Fifteen minutes felt like nineteen lifetimes. Hannah kept wondering where their back up was—surely someone should have come to get them by now, she thought over and over to herself. Wraith had to have realized something was wrong.
The pain was blinding. Crippling.
For the past fifteen minutes, Petrov had set into both Aedan and Hannah, as they sat on the office's two chairs. Shadow, Blade, and Blackburn stood against the wall, seething in silence, mind racing for an escape.
“Is this the good carpet, Petrov?” Hannah asked conversationally.
Petrov looked up from where he was carving pretty designs into her calf. “Yes, why?”
“You're getting blood on it. Good Persian carpets are hard to come by these days.”
“We have a guy.”
Hannah nodded with a wince, as though the statement explained everything. “Right. Him.”
“You have a carpet guy?” Aedan muttered, wheezing through his broken nose.
She saw Petrov step back, and Aedan came back into her line of vision. Blood was streaming from the bullet wound in his arm—Petrov believed in equal opportunity—and his face was clouded with muted pain. Petrov looked down at his watch.
"Your fifteen minutes have passed. We can go upstairs now." He pressed a button on his watch, his comm device. "Send in five men to bring Mirage and her associates up to Nine."
Hannah would later remember two men half-carrying, half-dragging her up a flight of stairs. She hated being carried, and she tried to fight them off as much as she could, but there was so much blood and so much pain that she didn't make much of a dent in the arms of Nine's men. She looked up at them and stared at their faces—she didn't recognize them. They wore regulation uniforms of the department, nondescript black clothing with a patch on the shoulder. Theirs said ' I '.
They weren't Nines, she realized. They hadn't even bothered sending real fighters to take them in.
They thought she was weak, they thought they had taken the fight out of her.
The worst part was that they were right.
Fear was a bitter, sour taste in her mouth, and it left her feeling even more exhausted than she'd been feeling in the first place. She didn't want to know what was behind the door that suddenly loomed before her, because she already knew; back behind the door was Nine and whatever punishments he'd dreamed up for her. She braced herself, and then one of the men half-carrying her opened the door, and she stumbled in. She was stood up in front of Nine's desk. Aedan was forced into the only chair and quickly tied into place.
“Welcome back, Mirage,” he said.
“Fuck off,” she spat.
For a moment, Nine looked surprised; he let out a startled half-laugh and jumped back an inch or so. He recovered quickly, though, and his calm smile returned.
“I see you've forgotten who you belong to,” he said. “I should teach you again.”
Hannah managed not to flinch away as the words struck her.
“Such insolence, Darling,” Nine purred as he approached her slowly. “You've grown so very weak.”
Hannah felt her heart stop in her chest and the blood drain from her head until she was cold and dizzy.
His face was unreadable as he approached. Hannah forced her body to be still, though the instinct to cower or run or shake in fear was almost insurmountable. A thousand memories she'd spent a lifetime trying to forget were pushing and prodding and grabbing at her. His large hand on her head. His voice, quiet in encouragement. He could seem so pleasant, so comforting, so fatherly when the moment had suited him. Not loving, but demanding a twisted sort of affection nonetheless. His hands, strong and rough on her bare skin, teaching her how to be strong and powerful, demanding respect and obedience as though she were little more than a dog.
Needles in her skin and poison in her veins. His rage. She'd been terrified of failure. Terrified of his disappointment, of his punishment. Of retribution. She was terrified now, and it took all of her will to remind herself that she didn't belong to him anymore.
I do. I'm his, it doesn't matter, there's no choice. You never have a choice.
"Mirage," he eventually said in his deep baritone. "I knew if I called, you would come."
He said this so smugly, so sure of himself and everything he had done to her as though all her time going straight and fighting on behalf of good, meant nothing. In the face of his commanding stare, maybe that was true. Hannah remained frozen, exposed and vulnerable as Nine reached toward her. Tensing every muscle in her body was all she could do to stay still as he slipped his hands into her clothes. His touch made her skin crawl and the room spin. She felt his fingers close around the small tracker chip that she'd kept hidden in her uniform, warm against her bare skin.
"Get your damn hands off of her," Aedan snarled from her left. Hannah blanched and jabbed her teeth into her lower lip as Nine rounded on him.
“You have anything to-” Nine stopped for a split second, a lethal grin curling his lips. He paused for a second, then reached out, tracing Aedan's jawline with a fingertip.
Aedan snarled and struck out, biting him with all the force he could muster.
Nine jumped back, swearing profusely in four different languages.
“Careful,” Shadow said with a grin, from where he stood in the back of the room. “It bites.”
Hannah was torn between protecting Aedan, and a dark, baser instinct to kill him for ever, ever hurting Nine.
Aedan seethed silently, shifting in his bonds. They both die today, he thought fiercely.
Nine turned his attention back to Hannah, clearly deciding not to bother with Aedan any longer. He stared at her expectantly.
Hannah swallowed down the bitter taste of fear in the back of her throat, the fear that was threatening to turn itself into full on vomit. "I'm sorry."
The words were out before she'd even thought about them. She didn't know they'd been lurking down in the bottom of her stomach for some time, but the words were there, and she couldn't take them back. Being in front of Nine, seeing him again…she could hardly stand under the fear that clung to her skin. She shakily inhaled and exhaled without looking at Aedan. She could feel his piercing eyes on her, but she couldn't bear to look at him and see the look of shock and horror on his face.
"I can imagine you are. You don't know what it's like to find out that your best, most valuable investment is missing." Nine sounded genuinely hurt by this, and guilt struck Hannah suddenly. She shoved it back.
"I'm so sorry," she whispered out loud.
"I believe you." Nine stood up. "You were always such a good girl, Darling. Won't you come home to me?”
A shiver ran up Hannah's spine as her eyes lit with greed. “Yes,” she whispered, as her blood began to boil with hate and rage and fear.
She didn't hear the shocked sounds from behind her.
“Good,” Petrov purred. “Would you like to meet our greatest asset?”
Hannah managed to not let any surprise show on her face. Of course there would be more – there was always room in Nine's arsenal for a new weapon.
“Aquilah, Darling, won't you come in?” Nine called, glancing carelessly at the side door in the back of the room.
The door opened silently, and a girl padded in. She wore a black catsuit, like the other people in the base, with an IX on the left shoulder. She had long black hair and icy green eyes in a blank, emotionless face.
She couldn't be a day older than ten years old.
Aedan and his team stopped short in horror as they saw their simple kill mission turn into a hostage situation in less than a second.
“Yes, sir?” the girl asked, her voice brimming with respect and fear in a mangled mess.
“This is Mirage,” Nine told her. “You know of her. Won’t you introduce yourself? Be polite to our guests.”
“Yes, sir,” the girl said dutifully, stepping towards Hannah, careful never to fully turn her back on anybody in the room.
“My name is Aquilah,” she said softly.
Hannah stood silently, waiting for more, but nothing came.
“Don't you have anything to ask her, Mirage?” Nine asked expectantly.
“How old are you, Aquilah?” Hannah asked gently.
“I'm seven years old,” she answered blankly.
“Aquilah, beautiful, won’t you tell her who she is?” Nine asked, eyes gleaming with something sinister.
Aquilah stared at Hannah with unnervingly blank green eyes.
“You’re my breeder,” she said quietly.
Hannah’s mouth opened and she let out a strangled sound as she went pale.
"What do you mean by breeder?" Aedan asked shakily.
Hannah took a deep breath. “She’s my daughter,” she whispered.
Nine smirked, one hand running casually through the young girl’s hair. “That’s right,” he said. “So you do remember.”
Hannah’s face contorted with rage and she made to step forwards, but the men behind her grabbed her, holding her back.
“You told me she was dead,” she snarled.
“That was your fault,” Nine answered. “You were too attached. She would never have learned anything of value from you. She’s everything you should have been. Face it; you gave us something ten times more valuable than you would ever have been.”
Hannah snarled, ripping away from the men holding her and advancing on Nine. “You son of a bitch!” she snarled. “DAMN you, give her back! How COULD you?”
“Asset, stand down,” Nine said in a clipped tone. Hannah froze on the spot, standing perfectly still, arms behind her back and head down.
“No,” she growled, trying to gain enough self-control to disobey, to move, to get closer to the black-haired girl who was smiling sweetly at Nine’s side.
“Stand down,” he repeated. “Don’t make me punish you. Or her. Wouldn’t that be so much better? I could always hurt the girl instead. She wouldn’t mind, would you, pet?”
“No, sir,” Aquilah said calmly. “Whatever you think is necessary.”
Nine grinned. “It's been a long time,” he said. “We've perfected the injections. Aquilah is mine now. Pet, won't you do me a favor?”
Aquilah turned to face Nine, bowing slightly as she awaited her instructions.
Nine smiled coldly at her, reaching into a drawer of his desk and bringing out a pistol, small enough to fit into the palm of his hand.
“Be polite to our guests,” he repeated, handing he the gun.
Aquilah gave a grin that could only be described as demonic as she took the weapon and turned to face Blackburn, Shadow, Aedan, and Blade.
“Don't move,” she said in her child's voice. “I'd just hate to have to shoot you.”
Blackburn looked at Hannah, who had turned to watch the interaction. “She's not serious, is she?”
Hannah nodded once. “Do as she says,” she answered simply, then turned to face Nine.
“What do you want with me?” she asked.
Nine grinned, baring his teeth at her like a wolf. “Right to the point, as always. You're so very impatient. If you must know, I want my investment back. I don't like it when my property thinks for itself.”
A sudden wave of rebellion overcame her through the headache that had been building inside her. “I don't belong to you,” she snarled.
Nine stepped closer to Hannah. "Clearly you have forgotten your lessons, Mirage. You told me this, remember?" Nine pressed a button on the phone on his desk, and Hannah’s voice wafted through the speakers.
If you call me, I’ll come to you like a good little dog-
Nine reached forward, brushing his hand down her face. She felt more than saw Aedan jerk taut beside her, but she refused to do the same, fighting every urge to recoil or flinch or show any fear. "Ask it of me, and I'll teach you again."
You failed me, Mirage. Mirage does not fail and Mirage does not love. Perhaps you need a reminder. I'll teach you again.
The memory charged across her mind, bringing pain that slashed through her already wavering equanimity. Her own anger broke free. "Never," she hissed.
Nine never tolerated her defiance in the past, and he still wouldn't. He decked her roughly, her face ripping to the side and the men behind her grabbing her to hold her still. Instincts engrained in her youth, instincts that she thought long destroyed, kept her hands at her sides and her body pliant and unresponsive. She couldn't raise her eyes. She couldn't breathe. Nine raised his hand to slap her again.
Hannah obediently forced her tears back, bowing her head and waiting for the next blow.
It never came.
“I have a present for you, Darling,” Nine said as he reached into his drawer and pulled out a syringe full of a red liquid not unlike watered-down blood.
Hannah's mind cleared just enough for the spike of fear to register, and she looked around wildly for an exit. "No!"
Nine's lips twisted in an unamused grin. "When have you ever been able to stop me? Such insolence. You need to remember your place."
“No!” she pleaded again. “I won't do it, I won't let you! I'm not yours, dammit!”
Nine grinned at her. “But you are, Darling. Don't you want it? I can give you so much, you know. You begged me for the injection. I gave you everything you wanted. A world of your own, power beyond imagining.”
“You LIED!” she screamed. “You gave me nothing!”
He stepped forward, the needle grasped between his fore and middle fingers, his thumb poised on the plunger. Her heart stopped in her chest, her eyes widening in dawning realization and then miserable panic.
He won't stop.
"No," she whispered. She whirled and made to fight. Tried to run. "No! No!" Aedan and the rest of the team started to struggle as well, but the young girl fired a quick shot into Blackburn's shoulder, and they stopped.
Suddenly Petrov was behind her. His hands grabbed her arms and pinned them to her sides. Hannah struggled with every ounce of strength she had, but he was too strong, too capable. In one large hand he held both hers behind her back. His other snaked around her chest, huge and unmovable, and moved up to wrap around her neck, enough to restrict her airway but not kill her. She lifted her chin and pushed her teary eyes skyward.
"You are mine, Mirage. You always have been and you always will be. My beautiful little demon."
Petrov gripped tighter. He wanted to crush her. Maybe he would.
"No!" The needle came closer and closer. Hannah choked on her breath. "Please... Don't! Don't do this to me! I won't go back to you! I won't! Stop!"
"No one can make me stop,” Nine hissed. “You remember what I told you the day I took you home with me. Nothing has changed."
She felt the needle stab into her arm. Petrov held her so tightly that there was absolutely no hope of moving. Her skin stung as the drug was injected.
At first, there was nothing. Petrov, firm and unyielding behind her. Nine, cruel and proud before her.
But it worked fast. Her heart started to pound so loudly and so quickly that it was all she could hear, all she could feel. Her skin crawled, itchy and electrified with uncomfortable phantom sensations. Hands that weren't there. Ghosts. She couldn't breathe fast enough. The serum burned its way through her, agony and fire and hatred, boiling her blood and searing her flesh. She wanted to scream. She didn't know if she did. Her racing heart beat and beat and beat, pumping the poison all around her body, until it reached her brain. And then the things that had been seeping from the shadows, that had been dripping through the cracks in her psyche, that had been escaping the cage of her control, exploded.
Mirage opened her eyes to a familiar world bathed in red, her lips curled into a twisted smile as she shoved back a screaming, shivering Hannah.
Violation. Rage. Madness. Violence and chaos. People screaming. Screaming and crying and burning alive. She didn't care. Her finger was taut on the trigger of the sniper rifle. Men using her, abusing her body and her mind. Rough kisses and rougher terror. Men laughing. She would destroy them. Money. Sao Paolo, a marketplace teeming with innocent people, and her gun cutting through them and bringing them down like they were nothing. So much red. Blood. Knives in her hands and then buried in flesh. Bullets ripping through her body. Fighting. Destruction. Pain. Murder. Slaughter.Kill them all.