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Taras Oleksei was a long way from home.

He knew it with a certainty that lived quietly under his tattooed chest, as if he could feel how far he was from Leningrad.

It was nights like this - lying in bed, alone, bare skin freshly showered, warm under clean sheets - that he felt it more keenly than he did during the day.

Where you are isn't as important as who you're with, Lasha had said, and he was right, but when Taras was alone, the where grew longer, like a shadow under a low, harsh sun that never set, and just as hard to escape.

He held the phone against his ear, waiting, eyes closed to the darkness.

There was a pause, then a click.

"Connecting you now, sir," the operator told him.

The phone began to ring, and it sounded close.
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Date: 2009-02-16 10:15 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] danil-khartov.livejournal.com
The telephone was ringing.

Danil Khartov looked up from the chair where he slouched, watching the news with half an eye. A bottle of vodka sat beside him on the Major's invisible acrylic side table.

The table amused Khartov. It seemed truly invisible sometimes, which was kind of the point of such a modernist artifact in a translucent material, and then, the more you drank, the more invisible it subsequently became.

A triumph, that.

But the phone was ringing.

He turned his head and glanced behind him.

"Hey. You gonna get that?" he called, vaguely, wondering if Barshai was up and about.

He was loathe to abandon his seat in front of the fire and the television. The Major's red barcelona chair was deceptively comfortable.

No answer was forthcoming, and when he listened, he could hear the sound of cascading water, distant, like it was behind a door.

Barshai was in the shower, then.

With a sigh, Khartov pushed up, crossing the living room to the hall table where the black utilitarian phone rested, bell jangling at regular intervals.

He picked up the receiver and rested it between his chin and shoulder while he lit a cigarette, striking a match against its jacket.

"Major Isaev's apartment," he drawled, holding the tip against the flame. "This is Danya."

Date: 2009-02-16 11:01 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
Taras hesitated, caught off guard.

He hadn't expected that Khartov would be the one to answer the phone, and for a few moments, he couldn't think of a legitimate reason he would have called Ilarion's apartment.

The long-haired danseur was not a legitimate reason.

A second ticked by, then another.

"Khartov," he said brusquely, grimacing. "This is Oleksei."

He switched hands, pressing the receiver to his other ear.

"I'm checking in. Is everything all right there? No problems?"

Date: 2009-02-16 11:19 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] danil-khartov.livejournal.com
Khartov laughed, slightly, settling back against the counter.

"O-lek-sei," he repeated, with faint insouciance. "And how are you. Everything in Leningrad is fine. No problems...Captain."

He took a drag off his cigarette and smiled around it vaguely.

He was still smirking when he exhaled.

"Having any in Tselinoyarsk?"

A beat.

"Sir?"

Date: 2009-02-16 07:35 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
Taras scowled, and sat up in the bed.

"Problems? No. No problems."

Other than Liadov accosting Lasha in the mess hall. Other than what had happened with between him and Lasha, the night before. Other than him and Liadov, a little earlier. Other than being at the stark concrete base itself, surrounded by everlasting winter.

Khartov sounded like he usually did, like something amused him, as if he was privy to some knowledge Taras didn't have.

He exhaled through clenched teeth.

"Are you behaving yourself? What about the danseur?"

Date: 2009-02-16 08:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] danil-khartov.livejournal.com
Khartov shrugged.

"What about him?"

He paused, picking up the phone and crossing to the window to flick the ash off his cigarette.

Isaev had ash trays set out, but they were pristine, and he couldn't quite bring himself to use them.

"He's in fine shape," Khartov said. "Never been better. All healed up from your tough love, Captain."

He paused, taking a drag.

"And the leg too," he said, exhaling. "Quite the body on that bastard. Shame to to waste it on ballet."

Though he wasn't exactly sure where Barshai's brand of strength would be useful in the pursuit of traditional criminal craft.

Date: 2009-02-16 11:45 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
Taras snorted, dismissively.

"He might as well do what he wants. I'm sure he earned that."

He knew Barshai had. Anyone who started with nothing and got what he wanted out of life was worthy of Taras' respect.

"You know how people are. When it's something they really like, they work harder. That fucker must work out half the day."

Taras remembered the glimpse he'd caught of Barshai's abdomen. He hadn't been looking specifically, but the view under the unbuttoned silk pajama top had been hard to miss. The muscles of Barshai's stomach were perfectly delineated, even at rest, like a statue. Taras clenched his own stomach reflexively.

He leaned back against the tufted leather headboard. It felt warm against his skin.

"So everything's okay? Isaev's place, the office..."

He trailed off, frowning.

"Has it still been raining there?"

Date: 2009-02-17 12:41 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] danil-khartov.livejournal.com
"Da," said Khartov, leaning against the brick wall by the open window and letting the cold breeze bypass him as he smoked. "He does. Six hours at a stretch. I drive him to the theatre and sit outside the door to his studio while he works with his...what's the fucking word...dancemaster."

He took a drag, nodding.

"Da, that's right. The dancemaster."

Khartov paused.

"Got to watch a few times," he added.

The drapes were billowing slightly as the wind chased down the canal.

He looked out speculatively.

"And da, it's raining. Every night. Tonight I think it's heavy. Tomorrow morning it's gone."

He shrugged.

"Same old bitch, this Leningrad. You're not missing anything."

Date: 2009-02-17 04:26 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
"You wouldn't say that if you were somewhere else," Taras muttered. "I've lived there all my life."

He adjusted the sheets around his chest, tugging until he got them just right. He thought he might be able to hear the rain in the background, a faint tapping, softer than the sound of Khartov's breathing. Maybe it was just his imagination.

"This place isn't civilized. It's in the middle of nowhere. No wonder some sick fuck went crazy and started killing people. There's nothing else to do."

Taras exhaled. He felt like having a drink, but was disinclined to get up. He had some pepper vodka in the bottom of his suitcase.

"I think we're going to be here for a while yet. Just so you know."

He was silent for a few moments.

"Where are you from?" he asked, suddenly.

Date: 2009-02-17 05:23 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] danil-khartov.livejournal.com
Khartov paused.

"Nihzny," he said, after a moment. "Leningrad is better."

The rain was a deluge and he turned to watch it.

"What do you mean it's not civilized?" he asked.

He raised the cigarette to his lips, inhaling slowly.

"Like the Zone?"

Date: 2009-02-17 07:29 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
Taras' brow drew low and heavy.

"The Zone..."

He exhaled sharply.

"No. Nothing's like the Zone."

Though this place was similar in a thousand ways that Taras could not explain to someone who had never been there, and he was fairly certain that Khartov had not.

Taras pushed back the covers and got out of bed, picking up the phone so he could walk over to where he'd left his suitcase lying disheveled on the floor. He poked through his slightly rumpled clothing.

"But this place is...cold. Isolated. Just men and concrete and mountains. You can smell it on the air, like rain. There's something out there that's hungry. It makes you remember you're alive."

He found the bottle. Slavianskaya. Made from rye, not as smooth as Isaev's brand, but the pepper infusion made up for it.

Unlike Isaev, Taras hadn't brought his own travel set of cups. He carried the bottle back to bed.

"Leningrad is better," he murmured, repeating it, almost to himself.

Taras took a sip.

"You married, Khartov? Girlfriend?"

Date: 2009-02-17 08:55 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] danil-khartov.livejournal.com
Khartov smiled vaguely out at the rain.

"Married," he said. "No, that's not my style at all."

He paused, shrugging.

"Girlfriends. A few."

He exhaled blue smoke into the rain and watched it die in the downpour.

"Nothing serious."

His lip curled.

"Can't have too much deadweight, now, can we?"

Khartov turned around and found his bottle of vodka, tipping it up against his lips and chasing the taste of the cigarette.

He sighed, closing his eyes and settling back into the barcelona chair in front of the fire.

"How about you Captain? Got a woman?"

He paused, grinning slightly.

"Somehow I don't think so."

Date: 2009-02-17 09:50 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
Taras scowled, uselessly.

His hand tightened on the phone for a moment, then he just sank back against the padded headboard with a soft thunk.

It was written on his forehead, Taras thought, closing his eyes. That Khartov could see it too somehow made it better and worse at the same time. It was like going to the doctor. At least he knew what he had.

He drew the bottle to him, cradling it against his bare stomach.

"For your sake, I'm not going to take that the wrong way, comrade," he growled. "And no. Women are too much trouble. If I need one...there are plenty of whores."

He let out a forceful sigh.

"Look, put the danseur on, would you?"

Date: 2009-02-17 10:06 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] danil-khartov.livejournal.com
Khartov's cigarette almost dropped out of his mouth when he opened it to speak, but he caught it hastily in long, strong fingers and stubbed it out on a magazine.

"What?" he said, bemused and unsure. "The...you mean Barshai? What do you want with him?"

He ran a hand over his head.

"Is Major Isaev concerned? Did he tell you to check up on me? The dancer is fine, comrade- the picture of health. You're the one who wrecked his face- I've guarded him just like I was ordered."

Date: 2009-02-17 06:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
"Yeah, and I just wrecked his face, like I was ordered," Taras muttered.

He played with the bottle top, loosening and tightening it.

"Look, Khartov - you wouldn't be there if Isaev didn't trust you to do the job. Period. You know how he is."

Isaev surrounded himself by the best, rewarded them well, and expected unconditional loyalty in return, though at the same time he reciprocated with his unconditional trust to only a rarified few. Taras remembered the conversation they'd had about loyalty and trust, right before Ilarion had pressed the handle of a straight razor into his hand.

But the fact that Isaev left Khartov with his house and his dancer was significant.

"This isn't about that. I just want to talk to Barshai for a minute. That bastard's not bad."

Date: 2009-02-17 08:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] danil-khartov.livejournal.com
Khartov blinked, surprised.

"Da, okei," he said, after a moment. "Sure."

"...Captain," he added, as he got up and crossed to the entry table again.

He glanced behind him. The bathroom was empty, door open. Barshai had gone into the Major's room.

He put the receiver against his chest.

"Hey, Merkurii," he called, offhandedly. "Someone wants to talk to you. You gonna pick it up in there or do you want me to hold it for you?"

Date: 2009-02-17 08:57 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] merkuriibarshai.livejournal.com
From where he sat on the edge of the bed, toweling off his hair, Merkurii smiled, shaking his head.

He reached for the receiver of the phone beside the Major's bed and lifted it with a click.

"You don't need to hold it for me," he said into the the mouthpiece.

Khartov snorted in good natured mock offense.

"Suit yourself," he replied, and hung up without preamble.

Barshai heard open silence on the other end of the line.

"Is that you, Major?" he asked. "Or..."

Date: 2009-02-17 10:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
"It's Oleksei."

Taras paused.

"Just...called to see if everything is all right there."

Barshai's cultured voice was soothing, in a way. The danseur didn't talk like someone who had been born poor, but Taras guessed he had managed to learn to talk fancy, somewhere along the way.

He rubbed his jaw. He'd gone a full day without shaving. Taras knew after he shaved tomorrow morning, his jaw would be particularly smooth.

"...Khartov says your leg is better."

Date: 2009-02-18 12:59 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] merkuriibarshai.livejournal.com
"Da," said Merkurii, lightly. "Much better. I'm back to full weight. Doing arabesques again, and stag leaps without a problem."

He paused.

"The rest has been good for me. Body and mind. I didn't realize how much pressure had been building, you know?"

A quiet laugh.

"The leg, I would have just pushed through the injury. Tolerated the pain and taken drugs and wrapped it for support..."

Merkurii ran a hand back through his hair, laying back on the bed.

"So I suppose I should thank you, for giving me an excuse to take a little State vacation."

Date: 2009-02-18 01:36 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
"Not a problem," Taras said.

He could hear light rustling on the other end of the phone, background noise. He wondered what Barshai was doing.

Taras exhaled and settled on his back, adjusting the pillow behind his head. It was softer than his pillow at home. He wasn't sure if he liked that.

"If you need me to do it again, just let me know. No permanent marks, and not too much pain. Not a bad price to pay for a vacation."

His brow thickened into a frown.

"Your job sounds a little fucked up. Why's it like that? Wouldn't it heal faster if you just got a chance to rest? Under normal circumstances, I mean. That's not a matter of being strong, comrade. That's just...common sense."

Date: 2009-02-18 06:29 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] merkuriibarshai.livejournal.com
"They don't like State Treasures lying idle, Captain Oleksei."

Barshai's voice carried a resigned smile and only the slightest hint of bitterness, almost negligible.

"They...encourage us...to continue our regimens whenever possible. Unless it's truly a matter of incapacitation."

Merkurii laughed softly.

"But nobody argues with the MVD. Not even the Kirov direktors."

A pause, and he ruffled his damp hair absently.

"If the Ministry says 'we're keeping Barshai on ice for a while', then there's no argument."

Date: 2009-02-18 09:08 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
Taras grunted softly, a low growl.

"Those fuckers. Well, then you tell me or the major if you need a break. We'll take care of it."

He shifted in bed, settling. He found the vodka bottle again and set it on the bedside table with a click.

"I mean it, Barshai. It's not trouble. You be sure to say something."

Taras closed his eyes.

"You don't have anyone else to take of...things...for you, do you?"

Date: 2009-02-18 09:49 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] merkuriibarshai.livejournal.com
Merkurii sat up, slightly, hair tousled and gently stabbing his face in damp spears.

"What do you mean?" he whispered, uncertain.

He swept it back with his palm, feeling the sensual interplay of textures, vaguely cognizant of it even while bewildered.

"Are you asking if I have...other benefactors?"

Date: 2009-02-18 10:42 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
"I..."

Taras frowned, opening his eyes. It was kind of a personal question, now that he thought about it.

He didn't know Barshai all that well, after all, in spite of some of the things the dancer had said to him.

He made a low noise of dismissal.

"I didn't think you did. It was, you know, rhetorical. But don't worry about it."

He reached under the covers to scratch his stomach.

"So...what were you talking about earlier? What's an arabesque?"

Date: 2009-02-18 10:53 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] merkuriibarshai.livejournal.com
"I don't," said Merkurii, at once. "There's no one else."

He rose, lost for words, hanging his towel over the back of the chair haphazardly.

He reached for the covers and drew them back, sliding beneath with a shiver.

The satin sheets were always cold and sleek at first, before his body warmed them up, much like Major Isaev.

"Unless there's you."

He lay back, eyes closed, saying nothing for a moment.

Then he exhaled, slowly.

"An arabesque is a controlled leg raise. I'll show you, when you come back, if you want to see it."

Date: 2009-02-18 06:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
Taras stared up into the darkness, eyes flicking back and forth uncertainly.

He was silent for a long pause.

"Da," he said, finally. He spoke slowly, voice hushed. "Okei. I'll see that. I don't...know much about ballet."

Taras exhaled, pushing himself up again. He reached for the vodka and took a short pull, letting the heat of it burn through him.

He licked his lips.

"You know, I take care of things for Major Isaev. I look after them, because he has a lot on his mind. It's not easy for him here, with that cat-faced detective. So I try to do things without him having to ask. Smooth things out for him."

Taras fell silent again. He let his eyes close.

"I know you're important to Isaev. So if you have trouble with something, you can tell me. If it's Khartov or your...dancemaster or anyone else, and I'll...look out for you."
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