Hindsight

Jan. 4th, 2009 12:09 pm
taras_oleksei: (Default)
Taras woke with a start.

He sat up, unaware of where he was. His pulse was thrumming, hard, in his throat. Disorientation always made him assume the Zone, as if his release by the Isaevs and all the subsequent years of freedom were only the fever dreams of a man who no longer had waking thoughts of hope.

But no, he realized, after a moment. No. He was not in his flat in Leningrad, which was part of the problem. Instead of his brass bed with its plush mattress and soft sheets, and the warm, familiar smells of home, he was in a smaller, firmer bed with sheets not quite as fine, in a room that was darker, and not as warm.

He fell back, closing his eyes.

Taras knew it now, remembered the assignment that had taken them away from Leningrad and brought them to the stark concrete military base, bare and bleak as bones, in the remote Urals, halfway to Magadan.

The rapid pace of his heart began to slow as he lay there, breathing deliberately.

No. He was far from the Zone.

A memory came back to him then, one he didn't recall often. Lasha. Lasha had been waiting for him in Leningrad after the long, long journey home. Ilarion had been standing on the train platform, hands tucked into the pockets of his grey MVD uniform, visor cap slanted down low over his brow, shading his eyes. The fog had been thick and low-lying, a backdrop of dusk and smoke.

To anyone else, Lasha's visage must have looked sinister, a spectre of death, surely there to arrest someone the moment they stepped off the train. The crowd had parted around Ilarion like a school of fish around a shark.

But there had been something about the icy, amused glint of cold eyes under the brim of the cap and the hint of a dry smile at the corner of Lasha's mouth that Taras had recognized immediately. His friend. His comrade. Isaev. Part of him had wanted to embrace Ilarion there and then, in spite of the fact that he had never done so, but he had only approached Lasha wordlessly, and it had been Lasha who had grabbed his arm first, clasping it in both hands.

"Welcome home, Taras," Lasha had murmured in his ear, and Taras, overcome, had only been able to nod.

That had been a long time ago. Six years, now.

Taras pushed himself up, and swung his legs out from under the covers, sitting on the edge of the bed. He thought he should get up, shower and dress and head to the mess hall. Taras had the feeling he was getting a late start, but as he glanced at the nightstand, he didn't see his watch.

He frowned.

His suitcase was not where he'd left it, either, on the floor next the bed. He tried to remember if he'd put it away at some point, perhaps shoved it under the bedframe or into a closet, but he could not recall any such thing. As he glanced around the room, he caught sight of his uniform, draped neatly over a chair. That was strange.

There were other, little things - the door to the bathroom was open, whereas he always kept doors closed, and a small collection of bottles sat on the bar, next to a black valise that looked like Lasha's.

The sense of disorientation hit him again, but only for a moment, and then Taras realized that no, this was not his room at all, but rather, Lasha's.

Lasha's room.

Lasha.

His eyes widened, brown, and blue, and huge.

He began to recall it all, but completely out of order, memories hitting like low blows, gut-punches. Kissing Ilarion. Fucking him. Talking, after sex, affirming his loyalty with the sort of words that should never cross a man's tongue. And then, letting something far worse cross his tongue, performing an act unspeakable and unthinkable, vulgar and....

Taras licked his lips and swallowed, uncertainly. There was a funny taste in his mouth.

"Lasha?" he breathed, hoarsely, his voice barely a whisper.

No sign. He listened above the pounding of his heart, but heard nothing. The bathroom was dark.

Ilarion must have woken, and left, then, and Taras had slept through the whole thing, apparently so secure in Lasha's company that survival instinct did not kick in. But Lasha had not seen fit to wake him, either, and had just left him to sleep.

Was that how it worked? It would be easier to act like nothing had happened, if so. Taras wondered if that was what Isaev expected. He had left, then Taras was supposed to, and it would be like it never was.

But it had seemed almost normal, then. Maybe even enjoyable. Maybe. He recalled feeling warm, and close to Lasha, but now he could barely reconcile that with this, waking up in Isaev's room, naked and alone. Taras had done that thing again, like in Red Square, where something that seemed all right in his head at the time became a profoundly bad idea later.

Taras pushed out of bed with a sudden, violent motion.

His watch was sitting on the bathroom counter, where he'd left it the night before. He had taken a shower after they'd argued, before they'd had sex. Taras felt like he needed another shower, right now, but he didn't know what would happen if Ilarion came back while he was showering.

A toothbrush sat in a cup on the counter. He felt the bristles. Wet. Lasha had obviously used it earlier that morning. Taras stared at it for a few moments, then grabbed the toothpaste.

It was not the worst thing of Lasha's that that been in Taras' mouth.

As he brushed his teeth, he went to the towel rack. One damp towel, and one wet washcloth. He grabbed a dry washcloth.

Taras scrubbed his tongue, avoiding his own gaze in the mirror.

He walked over to the bar to find some vodka so he could purge any lingering odd tastes in his mouth. After a few seconds, he remembered that the fucking Ukrainian had drank all of Ilarion's vodka. He scowled. Cognac would have to do, he supposed.

He washed his dick and between his legs, and under his arms and his face. Then he got dressed, swiftly. Taras put everything back the way he had found it, more or less, and slipped his watch over his wrist. It was time to go. Taras moved to the door, and paused to listen.

The door shuddered suddenly, with loud bang, an impact of fist or foot.

Taras jumped, recoiling.

"What did you do, you prick?" a male voice demanded from outside, loud, and angry.

I don't know, Taras thought, panicked, staring at the door in horror, wondering who it was and how they could know and why the person sounded strangely familiar.

"Isaev! Are you in there?" the voice said, and after another moment, Taras placed it.

Liadov.

Liadov, angry about something, expecting to find Lasha. Taras wondered if he would break down the door or pick the lock. From the sound of it, he was capable of either.

He would know, he would know everything, the moment he saw Taras standing there, in Isaev's room, the second he laid eyes on Taras' face.

Taras stood still, though his impulse was to scramble away, find a place to hide, under the bed or in the shower. The still-functioning rational part of his brain kept him frozen in place. No sound, no motion. No one inside. Taras glanced down. The door sat flush with the doorjam. There would be no telltale shadow.

There was silence, then after a few seconds, shifting. Muttering. Footsteps retreating.

Taras let out a breath.

He wanted to sink against the door with shaky relief, but Taras found himself wondering.

From what he knew of the man, what he had observed, Liadov had nearly the self-control of an Isaev, one of those elitist pricks who were too good for an emotion as coarse as the raw anger he heard in Liadov's voice. To have been pushed to the point of pounding on Isaev's door had to be the result of some extraordinary trespass on Isaev's part, as if everything he had already done wasn't enough.

Taras grimaced.

"What did you do, you prick," Taras muttered. He listened at the door for another second, then opened it and slipped out. There was no one in the hall, but he could hear Liadov's retreating steps.

Taras closed the door behind him with a quiet click.

Memento

Aug. 25th, 2008 08:32 pm
taras_oleksei: (Default)
Taras stepped out of Ilarion's room.

The hallway was quiet. Empty of naked cheloviks and anything else he didn't want to see.

Anya's room was right next door, but he paused to lean his broad back against the wall, closing his eyes.

It had been a long night, or maybe not long enough. Maybe he just hadn't had enough to drink. Maybe he had heard too many things he didn't want to hear.

He let out breath, a long sigh.

After a few moments, he pushed away from the wall, and knocked on Anya's door.

"Who is it?"

Taras smiled, gratified she was taking precautions like a sensible girl.

"It's me."

There was a pause, then the door opened. Anya stood there, wearing a pale pink muslin nightdress under her robe, her hair in big pink curlers. No strangely colored paste on her face, he noted with vague relief.

"Captain."

"Anya."

He hesitated. He usually told her she looked nice, but he didn't think you were supposed to do that when women weren't actually dressed up for company.

"Hope it's not too late," he said, instead.

Anya smiled, as warmly as always.

"No, not at all, Captain."

"I just came over to check on you, make sure everything's all right."

"Oh, that's very nice of you. I'm fine, thank you."

"It was Isaev's idea."

Anya smiled again, glancing down the hall. She reached up to touch her curlers.

"Oh, really? Well, that was very thoughtful. I was just getting ready for bed, but..."

She looked back at Taras, almost expectantly.

"Well...don't let me keep you," he said.

Anya gave a little sigh, then she smiled.

"Don't worry about it, Captain. How is everything?"

"All right. We're just having some drinks and Isaev's brother and his...comrade."

"That sounds nice, like a good way to relax. It seemed like things were a little stressful, earlier."

Taras frowned, then remembered the argument he and Isaev had back in their office, when Anya had left to get tea.

"Oh, right. Yeah, we worked that out."

She nodded.

"That's good. Is everything else all right?"

"Yeah."

"Are you sure?"

Taras sighed.

"Yeah...it's just..."

He hesitated.

"This place is a little...different."

Anya nodded, encouragingly.

"It is. You know, I was feeling a little homesick earlier, but I used the phone in my room to call my mother back in Leningrad to tell her I arrived here safely. Maybe you should call your sisters. I'm sure they'd want to know that you're all right."

Taras blinked.

"I don't think they really worry about me like that."

"Of course they do, you're their brother."

Taras didn't have the heart to tell her that one of his sisters hadn't even noticed when he'd been sent up north.

"Yeah, maybe."

"Leningrad is two hours behind. It's not too late to call."

"All right," he said. He paused. "Thanks."

"Thank you for checking on me, Captain. Good night."

"Night."

Anya closed her door again. Taras heard the soft click of the lock.

He paused in the hallway, looking between his room and Isaev's. He almost felt like he needed some air before heading back in to be social, but it was probably still raining outside.

Taras felt for the key in his pocket, hesitating, then finally turned toward his door.

His room was the same size as Isaev's but felt smaller for some reason, probably because no one was in it. More comfortable, like a sanctuary.

Taras stepped over his suitcase. It lay on the floor in disarray. He'd tossed it there the night before, and had rooted through it this morning to look for a clean shirt and underwear. One edge of a magazine poked out from beneath his workout clothes. The cover model was blond, at least from what he could tell. He fished it out.

She had a big rack and small waist and curvy hips, more buxom than he usually liked them. Taras preferred girls who were tall and more slender, though not too skinny. They had to be sturdy.

He sat down on the bed, flipping through the magazine. There were all kinds of girls in there, dark, light, curvy, skinny, everything in between. Some with platinum blond hair.

It reminded him of the Evropeiskaya, and all the girls that had been idling in the the lobby, waiting. He had never seen so many in one place at one time. It had been a little overwhelming.

Taras frowned. That seemed like a long time ago, now. He'd hadn't known Isaev as well then.

He fell back on the bed, tossing the magazine aside. He didn't think he even felt like jerking off.

Taras pressed his hand on his forehead. Maybe he was getting sick, or was still weak from the night before. Also, it had been a pretty rough day. First he'd found out that Liadov was here, which Isaev hadn't seen fit to tell him beforehand, and then there had been the bizarre interlude with Andrusha and his dangerously volatile Ukranian comrade. Of all the things to hear out of a khokol's mouth, but love.

He scowled.

Love. It made him think of what Merkurii Barshai had said about Ilarion.

He was in love with that cat-faced detective.

Liadov.

Taras rubbed his hip. The tattoo was no longer new but it still itched vaguely at times, though he thought it must all be in his head.

He groaned, sitting up.

A telephone sat on the bedside table. He looked at it for a few moments, then hesitated, picking it up. There was a clicking sound and then he heard a male voice.

"Comm officer."

Taras hesitated.

"This is...Captain Oleksei of the Interior Ministry."

"Yes, Captain, how can I help you?"

"If I give you a phone number, you can connect me to civilization, right?"

There was a pause.

"Yes, Captain, that's right."

"Khorosho."

Another pause.

"What's that number, Captain Oleksei?"

Taras hesitated, then carefully recited the number he'd memorized a while back but had never called.

"Patching you through now, sir."

There was another click, then he heard the phone ringing.

Friction

Aug. 11th, 2008 01:46 pm
taras_oleksei: (Default)
They walked in icy silence back to the north wing.

Overhead, the clouds were dark.

A wind had picked up, cold and biting, tugging at their caps, ruffling the papers in Taras' arms. Isaev led the way with effortless long strides, cutting through the wind like a shark through water, gaze hard and grey, focused on what was ahead. He did not look in Taras' direction, not once.

After a few moments, Taras narrowed his eyes and looked away.

Emotions stirred deep in his gut, like wild things battering themselves uselessly against bars, hungry to be unleashed.

He replayed the encounter with Liadov in his mind as they walked.

Lasha had known that Liadov would be there, Taras was certain. There was no other explanation for Ilarion's cool demeanor and cooler words, not when the mere mention of Liadov's name usually sent Lasha into pained, frostbitten silence, like he was now.

Ilarion pushed open the door with a dismissive motion, like he was flinging away something distasteful.

They had been assigned a workspace earlier that morning. It was a far cry from the offices they enjoyed in Leningrad, the solid hardwood desks and leather chairs, tasteful paintings on the walls, long windows with the views out over the canals and historic cathedrals.

Here, the walls were plain white and brick, and the office space simply that - a open room with high windows that faced another concrete building opposite. There were two small desks that were more like tables, formica tops and steel legs, and one actual table with a few slender chairs on either side.

Anya looked up as they came in. She was sitting at the long table.

Taras saw that in their absence, she had done what she could to make the space more functional. Blotters and pen sets had been placed on the desks, along with a few other office supplies. Somehow, she must have found a small potted plant, and arranged it carefully, like a centerpiece.

She stood up, smiling. "Hello, Major, Captain. I..."

Anya hesitated, looking at their faces.

Taras dropped Rakitin's paperwork down on the table carelessly, with a loud thump.

"The office is ready for your use," she said, briskly professional now. "Shall I get some tea?"
taras_oleksei: (Default)
Taras dreamed about the Zone.

He did that sometimes, in spite of the fact that he was further from it now than he'd ever been. Dreams were one place where even the long arm of the Ministry didn't reach.

His dreams about the Zone were usually short and to the point, about either fucking or fighting, sometimes both, at the same time.

This one was different, more detailed, and yet wholly surreal.

In the dream, he'd been sent up north again for some reason, and not even his clean record and rank and all the power of the Isaevs had stopped it. But Magadan was somehow more like the MVD Winter Ball, and everyone there was dressed as either an inmate or a guard.

Taras was wearing an inmate costume, complete with a scowling mask and clothes dyed to appear grimy. He wandered the halls, which were decorated like bare concrete walls and barbed wire huddled below a stark and distant sun.

It seemed like everyone was having a good time with the whole thing, guards mixing with inmates, inmates talking and laughing and drinking. Instead of labor camp, the inmates had to cart in trays of hors d'oeuvres, though they ended up stealing more than they served.

Taras had managed to sneak away so he could look for Isaev, but he hadn't been able to find him. He kept looking, and after a while he came upon two guards arguing in a hallway, and realized they were Isaev and Liadov.

As he listened to them argue, Taras decided to do it right this time, to kill Liadov before the guy saw it coming. But before he could make his move, Liadov suddenly pushed Isaev back, and then they started fucking, Magadan-style, up against the wall, hot and hungry and violent.

Taras woke then, pulse racing, erection pressed against his thigh, feeling vaguely unsettled and disoriented.

It was dark, but the bed was soft, and after a few seconds, Taras heard breathing.

He relaxed automatically without knowing why, but then remembered that he was at Isaev's, in his giant bed, and they had celebrated Anya's birthday with a few fairly depraved acts.

Slowly, he became aware of something else, a solid weight under his arm, a warmth against his chest and leg.

Taras realized at some point during the night, he must have rolled on his side, closer to Isaev, and draped an arm possessively over his hip.

But Isaev must have moved closer as well, undoubtedly seeking heat, maybe thinking he was Anya. Ilarion's leg was thrown over his, and his arm was tucked against Taras' chest.

Their heads were close. Isaev's breathing was steady, near as Taras could tell, but it was Taras' lungs that rattled.

He went still, wondering if he should pull away before Isaev woke up, but then again, that would probably wake him immediately.

Ilarion's hip felt smooth and warm.

Taras frowned.

Round Two

May. 18th, 2008 01:37 am
taras_oleksei: (Default)
Being clean was one of those luxuries that Taras hadn't taken for granted ever since he'd gotten out of Magadan.

He felt better after a hot shower, more clear-headed and relaxed, though now he was hungry. Still vaguely aroused, but not enough to have to do something about it immediately.

Taras turned the bathroom over to Anya and put on his pants, but didn't bother with the shirt.

He left Ilarion's suite, figuring he had time to get a sandwich. Anya would be in there for a while. Taras knew how girls were about those kinds of things.

The Isaev townhouse was quiet, but not empty. Not cold. Taras liked the feeling that other people else were around, even if they weren't in the same room. He walked down the main staircase to the ground floor, then went down the main hall toward the kitchens.

There was a low, muted light coming in the kitchens, welcoming. He stopped by the door and leaned in just enough to get a glimpse, casing it first, just to make sure.

He spotted Isaev across the room, behind a counter. Looked like he'd had the same idea as Taras and had come downstairs for a snack.

Taras smirked as he stepped in, always quiet.

"Lasha."

His voice was pitched low, just enough to get Isaev's attention.

"You have something to eat in this place?"
taras_oleksei: (Default)
Taras decided to stop thinking about it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He let his head fall into his hands.

Stop thinking about it, he thought.

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

“Well? How was it?”

Taras flinched, staring at her.

“What?”

Anya frowned then, and looked at him more carefully.

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

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

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

Taras rubbed his face.

“Captain, are you all right?”

He nodded into his hands.

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

There was a pause.

“I…see,” Anya said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ll wait for Isaev.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

After a moment, he nodded.

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

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

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

Anya blinked.

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

“Isaev told me.”

“Oh. Well, I guess he would know.”

Taras frowned, and looked up at her.

Anya’s cheeks flushed suddenly.

“I mean…Major Isaev is…”

She hesitated, seeming to search for the words.

“…very knowledgeable,” she finished, finally.

“Yeah,” Taras said, slowly.

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

After a few moments, she looked up again.

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

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

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

“Right.”

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

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

“There was a ballerina,” he said.

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

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

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

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

“You look nice today,” he told her.

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

“Your hair looks nice.”

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

He nodded.

“Liadov was there,” Taras said, suddenly.

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

“Oh. I see. Was he…did he…”

She hesitated.

“He used to be your boss.”

“Yes.”

“Was he good to you?”

“Well…yes. He was. Very good.”

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

Liadov. Saint Nika. Don José.

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

Taras didn’t say anything.

She looked at him.

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

“I don’t think it went well.”

“Oh.”

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

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

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

Taras glanced down at his paperwork.

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

He could do that.

Decisions

Mar. 15th, 2008 12:14 am
taras_oleksei: (Default)
Taras stared out the window, leaning his chin against his hand, frowning.

A report sat on his desk, flipped open, but unread. His work was usually more than enough to hold his attention, but today he found himself distracted.

“Captain?”

Taras looked up to see Anya standing in the doorway to his office, holding a stack of files against her chest like a shy schoolgirl carrying books to shield her from the world.

“I brought those files you requested.”

Taras smiled and leaned back in his chair.

“Have I told you lately that you’re a sweetheart?”

She glanced down, blushing a little as she came in and set the files down on his desk.

“I seem to remember that, Captain,” Anya said.

Taras liked that he could still make her blush in spite of everything that had happened in Ilarion’s office the other day. He had wondered if it would be awkward afterward, but Anya had been just as efficient and kind as ever.

Like nothing had happened, though she was no longer afraid of him.

He’d had to think about that one for a while, but then he’d decided he liked that too.

“Well, good. Thank you, Anya,” he told her.

“Of course,” she said, pleasantly brisk, and moved to the door.

Taras reached to pick up one of the files, flipping through the paperwork she’d brought, even though he was sure it was all there. Anya never got anything wrong, at least not as far as he could tell.

After a few moments he realized that she hadn’t left yet.

He looked up again. Anya was lingering at the door, looking at him, her brow creased lightly.

“Is…everything all right?” she asked, sounding hesitant.

She took an apologetic step forward.

“You seem distracted, if you don’t mind me saying so.”

“I don’t.”

Taras sat back in his seat, and let out a sigh.

“Maybe I can run something past you and see what you think.”

“Yes, of course, Captain.”

Anya closed the door behind her and stood in front of his desk attentively, but he gestured at her to sit down. Anya moved to a chair and swept her black skirt underneath her, crossing her legs as she sat. Deliberately, Taras leaned to the side to ogle.

She blushed again, but then gave him a pointed look, the kind his sisters gave him when he teased them too much.

“It’s about this…costume ball,” he started, slowly. “The one next week.”

“Oh!” Anya brightened. “Yes! Major Liadov – ”

She broke off, hesitating, looking at him carefully. Like she expected him to have the same reaction to that name as Isaev did. Taras wasn’t sure what he thought about Liadov, but he knew he didn’t mind talking about the guy with Anya.

Taras raised his brows.

“Major Liadov…?”

“Oh, I was just going to say that Major Liadov enjoyed going to those. He would tell me about the costumes everyone wore.”

Anya sounded more subdued.

“Anyway…I think you’ll have a good time. What are you going to go as?”

Taras picked up a pen, and used it to scoot a stray paperclip across his desk.

“Well, that’s what I was…”

He paused, gesturing vaguely.

“I hadn’t decided yet,” he finished.

“Oh. Well, what are your options so far?” Anya asked, helpfully.

“Yeah. Well, I’m still…”

There was silence.

“Oh,” Anya said then. “Well, if it’s not too presumptuous of me, maybe I can suggest something. I’m sure what you had in mind would be splendid, of course, but it never hurts to have options.”

Taras tried not to nod too quickly.

“Options, yeah, sure. Sounds good.”

In truth, the idea of the masquerade ball had plagued him since he’d first heard about it, but he hadn’t said no. Not with Isaev sitting there so blithely, acting like it was the most normal thing in the world.

Taras knew how to dress nice, put on a suit and tie, how to choose the subtle colors that flattered without being too ostentatious. Grey, black, dark blue. He could handle all of that. He even knew how to dress up black-tie.

But this whole matter of dressing up in costume had distressed him. What was he supposed to dress as, something that wouldn’t make him look like a complete fool? He’d heard other people talking about it in the office – a sailor, one said, and another said a czar, and yet another, an American cowboy.

Taras had no idea if they were joking or being serious, and there was no way he was going to ask Isaev for help.

It had even started to keep him up at nights, thinking about it, wondering what he was supposed do.

Anya was looking at him speculatively, a frown of concentration on her brow. She tapped her carefully-trimmed and lacquered nails idly against her lip as she thought.

“Well…what about…a gladiator?”

“A gladiator,” Taras repeated.

Anya smiled.

“It’s very strong and masculine, isn’t it? A warrior who makes his living fighting other men to the death? It would be perfect with your hair.”

Taras wasn’t sure what that last was supposed to mean, but the rest sounded pretty good to him.

“What does it look like? I mean, the costume.”

Anya beamed suddenly. “Wait right here!”

She sprang from her chair and hurried out of his office, leaving him sitting there, a bit bemused, in her wake. A few minutes later, she came back, carrying two heavy books.

Taras stood up to help her set them down on his desk. Encyclopedias, he saw, from the reference room. She flipped through the thick, glossy pages.

“Here.”

Anya turned the book around and showed him the picture.

Taras frowned.

“That looks like a skirt.”

“It’s not a skirt,” Anya said. “It’s part of his armor. It’s what they wore back then. I think it’s very masculine, especially for someone as – ”

She broke off.

“Well. I’m sure you’re in very good shape, Captain.”

He smirked at that.

“Yeah, well, it also has bare arms and legs. That’s not going to work.”

Anya looked at him, frowning inquisitively. Taras hesitated, then pushed up his right sleeve to show her the edge of his snake-and-dagger tattoo.

Her eyes widened.

“Oh,” she said.

“That’s not the only one.”

“Ohhhh,” Anya said, again.

She looked at him, and for a moment, he thought he almost saw that old fear, the way she’d given him timid mouse-eyed looks before. But the expression was fleeting, and quickly replaced by a small, warm smile, the way she looked at him now.

Maybe he’d just imagined it.

“Well, we’ll just have to think of something else then,” Anya said briskly, in a way that reminded him of his mother.

She turned the book around and began to flip through it again. He waited, trying to think of something helpful to say, make a suggestion, something he’d thought of already, but he was at a loss.

“What about an American cowboy?” she asked.

“…no. I don’t think so.”

“Hmm…a soldier? You look good in uniform, Captain.”

Taras thought about the Evropeiskaya, the soldiers that had loitered in the parlour, smoking and casting jaded smirks in his and Ilarion’s direction.

His shoulders twitched.

“I don’t think that would be a good idea.”

Anya nodded absently, still focused on the encyclopedia.

“What about a vampire?”

“Isn’t that…bad luck?”

Anya looked up, her pale eyes clear and unexpectedly amused.

“Captain, are you superstitious?”

“No,” he said, shaking his head quickly. “No, of course not. I just thought – ”

Anya pressed her lips together.

“You’re not pale enough. Of course, what was I thinking? That’s entirely wrong for you.”

“Right,” Taras muttered.

“A pirate.”

“Too much skin.”

“A convict?”

He looked at her.

“What do convicts look like?”

Anya opened her mouth, and no words came out. Her face flushed.

“Captain – I didn’t mean – ”

For a few seconds it seemed like she was going to say something else, then she seemed to think better of it and cleared her throat.

“I suppose you’re right,” she said, evenly. “No one would be able to tell what you were. You need something that’s easier…what about a doctor?”

Taras thought about that one.

“Huh. Maybe.”

Anya was already shaking her head.

“No…on second thought, I don’t think I like that for you. It should be more manly, if you don’t mind me saying so, Captain. Something a little more exciting. Let’s see…a priest…no, an astronaut, no, a devil…too obvious. I suppose you could be one of the Greek gods, though I think that usually involves at least bare arms…A prince…no. A pharaoh…maybe. You could be a chicken…”

“I thought it was supposed to be manly.”

“Well. Or another kind of animal, I mean. Like a lion or a rooster, or a bull – oh!”

“What?”

He leaned forward, trying to get a look, but she was flipping through pages too rapidly.

“No, I just had an idea…let me see if there’s a picture. Oh, here! Look. What do you think?”

Anya turned the encyclopedia again to show him the picture of a man wearing snug red pants with fancy gold designs down the sides. He had a crisp white shirt, and a gold and red jacket, also fancy, and a strange-looking black hat.

“What is it?”

“He’s a matador.”

“A matador?”

“A bullfighter. He has a red cape – see? Here. And he waves it, and challenges the bull to charge him. They he gets out of the way, because he’s smart and quick and strong.”

“And then what happens?”

Anya paused.

“Oh. I don’t really know. I think he’s supposed to kill it, eventually. Matador means ‘killer.’”

“Really?” Taras asked.

“Yes. Though that seems terrible, doesn’t it?”

Taras raised his brows.

“I guess so. People really do that?”

“Well, mostly in Spain. Matadors are heroes to the people. Unafraid of anything.”

“Huh,” Taras said.

He rubbed his jaw, looking at the picture.

Anya smiled then.

“What do you think?”

“You’re sure that red’s not too fancy?”

“Oh no. That’s the color they use on purpose. Bulls get angry when the see red. They charge at it. At least, that’s what someone told me.”

Taras didn’t know what people Anya was talking to, because no one had ever told him anything like that. But he supposed Anya must have had a lot of book-learning as well, and just knew things he didn’t.

He shrugged.

“You sure those pants aren’t too tight?”

Anya looked up at him, her gaze unreadable for a moment.

“Trust me, Captain. I think they should be just fine.”

Taras looked back at the picture.

“All right. A matador it is.”

“Wonderful!”

Anya got up and picked up the encyclopedias again. Taras tried to help her, but she shooed him away.

“Don’t worry, I’ll arrange for the costume and make sure you get it in time,” she said as she walked to the door. “It’s a wonderful choice. Major Isaev – ”

She paused at the door.

“Well, I don’t suppose you’ll be telling him what you chose beforehand, will you?”

Taras blinked.

“Well…no,” he said.

Anya nodded vigorously.

“Oh good. You’ll be wearing a mask, you see, and no one will know who you are. It’ll be very exotic and mysterious. I think you’ll enjoy yourself, Captain.”

Taras nodded, slowly, sitting back, finding himself glad for Anya’s input. He didn’t know how she’d managed to come up with so many ideas in just a few minutes, or figure out what would be best for him, but he guessed that was all part of her job.

“Thank you, Anya. For your advice.”

Anya smiled.

“It’s always my pleasure, Captain,” she said as she left.

Rituals

Feb. 26th, 2008 11:02 am
taras_oleksei: (Default)
Taras sat in the leather wing chair in Ilarion's office, paging through a file, waiting.

It was still dark outside, and the MVD building was quiet, save for the distant odd knocks of the radiators.

Taras had found he liked arriving early, unlocking the door, being in the office before anyone else got there. He stalked through building like a burglar, navigating dark halls lit only by the predawn glow that outlined each window he passed.

Isaev seemed to prefer coming into work early as well. The first time Isaev had arrived to find Taras already there he'd seemed almost startled, but had invited Taras into his office to review current files over hot tea.

Now, it had become Taras' habit to skip his office and go straight to Isaev's, leaving the overhead lights alone but turning on the desk lamp to illuminate the room in soft and subtle radiance.

It made the room a small inviting beacon in the dark building. Ilarion's office was always warmer than his, anyway, and had a better view.

He rubbed his jaw idly as he read. The livid black and purple bruises that had graced his jaw all week had finally faded to dull browns and yellows.

Their most current case was a homicide that had all the earmarks of a professional hit. Double tap to the back of the head, execution style. No witnesses, little evidence. The shooter had even picked up the spent bullet casings.

Taras nodded in to himself absently, in approval.

He tossed the file aside. The case wasn't worth their time, in his opinion. Isaev would probably concur.

There was a special section in the file room for cold cases. Taras had amused himself on a slow afternoon by looking up a few of his old hits, the ones he remembered well enough to pinpoint. All unsolved, all with brief, vague notes from the investigating officers, as if they hadn't been bothered to put much effort in, either.

Taras had stood there in front of the file cabinet, laughing quietly until Anya had come upon him and asked if everything was all right. He had told her that she smelled nice, and she had found something else to do.

He picked up the next file, pausing to glance out the window. It was still mostly dark, but Isaev would be arriving shortly, he knew.

August 2010

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