The Visit

Feb. 18th, 2010 12:31 pm
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[personal profile] cheslav_oleksei
Later, Cheslav would always remember it was winter when Avdotia Isaeva died.

Cheslav Oleksei remembered the Siege as an eternal winter, even though he knew intellectually that the seasons must have changed during those two and a half years. Yet when he caressed the place in his memories that knew starvation and fear and aching desperation, squatting in bombed-out buildings and eating stringy meat nearly raw, taking his knife to the veins of a man for the first time and finding fleeting solace in the slow grind of hard flesh, that place, those memories, were grey and tinged with frost.

Now, there was real snow on the ground in front of the Isaev estate.

The estate stood as always, imposing and elegant, a tall historic townhouse facing the wide road. The snow around the curb been recently plowed but was blackened with mud from the tires of many recent visitors, like the first shadow of tarnish on silver.

Cheslav drove himself, and parked his white Moskvitch in front, instead of going around to the back like usual.

The night air felt crisp, and very heavy.

His breath streamed between his lips like smoke. Seeing it made him want for a cigarette.

There were few things Cheslav Oleksei denied himself, but he denied himself a cigarette now. Instead, his hand went absently to his pocket, and felt the weight of the bottle within.

Cheslav wore a black wool coat that spanned his broad shoulders and swirled around his boots as he walked up to the townhouse's front door. Above him, most windows were darkened save for a couple that were faintly backlit with the softest of warm glows.

No other signs of life.

He allowed it was possible that no one was home.

His heavy brow knit low over his dark eyes.

Cheslav had even features, for the most part, a straight Greek nose and squared-off chin, and a long, angular jaw. It was the thick brow that glided his face with a touch of menace, and betrayed his coarse birth.

Rather, both his jaw and his massive form, tall and thick with muscle like the butcher he'd once been, and Cheslav knew it mattered as much where you'd been as where you were.

He reached for the wrought iron knocker, but then changed his mind and rang the bell, instead.
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Date: 2010-02-22 10:44 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]

Cheslav felt a tightness in his chest he ignored as he closed the door carefully behind him and walked with ever-slowing steps to the armchair where Aleksandr sat.

Perhaps more at lay bonelessly sitting up.

It was something he'd never thought he'd see, the tsar of the Ministry reduced to a wreck of a man, shriveled and diminished, almost shrunken in on himself. His eyes were closed and his blond hair was a mess, spilling across his forehead. As Cheslav got closer he saw dried tears in faint salt tracks down his cheeks, and raw cracks on his lips.

Cheslav cursed softly, barely aloud.

"Shurik, what have you done to yourself."

That answer, he thought, was obvious. But there were many others that were not.

He stopped in front of Aleksandr's chair, reaching down to seize his jaw with a firm grasp, tilting it up. He felt stubble scrape his callused fingertips.

"You look like shit."

His nose wrinkled.

"And you stink."

Cheslav raised his hand, meaning to give the other side of Aleksandr's face a hard slap, but in spite of the tough words he'd spoken to the boys downstairs, he felt himself waver.

He could not bring himself to strike a grieving man, a friend. Not when his wife was dead.

Not after all they had shared.

Cheslav laid his hand on Aleksandr's cheek, caressing it slowly instead. He ran his fingers across Aleksandr's high, hard cheekbones, brushed his thumb over his raw lips.

"Shurik. Look at me, you prick," he whispered.

Date: 2010-02-22 10:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
This time it was not an hallucination; words could be imagined, but physical contact was something else entirely.

Someone was touching him, with a tenderness he did not deserve.

Aleksandr forced his eyes open.

The faint shock of realizing the hand belonged to Cheslav Oleksei did not even surface in his expression. His features were so much numb and tundra.

He made a soft, low noise. His gaze was pale and hectic in the moonlight.

"I fucked up," he said.

His voice was unusually low, guttural.


He turned his face mindlessly against Oleksei's broad hand, dimly aware of the stark reality of calluses and the understated power beneath the raw palm.

"I don't want this. Feeling."

His lips drew apart, as his eyes glassed over for a moment.

"You would murder me if you knew."

Date: 2010-02-22 11:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Cheslav exhaled quietly.

"I don't know, comrade. I usually murder people who don't deserve it."

He thought he felt a tic spasm in Aleksandr's cheek.

Cheslav looked into Isaev's eyes and searched for the man.

Was he there, merely grieving, exhausted and aching and weary, or was he the raving, mindless shell of a man that Ilarion and his friend had described?

Cheslav stroked Aleksandr's cheek, with light, firm fingertips, as if chafing warmth back into his skin.

"I'll pour you some water. And then you'll tell me about it."

He turned away. He had spotted an elegant carafe on the nightstand, and he collected it and a lowball glass and returned to Aleksandr's seat.

Cheslav poured, watching him closely, then touched the cool rim of the glass to his lips, coaxing him to drink.

"Tell me," he murmured. "I think you need to."

Date: 2010-02-23 06:24 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
A trickle of water spilled over his unresisting lips and he tipped his head back slightly, out of reflex.

It was room temperature, and felt foreign in his mouth.

"I have nothing to say," he muttered. He spat the words, sharply accented, but accepted more water when Cheslav forced it to his lips.

He tried to summon bellicosity, belligerance, but found it a tremendous effort. He was fought out.

"There's nothing left for you here. Only ashes. And I."

Fatigue made his whole body tremble beneath his uniform.

"Leave me alone, Slava. Go find some...feminine company. See to your son."

Date: 2010-02-23 09:44 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
"Then don't say anything."

Cheslav eased the glass from Aleksandr's mouth. A stray droplet of water tracked down his chin, and Cheslav absently brushed it away with his palm.

Aleksandr spoke a little more normally now, in speech patterns closer to the familiar, but his voice was still rough and frayed, as if he had almost used it all up.

Cheslav noticed that Aleksandr was shaking. He wanted to tell himself it was from the cold.

"I'm not going to say that you owe me an explanation. But I'm not going away, either."

Cheslav set the glass down on a nearby table with a resolute click.

"So talk, or don't talk. I'll still be here. And we're alone in the house together, so if you don't like that, there's not much you can do about it."

Cheslav paused, staring down at him.

After a few seconds he reached out and stroked the back of his hard fist ever so gently down Aleksandr's cheek to his jaw.

His voice dropped, matching the softness of his touch.

"In fact, I have half a mind to strip you and throw you in the shower. What do you think of that?"

Date: 2010-02-23 12:53 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
It was perhaps the first thing he heard clearly in three days.

"What?" Aleksandr managed to intone, more afraid his mind was playing tricks on him than incredulous. His voice felt rusty and came out sandpapery and faint.

He looked at Oleksei squarely for the first time, his steely eyes flickering intermittently between bewildered and expressionless, like a bird unsure whether to light on a branch or fly straight into a window--and not being able to tell which was the better choice, which was more alarming, but only in the abstract.

Aleksandr had passed the point of concrete rationalization by about 48 hours.

Slava's hand on his face felt hard and smooth as granite, but warm and oddly soothing, if only on the most animal level. It was brotherly, intended to comfort. He'd seen it often enough among thieves. It was their way, easy and facile, tactile, rough men unafraid to express themselves physically. Perhaps even lacking other means.

His feverish, overwrought mind had clearly misinterpreted the tone of the manner in which Cheslav said the words, like the artifact of a crossed wire.

Cheslav had said a brazen thing, but not as brazen as his mind would have him believe, and what was more, he couldn't let Cheslav know his perception of such things was compromised. Who knew what the butcher was capable of, given that kind of speculative latitude to exploit.

He recovered slowly, his hand tightening into a fist around Avadya's coat.

"You wouldn't dare," he said, very softly.

The voice was there, menacing and ominous, wrapped in grey, but the will behind it was exhausted, and the body was weak.

"You wouldn't dare touch me."

Date: 2010-02-23 04:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Cheslav laughed, a low, rough sound.

"I am touching you, Shurik."

He patted the other side of Aleksandr's cheek, not so much a slap as an impertinent sting, just as a reminder.

If it came down to a physical contest between them, they both knew who would win.

It was not that Aleksandr Isaev was weak in any sense. He was tall, of a height with Cheslav. His shoulders were broad and his build healthy and athletic. He had the sort of frame that would take well to bodybuilding if he chose - Cheslav could picture him, vigorous and strapping, with another twenty pounds of muscle.

As it was, though, from the times that Cheslav had seen him in the banya or elsewhere, Aleksandr had fine, fit body and classically muscled physique. He undoubtedly followed a strict daily physical regimen and could probably physically overpower most men.

But Cheslav Oleksei was not most men. He had a sheer brutal physicality to him, layers upon layers of hard muscle built by wrestling live steer and hauling dead carcasses.

He was very nearly a monster of a man.

Cheslav let his hands drop and settled them on Aleksandr's shoulders.

"Now we can do this easy or we can do this hard. It's up to you."

His gaze dropped to the hauntingly familiar wool coat clutched in Aleksandr's hands, and he felt a faint twinge in his chest.

"Why don't you let me put this over there?" he murmured.

Cheslav settled a heavy hand gently over one of Aleksandr's taut fists.

"So it's safe."

Date: 2010-02-24 12:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Aleksandr's eyes narrowed.

"What is this?" he snarled.

His voice was sharp with ice, a tone it acquired by innate reflex, not design.

"You come into this house of mourning. You disrespect me with physical gestures. Now you want to rip the last remnant of my love out of my arms?"

Something visceral kicked in and his hand shot toward the holster at his side.

A moment later outrage flooded his classical features.

"Where the fuck is my pistol?" he demanded, more of the universe than Oleksei.

Weary as he was, he had trouble conceiving of this non sequitur. He struggled to compartmentalize what had happened as his hand snatched empty air instead of the cool textured grip he anticipated.

Absolute expectations foiled. Reality in turmoil.

He uttered a low, loud, furious cry of rage and frustration, starkly at odds with his civilized facade. In it was palpable anguish.

His breath came heavily, ripping from his lips for a moment, eyes wild.

Then his head snapped up.

Aleksandr's gaze seized on Cheslav Oleksei, freezing enough to burn.

"Do what you came to do, or get the fuck out. And if you fuck me over, Cheslav, I'll make sure you bleed out in the gutter, just like one of your beasts."

Date: 2010-02-27 01:14 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Cheslav rocked back on his heels, inhaling so sharply it hurt.

He stared helplessly into Aleksandr's wild eyes.


Aleksandr's cry had been a howl so primal it had lanced straight through Cheslav and erupted like a thundercloud over his heart.

Not since the Siege had Cheslav been witness to such utter human agony wrapped in living flesh. He felt for a moment as if transported back to that time, recalling his hunger and need vividly.

His heart was pounding. His hand tightened on Isaev's wrist, convulsively.

"That's enough of that," he whispered.

Belatedly, he realized his danger, that he'd relied on the Liadov boy's word that Isaev had been disarmed. Cheslav had not even thought to check for a gun.

The strength he so blithely relied on would have made no difference if Aleksandr had pulled his sidearm.

He struck quickly, acted suddenly, because that was the only way he knew.

Cheslav leaned down to catch Aleksandr firmly at the elbow, then braced his knee against the armchair. Cheslav used his leverage to haul Aleksandr forward, wrestling him up and out of the chair in a swift, brutal motion.

"...then the coat can go in with you."

Date: 2010-02-27 05:05 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Abruptly dragged upright, Aleksandr could barely gather his wits to apprehend Cheslav's intentions. A violent scowl painted his features, but their classic nature made it of it an aesthetic pastiche of a handsome man in anger.

Belatedly he realized Oleksei was hauling him toward the open door of the ensuite - not without some effort, he noted vaguely - but wholly without compunction.

"What the devil are you-"

Aleksandr found his voice for the first time, somewhere deep and buried.

He attempted to wrest free, which made Cheslav put his head down and muscle him harder.

"What the fuck do you think you're doing?" he demanded in a hiss, the words forced through his teeth with a tension that equaled the resistance in his body.

Date: 2010-02-27 06:06 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]

Cheslav grunted out breath between his teeth, straining with the effort to wrestle Aleksandr into the washroom.

Aleksandr resisted him with surprising strength. It was not the passive resistance of dead meat, but the rather the very active struggle of a strong man, a tall one, a man who had leverage of his own. One who tested his grip and threw off his balance. Cheslav's rubber-soled boots thankfully found purchase on the wooden floors.

"You're taking a shower, whether you like it or - "

He hissed out a lightly labored breath, like a curse.

He was guessing not.

They reached the threshold of the washroom door, and Cheslav was reminded of a cat that did not want to get wet. Rather than give Aleksandr the opportunity brace himself against the doorjamb, Cheslav surged forward suddenly, and they went staggering in.

"This is for your own good, Shurik."

Date: 2010-02-27 08:07 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Aleksandr reeled, off balance, boots resounding sharply against the marble floor, striking a hand out behind him, catching himself on the far wall.

His body wasn't responding as quickly as he was used to. Cumulative fatigue, unacknowledged hunger, stress, mental fog, the duration exacted in his vigil of stillness - all these things conspired against him now.

Inwardly it infuriated him, outwardly he struggled to resist and maintain cohesion. Maintain control.

Cheslav had stumbled in after him, and Aleksandr squared off against him as he righted himself, his posture defensive.

His hand slipped slightly on the cool Roman marble of the wall and his lip set harder.

His other hand reached up to rub jaw, absently, as he tried to keep his balance supple and anticipate Oleksei's next move.

The feeling of stubble was unfamiliar, distracting. He faltered slightly, as his legs weakened but gritted his teeth and flung his head back defiantly.

Date: 2010-02-27 08:53 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Cheslav narrowed his eyes.

He took a moment to catch his breath and orient himself to their surroundings. The bathroom would be well-familiar to Aleksandr, home turf, which had Cheslav at the disadvantage.

The walls and floor were marble. That meant no sudden moves, though there was no telling what Aleksandr would do.

Aleksandr stood poised, chin up and eyes flashing, almost wild. Adrenaline had clearly kicked in and now he stood opposed, like he meant to resist for all he was worth.

They stared at each other for a moment.

Cheslav widened his stance and blocked his shoulders, and took a menacing step forward, lip curling.

He closed on Aleksandr again.

"For a bureaucrat, you're giving me a lot of trouble."

Date: 2010-02-27 12:42 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
"Blatnye trash," said Aleksandr and spat on the ground.

His mind was clearer now, despite his weakened constitution, the adrenalin and testosterone that flooded his senses almost like sal volatile.

Oleksei was moving toward him, a bruising stride with a sense of threat and purpose.

Something in the ominous curve of of Oleksei's mouth offended him. It looked as if he was blatantly enjoying himself. It lacked any reverence at all, under the circumstances.

Aleksandr was not enjoying himself. His life had been the very opposite of enjoyment of late, though he wasn't quite sure what that technically was. It was something beyond and above misery.

Suffering, he thought. Suffering was what they called that.

Was Cheslav enjoying his suffering on some level, or was he just slow-witted enough that the slightest hint of physical altercation would make his low-class, showboating nature giddy enough to forget the context of where they stood, and why, and what occasion he had muscled his presence into?

Aleksandr had not forgotten.

His fist clenched hard and relaxed slowly.

"I wouldn't woolgather much longer, Slava," he said, his voice soft and deathly measured. Taut as piano wire. "He who hesitates is lost."

He said it, even though he knew he was in far from prime condition. Even though he knew he would be unable to suppress Cheslav's physical influence. It was improbable in the best of situations; impossible now, as he stood, a wrecked and wasted man, steeped in agony and grief.

It was the words themselves that mattered; your intent.

Not whether you could back them up.

Date: 2010-02-27 10:02 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Cheslav stepped forward, resolutely.

He looked for an opening as he moved closer, automatically evaluating Aleksandr's stance. It was not often that Cheslav fought a man without the intent to kill him, and he found the circumstances somewhat ironic now - that it was mercy that guided his steps, not murder.

Aleksandr's eyes blazed with an electric light. His shoulders vibrated with adrenaline, chased with an undercurrent of exhaustion.

He had to respect that Aleksandr held his ground and faced him down, defying him to the last. It was not many a man who did not draw back when the Butcher approached him.

Though at the same time, it seemed like Aleksandr invited Cheslav to close on him, like a man who just wanted it to be over.

"I'll make it quick," he murmured.

He did, rushing suddenly, pulling toward the right. Shurik did not try to punch him, which almost surprised Cheslav, but instead deflected his grasp and tried to shoulder past him.

Cheslav caught Aleksandr by the shoulder, using his momentum to crush their bodies together. They grappled for a few seconds as Aleksandr tried to escape his grap, but he wrestled Aleksandr back into the shower.

He thrust Aleksandr against the wall with a rough impact, hard enough to stun him and make him cry out.

He glanced down, realizing that Aleksandr was still clutching Avdotia's coat to his chest in a rigid one-armed embrace.

Cheslav did not ask this time, but instead reached out, and ripped the coat from his grasp.

Then he drew back, and turned on the showerhead.

He imagined it would come out cold for a few seconds before it warmed up.

Date: 2010-02-27 11:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
His back struck the wall with a thick, painless impact, but it threw him off nonetheless.

Dimly he registered Avadya's coat being yanked out of his grasp, but his attention was soon commanded by other, more immediate things.

Torrents of water hit him from three sides and he swore loudly, anticipating the cold but not actually feeling it as much as he would were he not wearing the heavy wool uniform.

His hair was half-soaked immediately, gleaming wet blond streaks plastered across his patrician brow.

Aleskandr grimaced violently and shoved it back with his hands.

His eyes sought Cheslav, enraged and indignant at this turn of events.

"I'm going to fucking kill you."

He lunged forward, hurling his weight at Cheslav, who held Avdotia's coat in his hand.

Another doomed insurrection, but no feint.

He struck Cheslav's body with fair force, but his weight was incomparable to his fixer's, as he knew it would be.

His aim was not to overpower Slava, but to provoke an overzealous counter-reaction, then abruptly remove his own resistance and use Slava's own force against him, rechanneling his momentum so that he pitched forward, out of control.

It was a common tactic in outfighting, and outfighters usually outlasted brawlers in precisely that way.

Of course that was apples to poisoned apples, anyway, but Aleksandr was a firm believer in using whatever you have at your disposal at any given moment.

Date: 2010-02-28 02:51 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
They collided with a bruising impact.

Instinctively, Cheslav shoved Aleksandr back, but with more force than was necessary, he realized belatedly. His own momentum propelled him forward, and they both staggered into the shower.

Water splattered down, soaking them.

Cheslav gasped at the shock of it, feeling water stream down his hair and the shoulders of his coat, stinging his eyes.

He reached for Aleksandr, grabbing him and wrestling him back.

Aleksandr was still fighting, even now - perhaps especially now, that he was cornered. He had all the adrenaline-fueled strength of a man of his size and condition, and he struggled in Cheslav's arms. Cheslav pushed him back and up against the wall.

He held him there, trapping him with muscular weight and brute physicality, pinning him against the tile.

Cheslav could feel the hard resistance of Aleksandr's body shuddering against his. They were both fighting to catch their breath.

"That's enough," he bit out, through gritted teeth. "That's enough of that, Shurik."

Date: 2010-02-28 12:00 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Aleksandr's eyes narrowed triumphantly even as his breath heaved and shuddered.

"Da, that's right," he gasped, "See how you like it, you fucked mouth."

Crude words, spoken on the ragged edges of his respiration.

At least the water was warm now; steaming, even, as they stood at an impasse, frozen in tableau, and the three luxurious jets pummeled their fully clothed bodies.

He became conscious of the peculiar odor of warm, wet wool. Aleksandr remembered it from the dacha as a child, when his baba would knit sweaters and scarves and full them in a hot bath.

It lulled him, the strange evocation of memory, made him fell drowsy and pliant.

He became conscious of the weight of wet wool as well, and the drag of his uniform on his already weary body, rapidly sapping any residual strength he had left.

Cheslav's strength remained, untested, fresh, brawny.

Aleksandr's shoulders rose and fell like wings and he let his head fall back against the tile, closing his eyes.

"Fuck," he muttered, under his breath.

Aleksandr's fingers slowly went lax, as a wave of exhaustion washed over him.

It had been his last stand, the outburst, his bid for freedom - he had no more strength left to sustain that level of emotion.

He didn't want to relent, didn't want to concede autonomy to his brutal manservant, but after three days of channeling unceasing, thrumming misery like a high tension wire, physiology had betrayed him.

Now there was only grief, conquering his being, settling on his body, laying quietly over him like a blanket of snow, like a fine dusting of ashes.

"The coat," he murmured, in a soft rasp. "It's not ruined, is it?"

He paused, without opening his eyes. He couldn't face Slava, not after such a display.

Cheslav must have thought he'd gone crazy.

The sound of battering water drummed all around them.

"Her scent is all over it," he whispered, his voice hitching. "She'd been wearing it, that night - the night she -"

He broke off and let his lips fall closed, turning his head to the side, face crumpling.

Date: 2010-03-01 12:03 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Cheslav glanced down.

He realized he still had the coat he'd grabbed from Aleksandr, now trapped and crushed between them. Something about that made him flinch inwardly, as if it were some grotesque parody.

Cheslav drew away at once.

He turned, leaving Aleksandr in the shower, shaking water out of the coat as he went. It was damp but not fully soaked. He knew his own coat had borne the brunt of the spray and now lay heavily on his shoulders and back.

"No, no, it's not ruined," he said. "It just needs to dry out."

He stood there with his back to Aleksandr, staring down at the coat in his hands.

Even in its dampened state, it still looked sleek and fine, like the pelt of a well-kept beast.

He felt the impulse to lift it to his face and check if her scent still lingered. At the same time, that seemed vulgar. Wrong in the face of another man's grief.

Then again, he supposed it was no worse than sharing that other man's wife.

Cheslav bent his head slightly and breathed in.

There was the particular smell of wet wool, then he caught the more delicate aroma of Avdotia's perfume, some expensive scent Aleksandr had acquired for her from France. It evoked her presence for Cheslav, more than just scent, but her eyes and dazzling smile and the remarkable softness of her skin.

"Da, it's still - "

Cheslav felt a raspy itch lodge in his chest, and had to swallow abruptly.

He reached to hang the coat up on a hook near the door. Belatedly, he recognized another scent crushed into the fabric, muskier, and masculine.

He swallowed and turned back to the shower.

Aleksandr leaned back against the shower wall, as if it was the only thing keeping him standing. He watched Cheslav with eyes like winter.

Wordlessly, Cheslav strode forward, back into the shower, blinking as the spray hit his face. He reached out to wrap an arm around Aleksandr and pull his head against Cheslav's thick shoulder.

"Oh Shurik," he whispered, but he could manage nothing more.

Date: 2010-03-01 02:04 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Aleksandr allowed himself to be drawn in, bonelessly, finding himself against the solid warm wall of Cheslav's thick chest.

It was wet in the shower, but not at all cold. The heat of the spray filled the room with silky white steam. It cleared his breathing, cleared his senses, but clouded boundaries. Allowed concessions.

He had heard the sudden choke of emotion in Cheslav's voice, read it in his body language. He had not been the only one with intimate ties to Avdotia, no matter how unstated or tacitly denied they might be.

He did not protest the impulsive embrace. Such things were as they should be.

He fell silent, eyes closing, features crumpling briefly again, even as he knew he had no more water in his body to give to tears.

He pressed his brow against Cheslav's, hard, grasping him by the lapels, fingering them weakly in his grief.

Cheslav's arm was crushing around his shoulders. He was glad for the solid resistance of the other man's body. It gave him something to collide with, and be restrained by.

His shoulders shook, and Oleksei gripped him harder, immobilizing him.

Aleksandr's body eased into stillness slowly, like a man being slowly and mercifully smothered.

Water sprayed relentlessly around them, as their clothes became drenched. Strange to be warm in wet clothing.

"You loved her too," he whispered, the timbre of his voice shuddery and low. "You came because of her."

Date: 2010-03-01 03:42 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]

Cheslav frowned. Water dripped off his heavy brow.

He could feel the tentative strength in Aleksandr's body. At first Shurik had merely allowed himself to be held, clinging to Cheslav with little force at all, but now Cheslav felt more vitality in the set of his shoulders and his grip on Cheslav's lapels.

He thought of a captain clinging to the wreckage of his ship, adrift and alone at sea for three nights and three days, wondering if he should just let go.

Cheslav raised his hand, and caught it gently against Aleksandr's skull.

"She was a beautiful woman."

Cheslav ran his fingers through Aleksandr's wet hair, feeling faintly surprised at its length. So often, Aleksandr kept it swept back and immaculate. Rarely had Cheslav seen it damp or disheveled, and he had never stared.

He thought of Avadya.

"She was kind and...generous. Classy. I had been living in the rubble for so long, I had forgotten there was another way to live. That there was anything so fine in the world."

Cheslav felt a tiny tremor, and was not sure if it had come from him, or Aleksandr.

He closed his eyes, feeling water track down his skin.

"I respected her, and I'll always be grateful to her," he whispered.

Cheslav turned his head slightly, pressing his face briefly to Aleksandr's temple.

"But I won't lie. I came for you."

Date: 2010-03-01 05:35 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
"For me."

It wasn't a statement, nor was it a question. A soft repeating, as if to grasp the words in his hand like elusive cotton.

Once grasped, he wasn't sure what to do with it, so he turned it over in his fingers, felt the surprising, fleecy softness and the unexpected small, hard seeds of possibility within that softness.

Aleksandr didn't want to pull at something so ephemeral, so delicate, lest he tear it apart, a casualty of his mercenary curiosity, his drive to possess and to know, his drive to control.

There had already been one such casualty of late, and everything else in his life now paled beside it.

So he merely bowed his head for a moment, and let that be what it would, and what it was was Cheslav Oleksei's thick hand reassuringly carding through the length of his damp, disheveled hair.

Was he attempting to reconstruct him, to push everything back into alignment by sheer force of will? Or was he merely absently exploring the tangible novelty as he tried to soothe Aleksandr's psychic pain?

"It's good," he said, almost surprised at his own words, even as they left his lips, quiet and steady. "It's good that you came. It's right that it should be you."

He breathed out, slowly, then in again.


Date: 2010-03-01 07:24 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
"I felt like I needed to come here, Shurik."

It had seemed right to Cheslav as well. He had not known them at the beginning of their journey, but he had been present for the end. He had seen them together in happier times, when the bright notes of Avdotia's laugh had complemented Aleksandr's low, indulgent chuckle.

Aleksandr's hair was surprisingly soft and sleek, he realized. Not unlike a woman's.

"We made some good memories, didn't we? I don't think I ever told you what you did meant to me. I felt like a beast when I came out of that winter. I can't tell you the things I had to do to survive."

His voice had turned soft and hushed, caught with a hint of the emotion he felt.

Cheslav glanced down at Aleksandr's sodden uniform, soaked to a dark grey tone. It clung heavily to his frame.

"But you made me feel human again, you and Avadya. Brought me back."

He let his hand slide down to rest at Aleksandr's temple and brow.

"Let me do the same for you," he whispered.

Date: 2010-03-01 09:14 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Aleksandr was silent, his own pain quieted in his chest for a moment at the mention of the Siege.

It was not something Cheslav brought up freely, at least in this way. He would make black jokes about it sometimes, with a charred kind of smile, the kind of smile that said "I own this, now watch me fuck it." He would be candid, even frank about some of the things he had done, for purposes of intimidation.

But rarely did he ever acknowledge his ordeal in an unguarded way. Aleksandr tried to think if he had ever said anything about it before.

He felt a moment of upper-class guilt for having advance word of the Siege, for having pulled his family out to the countryside, to Moscow, where they lived in relative normalcy.

Everyone was supposed to be equal under the state, after all.

Everyone knew that wasn't true.

"Leningrad has seen some terrible things," Aleksandr intoned deliberately, after a moment. "As have you. But both you and she came back in style."

He paused. Cheslav's coat was austere, spartan in style, but expensive all the same. It would be ruined after tonight. Aleksandr would buy him a new one, even better, to replace it.

Cheslav's hand was warm and present against his brow and face.

"You're still human. You're even more than human."

Aleksandr wondered inexplicably where Lasha was, if he was suffering. He had been too overwrought to even consider it. To the objective eye, Ilarion had been absolutely unmoved in all of this, that arctic gaze of his taking in what he wanted and refusing entry to the rest.

But surely a boy loved his mother, even after all that had been said in the heat of an ugly moment.

Surely a boy, but Lasha was no ordinary boy.

He was struck by a qualm, the realization, almost paralyzing, that Lasha might never forgive him.

Aleksandr stared at the slick marble wall, gaze unseeing, focused just beyond the line of Cheslav's broad arm that wrapped around him.

"Teach me how to survive."

Date: 2010-03-01 08:01 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
"Da," Cheslav whispered.

He turned his head again, pressing his face to Aleksandr's wet temple briefly once more. Then he rubbed his palm against the back of Aleksandr's neck, as if chafing circulation into numb skin.

"We start with the basics. The things you take for granted until you don't have them."

Cheslav fell silent, frowning, wondering if he'd said something insensitive to a man who had just lost his wife. Aleksandr had spoken of something dark and terrible, a responsibility Cheslav did not understand. Was it survivor's guilt, or something more?

What he did know was that regardless of the circumstances of Avdotia's death, Aleksandr had treasured her in life. He had seen the way they had been together, and wondered at it. The closeness he'd seen between them, stolen intimate moments.

It was different from what Cheslav had observed when they'd drifted away from Avadya, moved on to whores and the occasional red-headed mistress.

He had always wondered about the transition, but had never questioned Aleksandr about it.

Cheslav flexed his shoulders and found that the weight of his fully soaked coat was fairly oppressive, even for him.

"Wait here. I'll be right back."

He stepped from the shower, trailing rivulets of water as he went.

First, he pulled off his coat and let it fall heavily to the floor. Then he removed his watch and wallet and set them on the counter, shaking off excess water.

After a moment's hesitation, he stripped off his knives and sap as well.

He eyed the puddled water on the floor briefly as he returned to Aleksandr.

"We made a mess, didn't we?"

Cheslav set about unbuttoning Aleksandr's jacket, his fingers deft.

"I know I was a little rough on you, Shurik," he said, stripping off layers of uniform with careful efficiency. "I'll make up for it now."
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February 2010

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