Human/Super #12: Alter Ego

 

HUMAN/SUPER #12

ALTER EGO

 

 

 

 

 

Ross Jessop spoke a word that didn’t exist in any human language and began to transform. His bones stretched and hardened, increasing his height by a foot, his muscles expanded, straining against the seams of his Victory City Transit uniform, and his jawline morphed from angular to square.

He picked up the thick, black chain at his feet and slung it over his shoulder. Gripping the chain tightly, he glanced back through the window at Cassie Jeong. She gave him a thumbs up and he stepped forward.

The train groaned as he pulled it behind him, picking up speed to a steady run. The next platform came up quickly, and Ross slowed, easing the train to stop and walking it into position. Cassie applied the brakes and opened the doors.

The passengers squeezed onto the train and the doors closed behind them. Cassie gave Ross the thumbs up again, and he hauled the train to the next platform, and the next, repeating the pattern for eight hours with a brief lunch break in the middle.

At the end of his shift, the door at the front of the train opened and Arnold Luther, a tall, blond man built like a quarterback, hopped down onto the tracks. Ross handed Arnold the chain and said the word.

The extra muscle melted away like a deflating balloon, leaving his uniform hanging loosely from his body. He tightened his belt and refastened the top few buttons of his shirt. Arnold looked Ross up and down, and scoffed.

“What?” Ross said.

“Nothing, man,” Arnold replied, snickering. “Nothing at all.”

He turned away and wrapped the chain around his arm. Ross rolled his eyes and climbed up into the train. Cassie gave Arnold the thumbs up, and the train started moving again.

“What’s his problem, anyway?” Ross asked.

“Him?” Cassie replied. “An overabundance of testosterone and a shortage of brain cells, most likely. Just ignore him. He’ll get bored of it eventually.”

“I hope so,” Ross said. “I wouldn’t want to have to put him through a wall.”

Cassie chuckled.

“Now that I’d like to see,” she said.

Ross smiled and grabbed his coat.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said.

///

Ross stepped into the elevator and pressed the button for his floor. The smell of Chinese food wafted up from two foam containers in his hands as the elevator lurched into motion. Halfway up the building, his phone rang, the call display reading “Holly Hudson.”

“Hey, honey,” he said. “I’m on my way up right now.”

“I’ve got some bad news, babe,” she said. “I’m still in Toronto.”

“What?” he said. “Why?”

“The city was hit by a freak blizzard this afternoon,” she said. “We’re completely snowed in. They’re still trying to clear the runway.”

“So I guess you’re not going to be home for supper, then,” he said, stepping off the elevator.

She laughed.

“I’ll be lucky if I’m back before dawn,” she said. “It’s still looking pretty rough out there, and the flight itself is five hours, so it’ll definitely be well after midnight.”

“Okay,” he said. “I’ll put some leftovers in the fridge in case you’re hungry when you get in.”

“Thanks, babe,” she said. “Well, I think I hear the meal cart rattling around, so I should let you go. Love you.”

“Love you, too,” he said. “Bye.”

He hung up and stepped into their apartment. He stared at the little plastic Christmas tree on the coffee table as he slumped down on the couch and ate his supper in front of the television.

///

Ross sat on the edge of the bathtub early in the morning, staring down at his testosterone shot. His hand trembled as the needle hovered over his bicep. He pressed the tip to his skin and took a deep breath, trying to brace himself for the pain.

“You’re going to hit a vein again,” Holly said from the doorway. “Here, give me that.”

She stepped into the bathroom, still wearing her pilot uniform, and took the syringe from him. Ross looked away and gritted his teeth as she gave him the shot.

“There,” she said. “All done.”

“Thanks,” he said sheepishly, rubbing his arm. “I’ll get the hang of it eventually.”

“It’s not so hard,” she said, and winked. “You just have to man up and stick it in.”

“That’s what she said,” Ross replied.

Holly rolled her eyes and rapped him on the forehead with a knuckle. He grinned and glanced down at her uniform.

“How was your night?” he asked.

She sighed.

“It was a huge debacle,” she said. “Nobody saw this storm coming. The forecast called for clear skies, even as the snow was piling up. It became too much even for the plows to handle. They ended up calling in one of the local superheroes to dig us out.”

Ross hesitated a moment, then said, “Which one?”

“I’m not sure,” she replied. “A really big guy with heat vision.”

“Balor,” Ross said. “I met him once, when I was kid. He picked me up with one hand.”

Holly chuckled, then yawned.

“I should probably get some sleep,” she said. “You have tomorrow off, right?”

“Yeah,” he replied, standing. “I was thinking we could go see a movie or something.”

“Sounds good to me,” she said. “And we should grab a meal somewhere, too. It’s about time you had something better than chicken balls.”

“There’s no such thing,” he said.

Holly sighed and shook her head.

“You coming to bed or what?” she asked.

“I’ll be right in,” he replied, and kissed her.

She stepped out of the room while he packed up his supplies and put them away in the cupboard. He smiled to himself and followed Holly to the bedroom.

///

The next few days passed quickly, and it was soon time for Holly to leave again. Ross kissed her goodbye in the morning and headed off for work. He shivered as he stepped outside; the temperature had dropped overnight, and a few flakes of snow drifted in the air.

The wind picked up steadily as he walked, and by the time he reached the station, a thin layer of snow had formed underfoot. He headed downstairs, clocked in, and boarded his train.

“Is it still raining up there?” Cassie asked when he reached the front.

“Last I saw, it was snowing,” he replied.

“Dammit,” she said. “The weatherman lied.”

“Well, nobody’s perfect,” Ross said, opening the door.

The train lurched to a stop and he hopped down in front of it. Don MacDermott, an Irish minotaur, nodded at Ross and climbed up into the train. Speaking the word, Ross transformed and picked up the chain.

The first four hours of his split shift went by slowly, running around in circles beneath the city. As he pulled into his final stop of the morning, he glanced up at the platform and spotted a familiar face, a petite woman with short, dark hair.

Ross kept his head down until he cleared the platform and then he changed back to normal. Arnold stepped down onto the tracks, and Ross climbed up immediately, ignoring his co-worker.

“Bye,” Ross said to Cassie as he hurried past her.

He pushed through the crowd, making a beeline for the doors, but they slid shut in his face. He raised his collar and glanced around furtively; no sign of her. Perhaps she took another train, he thought.

He turned around and there she was, standing right in front of him with her arms crossed.

“Hey, brother,” she said.

///

Ross sat at a table in a pub called The Eye of the Storm, staring out the window at snow piling up on the sidewalk. Sitting across from him, his sister Lily picked the onions off her steak and deposited them on a napkin.

“You look… good,” she said, glancing up from her meal. “I almost didn’t recognize you down there. I didn’t realize they–”

“What’s going on?” he asked.

“What do you mean?” she replied, distracted by her meal.

“I haven’t seen you in ten years,” he said, “and suddenly you track me down and ask me to lunch, two days before Christmas. So, again, what’s this about?”

“Believe it or not, running into you was a complete coincidence,” she said. “I’m actually here on business.”

“Oh yeah?” he said. “What kind of business?”

She pointed at the window with her fork.

That business,” she said.

“The snow?” he said. “What about it?”

“You remember Russian Winter?” she asked. “Old Soviet supervillain who fought Balor all the time when we were kids?”

“I remember two straight weeks of snow days in third grade,” Ross replied.

Lily chuckled.

“Yeah,” she said. “Well, he broke out of prison a few days ago and dropped a blizzard on the city. Now he’s here.”

“So Balor sent his sidekick to take down his archnemesis?” Ross asked.

“Hey, Miss Judgement is nobody’s sidekick,” Lily replied, jabbing her finger across the table.

Ross shook his head and said, “I can’t believe you kept that name.”

“You used to think it was a cool name,” she said.

“Sure,” he said, “when I was twelve.”

“Okay, what’s your alias, then?” she asked.

“I don’t have one,” he replied. “This is Victory City, Lily. There are no superheroes here. We find other ways around to make ourselves useful.”

She stared at him for a moment, then snapped her fingers.

“That was you in front of the train,” she said.

“Yeah,” he said.

“A bit beneath you, isn’t it?” she asked. “You could at least be a cop or a firefighter or something. You know, helping people.”

“Sorry to disappoint,” he said with a shrug.

She glanced down at her plate and said, “You could help me, though.”

Ross rolled his eyes.

“Here it comes,” he said.

“I’m not asking you to put on a cape or anything,” she said. “It’s just, I don’t know my way around this town and could really use a guide.”

“I can’t right now,” Ross said. “I have to be underground in a couple hours for my next shift.”

“Well, how about after work, then?” Lily asked. “I can spend the afternoon poking around and meet up with you tonight.”

Ross sighed.

“Fine,” he said, “but just this once.”

///

Ross stepped off the train at seven and found Lily standing on the platform in a dull grey trench coat. She turned and headed for the stairs; Ross followed closely.

“I don’t suppose you’ve already figured this out on your own and I can just go home, have you?” he asked.

“I’m afraid not,” she replied as they stepped out into the blinding storm.

Ross held his hand up in front of his face as he and Lily trudged up the sidewalk through knee-deep snow. Distant sirens wailed in all directions, and an old plow that looked like it hadn’t seen the light of day in years puttered down the street.

“We need to get to higher ground,” Lily shouted over the wind.

She grabbed Ross by the arm and dragged him into a nearby alley. The buildings partially shielded them from the storm. Ross leaned against the wall to catch his breath.

Lily removed her coat, revealing a loose-fitting blue bodysuit with a black cape attached at the shoulders, and spoke the word. She grew a foot taller, her muscles filled out her costume, and her dark hair flowed down to her waist.

Reaching into the pocket of her coat, she produced a black domino mask and attached it to her face. Ross stared at her for a long moment, and then laughed.

“Do you really think someone’s going to recognize you in that body?” he asked.

“No,” she replied, “but when they see the mask, they assume whatever’s underneath is the real me, so they won’t think to look for scrawny, five-foot-nothing Lily. Number one rule for maintaining a secret identity: always keep them guessing.”

She winked and leapt up four stories to an adjacent roof. Ross changed and followed her. He found her standing by the ledge; he marched through the snow to join her.

“The epicenter is somewhere over there,” she said, pointing toward the downtown core of the city, “but I haven’t been able to pinpoint it exactly.”

“Have you tried going door-to-door?” Ross asked.

Lily grinned and said, “As a matter of fact….”

She stepped back and took a running leap off the edge of the roof, soaring over the city and landing several blocks away. Ross jumped after her, landing in a pile of snow atop an apartment complex.

“I think I’ll start with hotels,” she said. “I have a list of Winter’s common aliases, mostly anagrams and puns. I just need to know where to look.”

Ross pointed out all the major hotels in the area and she entered them into her phone.

“Great,” she said. “Okay, we’ll cover more ground if we split up. I’ll take this side of the street, you take—”

“Hold on,” he said. “That’s not what I agreed to. I can’t fight a supervillain.”

“Relax,” she said. “This guy’s a total pushover. Trust me, it won’t come to that.”

“It better not,” Ross replied, and jumped off the roof.

///

Ross came up empty in his search, and Lily shook her head when they reconvened on the rooftop. She kicked a mound of snow and it tumbled down over the ledge to the empty sidewalk below.

“I knew it wouldn’t be that easy,” she said. “Maybe he’s staying with an accomplice or….”

She trailed off, and glanced up at the sky. The snow had stopped falling save for a few flakes floating in the wind.

“Dammit,” she said. “You must have spooked him.”

Me?” Ross said. “You’re the one running around in blue spandex.”

“Hey, I’m a professional,” she said, and peered down over the ledge. “He might still be somewhere in the area. If we hurry, we might—”

“Lily, it’s late,” Ross said. “I’m going home.”

He took a running leap in the direction of his apartment building, and landed on a nearby rooftop. Lily landed behind him.

“Come on,” she said. “I need your help on this.”

“Oh really?” he said. “And where were you the last time I needed your help?”

“That’s not fair,” she said. “I was a kid. I didn’t—”

“Look, I don’t want to have this conversation,” he said. “The whole reason I moved here was so I wouldn’t have to deal with this shit.”

You brought it up,” she said.

“Whatever,” he said.

He stepped off the edge of the roof and landed in waist-deep snow in the alley below. He spoke the word and trudged along the sidewalk toward his building.

“Wait up!” Lily said, following after him in her natural form. “At least give me your phone number so I can get in touch with you.”

He stopped in front of his building and turned around.

“But only for emergencies, okay?” he said.

She nodded, and he dug out his cellphone. They exchanged numbers and stood awkwardly in the snow for a couple minutes. Ross sighed.

“Do you want to come up?” he asked. “I have coffee.”

“Tempting,” she replied, “but I think I’m going to keep looking a while longer, then head back to my hotel.”

“All right,” he said. “Good hunting.”

“Thanks,” she said, and she doubled back to the alley.

Ross took a deep breath and climbed the front steps of his building. He shook the snow from his clothes and rode the elevator upstairs. The lights were on as he stepped into the apartment, and he found Holly sitting on the couch with the television off.

“My flight was cancelled because of the weather,” she said. “I wanted to surprise you, but you weren’t here.”

“Honey, I’m so sorry,” he said, stepping toward the couch. “Something came up after work. If I’d known you’d be off, I’d have hurried straight home.”

“Are you sure about that?” she asked. “I’m starting to wonder.”

“Wonder what?” Ross said.

She glanced back over her shoulder and said, “Are you happy in this relationship?”

“Of course,” he said. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

“It’s just, we’ve been spending so much time apart lately,” she said. “I totally wouldn’t blame you if you felt you needed to… look elsewhere.”

“Hold on,” Ross said. “Are you accusing me of something? Because I don’t—”

“I saw you,” she said. “Outside, just now. You were with a woman.”

Ross broke out laughing. He doubled over and ended up sitting on the floor behind the couch. He wiped a tear from his eye. Holly leaned over the back of the couch and stared down at him with a mix of anger and concern on her face.

“What’s so funny?” she asked.

“That was my sister,” he said.

Holly’s eyes widened.

“Oh my God,” she muttered, and stood from the couch. “Oh my God.”

“Relax,” Ross said. “It’s not a big deal.”

“Babe, this is a huge deal,” she said. “How long is she in town?”

“Not sure,” he replied. “At least until tomorrow.”

“Do you… think I could meet her?” Holly asked.

“I don’t know if she’ll have time,” he replied. “She’s here on business.”

“Well, she’s got to eat at some point, right?” Holly asked. “I fly out at noon. We should all go out for breakfast beforehand. Come on, I don’t know any of your family.”

Ross sighed.

“Fine,” he said.

He dug out his cellphone and typed, “Wanna meet for breakfast tomorrow at nine?”

“Sure,” Lily texted back. “Diner across the street from Champion Hotel?”

“Sounds good,” he typed, then hesitantly added, “I’m bringing my girlfriend.”

Lily replied with a smiley face. Ross glanced up at Holly.

“Happy now?” he asked.

Holly also replied with a smiley face.

///

Ross and Holly stepped into the diner and made their way to a table in back, where his sister sat perusing a menu. Lily looked up and smiled.

“Good morning,” she said, and stared at Holly for a moment. “You must be the girlfriend. My brother’s done pretty well for himself, it seems.”

“Holly,” Ross said, “meet Lily Jessop.”

“Actually, it’s Harris now,” Lily said as the couple took their seats.

“You’re married?” he blurted.

“Well, don’t act so surprised,” Lily said.

“I’m not, it’s just…” he trailed off. “Next thing, you’re going to tell me you have a kid.”

Lily laughed.

“No,” she said, “I have two.”

She took out her cellphone and brought up a photo of a boy and a girl; one was a toddler, the other was no older than five.

“Aw, they’re so cute,” Holly said.

“They must take after their father,” Ross said.

Holly nudged him with her elbow.

Lily laughed and said, “Yeah, pretty much.”

A waitress came around, dropped off a pot of coffee, and took their orders.

“You’re not gong to miss out on their Christmas, are you?” Holly asked.

“I hope not,” Lily replied, “but it depends if I can finish my work here in time.”

“What exactly is it you do?” Holly asked.

Lily poured herself a cup of coffee and said, “Well, I—”

“She’s a superhero,” Ross said.

“Shh!” Lily said, glancing around the room. “Not so loud.”

Ross rolled his eyes. Holly leaned forward.

“Are you hunting a criminal?” she asked quietly.

Lily nodded.

“That’s so cool,” Holly said.

“I suppose,” Lily said with a shrug. “So, anyway, how long have you two been together?”

“About three years now,” Ross replied. “We….”

He trailed off as Lily’s eyes drifted past him. He glanced back over his shoulder and saw snow falling outside the window in huge flakes, steadily increasing in volume. Lily stood from her seat.

“I’m really sorry to do this, but duty calls,” she said, and glanced at Holly. “It was nice meeting you. Take care of my brother for me, okay?”

“You got it,” Holly said, squeezing his hand.

Lily turned to Ross and said, “Thanks for your help yesterday. I never would’ve found my way around without you.”

She dropped two twenty-dollar bills on the table and headed for the door. She paused and glanced back.

“Happy Holidays,” she said, and stepped outside.

Ross stared at the table for a long moment, then sighed.

“Shit,” he muttered, turning to Holly. “Do you mind if I—”

“She’s your sister,” Holly said. “Go.”

“But we won’t see each other again until after Christmas,” he said.

“Christmas is just a day, babe,” she said. “We’ve got our whole lives.”

She smiled and Ross gave her a long kiss.

“Stay safe,” he said.

“You too,” she replied.

He hurried out the door and said, “Hey, wait!”

Lily stopped halfway down the block and turned back to Ross.

“What’s up?” she asked.

“I’m coming with you,” he said.

“You sure?” she asked. “I still don’t have any leads. It could take all week.”

Ross glanced up at the growing storm and something caught his eye: a team of window washers halfway up the face of an office building across the street. One of the workers flew from window to window on insect-like wings.

“I have an idea,” Ross said.

///

The snow picked up considerably while Ross and Lily waited on the rooftop. Lily tapped her foot impatiently, and Ross watched the clouds. A young Hispanic woman with light brown hair descended from the sky and hovered a few inches above the ledge.

“Hi, Sarah,” Ross said. “Sorry for calling at the last minute.”

“Don’t worry about it,” she said. “Anything for an old friend.”

“You brought your GPS?” he asked.

“Yep,” she replied, digging a PDA out of her coat. “What do you need me to do?”

“First, you’re going to fly above the storm,” he said. “Once you’re up there, make your way to the centermost point, and then text me the address that shows up on your GPS.”

“Got it,” she said, and glanced at Lily. “Do I want to know what this is about?”

“Probably not,” Ross replied.

“Fair enough,” she said with a wink. “Cheers.”

She flew up toward the sky and disappeared into the clouds.

Lily said nothing for a long moment, and then, “So, what’s her story?”

“She’s a courier,” Ross said. “I worked with her for a while before I landed my transit job.”

“Well, I guess that makes sense,” Lily said, and glanced down at her feet. “Listen, I—”

Ross’s phone vibrated, and he opened the message.

“We’ve got a location,” he said. “Follow me.”

///

The address led Ross and Lily to the Victory City Hall, an ornate stone building situated amid the modern downtown sprawl. A security guard approached them as they stepped into the lobby.

“I’m going to have to ask you to remove that mask, ma’am,” he said.

“Seriously?” Lily said. “But I’m a superhero.”

The guard shrugged.

“Rules are rules,” he said. “Either the mask stays off, or you stay out.”

Lily crossed her arms and loomed over the man, glaring down at him. Ross placed his hand on her shoulder.

“Could we not get arrested on Christmas Eve, please?” he asked her.

“Oh, fine,” she replied, stepping back. “I’ll be outside. Give me a call if you find anything.”

She gave the guard a dirty look and marched back out into the storm. The guard sighed in relief.

“Sorry about that,” Ross said. “We’re looking for someone. He’d be in his sixties, with a Russian accent.”

“You mean Ivan?” the guard asked.

“Maybe,” Ross replied. “Who’s he?”

“Our new janitor,” the guard said. “He just started a couple days ago. Is he in some kind of trouble?”

“I’ll let you know as soon as I find out,” Ross said. “Do you have any idea where is he now?”

“Last I saw, he was heading downstairs,” the guard replied. “Want me to page him for you?”

“That’s okay,” Ross said. “I’ll just go take a look.”

The guard shrugged and said, “Suit yourself.”

Ross smiled and made his way into the building. The place was quiet this time of year; a handful of politicians stalked the halls, but few others. Ross called Lily on his cellphone as he headed for the elevator.

“What an asshole,” she said; he could hear the snow crunching underfoot as she stomped back and forth.

“You should’ve just taken the mask off,” Ross said. “Nobody cares about secret identities here.”

“Well, I don’t live here,” she replied. “I live two thousand miles away with my family and a shitload of enemies who’d just love to hurt them. So forgive me if I’m a bit uptight.”

“Okay, fine, I get it,” Ross said. “So, do you want me to tell you what I found out, or not?”

“Lay it on me,” she said.

“Well, apparently Russian Winter has a job here as a janitor,” Ross said, stepping into the elevator and pressing the button for the basement. “I’m on my way downstairs. Keep your eyes peeled in case he leaves the building.”

There was a pause, then she said, “Okay, I’m on the roof now.”

The elevator doors opened. Ross’s footsteps echoed off white stone walls as he walked slowly forward. Halfway down the hall, a door labelled “RECORDS” opened and a broad-shouldered man with thinning grey hair and a mustache stepped out wheeling a janitor’s cart ahead of him.

“I see him,” Ross whispered into the phone. “What should I do?”

“Can you get him outside?” Lily asked.

“What, like pick him up and carry him?” Ross replied.

“Sure,” Lily said. “Unless you have a better idea.”

Ross sighed and said, “I’ll see what I can do.”

The space between the two men closed steadily, neither making eye contact, until finally they were within arm’s length. Ross reached out, and the man jerked back, shoving the cart between them.

The man turned and ran the other direction. Ross scrambled over the cart and his feet hit a sheet of ice. He fell onto his face and his cellphone clattered across the floor. The stairwell door at the end of the hall slammed shut behind Russian Winter.

“He’s making a run for it!” Ross said when he reached his phone.

“Okay, there he is,” Lily replied. “I’m going in.”

Ross climbed to his feet and the ice on the floor began to melt. Lily continued to narrate her chase as Ross walked back to the janitor’s cart.

“He’s heading underground,” Lily said. “Crowd’s really thick down here.”

“It’s rush hour,” Ross replied.

He poked around the cart, looking for any clue that Russian Winter may have left behind. He found cleaning supplies, paper towel, spare garbage bags, and little else.

“Shit,” Lily said. “He got on a train before I could catch up to him. It just took off.”

“Did you catch the train’s number?” Ross asked. “I could call it in and have him detained.”

“It was too fast, I couldn’t see,” Lily said, and sighed. “Looks like we’re back to square one.”

“Maybe not,” Ross said.

He reached into the large garbage bin on the cart and found a manila folder at the very bottom, under a few sheets of paper towel. He opened the folder and found a series of yellowed documents, including a Change of Name form dated twenty-seven years ago.

“Find something?” Lily asked.

“Yeah,” he replied. “I think I know where he’s headed.”

///

According to the form, a woman named Ekaterina Stakhanova became Trina Stoker in the summer of 1985. Neither Ross nor Lily knew who she was, but they followed the address on the form to a tiny red house in the suburbs.

“Wait,” Ross said as Lily stepped toward the house. “Maybe I should go instead.”

“No way,” she said. “I’m not playing second fiddle on my own case. Besides, you let him get away last time.”

Ross crossed his arms and said, “Do you want my help or not?”

Lily glared for a moment, then sighed.

“Yeah, okay.” she said, “but I want to know what’s going on in there.”

He spoke the word and shrank to normal size. He called her cellphone and placed his own in his front pocket on speaker mode. A fresh trail of footprints led Ross up the driveway. He rang the doorbell, and a stocky man in his late-twenties answered.

“Can I help you?” the man asked.

“Uh, maybe,” Ross replied. “I’m looking for Trina Stoker.”

The man ran a hand through his dark blond hair and clucked his tongue.

“You’d better come inside,” he said, and led Ross down a narrow hallway. “I’m Trina’s son, Greg. She passed away from a stroke a few years ago. I was just explaining all this to him.”

Greg opened the door to a small living room. Russian Winter sat on a couch beside a brightly-lit Christmas tree with a little blonde girl on his lap. Ross halted in the doorway, and the villain glared up at him.

“You,” he muttered, his voice thickly accented. “What do you want from me?”

“I’m just trying to help a friend,” Ross said. “Why don’t you put the kid down and step outside with me? Nobody needs to get hurt.”

“I have hurt many people in my lifetime,” he said, stroking the girl’s hair. “What difference would a few more make?”

Dad,” Greg said.

Ross shot a glance at the younger man and said, “Wait… what?”

Russian Winter took a deep breath and stood from the couch.

“My real name is Grigori Stakhanov,” he said. “Ekaterina was my wife. We loved each other very much, but she also loved this country, which I had pledged to destroy. She became afraid of what I had become, and she left me. I did not wish to cause her any more pain, so I let her go.”

He handed the girl to Greg and stepped over to the window.

“My powers are failing,” he said, laying a hand on the glass. “Soon my mind will follow. I just wanted to see her one last time, to apologize for everything I’ve done, before it was too late. But it already was. I waited too long, and now….”

He sighed and turned around.

“You can tell your friend I am ready to go back,” he said. “I have met my son. I have held my granddaughter. I am at peace.”

Ross took the phone out of his pocket and said, “You get all that?”

Up the hall, the front door opened and heavy footsteps approached. Lily appeared in the doorway, towering over everyone, and stared down at Grigori for a long moment.

“Can you stop the storm?” she asked.

“I can try,” he replied.

He closed his eyes and furrowed his brow. Outside the window, the snow stopped falling. A drop of blood trickled from Grigori’s nose. He dabbed it with a handkerchief from his pocket.

“If I let you stay here for Christmas,” she said, “can I trust you to turn yourself in afterward?”

“You have my word,” he replied, “such as it is.”

She glanced at Ross and said, “Then I guess we’re done here. Enjoy your holidays, folks.”

She turned and headed back out the door. The little girl reached out to Grigori and he took her into his arms again. Ross smiled faintly and followed his sister out of the house. The temperature outside had already begun to rise.

“You sure about this?” Ross asked.

“Not really,” Lily replied, “but I know what it’s like to hurt someone you care about and spend the rest of your life wishing you could take it back. So I figure if he’s got a chance to make amends, maybe there’s hope for me, too.”

Ross rolled his eyes and said, “Maybe.”

 

 

 

END