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Crime and Punishment

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Jul. 15th, 2007 | 01:28 am

Had a drinking interlude with the sniper- not as blue of an interlude as I'd have liked- but no matter. The sea is blue and full of waves...

I recounted a history I'd rather have not; I'll regret my candor until I'm dead under snow. "Some things should never be spoken; some things cannot be pronounced."

But they were. Byla ne byla, eh?







capt_kasya: It had been a long night, but it was nearly over.

Kassian walked with quiet purpose as he escorted the MENTs back to their quarters.

No one said anything, but there was little to say. Liadov and Rakitin were exhausted, he could tell, and Kassian felt it too: burning eyes, a soreness between his shoulders, legs that ached vaguely.

Given everything that had happened earlier, Kassian supposed it could have been worse.

Purposefully, he didn't dwell on the details: finding the crucified, dismembered body, Gurlukovich's death, Liadov succumbing to shock.

He didn't think about where Isaev was right now, either.

Kassian ushered both men inside and escorted them to their rooms. He entered Rakitin's room first and swept it for intruders before emerging and nodding to the pathologist.

Yawning, Rakitin went inside with murmured thank-you, closing the door behind him.

Kassian went to Liadov's room next, briefly checking it to make sure there was no one lying in wait.

"You're all clear, Major," Kassian said, stepping back into the hallway. He gestured for Liadov to enter, but then paused, feeling like he should say something else.

"Good night," he added, then paused again. "Is there anything else you needed?"

nikanor_liadov: Nika paused, regarding the sniper with dry and wintry amusement.

"On any evening in Moscow, I'd have given you the same answer, Captain. Yes." A slightly miscreant smile kissed his lips and departed. "However, my request would have been different indeed than the one I'll make now."

Nika opened one of his black valises and pulled out a long, frosted bottle. And another, smaller and amber-toned.

He set them on the table, turning the labels out for the sniper's benefit.

"Care to have that drink now, Irinarhov? Somehow it seems like a poor night for sobriety."

capt_kasya: Kassian hesitated, glancing from the bottles to Liadov, frowning slightly.

Technically, he was off-duty as soon as the MENTs entered their quarters for the evening, so there was nothing that said he couldn't.

Part of him wanted to retreat, though, and seek out solitude.

But what good would that do him, when he'd be alone in his bunk, and conscious of its emptiness? When all we would do is lie back and catch Isaev's scent on the sheets and think about where he was, what he was doing?

After a moment, he reached up, and took off his beret, then removed his balaclava.

"All right," Kassian said, with a short nod. "I'd like that, Major."

nikanor_liadov: Nika smiled.

"Good enough. We've spent worse time in each other's company."

A slight laugh.

"Let this be the nullifying of that unfortunate day."

He indicated the bottles, upcapping both.

"Polish vodka," he said, "potato. Not harsh like rye. Smooth and seductive. My favorite colorless slow death in a bottle."

He paused, raising a confratory eyebrow.

"...or," he said, "Perhaps you'd prefer a nicely warmed conjack, my friend?"

It was an excellent reserve. Rich buttery musk, fragrant as cologne.

"It's exquisite, this one. Heavy on the tongue like cream."

capt_kasya: Kassian eyed the bottles again, feeling suddenly uncertain. He was used to drinking little more than slivovic, when he drank at all, which was rarely. He'd had vodka occasionally.

Back in Berlin, they'd found a stash of plundered cognac in an abandoned, half-wrecked office and had distributed it among themselves. Because Kassian had claimed no other German spoils, he'd had little remorse about surreptitiously taking more than his share and hoarding it.

It had kept him numb, those long nights, kept him from having to listen, or think.

But that was a long time ago.

"Vodka," he said, quietly, then added, "please."

Drinks like these were not for soldiers, but for more sophisticated men like Liadov, but he supposed it wouldn't hurt to have a drink or two.

Stripping off his gloves, Kassian looked around for a place to set his rifle so he could sit with it close to him.

"Do you mind?" Kassian asked, gesturing with his Mosin-Nagant in the direction of the bed.

nikanor_liadov: "No, of course not," Nika said, pulling a shot glass from his case and upending the bottle. "Best seat in the house," he added. "This place is furnished like a bordello. Your officers' quarters are unsually nicely acquitted, compared to other outfits I've observed."

He held the glass out to the sniper.

"Here you are. Sorry- the glass isn't chilled. But one does what one can."

For himself, he turned back to the table and his black traveling case, pulling out a stemless snifter and leveling a few fingers of amber liquid into it.

Then he pulled out his lighter and lit a ration candle, holding the base of the snifter over it, letting the flame lick along the round bottom of the glass.

Swirling it slowly, dreamily with his wrist, letting it warm evenly, suffusing with liquid heat.

"I used to drink a toast every night, like this," he said, quietly. "A toast to a friend, whether we were together or apart. And if we we were apart, I knew he'd raise his glass to me before he closed his eyes, or before the sun rose."

He laughed, obscurely.

"Whichever came first."

He shook his head.

"That was before our falling out," he remarked, vaguely, lifting the snifter from its nest in the flames and inhaling deeply of the liquor.

He paused, pulling a chair up across from the bed, and the dark-eyed sniper.

Nika's eyes inclined downward, as he toyed with the stem of the glass, smiling oddly.

"But do you know..." he intoned. "...I still toast him."

He looked up, wan of cheek and eye. Sleepless, restless.

"Old habits die hard."

Liadov hesitated, as if he might break it, old or no, then lifted his snifter slightly in his hand, eyes raised slightly beyond the window.

"...From the cradle to the grave," he intoned in a low voice, and took a slow sip, closing his eyes.

capt_kasya: Kassian took a sip, and let it burn down, numbing tongue and throat.

He coughed, once.

"That's good," he said, quietly, but eyed Liadov for a few moments. The MENT looked wholly absorbed in his commemoration of the past, as if he wouldn't even notice if Kassian were to get up and walk out right then.

He glanced at the door, but then looked back at Liadov.

"Lasha," he said, then, "Ilarion."

He had no business talking about Isaev's brother like they were comrades.

"You still...care...for him, in spite of the falling out," he said.

That much was obvious, but he'd had to choose his words. It was really none of his business, in spite of the fact that Liadov kept telling him about it, and Kassian kept asking.

He stared down at the shot glass in his hand. "Do you think you'll reconcile, someday?"

nikanor_liadov: Nika smiled slightly.

"That...would be unwise."

He sighed.

"This is a truly great cognac, comrade. Have a sip. Just for experiential purposes."

He proffered the snifter idly, loosening his tie and the collar of his shirt.

"You never stop caring," he said, belatedly. "But I'm surprised you recall my speaking of him."

He shifted, and shifted topics, running a hand slowly through his hair.

"I saw you try, with Imanov. That was big of you."

Nika laughed quietly.

"Shame he wasn't more gracious. But then, I'm hardly surprised. He's quite the pirhana. I've always thought he was a little overly invested in Andrei."

He raised an eyebrow.

"Wondered if there wasn't something going on there besides good comradeship."

capt_kasya: Kassian made a non-committal noise, and reached for the snifter, more to be polite than out of any great desire to try it.

He took a quick taste, but found it dissolved like candy on his tongue, thick and ambrosial. Far too rich and potent to be anything but inordinately expensive, but thankfully different than what he remembered.

He handed it back. "Thank you," he said briefly. "That is good."

Kassian reached for the Mosin-Nagant laying on the coverlet at his side, touching the stock as if just to reassure himself it was still there.

"There's nothing I can do about Imanov," he said, and then realized his tone had flattened.

He took another sip of vodka, savoring the burn, drawing in a breath, letting it out.

"He doesn't like me," he said, after a few moments. "I don't care much for him. We can agree on that, at least. As long as - "

His jaw tightened a little.

Kassian shook his head. "Sorry, comrade Major. I don't really want to talk about Imanov."

nikanor_liadov: Liadov sighed, rolling his eyes vaguely.

"All right. You pick the conversational topic, o guide and guardian."

He shook his head, letting it fall back, over the chair back.

"Regale me."

He didn't really feel like talking about Imanov either, frankly, but he and the sniper were rather limited in the things they held in common.

"So, what do you and Isaev talk about?" he asked, idly.

Obviously they had managed to have at least some measure of conversation.

Or not.

...or not.

Liadov's head raised, and he frowned.

capt_kasya: Kassian blinked, somewhat taken aback by the question.

He stared into his shot glass.

Somehow, conversation with Isaev was easy, just in the same way it wasn't with everyone else. Kassian tried to recall what they usually talked about, and found he had trouble remembering.

Well. There were some things he remembered specifically, but those were highly personal.

Not things that Liadov would want to hear, or Kassian would want to discuss.

"Everything," he said, quietly.

His eyes drifted shut after a moment. "The past, the present. Life and death, incidental things, everything in between."

He shrugged, and sighed. "He makes it easy, I suppose."

That would be nice, he thought, to be in bed with Isaev right now, curled together, drowsy and sated, half-asleep and talking. Maybe they would be talking about Gurlukovich, or maybe the mechanic who died. Or maybe it would be something else, more distant, pleasant thoughts of places far from here.

He frowned as Imanov came to mind again, and what he was probably doing.

Kassian rubbed his face and with his free hand.

No, he thought, firmly. It wasn't the same.

He took another drink.

"You've known Isaev for a long time," he observed, but went nowhere with it.

He shrugged again. "Sometimes I forget how young he is. He doesn't seem like it."

nikanor_liadov: "Yes," he said. "I have."

A pause, as he sipped and considered.

"Since he was an infant, in fact." He set the snifter down with a small, bright clink. "I was twelve years old when he was born."

Liadov watched Irinarhov's face, noted the tension ebbing and pulsing.

Sitting back and crossing his boot over his knee, letting his unguarded lapse stiffen and keratinize, back into a courteous professional carapace.

"What's eating you, Irinarhov?" he asked, quietly, after a moment.

capt_kasya: Kassian let out his breath in a long sigh.

"It's nothing," he said.

But it wasn't nothing, really, and both he and Liadov knew it.

Kassian wasn't fooling anyone, especially not himself.

He shifted, and drank, considering.

"You ever do the right thing, Major, the thing you know in your head and your heart is the right thing to do, but it doesn't stop it from being hard?"

He looked back at Liadov, and met the MENT's intent gaze.

"Do you remember...during my interview, we talked about my lover?"

Kassian paused, frowning, wondering if he should stop, but somehow found it easier to go on.

"Do you know who he is? Have you guessed?"

nikanor_liadov: "You mean, have I ever done something justified that nevertheless feels like the blackest kind of treason?" He broke a slightly bitter smile. "Something that even now is killing me incrementally by inches?"

He brought the cognac to his lips and nursed it a little more vigorously than before.

"Why no, I have no idea what you're talking about," he drawled, coolly, as he drew the glass away.

He considered the sniper's words, brow knitting absently.

Then Liadov's gaze widened.

"Not Imanov," he exclaimed, in disbelief. "Ilya is your lover?"

He shook his head.

"To each their own. Obviously there's no end to the sexual tension."

capt_kasya: "No!"

Kassian recoiled, eyes going wide.

He nearly spilled his vodka, set it splashing in the glass. Hurriedly, he sipped it, then downed the rest inside.

"No, no, not Imanov," he said, shaking his head.

He couldn't even imagine it. He really couldn't imagine sleeping with anyone other than Isaev, actually, which suited him just fine.

"Do you think I - no, nevermind," he finished, ending the rhetorical question. "I don't want to know."

Kassian took in a breath.

"Not Imanov. You know him, though."

Somehow, Kassian had gotten the feeling that Liadov had known immediately, but apparently, maybe not. He didn't knot what it meant, to not have been immediately transparent to Liadov's discerning mind, but maybe it was because Liadov had known Isaev from infancy, the brother of his onetime comrade.

Kassian thought about that, Ilarion Isaev and Liadov, and wondered if what Liadov had been talking about before had anything to do with Lasha.

"It's Isaev," he confessed, finally. "Andrei."

He didn't know what drove him to say it. Maybe because he trusted Liadov because he'd helped him before. Maybe because of what had happened earlier, when Liadov went into shock.

Maybe because he didn't want Liadov to think he had such lousy taste.

nikanor_liadov: Liadov stared.

How had he missed it, if it were true, he'd never know. Maybe he had a blind spot where Andrei was concerned.

Maybe it was a blinding overdose of irony.

He set his snifter down, very carefully.

"You sleep with Isaev," he said, quietly, wanting to be utterly certain that he'd heard.

"You...make love to him?"

This last with difficulty.

His lips steadied.

"Or do you just fuck him? Lie down with him because he ran you to the ground?"

capt_kasya: Kassian flushed, gaze avoidant at first, but then his eyes shot back to Liadov.

That last comment had stung.

"He's the one I told you about. The one I love," he said, rapid-fire, like chambering rounds.

His eyes were dark and sharp and fixed on Liadov steadily.

"I shouldn't have said anything. It puts you into an awkward position, knowing him, knowing his brother, his family."

He held out the shot glass, offering it back to the MENT.

"I suppose you can do what you want with that information, Major," Kassian said.

His jaw tightened, though he didn't look away.

nikanor_liadov: Nika shook his head.

"No," he said. "It's nothing to me who the other Alexandrich chooses to lay his head beside at night."

He took hold of Kassian's wrist and steadied the glass, refilling it, this time with the cognac he'd spurned.

"There," he said, quietly. "Drink that."

The sniper looked at him, expression inscrutable, dark eyes liquid, almost molten.

"Trust me, Captain. I have no dog in the fight."

He nodded slowly.

"Drink. Believe me, I don't trade in hypocrisy."

There was a taint of bitterness in the words.

"I can't fault anyone's choices in love and war, or out of it- and Andrei is a man, young, yes- but hardly unjaded."

capt_kasya: Kassian looked at the cognac. He didn't want it. It was too thick and too sweet and too rich for someone like him to be drinking. It would go straight to his head and cloud his senses, and he needed to stay alert, if for no other reason than general principle, but also because there was a killer on the loose.

But he sighed, and nodded, and his shoulders relaxed.

"All right," he said. He decided to take Liadov's words at face value. If the MENT intended something else instead, after his words of assurance, then Kassian had severely misjudged him.

And he didn't think he had.

"You're right. He's hardly unjaded. It startles me sometimes...he has things in his head that I've never even considered."

Kassian shrugged. "But at the same time...he has a way of talking about other things, good things, and making them sound..."

He hesitated, shaking his head, cocking it self-consciously.

"...like poetry. Like the way the sages wrote about the world when it was still fresh and new."

Kassian cleared his throat, gaze flicking back to Liadov. "You're probably laughing at me," he muttered. "Listen to me talk about him, like I..."

He trailed off, gesturing. He'd already told Liadov how he felt.

nikanor_liadov: Nika looked at him solemnly.

"Like you love him," he finished, neutrally. "It's not a crime."

It was, technically, but not in Liadov's book. He quietly averted his eyes from that particular section of the code.

He had seen men punished for that, been privy but not party. He had stood silent, disapproving, powerless to intervene but unwilling to collude.

He'd watched Ilarion send men to the camps with a flick of his wrist.

Liadov accepted Lasha's limitations, and left it a difference of opinion.

Until....

Liadov sighed.

"Stop looking so tortured. Is that what's been tearing at your liver, Prometheus?"

He snorted, picking up the bottle of vodka and holding it out to Irinarhov.

"Give it a rest, and let this tear at your liver for awhile instead. Be satisfied, that I don't care what else you swallow."

The snow patter against the window feathered and drummed softly, then more roughly, like brushes on a snare.

"I can't say I understand what you and Isaev could possibly have in common enough to call it....love," he said, slowly. "Lust, perhaps. Now that I understand."

He paused, shrugged idly and shook out his hair. After so many long hours, it was beginning to settle into love-locks. He studied his ghost reflection in the small square of darkened glass that opposed them. In the low light, it was the soft, mellowed color of old gold.

"Disproves my notions about Imanov, at the least," he said, indolent.

capt_kasya: Kassian let out a breath, and closed his eyes.

He felt better for having confessed - not that Liadov hadn't known he had a lover. He just hadn't known that it was Isaev. The brother of Liadov's onetime comrade. Kassian didn't know why it made a difference that Liadov knew, but it did.

The bottle's weight pulled at his hand, but Kassian was more conscious of the shot glass full of cognac. He regarded it a few moments, then swiftly downed it.

It went down like honey, only not cloying, but thick and rich and pleasant. It seemed a shame to drink it quickly, instead of savoring something so expensive, but it was easier for him, this way. Cathartic, like puling the trigger.

"You weren't wrong about Imanov," he said, looking up to meet Liadov's eyes.

Only briefly, though. It was no great confession, only a touchpoint.

"I told you about him too, when you turned off the tape for me. How I found someone suspicious, but didn't want to voice it because he was my lover's lover."

Deliberately, he shrugged.

He didn't know what it was about Liadov, who, by simply listening, could prompt him to confession. There was something compassionate and open in the MENT's gaze.

He didn't know Liadov well enough to know how genuine it was, but Kassian knew it couldn't all be an act, either. Not when he had acted to protect Kassian in the interests of what was right.

"They're together tonight," he added. He forced himself to go on, and to get out all the things that lingered at the back of his mind and picked away at open wounds like crows on a battlefield.

"That's what's really been eating at me. That's why I've been poor company, comrade."

Kassian knew he had been. He'd barely listened to a thing Liadov said, so wholly wrapped up in his own thoughts that he could hardly recall anything Liadov had told him.

That was bad. He had to shrug it off. His problems certainly weren't worse than Liadov's, who'd nearly died tonight.

Post-cognac, his throat and belly felt pleasantly warm. He leaned back on the bed, planting his forearms behind him, sighing.

"For that, I apologize."

Kassian closed his eyes.

Yes, he did feel better.

nikanor_liadov: Liadov steepled his fingers.

"Andrei Alexandrovich," he said, "And Ilya Petrovich. It makes sense, doesn't it. Quite a pair they make. Like they came from the same box of toy soldiers. Fully posable," he added wryly.

He wasn't unaware that as far as archetypes went, he had probably been minted in a neighboring mold, nor was he above a soft laugh at his own expense.

A frown, as he worried his lips with his fingertips.

"And you let them go."

He shrugged, letting his eyes close, tasting the sweet weight of the liquor.

"You said you love him. Does he love you?"

capt_kasya: A smile tugged at Kassian's lips, and he let it, feeling like he didn't have to be so guarded now.

"Yeah," he said, voice low and indulgent. He left it at that for a few moments, but then shrugged a little. "Well, he's figuring it all out. He's young. But he understands that this is...something different."

He struggled to sit up again, so he could pour himself another shot of the vodka. "At the same time, he's a good comrade. You saw Imanov. He was lost. He needed something only Isaev could give him."

Kassian didn't know if tonight would complicate things between himself and Imanov, but he decided not to worry about it, at least not right now.

He offered the bottle back to Liadov. "Here. So anyway, now you know why I was looking like I'd sooner break this bottle over someone's head than drink from it."

nikanor_liadov: Liadov's brows raised over his downcast eyes, drawing his broad cheeks thoughtfully.

"I would imagine that must be...difficult. I'm sorry, comrade, just now, for assuming I'd misread your initial persona- for a moment here I was beginning to suspect you were an inhuman automaton with no passion to speak of."

He smiled slightly.

"But obviously that can't be true, if you're an Isaev's lover, is it?"

He broke off, pouring himself another dram of cognac and then reaching for Irinarhov's glass.

"Again?" he asked, with a tilt of his chin.

capt_kasya: "Sure," Kassian said, nodding.

This wasn't so bad. In fact, it was even somewhat pleasant. The alcohol took the edge off, kind of like a cigarette.

"Thank you," he added, belatedly.

Kassian shrugged as he watched Liadov pour. "I'm not good with people. Not like you. Not talking to them, at least."

He didn't understand how people like Liadov and Isaev could do that, simply strike up a conversation with someone they didn't know. It was a gift, he decided. A gift he didn't have.

Kassian was quiet for a while, thinking about what Liadov had said to him earlier, during their stilted conversation.

Then he frowned, and looked hard at Liadov.

"What's killing you by inches?" he asked, abruptly.

nikanor_liadov: Liadov's mouth pushed forward in an involuntary moue, then wryed.

"Everyone's dying by inches, comrade," he said, evasively.

He finished his pour and set the bottle within Kassian's reach.

"Help yourself. The more it's shared, the better it tastes." He rose, pulling off his greatcoat and hanging it on a coatrack by the door.

Then he walked over and joined the Captain, taking a seat on the bed, leaning back against the wall and crossing his tall boots negligently.

He tossed back his cognac and let his tongue seek the brief sweetness that clung to his lower lip like treacle.

"Perhaps I was only being melodramatic. Someone once told me I had the worst case of the Russian Soul he'd ever seen outside of Tolstoy."
His eyes flicked away as he said it, thinking of the soft lights on the street by the Lion Bridge at dawn, as he'd walked from his townhouse to his office.

Unable to sleep. Coming in early, only to find Captain Isaev already there, asleep in his office, visor cap riding low over his eyes. Only his cruel, beautiful mouth and the hard, artful line of his jaw exposed.

Rousing him was a pleasure he kept to himself.

A touch was all it took, a casual sweep of his leather-clad fingers, tipping the chin back gently.

"Dobre utna," he would say, crisply.

And they would look at each other with hard, emotionless eyes until they broke down and smiled.

The first soft, tentative laugh of the day, on trembling newborn legs, always came to him with Lasha.

capt_kasya: "If you were only being melodramatic, you wouldn't say 'perhaps.'"

But Kassian scooted down on the bed, to give Liadov's legs room to stretch out, pulling his rifle with him. He felt bad about taking up the space, but it really was the most comfortable place to be, and it wasn't like the bed was small.

He paused to finish off his vodka and pour himself a splash of cognac.

Easy, he thought. Easy. It wouldn't do to drink so much that he ended up passing out. It has been a long time since he had been that drunk.

"And you said, just now, 'an' Isaev's lover."

It was like the pedigree was stamped in the blood of men as well as horses, that temperament and spirit ran in families. Kassian had never had a brother. He didn't know if it was true. But he'd had a father, and sometimes he had to admit he inherited something more than dark hair and olive-toned skin.

"Like you'd know what that's like," he finished.

Kassian looked at Liadov, watched him carefully, tracking his distant gaze.

"Ilarion. You were more than comrades, weren't you? Before your falling out."

....

(continued in part 2)

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