From the Story Arc: Sometimes the Mask Comes Off

Previous Story in the Arc: The Warning by October Star II (Thursday, June 09, 2005)

(posted Friday, June 10, 2005)

Alexei sat on the roof of the rail station. It was private enough that young heroes would not pester him, and veterans would know he did not want to be disturbed. The rush of freeing Althea was wearing off, and he was left with a sick knot in his stomach. He was mentally exhausted, but his body was still feeling the affect of the magic from the day before.

He had only been able to spend a few moments with Althea before they whisked her off to headquarters to make sure she was all right. He imagined Bella was giving her a quick physical. The chatter that had ensued on the radio after her rescue made his head hurt, so he had simply shut the public channel off.

“Alexei, are you there?”

A thin smile crept onto his face. “Althea, darling.”

“We are needing to talk.” Her voice was grim. “Where are you?”

“Steel Gorod, on rail station staring at park.” Suddenly shadows enveloped him, and he reappeared on the asphalt roof of an office building in the middle of the business district of Steel Canyon. “This is good too.”

Althea knelt down next to him. “Alexei, I am troubled. I have learned there was much killing this evening. The Commissar ordered Communard to harm Red Djinni on the open comm?”

He closes his eyes and took a shallow breath. “There has been much killing since you disappeared.” He shrugged. “I turned off my communicator earlier. I do not know about Communard.”

She turned her eyes skyward, as if searching the heavens for an answer. “Alexei, I have put on uniform only to find it dishonored.”

“There is no dishonor in killing Council govnyuk.” The words sounded flat to him.

Althea’s eyes narrowed in concern and she leaned in to look October Star in the eyes. He looked like hell. Dark rings circled his eyes, and there was a haunted look to him that worried her. He had always been light-hearted, and now that she was rescued, he looked like his world was ending around him. “Do we break the necks of the defeated? Is that being hero?” He made no motion, no indication of her words taking impact. “This was for my sake?”

“We made certain the council would kidnap nobody ever again.” October Star blinked. If she knew, she would think me to be monster. He sighed, slow and deliberate. “ We put the fear of the People in them.”

Althea shook her head. This was not like her Alexei at all. Something was wrong. “Shto? You proved what? That the next time instead of taking they will kill. And the next time might be me. Or it might be you. Or it might be little Shuma.”

“This time was you!” Althea jumped as he barked and jumped to his feet. This was the most emotion he had shown since her rescue. “They took you! They watched me leave and they took you from under our noses! From under my nose!” He turned, and his voice took on a near pleading tone. “Have you been to Striga Island? Have you seen what they are doing?”

“You know I have not been to Striga….”

October Star dropped to knees. “I am not proud of what I did.” His voice was a ragged whisper. “I am not proud of what i did.. I do not wear it like a badge of honor. I will hear their screams until I die.”

“Alexei…” She wanted to reach out, she wanted to hold him. He was not acting like the man she had fallen for. There was a deep pain in his voice that she had never heard before. He was more than troubled, and she was scared for him. His face fell and he held his head in his hands, as if he was to burst. “Alexei, I do not love you less…but there must be a line we do not cross.”

He looked up at her. His eyes were bloodshot, his hands trembled. “They have an army. They declared WAR on us! It is no different than it was in the Great Patriotic War!” Pain and fear reflected in his eyes. “I am not saying we go to every criminal who gets out of hand and kill them out of hand....”

“Who declared this war? I do not recall hearing any such thing. Premier? President? Or only Commissar?” She had to get through to him. “Does that mean that anyone with ten men can declare a war?

October Star’s hand clenched into fists. “They took you....they would have killed you....”

Althea nodded. “They are criminals…”

Star quivered with rage. “NYET! They are animals!”

“We follow the law, Da?” She could see he fit to burst, but she had to make him understand. He had to. “Or only when it is convenient?”

“We protect the People.” He wanted to scream, to rage, stop this silly girl from defending the animals who hurt her.

“Alexei.” She had been the one kidnapped, but it looked like it had almost been worse for him. “How does killing protect the people?” She hung her head. Was he disappointed? Was he angry with her? Tears filled her eyes. “I learned---a great deal about myself, these two days. There is a distance between those like us, and those like *them*. I do not want to cross that distance. Not by so much as a foot”

October Star walked to the edge of the building and looked over. It was only thirty stories or so, far less than he had dropped Council soldiers from, but still as lethal. “Is hard to explain.”

She closed her eyes and swallowed hard. “Alexei, for us, please…try. I am here. I am listening.”

He held his hands skywards. “Before they took you, I was here. High above world, seeing everything from distance.” Star dropped his arms. “Then you were gone...and it was if I fell. My spirit....all broken.” Her lip quivered as his voice cracked. “My only thought was to get you back. The longer I fell, the more I was convinced you were dead....” His shoulders drooped. “If they had killed was over. There was no way back up. I would never have view again like this. No CCCP, no you...nothing.” Althea brought her palms together in front of her mouth. She wanted to speak, she wanted to grab him, stop him, stop his pain, but she could not. He needed to say this, to release this. The demons in his heart had to be set free. “None of them knew answer. None could say where you were. I felt as if I was dead. My only hope was to find you.” He took a deep breath, and as is left him, gooseflesh raised on his neck. “They do not fear heroes. We capture them...we take them to jail...they break out, and go back to being criminals. That is American Justice.”

“And we are in America.” A tear fell from her long lashes. “There must be rule of law, Alexei. It is the difference between us and animals.”

“If they do not fear American Heroes, we....I had to find other way.” She startled as he fell to his knees on the edge of the roof., thinking he would fall. “If they do not fear the consequences of the law, what is the point of having the law?” The dying sun reflected against his skin. He had a few more grey hairs than he did before this happened, a few more lines around his eyes.

“To show how it makes us more like animals----tonight my Commissar ordered a Comrade to beat up an ally because he objected to killing.” Althea wiped her eyes and composed herself. “So where does it end, Alexei?”

October Star brushed his bangs out of his eyes. “Now you know why we are hated in Russia. Why we fit in nowhere. We are heroes, but we are also taught to be soldiers.”

“Are we also machines?”

He chuckled. “If I were a machine, my heart would not hurt so.”

“If we find no place where we can fit, perhaps it is wise to change a little so that we can.”

The humor fell from his face and was replaced with the look of a defeated man. “I have never killed before.” He closed his eyes, wrapped his arms around himself and began to rock slowly. “I never needed to.”

Althea knelt behind him and reached out tentatively. She took him into her arms and away from the edge. He turned and collapsed into her embrace, crying inconsolably, letting his guild and pain wash out of him. She held him, cradling his head against her shoulder. “I could never love you less, Alexei.”

“” He spoke between choked sobs. “So many many at my hand...”

Althea’s mind slowly recalled a quotation from her youth. “There---is no road---so steep and bitter---it cannot be retraced…” She held him tightly and began to rock. “Hush, my love…shhh.” She stroked the side of his head as his sobs slowed and quieted. “If you can still weep---you are no monster.”

Alex felt the air go out of him as the past two days finally caught up with him. The magic had worn off, and he sat exhausted and ravenous. His thoughts went to his mysterious benefactor. “She warned me...”

Althea straightened his bangs, brushing them to the side. “Shto? She, who, my love?”

He closed his eyes and smiled, the first true happiness in his heart in days. “She said if I lost myself...I would lose you.. Even if we saved you.” He sat up and Althea released him. Shaking his head, he cleared the fog. “She knew this would happen..”

“She? Darling, who?”

The harder he concentrated, the more it left him. “ something. It is hard to think...”

“Then don’t think, my love. Just be.” She smiled at him, knowing they were past the worst. He smiled back, and tugged at his belt. Something hard was digging into his side. He touched the spot, and a sudden moment of clarity struck him. She saw the look in his face sudden turn serene, then determined as the weariness left his eyes. “Alexei, what is it?”

October Star stood and took a few steps back from the edge. He turned to Althea. He did not know where the words came from, but they began to spill from him, without control. “Althea, I almost lost you. It would have destroyed me. People have been using you and taking things from you, and lording over you, giving you no control over your own life...and you have stayed strong through it all. Perhaps even finding strength you did not know you had.” She stood to face him, and a look of shyness, the eyes, the face he had fallen in love with looked back at him from behind her hair. “I have made bad choices, rash decisions...done things I will regret forever. But all of this, I have knowing one thing...I love you. I may be fool, who is believing in things like "first sight"...but it is true, and I have known this since I first met you.”

She smiled. “If that is making you fool, Alexei, then so am I.”

He squared his shoulders and continued, his resolve restored. “The Soviet Way teaches that every man is his own rudder. Communist Doctrine teaches each man is his own truth. But I have found destiny.” Alexei licked his lips and found himself lost in her eyes. “I was going to wait for picnic...but I do not want to take chance of ever losing you again...and miss one moment of life with you.”

Althea’s eyes grew wide as he took to one knee. “Alexei?”

He reached in his pocket and pulled out a very battered black velvet covered box. “This was ring the original October Star gave to Valerie, a woman he saved during the Great Patriotic War. He took the one moment, and they were together until she died in 1978.” She whispered his name, not believing what she saw. He opened the box, and inside was a gold ring, etched with Firebirds and ivy. Set in the ring was a huge blue diamond, long coveted and used by the Russian aristocracy. “My suit and this are the only things I have of him..” He looked at the ring with great affection, then looked up and met her eyes. “I want to give it to you.” Her eyes grew wide like saucers as his meaning became clear. “You have been Althea Nagy and Althea Petrovsky. Will you be Althea Nikolski?”

Tears of joy ran down her face as she nodded. “With all my heart.”

Alexei took her hand and slipped the ring onto Althea’s finger. She turned his hand back over and kissed his palm. “This is all I can give you.....only my heart.”

“Althea, I promise...I will never make you sad.” He stood and looked into her eyes, drinking her in with every breath. All would be better now. The pain was still there, deep within.. But with her at his side, he would survive it.

“This is all I can give you.....only my heart.” This man stood before her, he was like nobody she had ever met before, and the tug at her heart told her there would never be another like him. “I promise ...I promise you will always have my heart.”

He wrapped his arms around her, drawing her close to him. “We will get mama and papa, and bring them to America. They will be here for wedding. I will make this happen.”

Althea smiled and put her arms around his neck “They will love you as much as I do. More.”

Alexei shook his head. “It is shame. Because I cannot love anyone more than you.”

“It will take much, but I will earn back ‘hero of the people’.” He sighed a little, pain still there below the surface, but the wound would heal.

“I will help you, Alexei.” She smiled, and he knew things would be all right.

“We will do it together. Heroes of the People.”

“Together, we can do anything.”

October Star scooped her up in his arms, and activated his thrusters. “Da. Anything.” He slowly lifted off, and they headed home.


Glossary of Russian words for unlearned Amerikanski readers:

Gorod - Canyon

govnyuk - Russian curse word for unlikable, bad person. Like calling someone a “bastard” in English

Shto? - What?