When in Rome -Funday, June 2014

**HEAVY trigger warnings apply**


Funday, Thursday 19th June, 2014.


The plan was simple. Direct. Completely thought out. Every angle was covered…every variable considered. Every damn fucking thing that could have gone wrong was prepared for.


Except one.


-Stupid stupid stupid fucking idiots…I told you…I TOLD you-


If you closed your eyes and clamped your hands over your ears, you could almost drown out the sound of them screaming. Were you a child or perhaps just a terrified guest hiding behind some furniture you might be able to, for a moment, pretend that this wasn't happening.


If you had the luxury.


Baelian, unfortunately, did not. And neither did the rest of them, for that matter.


Somewhere in the room, he could hear Lyra bellowing…a guttural and almost animalistic sound echoing amidst the rapid gunfire, the bloodcurdling cries of the dying, the shrieking of the children, the wailing of submissives as they sobbed over their Master's bodies, Grigori shouting for Scarlett to hurry, Steiner cursing in German…


And Alina, calling his name.


"Baelian….Baelian…come back to me…"


She was nearby, right next to him in fact, her fingernails digging into his arm, her lips pressed against his ear. He winced at the volume of her voice, blinking at the spray of debris - of dust and plaster - that billowed all around them. He coughed involuntarily, bowing his head, cobalt eyes falling upon the broken figure nestled in his arms…at the blood covering his shirt, his hands…the little one's mangled face…


"…Bae….let him go…"


A hand lashed out to grip Alina's wrist, twisting it backwards in an instant when she tried to pry the delicate prize from his fingers, making her cry out and retaliate without thinking. A sharp slap to his face, nothing new…he barely felt it. She stared at him, wide eyed and bewildered…she was afraid, he could tell. He could always tell when she was scared.


Right now, he didn't blame her.


Right now, she was one of many.

_____________________________


Three hours earlier…


It had started predictably enough. The first two hours, like all Fundays, were spent cavorting, merrymaking, drinking, laughing…socialising. As guests milled about the private estate of one Mr  Eugene Roberto Volare, clad in the usual finery…the designer shifts, the one-of-a-kind creations from so-and-so-the-latest-craze-of-Europe, the Venetian masques, the cleverly reworked gowns that covered everything but nipples and genitalia…the usual scantily (if at all) clad house submissives carried silvered trays of hors d'ouvres, fine wine and champagne in crystal glasses, sweets and fruits from person to person, silently offering their wares with lowered lashes, coy smiles, graceful gestures. The atmosphere was abuzz with gaiety, merriment, joie de vivre…the crowd was mostly young, generation Y-were-they-born with a handful of stragglers clinging to lost memories of youth. New money, his father would have called them, the brassy and the classless.


"Merde incrustés de joyaux," Lyra murmured in his right ear as they'd made their way through the crowds, nodding to a pair of besparkled young ladies screeching like banshees at a naked and masqued midget, who was doing rather vulgar tricks for their amusement. Baelian had smirked, blue eyes scanning the room lazily yet attentively, drinking in the sights…categorizing, filing, filtering, compartmentalising. On his left, Alina had glided at pace in silence, a pale hand delicately perched on his arm.


Every now and again her fingers would curl about his limb and their eyes would meet, a deep breath would be shared, the tiniest flicker of a memory would dance behind their gazes…and the silent message would pass between them.


-I'm here with you-


They had placed themselves at various vantage points throughout the rooms as per instruction. The schematics and plans that Scarlett had obtained had proven invaluable…they knew every doorway, every entry and exit point…every hazard and no-go zone. Like a well oiled machine they danced their waltz about the estate, shifting and surveying in tandem…leaving no corner unaccounted for at any time.


Lux had of course placed himself nearest to the food and beverages, making a rather loud spectacle of himself,  joking about 'spiking the punch' with a gaggle of entranced young things who seemed rather enamoured of his 'bag of tricks.' He'd been the first to be intercepted…stony faced house 'help' dressed in black silk and finery having a polite word in his ear before confiscating his stash. He could have it back upon leaving, they had told him…his goods were not necessary, everything had been provided for by the hosts and he would have any poison he desired at his disposal soon enough. He made a show of being outraged, though in truth he didn't give a fig. The real stuff, the Slo-Mo wonder drug that was going to so beautifully incapacitate the entire room, was already hidden in place, awaiting a trigger.


Bethany and Grigori had taken the library, the latter's hawk eyes watching everything in his view as the former loudly bemoaned having to spend time with her 'Uncle Grigori and boring books while my Daddy gets to play…' The ever-patient Katorga deftly ignored her brooding sulk, taking up a leather-bound edition of Sun Tzu's The Art of War and reading passages to her in a low voice as she glared daggers at Baelian through the doorway - and watched the room from her vantage point. It was amusing to see…though Little Miss Black had grown so much over the past few weeks that she seemed almost a different person now, Baelian knew that her scowling indignance was only half an act.


Lyra, Alina and Baelian had taken the ballroom, sauntering arm in arm past the dancing couples, past a young adept playing Rachmaninoff's 3rd concerto on piano while wearing a blindfold as the hoi polloi looked on with a mixture of awe, jealousy and boredom respectively. They'd been circling at a leisurely pace, commenting on this, that and the other…though the tension between them was ever-present. To anyone on the outside it would have looked like a ménage a trios gone bad, tight smiles and sideways glances between the two females when they thought that he wasn't looking. No love lost there…clearly.


But they had bigger problems to deal with…and they all knew it.


"Cigar, sir?"


Scarlett's breasts greeted him before her face did, hiked up to her chin as they were and almost resting on the tray of offerings she held out to him. A brow perked as he looked at her, no recognition or acknowledged familiarity in either of their expressions as he pondered for a moment.


"No," he said finally, "Though perhaps ask the ladies…they're the ones that prefer phallic objects in their mouths…"


The tiniest glimmer of mischief danced through the redhead's gaze as she offered the tray to Alina, who declined and looked away as if bored, and then to Lyra, who tilted her head and frowned, studying the wares on offer before plucking up a rather fat pre-cut cigar.


"I didn't take my niece for a smoker…" a low, amused voice chimed in as a silvered lighter with a fleur de lys flicked open before Lyra's face. Baelian felt her tense and he responded in kind, the ripple of emotion transferring through to Alina so that all three of them were on high alert in a matter of seconds. Three pairs of eyes shifted as one to the white-haired male with exquisitely angled features standing beside them, his lips curved into a sly smirk as he waited for Lyra to accept the offer of a light, "May I?"


Lucien Monére cut an impressive figure, such as it was, and needed no introduction to any of them. Baelian certainly knew a Monére when he saw one…and he imagined Alina was the same. Lyra…well, they'd all already been filled in on her little 'meeting' with her estranged Uncle. At least enough to decide that they did not trust him as far as they could throw him.


Pausing for a long moment, Lyra had stared at Lucien before offering him a tight yet dazzling smile and puffing on her cigar til it was alight.


"Jasper….Alina…this is my Uncle Lucien Monére," Lyra said a little too gaily, "Uncle…Jasper Baelian Black and…"


"Alina Bellamantis, yes…we've met…" Lucien crooned, giving Alina a winsome smile after throwing Baelian a perfunctory nod, "Many many years ago, at your guardian Marcus' estate…I was sorry to hear of his passing. Such a tragedy…" Monére's  eyes glimmered with smug mischief as he put a hand over his heart, "But then, he was always such a persnickety old goat, I'm hardly surprised someone decided it was his time to go…" Lucien laughed and threw Lyra a wink, which she greeted with a tight smile before turning to Baelian and Alina.


"Excuse us for a moment, please?" she breathed, giving her brother a wide-eyed stare. Baelian lofted a brow and tilted his head, Lyra's fingers squeezing his arm indicating that she would be alright when he opened his mouth to protest. Shrugging, he pulled away from her, giving Lucien the barest of indifferent glances before whisking Alina into his arms and onto the dance floor.


"Charming company you keep…" he heard Lucien murmur before they were swallowed up by the crowd. His gaze shifted across the room to Lux, who was watching them in silence, his head subtly shifting to indicate his sister. Lux gave him a tight smile and nodded. He would keep an eye on her.


"Well, isn't this just wonderfully boring…" Alina whispered to him, slinking her arms about his neck and peering over his shoulder. Baelian smirked and pressed his cheek to hers, watching the crowds as he swayed her in his arms.


"And here I was thinking it was romantic," he responded, his gaze flicking towards the library. Grigori had given up trying to educate Bethany and was in an animated conversation with someone who looked like one of Luciano's goons. Bethany was watching them on the dance floor, trying to look anything but jealous and failing rather miserably. He smiled at her and she threw him an overly theatrical scowl in return, which he couldn't help but chuckle at. He half expected her to stomp her foot.


-Careful Baelian, you're getting distracted-


"Interesting creature, your daughter…" Alina whispered in his ear, "Clearly you've spoiled her."


"Well, you know," Baelian responded, watching as Scarlett made her way across the room to Bethany and offered her a cigar, "I wanted to give her everything we never had…"


"And a few things that we did…" Alina finished for him, changing the subject before he could rebuke her, "Looks like there's no love lost between the Monére's…"


Baelian glanced back towards Lyra, who seemed rather perturbed as she spoke in low tones to her Uncle Lucien. The mirth in his face had faded and he was all at once rather solemn, reaching out a hand to place on Lyra's shoulder…a hand she swiftly brushed away.


Eyes shifted to Lux…he'd moved closer, staggering like a drunkard carrying a glass of wine and playing the part of the intoxicated fool to perfection. From his vantage point he could most likely hear at least some of their conversation, and Baelian had no doubt that if the need arose, poor Uncle Lucien would find himself 'accidentally' bathed in a fine vintage red.


"Baelian…you'll miss our cue…" Alina's voice purred in his ear, fingers curling about his chin as she turned his face back to her own. Eyes met and held, a moment passed, and then he was kissing her. Hard. She melted in his arms as was her wont, fingers tangling in his hair and twisting until the sharp pain made him gasp.


"Ow…fuck me…was that really necessary?" he snapped, his fingers digging into her back as she laughed and winced.


"Oh you know it was…" she replied with a coquettish wink, her icy gaze slithering across the way as a triumphant smile alit her face, "And there goes Cinderella…"


Baelian looked up just in time to see Bethany stalk from the room, knocking past a couple in the throes of…well…whatever the hell it was they were doing. The woman shrieked and called something nasty after her before returning her attention to her beau.


"You'd better…" Alina began, but he was already after Bethany, leaving her alone on the dance floor. Behind him, he knew, the others would move themselves like pieces on a chess board, Scarlett into the library to ply her trade, Grigori onto the dance floor to 'rescue' the abandoned Alina.


-Where are you, little Princess?-


He found Bethany exactly on target, in the rear of the estate within the servants quarters. A few curious members of the help were watching her and pretending not to as he approached her with his customary 'what the fuck is wrong with you' performance. Together, father and daughter pantomimed their usual jealousy charade, playing their parts to perfection. When she slapped him, hard, and he slapped her back harder, cobalt hues turned towards their bewildered audience, indicating that the show was now over.


"Do you fucking mind? I'm talking to my daughter…" Baelian snarled at them, and in an instant they were gone. He looked back to Bethany, who glared at him with her arms crossed, her expression making him laugh and shake his head.


"You're supposed to be acting, Bethy…" he told her.


"Maybe I'm just very good at it," she replied, pouting, "Maybe I don't care at all."


"Right. You think I can't tell the difference?"


"Oh…blah blah blah…" Bethany rolled her eyes then looked at him intently, "Is it time?"


Blinking, Baelian regarded her for a moment before nodding. She'd grown up so much, right before his eyes, and he'd never even noticed.


"It's time baby doll," he told her, "You know what to do."


"Yes Daddy."


Rising on tiptoe she kissed his cheek where she'd slapped him, then his lips, lingering just that moment too long in that way she did that made his muscles tense. Among other things.


-Focus Baelian. The harpy can wait.-


He gave her a peck on the forehead and turned on his heel before she could say or do anything more, slowly working his way back to the party. Behind him, Bethany would be heading into the pantry to unlock the small delivery door within, where Eden and an empty delivery van would be waiting for it's cargo.


Back in the bowels of the Volare estate, the affair was in full swing…and the Funday changes had already begun. It was eerie to watch them with the eyes of an adult, as a child it had all seemed so terrifyingly magical…the subtle shifts here and there that plunged the entire party into the depths of debauchery, depravity and danger. All at once the submissives would shed what little clothing they had…trays of food were one by one replaced by trays of cocaine, heroin, multi-colored pills in crystal bowls that looked like candy - methamphetamines, ecstasy, GHD…


~Eat your sweeties like a good little boy…go on…~


Shuddering, Baelian looked away, scanning the room for his comrades. There was no sign of Lyra, Lucien or Lux…Grigori and Alina seemed to be sharing a rather pointed conversation at the punch bowl, the latter glancing about nervously as if she too could feel the changes in the air. Scarlett's chest was bouncing its way across the room towards them, with her body in tow.


A wave of excitement rippled through the crowd as Baelian leaned against a doorway, brows furrowing. The young ingénue at the piano had ceased playing and was now sprawled naked atop it on his back, a pair of young brunettes playing him with deft fingers as expertly as he had the instrument. The crowd seemed to be in various states of undress, the couples on the dancefloor having discarded choice pieces of clothing that allowed more intimate exploration as they moved against each other. Some had abandoned the notion of the waltz altogether in favour of outright fucking on the marble tile.


Grigori caught his gaze across the room, smirking at him with an almost incredulous expression. This wasn't exactly Katorga's scene…mass orgy was more the Black way of doing things. Smirking back, Baelian held his eyes and Grigori nodded, a hand rising to 'adjust' his hat and indicate that the lines of communication were still open.


They'd all been searched, of course, upon entry…weapons and phones taken away. Twas customary - no photos, no phone calls on anything but a traceable but encoded landline, no sharp implements of any kind. At least not until the fun began. And every weapon had to be accounted for and used only on the 'treasures.'


House Rules.


That of course hadn't stopped them from coming bugged. Grigori, Scarlett and Lux sported wireless intercoms for incoming communications within the membrane of their inner ears (the luxuries of coming from a wealthy family was a wonderfully broad access to the latest technologie), and Katorga had a comm installed in his watch that would send a clear and definite signal to their 'friends' outside. They had all agreed that only one of them should shoulder the responsibility of making that call…and all things considered Katorga had been the most reliable and obvious choice. Lux…he got to play with the Slo-Mo trigger, deposited the Gods only knew where on his person.


"How are you holding up, little brother?"


Lyra's voice was barely a whisper. Baelian glanced over his shoulder at her as she slunk out of the shadows, pressing against his back and resting her chin on his shoulder.


"Oh I'm positively giddy with excitement…" Baelian replied dryly, lashes flickering slightly when Monére pressed her lips against his neck. Why the fuck were these women determined to distract him? "How'd it go with dear Uncle Lucien?"


Lyra made a noise in her throat that sounded like disdain and disgust at the same time, her arms sliding about his waist.


"He told me that I wasn't strong enough to be here and I should go immediately…" she said in annoyance, then her voice softened, "Can you feel it?" she whispered and he nodded.


Oh he could feel it alright.


"Are you afraid?"


"Yes, are you?"


"My whole life."


Lyra sighed, her arms tightening about him as they watched the crowd. Alina had moved closer to Grigori, a hand on his chest as they continued to converse, both watching the goings on around them intently. Even from across the room, Baelian could feel her anxiety…she was waiting for him…the invisible cord that bound them together since childhood was tightening, seeking to draw him closer.


-Too far away…-


As if she heard his thoughts, Alina turned her head to stare at him, her face expressionless. He stared back, his jaw tightening as Grigori glanced between them, lips pursing as he took her arm and drew her attention away from him, leading her out of Baelian's sight. His lip curled, eyes narrowing.


-Mine.-


'Breathe…" he heard Lyra whisper and he closed his eyes, exhaling loudly.


"I thought I was?"


"If by breathing you mean murdering Grigori with your eyes, then yes, that's exactly what you were…" Lyra's words trailed off all at once and her body stiffened.


Blinking, Baelian turned to stare at her, then followed her gaze.


-Oh…fuck me.-


He'd forgotten about the procession…or perhaps he'd just not expected it to be so damned similar to the way it used to be. Surely since there were little to no survivors from the 'old days' and his father's Funday parties, it would have been virtually impossible to recreate such a thing. And yet there it was right before their eyes…


The children filed in two by two, holding hands. Dressed like royalty, they were, their hair delicately brushed and adorned, tailored clothing a perfect fit to each…made that very week for each poor little creature. And what a selection they were…boys and girls, their ages raging from twelve to two, the littlest ones carried by the eldest, children of every race and colour…golden haired cherubs and red-haired demons, dark skinned treasures and some as pale as ivory.


"Jasper."


"…it's alright," he whispered after a moment, "Lyra…"


"No. LOOK at them…"


His eyes had found Alina across the way again…she was staring at the procession in silence, giving nothing away. Until of course she saw the same thing that Lyra had…then, her body visibly flinched, wide eyes moving to Baelian.


-What the fuck is wrong wi…-


A sickening sinking feeling made his stomach churn as he looked back to the children…and saw them properly for the first time.


There were twelve in total…six boys and six girls…the first and last four seemingly moving at a strange halting pace compared to those in the middle. It took Baelian a good few moments to realise that it was because they were all blind- or more accurately, had all been blinded. Recently. Slack-jawed and stumbling they were…struggling to stay in line and upright though they had clearly all been drugged. All but the four in the middle.


"Jesus…" Lyra breathed, her voice catching. Without a word, Baelian made a grab for her hand, less than subtly making his way across the room to Grigori and Alina's sides.


"We have to leave," he said flatly, trying to keep the tremor out of his voice. He didn't look at Alina, he could feel her staring at him…he knew that if he met her gaze he would fall apart, "Katorga, we have to leave NOW."


Lux had reappeared across the way, concern writ plain on his features as his attention skittered between the children, Baelian, Alina, Lyra and back again. He gestured to them, the prescribed signal that he was ready to trigger the Slo-Mo as planned. Baelian shook his head, gesturing for him to join them instead. They need to evacuate…and fast.


"What are you doing?" Grigori whispered, glancing about as those nearest began to pay a bit too much attention to their little group, "For fuck's sake, don't freak out now…"


"Are you listening to me? We have to go." Baelian responded, nodding to Lux, "Get Alina and Lyra out of here immediately."


"Baelian," Grigori's hand on his arm was almost jarring, the Russian's wide eyes staring intently at him, "Is this a real problem or is it in your head?"


"It’s us…" Alina breathed, finally speaking…"My God…Bae…it's US."


He looked back…he couldn't help it. In the centre of the ballroom the procession had halted, the four children in the middle - the only ones who retained their sight - standing back to back and trembling as they gazed about at the roomful of leering half-naked adults.


"…Baelian…" Grigori's voice was low, threatening, its message clear: Get a fucking hold of yourself.


"Grigori…" Lyra whispered, her voice strained, "He's right. We've been set up."


The Russian's eyes snapped to her, lips parting to speak as a green eyed young man with dark hair and a jester's hat stepped out of the crowds and towards the children, his voice rising to address the crowded room.


"Friends…" he began, and Baelian tensed as the crowd hushed, "Family…fuckwits and hangers on…"


- Go. Leave now. Just fucking move your feet.-


"…We have all gathered here today to pay tribute…to those who have come before…"


Baelian heard the words, as he was sure the others did, but his eyes were fixed on the children. One of them, a pale and thin creature with white-blonde hair, whimpered and swayed clumsily…the punishing shoes on her feet clanking against the marble. He wondered how many times she'd already trod on the spikes in her heels.


"…though we know that we can never achieve the greatness of our forebears, we nonetheless subscribe to the notion that our entire generation is based on: Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery…"


There was a ripple of laughter from the crowd and shouts of agreement as the young man turned his gaze towards Baelian and the others.


"We are honoured to offer this gift to those who deserve them…the gift of tribute…"


A dark haired child, the tallest of the four, stood stock still and stared defiantly at the crowd, her little chin turned upwards in defiance. Baelian swallowed hard as he heard Alina whisper beside him.


"….the Iron Maiden…"


He didn't have to even look at the other two to know what he would see…the pair in the very centre of the group, a boy and a girl, both with dark hair and blue eyes…she deathly pale and waif-thin, he standing with his arms wrapped around her, striking sapphire hues filled with tears daring anyone to come near them.


-How the fuck did you manage to find kids so similar? How did you even know what to look for?-


"Of course, we would not have been able to offer such a delicious display of delectable wares without the help of our two benefactors…" the youth in the centre was circling the children now, lips curved into a smug smile, "Without them, we would be babes lost in the woods with no real knowledge of our own potential…of the greatness we could achieve…and certainly no understanding of what we had to live up to…"


Alina's breathing had quickened, her hand snaking out past Grigori to grip Baelian's. Behind them, Lyra was barely breathing at all. He could hear Grigori muttering curses under his breath, Lux and Scarlett, who had joined them, whispering and arguing about the best course of action. Clearly something was very wrong…clearly they had to leave.


"Jasper Baelian Black…"


The name rang out through the ballroom and reverberated in his ears. The young man who called to him held out a hand, gesturing him forward. Baelian didn't move, his grip tightening on Alina. The dark haired youth curved his lips into a coy smile, serpentine green eyes narrowing.


"It is truly an honor to have you here, as the firstborn son of Jerald Black…founder of the original Fundays…please…" he gestured again for Baelian to join him, clearly not about to take no for an answer. No one moved as the crowd began to murmur and speculate.


"I have a gift for you," the smug orator almost whined, "Don't be shy…"


Gritting his teeth, Baelian pulled his hand from Alina's and stepped forward begrudgingly, eyes skittering for the briefest of moments across the room to Bethany and Eden, who had come to stand in the opposite doorway. Both looked rather concerned…Eden's eyes shifting to the children, her expression all at once becoming hard.


Straightening his shoulders and unclenching his fists, Baelian moved to stand in the centre of the crowd…a good stride or two away from the children and the man who had invited him into the 'inner circle.'


"See…our treasures…" the youth said, gesturing to the little ones with a hand as Baelian stared at him, a brow lofting as he shook his head at the man and cleared his throat.


"All I see are children," Baelian said sharply, "And poor quality ones at that. What are they, orphans? Funday treasures are supposed to be highborn. Or did you miss that bit?"


The crowd whispered and murmured, he heard Grigori swear in Russian, Lyra's sharp intake of breath…he could almost feel Alina's heart pounding. The young jester gave him a wide smile and bowed low, the bells on his hat jangling.


"But of course, these are just ornaments, a poor substitute for the real thing…we were hard pressed to recreate perfection…alas, we did try…perhaps you should examine them more closely?" the green eyed monster gestured to the waiflike girl, "…pretty thing, no? Would you believe that she's already on her monthlies at 8 years old? They grow up so fast these days!" he threw out to the guests, who chuckled and cheered in response like Pavlovian dogs.


Smirking, the youth looked back to Baelian, "We tried to impregnate her just like you did to Alina, but unfortunately our schedule was too tight…not to worry!" hands flew up as if to silence any protest, "We just cut her open and put something inside her ourselves…"


Someone made a sound like a baby bird chirping, Baelian wasn't sure if it was Alina or Lyra…not that it mattered. Blue eyes shifted to Grigori, who looked rather ill. In silence the message was passed between them.


-Get Steiner and Joel in here, right now. Call for backup-


Grigori didn't nod, but he understood.


"Ah…but I see you are unimpressed…" Baelian's attention went back to the young man, "Shall I show you the piece de resistance? Something just for you…"


The way he said it made Baelian's skin crawl, bile rising in his throat. Beside him, the children were whimpering and sobbing, the blind ones clinging to one another with no idea what was going on, the four 'gifts' staring at him with wide, haunted eyes. Especially the blue eyed boy…that one was almost pleading in silence to be rescued, his delicate lips trembling as if at any moment he would burst into tears.


"Bring him in!"


Baelian's eyes darkened as he kept them on the man before him, his body shifting, his feet bracing as he readied himself for a strike. He was going to take this grinning idiot down…he'd had enough…he was going to rip him apart…


Or at least that was the plan, til they brought in the dog.


-...oh Christ-


Snapping and snarling, the black Mastiff was huge - so huge that it strained at its lead, sniffing and spluttering as it moved through the crowd. It's black eyes were fixed on the children, bared teeth slick with drool as if it could almost taste its prey.


And its prey certainly knew it…for all at once the blue eyed boy began to whimper and moan, backing away as the little girls squealed and clung to him. They were all afraid, what child wouldn't be? The blind ones could not even see yet they too began chirping like frightened birds.


But the boy…he was beside himself.


And Baelian knew why. Of all people he knew exactly why.


-You motherfuckers, you've already let that thing have a piece of him, haven't you?-


The green-eyed youth was watching his face, clearly elated by what he saw there. He reached out a hand for the dog's lead, curling his fingers about it as he studied Baelian closely.


"They got on so well in the beginning," he said solemnly, "Who knew that a dog would fuck just about anything with the right…encouragement. It was news to me…though I bet you could have told me that one, right Mr Black?"


Grigori was moving slowly, making his way to the rear of the crowd and dragging Lyra with him. Alina had clearly refused to budge, watching the scene before her intently with Lux and Scarlett by her side. All at once, her expression changed and she laughed, loudly…the almost hysterical sound echoing through the room over the children's cries and the dog's snarling.


"Bravo…whatever your name is…bravo…I don't think I've ever seen anyone get one up on Jasper before…" sauntering out of the crowd, she placed herself firmly between Baelian m the jester and the dog, "But he's MY toy, dear, and I am feeling rather left out right now…"


The dark haired young man eyed her for a long moment before offering her a smile and a shrug, holding the dog's lead out towards her so that the creature lunged forward a good half metre. A few people in the crowd gasped, one woman giggled and another fainted. Alina didn't flinch.


-Move your fucking feet you coward-


Baelian stared at the back of Alina's head and willed himself to move, the hair on his neck standing on end as the dog began to bark at her.


"No no, bad dog!" the green eyed fiend smacked the creature on the nose and it yelped, snapping back at the man and receiving a kick for its troubles. It whimpered, momentarily subdued…though it kept its gaze firmly on the boy-child beside them, who was outwardly sobbing now.


"I'm sorry," the young man laughed and shook his head apologetically, "We gave him the little one's pinky earlier today…I think he's a little agitated and hungry for more…"


Alina tilted her head and reached out a hand for Baelian, her fingers curling about his own as she regarded the man before them. Baelian's eyes shifted to the little boy, brows furrowing at the bandages on his tiny hand.


"We're terribly impressed with your display, truly," Alina said in the most bored tone she could muster, "But the people want to have some fun now…so do stop waffling on and let's get to it, shall we?"


"Yes, let's…" chimed in Lyra's voice from the rear of the room, "I thought we were having a party?"


A few cheers rose in the crowd…they were fascinated, to be sure, but they were also very young…and drunk…and clearly their host had exhausted their attention spans. The young jester pursed his lips, annoyed at the interruption, though his frustration didn't last for long.  Bowing his head in supplication to Alina, he held up his free hand to indicate a scaffold to the right of the little gathering.


"I humbly ask the permission of our founding benefactors…shall we let the games begin?" he asked. All eyes turned to the podium as two men peeled themselves away from the crowd and stepped onto it one after the other.


The first, a sleazy looking man in his mid-forties with oily-slick thinning hair stuck to his scalp, waved his hands theatrically and bowed, flashing Alina and Baelian a triumphant grin.


-Fucking Agostino Bellamantis. Of course it is…-


Marcus' younger brother seemed elated at his introduction, barely containing his glee at the expression on their faces. With a flourish he bowed again, then smoothed back his hair.


The second man, he took his time surveying the crowd, his expressionless face making a study of each of them as if they were test subjects in a laboratory. His bespeckled eyes fell upon Baelian for the briefest moment before shifting past him to the rear of the room, searching with raised brows for….someone else, someone who let out an almighty and involuntary shriek the moment she saw him.


Lyra Monére.


"Indeed, we’re ready to proceed," Professor Kruetz said, his distinctive Southern drawl  setting Baelian's blood to ice, "Aren't we, Claudia Monére?"


Three things happened then.


One was that Lyra fell apart and started wailing. The second was Baelian, who threw himself all at once and without warning at the green-eyed fiend, tackling him to the floor in a jangle of bells and causing him to let go of the Mastiff's lead.


The third was an explosion of gunfire.


Glass shattered as the windows were blown in, Herr Steiner and his tactical team sweeping through them without missing a beat, broken shards and wood trampled underfoot as a dozen or so mercenaries set upon the crowd.


And then there was chaos.


Bellowing like a madman, Baelian wrestled with the young man beneath him, fists pummelling his face, teeth gnashing like a wild animal. He could hear Alina shouting his name, women screaming as they tried to run from the gunfire. People were being trampled underfoot. Bethany was calling for her Daddy as Eden rushed over to start herding the terrified children out of harm's way.


"I'll fucking kill you, you son of a whore…do you have any idea…who you're fucking with!?"


"BAELIAN! BAE HELP ME!"


Alina's shrill shriek tore through his subconscious, causing him to release the man beneath him and launch backwards toward her voice. Somewhere nearby there was an explosion…and a second wave of mercenaries, led by his Uncle Joel, came careening in shouting like lunatics and brandishing pipes and switchblades.


Baelian staggered and almost fell as he moved towards Alina, who was struggling with the Mastiff's lead. The damned dog had dragged her across the floor in its pursuit of the little blue eyed boy, who had fallen beneath it and was currently being savaged. Alina shrieked and released the lead, throwing herself onto the dog and trying to tackle it away from the child. The animal snarled and snapped at her, biting into her hand before returning to its dinner. The little boy was screaming and struggling, blood pouring from his wounds…spurting from his torn throat.


By the time Baelian got to them Alina had taken up a shard of glass and was stabbing it repeatedly into the dog's body. It yelped, finally turning from the boy and attempting to protect itself. Screaming like a madwoman, Alina slashed at it over and again, taking it down swiftly.


Baelian, meanwhile, was scooping up the mangled child, drawing him into his arms and away from the dog. A hand moved to the boy's throat as he tried to stem the flow of blood, staggering through the mad crowds, stumbling more than once over bodies and debris.


"Jasp! Jasp!" Joel's bellowing voice seemed distant as his arms were seized and he felt himself being shaken, "Are you hurt mate? Are you bleedin'?"


Blinking, Baelian stared at Joel, clutching the child to his chest as his Uncle gave him the once over. When Joel tried to take the kid from his arms, Baelian nearly bit him.


"Whoa! Leave the kid mate, he's done for…we gotta get you out of here…hey! Jasp! Baelian!"


Shoving past Joel, Baelian dragged the gagging and sputtering child out of the ballroom, passing Scarlett, Bethany and Eden as they gathered up stray children with barely a glance.


-Hold on little buddy…we're gonna make it-


"Daddy! Daddy come with us!" Bethany shouted as Scarlett grabbed her hand and dragged her along. Baelian was vaguely aware of his daughter struggling and trying to get back to him…he knew he should tell her that he was alright, but all at once a wave of dizziness hit him and he stumbled into an overturned table. The boy moaned softly as Baelian crawled behind the fallen structure, dragging the little one's body with him. All around them was gunfire, screams and death.


"Come on…come the fuck on…you're gonna be okay…" he muttered, drawing the kid onto his lap and clamping a hand about his throat. The little boy stared up at him with wide, terrified eyes that pleading for salvation. Baelian stared back, shaking his head and offering a tight smile.


"I'm gonna save us," he told the boy, "You'll see…"


The boy blinked at him with those big eyes, then all at once they glazed over, a sickening and rattling noise sounding in his chest as the last of his life drained away. Staring, Baelian grit his teeth, fingers tightening about the child's jugular.


"Fuck you…you don't die now…you hear me?" Baelian started to shake the boy's lifeless body, drawing it closer against his chest, "Come on kid, we're stronger than this…"


Coughing as dust and debris filled the air, Baelian blinked and pressed his forehead against the boy's still chest.


-We're going to die here. We're all going to die here because of me.-


_____________________________________


"Let him go, Bae…please…"


Alina's voice was gentle, coaxing in his ear. Nearby, struggling in the arms of Lucien Monére, Lyra was covered in blood and gripping a dinner knife. Bellowing like a madwoman as Lucien tried to reason with her, she was trying to get at someone that Baelian recognised as the Professor, who was bidding a hasty retreat through the ballroom and clutching a wound in his belly.


Blinking, Baelian shifted his dazed cobalt eyes about the room…drinking in the carnage…


There, Uncle Joel, headbutting that green-eyed monster over and again, smashing his face into a bloody pulp with his bare hands. And there, Steiner leading a charge of mercenaries after the straggling remainder of guests, blood pouring from the Nazi's eye-socket as they rampaged through the building. Agostino Bellamantis lay wheezing in a pool of his own blood just outside the ballroom door, the racking rise and fall of his chest not boding well for his near future.


Across the way, Lux darted about checking the vitals of the fallen, calling for Scarlett to assist him in finishing the job as required. Eden and Bethany were moving the last of the children out of danger…the waif-like creature with the pale skin clinging to his daughter's neck and staring dumbly into space as Bethany stroked her hair and whispered words of comfort into her ear. And Grigori, fists flying like a madman, beating the crap out of whomever got in his way as he made his way towards them.


"Come on, Bae, please…we have a plane to catch…" Alina's words were light-hearted, though her tone was anything but, "If you don't take me to Prague after this I will fucking kill you…"


"You'd better do what she says, Black…" Katorga chimed in, damn near falling over them, "The bitch is crazy…"


"Fuck you Katorga," Alina retorted, though it was half-hearted at best.


"Fuck you all…" Baelian murmured to no one in particular.


"Unless you're my wife, no thanks…now get the fuck up…" Grigori's hand clamped about his arm. Baelian's head snapped up at he glared at the Russian, ready to lunge if he even thought about trying to move him. Grigori froze and glared at him, eyes narrowing.


"Daddy?"


Bethany's voice cut through the tension like a knife, her cold hand pressing against Baelian's face and drawing his eyes away from Grigori. Surprised, Baelian stared at her, his fingers tightening around the child in his arms. He didn't want Bethany to see him…she would get upset.


Biting her lip, Bethany held his gaze, her forehead creasing.


"I want to go home now," she demanded. Baelian blinked, tilting his head as she pouted, "I'm tired and I demand to go home…" Her eyes lowered to the child between them, hands moving to close the cherub's eyes. Baelian followed her gaze, staring in dumb silence at the broken creature pressed against his chest.


"Come on…" Bethany added, wrapping her arms around her father, "Let's take him with us," she offered him a small smile, "We can bury him at Aunty Lyra's under the big tree…"


He was vaguely aware that the kid was manipulating him, a compartmentalised part of his brain filing the knowledge away for a later time after many, many vodkas…but for the moment Baelian allowed himself to be led by her, gathering his precious bundle tight against him and letting Bethany help him up. Beside him, Alina said nothing, waiting patiently as he began to move gingerly through the debris.


-Yes…the big oak tree…-


"Katorga!"


When Alina threw herself in their path he almost tripped over her, steadying himself on Bethany as Alina dived at Grigori. For a moment Baelian thought that she had snapped and attacked the Russian, bewildered blue eyes widening as the two of them crashed to the marble floor, an animalistic bellow bursting from Grigori's lips.


"…Alina…the fuck?"


And then Scarlett was rushing in, tackling a naked submissive that appeared out of nowhere at Grigori's feet. Wrapping a length of gilt chain about the submissive's neck, Scarlett yanked backwards, strangling the woman where she had fallen and dragging her body away from their ragtag group before anyone could gather their wits. After a moment Alina sat up, wide eyes looking Grigori over immediately. Katorga groaned, sitting up stiffly and looking to the butcher knife protruding from his right leg. Closing his eyes and hissing in pain, he drew it out and hurled it aside with a clatter. For a long moment afterward he just looked at Alina, then shook his head.


"This doesn't mean I like you," he said dourly and Alina smirked.


"I wasn't going to let anyone take my kill…" she countered, rising and dusting herself off before returning to Baelian's side. He blinked at her as she reached up to brush the hair back from his face.


"I hate my hair," he said softly, finally and she nodded.


"Yes I know."


_________________________


The Monére estate was abuzz with activity - doctors, nurses, psychiatrists…and that was just the children's wing. Security patrolled the grounds like ants marching over a nest, scouring the perimeter to ensure that no unwanted 'guests' or stragglers from Funday found their way back into their little sanctuary.


Steiner and Joel had disappeared with their mercenaries after the 'event' the night before - the only communication received from the Nazi since then was brief and to the point: Casualties minimum. Steiner lost eye. Joel annoyed has no scars. Rendezvous at playground Friday.


Bethany and Alina had taken care of Baelian, finally prying the child from his arms and drawing him into the bathroom, fussing and clucking over him like a pair of mother hens…odd as it was, it was strangely comforting to see them getting along. They stripped him of his clothes, forced him into the shower and scrubbed him over with minimal bickering, territorial comments and snide remarks about who had done what with him and when. For his part, Baelian let them play at it, he had nothing to say about it all in any case and it kept their mind off…things. When they were done, they towelled him down and dressed him as if he were a child, Alina running a comb through his hair and untangling it an inch at a time. And then they cleaned each other.


At any other interim, he'd have been extremely concerned…and aroused, but at the time it had seemed like the most natural thing in the world.


Now- hours later - Lyra sat alone on the porch wrapped in a woollen shawl, watching over the children as they huddled together and tried to avoid any adults, her eyes distant and sad. She murmured stories to them in a low voice, whispering fantastical tales about children in towers being rescued by heroes and villains alike, having to pause every so often to wipe away tears or just breathe. Eventually Bethany joined them, drawing a child onto her lap and stroking its hair like it was a cat.


Baelian lay in the morning sun against the large oak tree, beside the fresh patch of earth where they had buried the blue-eyed boy. A bare foot swung dangerously close to his head as Alina perched on a low branch above, staring down at him silently.


Across the yard, Eden was helping Grigori with his new cane, making snide comments as he hobbled about looking like an old man.


"Is that…Katorga's grandfather's cane?" Alina asked softly, a cold toe poking at Baelian's ear. He tilted his head and pondered for a moment before shrugging.


"I hope not," he replied.


What else was there to say about it, really? There was silence for a moment longer, and then…


"Are we still going to Prague?"


Baelian closed his eyes, resting his head back against the tree and listening to the rustling leaves before lifting his gaze to Alina.


"Let's just get through the next 24 hours first…" he murmured, "If we live through those…I'll take you wherever you want."


She nodded at him, satisfied with this, her gaze lifting to watch the others. Baelian studied her closely for a while before letting his eyes close again on the sight of her, waiting for sleep that he knew would never come.


He couldn't vouch for the rest of the family…but he would hazard a guess that none of them would be sleeping again for a good long time.


Finis.


Written by Natalie Ristovski from materials compiled by the Underdwellers.


All characters and story lines remain the property of N.Ristovski and the Underground. All character writings within the Underground are fictitious. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

Copyright © 2014. Natalie Ristovski.

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TALES FROM THE BURLESQUE UNDERGROUND