing all pretty and warm and full of feathers, and then he touched me the way Mama Tenenbaum does when I've had a bad dream."  She smooths her hand along her own forehead in the comforting gesture they know, the one that means safe andloved.  "And then the angels sang louder and louder and everything was so white and bright and I was nonono because it was so loud but he made it quiet again."

Mama Tenenbaum smiles and strokes Leta's hair again.  Leta arches into the touch like a kitty and Masha feels a twist of envy.

"Did it hurt?  When he made it quiet?"  Hilde's voice is hesitant, soft like shadow, and Leta hums as she settles back against Mama Tenenbaum's leg.

"No.  It was out all your breath when you'd been holding it a long time.  Like getting to a hidey-hole when the crazies are chasing you," and Hilde sighs, clasping her hands together.  Masha scrunches her nose in distaste.

"No more angels?  No more ADAM?"  Ilsa clutches her teddy close to her chest, eyes lambent with excitement.  A cold feeling snakes through Masha's chest at this notion--what else is there for them?  What would they do with themselves without the singing, without ADAM whispering contentedly in their veins?  They were special--Mama Tenenbaum had told them so; Papa Suchong had made them so--and this strange man would take that away?

"Nein, no more ADAM," Mama Tenenbaum murmurs.  "This man, he could change everything for us.  For you.  He could make you all whole again.  We shall wait and see, though," and all the girls save Masha heave a collective sigh.

"And then what?" she blurts suddenly, and squirms when golden gazes fall on her.  "Then what would we do?"

Mama Tenenbaum looks at her thoughtfully, the expression on her face similar to the one she wears when looking at her papers full of numbers and diagrams.

"I do not yet know, kinder," she says finally, and Masha silently vows to stay far away from the man with the big hands and the gentle smile.  She will be clever and quiet and never stray too far from Mr Bubbles and she will be safe.

But she is not clever or quiet enough.

Even though she tries to be, singing to Mr Bubbles as they meander through Rapture's corridors--it's all so pretty, with the warm golden lights and roses and rich fabrics draping the archways; it's like something out of a a fairy tale--and Mr B is lollygagging as usual.  He takes so long sometimes, his big booted feet stomp-stomping slow and methodical, glass-green gaze sweeping back and forth like pendulum in Mama Tenenbaum's grandfather clock.

"Hop hop, Mr B!  Angels don't wait for slowpokes," she chides, and giggles when he groans at her.  "Oh, there's a land called Lillipoppi, and living there is the Lillipop..."  She pays no attention to how her voice echoes because everything echoes in Rapture: Mr B's boots, the crazies muttering frenziedly at each other, even her footsteps as she hop-skips ahead of her protector.

The gunshot behind her echoes loudest of all.

It booms terrifyingly, the sound folding over on itself in the corridor, growing larger and larger, a monster with a thousand teeth--all the better to eat you with, my dear--and she screams in terror, clapping her hands to her ears as she drops into a crouch.  Mr Bubbles roars in fury and she whirls to see him struggling with someone--maybe one of those crazies with hooks in their hands, maybe one of the ones that poof in and out of place.  "X his eyes, X his eyes!" she yells in encouragement, curling against a bulkhead for safety.  Mr B's eyelight washes the corridor in red, red like the roses, red like unrefined ADAM, and he flings the attacker into one of the laughing-clown vending machines.

"Unzip him, Mr B!  Unzip him!"

Mr Bubbles bellows as the attacker gets to their feet.  the figure is tall, with long arms ending in large hands that are busily reloading a gun.

No, she thinks as another shot is fired, and electricity shoots out of one of those large hands and wraps around Mr B.  The Big Daddy freezes in place, bluewhite coruscating over him, and the attacker fires the gun again.  No, please no.

"Just drop already, you poor bastard," the attacker mutters, and Mr Bubbles lows mournfully as the electricity dissipates.

Masha starts to cry.  She knows what is coming, is helpless to stop it, and her scream is lost in the following gunshots.  She watches Mr Bubbles fall to his knees, ponderous and heavy, and then he slumps over, eyelight dwindling to darkness.

"Mr Bubbles?  Mr Bubbles!"  But she cannot hear herself, deafened from the shots' volume, and Mr Bubbles doesn't stir.  She cries harder.  Every time Mr Bubbles dies it hurts, hurts so bad she think she might die herself, but she has to get to a hidey-hole, has to get to safety or else the crazy will get her and rip the ADAM out of her and then she really will die.  It's happened to other Sisters.  And if this is the strange man who stopped the angelsong for Leta--and then Ilsa and Hilde not long after--then that is so much worse because she doesn't want the angels to stop singing.  She doesn't want to be separated from the ADAM.  She likes being special.  Good girls gather, and she likes being a good girl.

Footsteps approach her--she can feel them in the floorplates--slow and cautious, and boots appear at the edge of her vision.  She cringes into the bulkhead, away from the figure looming over her.  It hunkers down to her level and sets the gun down carefully, barrel pointed away from her, and she wishes fiercely that she knew how to use it so she could X the person's eyes for Mr B. 

A hand reaches out toward her and she flicks a glance up at the figure's face.

A man looks calmly back at her, the skin around eyes the colour of bottle-glass crinkling as he smiles.  he looks kind, which is somehow the most scary thing about him.  His mouth moves in words she can barely hear and she clutches desperately at the extractor in her hands.  You can't have this, she thinks spitefully through her tears, this isn't yours and it never will be.  He frowns slightly.

"Can you understand me?"  His question sounds like he's asking through a pile of blankets, or maybe the bottom of a vent, and she flinches.  Her ears are still ringing.

"Mr Bubbles, please get up!  Please!" she moans, and the man sighs.

"I'm sorry, sweetie, he's not getting up.  I won't hurt you.  I promise."  He extends his hand further, and she sees a chain drawn on the inside of his wrist, like the Great Chains hanging in Rapture's larger plazas.  She wonders how fast she'd have t be to bite it, how hard she'd have to bear down to reach the bone, and while she's thinking this the hand snatches at her shoulder and pulls her into him.

"No!  No no no!" she shrieks, terror galvanising her muscles, but he is too big, too strong.  He smells of sweat and wool and metal--and other, far uglier things--and his chest rumbles as he murmurs to her.

"Shh, shh, it's all right.  I've got you, it's all right," but it is far from all right--it is all so very wrong.  He's going to take the angelsong away, take the ADAM, make everything quiet and horrible with its ordinariness.  "Shh..."  His hand curls around her forehead, smoothing her hair back.  it is huge against the vault of her skull, too warm and invasive.  Masha gasps for breath, pushing futilely at his arms, but they are like steel girders wrapping around her, and she is small, so small and weak.  No, no please, but the only voice she hears is his.  "Shh, I've got you," and then the whole wide world goes whitewhitewhite for an endless moment of infinity, the angels' voices crescendoing into a din that sweeps her away in a flood of song and feathers; the world goes staticky before it goes silent, and she comes back to herself with a great sigh, Rapture's rot and decay now obvious and the stink of ocean water thick in her nose.

There is no more music.  Only the drip of leaking seals and the hollow, aching emptiness of a city that doesn't want to acknowledge its death.  Masha feels like her bones are made of lead, and she searches frantically for the sparkle of ADAM inside her but finds only dullness.  She looks in the corners of her eyes for the warm golden light, for the roses, and sees only neon flickering wanly against the sea's eldritch glow.

"We need to find a vent for you, so you can get home safe," the man says, picking her up easily after holstering his gun.  Her extractor is left on the floor, forgotten.  She doesn't remember dropping it.  Fresh tears start in her eyes when she realises she will never need it again.

"Shh," he whispers.

It's the most awful sound she's ever heard.

"You must take our new friend a gift, Masha," Mama Tenenbaum says, hours and hours later.  "He has helped so many of you, and we must repay his generosity."

No, Masha thinks.  It's far too soon to go out again, alone without Mr Bubbles, and after a moment she says so out loud.  "I don't want to see that man ever again.  He's awful."  She'd slept through the man's invasion of their secret place, when he'd been brought in hastily by Leta after that bad business with Andrew Ryan.

The other girls who have been made plain gasp at her.  "He is not!" Ilsa says.  "You take that back!"

Mama Tenenbaum frowns.  "Ilsa,' but she looks at Masha.  Ilsa huffs and closes her mouth with a snap.  "Masha, you will do this thing.  You may not like it right now, but that man did you a kindness.  You must say thank you.  Good girls have manners, ja?"

"Good girls gather," she says dutifully, and Mama Tenenbaum looks somehow sad at that.

"Nein, mein kind, not anymore."

Masha feels her face fall.  "Does that mean I'm not a good girl now?"

"Oh, Masha," and now Mama Tenenbaum is sad, her eyes darkening and mouth turning down.  "You have always been a good girl.  You just did not know."  Her hand moves to Masha's forehead, to soothe and smooth, but Masha flinches.  It reminds her of the too-large hand that took the ADAM away--all the better to grab you with, my dear--and Mama Tenenbaum sighs.  "Take this to our friend.  It will help him, this gift.  It will help him to help us."  She holds out a stuffed bear with a crudely-sewn seam in its belly, reminding Masha of Papa Suchong's cold steel tables and even colder words.  "Wait for him to receive it.  You must be certain that it is our friend who gets it and not one of the crazies."

It is useless to argue, to defy the request, and Masha makes her way through the vents sullenly.  She waits at the Gatherer's Garden for the man to arrive, the jingle from the machine harsh and jangling in her ears.  She envies the edifices of the little girls, their Daddy stronger than Hercules, and the man finally shows after what feels like an eternity and slumps down to the floor with a groan.  His eyes flutter closed.

Masha inches away from him.  How long must she remain here?  When may she go, escape to the safety of the hidey-hole?  Apollo Square stinks, the cloying sweetness of fuel mixing incestuously with the stench of rotting flesh.  The rambling of a distant crazy snakes through the plaza--I'm lonely, I'm just so lonely--and then the words dissolve in the crumbling, cavernous space.

"I am so tired," the man says quietly, head resting on one of the statue-girl's skirts.  "I hate this place."

"Then why don't you leave?" Masha blurts despite herself, and instantly wants to take the words back.  She doesn't want to talk to this man; why did she even open her mouth?

He opens his eyes and looks at her, fatigue writ large on his features.  For all the ADAM she knows he's taken in, he shows no sign of odd growths or skin bubbling like foamy soap.  He looks disarmingly normal, just a man in a grease-streaked wool sweater and dirty slacks and too-big hands dangling out of the sleeves, chains inked dark on his wrists.  The wolf in Grandma's clothing, Masha thinks uneasily, and he sighs before replying.

"I can't, not yet.  I have to...fix this," and shakes his head.  "No, not fix."  He looks down at his hands, turning them and then clenching the long fingers into fists.  Masha cringes but he pays her no mind.  "I wasn't made to fix things.  I was made to destroy."  His voice sounds sad.  "I never had a choice."  He turns to Masha, expression earnest and open, and it reminds her of the faces of her Sisters--honest and sincere, and she shifts uncomfortably at its familiarity.  "Did you?  Have a choice?"

Choice?  What choice?  Did she ever have a choice?  She doesn't remember; her earliest memories are of Papa Suchong's scalpels and searing pain like ice, Mama Tenenbaum's comforting German lilt telling her good girls gather, Mr Bubbles' rubber-and-metal musky smell.  She remembers a pretty blue-eyed girl helping Mr Bubbles, the way the extractor's needle slid into his suit and how he groaned in relief.  The way Papa Suchong's meanness spilled out red on the floor and walls, making roses gilded by warm golden light.  The chorus of angels in her head, flutter of feathers under skin, ADAM shining and shimmering at the edges of her vision.

"It's okay, sweetie," he says at her hesitation.  "I know you didn't.  Fontaine took that from you, just like he took it from me."

Masha's tummy turns over at the name and she feels like she's going to be sick.  "Bad man," she mumbles, but doesn't quite know why.  A murky picture of a smiling man swims through her mind, his white teeth flashing like blades, and a voice drawling lazy and oily.  She shudders and twists away from the half-memory.

"Yes he is," the man agrees, "he is a very bad man."  His head lolls back against the Garden girl.

"This is for you," and she shoves the teddy stuffed with plasmids and ADAM at him, scuttling backward when he takes it slowly.  She wants very badly to escape now, down into the quiet dark of a hidey-hole, safe and secreted away from the crazies' whispers and howls, away from the void left by the angels, away from this man who asks her odd questions about choice and makes her fidget with anxiety.

"Thank you..." and he hesitates.  "Do you have a name?  My name is Jack.:

She freezes.  She does not want to tell him her name, because that would mean friends, and she does not want to be this man's friend.  He made everything quiet and ugly and not-special.  But good girls have manners, Mama Tenenbaum said, so she answers begrudgingly, "My name is Masha."

Jack's eyes widen and it makes him look younger.  "Masha?  You're Masha?  Oh, sweetie, I am so sorry."

Sorry?  What for?  Because he took the angels away?  Because he took the warm golden light and replaced it with broken neon?  The silence yawns inside her, making her the loneliest she's ever felt.  "You should be," she hisses suddenly, viciously, and scurries away in a burst of motion, bare feet slapping on the floor.  She turns a corner and jumps up to a hidey-hole, pulling herself up and then down into darkness, sliding down Rapture's gullet and into its belly, into safety.

"The surface, mein kleine lieber!  Think of it!  Sunshine and grass and trees and the sky!  All of these things you have only seen in your books!"

"Trees are scary," Masha murmurs, focusing instead on her chalk drawing, but Mama Tenenbaum is too caught up in her excitement to hear.

"Herr Jack will take us with him, once this nasty business with Fontaine is done.  Not to worry, girls.  He can do this.  He must."

Masha does not want to go to the surface, doesn't care about sun or sky or clouds.  Rapture is home, for all its rot and decay and descent into madness.  For all that she misses the way it used to look, she does not want to leave the great vaulted plazas, with their windows onto the ocean landscape.  She does not want to leave the scenery of the kelp beds waving lazily in the current, anglerfish lights winking in and out of the fronds.  She does not want to leave the luminescent coral or the phosphorescent tubeworms behind.  She doesn't share her Sisters' thirst for adventure or hunger for newness.

But she does share their desire for vengeance.

When the opportunity comes to help Jack one final time, she plunges a new extractor into Frank Fontaine's chest again and again, yelling as memories bubble up and solidify in her head.  Mama and Papa and their real faces, not Tenenbaum or Suchong; voices flavoured with a singsong Czech instead of crisp German consonants; warm hands leading her small ones to trace the bark of a tree when she cringes at its enormous height.

"You took them from me," she yells, her voice lost among her Sisters' and Fontaine's screams and Jack's wheezing.  Masha loses herself in the motion of stabbing, arms tiring before she's satisfied but she keeps going, throat hoarse and aching and "This is all your fault you bad man you awful awful man I hate you hate you hate you--"

"Masha."  Hands close over hers, large and warm.  The extractor is buried deep in Fontaine's body and she's too tired to remove it.  Her arms are shaking with exhaustion, making her hands tremble, and the hands squeeze hers gently.  "Masha, it's over.  He's dead."

"It's all his fault," she whimpers, looking mutely into Jack's face when he yanks the helmet of his suit off, seals hissing with the gasket release.

"I know.  But it's over now.  You did good."

She hiccups a sob, tries to swallow it.  "I'm a good girl?"

Jack smiles and suddenly he isn't scary anymore, even though he made the world quiet and ugly.  "You're a very good girl, Masha."

Masha wails and sags, sliding off Fontaine's body and into Jack's arms, sobbing, tears hot and scalding on her cheeks.

"It's all right, Masha.  It's all right.  I've got you."  He still smells strange--wool and sweat and blood--but over that is the comforting Mr Bubbles smell, hot metal and rubber and hydraulic fluid.  It soothes her as she cries, and she doesn't shy away from his hand when it cradles the base of her skull.  She presses her face into his shoulder, clutching his suit in her tiny fingers.

She doesn't know how long they sit there, Jack braced against a bulkhead, arms engulfing her and she doesn't care.  He lets her cry, the loss and horrible aching emptiness draining out of her.  Half-remembered sounds mingle with half-forgotten nightmares rearing their ugly heads--See, Masha, the tree will not hurt you, my darling--Get away, you filthy little shit--No, Papa Suchong, I don't wanna go on the table again--Komm her, mein lieber--

All of these things you have only seen in your books!  A bolt of fear lances through her belly but she's too tired to really move, and only stirs sluggishly.  "I don't wanna go," she whispers into the side of Jack's neck, struggling to raise her head against the waves of sleep threatening to drown her.

"Not going anywhere," he replies softly, smoothing her hair.

"Don't...wanna go...surface..."  She tries to make herself understood, but oh, she's so very tired and it's time for dreamtime--

"Shh, Masha," but it's not the most awful sound in the world anymore.

"No!"  Masha stomps her foot and it hurts but she doesn't care.  "I'm not going and you can't make me!"

Mama Tenenbaum sighs, her arms full of bags and cases that rattle.  Masha can see her patience is fraying by the way her mouth thins and turns down at the corners, but doesn't care about that either.  "You cannot stay here, Masha.  We must go."

Hilde takes Masha's hand.  "It'll be okay.  I know it's scary but Mama Tenenbaum and Uncle Jack will make it not scary.  Don't worry."

Masha jerks her hand away.  "No!  I'm staying!"  Why don't they understand?  Why would they want to leave?  Rapture is their home, where they belong.  What are they going to do on the surface?

Mama Tenenbaum purses her lips.  "What will you do, Masha, hm?  How will you eat?  How will you stay safe?  There is nothing left for us here."

Masha thinks frantically, then grasps at a solution.  "I'll find Eleanor!  We can stay together!"

"Nein.  Eleanor is probably dead," Mama Tenenbaum snaps, and Masha's heart sinks because she knows that's most likely the case.  Eleanor had disappeared months and months ago after the war had started, after that awful Lamb woman had made Eleanor's Mr Bubbles shoot himself.

Masha feels dizzy suddenly, like she's teetering from a very great height and will fall forever if she slips.  "No," she whispers once more, and Jack crouches down until his face is level with hers.

"It'll be all right, Masha.  I promise," and she looks at him warily.  The hatch to the bathysphere gapes behind him, dark and looking for all the world like a maw ready to swallow her up.  Mama Tenenbaum huffs and climbs into it, jostling her bags into place with Leta's help.  Hilde shrugs and follows, clambering in awkwardly, limbs splaying and the soles of her bare feet dirty.  Her other Sisters are already inside, Leta and Ilsa and Greta and Sally, chattering animatedly and making room for themselves among boxes Mama Tenenbaum insisted on taking with them.

"Jack, we do not have time to coddle her," Mama Tenenbaum says impatiently, voice tinny inside the craft.

"I know, Mama Tenenbaum.  Just give us a moment, please," he calls back politely, not taking his eyes from Masha's.

"Ach, do not call me that," she snaps.  "It sounds...wrong, from you.  You are a grown man."

"Not really," Jack mutters, and Masha blinks in surprise.  Why would he say something so strange?  Reading her expression, Jack makes a noise that sounds like it wants to be a laugh but isn't sure yet.  "Would you like to hear the story, Masha?"

For all her reluctance to leave, Masha is still a little girl who loves stories, and is interested despite herself.  "Is it a fairy tale?  Like the ones in the books?"

Jack's face fall slightly, his eyes going far far away for an instant before returning.  "Not...really," he says hesitantly.  "It's sad, I think, but it does have adventure and evil wizards and princesses.  And the ending is happy--I hope."  He adds that last almost as an afterthought.  "But you'll have to get in the bathysphere to hear it."

Masha considers him gravely before nodding once.

"All right."

Inside the bathysphere her Sisters crown around the tiny porthole as they ascend, oohing and aahing at the ocean's underworld, but Masha stays ensconced in Jack's arms.  She has little interest in watching their entire world fall away into the depths.  Maybe if she doesn't see it, it's not really happening.

"Once upon a time," Jack begins, voice making his chest rumble, "there was a wizard who didn't like the kingdom he lived in, so he decided to make his own.  He made it at the bottom of the sea, and people came from all over the world to live there, all the best and brightest of their respective lands.  Be welcome, the wizard said, for here you will find only freedom and knowledge."

Mama Tenenbaum snorts softly, her face in a book.  "Really, Jack.  You should know better than anyone--"

"Now, this wizard was content to let the citizens of his new kingdom flourish," Jack interrupts her, "and they did well for a time, happy and gay in their undersea world.  The wizard fell in love with a beautiful woman who loved to dance, and there was peace throughout the realm.  But little did the wizard know that there was another wizard who had come from the world above, hidden under spells of shadows and lies.  For he was an evil wizard, you see, and plotted against the benevolent wizard, wanting to take the new kingdom for himself."

"What's bennuh--bennie-volunt mean?" Masha asks.

"It means kind, generous, giving," Mama Tenenbaum mutters, "and it is the wrong word for this story."

"What happened then?" Leta asks, and Masha turns to see her Sisters have abandoned the porthole in favour of listening to Jack's story.

"The good wizard thought all was well in his kingdom, but betrayal lurked just out of sight.  Even the beautiful dancing woman he loved made a deal with the evil wizard and sold a secret thing, a powerful thing that rightfully belonged to the good wizard.  It was so secret the good wizard didn't even know he had possessed it.

"Haha! the evil wizard laughed.  With this, I can rule the kingdom and no one can stop me!  Surely this will be the greatest, most powerful weapon ever created!  And he commanded his wisest advisors to refine the weapon and make it even more fearsome--"

"Jack."  Mama Tenenbaum's voice is flat and somehow afraid, and Masha looks at her curiously.  "I must insist that you stop telling this story."

"But it's good," Masha begins, and Jack silences her with a finger across her lips.

"I promised Masha a story," he says, words easy but Masha can sense sharp things behind them.  Mama Tenenbaum drops her eyes back down to her book and says nothing further.  "Now where was I?  Oh yes.  The evil wizard had his advisors set to work on the weapon, honing it and growing it, for the weapon was actually a little boy," and Masha gasps along with her Sisters.

"The evil wizard stole a little boy?" Hilde cries, and Jack nods solemnly.

"Yes, and the little boy was actually the son of the good wizard.  But the evil wizard's advisors changed the little boy into a man so the good wizard would not recognise him, using the magical power of princesses they had under their control.  They used many spells and many potions to do this--"

"Potions like ADAM?" Masha interjects.

"Exactly like ADAM.  They gave the new-made man many powers like strength and speed and the ability to heal quickly in battle.  But they did not want this weapon to ever be controlled by anyone else, so they created a powerful spell that would allow them to use the man and make him dance like a puppet.  It was three words, this spell, and only they and the evil wizard would know them."

"What were the words?" Leta asks, hushed, when Jack pauses.  He stares at Mama Tenenbaum, eyes hard, and Masha shivers involuntarily.  There is something between the two of them that she doesn't quite understand, something cold and serrated like the teeth of a shark.  Mama Tenenbaum is pale but holds Jack's gaze, something almost pleading in her eyes.

"The magic words were Would you kindly," Jack says softly, the words like stones in a still pool, and Mama Tenenbaum swallows thickly.  But then Jack softens, tucking a lock of hair behind Masha's ear.  "The evil wizard was eager to try out his new weapon, and so the new-made man was sent out into the kingdom to slay the good wizard, who he did not know was his own father.

"Now, the good wizard had not been idle while the evil wizard's advisors were tinkering.  He had allies in secret corners, in hidden alleys, and they whispered to him of how his beautiful dancing woman had betrayed him.  He confronted her and she admitted that she had given his son to the evil wizard.  She begged him to forgive her, but he said You have stolen from me.  I loved you, and you repay that love with the theft of my child.  Heartbroken, the wizard banished her from the undersea kingdom and began the arduous task of finding that which had been stolen."

"What's arduous mean?" Masha asks quietly.

"It means difficult, sweetie.  Now listen.  The wizard sent his allies out again to gather information where they could, to find any whisper or scrap of his son, and he sank the castle of the evil wizard down, down, down into the depths for the crime committed against him.  And soon word reached him that his son was coming for him, and that his son had been enthralled by those magic words, and the spell was unbreakable.

"What was he to do?  He didn't know the magics ensorcelling his son, had no way at all of breaking the spells.  So he retreated to his secret place, hidden deep in the fiery bowels of his kingdom, to think and plan."

Jack raises a finger in a wait gesture, and the girls are rapt with attention.  Mama Tenenbaum quietly closes her book and rests her head back on the bulkhead.  She looks tired, but Masha can see the tension in the faint like drawn between her eyebrows and knows that means afraid.

"Meanwhile," Jack continues, "one of the evil wizard's advisors had had a change of heart, and felt remorse for her part in the creation of the little boy turned into a weapon in the shape of a man.  She felt guilty about the princesses held hostage by the evil wizard, and escaped his castle before it was sunk, taking a few of the princesses with her."

"Like you, Mama Tenenbaum!" says Greta excitedly.  "Just like how you saved us from the bad man Fontaine!"

Mama Tenenbaum exhales sharply through her nose.  "I do not like your story, Jack."  Masha's feeling of disquiet grows--there is too much similarity between real life and Jack's story--and the words would you kindly tug at her, but the memory unravels when she reaches for it.

Jack's mouth purses slightly, but he goes on.  "The advisor managed to contact the man-turned-weapon.  I will help you, she offered, if you will help me free the princesses.

"The man was confused.  I need to slay the wizard, but he is hiding.  Do you know where?

"The advisor said There is much you do not know.  Help me, and I shall tell you.  Help any princesses on your way, and then make your way to me.  The man could not immediately do so, for he was still under the spell of would you kindly, but he did free all the princesses who crossed his path, defeating their guardians made of metal and rubber."

The girls regard Jack silently, memories large behind their eyes, the ghost of Mr Bubbles haunting them.

"As the man journeyed, the wizard he was sent to slay--his own father, I remind you--made contact with the man, having thought and planned and found no solution.  The wizard knew his fate was sealed.  Come, then, he said to the man, I am waiting for you.  And when the man found the wizard, down in the kingdom's warmest crevasses, the wizard said Defeat me.  Take my wand, would you kindly, and choose to defeat me.

"Now, the man had learned many things on his journey, things that made him question his purpose and made him question why he was on this quest in the first place.  He did not want to defeat the wizard anymore, for he knew now that the wizard was his father, that all of the memories he had were nothing but spells crafted at the command of the evil wizard.  He wanted only to escape the undersea kingdom and live his life in peace.  But would you kindly was a terrible spell, an inescapable drive, and against his will he took the wand from the wizard and defeated him."

Jack's words make Masha want to cry, there is so much sadness and regret in them.  She has momentarily forgotten that she is leaving the only home she has ever known to go to the surface, a land only read and dreamt about.  She snakes her small hand into Jack's large one and squeezes gently.  He smiles softly, but his eyes are as haunted as hers.

"The man took the final treasure from his father, a magical key that would give control of the kingdom to the evil wizard.  Would you kindly whispered one last time in his head, and he inserted the key into a lock.  The evil wizard had waited for two long years for just that moment, and laughed triumphantly."

Jack subsides into silence once more, and Mama Tenenbaum tsks quietly.  "I do not know where you get this creative streak, Jack.  Wizards?  Spells?"

"Blame my mother, Mama Tenenbaum," he retorts, but there is no sting behind his words.

"I told you not to call me that."  She sniffs.

"Uncle Jack, what happened then?" Sally chirps from her seat on the floor.  She tugs at the leg of his pants.  "Did the evil wizard win?"

"It seemed that all was lost," Jack says sorrowfully, "that the evil wizard had indeed won and lawlessness would reign in the undersea kingdom.  The man did not know what to do next, and wanted so very badly to rest.  He did not know how to fix what had been done; it seemed too much for just one man."

Masha remembers Apollo Square--I wasn't made to fix things--how Jack's face, in its sincerity, had been so like her Sisters'.

"But the man had forgotten that there was still hope: the advisor who had escaped from the evil wizard sent some of her princesses, her magical little girls, to help him.  Come and see, come and see, they said, and led the man down their hidey-holes to their haven.  It was quiet there, and safe, with soft blankets and pillows he could lie in to regain his strength.

"Once he had rested and refreshed himself, the advisor told him that she knew of a way to undo the spells that had been placed on him.  The evil wizard has another castle, she said, where there are potions to free your mind.  But the way is perilous and many dangers will strive to deter you.  Be vigilant.  My little ones will aid you when they can."

"Little ones like us," Leta breathes in wonder, and Jack nods.

"Just like you, Leta."  He touches the tip of her nose and she giggles.  "Magical princesses with secrets sparkling in their eyes, all the knowledge of the undersea kingdom.  And they helped the man on his quest, facing danger bravely right next to him, and soon the man found the potions to free himself, just as the advisor had promised.  He drank them down and a newfound energy rushed through him.

"With the aid of the princesses, he sneaked into the evil wizard's stronghold and challenged him.  I have come for you, villain! he cried, his voice echoing proudly in the main hall.  Face me!  Pay for your crimes and face your doom!

"The evil wizard laughed, coming down from his throne.  You are tiny, and weak.  I made you, and I will break you.  And so they began to battle.  The wizard was a formidable foe, and the fight was brutal.  The man began to tire, for he had journeyed and fought for days, resting only within the princesses' sanctuary.  He began to falter.  Sensing victory, the wizard stood over him and sneered.  You came from nothing, boy, and your purpose has been fulfilled.  Hopelessness washed over the man, for the wizard was not wrong."

"But we helped you," Masha whispers, and Jack hugs her closer.

"Yes.  As the wizard seemed to savour his victory, the princesses came out of hidey-holes, clutching their own little magic wands, and with their spells began their own fight against the wizard.  You shall not have him! they cried, and they were very powerful all together, so powerful the evil wizard could not stand against them.  It was the magical princesses who vanquished him, and the evil wizard fell beneath them with a howl of defeat.

"Finally, they were all safe, and made their way to the surface kingdom, where they could live out their lives in peace: the magical princesses, the advisor who freed them, and the boy who had become a man before his time."

Silence falls in the bathysphere's cabin, broken only by the groan of metal as the craft pressurises in its ascent.  Masha hears one of her Sisters sigh--maybe Sally, maybe Greta--and Mama Tenenbaum pinches the bridge of her nose.

"That is quite a story, Jack," she says carefully.  "One could almost believe it true, the way you told it."

"It is true," Hilde cries fervently, clapping her hands.  "We did defeat the evil wizard!  And we're going to the surface to live happily ever after!"

The surface.  Masha had forgotten, and a spike of cold shoots through her like a bolt of Old Man Winter.  She digs her fingers into Jack's sweater, pulling herself closer.  During his story, the light through the sphere's little porthole had grown brighter, and a pool of pale blue tinged with gold wavers on the floor.  I just won't get out, she thinks.  I'll stay in here and they can get out and then I'll go home to Rapture.  But then Mama Tenenbaum will be angry and Jack will be sad and so will her Sisters--but the idea of surface fills Masha with a terror so great she can barely breathe.  What will she do on the surface, where there is no ADAM and no angelsong and no stomp-slow Mr Bubbles to protect her?  Good girls gather but how will she gather when she can't hear the frantic beat of wings against skin, when she can't smell the rose-rich sparkle of ADAM?

"Uncle Jack, what's the surface like?" Leta asks curiously.  "Is it like the forest where the dwarves live?  Like Little Red Cap's forest?"

"No, silly," Sally says, and giggles.  "Mr Booker told me that there's trees and clouds and the sky goes on forever, like this," and spreads her arms wide.  "The sun shines bright enough you have to squint and you can build sandcastles on the beach.  And there's a great big city where lots of people live and there's a thing called a zoo where they have every animal ever."

Masha is uninterested in all of these possibilities.  There's a perfectly good aquarium in Rapture that has every animal that would ever need to be seen, and what's a sandcastle?  What's a beach?  Wouldn't lots of people be noisy in all the wrong ways?  What if there are crazies in this city?

"You'll have to ask Mama Tenenbaum about the surface, Leta," Jack replies.  "I've never been there, so it's all new for me too."

Mama Tenenbaum shoots him a keen look, pale eyes like chips of glittering glass.  "You have been in an aeroplane, Jack, nicht wahr?  Do you not recall?"

Jack sighs and shifts himself more comfortably under Masha.  "I don't count that as a real memory, Mama."

Mama Tenenbaum flinches.  "Ich bin nicht deine Mutter, Jack.  Bitte, stop it," she whispers, and takes a packet of chalk out of her pocket.  "Here, girls, amuse yourselves a while.  Uncle Jack needs to rest."  She passes it to Hilde.  "And please, if you sing do so quietly."

The girls eagerly share the chalk amongst themselves.  Sally offers Masha a stick but Masha shakes her head at it, shivering with dread as the bathysphere rises through the ocean slowly.  She tries to be a good girl and not cry, but the sense of loss is huge and yawning inside her and hurts worse than any of the times Mr Bubbles died.

When the light shining through the porthole grows too bright to bear she turns her face into Jack's shoulder and gives in to her tears.

"Shh," Jack whispers to her, large hand warm on her small back, and it sounds like sorrow, like endings, a sound of goodbye.

The surface is far more awful than she's ever imagined.

The sun--a burning light that has no on-off switch that any proper light should have--scathes her eyes and makes them water.  When she squinches her eyes shut everything goes orange-red like fire.  The sand of the beach scrapes painfully at her skin when she huddles into a ball, terrified that she will fly upupup into the vibrant blue vault of the sky.  The waves crashing on the shore is a sound so loud, so very loud, a roaring monster whose hunger will never be satiated.  There's a strange smell in the air under the salt-flesh scent of the ocean.  She doesn't like it.

And somewhere under the waves, under the sparkle of sunlight on water, is Rapture, its neon glowing on and out into the depths, a haven from the harsh and glaring surface.

Oh, how she wants to go back.

Sally and Ilsa laugh gaily from somewhere nearby, already enchanted with the new world, and Masha wants to smack them.  It's wrong! she wants to yell at them; This isn't our home!  Rapture is our home!

"Girls, schnell, if you please," Mama Tenenbaum calls from somewhere up the shore, and Masha refuses to move, burying her fingers in the sand to tether herself to the earth.  She hears footsteps shushing away from her, and a whump as one of the girls loses their balance.  A chortle of glee follows.

"Masha."  Jack's shadow falls over her, the darkness reassuring.  "Are you all right?"

She tries to speak but her voice is a small fish strangling in open air.  She shakes her head, cracking her eyes open and fixing them on the tiny grains of sand beneath her fingers.

"Here," and he reaches down for her.  "I'll carry you."

"No," she croaks.  "I'll fall."

"Don't worry.  I promise not to drop you,' and he stretches his arms out.

She shakily releases one handhold and points up, finger wobbling.  "I'll fall up and I won't stop."

"Oh, sweetie.  No you won't.  Look at me--I'm not falling, am I?"

"You're different," although she cannot explain how, or exactly what she means.

"Masha!  Jack!" Mama Tenenbaum calls, and she sounds very close to being cross.

Jack ignores her.  "I promise, Masha, you will not fall into the sky."  The words should sound nonsensical but from him they sound like a solemn oath.

She dares to take her eyes away from the beach and peers up at him.  The sky expands behind him, a vast blue sea of infinity, and vertigo makes her sway.  "All right," because the only other option is to stay here on the beach with the too-loud waves and the sky waiting to pounce down on her.

Jack scoops her up easily and she tucks her head into his now-familiar shoulder.  He makes his way up the shoreline to where Mama Tenenbaum and her Sisters are waiting in the tall grass behind the dunes.

That evening Jack breaks into an abandoned house that stands sentinel on a hillock overlooking the shore, and they scavenge motheaten blankets from the closets and form a sort of nest in the large room on the first floor.  Their supper is Pep-Bars and Hop-Up Cola hastily grabbed during their exodus from Rapture, and all the sugar makes the girls giddy and hyper--except for Masha, who only picks at her food.  Mama Tenenbaum nibbles daintily at a tin of sardines while poring through a book and making a list of tasks.  As the sun goes down Jack makes another round through the house and comes up with what he calls a hurricane lamp, and when he asks Mama Tenenbaum "How do I know that?" she shrugs off the question.

"You will find you know much more than you believe, Jack," and he scrunches his nose the way Masha does when she's feeling mulish.  He lights the lamp with a snap of his fingers and an oily black smoke snakes out of the lamp's chimney before the flame catches properly and a warm light spills like syrup through the room.

"Ooh, pretty," breathes Hilde, and she and Leta make a dance of their shadows on the wall.

Masha's fingers twitch, too used to holding an extractor.  Good girls gather, and it's suddenly too much--the unfamiliar house pushing down on her, shadows she doesn't recognise amassing in the corners, the echoes of laughter falling flat and wooden instead of spilling down corridors the way proper echoes should.  She scurries abruptly out of the room, out the front door, following the sound of waves.

"Masha!  Masha, where--"  She ignores Mama Tenenbaum's startled call, knows she will be cross but doesn't care.  It's dark outside but Masha can see fine, her eyes used to dim sepulchral light and unlit hidey-holes.  Her bare feet slip-slide down the dune and she almost falls but manages to catch herself.  There's a hot feeling in her throat and she focuses on that instead of the expectant sky above her.  She stumbles across the beach and splashes into the shallows, falling to her knees.  The water is cold and wicks up the fabric of her dress.  The hot fist in her throat unclenches in a scream and tears spill down her face.

Will she ever stop crying?  Will it ever stop hurting?  Will the hollow cavity in her heart ever be filled by something other than ADAM?

A scudding sort of noise comes from behind her, a muffled curse.  She doesn't turn around.

"Masha.  Masha."

"Take me home!" she howls to the sea, waves washing around her.  "Take me back!  I want to go back!  I want Mr Bubbles!  I want the angels!  Good girls gather, and I'm a good girl!  You told me so!"

Jack splashes into the water with her, his large from so much noisier than her small one.  He crouches, heedless of the water soaking his own clothes, and wraps those huge arms around her.  "Masha."

"No!"  She shoves at him.  She beats her tiny fists on his back.  "You take me home right now!"

Jack says nothing.  He lets her rage and holler and doesn't let go, and soon enough her tantrum passes, all the fury sluicing through and out of her suddenly.  She pushes at his shoulders one last time, but it's only a token effort.  All her strength has drained into the cold unfeeling ocean, taken by the tide and currents all the way down to the city they left behind.

"Take me back," she chokes out," and Jack sighs, picking her up.

"We can't go back, Masha.  I'm sorry.  I'm so very sorry."

"I never wanted this," she hiccups.

"Neither did I.  Neither of us ever asked for this."  He wades out of the shallows and back up to the dunes where the seagrass pokes defiantly out of the sand, sitting down with a grunt.  "We're only children, poked at and created by adults with no sense of right or wrong."

She blinks.  Her eyes feel swollen and scratchy.  "But you're not a child."

Jack chuckles mirthlessly, the sound lonely under the susurration of the waves.  "Didn't you listen to the story, in the bathysphere?"

"Ye-es," she says but doesn't understand what that has to do with Jack's odd remark.

"Do you remember how the evil wizard had taken the little boy?  And how his advisors tinkered with him and made him look like a grown man?"  Masha nods, still puzzled.  "And do you remember how long the evil wizard waited for his plan to work?"

Masha thinks carefully, watching Jack's face.  He's wearing that earnest expression again, the searching one that's asking a question bigger than his words.  "Two years," she says slowly, understanding beginning to dawn.  "The evil wizard was the bad man Fontaine, and you were the boy sent to kill Andrew Ryan."  The words are bald and bare and something shifts in Jack's face.  Masha wants to choke them back because of how wrong they sound.

Jack swallows hard.  "Yes.  Two years, Masha."  His eyes shimmer and he blinks a few times, quickly.

Comprehension makes her stomach turn over.  "Oh.  Oh, that bad bad man," she breathes, and curls her arms around Jack's neck.  He shudders, holding her tightly.

"Shh," she whispers in his ear, and pays no mind to the warmth soaking her shoulder.

They find a small house to call home--a cottage, really, on the edge of a seaside town whose tourist business has long since dried up.  The paint is peeling on the wood trim and may have been blue once upon a time, or green, but has given up and faded into a sort of non-colour grey that matches Hilde's eyes.  Jack finds odd jobs in town--sometimes delivering packages for the Woolworth's; sometimes rolling out kegs at the local bar--and Mama Tenenbaum sends many telegrams to far-off places called Argentina and Ukraine.  Once, she makes a phone call punctuated by long stretches of silence to Belarus, speaks in a strange language, and then retreats to her room and shuts the door.  Masha hears weeping when she sets her ear to the keyhole.  When Mama Tenenbaum emerges she is pale but dry-eyed, and tugs her sleeve down over the number inked on the inside of her left arm.

They fall into a routine as the weeks pass, the eight of them; Mama Tenenbaum giving the girls lessons during the day and poring over her papers by night, muttering to herself in German.  Jack does his jobs and comes home in the afternoons.  He builds them a treehouse--the inside of which Masha never sees, as she still mistrusts the notion of her feet leaving the ground--and he helps them build sandcastles on the beach, fully decorated with shells and pretty rocks and shiny bits of flotsam coughed up by the sea.

Masha develops an unconscious slouch, still making herself smaller so the predatory sky will not snatch her up, and Mama Tenenbaum tsks.  "Masha, you must stand up straight.  You will never grow properly if your posture is poor."

Every evening Masha stays out on the beach well past sundown, staring out at the choppy horizon, and watches the stars come out of hiding.  It is the only time she is unafraid of the sky, once its hungry blue has turned black, and every evening Jack joins her in the seagrass.  Their conversations have no words, made up of the wind sighing through the bristling grass and the press of her head against his shoulder.  After perhaps an hour he nudges her and they make their way back to the yellow light spilling out of the cottage's windows, the closest thing to the warm syrup-gold she used to see before the ADAM was taken out of her.

One day he brings her a book from town, one about the ocean and its life and all the wondrous things found beneath the greygreen surface.  She skates her fingers reverently over the glossy pictures of hydrothermal vents belching their chemical fug, the anemones pink and salmon like the inside of her lower lip, the sinuous eels with electricity sparking along their spines like they were born with plasmids already in their blood.

"Si-phon-o-phore," she sounds out carefully; "bi-o-lum-in-es-cent.  Arch-i-teu-this dux."  The words are weighty on her tongue, like she imagines magical spells to be, words she can taste and wrap her tongue around lovingly.  It takes her a week to read every word in the book--she is still learning, after all--and has to ask Jack about the more incomprehensible jumbles of letters sometimes.  He is patient with her, always so patient, inherently understanding her longing for the world they left behind, never getting frustrated with her the way Mama Tenenebaum does.

"You are doing her no kindness, Jack.  She must learn to overcome Suchong's conditioning, and your indulging her childish fantasy will only set her back."

"She is a child, Brigid."  He doesn't say Mama Tenenbaum anymore and it sounds odd to Masha's ears.

Masha finishes the book and starts over.  Jack brings her more books about the sea, and National Geographics bursting with pictures and colour, jellyfish and humpback whales and great white sharks chasing the scent of blood.  She reads about two brave men who made a descent in a bathyscaphe--what a funny word for bathysphere--called Trieste, and wonders why they didn't stay down at the bottom of the sea.

"Cli-op-sis kroh-ni," she intones, fingertip outlining the photograph of the sea angel.  "Grim-po-teu-this," the cartoony dumbo octopus.  The sea lilies and droopy sea pens and tuft corals that look like curlicues of icing on a cake.

At night, she dreams of Rapture, soothing slate-blue light punctuated by neon, Mr Bubbles galumphing through the corridors with her, her tiny piping voice echoing properly under leaky ceilings.  She dreams of rich satin pooling around the bases of pedestals, the music wafting through the air like the shimmerscent of ADAM, and the gentle chiming brush of feathers under skin.

Shh, the waves murmur from shore, and in her sleep her fingers twitch.

"I must return, Jack.  As much as I do not want to go back to that hellish place, I must," and Masha freezes as she passes the kitchen archway.  Mama Tenenbaum is trying to be quiet, but her urgency is made evident by the way her sibilants turn her words into an almost-hiss.  Masha flattens herself against the wall and strains her ears.  "You know what is in the papers.  Little girls, all over the world.  You know where they are disappearing to."

Masha has only the vaguest notion of what Mama Tenenbaum is talking about; she does not read the newspapers but the news on their small television has occasionally aired stories of little girls mysteriously disappearing.  Always along a coastline, always a strange red light seen around the time of abduction before is sinks into the ocean and out of sight.  She'd secretly thought of those little girls as lucky, for surely they would be welcomed into Rapture's cathedral-like halls, protected by Mr Bubbles and breathing in the red-rich scent of ADAM.

"We don't know if it's really--" Jack begins, but Mama Tenenbaum cuts him off.

"Little girls, Jack.  You know damned well that someone down there is taking them.  Someone has opened the Pandora's box that I thought closed."

Masha's breath catches.  Down there means Rapture; that is how Mama Tenenbaum has referred to their old home for the past eight years, as if saying its name would make it rise from the depths like an angry god awoken from long slumber.  A sense of excitement creeps along her skin.  If Mama Tenenbaum is returning to Rapture, perhaps Masha can go too?  She has not forgotten it the way the others have--Masha, all that was a bad dream, Ilsa denies; Why would you want to remember such a terrible place?  We're better up here, Leta says--and has kept a flicker of hope alive in the hollow of her heart for a long, long time.

"Brigid, it's not your responsibility," Jack says harshly.  "There's no guarantee you could stop them.  What if you don't make it back?"

"It is my responsibility!  Meine Pflicht!  Without me, none of this would be happening!  I must take the risk," and Masha hears a chair scrape across the floor as Mama Tenenbaum stands.  "If I do not come back, then I do not come back.  At least I will have tried."


"Take me," Masha blurts, darting into the room.  "I know you're going back to Rapture," and Mama Tenenbaum flinches at the word.  Masha fists the skirt of her dress in her hands.  "Oh, please, take me with you!"

Jack rises from his seat slowly, as if she's a wild deer that will bolt if he moves too quickly.  "No, no, Masha--"

"Please!  I want to go home!"

Mama Tenenbaum shakes her head emphatically.  "No, Masha.  We have been through this far too many times.  Down there is no place for you."  Her tone is even, calm, far too reasonable and practical and infuriatingly German.

Masha hates her suddenly, and not in the little-girl tantrum way she has before.  This isn't simply being chided for jumping on the bed, or not doing her lessons, or losing the privilege of the record player because she smacked Ilsa in a fit of pique.  This is being denied a feast when she is starving and can smell it.  This is a chance to go home, the most secret thing she has wanted for eight interminable years, and she is being told no.  Not just no but never ever again, and she hates Mama Tenenbaum with a fury so great it paralyses her and takes her breath away.

She opens her mouth and closes it, only to open it again, anger swelling in her throat.

"Masha, please.  You know you can't go back," Jack says quietly, and reaches for her hand.  She backs away, bare feet soundless on the floor.  The house bears down on her in a way it hasn't in a long time, all wood-smother and wallpaper-choke, and she whirls and runs down the hallway to the back door and bursts outside, Jack's sigh lost behind her.  She pounds down the well-worn path to the shore, breathing giant gulps of salt air to calm herself.

Her fingers twitch.


Of course he's followed her; he always follows her when she runs toward home because he knows how strongly the tide draws at her blood and bones and wants to pulls her down into its soothing darkness, murmuring Welcome home, Masha and We missed you.  The wind whips at her hair with greedy fingers--there will be a storm tonight; she can smell the ozone building in the clouds--and she lets the salt in the air crust on her lips.

"Those girls are lucky, Jack."  There.  She's said it out loud, given the thought voice and life and now the idea is a thing separate from her, on its own.

There is a pause.  "Are they?  Really?"  Jack says finally, words pregnant with some undefinable emotion.  Regret?  Fear?  Masha isn't certain, but nods firmly, not facing him.  She feels his warmth as he steps to her side.

"There's a land called Lillipoppi, and living there is the Lillipop," she murmurs absently, then, "Those girls will be like the magical princesses from your fairy tale.  Good girls gather."

Jack makes a dismissive noise, watching the thunderheads grow.  "No, Masha.  They're having their choice taken from them, just like you and your Sisters.  There's so much you don't remember--all the pain and suffering, all the steel and screams.  I saw what you went through.  Not all of the little girls became--became good girls.  I don't wanna go back on the table, Papa Suchong," he says in a high voice, and Masha winces.  "They'll be used up, those little girls, used up and tossed aside like so much trash."

"But they'll be special," she says helplessly, "special like I used to be.  They'll get to hear the angels."  Her face twists.  "I just want to go back.  I want to go home."

"You're still special, Masha."  His hand dwarfs hers when he grasps it.

No.  She isn't.  She's an ordinary sixteen-year-old girl who sees with ordinary eyes and wants nothing more than to return to an undersea kingdom that a wizard built once upon a time. 

She holds Jack's hand, the two of them staring out at the horizon, and they stay on the beach long after the rain starts.

Mama Tenenbaum departs before dawn the next day, while the rest of them are still asleep, leaving only a note on the kitchen table.

I will not have others paying for my sins.  I must put this right.  Her writing is as precise and stark as her speaking is.  Too much evil has been done with my help, for too many years.  Jack frowns as he reads the note aloud, and Leta starts to cry.

"Mama Tenenbaum isn't evil!"

Jack shakes his head, slowly, but not in response to Leta.  "Oh, Brigid, be careful," he whispers.

"When is she coming back?" Sally asks, and puts the kettle on the stove for tea.

"I...I don't know," Jack replies, and Hilde hugs Leta as she cries louder.

Masha purses her lips and slips out of the kitchen, retreating to the small room she shares with Sally and Ilsa, reaching for the book Jack brought her years ago.  The pictures reassure her: the rocky spires spewing their acidic soup, the Strawberry Fields of tubeworms, the ping-pong tree sponges like the light fixtures down in Rapture.

"Umbellula magniflora," she whispers like an incantation.  "Vampyroteuthis infernalis.  Saccopharynx."

Weeks pass.  Mama Tenenbaum does not return, sends no word.  Greta appoints herself teacher and doles out lessons, plodding through maths and history with her Sisters.  In the evnings they listen to the radio or watch the news reports.  The space race with the Soviet Union heats up.  King and Kennedy are assassinated.  People speculate about a 'Camelot curse.'

Masha begins to hoard a pile of rocks in one of the tide pools down on the beach.  When Jack raises an eyebrow at her she says "They're pretty," and hopes he does not notice the stones are, in fact, completely unremarkable and quite plain.

She keeps her head down, still stooped against the hungry sky, and does not accompany her Sisters on their increasingly frequent trips to town.  Quiet and reserved by nature, she withdraws even further into herself, and spend more and more time wading through the shallows on the coast, salt building in the folds of her dress, her eyelashes, her hair.

"I'm worried about you," Jack says one evening when he joins her, pant cuffs turned up on his calves.

"I'm all right."  She smiles, and the unfamiliar expression makes her face feel rubbery.

Jack peers at her, features softened in the gloaming, and doesn't push.  It's not in his nature to push the way it seems to be in hers, pushing and eroding the way the waves do against the rocks on the northern edge of the beach.  His mouth quirks ruefully as if he doesn't quite believe her, but he says nothing.

It rains that night, a summer storm that sounds like it wants to split the vault of heaven itself open, thunder roaring ravenously and lightning stretching greedy skeletal fingers through the clouds.  Masha waits until everyone is asleep, Ilsa snoring softly because she's on her back, and rises quietly from her bed.  Her feet make little sound on the wood floors, stepping cat-quiet past Jack's room and Mama Tenenbaum's closed door, and she slips out the front door silently.

It's black outside, inky like the ejecta from a squid, as dark as the trench that Fontaine's Department Store was sunk into, but Masha finds her way down to the beach unerringly.  She goes to her cache of stones in the tide pool and picks them out one by one, each as big as the palm of her hand, and slips them into the pockets she's covertly sewn into the hem of her dress.

She kisses the last one, for luck, and slides it into place.  It makes a clicking noise against its fellows.

"I'll go there soon with Mr Bubbles, and we'll search the place from tail to top," she sings softly, and jumps when Jack speaks from behind her.

"Masha, what are you doing?"

She whirls to face him, a flash of lightning illuminating him briefly.  His eyes are huge and wild in his face, fear sharpening his features and making his cheekbones stark.  In his haste to follow her he has forgotten a shirt and a small part of her is shocked at how many scars crisscross his torso.  She inches away from him, toward the waves, stones clinking against her calves.  He starts to take a step but she skitters away further, splashing in, and he freezes.

"Masha.  Please," and his voice is aching.  "Please don't do this."  He reaches out.  Always reaching, Jack is, always following, and she knows she will have to be fast this last time, faster than the darting octopus, faster than the cuttlefish that hides in plain sight on the ocean floor.

"I want to go home."  She is proud of how her voice doesn't waver.

"Not like this.  Please, come inside and we can talk about this."

Masha shakes her head violently, soaked hair whipping.  "No!  There's nothing to talk about!  You're just trying to make me stay!"

His eyes are beseeching, and her heart twists because she will miss him awfully, but if she's going to go home it has to be tonight, has to be now, and she can't allow him to dissuade her.  She takes a few more steps backward, the water up to her thighs, the stones' weight reassuring.  He follows but doesn't close the distance between them.

"Masha, please, I'm begging you.  For Christ's sake, don't do this."

A wave surges against her and she sways when the sand shifts under her feet.  She stumbles further in, up to her waist.  "I have to go, Jack."

"No, no, come out and we'll talk, and then we can go anywhere, anywhere you want," he says desperately, wading in after her.

Masha smiles sadly, her backward steps measured and purposeful.  "Can you take me home?" 

And the water closes over her head as his grasping hands clutch only seafoam, the waves whispering reassuringly, smothering his shout of her name.

I'm tired of dreaming, Mr B.  Take me home.

Shh, and it sounds like welcome, like comfort, like the brush of feathers against human skin.