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Roman's Office, Moscow HQ

Aug. 11th, 2010 | 02:09 pm

“I suppose you know that Aleks Isaev is twisting my prick, trying to get you back.”

“Da,” said Nika, without affect. “I understand that he is.”

“I’m not inclined to accommodate him.”

“That’s your call, Roman.”

It was. Primakov held him at his pleasure, at his leisure, and there was little recourse available to Liadov. Aleksandr had much more latitude, and Nikanor expected him to exercise it.

It seemed that Roman did as well.

“Do you want to go back to that place?” Primakov said, finally. “To Isaev’s gilded kingdom, instead of my steel machine? Trade concrete and coffee for tea and venetian plaster?”

Nika was silent, frowning.

“He won’t appreciate you, Major. Not like I do. He’ll own you.”

“I have a lot of owners,” said Liadov. “Like most men.”

Primakov settled back into his steelcase chair, elbows resting on the vinyl-padded arms.

“I don’t want to own you, Major. I want you to lend me your talent. I’ve never asked for anything more. I want to solve crimes, I want to punish the wicked. I want you to help me do that. I want someone I can trust not to rob the agency blind.”

He paused, spreading his hands.

“But if you’re not happy, then I won’t get what I want. None of us will.”

Liadov turned his face toward the window, watching the fading late afternoon light streak across the spires of Saint Basil’s.

“Leningrad has changed,” he said quietly. “Warped. It’s not the rarified place that I knew and loved. Maybe it never was.”

Roman snorted, softly.

“There is no enduring paradise, Major Liadov. Only hell and purgatory endure. But who needs heaven when you’re fireproof in hell?”

Nika looked at him, suddenly, surprised, a wry smile touching his lips belatedly.

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Oct. 21st, 2009 | 11:26 pm

It was somewhere between late, late afternoon and early evening.

His office was suffused with flat, blue light and Nika was alone with his telephone, fountain pen in hand.

Leningrad was bending his ear.

But there was nothing new about that. He was beginning to remember his old life.

“I’m working on finding you a replacement in Tselinoyarsk,” said Aleksandr. “You’ll be home in no time. I won’t lie; it’s been a little power struggle with Moscow HQ.”

Nika was unsurprised to hear that. Roman Primakov was not the kind of man who liked to lose his urban talent, and when it came to MVD politics he was nearly as ruthless as Isaev.

“I want final approval,” he said, flatly. “I started this investigation, I began this operation. Whether it matters to you or not, I do have a vested interested in not having it devolve into a hackneyed fiasco.”

He’d avoided it so far, through improbable odds.

Aleksandr laughed slightly.

“What’s this, Nikash? Do you not trust my acumen?”

“It’s not that, Direktor. But I do reserve the right to resent my role being usurped. Particularly by some cheap, eager imitation, after all the hours and blood and sweat I’ve put in-“

“Shhh. Nika, Nika. It’s nothing like that. Trust me.”

“I can’t trust anyone, Direktor, respectfully.”

“Welcome to my world,” murmured Aleksandr, with a soft laugh.

“I’m not part of your world.”

Not as it existed now, in Leningrad, at whatever denigrated level Ilarion’s careless criminal associations had pulled it down to.

“Don’t say such things, malchik. You belong in the Ministry. You love the job. You know that as well as I do. And you can trust me, Nika, as I trusted my father when I was in your position.”

“And my replacement?”

Aleksandr paused, and Liadov heard him sigh.

“…We’re sending a warm body to a godforsaken GRU pit in the Urals. What difference does it make?”

“I want final approval.”

“Of course, Nika. If it matters that much to you.”

Aleksandr didn’t care, one way or another, Nika knew. He just didn’t understand why Liadov cared.

“My work matters to me. My reputation matters to me.”

“Of course, Nika. But your reputation is pure gold. You know that. Your well-being is all that matters to me, to Ilarion…and to your mother.”

At the mention of his mother, like most men, Nika felt an odd pang.

Aleksandr’s tone was coolly indulgent.

“…I’ve a specialist lined up to see you right away in Leningrad, Nikanor. He’s the best there is. Discreet. But in the meantime, you must refrain from drinking to excess.”

“Beg pardon? Specialist?” Liadov asked, pen stilling in his fingers.

“Lasha told me, Nikanor. About your…affliction.”

It hit him in a way that no physical blow ever could. Leshovik’s angry fist did not even come close. He literally felt like curling into himself, protecting his stomach, his core, his being. Closing his eyes. Nausea stole over him and he wondered if he would wind up retching in his wastebasket while Aleksandr held the line.

Lasha had betrayed him. He wondered when he would stop being taken aback by that.

“We trust no one, Liadov,” said Ilarion in a low, soft voice. “We tell no one.”

His fingers moved over Nika’s lips, fleetingly. His eyes sought, hungrily.

“…They wouldn’t understand.”

Liadov shook his head, lips parting, unable to hear any more.

He fell silent for some time, trying to gather himself again.

“So nothing is sacred,” he intoned, bloodlessly.

There was nothing left. Ilarion had profaned everything that once lay between them.

First their trust, then their friendship, then their work, then their very unbringing. Ilarion had taken an untrammeled expanse of virgin snow as far as the eye could see and sullied it with tar and tire tracks and bottles of slivovic. What Liadov could not apprehend for the life of him, was why. Was Lasha not content with being an MVD prince, replete with a throne of broken bodies and a crown of icicles upon his brow? Or was it his fault, for leaving Lasha to become the victim of his own worst nature?

“He was afraid, Nika,” broke in Aleksandr, with arctic calm. “He can’t carry that alone. You can’t expect that of anyone. Not even Lasha.”

Liadov was silent, looking at his MVD ring. The chill of Aleksandr’s polished voice was oddly soothing, like lying with your cheek against smooth granite, like a cool hand pressed against a childhood fever.

He continued, so reasonable and level in tone that Liadov could hardly apprehend it.

“...It’s excruciatingly simple science, Nika. You’re an intelligent man; I raised you myself. If you drink too much, your sugar levels will plummet unpredictably. If you tempt the odds like that, one of these days you will die.”

Liadov was silent, not trusting himself to speak.

“If you were to die, it would kill him, Nika.” Aleksandr paused, and for a moment there was a hint of something unbearable in his colorless voice. “Believe me.”

The pen fell out of Liadov’s hand, making a soft noise as it hit the desk blotter. He let his hand come to rest against the desk, palm down. His eyes studied the dial of the black, functional telephone, unseeing.

“My son does not often come to me, Major, with his concerns. He’s very independent. As I was.”

The Direktor paused.

“…Think about that.”

Liadov set his lips, pressed them together for a long moment.

“Da,” he said, at last.

“Khorosho. You’re a credit to the Ministry, Nikanor Grigoriivich. And to me.”

There was a pause, and Nika felt an overwhelming surge of raw emotion. For a moment it stripped him of all pretense.

“…I’m so tired, Sanya,” Liadov said.

“Heavy is the head, malchik. Trust me, I know.”

“I do trust you, Direktor.”

“I know, Nikasha. I know. But mind what I said about drinking. Take care, until we have you back in Leningrad.”


“And Nikanor,” Aleksandr paused delicately. “About the affliction. Tell no one. It’s a family matter.”

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Jul. 31st, 2009 | 10:48 pm

From the moment he opened his eyes, it was a broken kind of morning.

The clouds had spent the night clinging tightly to the peaks and had yet to break away; the fog still lay languorous in the lower elevations. It blanketed the vehicles in the tank yard as military operations stirred sluggishly to life, red and yellow lights diffused and glowing through the early mist of dawn.

The mess hall was empty and still.

The night patrols had already had their three AM feed, and the first shift of morning chow was still some time in coming, though the tables were always partially set. Each place held a clean teacup. They sat in wait, existing in neat white rows.

Liadov had gone there knowing it would be deserted, intending to sit near the stove and have a few minutes of tea and quiet contemplation before the world awoke and rolled back onto his shoulders.

But when he’d arrived, there had been someone already in residence, alone in the sea of long tables, silently staring forward, slowly raising a cup to his lips. The profile was unmistakably patrician; the slope and rise of the brow just so, the slight and sullen protrusion of the lips. Liadov’s eyes were drawn inexplicably to the perfect angle of his nose, straight and fine yet strong and pronounced. Hesitant sunlight slanted through the window, kissing the edges of his silhouette into a glow. His pale hair seemed almost luminous in the dawn.


Nika felt his soul ache for a moment.

He stood there for a long time in the entry, studying Lasha, tracing his shape; the contour of his impeccable posture cutting his presence into the background, his dove-grey uniform in subtle complement to the industrial lines of the mess structure.

Isaev turned his head slowly after a moment, as if he had just realized he was being watched. His eyes settled on Nika without incident. He said nothing.

After a moment Liadov began to walk toward him.

"Morning." He sat down across from Isaev, upending one of the teacups.

Lasha met his gaze. His eyes were worn, holding a battered kind of fatigue in their depths. Slight, dark shadows were dusted beneath them. “And you as well,” he replied.

His whole bearing seemed muted, like a watercolor, the tone of his voice neither detached and icy nor ruthless and demanding, dulled from its customary acuity to something that felt almost quiet.

He reminded Nika of the sea after a storm.

He pushed the teacup across at Ilarion. Liadov was conscious of his own voice, weary and exposed, but not without warmth. “Share a drink, Major?”

“Da,” said Lasha. “If you like.”

After a moment he reached for the kettle and deftly poured a serving of hot tea for Nika, setting it down once more to the side.

Ilarion had a way with objects; as well as he manipulated the world, he manipulated the things within it. Liadov watched him acquit the motion in absent admiration of his innate grace, the clean precision of his movements, always with a clear intent.

Nika gazed downward as he stirred his tea. “You’re well again,” he said, the question therein inherent but unvoiced.

“Da.” Lasha raised the cup to his lips. He looked drawn.

Liadov frowned at nothing in particular, like a good Russian. "Good."

Ilarion was silent until Nika looked up. “I understand you ran into Captain Oleksei.”

“Something like that,” Nika said, averting his eyes briefly once more. He rubbed his freshly-shaven jaw as if to remind himself that he was fully put together, and not falling to pieces.

He felt like Ilarion looked. Worn out, drained, overused. It was like facing an adversary over an oasis, while you were both lying on your stomachs and dying of exposure.


Isaev closed his eyes. “Don’t.”

“We need to speak.”

“This morning is too heavy for the weight of such words, Nikasha.”

Liadov sighed and ran a hand back over his hair. There was a clanking sound from somewhere back in the kitchens. Shout of a soldier, bark of a dog. Then silence once more. “It’s early yet. Do you mind if I stay?”

Lasha’s tired eyes were clear and colorless as water in the morning light. “That’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

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The Clearing.

Apr. 9th, 2009 | 11:55 pm

Major Nikanor Liadov had woken with purpose that morning, despite the lack of REM sleep. Despite everything, really.

He had showered in the stillness of dawn, yawning and leaning onto his hands against the tile, alternating water from hot to cold, bracing himself for the inevitable.

The inevitable that he was somehow not dreading in the way that he should.

He shaved with extra care, easing the straight razor up and along slick skin, eying himself in the mirror with a patrician gaze. The steam on the glass made a diffuse halo around his face.

Nika had strapped into his uniform with reverence, fingering each button, smoothing each crease.

He combed his golden hair until it shone with a low luster, swept forward and back like a breaking wave, crumbling into sand and sunlit ebbtide around his shoulderboards. Then he set his visor cap firmly on his head, settling it in place with a practiced hand.

If pressed, he would have had to admit he hadn't felt this sense of pleasant apprehension in a long time.

Ilarion could not have known how close he was to winning.

Liadov knew the truth. Realized as he gazed at himself, fully kitted, groomed and pressed, crisp and formidable- that all Isaev had to do was show up in his office the way he had in Leningrad, be waiting when he opened the door.

No words would be necessary.

Nika knew that in that rare event, in that isolated moment, he would forgive.

Isaev had not been there, of course. Nor had he appeared throughout the morning, and by noon Nika had resigned himself to the fact that if Isaev was intending to engage him in a dialogue, it was not going to be on his terms.

An ambush, then, like the night before.

He had sighed, not really surprised, and set down his gold pen.

The air was cool outside, but the sun was achingly bright, and he craved its warmth on his face. He would take a walk across the base to afternoon mess and grab a quick cup of coffee before checking in on Rakitin and returning to his work.

He was on his way across the yard before he knew it, hands delved into pockets, stride thoughtful and brisk but easier than in days before.

The sky was wide open above, the yard was wide open as a market square, and the sun was more gratifying than he thought possible.

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The Wake.

Jan. 6th, 2009 | 10:50 pm

(Continued from http://taras-oleksei.livejournal.com/5299.html)

Liadov was struck by those last words, even as he resumed his departure with a sharp stride, pushing through the swinging doors and leaving them all to their furtive speculation, and Isaev to his fuming outrage.

Lasha actually had a point, if a rather ironic one- not that he was prepared to examine it under the previous circumstance.

As a credo, never apologize, never explain encompassed more than the surface would suggest. It also tacitly implied "never deny".

And in his memory, it held true: as far as he remembered, Isaev never had denied responsibility for anything committed or done.

More often, when confronted with an accusation, he would say "Absolutely, I did," which a kind of unblinking negligence that aptly demonstrated the extent of his disregard for the querant.

Ilarion was not ashamed of what he was.

His boot heels snapped a retreating cadence on the linotile of the hall that returned to the North Wing. Beyond the side North Wing exit was a straight shot to their free-standing outbuilding, his secondary office and Rakitin's laboratory.

He heard faster bootclicks behind him in pursuit, as if someone were hastening slightly to catch up with him, but didn't turn around or slow his pace until he was forced to.

Liadov tightened his scarf with a jerk, in anticipation of the cold mountain air, pausing as the automatic doors sluggishly retracted .

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(no subject)

Jan. 1st, 2009 | 10:34 pm

His sleep was nowhere now, absolutely dead to him.

Worse than it had been on the whitest of nights.

Liadov felt it in his wrists and jaw, saw it underneath his eyes when he looked in the mirror to shave with particularly careful fingers; a velvety shadow-stain of deprivation, as if a priest had dipped his fingers in holy ashes and gently daubed him there to mark his devotion.

He didn't dare to admit that he found it slightly beautiful. Objective aestheticism aside, it never served a man to be complicit in his own unraveling.

Nika sat at his desk in the morning quiet, drinking tea and filling in reports with a thoughtless hand.

They wouldn't catch him out, not on protocol or technicality. Not on anything. He knew every angle and slash of this art. He would have every document prepped and polished, ready to slap into their hands.

The telephone rang.

He pushed aside his bureaucratic sheaf and picked it up.

"Liadov. Slushayu vas," he said, absently, reaching for his mug.

"Major, I have a telephone call for you. From Leningrad."

Leningrad. He knew a lot of people in Leningrad, but of those, a very few knew where he was.

Nika paused, touching his lip, knitting his brow.

"Da. Put it through."

"At once," the nameless officer replied, with brisk pleasantry.

The click that opened the line was soft and not very telling, and the line blurred from the weather.

"Nikanor Grigoriivich?" said a voice he knew like his own.

It was Ilarion's timbre and cadence, unmistakable, deepened and roughened by age and experience.

Liadov dropped his pen with a soft clack, and slowly sat back in his chair.

"Direktor," he said, neutrally. "What a pleasant surprise."

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Pennies, from heaven, for your thoughts...

Apr. 9th, 2008 | 12:37 am

Upon getting back to my quarters, I lie down at once on the bed like a convict, without even pausing to remove my coat, cap or boots.

There's a crack in the ceiling that looks like a rabbit, and I try to make it into something else as I chase the tails of my mental demons with forced study, but they persist in slipping through my insensate fingers. I let my hands rest in my hair. I pick at an old scar at the nape of my neck that has never fully receded, and still grabs my relentless attention from time to time.

What now, my friend-no-more? What now, my unlover?

If news were to reach you in your ivory tower, all the well-meant slings and arrows and outrageous fortune in the world couldn't keep you from winging down and sweeping your beloved brother up and into the halo of your shared name.

Polya knows me for a crooked poplar. Among the straight silver lines of them that crown the lake, I am the one that dips down into the water. He could not begin to conceive of you, Isaev the elder. A tree never grew so beautifully warped and yet remained standing.

I hope he gets no chance to meet you. I hope this blows over, with a minimum of casualty, like one of Volgin's lightning fits.

I wonder where the Specialist is, and if he's forgiven me for this afternoon, for pinning him to the wall with words instead of restraints. Will he be willing to put our suspicions aside again tonight? I don't care if he's the killer or not, at the moment. I miss his easy smile and warm demeanor, the way you'll feel the absence of a cherished pet beneath your hand. My fingers itch to twine in his dark locks and ease him down the brimstone path....

Andrei is with his chaperone, confined to his barrack by night. I'm certain he suffers mightily for that. And Irinarhov, too. Let's not forget him.

Who do you have to kill around here to get some time alone with another human?

That was rhetorical, of course.

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Magnum Frater Honoribus

Feb. 18th, 2008 | 12:29 pm

He came upon Isaev on a secluded corner of the back tarmac, doing slow one-legged squats, a kettlebell gripped in his fists with a primeval, pangeaic surety. His eyes angled as Nikanor approached but he didn't stop until he finished his repetition set.

Liadov waited, patiently, expressionless, hands resting at ease in the pockets of his greatcoat.

A few seconds later, Andrei was done. He set the large cast-iron ball down and turned toward Liadov, something like contrition in his gaze.

"Nika," he said, and there was no hint of the insolent young god about him now, only the logical outgrowth of the boy he'd known in Leningrad. The brother he'd loved.


Isaev set down the kettlebell and stepped up to him, boldly catching Liadov's long-coated form in the sweeping embrace of both arms, briefly but forcefully, broad palms digging in. Nika's single hand pressed against Isaev's back, warmly, and he exhaled as they stepped apart once more, letting the chill air divide them.

They stood on a paved and level plateau that stretched for at least a mile, the mountains rising in stark relief around them, gilded by the mid-afternoon sun like caramelized sugar, brittle and crisp at touch of ice.

"It's good to see you Andrei," said Liadov. "We haven't really had much chance to talk, since I arrived- and I don't think yesterday really counts, as it was dictated by the demands of State criminal protocol." A faint smile broke the exaggerated moue of his lips.

"Nika," confessed Isaev, regret unmasked on his sculpted features. His wide, slavic cheekbones were white and cold-kissed at the highest part of the arch, making them even more prominent. The brightness of outdoor light suffused his grey eyes to luminous titanium. "I can't apologize enough to you, for the way I've compounded your problems."

"That doesn't matter," said Liadov, his voice low. In the thin and rarified air, it carried nonetheless. "If you did it, I know you had a reason."

"If it matters," Andrei said. "I actually didn't."

"Have a reason?" clarified Liadov, mildly.

"Kill him," Andrei said, with utter conviction.

Nika smiled, sighing. "It doesn't matter at all, Isaev."

Andrei nodded bloodlessly. The twist of his mouth was wry and older than his years. "I figured as much."

Liadov paused. "But I'm glad, despite and still."

Andrei was silent for a moment, then crossed his arms. "When did you get married, Nika?"

Liadov raised his eyes, unblinking. "It's been some time now, I suppose." He couldn't even remember how long. It hadn't been a milestone he'd ever anticipated, and so he rarely considered it.

"Why did you never tell my brother? Your best comrade?"

"You mean, the man who once saved my life?" Nika asked, with a bitter smile, and for a moment he joined Isaev in condemning himself, turning the dull knife of contempt upon his own throat. "Or the man who seduced my bride?"

"Yes," said Andrei.

Little crystals of icy snow swirled in the air, scarcely visible. They stung the cheeks and chin like tiny embers, sparked into flight. In some lofty altitudes, hot and cold became the same extreme.

A pause, and Liadov replied, measured and mild. "He had no reason to know, Andrei. She's a part of my life that can't be excised, yet has no relevance to anything but an old obligation, a bed that I made for myself long ago, and am compelled to lie in."

"And because you should never reveal any weakness to an Isaev," Andrei said. "Unless you want it ruthlessly exploited. Am I right?"

"And was I wrong?" asked Nikanor, in a quiet voice.

Andrei's eyes were conflicted, but he pressed on. "I heard about your little episode in the locker room. Apparently you've been afflicted since birth."

"Ilarion knows about that. He's given me shots, for fuck's sake."

"When did you tell him?"

Nika grimaced. "I didn't tell him, but he knows, nonetheless."

Andrei seemed to accept that, but a deeper pain was radiating from him now, raw and almost palpable. "He's a wreck, Liadov," he said, at last.

"He's a Caesar who was careless with his Antony."

"I spoke to him on the phone, and he could hardly say your name." Andrei shook his head in disbelief. "And yet you stand here, indifferent. The only thing colder than the snow."

Nika felt an answering bloom of profound sadness. "Don't you recognize a wreck when you see one, Andrei? Or can you only hear them through a satellite line?"

"You'd forgive me a murder-"

"I'd forgive him a murder, too," Nika said, icicles forming on the words. "Or two, or twelve-"

"-but there's no quarter for Lasha, is there."

"Lasha has had nothing but quarter," Liadov snapped, "a lifetime of it."

Andrei said nothing for a moment. "You're right. But his affection for you has given him none, not once in all these years." The stare he gave was loaded with intensity, and somehow hinted at things that Nika felt sure Andrei himself did not even apprehend, but his collar grew hot beneath his coat.

Nikanor was silent, and he closed his eyes. His breath issued forth in pulses of visible steam. "You're fortunate to have that bristling Ukrainian in your corner, Andrei. He'd follow you over a lake of fire in a wooden boat. He lied for you, didn't he."

"Yes," said Andrei. "You knew it then and you know it now."

Nika met his gaze. "He possesses you now, Andrei, as much as you possess him. It's an unwritten tract of men. Like the seasoned champion who kneels before his young king, quiet and hungry and ready to die with love of liege. He's bought your soul with his honor."

Liadov paused, smiling bitterly. "It doesn't matter if you parted tomorrow, and never touched hands again in this lifetime."

Isaev stared. "What are you saying to me, Liadov?"

"I suffer too, Andrei," he said, as he turned to walk away. "Never doubt that."

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(no subject)

Jan. 29th, 2008 | 01:38 am

My secretary's name was Anya.

She would bring me strong black tea with honey and lemon when I had cross-eyed mornings, and never once inquire about the nature of my sleepless nights. She kept my insulin in her purse. She kept a tangerine in her pocket.

It is odd to realize that I miss her to the extent that I do, out of all the things I've left behind in Leningrad.

No one ever attended me more assiduously, or aided with more grace. No one ever fielded calls with more unspoken insight, or rubbed my temples at just the moment I sorely needed it.

When I transferred to Moscow, I had to give her up. In Moscow I have yet to fill the position, despite the Ministry's urging.

You see, I don't see how one survives with any less than Anya. You can live with her, and you can live without her- but with someone else?

I can't imagine this.

She is Captain Isaev's secretary now, as I understand it. He will have made her a possession, bronzed her like baby shoes and put her on his mantel, for she once belonged to me.

* * * *

So why am I thinking of Anya?

Perhaps it's the small, thoughtful gestures of this Ukrainian manchild that put me in mind of her selfless devotion. Certainly they don't look alike. Yet there is something. Something good about it, a goodness of will.

But the thing about Irinarhov. This modified Elektra complex. It nags me. What nags me is what his state actually reflects, and what it truly is- whether the guy was selected for the line of work he's in because he was left out in the rain to freeze and warp.

Or whether he's just naïve. Can you be biologically naïve? Ignorant of the natural order?

Anya, frankly I could use a cup of tea about now.

I suppose I'll content myself with vodka.

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Drinking with Irinarhov Again.

Oct. 21st, 2007 | 09:19 pm

Well, I manned up and invited Captain Irinarhov to drink with me last night. Interesting evening by all accounts, sincere apologies on my behalf, and a surprising lack of recrimination on his part.

Then we had a more intimate dialogue about some shadowy things on the ice of the heart, and I let fall some intricate snowflakes from locked lips.

I think he was worried that I overstep my boundaries again, but as I assured him, I wasn't interested in victimizing his trust.

We had reached a beautiful and pleasant impasse- but unfortunately, like an icicle, it wasn't destined to last. I don't know where we stand now.

I suppose I have my soldier friend to thank for that targeted destruction.

Not that I'm not culpable, oh very much so. Fallible, culpable and vaguely regretful.

But that whole fiasco came up later, and frankly, I don't want to think about it now.

Enough, already.

Slivovic and Cognac May Unseal AdversityCollapse )

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