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Taras Oleksei wondered when life had gotten so confusing.

He walked down the dimmed hall, his steps slowing, every one he took shorter than the last, as if he were slowly losing the will to move forward.

It was a good thing it was the middle of the night. No one was around to see his state of disarray. Taras' coat was unbuttoned and his shirt gaped open, and his tie hung loosely around his neck.

He supposed he looked like a guy who had just kissed another guy, and then gotten sucked off while lying back on a desk.

Taras' loins were still gratifyingly warm, the tension eased from his broad and tattooed shoulders. His lips felt funny, sort of swollen, but not entirely unpleasant.

Taras remembered a time in his life when things were simpler, when he didn't spend so much time thinking. Every decision was made in the moment, and there was no such thing as consequence.

He wondered if he had been happier.

Was he unhappy now? He tried not to think about Liadov, and what they had just done. Red Square had been easier to excuse. He'd been drunk and distracted. But this time, Taras knew that he'd wanted Liadov. It hadn't been an accident that Taras had kissed him.

Taras stopped in the hall, frowning, momentarily disoriented.

He hadn't been paying attention to where he was going. Now all doors looked the same. He took a few moments to orient himself. His room was not far away. He'd chosen the one at the end of the hall, but from this direction, it was the beginning. His, Anya's, and Lasha's rooms where here, as far from the naked chelovik's as possible.

Taras took his keys out of his pocket, hesitating, glancing to the side. His gaze skipped past Anya's room and lingered on Lasha's.

It was late. Lasha would no doubt be sleeping.

His chest cramped as he thought about Lasha.

Ilarion Aleksandrovich Isaev, his comrade.

Taras found himself wandering away from his room, and stopping in front of Lasha's. He leaned close. Taras couldn't hear anything in particular, but he knew Lasha slept quietly.

After a moment, he let his forehead rest against the door.

Taras felt like his mind was full of questions that he already knew the answers to, but didn't want to admit them.

The door felt cool against his forehead. He laid a gloved hand on the doorknob.

It was locked, not that he'd expected otherwise. Lasha kept everything that way.

Taras swallowed.

In the next moment, he eased back from the door, and took out his wallet. Inside were two small wood-handled paring knives he'd ground down to narrow picks in his father's workshop. The half-round tip pick had worked on the door to Liadov's office, and the locks on the guest quarters were exactly the same. Taras inserted the picks into the lock, working for only a few moments before he heard a soft click.

He put away his tools, and pushed open the door slowly. Obligingly, it did not creak. Taras opened it only wide enough for him to slip inside.

It was quiet and dark. Taras paused to let his eyes adjust.
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Date: 2008-10-23 06:52 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilarion-isaev.livejournal.com
Ilarion's eyes bolted open in blue darkness.

After a second pulsed by, he remembered where he was, and realized what had stirred him in the first place.

Someone was trying the door to his quarters- no, it was beyond that now- someone was tampering with the lock.

Someone was an accomplished lockpick.

Reflexively, Isaev's hand shot upward and under his pillow, wrapping around the cold grip of his pistol. The solidity of the piece was always pleasurable against his palm.

The door gave up its innocence with a gentle protest, and after a moment, swung open in a slow arc. The slash of light it betrayed was brief, merely a flashing slice, before it was blotted by the black and backlit silhouette of a figure.

Lasha's eyes narrowed, and he sat up slightly, silently. He kept his profile low. After a moment, he drew the Makarov out from beneath the pillow.

The door closed swiftly and quietly, leaving the man inside.

Ilarion had ice in his veins when it came to drawing his gun. It had been conditioned, imprinted, assured and entrenched in his nature as a visceral response- as natural as breathing.

Now he kept his eyes trained into the darkness, caressing it absently in his grasp as he waited for the intruder to make his move.

Date: 2008-10-23 05:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
Taras stood at the door, breathing quietly.

The only light in the room whatsoever came from the window, which was heavily draped, though softly lit at the edges. It was not enough to illuminate everything, only to provide a marker for the far wall, and suggest shapes in the darkness.

Taras slowly navigated his way toward Ilarion's bed, seeking the chairs and chaises by touch. He traced gloved hands across the backs of each piece to guide him, stepping carefully from one to the next.

He stopped at the bed.

Taras thought could make out a vague human shape, but he knew it was Lasha regardless, from cues other than visual. The scent of him, the warmth.

The softest whisper of breath.

Taras closed his eyes.

He wasn't sure why he'd broken in. Maybe it was enough to just feel Lasha's presence, and know he was close.

Date: 2008-10-23 06:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilarion-isaev.livejournal.com
The intruder's progress toward him was careful; barely audible, but Ilarion could just make it out, somewhere above the realm of white noise, just as he could faintly make out the limned edges of a shapeless motion in the darkness.

There was a kind of negative sight that came, after sitting in pitch blackness with the eyes wide open, a tone on tone recognition.

Ilarion's eyes narrowed further, watching intently as the formlessness came closer to the bed, and the faint sounds of his approach came nearer.

The man reached the side of the bed, and now Lasha could see his form, though amorphous, looming above.

The man paused.

Ilarion let a second pass, breathing softly.

Then he silently surged forward at the dark suggestion of a man, one hand finding thick cloth of a lapel and seizing it, the other shoving the muzzle of his Makarov up and under the intruder's jaw, holding fast.

Now he had his bearings.

His mouth pressed against the man's ear.

"Freeze."

Lasha's voice was taut as piano wire.

The man's physiognomy registered surprise, but not shock. He was stymied, not rigid.

Lasha paused, as the scent of vodka and wool registered in his senses. But beyond that, there was something else, strong intermingled notes of someone or something familiar.

Ilarion's tone shifted with sudden realization, though his hand kept the gun trained tightly up against the man's flesh, just in case.

"Taras?" he inquired, carefully. "Is that you?"

Date: 2008-10-23 07:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
Taras held still.

His heart beat with sudden violence, stirring his senses to sharpness. That was Ilarion's voice stroking his ear, his weight pulling against Taras' coat. The blunt end of Ilarion's gun thrust under his chin, and Lasha's shadow lingered in his peripheral vision.

Taras drew in a slow breath.

"Da," he whispered. "It's me, Lashka."

Taras licked his lips, pressing them together.

"Izvinit. I didn't mean to..."

He paused, falling silent, at a loss.

Taras could feel his pulse thrumming against Ilarion's gun.

He closed his eyes again.

"...I should have knocked."

Date: 2008-10-23 07:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilarion-isaev.livejournal.com
"No harm done," exhaled Lasha, tacitly relieved. "Khorosho."

Ilarion checked his weapon at once, releasing him and easing back down onto the bed.

"Glad it's you. Otherwise I would have a lot of paperwork to fill out in the morning."

He slid the gun back under his pillow discreetly.

His abruptly forced awareness was now dulling somewhat, the surge of adrenaline receding, and he let himself relax.

"What is it?" he asked, without ire. "Is everything all right?"

Date: 2008-10-23 08:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
"Yeah, I just - "

Taras exhaled. He felt for the edge of the bed, and sat down heavily on it.

"I don't know. Maybe this place is getting to me."

He could feel Ilarion's presence behind him.

"You know. Fucking with my head."

Taras raised his hand to his throat and felt along it, rubbing the place where Lasha had pressed his gun, where the memory of the impression persisted.

"I just needed to see you," he said, after a moment.

Date: 2008-10-23 09:01 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilarion-isaev.livejournal.com
Ilarion frowned in the dark, as Taras's weight registered on the mattress.

"This place," he said, thoughtfully. "Cold. Isolated."

He leaned back, musing.

"Like the Zone."

Ilarion was silent for another moment, and then he spoke again.

"Why me?" he asked.

Date: 2008-10-23 09:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
"You're my comrade."

Taras tugged halfheartedly at his already-loosened tie.

"You're my best and oldest friend."

He turned to look at Lasha, trying to focus through the darkness, honing in on the sound of his voice. He planted a hand on the mattress, leaning back.

"You remember the last day we were in Leningrad, right before we came here? You told me that who you're with is more important than where you are."

He thought about it. Standing at the big window in his office, looking out over Leningrad. Lasha's words had made him feel warm.

"I just..."

He shrugged.

"I just wanted to be with you."

Date: 2008-10-23 09:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilarion-isaev.livejournal.com
Ilarion nodded in the darkness, remembering belatedly that Oleksei could not see him.

"If I said that," he said, after a moment, his voice low and soothing. "Then it must be true."

He paused, brow furrowing. Privately, he'd worried a little as they disembarked the helicopter the two nights before, at the effect this place would have on Taras. It hadn't occurred to him in the abstract, obsessed as he was with ideas of seeing Liadov again, and letting him have it, but as they drew nearer through the snow-capped peaks, and as they stepped out onto the ice crisp tarmac on the desolate plateau, he began to make the connection.

This place, in essence if not function, was not so different from the gulags.

He couldn't see Oleksei either, couldn't judge whether or not the symtoms of paranoia or strain were showing. His voice sounded fairly normative, if oddly compelled.

"You're all right, Taras," he said, quietly authoritative, reaching out, seeking Oleksei's shoulder and curving his hand over it. "You're not a zek any more. It's nothing you can't handle. Just relax. Breathe."

Date: 2008-10-23 11:05 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
Lasha grasped his shoulder with warm, steady pressure. Taras could feel his taut muscles give, slowly relaxing.

For a man who did not work out as frequently, or as hard as Taras did, Isaev had a decent grip. It must have been because he was always groping things.

"I know," he said, reaching back to press his fingers against Lasha's hand briefly. "Thanks, Lasha."

He paused.

"I had trouble sleeping earlier. I had to go for a walk."

It had led him straight to Liadov's office.

Taras grimaced.

"You mind if I stay here tonight?"

That morning, he had woken up with Ilarion's body pressed against his, one arm thrown across Taras' broad chest. Taras had been alarmed until he remembered they'd fallen asleep that way, after a night of hard drinking.

Alcohol made it better.

Taras wondered what Liadov would say if he knew about it, but then decided that it would probably be better if Liadov didn't.

"I think I might sleep a little better."

Date: 2008-10-23 11:28 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilarion-isaev.livejournal.com
Ilarion smoothed his hair back slowly with his hand.

"No," he said after a moment. "I don't mind."

Andrei had slept with him for a month after the incident with the Frenchman.

"You shouldn't go walking around here without me," Ilarion remarked, easing over beneath the covers to make room on the bed. "Especially at night. It might trigger off bad associations. You know what I mean."

He paused, coolly.

"I'm nagoy, under here, comrade. Just so you know."

Date: 2008-10-24 06:59 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
Taras was quiet for a moment, then he sat forward on the bed.

"It's not a problem," he said.

He leaned down to pull off his boots one at a time, tossing them to the side, then he stood up to unbutton his jodhpurs and shrug off his jacket and tie. Taras stripped down to his undershirt and shorts. He usually slept in the buff as well, but in this case, he thought it was better that he didn't.

He got into Ilarion's bed, slipping under the covers.

The bed was warm where Ilarion had been just a moment before. Taras settled, lying back, turning his head toward Lasha.

"I'm not going to hurt anyone, Lasha."

He was quiet again.

"You know that...right?"

Date: 2008-10-24 07:17 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilarion-isaev.livejournal.com
Ilarion frowned.

"Of course, Taraschik. You're not a savage."

He yawned, stretching slightly.

"Non sequitur, comrade Captain...What brought that on?"

Date: 2008-10-24 04:05 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
Taras exhaled softly.

"I just thought...that's what you were saying, earlier."

He tucked a hand behind his neck.

"About bad associations."

He frowned, reaching under the covers to scratch his crotch idly.

"Like if I walked around outside at night, I might..."

Taras hesitated.

"Do...something...to someone. I thought that's what you meant."

Date: 2008-10-25 08:09 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilarion-isaev.livejournal.com
Lasha laughed, abruptly.

"Bad associations, Taras, meaning you might associate certain elements with unpleasant experiences. Not...that you might...associate...badly with others."

He fell silent, then laughed again.

"I was worried about your well-being, not your tendency to 'do unto others' ."

Ilarion paused, yawning.

"Anyone who gets in your way can go get fucked, as far as I care."

Date: 2008-10-25 09:19 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
Taras laughed once, a soft exhalation of air.

"Oh," he said. "Da. All right."

He shook his head slightly.

"Just...checking."

He half-turned toward Lasha, a warm presence in the bed next to him. Carefully, he reached out, finding the crown of Lasha's head in the darkness. Taras grazed his fingertips across Lasha's hair.

"Thanks, Lasha," he murmured.

Taras was silent for a few moments.

"Can I ask you something, comrade?"

He hesitated.

"You don't have to say yes."

Date: 2008-10-25 09:42 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilarion-isaev.livejournal.com
Lasha frowned, bemused.

"Of course," he declared, aware that for a moment he sounded like Aleksandr.

He felt Taras's glancing touch across his hair, almost negligible. But present, he could not discount it.

He sighed, feeling warm and vaguely drowsy.

"Why would I say no?"

Date: 2008-10-25 06:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
Taras shrugged.

"Because it's personal. And maybe you don't want to talk about it."

He let that sit a moment as he shifted under the covers, getting more comfortable. It brought him a little closer to Ilarion.

"Or maybe another time would be better. That's all I'm saying."

Taras frowned, feeling almost reluctant now. Hesitant to continue, as if he'd just talked himself out of it. But Taras knew he was a man who who didn't back down because of doubt.

He ran his tongue over his lips, tasting vodka and maybe Liadov.

"About your...mother," Taras said, quietly. "I was just wondering if you'd tell me."

Date: 2008-10-25 07:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilarion-isaev.livejournal.com
Ilarion felt a small stabbing somewhere deep and buried.

"My mother," he articulated in a clear voice.

He paused for almost a minute, trying to incorporate the question into his pleasant relaxation and still somnolent mind.

After a time, he frowned, gathering his wits and turning toward Oleksei forcefully.

"She's dead. What do you want to know?"

Date: 2008-10-25 09:00 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
"What...happened."

Carefully, Taras pulled his hand away from Ilarion's head.

Isaev had shifted suddenly on the bed, the motion swift and vehement, though not violent. He was not exactly angry, Taras thought.

Taras was quiet a moment.

"And why. I know what people said about it, but I don't really know why."

Date: 2008-10-25 10:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilarion-isaev.livejournal.com
"What people," Lasha said, eyes narrowing in the darkness, "would dare to talk about my mother?"

He couldn't imagine where this question was coming from. Taras was always pragmatic and never bothered by details; he didn't care what the reasons were, didn't want to know anything more than was necessary. He was almost pathologically bereft of curiosity when it came to personal matters.

Like his father, he accepted facts no questions asked. That was why they excelled at their particular unmentionable craft.

Ilarion's voice gained an edge of chill.

"Khartov?" he demanded. "Anya?"

Date: 2008-10-26 12:00 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
"No," Taras said, quickly, startled. "No. Not them."

Now Ilarion was angry, Taras thought.

He could hear Ilarion's breathing. It was slow, and almost precise, as if he were controlling his emotions as carefully as clockworks.

Taras was beginning to get the idea that maybe he shouldn't have asked at all.

He hesitated.

"No one disrespects you or your mother. It's not like that. It's just - "

Taras recalled the odd note in Liadov's voice when Taras had brought it up. Disbelief, as if Liadov couldn't fathom that Ilarion would ever speak to Taras about it. But at the same time, did it mean that Anya and Khartov knew all about it, if they were likely suspects for gossip?

He exhaled, frustrated.

"It was Barshai," he said, finally. "He told me how he knew her. But it's not his fault. I made him."

Date: 2008-10-26 06:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilarion-isaev.livejournal.com
"Barshai," repeated Ilarion.

He was silent.

Obvious choice, except that he never would have picked it. Merkurii was not the kind to go running off at the mouth, so his mind had lit on Liadov- Liadov, who despised him now, who couldn't have told Oleksei, but might have let slip to his beloved office domestics in careless vengeance.

"She drowned herself, Oleksei."

Ilarion paused, tempering his voice, cooling it back to a point of steady inflectionless fact.

"Everyone knows that. And if you know about Barshai, then you know why, as well."

Date: 2008-10-26 10:03 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
"I don't - "

Taras broke off, exhaling.

"All right."

He shifted, easing down to rest on his back again, staring up at the darkness.

"It's all right. It's not really my business, Lasha. You don't have to talk about it. I just want to understand."

You, he thought.

He frowned deeply.

"There's a difference between knowing and understanding, da? You're not mad at Barshai. You look out for him. You take care of him."

And other things.

"But...it's not like Liadov, either."

Date: 2008-10-26 11:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilarion-isaev.livejournal.com
Ilarion's jaw tightened.

"What's not to understand about a woman who has an affair. Whose husband finds out and spares her the camps by throwing her out of the house and taking her children away from her?"

His voice was modulated, untouched by emotion.

"What's not to understand?"
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