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In A Strange Place

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He's cleaning his goddamn guns again.

Every time John goes away it's the same. Adamska holes himself up in his quarters, emerging only in search of food - quick, furtive, like a cautious animal. Eva supposes that's more or less what he is. America is strange to Adamska: it does not quite live up to his pop-culture induced expectations, his idealised America in which the West is still wild and everyone is beautiful. That's not so bad when John is here; John is the lens through which Adamska sees and understands this strange new world, its excesses and innovations. When John is here, he wants to experience everything, to take it all in and learn all he can.

Adamska has been in America for five weeks.

(Eva remembers the first time Adamska ate a cheeseburger. The narrow-eyed suspicion giving way to wide-eyed delight as he took a tentative bite, a blob of ketchup smeared beneath his mouth. He'd eaten well in Groznyj Grad, but these strange, exotic foods inspire an excitement in him that Eva almost finds endearing. Almost.)

But when John is not here, he waits. Cleans his guns. Sits alone, in silence, stalking the corridors of what Eva has dubbed 'Patriot HQ' only when he thinks everyone else has turned in for the night. (He's wrong, of course; Sigint's a chronic insomniac and Clark works long into the night, tweaking and perfecting whichever pet project she's currently obsessed with. Still, he can't see them and, more importantly, they can't see him.) Without John as an anchor he is a stranger in a strange place, surrounded by people who, not such a long time ago, were his enemies. His wariness is not without logic.

"I know you're there," he says in Russian, not looking up from his task. The individual components of each gun are spread across the table in meticulous order, a perfect constellation of gleaming metal. She's been standing there all of thirty seconds and he knows, in spite of her stealth and silence; John always did say he was impossible to sneak up on.

"Wow," she says, leaning against the doorframe. "You are good."

"I've spent my entire life watching for enemies in the shadows."

"Am I your enemy, Adamska?"

He doesn't answer. He picks up an oilcloth, gently cleaning the chambers of one revolver. Once he has cleaned every piece he will reassemble it, lightning-fast even in his precision, spinning empty chambers with long, deft fingers.

"Can I come in?" she asks, switching to English.

A subtle shrug of the shoulders, utterly noncommittal. She's here now; it makes no difference if she stands in the doorway or sits on his lap. Either way, it's a breach of his peace. He barely acknowledges her presence as she perches on the edge of his bed (blankets starched, hospital corners and a single thin pillow, sparse as any cot in any barracks.) His room is startlingly devoid of possessions. She's a little surprised by this; she's seen the way he is when he acquires something. He holds onto even the junkiest plastic toys like they're immeasurably precious, guarding them jealously, the hyperawareness of one who has grown up as part of a unit. To whom the very concept of personal possessions, even after reaching the heady heights of command, is still a novelty.

She imagines he must have a box squirrelled away somewhere, housing whatever strange things a man like Adamska might consider valuable.

"I wondered how you were," Eva says. "Nobody's seen you for a few days. Zero mentioned sending in Search and Rescue."

"I didn't realise I had to check in with him daily," Adamsa mutters. His English is lightly accented, the gentle lilt of one who has learned from watching films. He's young enough that, if he spends long enough here, he might lose that accent altogether.

"They're decent people," Eva says. "They're John's people. We were enemies and they took us in. They're not about to sell us out."

He looks up from his work, shoots her a sneer. His upper lip curls; there's a dusting of fine blonde fuzz, like the skin of a peach. His hair is longer now, uneven strands brushing the back of his neck. "They just haven't had the right offer yet."

Eva sighs. Shifts position on the bed, the light friction of denim still strange to her; it's been a long time since she last wore a pair of 501's. "Do you really believe that?" she asks, tilting her head quizzically. "Do you think John would leave us at the mercy of people who want to harm us?"

"John trusts people he shouldn't," Adamska says, pale eyes locked suddenly, fiercely on hers.

"Like you?"

He scowls. Turns back to his guns, fingers splayed against the desk as though he's trying to recall what he's supposed to do next. After a few moments, it's clear to Eva that he's waiting for her to leave. It's such an unconsciously childish gesture - if I ignore you, you'll get bored and go away. But she doesn't. Ever since they were reunited he's been cold at best, downright hostile at worst. He'd been suspicious of her back in Groznyj Grad, true, but never cruel. They'd been a team then, after all, comrades united by a common uniform, a common goal, at least on the surface. Now, though? She's the woman who'd played John for a fool, who ran away with him, who might have succeeded in her scheme had Adamska not been that little bit sharper.

Now, she is a rival.

"It must be hard for you," she says. "The culture shock, I mean. Russia is a very different place. It took me some time to adjust, too. Of course, I was born here, so it's easier for me."

"I've been outside of Russia," he says, quietly indignant.

"But not here," she says. "America is a different world. Even the sky is different here. I didn't realise it was possible to look into the night sky and not see stars."

He gives a small grunt, though she’s not sure if it’s dissent or agreement.

"You know what I miss?" Up on Adamska's shelf there's a scattering of books in Russian, a couple in English. One in French. She hadn't realised he spoke it. "Remember night patrol? I don't know how it was in your unit, but we were expected to sweep as far out as Chyornyj Prud. Rumour was, the place was haunted by the spirits of Soviet soldiers who'd died there, in the lake. So of course, no soldier actually wanted to patrol that place. Except for me." He's still ignoring her, staring fixedly down at the scattered pieces of his revolvers. She is undeterred. "I'd always volunteer for that part of the patrol. Because there were no ghosts, just crocodiles, and as long as you avoided the shore, you'd be fine. Sometimes, if the weather was good, I'd climb up a tree and sit there a while. Look up at the stars, or down into the water. I've never known such a quiet, secluded place to feel so alive. And I'd sing, because there'd be nobody around to hear me." She takes a breath, finding that place deep in her abdomen: "Ah vy, seni, moi seni. Seni novye moi. Seni novye, klenovye..." Her eyes must slip shut, because when she opens them she sees Adamska, profile sharp as he peers over her shoulder. His mouth curves downwards in an exaggerated frown.

"You're singing it completely wrong," he says, a little haughty.

"You know it?"

"Of course I know it, and that's not how the tune goes."

"How does it go?"

His frown deepens. "I'm not singing it for you."

"Do you sing, Adamska?"

He gives a sharp bark of laughter. This time, he turns full in his seat, twisting his body to face her; he's recently discovered Johnny Cash and he's wearing a black button-up shirt, a size or so too big for his lean form. The sleeves are unbuttoned, rolled up, revealing slender wrists. "Not for you," he says, in Russian.

"Would you sing for John?"

A hot flush of colour creeps up his neck, softening the harsh angles of his cheekbones. She fights the urge to smile; she's obviously hit a nerve. "Why are you here?" he demands, hands dropping to his lap. His fingers are smooth, not callused like John's; those idiotic gloves are obviously more practical than she'd credited. "Can't you go bother Sigint if you're bored? I don't want your company."

"No. You want John's company. But since he's not here, you lock yourself away and sulk until he comes back. That's not healthy, Adamska. If you want to be a part of this-" she waves a hand, indicating the compound, the people within it, the Patriots "-then you have to be a part of it. You're not John's pet. You don't have to wait for his command."

"I'm not," he says, red-faced, rigid with indignation. His nostrils flare. It's almost funny, how flustered he's become. It’s almost sad. "You don't even know what you're talking about. You don't know anything."

"I know you're lonely." She leans forward, placing the tips of her fingers against Adamska's knuckles, and he flinches but doesn't pull away. In a battle of wills, Adamska will never yield first. "I know you miss Groznyj Grad, the routine and the familiarity, your comrades, your unit. You were important there, and here you're just..." she shrugs, casting a glance around the room, the sparse shelves and bare floor. "But you weren't a person there," she says, gentle now, looking up into his face, still set with anger. His eyes are wide, mouth sulky. He's so young, she thinks, a little sorrowfully. He's so young, but he's been an adult his entire life. "You were a cog in a machine. All of you were. You gave orders, and you followed orders. And now it's not like that any more. You get to choose."

"You don't know anything," he mutters, but there's an uncertainty about him now, a refusal to meet her gaze. His posture slackens, just for a moment, but she notices. She notices everything. He's not the only one who never got to be a person.

"He sees who you are," she says. "Not the soldier or the agent. The real you. A man, with a name. He sees me too. I never wanted to be seen that way. It's not good for what I do. But he did." She draws away, pulling her hands into her own lap, an unconscious mirroring of his posture. "He knew who I was before I even did. It took me a while to get that straight in my mind."

"I know who I am," Adamska says.

"I don't," Eva replies. "Will you tell me?"

Adamska is silent for a moment. His eyes are fixed on some indeterminate point in the distance, fingers fiddling with the loose fabric of his open cuffs. He's wearing shoes, even in the relative safety of his own quarters. Like he might have to flee at any moment. Like he's aware of everything, all of the time. And then his lips move, too low to hear at first, gradually becoming audible: "...down an octave."


He glares. "I said, it's a woman's song. I can't sing that high. I need to go down an octave."


She watches as he straightens up, limbs relaxing a little. "Ah vy, seni, moi seni," he begins, quiet; there's a tremor to his voice, as though he's uncomfortable, but he continues. "Seni novye moi. Seni novye, klenovye..."

"Reshotchatye," she joins in, her voice a perfect octave higher, and he gives her a small nod of approval. "Kak i mne po vam, po senichkam, ne hazhivati..." As they sing, hushed in this small space, his voice becomes steadier, stronger; he has a pleasant tone, tuneful, if unpracticed. “Mne mila druga za ruchen’ku ne vazhivati…”

“Better,” he says, with a decisive nod. “No wonder there are no ghosts in Chyornyj Prud, if you sang like that.”

“Oh? I’d like to see you learn to sing in your third language.”

“I could,” he says, without an ounce of self-consciousness, “if I wanted to.”

“Prove it,” she says, getting to her feet. His smirk falters and she knows she’s pushing it, but she also knows Adamska, enough to know that if she doesn’t push, she won’t get a thing. “I’ll be back tomorrow, and if you’re not serenading me in French I’m going to torture you with more mangled Russian folk songs.”

He leans back in his chair; he lifts his bunched hands from his lap, casually folding his arms across his chest. “French is my second language,” he says, matter-of-factly.

“Then you should find it even easier,” she says, quirking a playful eyebrow.

“Fine,” he replies, shrugging nonchalantly. “Not like it’ll be much of a challenge.” He turns back to his guns, considers the pieces carefully. His hands hover lightly over one chamber, not touching it, not doing anything. She wonders if he’s ever had this routine disturbed before.

“I can go,” Eva says, “if you need time to practice.”

Adamska gives a small laugh. “I don’t need to practice,” he says, and there’s that cockiness, that sharp-edged swagger that Eva recalls. She’s almost missed it. He picks up the chamber, holds it up to the light. The well-worn metal still glimmers. “And you don’t have to go,” he says, picking up his oilcloth. “I mean, you can. If you want to.”

“I’ll stay,” she says. “For a little while.”