The hall was dark and quiet in front of her. Out of habit, her eyes scanned for Aedan, even though she knew he was at his check in point on the floor above her. At least that's where she hoped he was. If he wasn't, he was dead, and that was a possibility she refused to consider.
She kept walking down the hall, turning her trained eyes, her trained ears, to everything around her. She knew that anybody in this hall who saw her could kill her if she let her guard down for even a second. And thank God Hannah Marie Solomon was too well-trained to let her guard down.
Silently, she made her way to the stairs and began to walk up.
The headquarters were eerily familiar – that scratch on the wall. Handcuffs, a flash of pain, shoving someone up the stairs and laughing at a scream. Scuff marks on the stairs – struggling – no more, please, I don't want, stop you stupid Girl, you're home...
She swallowed again and kept walking. If she weren't careful, she'd get lost in memories, and then her guard would most definitely be down. When she reached the landing at the second floor, she paused to hear if there was any commotion, any signal that people were fighting. Nothing. Silently breathing another sigh of relief, Hannah kept climbing the stairs, walking up and up and up.
At the third floor, she paused again to listen for any sounds. Nothing. She started to feel that maybe they had a chance at this, but she didn't allow herself to get her hopes up too much. It would just about kill her if she started to let herself think that they would win, only to lose in a devastatingly tragic manner. So she didn't allow herself to think or to hope. She just kept walking.
"Rosie, what's your status?" Wraith asked.
"Just passed the landing of the third floor in the South stairs," she answered quietly into her comm device. "Where's everyone else?"
"Fourth floor," Wraith answered.
"Waiting on you," Aedan's voice said, suddenly filling her ear. She grinned to herself in the darkness and kept climbing. Again, hope began to grow deep down, but again, she pushed it down. They were too close to the end for her to get excited.
She reached the landing of the fourth floor, and she pushed the door open to let her out into the hall. Immediately, she saw the rest of her team standing nearby, their chests heaving and their guns drawn.
"Rosie at check point."
"Alright, Rosie, wow us with your skills," Wraith replied. Hannah grinned, and she stepped forward to the door that led to their target. She swallowed, and she turned to look at the door.
She knew the door – it was too much, too fast... her knees buckled for a second, but she caught herself before the others could see.
The halls were dark – it would explain why she hadn't recognized them, but there was no excuse for not remembering the place where she'd spent nine years of her life. A keypad sat innocently on the wall beside the door. She lifted her hand and punched in the familiar numbers. An even more familiar click let her know that it'd worked. And that was when she knew that the op was doomed.
"Stay here," she said out loud to her teammates. "I'll go in."
“Hannah, we're supposed to go in with you," Aedan argued. She glanced over her shoulder, and she shook her head quickly.
"I don't care," she said. "Stay here."
"Hannah." Aedan stepped forward, but she took a step away from him, her green eyes flashing with a warning look.
"Aedan," she said firmly, another warning. "Let me go."
"Rosie, we need to do this as a team."
“You don't understand what these people can do to you,” she answered. Her head pounded again, her vision slowly going white. She forced the memory back. Something burned just beneath her skin.
"Rosie, this lone wolf crap ends here. We are going in."
“I will not let you all die,” she growled, staring at each of them in turn. “They already have me – they've had me for a long time. I won't let them take you too. If you run now, you might still live. They know I'm here.”
I'm in command here, not you," Aedan snapped. "You will follow my orders."
“Any form of command you have over me was negated the second I set foot in this building,” she answered. “This is way bigger than we thought it was, Aedan.”
“This is where I grew up,” she said. “Where they turn us into perfect weapons.”
“I don't care,” Shadow interrupted. “We go together or not at all.”
“I can do this on my own, “Hannah answered.
"Bullshit," Aedan snapped impatiently. "The whole team is supposed to go in because it's too much for one person to handle without backup. That's why we're all fucking here, Hannah.”
"Fine," she growled, entering and attempting to slam the door behind her before Aedan could follow. He caught the door as it shut, and the rest of the team filed in.
"Mirage. We haven't seen you here for some time," a voice said in a thick Russian accent as soon as the door shut behind the team. Hannah was glad that the room was dark because she knew her face had gone deathly white. She swallowed and looked around in the darkness, trying to identify where the voice had come from.
"Looks like I'm back," she said in the Russian that came so naturally to her.
"Nine will be very pleased. You've been greatly missed." The voice was so familiar that it made Hannah feel nauseated – Petrov, Nine's right hand man and her former teammate. Standing there in the dark with a man she'd known all too well for all the wrong reasons, she felt herself growing sick.
The lights flipped on, and Hannah blinked to adjust her eyes to the sudden light. There, off to the side, was Petrov, and he looked exactly the same. He was dressed in the standard one-piece uniform that all Nines wore, and he looked genuinely happy to see Hannah. His dark eyes flicked over to Aedan and then back to Hannah. Hannah saw the gun in his hand, the gun that was pointing towards the both of them.
"Darling," he said softly, an undercurrent of danger coloring his tone. "It's wonderful to have you back. You've been gone for so long. Who's your friend? A new recruit?" he asked. He took a step forward and started walking towards the two agents. Hannah's first instinct was to jump in front of Aedan and protect, but she knew that rationally, that instinct was stupid. Aedan could protect himself just as well as she could protect herself, and even if he couldn't, that move to put herself in front of him would have told Petrov that she had a softness for Aedan, and Petrov wouldn't hesitate to use that piece of information against her.
"The farthest thing from that, actually," she replied.
Petrov turned his eyes up towards the ceiling, and he squinted, as if he were trying to see something up top. "He doesn't look Russian. Where'd you drag up this filth?"
"America," Aedan interjected. Hannah wanted to hit him, but she just turned to look at him. His blue eyes were steely and cool as he regarded Petrov. "Land of the free, home of the brave."
"Home of the brave. I can see that." Petrov looked back towards Hannah. "Mirage, stop looking so angry. You've gotten weaker since you left. You used to be so good about hiding your emotions."
"How long have you known I was here?" Hannah asked.
"As soon as you stepped foot in the building," Petrov replied coolly. "Mirage, you used to be so much better. You have a reputation to live up to, but it looks like your time in America has softened you. What happened to our beautiful little Mirage who killed young men without even a thought?”
Hannah genuinely thought she was going to throw up. She felt Aedan turn to look at her, and she was certain that she was going to throw up right then and there in front of him and Petrov and most likely Nine's cameras. Petrov didn't look away from Hannah, and he stepped forward.
"Remember them? I know you do. They weren't much younger than you – but of course, that isn't saying much, is it? You used to be so good." He kept walking towards her, and then he stopped when he was a few feet away. Aedan started to lift his gun, but Petrov directed the barrel of his own pistol towards Hannah's head. Hannah froze.
"Lower your weapons, all of you," Petrov said smoothly.
"Fuck you," Aedan spat.
Petrov pulled the hammer of his pistol back with a click. Aedan motioned his team to lower their weapons.
They all did so slowly, though Hannah stood calmly before him, forcing her fear down. The gun in her hand remained there.
Petrov raised an eyebrow. “You haven't changed,” he said, the faintest of smiles curling his lips. “Why, Mirage, if I didn't know any better, I'd say you weren't even afraid of me.”
Hannah refused to answer, her face blank and cold as she lifted her chin slightly. She fought the urge to shiver as Petrov took another step towards her.
"Relax, devotshka,” he teased, the nickname making Hannah shudder in revulsion, “I'm only giving you what you want," he said before he grabbed her by the jaw hard enough to draw blood with his fingernails. He yanked her forward without warning and pressed a forceful kiss to her lips.
Hannah froze instantly under his touch, her mind blanking entirely as she forced herself not to go limp in his hands. She let her mouth fall open as he attacked her.
He ended as suddenly as he had begun, and Hannah, unbalanced, fell forwards. The gun clattered onto the floor away from her, and she fell to her knees, catching herself on her arms as she panted.
Petrov smiled. “I still like you best on your knees, darling,” he said softly. “So easily defeated with a simple touch. I'm glad you got our message – a pity that Aleski had to die, though. He didn't have to, really, but I'm much more useful than he ever was. He was so proud to die. He wanted to bring you home.”
Hannah still didn't respond, although her pants turned to muted snarls, still on her hands and knees. Her hair fell about her head, obscuring her face.
"Leave her alone," Aedan snarled.
"How about you make me," Petrov shot back.
Hannah looked at Aedan out of the corner of her eye and shook her head.
“Get up, Mirage,” Petrov ordered with a grin.
Hannah glared up at him from between strands of hair. “No,” she answered.
Petrov raised an eyebrow, looking mildly impressed. “Mirage, that was a direct order. Such insolence. You need to remember your place. You need to remember to whom you belong."
“I belong to nobody,” she growled.
Faster than Aedan could see, Petrov kicked Hannah hard in the ribs. She coughed and fell forward, pulling herself up just before she hit the ground.
“Get up,” Petrov ordered again.
“No,” Hannah wheezed.
He kicked her again and again, until Hannah was curled up on the floor, panting and gasping for breath. She held in a scream at a particularly vicious blow to her kidneys.
“Get up,” he ordered for what felt like the hundredth time. “Or I kill the leader.”
Hannah grinned at him with bloodied lips. “You won't,” she answered drunkenly. “If you do, you lose your bargaining advantage.”
"Get up, Mirage. Now," he ordered as he kicked her again.
"For God's sake, just stand up," Aedan said, unable to bear watching her for longer. “Being stubborn won't help any of us.”
Hannah snarled, but staggered to her feet regardless, barely noticing the pain blooming on her body. Petrov, she noticed, still favored his steel-toed boots.
"You are very protective of Mirage," Petrov commented. "You should not be."
“You should watch your mouth,” Aedan spat.
“So, how are you liking America, Mirage?” Petrov asked with a grin. “You always did have a penchant for staying with those who are beneath you.”
"Why are we doing this?" Hannah snapped back. "You're stalling. What's going on?"
"Nine's upstairs. I'm just supposed to entertain you until he's ready for you. So I'm entertaining." Petrov shrugged. "You used to do this a lot too."
Aedan looked at Hannah and saw the way her face had gone still. "Hannah?"
"Entertaining. So that's what this is," Hannah quietly murmured. "You sick bastard."
"Hannah," Aedan said, his voice a little louder.
"Kronos," Hannah snapped in English. She was careful to avoid saying his name, to reveal anything personal about him in front of Petrov.
"Be nice to the boy. He doesn't know what entertaining is. Tell him," Petrov said, and he gestured with his gun towards Aedan. Hannah's jaw tensed, and she turned to face Aedan.
"Entertaining," she said in a dull monotone. "We get tortured until we're called up."
“If you're good,” Petrov added, grinning at Shadow, Blade, and Blackburn, “I won't hurt you – We only planned for two, but I'll be happy to accommodate if you interfere.”
Aedan's breathing slowed as Hannah's words sank into him. He tried to calm his face, to keep himself under control so that Hannah wouldn't see how panicked he felt inside.
"Oh," he said humorlessly. "Well."
He was about to say something else, but then a gunshot rang out from Petrov's gun, cutting him off as he watched Hannah sink to the ground, clutching at the bullet wound in her leg.