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.
taras_oleksei: (Default)
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.
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.

Epilogue

Apr. 6th, 2008 10:44 pm
taras_oleksei: (Default)
Taras was hunched over the bar again, staring at the untouched glass of vodka in front of him.

Somehow he wasn't quite in the mood to get completely smashed, at least, not alone.

He glanced over his shoulder, looking around the room. Several guests were nearly staggering, leaning on each other and laughing, while others had broken up to smaller groups for quiet conversation.

Taras caught sight of the woman in black from earlier, though only briefly before she disappeared into the thinning crowd.

The party had definitely died off for the night. Even if Isaev hadn't had the confrontation with Liadov, Taras was sure he'd want to leave anyway.

Taras knew he was ready to go, and leave this place and what had happened here behind him.
taras_oleksei: (Default)
"Another," Taras said.

He leaned on the bar, not looking up, forehead pressed against his hand.

Taras stared at the glass that stood empty in front of him, but nothing was happening. After a few moments, he looked up.

The bartender held the bottle of vodka in one hand, hesitating.

"Sir, are you - "

"Another," Taras snapped.

Vaguely, Taras wondered how many shots he'd had in rapid succession. Maybe three. Maybe more. But Taras thought thought the bartender should know how to serve a Russian.

Often, and without protest.

The bartender poured.

"Good," Taras muttered, and picked up his drink, pushing away from the bar. He could still walk in a straight line, more or less, so the rest didn't matter.

As he walked, his hand went to the pocket of his matador jacket, and found the hard shape within. He fingered it for a few moments, then pulled it out to look at it.

A dark trophy from earlier in the evening: a broken-off piece of a half-arrow shaft, painted artful metallic gold. He'd found it on the ground, damning evidence near the site of his misdeed.

Taras fingered the sharp end.

He wasn't sure why he'd kept it.

After a few seconds, he jammed it back into his pocket and looked around the hall, which had thinned somewhat while he'd been drinking.

Where the hell was Ilarion?

Probably still prancing about his merry way with that whip of his, hitting women on the ass and smirking about it.

Taras blamed Ilarion for getting him worked up earlier. If Isaev hadn't been poking him with the crop, Taras never would have had to go out for fresh air.

Bastard.

He didn't see Isaev on the dance floor. Not that Ilarion would be bothered to dance, but it was just another place Isaev wasn't.

Taras frowned and slipped into the next room. He would keep hunting until he found him.

August 2010

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