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"Another," Taras said.

He leaned on the bar, not looking up, forehead pressed against his hand.

Taras stared at the glass that stood empty in front of him, but nothing was happening. After a few moments, he looked up.

The bartender held the bottle of vodka in one hand, hesitating.

"Sir, are you - "

"Another," Taras snapped.

Vaguely, Taras wondered how many shots he'd had in rapid succession. Maybe three. Maybe more. But Taras thought thought the bartender should know how to serve a Russian.

Often, and without protest.

The bartender poured.

"Good," Taras muttered, and picked up his drink, pushing away from the bar. He could still walk in a straight line, more or less, so the rest didn't matter.

As he walked, his hand went to the pocket of his matador jacket, and found the hard shape within. He fingered it for a few moments, then pulled it out to look at it.

A dark trophy from earlier in the evening: a broken-off piece of a half-arrow shaft, painted artful metallic gold. He'd found it on the ground, damning evidence near the site of his misdeed.

Taras fingered the sharp end.

He wasn't sure why he'd kept it.

After a few seconds, he jammed it back into his pocket and looked around the hall, which had thinned somewhat while he'd been drinking.

Where the hell was Ilarion?

Probably still prancing about his merry way with that whip of his, hitting women on the ass and smirking about it.

Taras blamed Ilarion for getting him worked up earlier. If Isaev hadn't been poking him with the crop, Taras never would have had to go out for fresh air.

Bastard.

He didn't see Isaev on the dance floor. Not that Ilarion would be bothered to dance, but it was just another place Isaev wasn't.

Taras frowned and slipped into the next room. He would keep hunting until he found him.

Date: 2008-03-28 07:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilarion-isaev.livejournal.com
Oleksei had been gone for some time, thought Ilarion, idly.

His gaze sought the large, gilded mantel clock above the roaring fireplace.

He had come into this anteroom purely to escape the revelry for a moment, which continued unabated despite his absence.

The sound of levity rang through the ornate hallways and echoed off marble floors and sconces.

The Grand Palace had been the site of the MVD Winter Ball for two years now, but Lasha had always preferred the Terem Palace, where it had always been held before. However, the Terem Palace was old, and had been consistently deteriorating.

Being inside her was like being inside an old whore- crumbling arches held in place by paint, walls that looked firm but yielded too much to the touch.

Ilarion hadn't minded that. The old girl had been a beauty, after all, and still was, from a distance and seen through the kindly veil of a bottle.

Most women were more beautiful at a distance, Lasha privately opined.

But no, Terem would be overhauled. It did not suit the great country of Russia to have this blighted old whore in the Kremlin Square for all visitors to see.

Renovations were slated for 1966, and already they had restricted access and use in order to plan and prepare.

So the Grand Palace it was.

Gilded walls and wide, sweeping halls.

The residential wings held alcoves and anterooms.

Lasha sipped his cognac and leaned against the paneled wall, watching the flickers of fire and feeling oddly content with solitude.

The parlor he was in was off the beaten path of the palace circuit, away from the sprawl of halls and ballrooms and banquet chambers. Though it was large, in the style of an Imperial Palace, beside the vast, vaulted ceilings of the public palace proper it passed for an intimate space.

After another moment he paused, frowning.

It was best, he thought, to begin looking for Taras.

Taras had shown himself to be discerning, calculating and shrewd. A quick and deadly study, to be sure. Lasha had faith in the judgment the former criminal had shown in learning how to wear the clothes of a wolf, but caution instructed he not be careless with his latitude just yet.

After all, The Grand Palace was not dinner at the Nest, nor was it a quiet evening in the dark at the Bolshoi. Nor was it drinking and whoring in a posh hotel. And the Winter Ball held many temptations.

It was unwise to be negligent in his oversight the first time Oleksei was off-leash.

Date: 2008-03-28 09:05 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nikanor-liadov.livejournal.com
After the anonymous interlude in the courtyard, and a few glasses of scotch and spiced wine, Liadov's pulse had slowed to a sonorous thumping crawl.

He was at ease, strolling the halls from room to room, passing pleasantries with those he encountered.

Some he guessed, some he did not.

Most knew him, for his hair, but more pretended they did not for the excuse to be bold.

Women stole his kisses and ran their fingers over the arrows. Drunken men, affectionate with inebriation, emboldened by the bacchanal and by anonymity, touched his shoulders with firm and lingering hands, and rubbed his bared back as he passed.

It was always more fun to come late.

Despite his unvoiced trepidation, no Isaev had materialized. Not even Aleksandr. Someone mentioned that Aleksandr was out of the country on special MVD business. France, they said. He regretted missing the party.

Liadov said nothing, but was tacitly relieved. He had not spoken to his former mentor since the move to Moscow, since the falling out with Lasha.

Eventually he saw what was almost certainly Mariyja, dressed as Cleopatra-

Which meant he needed to keep an eye out for Julius Caesar. Or Pharoah. Or perhaps...

Perhaps he had declined to attend.

It seemed unthinkable, unlike him, and yet Nika had seen no trace of his wake among the celebrants, and no tingle along his arms and neck that suggested his indescribable presence was near.

Perhaps he had joined Aleksandr in France.

A quiet sadness impinged on his mood, out of nowhere, and he paused beside the grandfather clock by the lesser grand staircase, collecting his thoughts.

His dread had been one of resignation. Inevitable and heavily fated. As it always was, at the prospect of Ministry events that might bring Lasha and he into each other's proximity. As it had been for the strange, frozen weeks after he broke with Isaev and yet was forced to work beside his shadow, and under his hungry gaze.

Dread had never meant hatred, nor had dread changed the shape of his heart. Dread did not invalidate the wistful warmth that lingered in his bones, like a sweet cancer.

It was possible, he had learned in his work, to hold two conflicting ideals.

Now he knew it went deeper than that.

It was possible, he knew now, both to want, and to not want- and neither voided the other, but ached in improbable concert, a music he once would have thought impossible.

It was the music of grey spaces. Of a world that saw no absolutes.

Liadov heard the clock begin to chime off the hour beside him, the massive works jangling ancient bells with unerring duty.

He couldn't be bothered to count them.

Date: 2008-03-28 11:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
Nothing. No sign.

Taras was starting to wonder if Isaev had grown bored of whipping people and called it a night, left the party without him. The Ministry had provided rooms at a nearby hotel for the evening. Perhaps that was where Ilarion had gone.

He frowned.

If that was true, Taras might as well call it a night too. The vodka had dulled his restless pulse and tempered the quietly simmering conflict that threatened to flare up like a border skirmish, two sides battling uselessly over old, contested territory.

The blacknesss of sleep would be welcome, unless the dreams came to him.

He almost had a feeling they would.

That song was running through his head, the one from Carmen, the Toreador Song. Taras had forgotten all about it until the man in the courtyard had whistled a few bars, and now the melody lingered, as distantly damning as a siren in the night. Even when he stood near the musicians, he still heard that song echoing discordantly in counterpoint.

One more pass, perhaps, then he would leave.

Taras threaded his way down the halls.

He ignored the people he passed, even the woman standing alone who smiled at him and dropped her gaze down his costume appreciatively.

He had no time, he had no tolerance, he wanted no stranger's company. He shot her a glare and walked away.

Near the end of his circuit, Taras caught something out the corner of his eye, felt a slight twinge of recognition.

Taras turned to look, and his breath caught.

It was the guy from outside, the one with the arrows and blood and no underwear, the one Taras had gotten off with not an hour ago.

Don José.

His first instinct was to turn away immediately, to walk in the other direction and leave. It hadn't occurred to him that he would see the guy again, not here and not now, not so soon in the aftermath.

But he wasn't a fucking coward, either.

The man hadn't seen him yet, which was good. He had just passed Taras, heading down the intersecting hall.

Maybe he should stop the guy, pull him into the corner rough him up a little, to make sure he wasn't going to say anything, or try to report him. Taras supposed, though, reporting someone for muzhelostvo was a little problematic when you were one of the ones engaged in the act.

Not that it had really been muzhelostvo anyway.

Taras' pulse surged hard, and suddenly.

The man disappeared from his view, but Taras found himself heading forward, following him without knowing why, his fists curling lightly at his sides.

He paused at the corner then leaned around to see the guy approaching a room, just as someone else abruptly stepped out, and both stopped short to keep from colliding.

Taras realized two things in rapid succession.

One, that the other man in the hall was Ilarion, and two, that Isaev and the stranger were staring at each other as if in shock, the moment frozen by recognition.

Date: 2008-03-29 07:24 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilarion-isaev.livejournal.com
He'd written off seeing Liadov by now.

He'd been just inebriated enough to be content as he could be with that, inconceivable as it was, and distracted by finding Oleksei, which somehow, that knowledge of that comradeship had made him somehow more able to detach.

Ilarion had forgotten what he'd come for.

Little help that was, when all at once, it was right there in front of him.

Liadov's eyes and mouth were unmistakable, and could belong to no one else.

No one else but him.

Cold rage rose up, silent and demanding, but couldn't stand on the unsteady legs of his unspoken emotions.

He gave no sign of either, and his piercing eyes easily belied the liquid mercury inside him, shifting in flux.

Lasha broke his gaze away coolly, looking down at Liadov's costume.

"Nice choice," he said, without affect.

He hardly knew his own voice, for he'd never spoken to Nikanor Grigoriivich like this.

"...Nobler in the mind."

A smile slipped his lips, tight and deathly as a noose.

"You always were."

Date: 2008-03-29 08:17 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
Taras drew back against the wall, barely breathing.

He hadn't thought this could have gotten worse, but it had.

His skin felt damp and clammy against the heavy silk of his costume.

Taras could see the confrontation obliquely, Isaev from three-quarters front, the degenerate from quarter-profile. But it was enough.

It was obvious to Taras that Isaev knew the man, just from expression, tone and posture and choice of words. Taras didn't need to be an operativnik to tell that.

Taras also knew Isaev well enough by now that he could hear a crispness in Ilarion's tone, brittle like the crunch of frost under a bootstep.

They weren't friends, Isaev and this man who had purposefully shoulder-checked Taras in the square, then weighted his apology with honey to lure him away and -

Taras' eyes widened. Had the same thing happened to Ilarion?

Conflict roiled in Taras' chest.

The thing was, if the man had tried to proposition Isaev in the same way, Taras just couldn't picture him accepting.

Date: 2008-03-30 08:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nikanor-liadov.livejournal.com
No, Ilarion had not gone to France with Aleksandr.

He had deigned to grace the Winter Ball alone, and unrepentant.

Be ever so careful what you wish for.

Liadov felt his lips part of their own automatic volition, issuing breath, and coherent words followed upon that breath, independent of his mind's sudden turmoil.

"...And yours...which needs no explanation. Well chosen. Well met."

It was like looking into the eyes of a gorgon adonis. One could not show fear. One could not betray weakness, or the fatal stone would tumble.

They were of a height, exactly and uniformly.

His gaze held Ilarion's, smooth and implacable.

"Privjet Isaev," he said, at last, calmly.

"Is that my name," Ilarion responded, inflectionless. "Nikanor Grigoriivich."

Liadov kept his lips steady.

"It's the one you most exemplify."

Ilarion was silent for a long moment.

"Cruel," he remarked. "It must have hurt you to say that."

You have no idea, thought Nika, bloodlessly.

"And the penultimate sadist himself gives a lecture on cruelty," Liadov replied, his tone dry and mild. Deceptive and cutting like paper. "How poetic you are, quoting Hamlet, and impugning my kindness. One might almost believe you were the wronged one."

"Penultimate," snorted Isaev, darkly. "So I've not yet caught Aleksandr. At least you give me that much."

"Every man needs something to strive for."

"You glass bastard," hissed Isaev, quietly. "I should break your back."

Nika laughed, the sound raw and abrupt, jarring his lips from their complacent lie.

"By all means, Isaev. Perhaps then you can throw me in the Fontanka canal."

If he could have stabbed any lower, he would have been thrusting his knife into the earth and nicking the upper crust of hell.

Ilarion's face was white as birch and ash beneath the convivial mask, and the hand that rested challengingly on the door frame faltered, slipped imperceptibly.

Like his façade.

Nika's compassion came crashing into his mouth like nausea, all at once, and he reached for Isaev, without thinking, intending to cup a steadying hand over his shoulder, draw him into the comfort of proximity.

Ilarion should have crumbled, but instead he struck Liadov's hand away, violently.

"Keep your barren empathy for your child bride. At least you didn't murder my mother."




Date: 2008-03-30 10:44 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
Taras reached out to grasp the corner of the wall.

The animosity between Ilarion and this man was not trivial, he could tell. Taras didn't think he had ever seen Ilarion act in anger before.

Most of the time, Isaev couldn't be bothered to care about anything that displeased him. But the way he had knocked the other man's hand aside had been charged with violent emotion.

Taras leaned forward to propel himself into the hall.

His fist was curled, and his breathing was quick, and his blood surged. Taras was ready to commit violence in the Kremlin's vaunted Grand Palace if need be, to help Ilarion murder this man in a quiet back room and leave the body for other authorities to find. All the better for Taras, anyway, to make sure that what had happened behind the trees in the Square never came out.

But something tugged at him, a quiet, warning instinct.

Something was wrong. He was missing something, or hadn't grasped the full situation, or -

The nature of Ilarion's wound soaked through then, like the bloom of blood on gauze.

Nikanor Grigoriivich.

Nikanor.

Nika?

No. No.

It had to be a coincidence, Taras told himself, feeling suddenly and sharply ill.

At the same time, he knew from experience what the the mere mention of Liadov's name would do to Ilarion's mood.

Never mind how badly a confrontation with the guy would probably twist him, just like...

Taras' hand tightened against the wall, locking him in place, the uncertainty grounding him and keeping him from vaulting into the hall.

Date: 2008-03-31 06:59 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilarion-isaev.livejournal.com
"I deserved that."

Liadov was still looking at him, Ilarion realized, even after his physical rebuffing of the compassionate touch.

The words were spoken slowly, as if he was maximizing penance.

Ilarion saw the flinch in his pale green eyes, framed by the eye-holes of the mask, the infinitesimal twitch of his sullen and generous mouth.

"It's nothing," said Lasha, swiftly, scowling at the wall. "Reflex. A phantom limb."

In the moment after he'd deflected Nika's hand, Isaev cursed himself for doing so, for letting inconsequential past triggers and the impulse of anger overtake him, and reject the first affectionate instinct Liadov had betrayed since their estrangement.

Now, it seemed, Liadov was subdued once more, and looked almost unaccountably sad. Saint Sebastian, bleeding from a hundred tiny wounds and pleading for peace with hollow, restless eyes.

Ilarion ached for him, with him, but was powerless to understand how it had come to this, no more than cross-purposes.

He could see across the distance between them, to all their yesterdays. It was as clear as looking across the canal from Nika's old office, as clear as Nika's glass-green gaze, as close as he stood even now.

Yet somehow it was not so simple as that, in Liadov's estimation. Somehow it seemed insurmountable.

Lasha would not believe that.

His eyes lowered slowly, and he reached for his face, drawing off the leering mask. He hesitated only slightly, but then he spoke, at last, his voice low and soft and iceless.

"If it came down to you or her, Liadov, I'd throw her in the canal myself."

Date: 2008-03-31 08:51 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
Taras drew in a breath so sharp it hurt.

That name.

He pulled away, pressing his back against the wall, closing his eyes, head pounding.

So that was Liadov.

He'd dry humped Liadov.

Nika, the one everyone still talked about in Leningrad, though never around Isaev. Liadov and Isaev, or Isaev and Liadov. He'd heard it spoken either way with equal frequency, like it didn't matter which came first. The comrade that Isaev supposedly hated.

Except.

Taras felt lost now, dumb as a brute, far more out of his depth than he'd felt going to the opera or a high-class hotel. Even his first day at the Ministry had not left him with such a keen sense of the gap that separated him and Ilarion.

He had never heard Isaev speak so softly. Not even to Anya, did Ilarion talk like that.

It was not something Taras could understand, that softness.

Do you hate him, or don't you, Taras wanted to shout, but he held his tongue and edged back to the corner. It would have been easier not to look, but now he felt compelled.

Date: 2008-03-31 10:33 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nikanor-liadov.livejournal.com
Liadov fell back against the wall, and his hand rubbed roughly at his brow.

"My god, my god, Lasha," he whispered urgently. "Don't say things like that. Don't-"

He shuddered.

"Don't ever."

This was what he had wanted to avoid, of all things- this one wholly artless charm of Ilarion's, entirely unaffected, in which he intoned the unvarnished truth with the darkest tongue and no remorse-

And that truth was sweet to Nika's ears, like a rhapsody cleverly played on the blade of a knife. It wasn't the instrument, but the music of raw, honest melody.

"Why not?" demanded Lasha, leaning forward, watching him with eyes narrowed and attuned. No doubt sensing he'd drawn blood from the stone, and his instinct would drive him from there. "What does it matter now?"

"It matters," muttered Nika. "Everything always matters."

"I don't agree. I could tell you everything, now, Liadov. The way things stand now, between us, I could tell you every soft thought and black reverie I've ever had, I could tell you what I never intended to tell you. Even the things you already know, but have never heard spoken by me, I could tell you all these and more. What difference would it make? I stand to lose nothing. I have nothing left to lose."

"There's always more to lose."

"No," hissed Ilarion, "there's not. Not in my world, Nika."

Liadov let his head fall back, closing his eyes, besieged and exasperated.

"Tell me anything you like, Ilarion," he said, at last, coolly. "If that will satisfy your insistence. Then we'll go our separate ways, as before. As we should."


Date: 2008-03-31 06:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
Taras drew back again.

His shoulders shook with unfocused anger, and his blood surged with adrenaline that had no proper output.

It reminded him of that time they had gone to see Ilarion's bratanka fight, and Andrei Isaev had ended up killing his opponent in the ring, beating the frenchman with broad fists again and again until the body dropped to the mat, broken and still.

Little Andrusha who was no longer little, all grown up and capable of slaughter.

Even when the referee had pushed Andrei back to let the doctors check his fallen opponent, the haze of violence had shone in Andrei's feverish gaze and the quivering stance of his sweat-slickened body.

Taras hadn't been long out of the Zone then, and he remembered breathlessly admiring the savagery the younger Isaev had displayed, the kind of ruthlessness that kept a man alive in the north.

He felt now like Andrei must have felt then, uncivilized, hungry for combat with no one to fight.

Taras closed his eyes, and leaned against the wall. He felt like he should stop listening but couldn't somehow, compelled like a shark to pursue knowledge like the scent of blood, always seeking, move forward or die.

Isaev and Liadov's voices were low but loud enough to carry, and Taras both wanted to hear more but didn't at the same time. It sounded hopelessly complex and contradictory, charged with emotion. It had nothing to do with him yet he was drawn in, following their conversation without comprehension.

In fact, Taras was sure that he didn't want to understand it.

This was an Ilarion he didn't know, a man who said he had nothing to lose. A man who seemed wholly focused on this Liadov. Did Isaev pass each day like this, dwelling whatever Nika had done to him? When Taras sat in Ilarion's office to go over cases, was this the distance that frosted Isaev's gaze when he looked out the window?

The creak of his leather-clad fist was audible to Taras, but lost under the icy rasp of hushed voices.

Date: 2008-04-02 07:55 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilarion-isaev.livejournal.com
Ilarion's eyes narrowed slightly.

"We can go our separate ways, Liadov. As many times are you like."

As long as you always come back.

"...Here, there. It doesn't change anything."

It never will.

Nika pushed his hair back and snatched off his mask now, as well, shaking his head vehemently.

"It has to," he said, in a low voice. "Because things will never hold like this."

Lasha's face softened slightly as he took in Liadov's familiar features. After a moment, Nika's eyes flicked hastily away.

"You fucking prick. Why can't you forgive me?" Isaev whispered, under his breath.

He braced one hand on the door jamb beside Liadov's head and leaned in, gaze intent and attuned.

"Do you think you deserve forgiveness, Ilarion Aleksandrovich?" muttered Nika. "Did Aleksandr Evstratovich?"

Ilarion was given pause, and his mouth parted.

"I am not...burdened with forgiving him," he said, coolly, at length. "Only with the knowledge of what he did. And I will not give that burden to Masha and Andrusha."

Liadov's eyes returned to his face, and he saw empathy there, in spite of the thorny distance and the flaming hedge they circled.

"Da, Lasha," he said quietly, "Ya snayu."

"Do you."

"I do. I know you better than anyone."

Ilarion's face went sharp, a subtle shift of angles.

"And yet you won't deign to know me now," he spat, succinctly.

Nika's regard was steady, his caesar's eyes lucid and unreadable.

"You can't understand."

Isaev lost his grip on civility for a moment, a flash of liquid nitrogen permeating his eyes, and he slammed the heel of his other hand hard against the other side of the doorframe.

Then he lowered his head, meticulously re-gathering himself, pressing the pieces back into place quickly, smoothly. Recreating a picture.

When he raised his eyes they were utterly implacable, like a painted sea.

"No, Liadov. You won't understand."

Lasha stood with hands braced, body at a lean, weight cantilevered against his outstretched arms, as if blocking the door, refusing entry.

"...The love I have for you, Nika. How it will not be ignored."

"Yes, I know all about your love, Ilarion Aleksandrovich."

"No," hissed Isaev, "in fact you don't know the half of it."

Liadov's face betrayed real fear then, as he looked up, his green eyes alarmed.

"Don't say any more."

Isaev's eyes slatted like a reptile's.

"Not like a brother, Nika."

"Lasha-"

"Like a tree that twines around another, and becomes part of him. Inextricable, after so long. We're rootbound, Nika. To cut me off is to die."

Liadov's brow met his hand, rubbing his face vigorously as he exhaled in a rush, sighing as if his soul were escaping him over the threshold of his lips.

"You'll destroy me, Ilarion," he said, softly.

Lasha's lip drew into a genteel snarl.

"Only if you insist."

Date: 2008-04-02 06:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
Insist, thought Taras, viciously.

He held onto the fraying end of anger like a rope that had burned through his hands, nearly played out now, but still stinging.

Liadov and Isaev, Isaev and Liadov.

Lasha and Nika.

Taras felt more gut-sick than anything, listening to them argue. All this talk of love not-like a brother, weird analogies about trees and roots, or something. He couldn't understand why Ilarion put so much effort into someone who continually rebuffed him.

Good comrades forgave each other for lot of things because sometimes all it came down to was having someone at your back in the end.

Not that it mattered with Isaev and this Liadov.

The wall felt solid against Taras' back, grounding.

The cadence of their voices had slowed, and they had been speaking more softly. Taras didn't want to risk looking around the corner again in case the argument broke up suddenly.

It occurred to Taras that maybe he should go find something else to do and just leave them to it, but he dismissed the idea a second later. After all, he didn't know what Liadov's agenda regarding Ilarion really was.

Isaev might suddenly need backup, and Taras was a good comrade.

Date: 2008-04-03 09:30 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nikanor-liadov.livejournal.com
Nika's eyes shifted to the empty hallway, briefly, narrowing, assessing.

Ilarion's followed instinctively.

Then he turned back, pressing his lips together for a moment before speaking.

"Do you think this is what I wanted to do, Ilarion?" he demanded, under his breath. "Cut off a comradeship that reaches out from the cradle?"

"If you had told me about her, Liadov! Only told me-" Lasha was angry, now, knuckles whitening his grip on the door frame. "And I would have understood it for what it was.

Nika barked out a sardonic laugh.

"Told you. Told you that I married Tivorosky's daughter out of atonement? You would have had her killed."

"You don't know that."

"You're right. It's a chance I couldn't take, Isaev."

Ilarion's brows shot up and inverted, fiercely.

"So you chose some pedik criminal's whore daughter over your comrade!"

Liadov's face softened and he reached out, grasping Ilarion's shoulder in his hand.

Lasha was silent, regarding him with eyes of sunlit glass.

"Listen to me, Ilarion Aleksandrovich...and then hear me."

He reached out and rapped Isaev soundly across the cheek, snatching his attention and surprising him all at once.

It was trick of hypnosis, the instant induction. It was accomplished by a simple act of contradiction- you set the expectation in one direction, and then surprise that expectation by performing an inverse and non sequitur action, usually physical, always abrupt.

Shock and confound, and the wires would cross.

It was not widely applicable, however, like a gradual induction. It was useful only in hypnotizing those who demonstrated the appropriate suggestibility.

Ilarion was not suggestible. Nika knew this from way back; he'd tested him for his own amusement, as he tested most people he came across.

However, even if the person you were dealing with was not prone to rapid induction hypnosis, the technique worked to bypass the critical editor and refocus the subject's attention.

Liadov's voice was soft again, almost like a lullaby.

"If it were only me, Ilarion, I would go with you to whatever dark place you wanted to go, for the rest of our lives. Dwell in a dacha on the lake of fire. I don't care about my soul. I'd let you break me into pieces over time. Devour me whole and by inches."

"You love me," whispered Ilarion.

"Yes."

Nika's eyes fell away as he voiced the monosyllable, and his hand trembled.

"...But I can't let you near me."

He clenched it imperceptibly.

Lasha leaned forward.

"Why the hell not," he hissed, outraged. "I would never hurt you, Liadov."

Nika paused, for a long moment.

"Do you think those are the words Aleksandr said to Evdotia?"

Date: 2008-04-03 10:25 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilarion-isaev.livejournal.com
"No," bit out Ilarion, swiftly, as if pained. "He never made any promises."

But promises like that don't need to be said. They're implied.

The recoil of Nika's last words hit him like an indiscriminate blast from an AK, leaving him raw.

He almost wanted to reach for his chest, subconsciously certain he would find a ragged, gaping hole with his heart exposed on the cliffs of his sternum-

As a warning to others.

Nika looked flawlessly unresponsive, watching him stagger from the report.

Lasha wanted to punch him, shove him against the wall, force him to the ground and push a knee into his back.

You want Aleksandr, do you.

He wasn't the same kind of man as his father. He'd chosen his path because it was a necessary evil, not an inherent one.

Hadn't he?

And yet, even his mother had thought him minted in her husband's image, her actions disavowed her own blood in every way but outright word.

"She knew the man she married," Ilarion muttered, savagely. "She choose his brand of passion. She made her own bed, and it turned out to be a riverbed, in the end."

Ilarion shuddered.

Da, Lasha. Ya snayu. I do. I know you better than anyone.

And all at once, it was bitter and clear as ipecac on his lips, the realization of parallelism making him ill.

He broke away from the door and stepped back slightly.

"You're right," he said, quietly. Venomously.

He pulled his mask back over his face with insensate fingers.

"...It's best we stay like this."

Date: 2008-04-04 07:32 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
Taras frowned sharply, alarmed.

The conversation had gotten a little weird.

He hadn't quite heard the words Ilarion had whispered earlier, but he knew they couldn't be any good. And he'd heard distinctly the sound of flesh against flesh, like a slap.

All he knew was that it damn well better have been Isaev hitting this bastard Liadov, and not the other way around.

Taras wondered how two people who had known the same person for a long time could have never met each other before. Different circles, he guessed. Taras had met Ilarion after the Seige ended, and his father went to work for Aleksandr.

He remembered that day. His father had told him to stay in the car, but Taras had gotten out, and gone wandering across the expansive grounds until he'd been challenged by a fair-haired boy with a contemptuous glare who had informed him he was trespassing.

"My father works here," Taras had told him calmly.

The boy's lip had curled. "Then your father works for my father."

They'd stared at each other narrowly, until the fair-haired boy had frowned.

"What's wrong with your eye?"

"Heterochromia iridis," Taras had pronounced, with quiet triumph. He'd carefully memorized what the doctor had said.

The boy's lip had curled in distaste.

"Sounds like a disease."

Taras shook his head.

"Some yob tvoyu mat' broke a bottle over my head this one time, and ever since then, it's been blue."

The boy had stared at him for a few moments, and Taras had gotten the feeling he might have actually been impressed, though he wasn't sure if it was because of the bottle, or the swearing.

He and Ilarion had been friends ever since.

But the young bruiser son of the shadow man who handled the dirty jobs for the family was a far cry from this golden-haired Ministry boy who had apparently known Ilarion since they were even younger.

Even so, Taras knew that while Isaev was slumming in his company, Ilarion liked slumming.

Taras dragged his hands through his close-shorn hair, and exhaled quietly.

He supposed that tonight, he could give Liadov a free pass, for the sake of old friendships.

Date: 2008-04-06 03:53 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nikanor-liadov.livejournal.com
Nika looked at him, maskless, with pained eyes.

"You remember the Terem Palace?" he asked, quietly.

"Yes," returned Ilarion. "Those were the days." His eyes roamed the curtains to avoid Nika's. "That old whore, on her knees."

Liadov smiled against better judgment, and citrus stung his wounds.

"Use cannot wither her; nor custom stale her infinite variety."

Isaev's gaze honed, piercing, searching vulturously.

"Julius Caesar. Apt with a quote, aren't you."

Nika's gaze dropped briefly, as he gathered wild words into a loose bouquet.

"...I wish we were still at the Terem Place."

"But not the Evropeiskaya," said Ilarion, frostily. " I imagine.'

Liadov paused, faintly taken aback.

"Yes, the Evropeiskaya. I could be there too. Anywhere but here and now, in this ugly place with all its cold gilt walls. The dacha. The banya. Why is there no warmth to be found in this place?"

Lasha struck his crop against the door-frame sharply.

"Because this is nuclear winter, Liadov," he stated, his voice modulated to soviet formality.

He saluted, crisply.

"But don't despise the cold, Nika. It'll take it back to Leningrad with me."

Date: 2008-04-06 08:40 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
Taras twitched.

The sound of another blow. He wanted to know just who was getting to hit things, and why it wasn't him.

He listened to them talk about the Evropeiskaya. Banyas. Taras imagined they used to go to those places together, just like he and Ilarion did now.

It was the life Isaev had led before Taras began to keep his close company. Socializing with this Liadov.

Taras wasn't sure what he thought about that.

Probably better not to think about it.

He frowned.

Maybe Ilarion did understand something about the Zone, after all, about leaving things behind, for worse or better.

Liadov was actually right, Taras thought, leaning his head back against the cold wall.

There was little warmth to be found in this place, though he knew that in spite of Ilarion's softly cruel words to the contrary, Leningrad would be plenty warm.

Date: 2008-04-06 08:55 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilarion-isaev.livejournal.com
Ilarion was reluctant to end the exchange, no matter how bitter.

Nika's face was sorrowful, beautiful and old-world like a sullen lipped porcelain figurine.

Isaev's gaze roamed downward, aimlessly, then sharpened all at once.

"...I see you broke an arrow, Sebastian. Romans playing rough?"

Date: 2008-04-06 11:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
Taras' eyes opened wide.

Reflexively, his hand went to the pocket of his embroidered jacket to make sure the end of the arrow was still there. He fingered the wooden shaft and stiff feathers, feeling his face burn suddenly.

No. Ilarion couldn't know about that.

He had to be talking about something else.

Unless he'd followed Taras out into the square. Unless he'd seen him slink off with Liadov. Or maybe it had been afterward, and Ilarion had gone out for a bit of fresh air, only to see Taras stumble away from the line of trees, still reeling from what he'd done.

His mind and pulse raced for long and terrible seconds.

No, he thought again. No, that didn't make sense. He'd seen the look on Isaev's face after he'd recognized Liadov. Shock. Isaev hadn't been expecting to see his former comrade, Taras was fairly certain.

Ilarion hadn't seen anything.

Taras forced himself to take in a slow breath.

Maybe it was a guess, then. Maybe Ilarion had meant something else.

Taras was in the clear, unless that bastard Liadov said something.

Which he could, easily, Taras realized, faint horror curling his shoulders.

All it would take was the mention of rubbing raw against a matador in Red Square, and then Ilarion would know.

Taras braced himself against the wall, clenching his fists.

The last thing Taras wanted was for Ilarion to find out what he'd done. In spite of how prissy Ilarion acted sometimes, he could never accept it, Taras was sure.

Date: 2008-04-07 12:31 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilarion-isaev.livejournal.com
Nika looked down, slowly.

"So I have."

He laughed, bloodlessly.

"...I shot an arrow in the air; it fell to earth, I know not where."

Ilarion's eyes burned, softly lambent. There was no accusation, but there was sharp curiosity.

"Unusual," he said, "for one of your efficacy and exacting standards, to not have noticed such an imperfection. Have you really become so relaxed and laissez-faire, Nikanor, since going to Moscow?"

Nika met his eyes.

"No," he said.

"Perhaps it suits you, this distance."

"No. It does not suit me, Lasha. But I make do. Trust me, I have more to pain my conscious mind than a few arrows."

Ilarion's gaze studied the broken arrow again, as he frowned.

Then he looked up.

"It's late. I have a colleague to find, and a train to catch."

"You won't be staying in Moscow overnight."

Lasha frowned darkly.

"Perhaps, maybe not. I don't know."

Nika nodded slowly, pulling on his mask.

"Lovely party," he said, dryly.

Ilarion's tone was acerbic and flippant.

"Da. I can hardly wait until next year."

Isaev couldn't look at him any more.

His composure broke open beneath the still facade, spilling anguish. Imperceptible, but palpable to him as internal bleeding. The knowledge that something was wrong, and that a markless wound was fatal.

It was blunt impact that killed.

He turned away, abruptly, without a final look, clutching the whip in his hand.

"Give my love to Nina," he spat, icily.

A pause, as Lasha felt his shoulders shift, and he could feel Nika's eyes at his back.

His venom faltered briefly, like a stray shaft of sun breaking through a dark blanket of cirrus clouds.

"...and take care of yourself, Liadov. Anya worries."




Date: 2008-04-07 05:43 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
The thought of their little Anya worrying about Liadov made Taras frown even though he knew Anya had been Liadov's secretary before she'd been Isaev's.

It had been different, he decided, when Liadov was only a name.

That shadow had been long enough before.

Now, Taras had watched him interact with Ilarion, overheard that cognac-toned voice utter words both bittersweet and bitter. He'd even looked the man in the eyes himself and...

Done other things.

But it made Liadov real to Taras in a way he'd never been, and the man was less of a shadow, and more like the sun.

The sun that streamed through the blinds when you were trying to sleep in.

Taras frowned, deeply.

He needed another drink.

Taras faded back, retreating the way he'd come with careful steps, letting his gloved hand trail along the raised edge of the gold paneling that ran along the wall.

Time to leave the scene, before either of them caught him eavesdropping.

Taras could be quiet when he wanted, in spite of his muscular bulk. It was a useful thing in his profession.

He slipped around the corner, and back into the hall. Taras would just go back to the bar and let Isaev find him.

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