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"I don't get it," Taras said.

He was frowning as they walked, using the time to think. He actually lagged behind Isaev a little.

Ilarion never hurried anywhere, though today he strode down the hall, bootheels ringing with a clarity of purpose. Only Taras wasn't clear.

They passed a window. Outside, it was still foggy, a thick white mist that enclosed the MVD building like mountains of snow, insulating and isolating, as if they were in some remote place up north, not in civilized Leningrad. Taras didn't like not being able to see across the street.

He looked away, turning back to Isaev.

"This guy is under suspicion of..."

A secretary approached, clutching a stack of files to her chest. She stepped aside to let them pass, squeezing so close to the wall it seemed like she was afraid they would knock her aside. She murmured something as they walked by.

Taras glanced behind them, to make sure she was out of earshot, though he wasn't sure why.

"...muzhelostvo. And some other political shit."

Their destination loomed. The doors to the interrogation rooms were simple, marked with numbers, but nothing else. Almost benign.

Taras stopped at the first door, then imposed himself physically between it and Ilarion, putting his hand on the frame to block Isaev's entry. Ilarion looked at him as if he had finally noticed Taras was there. His eyes were narrow, slivers of ice. Taras stared back.

"This isn't a violent crime, Isaev. So what gives?"

Date: 2008-06-09 10:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilarion-isaev.livejournal.com
It was, of course, impossible to ignore Oleksei once he'd interpolated himself into your path, literally and physically.

Ilarion's gaze leveled out, implacable and luminous with low slanted light as a windswept steppe.

"You do," he said.

He was conscious of Oleksei's dark skull, angled at odds with his own bright head, and their equal and opposite stances, like antagonistic bookends.

No. More like alter egos. There was nothing hostile in their impasse. Only a quizzical intensity, the transient stalemate of two men, equally made, though minted in different metals entirely.

Oleksei was well-suited to this post, thought Ilarion, idly, as a foil, and a counterpart. Isaev could not help but give recognizance to a man who did not fear the lash of his tongue or the crack of his knuckles as he flexed his fingers to hold a silver pen.

Beside Oleksei, he was the opposite of shadow. It may have been the only place he ever saw that category.

"I gave you a hand up, when you wanted blood unpunished. When you wanted to slake lusts you couldn't speak to your own kind. I ask you no questions, Taras."

Lasha's lips settled like snow.

"When I need a hand, I expect yours."

Date: 2008-06-10 07:31 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
Taras frowned, bristling like a startled watchdog that had reverted to instinct.

His hand clenched on the door frame, biceps bulging under the clean lines of his suit.

"You don't have to remind me," he said, tightly.

Ilarion had that air about him now, that invulnerable one he wore sometimes, like polished, frozen metal, smooth and seamless, withering all flesh that touched it, whether the contact was accidental or not. When Ilarion was like that, he was never wrong. Force of will alone made it so.

Taras pushed away from the door, relinquishing territory.

"You don't have to ask."

His mismatched eyes held Isaev's.

"You should know that, Ilarion."

Date: 2008-06-10 09:20 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilarion-isaev.livejournal.com
Ilarion's chin tilted imperceptibly in the ghost of a shrug.

"You asked," he replied, without loading the words. "And I answered."

He reached for the anonymous steel doorknob, feeling it give to the right beneath his grip and twist.

Lasha paused, eyes straight ahead, looking beyond the painted metal that confronted his face.

"I'll always answer, Taras."

That said, there was little more explanation to be given. At this juncture, anyway.

Ilarion had no illusions about Oleksei's irrepressible instinct to know the crooked lie of the land around him. This would not be the end of his inquiry, though his tactics might shift.

Isaev acknowledged that some modicum of disclosure was required to maintain silences. He knew that, when the State did not.

That, he thought- and the taste of the thought was cynical- was why he succeeded beyond the State, and thrived where the State floundered.

Some animals were better at negotiating tundra than others, as well. It was the natural order, no more.

He pushed open the door and moved inside immediately after, with the gliding, unresisted insistence of knife between ribs, leaving the door open behind him for Oleksei to follow in his wake like an undertaker.

The only window was high and narrowly horizontal, barred unnecessarily with two inch steel poles, and meek, beaten shafts of stair-step light filtered weakly across to the unmarked concrete wall opposite, branding the captive relief in shadow, equally high.

His eyes fell on the occupant in a practiced, sweeping glance that took him in as a whole, reading the story of his apprehension and detainment in visual shorthand.

The dancer, his mother's-

His, now.

Like inheritance.

-sat on a chair in the corner, one knee drawn up in order to rest his arm upon it. He looked beatific, but not beaten.

His chestnut hair obscured his face for a moment, as he was hanging his head, a gesture that hovered between suggesting weary resignation and the understated repose of a male swan.

When he looked up, belatedly, at the lonely sound of boots on concrete, Isaev could see the smear of a bruise between cheekbone and eye, an artful brush-stroke of blood beneath his skin, painted by the loving fist of a true artist.

The Ministry employed a number of artists.

All of them turning out masterworks on a daily basis.

This was but a sketch.

Ilarion frowned, averting his eyes. Slowly crossing his arms.

"You'll have had enough, I think," he said, slowly. "This kind of physical abuse is not your medium, Barshov."

He sensed Taras moving into place, physically countering his presence, like a polarized mirror.

Date: 2008-06-10 06:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
Taras stood several steps to Ilarion's left, distant enough so the suspect couldn't focus on them both at once.

That was a trick he'd learned. A Ministry trick. It kept people off-balance, having to look back and forth. Missing things in the meantime.

Taras took up the space he occupied with bruising physicality and sheer muscular presence. Owning it, like a fine suit. It had to fit, or else it would be noticeable.

He'd learned about that, too, in Magadan. Some men tried too hard to look tough, but the toughest never had to try.

Taras knew he looked like a leg-breaker and bone-cruncher, and even though he was much more, he was content to be seen that way. Let people underestimate him, particularly this man, who was no normal suspect.

There was something important about him, or else Ilarion wouldn't bother, Taras knew.

The man was nearly lounging on the cold metal chair, in spite of harsh concrete walls, in spite of the fresh bruise on his face. No stranger to violence, then. He wasn't all that young, maybe mid-thirties, but he wore his hair like a young man did, long in a way that supposed to be fashionable, Taras supposed, but made him look more like a pedik than anything.

Taras' expression remained hard.

There was a strength in the man's hands, in the line of his wrist and arm, smoothly sculpted. It hinted at more, at a solid and muscular build. The man had a grace to him that was obvious even as he shifted minutely to look at Ilarion.

There was something significant about that gaze, too.

Taras didn't know what, but he didn't like it.

It was familiarity, he realized, after a moment, though not contempt.

His eyes narrowed at the man. He liked that even less.

Date: 2008-06-10 09:05 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilarion-isaev.livejournal.com

He'd never called the dancer by his name.

Not in the silence of the empty Mariinsky, for the months he kept 'surveillance'. He'd surveyed plenty.


But never a name. Never in all those nights. Were they years? Never a name given to the land he thrust his flag into and claimed with the impunity of an Isaev.

Not in the silence that followed opening his door one night to find the hazel-eyed dancer leaning against the sill, quietly assuming.

It was a strange sight, one he'd never imagined.

The dancer had raised his eyes, smoky and low-toned in the mellow light of antique hall sconces.

"I wonder where you are," he'd said, at last. "You don't come to disturb my evening session."

"I don't," said Lasha.

He'd stayed away almost three months, intending to break himself of this habit, this habit that held no loyalty or reason. What was once pleasure and painful catharsis had evolved to become almost solely pleasure, and no longer did he stray next door merely to assuage his anger in willing flesh.

He had, he'd realized, new reasons.

Like drinking, when you began to enjoy it for the taste and not the aftermath. Like cigarettes, when they stopped making you cough.

"Have I outlived my use to you?" the dancer had asked, glancing at his lower half obliquely. "Or will you have me inside, officer?"

"You found me because you're afraid. Don't be. I've taken my pound of flesh and more."

The dancer had rubbed his instep along his shin in a strangely elegant gesture of physical ease, almost amused.

"Do you think I don't tithe to the Ministry in other ways?"

Lasha was silent.

"...I came because I was aching. Some muscles only respond to partner stretching."

Ilarion had stepped aside and let the dancer enter. Stood quietly, observing, with his arms crossed. Let him draw a bath and strip off his sweat-soaked dance gear. Let him bathe, then towel off, all the while no words being spoken.

Let his jacket be persuaded away from him, and his shirt and tie. Let the naked, damp haired dancer lead him into the swallowing and thirsty darkness of his own bedroom, let himself be drawn into his own bed, where he would fuck the talented and lauded Barshov deeply and unrepentantly for the remainder of the night.

And yet, he never once called him by name.

Oh, he knew it well. It was indelibly stamped upon a back wall of his mind.

It was typed on the paper that Oleksei now studied with a furrowed brow.

Barshov did not betray their past, nor their present. Though his gaze had shifted when he saw Ilarion. He wasn't sure what to expect, Lasha knew. In the same way that no one knew what to expect from Aleksandr.

"Merkurii Barshov," he said, quietly. "They are recording everything you say."

It was a deliberate, double-edged statement.

They. Are. Listening. To. Us. Now.

"So if you have been speaking to yourself, if you have whispered any secrets, they are already known."

The dancer met his eyes from beneath his sheaf of shining hair.

"I have no secrets, kommisar. If I did, you would know them."

Lasha's gaze flicked away as if scorched.

"That's good. I would like to believe you. As would my associate."

"Believe that I could not be more open before you."

Isaev heard the undertone in the words, the pledge of sacrificial reverence.

His eyes narrowed.

"It seems to me that a man of your talent is a feather in our cultural cap, and perhaps, if you were to perform a service for the State, suspicions might be redressed more easily."

He glanced up, sharply, indicating Taras.

"This is Captain Oleksei. You will answer our questions fully and without hesitation, I think."

Barshov held his gaze, quietly fearless.

"Of course I will, kommisar. I've never once hesitated to satisfy your demands."

Date: 2008-06-10 10:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
"I like it when they're not afraid," Taras commented to Ilarion, low, in the pause.

Fear was too easy.

This Barshov wasn't. He could see it in the man's expression, read it in his stance. He could tell, by the way Barshov dared to meet Ilarion's gaze, like an equal. That was bold.

The guy was hard and fit and muscular, athletic, but not huge. Not a brawler, not a soldier. Taras didn't read military precision in the way Barshov moved, which was good. Taras could go hand-to-hand with most anyone, even a larger man, but soldiers gave him trouble.

Not that Barshov seemed inclined to resist. That was a little disappointing.

Taras' eyes went to the mark on Barshov's face.

Maybe he'd tried, and gotten backhanded for his trouble, cut on the edge of a silver MVD ring. Or maybe he'd just been roughed up a little, preemptively.

Barshov looked back at him, still unafraid, but still without contempt, even for Taras. Taras wondered what that meant.

Maybe he was older, Taras thought, suddenly. There was something settled and knowing about his regard, though his face was barely lined.

Taras looked away.

"You're right," he said to Ilarion, quietly. "He will cooperate."

Date: 2008-06-10 11:35 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilarion-isaev.livejournal.com
Barshov glanced at Oleksei, abruptly, scanning him with oblique deference.

"What am I accused of?"

"What are you not accused of," replied Ilarion, tipping the man's jaw up and turning his head to the side, under the pretense of examining his contusion.

"Where did you get this mark?" he asked, tonelessly. "Overzealous friends, I imagine. I apologize."

"No," said Barshov, tautly, almost defiant in his compliance. "It was incurred accidentally, during a routine session of training. Khatachurian. The Dance of the Sabres. You would know it."

Ilarion felt his lips whiten like ice.

"I know that you're lying," he said, shoving Barshov's head back, almost carefully, with more gentleness than government work called for.

He indicated Barshov's wound with a gloved finger.

"That contusion is fresh," he said, coolly. "And it's a ring mark."

Lasha paused.

"...Trust me. I know how they look."

Barshov glanced at Oleksei's hand, fleetingly, then back at Isaev.

"So do I," he said, meaningfully.

Date: 2008-06-11 05:32 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
Taras narrowed his gaze.

He raised his ungloved hands, unadorned except for a few thin white scars that crossed his broad and callused knuckles. Taras wore a watch around his wrist, but no other jewelry. He worked with his hands too much, and a heavy metal ring was almost as dangerous to the person who wore it as the person who was getting punched.

His MVD ring was a sign of status, but Taras kept it in his drawer.

He stepped forward, closing the distance, standing as close to Barshov as Ilarion was, though slightly more to the side. Barshov looked at him again, and again, the man's regard held no particular fear.

It reminded Taras of the Zone.

There were some men who lived in an in-between place, neither the ones who offered themselves to any man, nor the ones who took any man they wanted, but a third class altogether, the ones who made careful offers, negotiating what they wanted to give in exchange for their alliances.

Those were the smart ones, the ones who knew they would never be dominant, so they controlled the circumstances of their submission.

Taras thought this Barshov must be smart. Somehow, his gaze held no challenge even though he didn't look away.

"I don't think the major likes it when you lie," Taras said.

He reached out suddenly, the way Ilarion had, gesturing toward the cut on Barshov's cheek. Touching the suspect was all right, since Isaev had crossed that line first, so Taras grazed the man's face with his knuckles, though only glancingly, not even a blow.

Barshov's flinch was telltale and reflexive, but gratifying.

Taras regarded him, leaning closer.

"I also don't think you've said one true thing since you opened your mouth."

Date: 2008-06-11 08:35 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilarion-isaev.livejournal.com
Lasha's shoulder tremored with a slight shiver, imperceptible, and he turned his back, with reflexive slowness.

As if he had missed the strike of Oleksei's knuckles, dusting the vaulted sconce of Barshov's cheek.

"I don't lie to him," said Barshov, softly.

Lasha thought he heard Taras snort, caustic, like a bull with acid in his veins.

Gathering his veneer, Ilarion did his job, or rather, did Nika's job, now that there was no Nika.

"You've been accused of many things, comrade, in these papers. Some, I am sure are not true. Why would you be harboring fugitives, for instance?"

"I am not," said the dancer, eyes hesitating, but raising once more the one who had boxed him menacingly. A taste of possibilities, that had been.

He had not liked the flavor of this man's bones knocking his own.

Not in that way.

Lasha paused, looking over his shoulder. His gaze was oblique, cast downward.

"This paper says you are a seditionist," he said, softly.

"Njiet," replied the dancer, in cadence. "I am only a faithful artistic servant to our common Mother, no more."

Ilarion's mouth flash-froze into a lightning-colored smile.

"Our common Mother," he echoed, with staggered confusion.

Barshov seemed to have realized what he said, because he lowered his head and laid it gently in his hand.

"Forgive me, kommissar."

Isaev's visage had already re-minted from softened gold, bearing unforeseen nicks, to implacable silver, which things slid, harmless, down the sheer face of.

"An innocent man need make no apology," he said, automatically.

"Then, I make none," Barshov said, more forcefully. "Not for these false implications," he added softly. "But for thoughtless words."

Lasha's fist clenched and he slipped it smoothly into his pocket.

"You are suspected by my associates...of muzhelostvo. Are you guilty?"

The dancer's eyes betrayed little, but he raised his head, almost a statue's bearing in his neck and chest.

"No more than you."

His voice was evenly produced, lightly declarative.

Ilarion's eyes narrowed.

"Answer less roundly, comrade."

"No," Barshov replied, at once. Then turned his gaze to Oleksei. "Nye pidaryi."

Lasha felt a sense of black irony overtake him, and could not repress a smile, dark as rye.

"If you lie, Captain Oleksei will hammer out the truth manually."

Barshov sighed, leaning back.

"I am not guilty. I do not know what brought me here. Perhaps someone's vendetta."

Date: 2008-06-11 06:44 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
Taras' lip curled as he looked down at Barshov.

"The Zone is full of men just like you, comrade. Not guilty. Never had a single thought about muzhelostvo in their whole life. Never said a bad word about the State. Never lied to Ministry officers."

He folded his arms, the motion casual, though muscle bulged under the gray wool of his uniform.

Barshov remained silent. Taras thought he saw a frown start to slip across the man's features, quickly suppressed.

"All those men, in the camps, working all day, digging in the frozen snow, breaking rocks. Out there in the cold with muscle cramps and a thin jacket and a hat crawling with lice. One bowl of soup with maggots in it for breakfast. No showers. Maybe every other day some guy goes crazy and jumps another guy, maybe bites off his ear before the guards beat him down. Best meal he's had in months, but both of them have to get right back to work. And that's what happens during the day."

He shrugged.

"Nights are a lot worse."

Taras paused.

It was strange, to talk about the Zone.

He usually didn't think about it, not in so much detail. Over the years, the particulars had faded in his mind, like a book he'd read a long time ago and didn't remember well anymore.

Taras was content with that. He didn't need to remember. Like the Siege, it had been something that happened to him, but it wasn't a problem anymore.

He'd never told Ilarion what it had been like there, and Ilarion had never really asked. Isaev already knew, of course. Given his line of work, there was no way he couldn't.

Barshov was staring at him, tension in the line of his jaw.

Taras just shook his head.

"That person, the one with the vendetta, the one who got all those innocent men thrown in the Zone? He's a real pizd'uk, isn't he? Too bad we can't catch him. Seems like he's the one who should take the trip up North."

"What do you want from me?" Barshov asked, after a moment, voice perfectly even.

That was a good question.

Taras turned to look at Isaev, brows raised.

Date: 2008-06-11 10:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilarion-isaev.livejournal.com
Ilarion met Oleksei's gaze, then turned back to Barshov.

"He doesn't want anything," he said, almost harshly, vehemence searing the words.

It wasn't true, he knew. Oleksei wanted to bury his fist into the man, and sink it again and again.

In every way that Lasha had buried himself.

The dancer observed him, the slightest of nonverbal acknowledgment present in his gaze. It was no more or less than trust.

Barshov had heard the strained undertone in his voice. Had decided what it meant. And he trusted Isaev's intentions.

Perhaps because he had no choice. Perhaps for reasons unknown.

"Your comrade speaks as if he knows his subject, kommissar," said the dancer, quietly.

Ilarion glared.

Believe me, he does.

"...He speaks with the same authority about the North, as if I were to speak of stress fractures and pliés."

Lasha was silent, gritting his mental teeth. Careful. Careful...

Barshov looked up at Oleksei.

His voice was artless and without affect.

"I know nothing about the Zone. I admit it, despite your scorn. Though I was born with coal on my cheek and with a wooden spoon in my mouth, and it should have been my birthright. I fought for my fortune. And yet...perhaps what you are telling me is a truth I have tried to disbelieve... that a boy from ugly, black Chelyabinsk cannot avoid the fate of a criminal, no matter how good he is with his body."

Barshov paused, looking down.

"...No matter how honest."

Date: 2008-06-11 11:25 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
"If you really are being honest, then you have nothing to fear," Taras said, flatly. "It's the men who lie about their crimes who have a problem with the Ministry."

That was bullshit. It was the Ministry line. It was what Taras said, because the conversation was being recorded.

Life had taught Taras that bad things happened to people, whether they were honest, or not. Whether they were good people, or not. Tragedy, persecution, accidents and misfortune, horrific turns of fate, they happened to anyone, at any time.

He had learned that at the tender age of nine, during the Siege, when the Germans surrounded Leningrad and tried to take the city, cutting off supplies, bombing it with artillery shells. People starved, or were blown up, or killed each other, no matter who they were.

Taras almost believed that Barshov was honest, but then again, he seemed to know Ilarion fairly well, and that spoke volumes.

Not that it mattered, either way.

Taras shrugged, and glanced at Ilarion again.

Date: 2008-06-11 11:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilarion-isaev.livejournal.com
Lasha uncrossed his arms sharply, flung off the gesture like water and closed the scant distance between them.

He leaned in, curving close to Oleksei so that their heads were inclined. He spoke against Oleksei's ear, his breath and lips a forceful press that reinforced his meaning.

"I need to step out for a spell now, Tarsha. I have some issues to attend to, regarding this detainee. He's yours alone while I'm gone. He needs to look roughed up. This is a worked shoot, Oleksei, so don't go fucking crazy on me. Give him a quick polish with your knuckles. Just enough."

Ilarion paused, drawing breath.

"I know that you know, Taras, how to leave marks without too much damage. Give him a little of the business, then hand him over to me. It's how it has to be."

Lasha pulled away, then snapped his fingers and shook his head, darting back in. His lips brushed the shell of Oleksei's ear in his haste.

"And another thing, comrade...lay off his legs. No kicks, either. No breaks. Body strikes only."

Date: 2008-06-12 06:13 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
Taras went still for a moment, barely breathing, feeling suddenly warm. Tingling, like he'd just tossed back a hard shot of vodka.

Isaev's breath was spiced like tea, hot against his ear, and the graze of his mouth lingered.

They stood near enough, now, for Ilarion to put a gun to his heart, for Taras to turn and snap Isaev's neck. It almost felt like that, the first rush of adrenaline before a fight, when every sense was heightened.

But it wasn't a fight. It was another thing entirely, something close and comradely, but if that was true, Ilarion was like no other comrade he'd had.

Ilarion shifted, waiting for him, breath hissing out, potent and impatient, body poised with expectation.

Taras knew he could have turned his head at any time to meet Isaev's gaze, but at the same time, he knew he shouldn't.

He moved his head slightly, like a nod, instead.

Taras understood what Isaev was saying to him, even if he didn't understand the reasons for it. But what Isaev had said earlier now made sense.

When I need a hand, I expect yours.

Taras could do that.

"Khorosho," he whispered.

He shot a glance to the suspect, who watched them with guarded eyes.

Taras flexed his fist, experimentally.

"Don't worry, Lasha," he murmured, still looking at Barshov. "I can do that."

Date: 2008-06-12 04:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilarion-isaev.livejournal.com
Ilarion didn't hide the flash of relief in his eyes as he exhaled, slowly and swiftly.

"Khorosho," he whispered, with a concise nod.

Belatedly, he reached up with a halting hand and clapped Oleksei on the shoulder. Once. Pause. Twice.

He glanced at the dancer.

"I'll get you some water," he said, in a toneless, low voice that was unlike his normal timbre of careless, iced satin.

After a moment, he fixed his eyes meaningfully on Barshov.

"While I'm gone, behave. No matter what."

The dancer's eyes showed a slight flash of apprehension.

"Da, Kommissar," he said, and his voice was the low rustle of leaves.

Complicit, and at the mercy of the elements that pulled it in either direction, caressing one moment, battering in the next.

Ilarion's jaw seized and he turned on his heel abruptly, striding to to the unmarked metal door.

Then he paused, drew up to his full height like a militsioner, opened it and exited hastlessly.

It closed after him, clicking dryly in his wake.

The dancer closed his eyes.

A long silence fell in the Major's absence, but no finger was raised, and he felt no stinging kiss to the jaw, flying out of the clouds from ether. Not immediately.

So he was that kind of man. The one who savored his time.

Merkurii had met both. The other hated his work, hated the stain and weight of low, base blood on his knuckles, and infused his roughwork with an undertone of resentful anger at his own forced hand.

That man would rather not be doing what he did. Who detested the necessity, like a cat hating water. And yet, ironically, that very sentiment in him usually made the damage worse.

The Major, he thought, was a man like that. It was better that he had left, even if the dancer drew some odd, undefined confidence from his presence. He would not have the control that this man had. This man was a hobbyist.

Nothing came, so Merkurii's lips parted. His brow was moist with trepidation.

"I've broken my own bones, wittingly, for art. More times than I can count. I'm no stranger to fractures. I've danced on a broken ankle, bound straight with restrictive tape. After some performances, I've tipped a small lake of blood from my shoes."

A beat; pulsed silently, but palpable.

"There is nothing I can give to you, and nothing you can take from me in the currency of pain, that I cannot endure. Suffering is cousin to my medium."

He opened his eyes, hazel, and flinched in the low, swinging light of the barren room. It reminded him, in flashes, of that first, storming night when a coldly handsome MENT had come up the stairs like a ghost and confronted him at the barre. The MENT's eyes had been like ice, made liquid by pain.

Then, his crime had been real.

Now a different man confronted him, for crimes both real and imagined, and there was no torment in his gaze. Only a reverent, almost soft, devotion to violence.

This MVD man's fist was cocked, cannonball waiting to be touched by the lit kiss of a fuse.

The dancer realized something in the instant his lids unveiled, and the man's face was revealed again.

He had two unmatched eyes, like paired and disparate treasures from a sunday market.

Merkurii paused, surprised, caught off guard.

Date: 2008-06-12 06:44 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
Taras watched Barshov for a while, breathing evenly, watching the play of unfamiliar expressions across his face. He didn't know this man, didn't know enough to guess.

His skin still tingled from where Lasha had touched him, but eventually that faded, like the memory of pain. He could almost doubt it had been real, almost.

Now that Barshov had explained who he was, Taras did understand something about him. The athlete's build. The flexibility, apparent in the way he sat, leg bent up with negligent, supple ease. A dancer. Taras had thought they were sissies, but apparently not, if they could dance through a lake of their own blood. He respected that.

Eventually, Taras nodded.

"It's good to work with a professional," he said.

It was. Taras preferred it. He took no pleasure from the ones that cried and whined like children.

He glanced down, and started to unbutton his jacket. The buttons of his uniform were real metal, solid and substantial under his fingers. He liked that MVD uniforms weren't cheap. Too nice to get messy. Taras slipped the jacket off his shoulders and set it on the table.

"You know, it's funny, how some people don't use words right. Like they think they know what the word means, but they really don't, and they don't look it up, so they end up using it wrong."

Taras paused, looking up again, meeting Barshov's cautious gaze.

"Like the word butcher."

He shrugged, and unknotted his tie.

"You hear people use that all the time, but like it means someone who does sloppy work, like, 'he butchered that guy.' Like he made a mess of it, or something. But when you go to the butcher shop, and you get a cut of meat, you expect a nice even cut, and that's what you get. Real butchers know every part of the animal and how to cut it right, which part to make into chops, or steaks, or shanks. And they do it neat and clean, like art. And that's what people don't seem to remember, when they go to use that word."

His tie joined the jacket, then his shirt as well, until he stood before the dancer in his grey uniform pants and white undershirt. His tattoos were a faded, dusty blue, almost grey, drawn across his bare arms and shoulders like purposefully cultivated bruises. The top of the tiger's head was just visible on his chest, above his undershirt collar.

Taras turned toward Barshov again, stepping closer, looking down.

His blood sang with anticipation, and he remembered how it had felt, to have Lasha's lips on his ear.

"Do you understand, comrade?"

He murmured it, low.

"The State has all kinds of artistic servants."

Date: 2008-06-12 07:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilarion-isaev.livejournal.com
"You're a criminal," said Merkurii, slowly.

The words held another connotation, an answer, but he voiced it anyway, a second later, lest the officer think his point had been missed.

"Poinyal, kommish."

The dancer had watched the larger man disrobe with obvious care, laying his uniform out of the way like church clothes.

A slight and understated dryness touched his words, like ginger ale, waiting for the session to begin in earnest, adrenaline creeping into his pores.

"You were too much to pass up. Born with a fist in your hand, njiet? You are an artist they could not imitate or culture. So here you are. It's an honor."

His eyes steeped in the designs, the elaborate inkpad that formed the MENT's thick, brawny upper body.

"Miasnik," he said, softly, giving the word the respect it deserved.

Mercurii's brow furrowed briefly as he watched the casual flex of muscles in the man's slight motion.

Punishing, every inch of him, like a blackjack.

The dancer relaxed his body, lowered his leg to the floor and exhaled, slowly.

He began to meditate on the nature of pain. Letting himself embrace the transience of physical experience. Remembering that the bliss in suffering came with its abatement, and was a product nectar that could not be tasted without pain.

Suddenly he looked up through a veil of chestnut hair, that shone demurely in the choked, low light, his hazel gaze curious and mildly impulsive.

"And you're a friend with the blond kommissar. Tell me, Miasnik...who's the krysha, him or you?"

Date: 2008-06-13 08:15 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
Taras' eyes narrowed.

"What do you think?"

He raised his hand, reaching out, taking Barshov's chin, curling his fingers around the dancer's jaw exactly like Ilarion had. Taras tilted up the man's head in the same manner, and turned it gently to the side, testing the weight of an Isaev's grasp.

Taras could feel Barshov's pulse thrumming under his fingers.

It was a loaded question, what the dancer had asked. Taras wasn't exactly sure how he had meant it. Maybe that was what Barshov had intended. Who was the leader of their criminal partnership, or which one of them protected the other?

"Maybe that's a question for another time, comrade."

Another time, when no one was listening.

How well do you know him, Taras wanted to ask in turn, but that was a dangerous question, with an answer probably not for the Ministry's ears.

He shifted his grasp and stroked his thumb across the bruise, not gently.

Taras could feel the rough edge of the ring cut under his fingertips, sharp and almost serrated with bubbles of dried blood.

"This...isn't how I would have done it."

Date: 2008-06-13 10:28 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilarion-isaev.livejournal.com
The dancer exhaled, forcing calm.

"Not everyone can be an artist."

He closed his eyes, the dull ache from the press of the MENT's broad thumb on the fresh bruise lingering beneath his eye.

Of course, he had lied out loud about the contusion. Blamed it on Khatachurian.

It was the only wisdom left to a man, to do the Ministry's work for them.

Like an abused wife, he thought, with fatalist amusement.

Oleksei- that was what his uniform said- Oleksei was rubbing against the grain of the cut with studious attention. He had seen a lot of fist-inflicted wounds, clearly. For a moment, the dancer was tempted to ask him if he thought it would scar. And if so, would it add charm to his face or subtract it?

"Don't worry about that, officer," he drawled. "I fall down stairs. I bump into doorknobs. I'm clumsy."

Merkurii paused, after a moment, and let the weight of his head come to rest in the miasnik's hand.

"...Your friend the kommissarevitch could attest to that."

He should know. I tripped and fell right into his mother.

It was a weighted, loaded portmanteau, to combine kommissar and tsarevitch, a pun that skirted the edges of class and truth.

Merkurii took a deep breath, releasing it slowly, slowly.

He thought about the blond kommissar, the oddly tender way he came alive in the gilded cage of his bedroom, embracing their private sanctuary with hedonist devotion. How he'd kissed the dancer's bruised feet as he fucked him slowly and steadily, upright on his knees in the obscuring darkness.

Ask, and you shall receive.

Soviet edition: Ask, and you're going to get it.

Mercurii raised his eyes, breathing shallow, shame in his gaze, as if the dark-headed mongrel man-beast who regarded him now could read his thoughts.

Make the punishment fit the crime.

"How would you have done it?" he asked, invited.

Slowly, inexorably, like the closing of a tomb.

Date: 2008-06-13 06:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
Taras' breath caught, then escaped a moment later.

Barshov's head felt heavy against his hand, warm and real in a way that recalled rough concrete and barbed wire, and a stark distant sun. For a moment, he was not here, but there, in a dream of far away and long ago, when men like this dancer knelt for him.

His fingers convulsed on Barshov's face, though not hard enough to bruise.

"I'll show you," he whispered.

He wondered again who this man was, if this was another secret comrade of Ilarion's, like Liadov. Liadov, who seemed to mean so much to Ilarion that the very mention of his name could turn Isaev's mood like soured milk.

Taras remembered the urgent press of Ilarion's lips against his ear, the admonition not to bring the dancer to ruin.

This man, this Barshov, seemed to mean a lot to Isaev, too.

Taras' jaw clenched, and his loins tightened with anticipation.

"Just relax. It won't hurt."

His words sounded ominous in the bare room, ringing hollowly off the walls.

Taras knew all the ways to hurt a man with his hands, how to cause pain without leaving a mark, how to leave marks without damage. Taras had learned his trade partly from his father, partly from his own experimentation. Experience had made him a master.

The trick to this sort of blow was to make it sharp, but glancing, to abrade the skin and break blood vessels close to the surface, but let the damage go no further. It would sting now, and tonight, it would ache, but the next day, the swelling would go down, and the raw marks would fade.

Taras pulled his hand away from Barshov's face, then closed it into a carefully-formed fist. His fingers tingled.

With a sudden, violent motion, Taras struck the dancer across the jaw.

To his credit, Barshov stayed relaxed, his head rocking back lightly, the motion perfectly fluid, leading off the impact of Taras' fist, as if in that moment, they were connected through energy both kinetic and electric.

Taras drew in a rough, hard breath, and lowered his arm, knuckles tingling.

His eyes went to the slowly reddening mark on the dancer's face.

Barshov knew how to take it, like he was used to such treatment. But from whom? The MVD?

Ilarion, in particular?

"Who is he to you?" he whispered, roughly, gaze searing, shifting to meet Barshov's eyes. "How do you know him?"

Date: 2008-06-13 08:02 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilarion-isaev.livejournal.com
Merkurii's head lolled briefly, his dark champagne hair slapped across one cheek like a curtain of raw silk.

The brutish officer had cuffed him with skillful, sudden violence, the pain diffuse and almost blotted out by adrenaline.

"Who?" the dancer murmured, touching his tongue to his lip, where it had been cut slightly by his teeth.

He tasted blood.

"What does that have to do with-"

Date: 2008-06-13 08:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
"What?" Taras growled.

His breath came hard, hissed between clenched teeth. He didn't know what wasn't clear. Taras stared at Barshov for a moment, eyes blazing hot-cold.

"What you said earlier, about my comrade."

Taras paused, lip curling viciously.

"The blond kommissar. Your kommissarevitch."

He struck Barshov again, across the line of the brow, lightly, then on the mouth, harder.

Each blow precise, in spite of the anger that surged through him.

"What did you mean?" he bit out. "Are you saying he hit you? Like this?"

The next blow, on the cheek, to reopen the cut. His knuckles came away wet, but he hit the dancer once more, then again, before pulling back.

Taras' shoulders felt tight, knotted with with restraint, but lower, his body pulsed, hard and hot.

His hand shot forward again, but this time to catch Barshov's jaw once more, to hold his bruised face still. The marks were light but were starting to swell, and blood drops welled from the cut.

"Are you trying to implicate him?"

Date: 2008-06-13 10:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilarion-isaev.livejournal.com
"Shto?" gasped the dancer, harshly. "No-"

The barrage of blows to his face had rung him soundly, although the bruiser was good at his craft, there was no doubt.

"Not the Captain."

Mercurri raised his head slowly and met the MENT's gaze, focusing blearily.

"He never laid a hand on me...in anger," he breathed, chest heaving with quiet shock.

Date: 2008-06-14 05:17 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
Taras growled, biting off words.

He backed off a moment, breathing hard, wiping his brow with the back of his hand.

He never laid a hand on me.

In anger.

It was what Taras had asked, but not what he had meant, and now he had an answer he really didn't want.

Taras squeezed his eyes shut. Sweat made them sting.

Fuck Isaev and his secret comrades anyway.

Taras wondered how many more there were, lurking unseen like tiny spiders that suddenly dropped from the ceiling on invisible threads and dangled in the foreground for a second, and then were gone before you could smash them.

"Major," Taras rasped, suddenly, looking at the dancer again. "He's a major now."

He came closer, and Barshov didn't even flinch, not even when Taras raised his hand. Once more, he took the dancer's jaw in his palm, but then shifted his grip to cradle the back of Barshov's head, where the shape and contours felt familiar.

His fingers expected a fine bristle of razored hair. Barshov's was long and thick and oddly soft. Taras frowned.

If only he had Liadov in a position like this. But Liadov was gone now. In Moscow, where he could stay and gather dust and burned-out candle stubs or whatever it was saints did. Far away from Isaev.

He clenched his hand into a fist, pulling back the dancer's head with a sharp tug.

"How long have you known him? How did you meet?"

Date: 2008-06-14 07:59 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilarion-isaev.livejournal.com
"Operativ," he said, softly, half a plea. "Shast."

Punch-drunk. It was a word, with a purpose, and it had an origin, which had emanated over the centuries from moments like this, when one man had another in a fix and pummeled him into a state of disorientation.

"He came to find me at the theatre one night, out of nowhere."

The dancer was fighting to sober, but he sensed it was too late.

He'd slipped, somehow, let too many words wander out of the shadowy reaches of his mind, and now the light in the man-beast's eyes was new and fervent, his gripped fist fairly trembling with the want to punish.

"It was nothing like you think," stated Mercurii, haltingly, letting his head fall back.

His face ached. Stray drops of blood painted the floor below his chair like an isolated constellation.

It was, he thought, an infinite concrete universe, this small room. Yes, and he was the unasked for epicenter of that universe. This man the force of Chaos.

The dancer laughed, softly. It was an irrational sound.

It faded, fatigued, and his lips drew into silence for a moment, slack with exertion.

"You see, I was the man who was sleeping with his mother."

Strands of damp hair clung to his cheeks and neck, and he felt himself gasping silently, shifting his breath, wondering vaguely why this man didn't go for his ribs and stomach, where even the stoic clutched and crumbled.

After a moment, Mercurii registered what the man had muttered in his underspoken fury.

"...Major," he drawled, thickly. "Congratulations."

Date: 2008-06-14 06:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
Taras stared for a moment as the words registered.

He felt like someone had hit him.

"What?" he whispered.

He stared harder, closer.

The dancer's eyelids were fluttering, but under them, revealed in spotlight flashes, his eyes were dazed, de-focused. Blown pupils, and Taras knew that couldn't be faked.

Slowly, Taras unclenched his fist. The dancer's soft hair slipped through his fingers, and his head lolled forward.

Isaev's mother had been dead for years, maybe fifteen, maybe more. It had happened before Taras had gone to the Zone, but after the Siege. After he'd met Ilarion on a trespass into the Isaev grounds.

Taras and his father had gone to the funeral. He remembered how Ilarion's face had shown no expression, cast exactly like Aleksandr's. Taras had understood that. His mother had died, too.

He frowned, brow heavy. There were other questions he could ask. He could push harder, to confirm the dancer's story. But at the same time, Taras knew he really wasn't supposed to be questioning him anyway. Any whispered secrets would only be -

Taras' eyes widened.


Recorded, and Isaev family business was not something for the tape archives. It sounded like Ilarion already knew this man's secret, but did Aleksandr? Hard to believe, if the dancer was still alive, but regardless, this was a skeleton that should be left buried in the backyard, not unearthed by the family pet zek-turned-operativnik.

Taras thought of the tape upstairs, twining smoothly in its spool. Was there someone up there, listening, right now? Or was the room unmanned for the moment, until the attendant came back to change and transcribe the tapes?

His hand still rested at the back of the dancer's head. He curved it around to Barshov's jaw and lifted it, carefully, focused now on the work he'd done. Reddening welts crossed his swollen face, and blood oozed from the cut.

It would pass, authentically. Maybe even too much so.

Taras let out a long, controlled sigh, but tension didn't leave him.

The dancer's head was heavy in his hand again, weighted by fatigue.

"You did good," Taras murmured.

Date: 2008-06-14 08:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilarion-isaev.livejournal.com
Mercurii reached out, slowly, grasping the man's broad hand, hard, with what strength remained to him.

"Thank you," he whispered, forcefully,"...sparing my legs."

His voice was languid with injury, unintentionally sensual. His fingers slowly slipped as they lost purchase, stroking Oleksei's hand.

The dancer's body had slackened in his chair, his physique managing to be graceful even sprawled gracelessly, long legs extended, chest open and arms hanging limp in supplication.

"His mother..." mumbled the dancer. "He came to grieve."

Merkurii raised unfocused, doe-like eyes, from beneath the soft swath of his disheveled mane.

"I'm his wailing wall," he drawled, insensate, as his fingers broke from Taras's and fell to his side.

Date: 2008-06-14 10:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
Taras let his pulse slow.

He did not move for long moments, staring down at Barshov.

Limp, pliant Barshov who'd put up no resistance, even though he hadn't been tied. Who hadn't protested, and had even invited Taras to do it.

Taras' eyes went to the dancer's legs, which were slightly parted, as if now, the dancer was offering him something else.

Only this wasn't the Zone.

And he had no idea how long Ilarion was going to take.

"He told me to," Taras muttered.

He let out a long breath.

Taras couldn't tell if he dancer had heard him. The statement in itself was not particularly damning. There could be a lot of reasons for that order.

He shifted, and pushed his leg against the side of Barshov's calf experimentally. Just to check how lucid the dancer was.

"So...you're saying he's your comrade?"

Date: 2008-06-14 11:30 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilarion-isaev.livejournal.com
"If only I had not met Avadya."

The words were dreamy, drawling. The dancer stirred them like creamed honey.

"It was nothing to me, nothing to her. But everything was ruined. Such a small thing."

Merkurii blinked rapidly, eyelashes like sable-winged butterflies, trapped beneath his dormant lids.

"I atone on my knees," he murmured, slipping further down in the chair.

His knuckles brushed the concrete.

"I atone on my hands."

His lips were bruised and flushed, as if from a brutal kiss.

"He grieves with his body, and I swallow his tears. I take his grief inside me."

A pause, as a shudder passed through his slumped frame.

"He told you to spare me," whispered Merkurii. "Didn't he?"

Date: 2008-06-15 12:48 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
"Inside...?" Taras started, then scowled, feral and fierce.

He didn't want to know.

Taras surged forward and grabbed the dancer by his collar, taking up fistfuls of material, pulling his slumped form up and out of the chair, leaning in close.

"Sledí za bazárom," he growled.

He was really going to have to do something about that tape, now. Those words were worse than the confession about Isaev's mother. Anyone could twist them to be damning, even if they weren't.

Though they sounded...

Barshov smelled like sweat and blood. He was just heavy enough that Taras had to strain a little to hold him out of the chair, but not so heavy he couldn't. Still, Barshov must have honed his body with exercise until it was nearly all muscle. That was a man's weight, solid and real.

"Watch what you say, or I'll have you on your knees."

Date: 2008-06-15 12:57 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilarion-isaev.livejournal.com
The dancer could hardly hold himself up, but he tried, instinctively bracing his hands against Oleksei and using him like a barre.

Steadied, but only for a moment.

Merkurii and this man shared a height, almost, at least when he was slouching after a beating.

He looked the MENT in his unmatched gaze with liquid eyes.

"And I couldn't refuse," he said, quietly, before collapsing.

Date: 2008-06-15 04:04 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
Taras reached to catch the dancer around the waist, grunting with the sudden effort of supporting his entire weight. For a second, it was almost enough to pitch Taras forward, off-balance, but he managed to ease Barshov back into the chair.

"Shit," he muttered, letting his head rest against the dancer's shoulder for a second, catching his breath. Under him, Barshov's body was hard and contoured with muscle, though slack.

Slowly, Taras relaxed his grip and pulled away from the man, frowning down at him.

"That's right," he said, belatedly.

He rubbed his jaw absently, then turned his hand to look at it. His knuckles were red and inflamed, smeared with drying blood.

Taras lowered his hand.

"I could take anything from you I wanted."

Date: 2008-06-15 11:08 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilarion-isaev.livejournal.com
Ilarion gave a warning knock, out of long-ingrained courtesy. Two sharp, staccato raps of the knuckle.

He pushed open the door a moment later, and paused, taking in the scene with narrowed eyes.

"What's this?" he said softly.

The dancer was laid out, anyone could see that. His body hung limply, as if wilted from heat. Blood trailed from lips and temple, and contusions bloomed over his jaw. Hair, once soft and lush, now damp and tormented, clinging piteously to battered skin, as if vainly trying to shield it from more abuse.

Taras Oleksei stood looking down at Barshov's still form, almost thoughtful, shoulders heaving gently. He stuck a vigilant stance in his jackboots and breeches, though he'd stripped his upper body down to his foundation for the task, and only a thin white undershirt stretched over his muscle-bound chest. It clung like a metalworker's; he had worked up quite a sweat at his work. Lasha's brows shifted at the blatant display of rough hewn brawn and Zone tattoos, unexpected and visceral. Something lurched, tiger-like, in the darker part of his id.

All the same, his sharply marked lips smoothed straight with distaste.

The tableau put Isaev in mind of a pugnacious young boy who had smashed his sibling's doll. Except Taras' fists were crimson streaked and well-used, and the dancer was no longer Ilarion's idle plaything, but a bird that had returned to the hand, of its own volition.

A clockwork Coppelian, who had become real to Lasha over time, whether he liked it or not.

"You're nothing if not thorough," snapped Ilarion, crossing briskly to the prisoner, ripping off his gloves and leaning in to press fingertips against Barshov's throat, stretched and exposed, seeking the weak beat of the man's pulse.

After a moment he paused, withdrew his hand, frowning slightly.

The dancer's heartbeat was steady and strong, and something like relief slowly filled him.

Reassured, Ilarion turned away from him. Something made him unable to look for as long as usual. Instead, he turned his gaze on Taras, hulking and brutal, motionless and admiring what he'd wrought.

"Enjoy yourself?" he asked, with a faint sneer.

It was rheotorical; the answer seemed evident enough.

Date: 2008-06-15 06:20 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
Taras turned to Ilarion, gaze heated and burning.

The impulse toward violence still ran though him, and he wanted to reach out, not to hit, but to grab Ilarion like he had the dancer, to catch Lasha's jaw in his hand. He wanted to use his brute physicality to trap Isaev up against the wall and ask, ask the questions that were circulating in his mind like blood.

Taras thought would have, except for that tape upstairs, that tape, and whoever might be listening to it right now.

Ilarion stared back at him, looking at him like a stranger, with cold and contemptuous eyes.

Taras' hand twitched, but he closed it into a fist, and released it, a moment later.

"I thought you were going to bring him some water," Taras whispered, low and accusing.

He stepped forward, checking Ilarion's shoulder as he passed, and he suddenly flashed back to Liadov in Red Square, Liadov and his arrows and fake blood and coolly authoritative words, only Taras didn't stop to apologize.

Taras went to the table where he'd left his shirt and pulled it on swiftly.

Better to get blood and sweat on it than his jacket, or to parade around MVD headquarters sporting Zone tattoos. There were already enough people who regarded him with vague, apathetic resentment for his instant appointment, and for having the favor of the Isaevs, that he didn't want to give them something more.

He shrugged into his jacket, back still to Ilarion.

"I'll go get it," he said. He glanced down as he straightened his jacket, and realized he was still half-hard.

Taras' jaw clenched.

"Might take me a while."

Date: 2008-06-15 08:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilarion-isaev.livejournal.com
Ilarion reacted belatedly to the check of Oleksei's broad shoulder, turning his head slowly to follow his retreat.

"Make sure it's cold," he said, quietly.

The door slammed behind Taras, and Lasha slowly sank down onto his heels, rubbing his brow briefly.

He sat there for several seconds, cossack-crouched, watching the dancer's body in its silent sprawl, bathed in weak light from the singular bulb overhead.

"There's nothing I can do to you now," he whispered, his tone colorless and deceptive as liquor, harboring a bite in the taste. "Nothing that hasn't been done to you."

It didn't matter what he said. The dancer was unconscious, and likely to remain that way for a while.

He hoped Oleksei hadn't rattled his cage free of its stand.

Fucking Taras, getting carried away. Or was he just that good, that it looked this convincing?

Isaev snorted.

"No one can fake a coma with his fist, can he," he murmured, sighing.

In the next moment, Ilarion's eyes caught the stirring of the dancer's fingertips, and he raised his gaze, alert.

The dancer shifted slightly, wincing, turning his head slowly in his direction.

"Kommissar," he said, faintly.

Lasha's mouth tightened, grim.

"Da," he said, softly, "Da, I'm back now."

His voice was unwittingly dipping into a low, sueded tone, like the one he used to speak to Andrei when he'd fought and dispatched that haughty French prick, like the one he'd used to soothe Liadov after a fucking sugar fit.

The dancer opened his eyes, slowly, as Lasha carefully drove strands of hair away from them, fingers mechanical and intent. Not unsoft, just efficient.

"...You took it well. Tougher men have wept at the end of his arm."

Merkurii was quiet as he sat up, oriented himself, not daring to engage his acquaintance, now that his reason was trickling back.

"You told him..."

Lasha laid a finger to his lips.

"Some things I can get away with. But not you."

Merkurii nodded, listlessly.

"Ya snayu...da, ya snayu."

"We've done our part. It's over."

The dancer caught and held his gaze.

"Spasiba, kommissar," he whispered, reaching up to grasp Ilarion's lapel.

"Don't thank me," said Lasha, eyes narrowing.

His fingers slipped downward, weakly, catching the buckle of Ilarion's belt.

"I don't want your gratitude," said Lasha.

"Take what your comrade didn't."

"Did he disconnect your head?" hissed Ilarion, repulsed. "I find no pleasure in that."

The dancer took his hand and pressed it against his face, almost hiding, like a child.

"Then comfort me."

It was almost a command, and Ilarion blanched, taken aback.

"You're not right," he intoned. "Close your eyes and sleep it off."

The dancer's hazel eyes raised, lucid with what Ilarion could not believe was hunger.

"Fucking MENT...You owe me at least that much."

Date: 2008-06-15 10:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
Taras pushed open the door to the surveillance room.

He didn't knock. Knocking would imply that he expected someone to be there, that he had a purpose for going in, or something to say. If the station was manned, he would have to have a better explanation than it just being a case of the new guy getting confused, heading to the wrong door, or not understanding surveillance procedures.

The room was dark inside, save for the lights on the control boards. No one at the station.

Taras slipped into the room before he turned out the light, finding the lock on the door behind him by touch, sliding it home.

He breathed out, closing his eyes, letting his shoulders slump against the door.

It was warm inside the room, almost unpleasantly so. Machine noises whirred and spun and hummed away steadily. He reached for the light.

The room was small, barely big enough for a person to sit at the desk, to turn in his chair and change the tape. Another door stood at the end of the room. Behind it was an even smaller room, used for storing the tapes, each one carefully labeled.

Taras was sure that they were all there, even if some of them were blank.

He stepped forward, leaning down to press his hand against the seat. It felt no warmer than the rest of the room. That was good.

He turned to the log, which was affixed to a clipboard on the wall. According to the times and signatures, someone had been in here much earlier, to change the tapes and set the recording for Barshov's room. Then he'd left. No one had been present to hear anything, and judging from the previous day's records, no one would be back to check on the equipment for hours.

Taras breathed out, leaning back and running his hands over his dark hair. Skin pulled at his knuckles, sticky with dried blood.

He'd gotten lucky, or Isaev had. Fucking prick, keeping him out of the fucking loop.

Taras moved to the controls, which were clearly marked, though he had to spend a few moments figuring them out.

As far as he could tell, the tape to Barshov's room was brand new, which would make it easy to switch. Clean and simple, no one the wiser. No loose confessions about Ilarion's mother, which were bad enough. The words that Barshov had spoken implicating Ilarion were worse.

He scowled.

Taras moved to stop the tape then hesitated. His hand hovered mid-air for a moment, then he hit the switch he thought would activate the audio feed. Just to make sure he had the right one.

Static crackled the speakers with a sudden bleat of noise, too loud. Quickly, he turned down the volume, gritting his teeth. He waited for several seconds, but couldn't hear anything, so he turned the volume back up again, until he could hear low murmurings of sound.

Voices. The pitch and cadence of Ilarion's were unmistakable. Taras had heard that voice in his dreams.

The other voice, he recognized as Barshov, though stronger and more forceful than he would have expected. The dancer had come to, then, and didn't sound happy about it.

He knew Ilarion could take care of himself, but there was still part of him that bristled automatically, an instinctive and gut reaction.

Taras leaned forward to listen, careful not to touch anything. At his sides, his hands tightened into fists.

Date: 2008-06-16 10:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilarion-isaev.livejournal.com
Ilarion stared.

The dancer moved, with more lithe power in reserve than Isaev anticipated, swinging around to face him, jerking his lapel forward.

"Shove it in my mouth. My broken fucking lips. Bruise me more."

Lasha's eyes flared open, violently. He was speechless, and his hand shot up, seizing around the dancer's wrist.

"No fucking chance in hell," he intoned, coolly.

The dancer's gaze was weak, but not beaten.

Like Andrei's had been, in the aftermath of the fated bout, flecks of another man's blood dappling his skin. When at last he descended from the ring, down into Ilarion's arms, fatigue and gravity heavy on his brow, Lasha had wanted to crown him with laurel. It befitted a champion.

And he had, in a fashion.

Like Nika's was, in the wake of the first collapse, when he opened his eyes at the life-giving tincture of peppermint schnapps and injectable insulin, woke up in Ilarion's arms, softly breathing, where he belonged. When he looked down and found those prepossessing green eyes vulnerable and wandering, Isaev had wanted to lay him down on the persian carpet and slowly unlock all his hidden kingdoms, one by one, for Liadov to touch and see.

He'd already given him the key.

Ilarion shuddered, overcome and out of his depth.

Those eyes that never plead with him, even when they ached unbearably.

The dancer's grip persisted on his lapel, and he gazed downward, raising his hand to touch Barshov's silver-brown hair, brushing it away, cupping his cheek with firm, hungry need.

Needing to know. Could he salve this too?

Lasha tilted his head, slowly bending forward, bringing them near a kiss.

Then he let his mouth part to embrace the dancer's contused lips.

It was the only balm he knew, and all his heart recalled. What he reverted to, when passion flashed silver as a knife in the still waters of his breast.

Blot it out, with endorphins. The chemicals were indistinguishable from Mother love and brother's milk.

He ignored the tears that wet the man's palatial cheekbones, even when he tasted them.

It might have been blood, after all.

Date: 2008-06-17 03:17 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
Taras stared at the slowly spooling tape, eyes wide.

He waited for more, but it had gone suspiciously quiet. Not completely silent, though. He still heard faint rustling and other noises, too low to identify.

Taras hadn't quite heard what they were saying before, at least, not really. It had kind of sounded like the dancer might have propositioned Ilarion, and Ilarion had refused, but Taras supposed he could have misheard.

He probably had. Or Ilarion was just getting ready to -

"Hit him," Taras whispered.

The faint noises continued. Shifting, maybe. A step. But no words. No punching sounds, or even a slap.

"Oh, come on," he snarled, under his breath.

His hand hovered over the switch, to turn off the tape, so he could pull the incriminating evidence and be gone, just in case anyone happened by, or the attendant came back early, or another suspect was brought in unexpectedly. Every minute he lingered was another minute he could be discovered.

Breaking and entering was small-time now, in Taras' mind, but he had done it early in his career. And what he'd learned was that the guys who got pinched were the ones who lingered too long, rifling though every last cabinet and drawer, hoping for something good, instead of just getting out of there with what they had.

In and out fast was the way to do it, but now, Taras realized, now he had to listen, just in case Barshov tried to incriminate Ilarion again. Just in case there were sounds that might be misconstrued. Pulling the tape too early would be pointless.

"Mat' vashu rastudy, Lasha," he hissed. "Now who's thorough?"

Date: 2008-06-17 10:05 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilarion-isaev.livejournal.com
"You want me, kommissar," Barshov told him, in a forceful whisper. "You always do."

It had the impact of a shout in the quiet, concrete room.

"Careful," said Lasha, softly, darkly. "Take care, little brother."

The dancer was voracious, like he had been the first time they met.

Met, thought Lasha feverishly, not so much as collided.

Ilarion's gaze remained cool and unforced.

"That's not what you want. Not now."

"There's nothing I want more," snarled Merkurii, who must have had winged heels like his namesake, in order to walk after Taras's treatment.

The systematic infliction of beauty marks.

Barshov was shoving himself to his feet, eyes riveted on Ilarion's face from beneath his tousled hair, dewed throughout with sweat. Determined.

One of them was expertly and thoroughly blacked, like a coal miner's.

Oleksei had done a number on him, thought Lasha. No question. The dancer looked like hell.

It wasn't unaesthetic, even if he was severely unprettied.

The dancer's voice was ragged, with a hint of pleading behind the oddly iron demand.

"You own my ass. So fuck it."

Barshov's hand was on his crotch.

"Come on, kommissar," he breathed, rawly. "Over the table."

Lasha's eyes narrowed.

"No," he said.

His hand cupped the dancer's neck.

His breathing was shallow and light, sips of anticipation.

"No," he said, in a voice like ground glass. "Against the wall."

Date: 2008-06-17 06:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
Taras stood in front of the station, listening.

He felt almost numb, rooted in place, but at the same time, he was aware he was breathless, sweating and aroused. Something twinged like a cramp and he surged forward.

His hand moved to the volume control, to turn it up or off, he wasn't sure which, but before he could touch it, he cracked his knee soundly against the chair.

Taras bit off a curse, then several, grunting savagely. He leveled a vicious kick at the chair with his jackboot, and it shot into the station with a crash.

He gritted his teeth.

Taras sucked in a breath, turning toward the door. If anyone was passing by, they would have heard that and most likely would investigate, but the seconds passed and nothing happened.

His knee and foot twinged. He shifted, putting weight on that leg, but there was no sharp and splintering pain.

Isaev could suck his dick, as far as Taras was concerned. He wondered what Ilarion thought he was doing, when he knew full well the room was being recorded, but then it occurred to Taras that of course Ilarion knew that, and it was Taras who was thinking about it wrong.

Taras frowned, slowly.

He was thinking about it like a criminal would.

Not like a MENT. Like he could get caught and punished, like he had to watch what he did. He'd slipped into the audio room like a burglar intent on a little B&E, but MENTs didn't have to do that. Not that he should be careless. Not that he should flaunt it. But there were privileges that he had that criminals didn't, not only as a MENT but as the right hand of an Isaev, just like there were privileges Isaevs had that no one else did.

What did it matter, what Ilarion did to a suspect in custody? What could anyone do, even if they had the tape to prove it?

A sudden spate of muffled noises came from the speakers, and his breath caught.

"Well, shit," he muttered.

He paused, glancing at the door one last time, but it remained silent.

Taras grabbed the chair and pulled it back, so he could sit down. He figured he might as well be comfortable.

Date: 2008-06-17 08:44 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilarion-isaev.livejournal.com
It was terribly easy, much to his surprise.

Terribly easy to abuse the moment, especially when invited.

No, he thought, feverishly. I was begged.

Terribly easy to wheel the dancer around and slam him up against the wall with tenderly brutality, pinning him under the weight of his uniformed body.

His jackbooted leg interfered with Merkurii's stance, kicking it wider, and his mouth was already devouring the the hollow of his throat, the skin behind his ear, as his fingers sought the dancer's belt, ripping it open without preamble and shoving his contraband Levis down his thighs.

The dancer exhaled in a rough moan.

His own belt required only a practiced, lefthanded moment, and his cock was freed, jutting up from between the wings of grey suiting, hard and mottled like hot marble, slick with its own enthusiasm.

Lasha grasped his cock and ran it through the cleft that bisected the dancer's muscular buttocks, seasoning the flesh to his presence by force of habit.

"Fuck your politik, kommissar," spat Barshov, breathless, "and give me the gun. Shove up and fuck."

"You're impatient, little brother. Black eyes must be like oysters to you. Did Oleksei shove a dozen roses up your ass?"

Isaev leaned into the dancer, the penetration deep and sudden, and he swore, taken aback.

"Feel familiar?" hissed Barshov.

Lasha's eyes narrowed.

"All too familiar," he retorted, voice all treacle, softly gritted with sand.

It shouldn't have been so easy, slipping up and inside him, raw, unslicked. Shouldn't have felt like a known retreat, a warm and lingering harbor.

"I know the shape of you," breathed the dancer. "I carry it inside me."

"What the hell does that mean?" managed Lasha, as his eyes rolled back briefly, and he fought to master his senses.

"It means that when you know who's knocking," murmured Barshov, "you let him in."

The dancer arched toward him, opening further and pulling him tighter, deeper.

Head and flank, drawn back toward lips and prick, and Lasha gave him both.

Fucking hard and fast, like rapid, blotting catharsis, clenching his teeth as he rode his writhing, muscled mount.

His hips slapped in audible time, and Barshov cried out, long and low.

"I want to feel you," murmured Ilarion, hotly against his ear. "By braille," he finished, in a whisper.

He slowed, grinding upward, hard and elliptical, claiming every inch of territory inside Barshov, who clung to the purchaseless concrete and groaned unballetically at his motions.

Date: 2008-06-17 11:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
Taras groaned and leaned forward over the desk, writhing in the chair.

He pressed his hand to his crotch, but it wasn't helping. He needed to do something to take care of himself, properly, but fuck if that wasn't depraved, here in the Ministry sound room, listening to the audio feed live.

Taras could hear the unmistakable raw smacking of flesh, hard breathing and groaning, and most of what they were saying. He didn't need any fucking imagination to picture it.

Taras blamed Ilarion. That was easy to do.

He couldn't quite believe it, but at the same time, it was a relief somehow, to know that Ilarion knew how to fuck a man like the way men were meant to be fucked, none of this shit about how taking it in the ass wasn't queer, because it was.

Taras didn't want to think about what had happened to Ilarion to make him think that way, so he stopped thinking about it and unzipped his pants instead.

"This is your fucking fault," he hissed to the tape, to Ilarion, somewhere on the floor below in a small concrete room, fucking a dancer with a busted up face against the fucking wall.

The air in the sound room had grown stifling. He almost felt dizzy.

Taras took out his prick, palming the familiar weight, heavy and hot in his hand. It seemed like nowadays he had to jack off every night, like he'd gone back to being a teenager or something.

He blamed Ilarion for that too, but he also didn't think about it very much, either.

Taras moved to sit on the edge of the chair, spreading his legs, supporting himself with his free arm.

His hand worked his cock, falling into the rhythm like lifting weights, exertion and repetition.

Taras tried not to think about the sounds coming over the speakers, the roughness in Ilarion's voice as he spoke, tone and words familiar and brutal. That was impossible to ignore, so after a few moments he just went with it. It wasn't that much different than the Zone.

Date: 2008-06-18 11:19 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilarion-isaev.livejournal.com
Lasha's hips rocked into Barshov, cradling him hard against the wall.

"Confess," he hissed, slowly speeding up the cadence of his thrusts.

The dancer shuddered.

"Kommissar," he whispered. "I've given up my secrets."

"Confess," Lasha repeated, softly, fucking him harder, reaching around the dancer's hip to grasp his aching cock and hold it fast in his gloved hand.

Barshov drew his breath in harshly, bucking back.

"This body will never lie to you."

"Spill," snarled Ilarion, beginning to jerk him, leather sliding up and down Barshov's shaft in time with his pounding hips.

A broken guttural sound ripped from Barshov beneath him, raw and staccato, like a string of pearls.

The echoes of the room, where they broke and fell and scattered across the floor. Let him. There was no need to fear sound here. These rooms were made to contain it.

And below his straining chest, the essence of truth revealed itself, as he ejaculated, and spilled out all over Ilarion's gloved, pumping fist.

Cream over leather.

Keeping rhythm, Lasha released him savagely and brought the glove to his mouth, closing his eyes and giving the back of his hand a long, wanton lick.

Essence and warm leather.

The taste, the scent. It triggered him, and he broke.

Lasha cried out. A low, long, breathless, heavy sound that crescendoed in a fierce yell.

His loins erupted into orgasm, and he shot off with bombast, up into the depths of the dancer's hard, graceful body, as Barshov trembled and gasped with aftershocks.

Lasha laughed softly, appreciative and dark, slowing, easing, caressing his thrusts now as he wound down from the frenzied pace of fucking.

The dancer was shaking against the wall, lips tremulous and eyes closed. His hair brushed Lasha's shoulderboard with a soft swishing sound, almost inaudible.

But the room was so quiet, so quiet.

He eased back and out of the dancer, rare white drops spattering the floor around his polished boots.

Without his influence, Barshov's legs collapsed beneath him.

Isaev frowned and caught the brunt of his weight, easing him gently to the cold floor, curling him onto his side.

Fastening his pants once more, Ilarion crouched, fleetingly, beside the man's still, drowsy figure.

"And the truth shall set you free," he said, wryly, stroking the dancer's hair with a gloved touch one degree removed from humanity.

Date: 2008-06-18 06:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
Taras came hard, shooting off under the desk.

Heat suffused him. He sat there, still perched on the end of the chair, head bent and breathing hard. His pulse raced, and his dick throbbed in his hand.

He swallowed.

Taras had never heard Ilarion make that kind of noise before, savage and primal, the kind of cry that men made in the Zone, under the cover of darkness. It still rang in his ears, even now, as the noises over the speakers faded back to low murmurs and rustling.

Civilized, cultured, coldblooded Lasha howling like a wolf.

Taras lifted his head, and eased away from the desk.

He had marked the floor pretty well, he saw, and to him, the evidence looked damning and obvious. Taras rubbed his face and rose to his feet as he put himself away, wondering what he was going to do to clean things up.

But first things first, he decided. The tape.

Old habits died hard. He took his gloves out of his jacket pocket, and pulled them on, then wiped down everything he had touched with his bare hands.

Taras found the drawer with the tape reels and took out a new one, then stopped the whole mechanism, replacing the tape with difficulty. At first he put it in backward, and had to take it out and switch it around, but he got the end threaded through, and advanced the tape to around the same place as the one he'd pulled.

He slipped the tape into his inner jacket pocket, then threw some papers on the floor, pushing them around with his boot to clean up the mess he'd made, more or less.

That couldn't have been the only time that had happened, Taras thought, vaguely, as he threw the papers away. Fortunately, his pants and jackboots looked presentable enough.

Taras was out and into the hall moments later, with no one the wiser. That was what they called a clean job, at least, technically. Taras decided he would get rid of the evidence later.

He frowned.

Or maybe he would keep it.

It wasn't hard to find a bucket and some water. There was even a cooler full of ice, presumably to be used to make suspects really uncomfortable. He took a bucket, and a few towels, then went back to the interrogation room.

Like Ilarion had, he knocked, then walked in. Casually, as if he expected nothing out of the ordinary.

Taras spotted the dancer's slumped form lying on the ground, but Ilarion looked up as he entered, also casually.

"Brought the water," he said. "It's cold."

Taras let his gaze go to Barshov, deliberately.

"Get anything out of him?"

Date: 2008-06-18 07:23 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilarion-isaev.livejournal.com
Ilarion studied him dubiously for a moment, eyes narrowed.

There was something- something in Oleksei's gaze- that suggested an undertone.

"He's wrung out," remarked Lasha, raising an eyebrow. "Like he should be."

He nudged Barshov with the overshined toe of his tall boot, not ungently.

"You gave him the business, that's in no doubt."

He glanced down at his glove, still streaked with the dancer's issue. He knelt, wiping it on Barshov's hair.

He stayed there, turning the dancer's face toward him, eyeing the outcome, tallying the damage.

It would heal, it would probably not even scar. Much.

"He's not a criminal," Isaev said, after a moment. "I don't know why he's here."

No, he didn't know. Though he had his suspicions.

Date: 2008-06-18 08:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
Taras set down the bucket, scowling.

"I did it the way you told me to, Isaev."

Taras had known what he'd been doing. Maybe he'd gotten a little carried away, but not too much.

He looked down at both of them, silently watching the way Ilarion touched the dancer's hair, and then his face, with a hand that was gentle, but not overly so, though there was something about it that reminded Taras of the way Isaev touched Anya.

After a few moments, Taras averted his gaze, and handed Isaev the towel that he'd brought.

Barshov's papers lay in his pocket next to the contraband tape, and Taras pulled them out now, to give himself something to do.

He looked over the list of crimes, which were varied, all political, as Ilarion had said.

Taras had known a few political criminals in the Zone. One in particular, he didn't think about anymore, but in general, he knew they tended to be lightweights, and most of them usually talked too much, saying all sorts of shit about the People or the State, or whoever they thought had oppressed them. Some of them were just quietly bitter, but the others thought that nothing worse than the Zone could happen to them, so they might as well say what they wanted.

They were right about the Zone, but Taras had gotten tired of hearing the rest. He knew those types, and Barshov was neither.

The list of Barshov's supposed misdeeds was fairly long.

"Huh," he muttered.

Taras flipped through the pages again, frowning suddenly.

"That's weird. They fucked up his paperwork...or something," he finished slowly.

"This says he's fifty-three years old, but he doesn't look that much older than we are."

Date: 2008-06-18 10:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilarion-isaev.livejournal.com
Ilarion's head raised, silently, swiftly, and he got to his feet, turning, frowning.


He rubbed his jaw, absently, slow.

"What else does it say?"

The dancer was young, hardly older than he himself. Nika's age, thought Ilarion. He's Nika's age, exactly.

His gaze was drawn to the floor by movement.

Barshov was stirring, shifting, shaking his head as he tried to push himself upright.

Lasha cursed softly, exasperated at his attention being divided, glancing at Oleksei's frown and downcast eyes as he went to prop up the beaten dancer.

He bent down, seizing an arm to drape over his shoulders. Hauling the dazed man to his feet and easing him into the chair once more.

Barshov's eyes opened like a doll's and fell upon him, hazel and vulnerable.

"I'm okei," he said, like sorting glass.

Lasha avoided his gaze, looking to the side of his eyes.

"Comrade Barshov," he said, with textbook sobriety, and a bearing of presence that would have made Aleksandr radiate pride, "we are studying the possibility that there may have been a misapprehension. Captain Oleksei has kindly brought you some water. You should drink it."

The dancer looked at him for a long moment, and Ilarion blinked, bewildered, taken aback by the expression in his muted green eyes. Somehow, though he was largely insensate, he looked far more deeply wounded in that moment than he had looked, even, after bearing the brunt of Oleksei's meaty fists.

"My name," he mumbled, faintly, "is Barshai, kommissar. Merkurii...Adrikovich...Barshai."

Date: 2008-06-18 11:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
Taras turned to look at Isaev, but Isaev didn't look back.

There was silence in the room for a few moments, then Taras cleared his throat.

"I didn't bring a glass," he said, slowly.

Almost reluctantly, he gestured at the bucket.

"I thought you wanted to throw it on him, not let him - "

He fell silent, then looked down at the paperwork.

"Merkurii...Ievlevich...Barshov," he read, "fifty-three years old. A hundred and sixty-seven centimeters tall."

He paused, glancing up to eye the dancer's long and lean form.

Taras dropped his gaze again.

"Hair...black. Eyes...green."

He stopped reading, falling silent again, then he carefully folded the paperwork and put it back in his pocket.

Taras glanced at Lasha.

"Maybe I should go get that glass."

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