The Visit

Feb. 18th, 2010 12:31 pm
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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: 2010-02-19 12:40 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nikanor-liadov.livejournal.com
The doorchime was mellifluous and unobtrusive. That alone served to mitigate its unexpectedness.

"Who could that be?"

Nika glanced at his watch. It was nine o clock.

In the wake of The Tragedy, the housekeeper had been unceremoniously dismissed.

It had been Lasha's decision, which he had made with the unerring resolution of a seasoned bureaucrat. No hired eyes would be privy to Aleksandr's frenzy of crazed grief.

No outside witnesses to the immaculate seams tearing apart.

He seemed to slip into Aleksandr's mantle with bitter ease, no one more aware of it than himself.

Nika had stayed by his side, enduring his lack of words, his taut unresponsiveness, his arctic efficacy in the face of his mother's suicide. And at the end of each day, he had slipped warm arms around shoulders flocked with ice, and breathed the heat of life back into the living drowned.

Aleksandr had refused to acknowledge anyone for three days. Refused to eat, refused cognac and sedatives that Lasha had pressed upon him with increasing frustration in an effort to force him to sleep.

Aleksandr was inconsolable, wild, almost incomprehensible.

It was a sight that was well beyond surreal, having known him only as a paragon of ultimate composure and merciless acumen.

It dawned on Nika only then how terribly much he must have loved his wife. How terribly someone like Aleksandr could love.

He had lain with Lasha on the couch in the darkened drawing room, mindlessly stroking his hair and staring at the wall as Lasha's father deconstructed above them.

Thinking of terrible love.

Aleksandr had subsided eventually, for the first time.

"It's too quiet."

Nika had become alarmed, and moved to get up.

"Don't," Lasha had intoned, quietly, stilling him with a pointed touch to the arm. "Stay."

"It's too quiet," Nika began, with veiled concern, "he may have hurt himself."

"Let him," said Lasha, cryptically. "I'll give him the same odds as he gave my mother, and no more."

He had turned his face toward Nika in the blue evening, his eyes soft under cover of darkness.

"...are you here for me, or for my father?"

Nika felt the urgency still within his breast.

"You know the answer to that, Isaev," he said. "You shouldn't even think to ask."

"I know," Ilarion had whispered, low in his throat.

Date: 2010-02-19 12:42 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nikanor-liadov.livejournal.com
They had remained like that, in silence, for some minutes more, and then Nika had suggested they have something to eat.

When Lasha had gone to the kitchens he had excused himself and slipped away up the grand staircase just long enough to check on Aleksandr.

He did not intrude, nor make his presence known--just opened the door to Aleksandr's rooms enough to peer inside. From the hall, he could see that Aleksandr breathed and lived, even if the act of it was agony. His eyes were listless but feverish, his arms wrapped tightly around his wife's coat. Even in his madness, his posture in the wingback chair was unthinking and impeccable, but something in his being was unnaturally hectic, and it sent a silent shudder through Nika.

The resemblance between father and son was strong. For a moment it was like looking at Ilarion in some nightmare future. Bad enough that it was Aleksandr, the only father he'd known.

Momentary fears assauged, Nika hadn't lingered.

Downstairs there had been Lasha, and the novelty of a uniformed Isaev prince carefully making his own tea meal, frowning down at his work in absence and glancing up as Nika entered the room.

Lasha's eyes said that he knew where Nika had been. If he begrudged it there was no sign, but neither did he ask after his father's well-being.

Cold enough on the surface, though It was reasonable to assume that Ilarion knew Nika would tell him if anything were wrong.

Gratified at the sight of him, Nika had reflexively embraced him from behind, one-armed, hiding his face briefly against the grey wool of Lasha's uniform, and the soft bristles of flaxen hair at the nape of his neck.

"If anything like this should ever happen to you..." he intoned, in a low, hesitant voice.

"Never," returned Ilarion, in a manner that suggested utter incredulity. "Do I look like my father, Nikash?"

"Yes," Nika had said, with a slight, shaky laugh.

He pressed a wordless kiss to his Lasha's temple and set about helping him get dinner.

Now they drank tea in the kitchen, without speaking overmuch, presumably grateful for the silence that had finally come over the house.

They sat in quiet, with Lasha's cool grey eyes resting against his own, like a weary child against its mother.

Nika laid his hand over Ilarion's, reinforcing his presence with a gentle press.

"Are you expecting anyone, Lasha?" he asked, assiduously, with a faint vault of his brows.

Ilarion shook his head in a perfunctory way.

"Njiet," he said, shortly, and put his tea to his lips. "Not until tomorrow. And not here."

His hand turned upward, slowly, beneath Nika's, and it found them palm against palm. Lasha's eyes settled into his and lived there, briefly, and Nika felt a spreading warmth suffuse him before he glanced away.

"It's probably someone from the Ministry, just checking in."

The Ministry did a lot of dire things, but it took care of its own.

"...I'll get it," he added, rising from the table before Lasha could respond.

Ilarion looked up at him.

"Whoever it is, let them in. I'll deal with it."

Date: 2010-02-19 09:43 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cheslav-oleksei.livejournal.com
Cheslav waited outside, feeling the chill at the back of his neck.

Time passed. He began to wonder if no one was home to hear the doorbell, or everyone who was home had retired early for the evening. Either would be unusual, especially if there were no maid or butler or some domestic on duty to see to such chores. The Isaevs were that way.

He was reaching for his lockpicks when he finally heard footsteps, quiet bootstrikes on a wood floor.

A light flickered to life above the door, then Cheslav heard the turn of a deadbolt.

The door opened inward to reveal a young man in Ministry uniform.

Cheslav studied him. This was not Aleksandr's oldest boy, he saw. Aleksandr's son favored his father, with the same pale hair and lean, refined features.

This boy was blond, but any resemblance ended there. His hair was gold, rather than the Isaev platinum, worn long and lush, not cropped sleekly against his skull.

His eyes had a low-lidded, almost drowsy cast, and his mouth curved generously even when he was not smiling. His tie was loosened and he wore no cap, though his uniform was neat and presentable. Most likely a lower-ranking junior officer tasked with keeping an eye on the estate for the evening.

Some might think the boy too young to be wearing Ministry grey, but Cheslav approved.

The boy studied Cheslav in turn, his expression polite and composed. Chelsav thought he looked familiar.

Cheslav nodded to him, politely enough.

"I'm here to see Aleksandr," he said in a low rumbling tone, after a pause. "I'm...a friend."

Date: 2010-02-19 12:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nikanor-liadov.livejournal.com
Nika glanced behind him reflexively, then turned his eyes back to the man at the door.

"Kanyeshna," he said, slowly. "Aleksandr is...here."

That much was true.

"...Mostly."

He shook his head briefly, letting a faint smile crease his lips as he gestured.

"Please."

He paused, moving away from the door, letting the man step inside the vaulted antechamber of the foyer, and out of the cold.

As he closed the heavy doors behind him, Nika studied the visitor circumspectly in the low, warm light from the dimmed chandelier overhead. He did not forget many things; not faces, not names, not moments or words or melodies

Nika had seen this man before, more than once, in more than one place, almost always peripheral to the circumstance at hand. He would appear somewhere, say a few low words to Aleksandr, perhaps share a few drags of a cigarette, then clap him on the shoulder and take off with forward-leaning stride, hands in his pockets.

Nika had marked this, absently, in the way he marked everything.

He had marked other things about the man, unthinkingly, such as his physical presence, which was considerable. He was possessed of a large frame and a burly stature, yet had an easy way of moving and existing within his space. Unforced. His features meant business, but the innate expression of them was pleasant enough.

"Come into the kitchen if you would."

Nika adjusted the lie of his cuff beneath his jacket, habitually, with a slight, precise motion.

"Aleksandr's son Ilarion is handling affairs while he's indisposed during this difficult time. Perhaps you know him."

His eyes fell on the man's strapping frame once more, shoulders and chest cutting a broad, punishing chevron in black wool.

"Can I take your coat?" he said, belatedly, reminded of his manners.

Date: 2010-02-19 01:23 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cheslav-oleksei.livejournal.com
Cheslav smiled.

"I'll keep it for now, thanks."

The chill from outside clung to him with slowly loosening fingers, though it was pleasantly warm inside the house. He imagined there must be one or more fires going in the various rooms of the grand estate, perhaps in the sitting room and elsewhere.

He didn't need his coat, but he still had things in the pockets, after all, and the heavy wool concealed some of the more uncivilized tools of his trade. It was fortunate he did not venture into polite company more often, where people thought to ask such things.

They walked past the staircase and down the main hall to the kitchens.

"Da, I know Ilarion, of course."

The very image of his father, that one, in both appearance and manner. Cheslav knew Aleksandr was proud.

He glanced at the young man as they walked.

There had been a telltale pause as the Ministry boy had spoken of Aleksandr, as if he'd been compelled to add the slightest concession about his condition to a friend of the family. It was not all stiffly polite formality, as he would have expected.

"How is he holding up?" he asked, then paused. "Ilarion, that is."

Date: 2010-02-19 01:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nikanor-liadov.livejournal.com
Nika's smile was fond, absent.

"Lasha? He's nothing if not bred for this."

He glanced obliquely at the man's coat. Something prompted him to look for tattoos along the edges of collar and sleeve, but there were none visible.

"Put a swan in the water and it will swim, no matter the tempest at hand."

He realized he was no doubt rhapsodizing in a rather highbrow way, from the perspective of this man, but at the same time, the man did not seem taken aback or particularly put off.

"Or...were you asking after the death of his mother?" Nika asked belatedly, as he reconsidered it. "I just assumed you meant the issue with Aleksandr."

He paused as they neared the kitchen, flicking the wayward sweep of buff blond hair aside and off his brow. It was an absent gesture, one he acquitted while his mind wandered into other pastures.

"I suppose I could neatly summarize the status of two disparate variables for you right now in a single sentence: Lasha is taking it much better than Aleksandr."

Date: 2010-02-19 06:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cheslav-oleksei.livejournal.com
Cheslav nodded, slowly.

"Boys are resilient," he murmured.

He remembered his company, and turned his head, smiling in brief apology. "Well, young men, that is."

This particular young man was very well-spoken in a way Cheslav interpreted as well-read and well-educated, yet still grounded. He comported himself with a confidence that belied his boyish face. He looked all of sixteen to Cheslav; he spoke like he was at least twenty-five.

Still, there were few young men who enjoyed being mistaken for boys.

Cheslav glanced back toward the kitchen.

"My wife died several years ago. My son took it as well as can be expected."

Cheslav did not add that he had also taken it as well as could be expected, though he knew his circumstances had been much different than Aleksandr's.

He slowed his steps. The door to the kitchen stood at an angle, half open. Half closed. Light spilled into the dim hall.

"There...hasn't been much said, about Avdotia's death."

Cheslav paused, hesitating.

"Is there...anything I should know?"

Date: 2010-02-19 10:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nikanor-liadov.livejournal.com
Nika turned, lingering in the hall just outside the entrance to the kitchens.

He crossed his arms with a slight frown, eyes seeking the floor briefly, then casting to the side.

"Comrade, I don't know how much you already know. I don't even know who you are, but I've seen you interact with Sanya over the years, and I know it's not Ministry business."

Nika lifted his gaze to the man's with flawless certitude.

"What I do know is that it's none of my business."

The man's dark-eyed expression was focused, almost keen, belying the casual set of his shoulders and the slight backwards lean of his posture.

"Normally I wouldn't talk out of turn like this, or divulge family secrets to any guy who showed up at the door in mourning black, claiming to be a friend of the Major. But in this circumstance, in your case, I'm going to assume that any man who works in a personal, clandestine capacity for Sanya Isaev probably knows far more damaging facts than I could relate."

Nika's eyes loitered for a moment, for emphasis, then drifted toward the doorway to the kitchen, where Lasha sat having tea and calmly waiting for his father to either stop being mad or stay that way.

"What I can tell you that the papers can't is that Avadya's death was suicide."

He paused.

"And that Lasha was the one who found her."

Date: 2010-02-20 12:19 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cheslav-oleksei.livejournal.com
Cheslav's lips parted.

"No, I didn't know," he said, after a pause.

He felt something of what he'd felt when he had first heard the news. A bit of unguarded emotion that slipped through him, mostly surprise, and a tinge of something else that he did not acknowledge.

"I have to say, hearing that surprises me."

His gaze drifted, unseeing.

When Cheslav had heard the news, his first instinct had been to head over to the townhouse, but something, habit, had counseled him to wait until he was called. That was how Aleksandr always summoned him when something needed to be done.

However, three days had passed, and there had been no call.

Aleksandr had missed their weekly breakfast appointment. Not that Cheslav had necessarily expected him to show, but he'd expected...something.

This was Avdotia, after all.

Aleksandr's silence had told him two things.

First, Avdotia's death was not an unsanctioned murder, since Cheslav was not called to take action.

The second was that no unwarranted suspicion had blown in Cheslav's direction, since he was not dead.

Or more likely, he'd decided, he would have been arrested and sent north.

All Cheslav had known was that Aleksandr knew who, or what, to blame. And that Avadya was dead. Now he knew she had killed herself.

He focused on the candid young MENT again, seeing clarity in his glass-green gaze.

Cheslav remembered his initial impression of familiarity, and now could recall seeing him now and then. Grey coat. Tousled blond hair. Always around Ilarion.

"I've seen you around, too. It's good Ilarion has a friend who understands."

He paused, for only the briefest of seconds.

"...how these these things work."

Date: 2010-02-20 08:22 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nikanor-liadov.livejournal.com
"I expect Lasha has a disturbingly good understanding of how it all works, actually."

Nika's expression was mild, laced with studious humility.

"One that doubtless exceeds mine. The apple, the tree, the relative distance of jettisoned fruit. You know."

He glanced toward the kitchen, brow furrowing, lips contracting slightly.

"Regarding Avadya..." he said, "You're not alone. I think it was a surprise to everyone."

Nika paused, studying nothing.

"Including me."

He frowned, then flicked his eyes back to the looming ruffian, whose face reflected a certain familiar emotion, or deliberate lack thereof.

"They found her in the Fontanka. Drowned."

Nika's lips parted, briefly.

"The report was quashed, and the photographs..."

Were gone now. Disappeared, no doubt disposed of permanently.

"But Ilarion said that when he saw her floating under the bridge...she was in a white silk pegnoir."

He centered his gaze on the man's, dropping his voice to a tone of soft persuasion.

"Aleksandr is a wreck, priyatel. A real chocolate mess. Forewarned is forearmed."

Date: 2010-02-20 10:29 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cheslav-oleksei.livejournal.com
"Absolutely," Cheslav muttered. "Wouldn't live any other way."

The young MENT spoke with the unforced calm of someone who had been in possession of terrible knowledge long enough to come to terms with it, at least to be able to speak of it to a stranger.

The image haunted Cheslav.

He could see it as soon as the MENT had conjured it, and now it lingered in his mind's eye. Avadya, floating in the Fontanka, hair spread out around her, drifting lifelessly in the water. He imagined her face was pale, her lips were blue.

He knew that gown.

She would draw it around her after they'd finished fucking, white silk clinging to her damp skin.

Avdotia owned a lot of lingerie, in various colors, fancy, lacy, silky things that Aleksandr had indulgently bought for her, had smuggled in from all over Europe.

Cheslav had always preferred her in white.

He exhaled slowly, and wished he'd smoked that cigarette outside after all.

Cheslav nodded.

"I understand," he said, slowly. "I know how much Aleksandr loved her."

He knew it in a way he did not think many men did, and would probably shock the young Ministry man to know.

"How bad is it?"

Cheslav focused on him again. They were of a height.

"Has he...done anything?"

Date: 2010-02-20 01:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nikanor-liadov.livejournal.com
"I didn't understand before now, not really," Nika said soberly. "Not the extent, or the depth. In a way, that was the real surprise. That he could...feel. Like that."

He wasn't sure why he was standing midway in the Isaev's corridor off the foyer, conversing in low and pleasant tones with an unknown associate of Aleksandr's without preamble and on such an intimate level.

Something about the surreality of the entire experience, the elastic nightmare of last few days, rendered nothing out of line.

Nika cast a furtive glance up, toward the grand staircase.

"It's been...unsettling. He's nearly catatonic. Won't eat, won't sleep, has barely stirred from his armchair in three days. He just holds onto her winter coat and buries his face in the collar. Sometimes he raves and weeps, and sometimes he curses and rants. That was the last three days. This carried on literally until he was hoarse."

Nika shook his head, eyes defocused somewhere to the left of the man's broad shoulder.

"Lasha tried to ply him with wine, then cognac...finally sedatives. Anything to calm him, ease him. Make him sleep."

He shook his head.

"Nothing. He wouldn't have any of it. He threw every glass against the wall, and knocked the barbituates out of Lasha's hand and onto the floor, until Ilarion got fed up and left him to it."

Fuck your pills. I won't be numb. I'll take what's mine. Get out. Leave me. Leave me alone. I only want what's coming to me: everything.

Nika could feel the quiet upstairs like a weight upon his chest and brow. Impending, unsure. A dangling sword of indeterminate shelf life.

"Last I checked on him, he was sitting in utter silence, like the chain around one of his gears had broken from pure abuse. Eyes on the wall, distant, and water glistening in tracks down his face."

He ran a hand slowly back through his hair.

"I was worried, since he'd gone quiet for the first time in three days. I'll admit, I was afraid he meant to follow her. Lasha told me to leave him be, but...I know how these things can play out in the blink of an eye."

Nika's lips formed a conflicted line.

"He isn't safe with himself. He hasn't done anything yet, but in my experience that precludes nothing."

His pale green eyes sought the dark eyes of the stranger, with quiet conviction.

"Decorum is one thing, necessity another. If he doesn't improve soon, I'll break out of line, apart from Ilarion, and have the whitecoats called in myself. No matter if it ricochets back at me in the end; the man is all the father I ever had, and I won't lose him."

Date: 2010-02-20 10:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cheslav-oleksei.livejournal.com
Cheslav stared at him.

He felt something twinge in his chest, tightening and loosening at once.

"Every father needs a good son," he said, his voice hushed.

He looked the young MENT in the eyes as he said it, held his gaze with penetrating intent, searching. Affirming. The young MENT stared back, unblinking, holding his own.

Cheslav imagined that Aleksandr loved this boy just like a son, in turn.

He reached out and clasped the young MENT on the shoulder firmly, a little too hard for someone he didn't know, but then again, that was how it was with the Isaevs.

Once a person had been drawn into their inner circle, he became so familiar with the anatomy of their dealings that he could recognize how all the parts must fit together, even if he had never laid eyes on a particular part before.

That was how the young blond MENT had known him. And now, Cheslav knew him in turn.

"Listen...your Sanya's my friend, and has been for quite a while. I'll go up to talk to him. I'll take care of him. I'll get him straightened out."

It was funny to hear the name 'Sanya' pass his own lips. Cheslav called Aleksandr 'Shurik' because no one else did.

He paused, squeezing the young man's shoulder before releasing him. Cheslav reached into his pocket and pulled out a heavy fold of bills.

"Let me talk to Ilarion now. I'll tell him you boys need a break. You need to get out of this house. I want you to take him to a hotel, get him drunk or buy him a whore."

He held out several neatly folded bills.

Cheslav wondered for a moment if the boy would be insulted to take money from a lower class man, as if the implication was that he couldn't pay for things himself. But that was another thing that Cheslav had learned from his years in Aleksandr's employ: that the rich did not so much buy things as acquire them, and they saw no need to carry vulgar amounts of money around.

"Take care of him. Whatever he needs right now."

Date: 2010-02-20 11:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nikanor-liadov.livejournal.com
Nika glanced down at the man's hand, at the bills he extended, carefully, under the line of scrutiny, as if he were offering a bribe.

Force of habit, thought Nika.

The man's hand was the hand of a thug, thick and punishing, with visible mounds of muscle in the palm. Given that, Nika was actually surprised at the light-fingered way he held the money, scissored between thumb and forefingers at a negligent angle.

There was physical awareness in this man which gave him a grace beyond the suggestion of his brutish form.

"You work with your hands a lot, don't you," he remarked, vaguely, studying them. "With your body. Something skilled. You have the kinetic intelligence of an artisan."

Nika shook his head forcefully, re-focusing on the matter at hand, smiling wryly as he did.

He took the bills from the man's fingers with equal finesse, careful not to disturb their poise.

"It's very thoughtful of you," he said, evenly, meeting his eyes. "To make such a gesture."

Nika understood the dynamic of the gift.

It wasn't about the money. Clearly any and all of the parties involved had money to spare, even to burn.

It was about accepting the good intentions of an old family friend, and allowing him to do what he could.

"Your suggestion is a good one. I think an evening out would be quite a balm to Lasha. He feels these matters very deeply. So deeply that he's entirely unaware."

Nika slid the cash into the pocket of his uniform jacket obliquely, aware of how such a transaction would be viewed by an uninvolved observer, and faintly amused by the idea.

Then he smiled, slowly, hesitantly. It was a wistful expression, with a tinge of aching in the corners.

"He's suffering more than he knows," Nika said, quietly, eyes flicking toward the softly lighted kitchen. "Lasha was always one to borrow heavily on his capital in fortitude. Rather than be incapacitated for a massive wound, he would prefer a slow bloodletting, many trickles over time."

His thoughts turned inward somewhat, though his mouth still spoke, almost trancelike, aware that the man still listened, but too fatigued to care about guarding the intimacies of his mind.

"He's struck his pact. He'll always bleed a little, for the rest of his days," he murmured, with an uncanny certainty. "All that I can do is stand beside him, and staunch those little rivers as best I can with my lips and fingertips."

It was at that moment that he heard the light, snapping cadence of boots and Lasha appeared quietly in the entryway.

He leaned briefly against the doorframe, crossing his arms and regarding them with subdued acknowledgment.

"Thanks for getting the door, Nikash," he said quietly. "Nice to see you, Uncle Slava."

He inclined his head in a minimal motion of beckoning.

"Come."

Then he turned and was gone, with an inexplicable flourish, as if the air around him had rearranged itself to accommodate his particular vortex, the silent storm that surrounded his person.

Nika returned his gaze to the man's.

"Uncle Slava," he said, slowly, with a touch of irony. "I'm Lieutenant Liadov."


Date: 2010-02-21 12:41 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cheslav-oleksei.livejournal.com
Cheslav smiled, slowly but warmly.

"Lieutenant Liadov. It's good to finally meet you."

He saw now that there had been a Lieutenant Liadov-sized gap in his understanding of the family politic.

If the Lieutenant had been younger, still a boy instead of a man, Cheslav would have had the impulse to tousle his thick, springy hair with rough affection. Instead he squeezed Liadov on the shoulder briefly, once more.

His gaze shifted toward the kitchen.

"They're not so different, Ilarion and Aleksandr. Neither are you and I, I think."

Outward appearance, age and education aside.

His eyes returned to Liadov's, just for a moment, then he stepped forward, into the kitchen, and let Liadov walk behind him.

It was warmer inside, more lived-in than what he'd glimpsed of the rest of the house. Heat and humidity from the samovar on the stove lingered. He saw teacups on the counter and used dishes neatly stacked by the sink, waiting for a domestic to clean them.

And here was Ilarion Isaev.

Like the young lieutenant, Ilarion wore his uniform neatly tucked and pressed. His hair was cropped smoothly against his skull, like well-manicured snow, but in spite of his neat appearance, there was a understated weariness in the way he held himself, his shoulders too straight under his lapels.

"Ilarion Aleksandrovich," Cheslav said.

He smiled, very slightly, more a relaxing of his features than anything, and crossed his hands casually in front of him.

"I'm here for your father."

Date: 2010-02-21 01:46 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilarion-isaev.livejournal.com
Ilarion looked at him for a moment, then laughed bloodlessly.

"Going to take him to the slaughterhouse, is that it?"

He glanced away, biting his lip for a microsecond, leaning back against the counter.

"Stands to reason that the same goes for a steer with a broken leg, and a man with a broken mind."

He brought his features back into line, then turned to face his father's shadow man again.

"It's good of you to come, Uncle Slava, but I fear you're wasting your time."

Lasha's pale gaze roamed absently over the black-coated figure, a stark presence in the warm glow of the grand historic kitchen, with its arch-vaulted ceilings.

Cheslav Oleksei brought with him the faint scent of cigars and brimstone, and an undefined rough-dark-sweet quality that Ilarion could only identify as something that came from soot and asphalt, cinders and the streets.

Pleasant, but dangerous. Not unlike the essence his son Taras had begun to emanate, now in his teens, in some kind of genetic homage. Both were primal. Yet Taras' essence was raw, heavy and unrestrained. Cheslav's was strong, but understated. Mellowed but potent. Aged. Matured.

It was familiar to Lasha, and did not faze him. He had grown up among dangerous men of all kinds. Sharks and wolves and bears. He was a cub of such men, an innate heir to their mantles, and there was nothing to fear.

"Father is, to be blunt, a wreck. Insensate. Incoherent."

Ilarion's eyes slid toward Nika, who frowned in reluctant accord.

"If you came to offer condolence, it will be wasted. If you came to console him, he won't accept it. If you came to speak to him, he won't hear you."

Lasha shook his head slowly.

"I shouldn't let you see him in this state. He's wracked with grief and consumed by guilt."

His lip tightened and his eyes narrowed, leveling at the dark mahogany floor.

"As his son, I must insist he be left alone."

Date: 2010-02-21 04:00 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cheslav-oleksei.livejournal.com
"As his friend, I have to insist on staying."

Cheslav said it plainly, without an edge to his tone or challenge in his eyes. He held his pose, watching Isaev the younger.

How much like his father this one was, both in appearance and bearing.

Yet he could just hear it, a brittle tension in Ilarion's words. It bordered on spite though Cheslav sensed the emotion behind it was not petty.

His lips compressed briefly.

"I'm not here to kill him, or to coddle him. I'm here to do what's necessary."

Whatever that was.

Cheslav glanced around them. He remembered the kitchen. It stood contrast to the rest of the house, older-looking and rustic with its one brick wall and wood-beamed ceiling, the other walls plain plaster and the counter a slab of raw marble. He knew it was deliberate, that the lack of refinement was its own form of elegance.

He turned back to Ilarion and shrugged.

"You might be right. Maybe nothing I say or do will make a difference. But that's not enough to make me walk away."

Cheslav paused, cocking his head slightly, falling silent for a moment.

The house was quiet.

"Your brother and the baby, they're with the nanny now, da? Leave your father with me and go someplace with your friend, take the night off."

Cheslav began to pull off his gloves. His hands were large and nicked with many pale scars across the heavy knuckles, but as Liadov had noted earlier, not unskilled or crude.

"I'll see to Aleksandr."

Date: 2010-02-21 05:22 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilarion-isaev.livejournal.com
Ilarion's narrowed eyes rose, seeking Oleksei's.

His face wore the tolerant look of a benevolent watchdog, part bodyguard and part overseer. Indulgent, firmly convinced of what lay in the bests interests of all. He was waiting, affably, patiently, for Ilarion to relent, somehow knowing Lasha's investment in the matter was superficial.

Lasha gazed at him with eyes that were innately wintry.

"You have no idea what you've walked into," he said, in a crystalline undertone.

Nika was frowning, eyes on the floor.

"I told him, Lasha," he said, raising his voice.

Ilarion's lips parted slightly.

There was no way Liadov could have told him everything. Nika didn't know. No one did. No one but Aleksandr and two of his Ministry buddies.

"Of course," Ilarion said automatically. "Well in that case, there's no more to say."

Liadov's brow creased with faint incredulity and just a touch of well-disguised suspicion.

He eyed Ilarion skeptically for a moment, before speaking.

"I'm going out, Lasha," he said. "Come with me."

Nika indicated Cheslav with a flick of his eyes.

"...Let him do what he can. At least let him try."

Ilarion stared at Liadov's face, stymied by his quiet entreaty.

His lips pressed together, briefly.

"Da, kanyeshna, Nika."

Slowly, he turned his attention back to Oleksei.

Lasha smiled, in a deflective, disarming manner, but a touch of guarded crispness lingered in his tone and around his eyes.

"...You really want him, Cheslav, be my guest. He's all yours. But don't say I didn't warn you."

Date: 2010-02-21 06:46 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cheslav-oleksei.livejournal.com
"Thank you," Cheslav said.

He slipped his gloves into his pockets.

He'd heard that final bit of defiance in Ilarion's tone, dismissive yet embittered. So young to be so self-possessed, yet it impressed Cheslav at the same time. Ilarion had become his own man.

Cheslav wondered if Aleksandr knew it.

"I appreciate the chance. Like your friend said, I'll try. It's all I can do."

It struck him again, this idea of pairs of friends across generations. He had watched how the Liadov boy had gently entreated his friend to accept Cheslav's help. He'd only had to ask, and Ilarion had acquiesced, almost as if his words gave Ilarion the excuse to do what he wanted to do anyway.

"You don't need to be concerned."

About what or who, Cheslav did not specify.

"...I know who your father is, Lasha."

Date: 2010-02-21 08:50 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilarion-isaev.livejournal.com
Ilarion studied Cheslav Oleksei.

"I'm not worried about him," he said, after a moment. "My father trusts you with everything he possesses, up to and including his life."

Nika had retrieved his cap from the table and dusted it off, easing a gloved hand mindlessly over the brim before handing it to him.

Lasha put it on and settled it carefully, still regarding Oleksei.

"If we leave, we probably won't be coming back until the morning. Hide his gun before you go home, if you would."

Date: 2010-02-21 12:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nikanor-liadov.livejournal.com
"I took his gun," murmured Nika under his breath, averting his gaze with forced insouciance. "Don't worry about it."

"When?" Lasha asked, incredulous.

"First thing," replied Nika cryptically.

He flicked his eyes toward Ilarion and tossed his hair out of them in one seamless motion.

"...it's locked in the credenza, and I have the key."

Ilarion frowned.

"You don't think he would have..."

"I know he won't now," Nika said, firmly.

Date: 2010-02-21 08:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cheslav-oleksei.livejournal.com
Cheslav smiled as he watched them together, saw the obvious affection and respect, the familiarity of old friends.

It was good they had each other, at a time like this.

His thoughts turned to Aleksandr.

Cheslav frowned, rubbing his mouth absently, eyes flicking downward for a few seconds. Then he exhaled and ran a hand over his hair, smoothing it back.

"You boys get some rest."

He looked between them, and saw them differently now. The caps on their heads transformed them in his eyes, and now he saw the avtoritety, sleek grey uniforms and immaculate gloves, eyes shadowed under the visors of their caps.

The corner of Cheslav's mouth curled slightly.

"...but try not to be too good tonight."

Date: 2010-02-21 08:37 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nikanor-liadov.livejournal.com
"I wouldn't worry about that," intoned Nika. An ironic smile betrayed itself at the corners of his mouth.

This Uncle Slava would probably not appreciate their idea of leisure, if he knew what it was they often did.

By his definition, it would probably be "not too good".

Nika gave a clipped nod and slid his hands into his pockets as Lasha gathered his keys.

"You ready," he said in a low voice, not really a question.

Lasha had planted a boot onto a nearby chair and was inspecting the shine with keen attention. Frowning, he pulled a folded handkerchief out of his pocket and gave it a brisk rub up and down the last, finishing with a flourish.

"Da," he said, belatedly. "I'm ready.

Nika nodded, unruffled.

"Let's go. Take care," he added, mildly, in the foreboding man's general direction.

Ilarion sauntered after him, close at the shoulder.

"What do you think? The Evroperiskaya?"

"Sure," Nika replied. "It's as good as anywhere else."

Which was true universally, provided they were both there.

Ilarion paused at the entryway, hand on the jamb, gaze piercing.

"Hey Cheslav. It was good of you to come," he said, after a moment.

He paused, and his eyes narrowed, not in anger but in significance.

"I won't forget it."

Date: 2010-02-21 09:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cheslav-oleksei.livejournal.com
Cheslav held his gaze steadily, then nodded, almost solemn.

"I know you won't," he said.

Like his father, Ilarion had unreadable eyes.

Cheslav leaned back against the counter, listening to the quiet tap of their bootsteps receding down the hall, the low murmur of their conversation. There was a click as the door shut behind them. A snap of the deadbolt hitting home.

He cracked a window open, and lit a cigarette.

Cheslav thought about Aleksandr as he smoked, and the boys' quiet discussion over Aleksandr's gun. There was part of Cheslav that wanted to swing by the credenza and check on it, but somehow he felt that Lieutenant Liadov was trustworthy.

He opened the icebox instead.

Carefully, he rifled through the various plates and dishes. There was actually quite a bit of food. He imagined that some were meals that the cook had prepared beforehand, and some were well-meaning gifts from relatives and friends. Either way, the food would probably go to waste, in this large house with so few in it.

Part of him recoiled at the thought, feeling a faint horror at the thought of so much waste, even though his days of starvation were long in the past.

He settled on a blini and a bit of fresh bread. Cheslav stubbed out his cigarette in the sink, and carefully closed the window.

He ate as he stepped down the hall and climbed the wide staircase, savoring the sweetness of the blini almost savagely.

Aleksandr's rooms were at the very end of the hall. Cheslav knew this, though in spite of the many occasions he'd come over and enjoyed all that Aleksandr had to offer him, he had not been invited to the bedroom.

Cheslav knocked on the door, then pushed it open gently.

He braced himself for what he would find beyond.

"Shurik?"

It was as Liadov had described it, Aleksandr in his wrinkled uniform, sitting slumped in his armchair, head pitched forward but clutching the fur-trimmed winter coat Cheslav recognized as Avdotia's.

For a moment, he could not tell if Aleksandr was awake or asleep, alive or dead. Then he saw Alesksandr's chest rise and fall.

Cheslav felt his heart thump, and he stepped carefully into the room.

"Shurik? You awake? It's Slava."

Date: 2010-02-22 08:16 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] aleksandr-isaev.livejournal.com
Silence answered him.

Moonlight and streetlights streamed through the tall, many-paned windows where the curtains were pushed back, spilling tall diagonal ladders over the thick persian rug and wide plank floors.

A single candle burned by the bed.

Aleksandr reposed in the armchair that sat in the suite part of the bedroom, a fair distance past the foot of the large, immaculately made bed, staring into the cold fireplace.

He hadn't shaved in three days. Beige stubble stained his jaw and neck. The perfect sweep of his flaxen hair was disheveled and lay in tousled disarray, as it would when he lay in bed after a pillow-crushing encounter.

Generally that was because a woman's hands had been gripping it, stroking it, clutching it.

This time the hands had been his own.

His eyes should have been redder considering the lack of sleep, but he hadn't been drinking.

Or eating.

The words were soft, definite, though it seemed as if they came to his ears belatedly and lingered like frost on a windowpane, until he wasn't sure if he had heard them or not.

If they were real or if his mind had created them, because his mind was tired and weak and weathered and eager to torture him.

Slava.

Aleksandr's lips shook, but somehow he couldn't turn his head.

He closed his eyes instead.

The silence persisted.
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