Apr. 23rd, 2008

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Taras decided to stop thinking about it.

As decisions went, it was just about the best one he could have made, falling somewhere in the vast black sea between pretending like it never happened and thinking about it all the time.

He was sitting in his chair in Ilarion’s office, staring out the window. Morning had hit with a vengeance, dawn breaking hard and bright over Leningrad’s streets a while ago, washing everything in orange-red hues. It hurt his eyes a little. He wondered if he was still hungover.

Ilarion was late, for some unknown but yet disquieting reason, and Taras was having trouble concentrating on work.

Taras couldn’t pretend like it never happened. He couldn’t. That kind of denial didn’t sit well with him, and he knew it never worked anyway. Soon or later, it caught up to you, and it always held a grudge. Like it never was. Those were Liadov’s words. Not his.

Thinking about it all the time would have been almost as bad. Maybe even worse. He couldn’t decide.

It was bad enough he’d already dreamed about it.

It had played out a lot like the way it had actually happened. He’d found Ilarion unconscious in his bed, drunk and unresponsive. Taras had stripped them both and then straddled Ilarion’s naked body, grinding out his erection between Ilarion’s lean thighs.

That part was the same, but in the dream, Ilarion had woken up.

Lasha’s eyes had opened suddenly, then narrowed, blazing white-hot and icy blue, though Taras hadn’t known if it was in anger or…

He let his head fall into his hands.

Stop thinking about it, he thought.

He heard the brisk click of high heels in the hallway and Anya came into Ilarion’s office, carrying a tea service for two. She sat it down on the desk, then turned to Taras, smiling.

“Well? How was it?”

Taras flinched, staring at her.

“What?”

Anya frowned then, and looked at him more carefully.

“The Winter Ball. You did go, didn’t you?”

“Oh,” he said, shaking himself, then again, “oh.”

Of course. The Winter Ball. The thing that had started it all in the first place.

Taras rubbed his face.

“Captain, are you all right?”

He nodded into his hands.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine. Just…distracted. The Winter Ball was fine. It was great. Wonderful.”

There was a pause.

“I…see,” Anya said.

He glanced up, and she was looking at him, brows slightly furrowed. She walked to his chair and leaned down to put a cool hand on his forehead.

“Are you feeling all right? You look a little…”

Anya trailed off, pressing her lips together, still frowning lightly.

“I’m fine,” he said. “I just had too much to drink. At the ball.”

He tilted his head so he could look down her blouse, which made him feel a little better.

Anya sighed pointedly, then laughed and patted his cheek like a mother.

“I see. Would you like some tea, Captain?”

“I’ll wait for Isaev.”

“All right,” Anya said. She straightened and leaned back against Ilarion’s desk in front of him, the way Isaev sometimes did, looking at him for a few moments.

“Did something…” she started, then frowned and seemed to think better of whatever she’d been about to say.

“So, did you see a lot of different costumes? Were there any good ones?”

Taras remembered what she’d told him earlier, how Liadov would always tell her about the different costumes afterward. She’d seemed so animated about it, just like she’d been when she had helped him figure out what to wear. That was how he’d gotten the idea that she might want to go, so she could see them for herself.

Isaev hadn’t understood, when he’d suggested it. Ilarion had said that to do something for Anya would be to treat her like a whore, like an obligation to compensate her for her services.

It wasn’t like that at all, really, but Taras had been at a loss to explain what it was like.

After a moment, he nodded.

“Yeah. I saw…a cowboy. And a spaceman, and a few soldiers, and a sailor.”

Taras paused, thinking about it, trying to recall those first few hours at the Ball, when he’d stalked the halls alone. His impressions of that part of the night had faded, because the things that had happened later were a lot more vivid.

“And a doctor, and a priest, and…the Marquis de Sade.”

Anya blinked.

“Oh,” she said. “How did you know who it was?”

“Isaev told me.”

“Oh. Well, I guess he would know.”

Taras frowned, and looked up at her.

Anya’s cheeks flushed suddenly.

“I mean…Major Isaev is…”

She hesitated, seeming to search for the words.

“…very knowledgeable,” she finished, finally.

“Yeah,” Taras said, slowly.

It was quiet. Anya examined a nail, then brushed at the finish with her thumb.

After a few moments, she looked up again.

“So…did you notice what any of the women were wearing?”

“Of course,” Taras said, immediately. “I was looking at women the whole time.”

“Well, of course you were, Captain,” Anya said, just as quickly. “I was just…wondering, that’s all.”

“Right.”

Taras fell silent, thinking furiously. He remembered a herd of women, all in different dresses. Maybe it was like Isaev’s costume, and they were all supposed to be someone specific, but the subtleties had been lost on him.

His jaw tightened, but then he remembered the woman that Isaev had been smacking across the ass with his riding crop.

“There was a ballerina,” he said.

He looked at Anya. “Yeah. And…a bunch of tsarinas, or something. Dresses and little crowns.”

Anya smiled, encouragingly. She leaned over and gave his arm a squeeze.

“Well, that sounds nice. It must have been a little difficult, since you really don’t know anyone. But I’m sure next year it’ll be a lot easier.”

He nodded, then looked up at her, noticing for the first time that she was wearing her hair more like how Isaev had fixed it after that morning they’d fucked her. Swept back from her face. Less like Hitler.

“You look nice today,” he told her.

“Oh.” Anya smiled, patting her hair, almost self-consciously. “Thank you for saying so, Captain.”

“Your hair looks nice.”

“Oh, thank you. I fixed it a little differently.”

He nodded.

“Liadov was there,” Taras said, suddenly.

Anya’s lips fell open slightly, and he could see conflict behind her eyes.

“Oh. I see. Was he…did he…”

She hesitated.

“He used to be your boss.”

“Yes.”

“Was he good to you?”

“Well…yes. He was. Very good.”

There was more that she wasn’t saying, Taras could tell, but he wasn’t sure if he wanted to hear about it all. At the same time, it was like one of their cases, a mystery to be solved. The facts were there, typed out in black and white, but on that report, there were also dozens of blank spaces for the things he didn’t know.

Liadov. Saint Nika. Don José.

“I miss him,” Anya volunteered, almost reluctantly.

Taras didn’t say anything.

She looked at him.

“Do you know if he and Major Isaev…got the chance to talk?”

“I don’t think it went well.”

“Oh.”

Anya looked down, and seemed sad, like he’d said something hurtful, though after a few moments, she looked up, smiling again.

“Well, I suppose these things happen. I’ll let you get back to your work, Captain. I’m sure the Major will be here soon.”

She left. After a few moments, Taras looked out the window, and a motion, something familiar, caught his gaze. He leaned forward to look outside and down at the street. There was Isaev, strolling up to the MVD building, casual and unhurried. Like he’d woken up in the morning, business as usual, nothing in particular on his mind.

Taras glanced down at his paperwork.

Business as usual seemed like the best way to go about it.

He could do that.

August 2010

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