Some might say the key to a stone heart is through laughter. Others might say through his stomach. But the key to the hollow empty hole where Ethan Pierce's heart used to be was through money, drugs, and special... instruments.

He walked quickly in the chilly December air, wishing he had brought greater amounts of protection against the bitter wind that nipped his nose and chewed on his exposed ears. He shivered and pulled his ankle-long trench coat tighter around him, his breaths making little puffs of steam in the air as he went along. His boots made a professional clicking noise in the quiet of this evening, which was also broken by the sounds of cars in the distance and birds chirping away, those dumb birds that remained for what was certain to be an awful winter.

Ah. At last, he reached his destination, an old stone alley behind an abandoned pawn shop. There he was, his long-time partner, Iosif Titov, with the items of his desire. "Здравствуйте. Вы имеете мне нужно?"*

Iosif nodded and glanced around, opening the trunk of his old pickup truck ("For inconspicuousness, Ethan.") and removing a medium sized wooden trunk. "There is no need for mother language, Ethan. My English is better," Iosif chided, handing the case to Ethan, who shrugged.

"It's habit, my old friend." Iosif nodded.

"How is little Anastasiya?" he asked. "You get her pretty things for Christmas, yes?"

Ethan stiffened a bit and smiled, his lank dirty blonde hair forever falling into his deep blue eyes. "Yes, of course. Only the best for Ana."

The Russian nodded and they stood in silence for a moment. "I see you next month, comrade?" he asked, extending a large hand. Ethan flashed an award-winning grin and took his "comrade's" grip.



"Ana~... Daddy's home..." Ethan said softly, opening the door to his daughter's room. There was a small lump visible under the green blankets adorning what he knew was Anastasiya's body. A jet black hair peeked out from under them, followed by blue eyes that perfectly matched his own.

"Hi daddy." she said softly, pushing back her smothering blankets to greet him. He walked over to her and lit the small lantern on the bedside table, turning to Ana and kissing her forehead. "Good night, Ana. Sweat dreams." he said softly, in a tender voice reserved for her alone. "G'night Daddy." she murmured, snuggling back into the warm confines of her pillow, Ethan tucking her in.

As he turned to go, he bumped the lantern, which crashed to the -wooden- floor. Anastasiya shot up with a yelp when she heard it.

The floor was ablaze in seconds, Ethan cussing his voice out as he backed away from the flames. The fire crawled up to Ana's bed, the sheets reflecting the glow until they caught it. Ana screamed. "DADDY! HELP!"

"Ana!" he cried, scrambling to his feet. Nonono this isn't happening, no no no no- he thought. Ana stood up above the burning covers and pushed them off the bed in fright. "Ana, jump over the flames and into my arms!" he cried desperately, extending the appendages.

The small girl's eyes were wide in fear, the deep pools of blue flickering the reflection of the fire below them. "Ana, please, just do it!" Ethan pleaded. He couldn't lose his little girl. She began trembling but took a hesitant step towards him. He nodded encouragingly, bracing himself for the weight. She closed her eyes and made the leap of faith.

Ethan tumbled back from the force of his daughter's jump. His head hit the door frame with a sickening crackand he was unconscious immediately.

Ana opened her eyes cautiously, arms still wrapped around her father's limp form. "Daddy?" she whispered fearfully. Ethan didn't move. She stared at his face for long time, the fire glowing and crackling around her, until sirens were heard and a pair of strong arms pulled her away from her father's burning figure. "Daddy..." she choked, before blacking out.

*Russian for "Hello. You have what I need?"