Jul. 29th, 2008 08:08 pm
[identity profile]
Kassian opened his eyes.

He lay in the bunk next to Isaev, shoulder to chest, warmed by the shelter of blanket and skin. Andrei's arm, solid and weighty with reassuring muscle, curled around his waist.

It was dark in their barracks, though not dark outside.

He could see light outlining the edges of the window opposite, around the shades that he never opened. It was past sunrise, then. They had slept in.

He supposed it was all right, given they had no official duties as Ocelots today. Isaev was under technical house arrest, though he could go anywhere he wanted on base, provided he had an escort.

That job was Kassian's.

Kassian settled back, feeling Andrei's arm tighten reflexively against him.

Good work if you could get it.

There was a knock at the barracks door.

Kassian frowned.

That was unusual. If they were needed in some official capacity, CODEC was the easiest way to reach them. There was no need to waste time with a personal visit when a call would suffice. It was also the wrong time of day for social visits, invitations to poker or drinking. Not that Kassian received a lot of those.

Gently, he pulled away from Isaev's grasp and sat on the edge of the bed to pull on his jodhpurs. He reached out to brush his hand across Isaev's brow.

"Andrei. Someone's here," he murmured, getting up to answer the door.
[identity profile]
When it came to some questions, no answer was the clearest you could get.

It had been a misunderstanding on a basic level. Projection, that sorriest of states. Rakitin had been hearing what he wanted to hear.

Facing reality promised to make things much simpler.

It would probably break it, but, well, there you were.

At the same time as it evoked a pang of sympathy, Leshovik's affront was almost funny. Maybe you had to be used to Liadov saying those sorts of things.

"Speaking of," Rakitin said, shrugging back into his role like an old jacket, "That could exonerate Isaev in another way. Odds are low that he'd fit this bill. The blood type of the semen collected from the body is A B negative."
[identity profile]

The hallways were silent except for his boot clicks on the tile and the occasional plaintive mew coming from the bundle clutched to his chest.

Io murmured reassuring words to his quarry, stroking her head through the blanket to keep her still.

So far, so good.

The East Wing was disserted; no one saw him invite Major Krauss’ beloved Persian cat into room 307 and no one saw him emerge with the Major’s feline half an hour later, dripping wet and wrapped in a moth eaten green blanket.

He thought he was home free, until he saw the soldiers standing at the bottom of the stairs.

If he saw them, they saw him, and there was no use in turning back to find an alternate route.

“Comrades!” He called cheerfully to them, descending the stairs with grace and enthusiasm. “How are you, on this lovely, lovely morning?”

The blanket in his arms meowed, and struggled.

[identity profile]
Andrei sat back in his chair, and regarded Lieutenant Rakitin.

Rakitin's oddly dark eyes were plaintive and accusatory- not in a hostile way, but more a quiet disbelief, informed by an awareness he probably didn't even apprehend at this point.

Isaev admired that on some level, but on another level, it irked him. He hadn't killed anyone, not this time, and this frosty little prick looked at him like he was a man-eating tiger that citizens had allowed to roam free, blithely strolling the sidewalks.

"I think we are all aware," he began, slowly, "of the kind of ethics Captain Irinarhov espouses. Most, myself included, would even count them excessive."

He let his chin tilt up, snorting slightly.

"This is a man who insists upon verbally correcting his own documented kill-count, any time the matter comes up, because he maintains that the accurate tally is actual one less than the official."

Isaev laughed, shaking his head.

"This is a man who has suffered for his morality and integrity, as I'm sure Major Liadov could attest. Out of deference and respect for that unique conscience, I omitted him from our plans concerning Borishnakov, and have no qualms about having done so. I did this, because he is a true friend, in the most classical sense- like Orestes was to Pylades."

He paused.

"He is also my superior."

Isaev's grey eyes passed over Liadov briefly, noting the studied and downcast impassivity of his face, before fixing on Rakitin once more.

"And he is telling the truth. Moreover, I do not believe that he would lie. So by conjecture, I must agree. We played cards, we drank a little, we traded stories and we bunked for the night. As is our friendly custom."

Andrei leaned forward, letting his voice go quiet, directing it at Rakitin particularly.

"You know, comrade Lieutenant, there are other reasons a man may be loath to give an alibi, despite its veracity. One of them might be trepidation of being misunderstood- that admitting to a harmless social liaison with a comrade might result in unwarranted accusations of criminal affection. One might reasonably want to shield a beloved comrade from such...tarring. Especially in the face of an MVD inquest."


Dec. 11th, 2007 10:10 pm
[identity profile]
Liadov stood at the head of a long table, in a room crowded with crimson and black, low with murmurs and rustles of wool, the clink of kalashes and AKs against buckles and buttons.

The Ocelots, en masse, assembled. And Ocelot himself, arms crossed and leaning negligently against the wall of the conference room to one side.

He didn't looked worried, but he did look guarded.

Rakitin was sitting, slightly beneath and to his right- the only one sitting, actually, with a stack of notes and a couple of illustratory vials at hand.

Liadov cleared his throat and surged right in, without preamble.

"Lieutenant Vladislaus Yamirich Borishnakov was found this morning at approximately 11 AM, or thereabouts. He was deceased."

Liadov paused. Silence answered him, uneasy.

"...There were some very interesting details present. It has come to our attention that Ocelot squad activity was responsible for some aspects of the state Lt. Borishnakov was discovered in- namely, a hazing ritual in which an Ocelot officer is 'de-initiated' upon turning in a repeatedly unsatisfactory performance."

Nika turned his head and looked squarely at Ocelot.

"Major, is that true?"

Ocelot narrowed his eyes.

"It's true," he answered, flatly, without apology.

Liadov nodded.

"What we would like to know is what was done, how the ritual proceeded, and how far it went before you called it a night, men."

His eye roamed the crowd, and fixed on the brooding face of Kolyin first. Kolyin was looking straight ahead. He stood by a taller blonder man with unusually wide-set eyes, who averted them.

Nika hadn't spotted Irinarhov yet, nor Isaev, though he hadn't looked yet, and he had a feeling they would be standing to the back of the room, as was Kasya's preference.

No matter.

He had all the time in the world.

"Would you care to elaborate on how things progressed last night, Lieutenant Kolyin?" Liadov asked, crossing his arms.
[identity profile]
Kassian stood in the alley between buildings, in sniper-mode, still and silent, waiting.

The patrol finally came in the south gate. Quieter than usual, Kassian thought. More subdued. Though he allowed that his own mood could have caused him to read into it.

Three Ocelots with Kalashnikovs in hand approached his position, angling to cross the Grad and head back to the Ocelot barracks. Though they were all balaclavaed, he knew Isaev anywhere, both from his muscular build and the eerily graceful way he moved. Semeyonev was tall, but not as tall as Isaev. Not as broad-shouldered. And while Semeyonev even had the same stealth training from the same instructor, Kassian could tell the difference between the two, even with a casual glance.

He had spent a lot of time watching Isaev, soaking in the fine details.

Kassian liked to think he knew him.

Isaev walked at the back of the formation. Kassian didn't know who the other two were. Not that it mattered.

Kassian didn't move, and he could tell they didn't see him, shadowed as he was. He waited until they passed.

Scooping up a small chunk of gravel, he weighed it against his palm, then stepped out from his hiding place and hurled the rock at the back of Isaev's head.

His aim was true.

It hit with a solid thunk he could actually hear and Isaev spun around.

Kassian let Isaev see him for a moment, then faded back into the alley.

It was more secure than CODEC, and more subtle than shooting the beret off his head.
[identity profile]

Time was a very precious commodity. Finding himself with hours to spare, Iosef immediately gathered his violin and bow and set out for the hallway outside of Volgin’s office in the Main Wing.

Io went the first time to tempt the Colonel’s temper because he found it altogether thrilling in ways he could never hope to understand. He returned the second time for the quiet praise that the first impromptu serenade had received.

What started as an attempt to annoy and provoke had somehow switched gears in the flame solder’s mind. He felt something akin to remorse for the provocation as he stood in the deserted hallway once more.

The Blue Danube only brought secretaries to come and stare with awe and approval, and gasps of delight, and much appreciated applause. No one came forth from Volgin’s office; not for the Blue Danube, or the Gimn Sovetskovo Soyuza, or even for Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.

Io spent a good ten minutes scowling at the door from behind his respirator, as though sheer force of will alone would bring the Colonel out from hiding. There was nothing, the lights were off, and Yevgeny Volgin was certainly not home. It was foolish to think will alone could coerce him to appear on command.

So Iosef eventually retreated to the yard, disappointed with the world, and left the office workers to their dull paperwork.

It was a beautiful spring day, clear and blue. The snow had all but melted away, and the illusive promise of warmth drifted on the breeze.  The sun was pleasant and gentle on his face. 

A seemingly abandoned truck was all the invitation he needed. Climbing onto the hood with violin and flamethrower was a difficult task, but one that was overcome with ingenuity and creative wiggling.

A pair of GRU regarded the gas-masked violinist with hesitant curiosity, until he began to play for them. A sweet melody to match the kind disposition of the early spring day.

Ode to Joy seemed to match the mood set by the clear, light hearted day. It translated well to a solo piece he thought, shutting his eyes as the notes flowed from the violin, took flight, and fluttered away on orange and black butterfly wings.

It wasn’t long before he had another crowd gathered around. Among them, he recognized the German Major, but there were others who were unfamiliar to the flame patrol Lieutenant.

It struck him just fine, and he smiled.  Strangers were always welcome to listen.

[identity profile]
They stepped out of the pathologist's outbuilding and into the crisp and cold afternoon air, which held the weighted promise of snow.

Leshovik liked that. It felt cleansing.

He glanced at Aryol, who was looking at him with an expression Leshovik hadn't seen in a long time, like the way he used to look at him when they first met, back when Aryol thought he was the greatest guy in the world.

That was before Aryol had gotten to know him.

Then Leshovik hadn't seen that expression anymore.

But the way Aryol looked at him now was like that, the way he'd caught Aryol looking at Lynx a couple of times. Aryol had a lightness to his features, bright soft eyes and a sunny smile that was all for him.

Aryol stepped close, and slipped an arm around Leshovik's waist, nuzzling his face against Leshovik's temple before pulling away. The contact was as brief as it was tender and impulsive, and it made Leshovik feel ridiculously warm.

"You made him happy," Aryol told him, still smiling. "That was nice."

Leshovik reached out, and tousled Aryol's hair fondly. "Yeah, well, don't tell anyone. I don't want to ruin my reputation for being a dickhole."

Aryol laughed.

Leshovik still had no fucking idea what was going on with Lynx, but it didn't matter as much now, not when the man had looked him in the eye and tacitly admitted that yes, there was something. Something personal, important enough to make him torture a man with sharp, ruthless efficiency. Something greater than a mere assignment.

Before that, the lie had been sitting hard and cold between them, like bringing a rifle to bed.

Leshovik looked around, and spotted Niotkuda, who leaned casually against the side of the building, smiling, but not at them, looking like he'd been laughing to himself. Codec, maybe. Leshovik hailed him, and they walked over.

Niotkuda pushed himself away from the wall with the lazy grace of a natural athlete. Leshovik admired the smooth, indolent motion briefly, finding that it really did remind him of the way Lynx moved.

He blinked, and thought that there was something sort of fucked up about all of this, though he couldn't quite put his finger on it.

"Sorry about that," Leshovik said, gesturing back at the outbuilding apologetically. "Took longer than I thought."
[identity profile]
Air kissed the back of Leshovik's neck, as cold as a lover.

They emerged from behind an escarpment and took a jagged scar down to the footpath below, managing to scatter a minimum of dust and debris in their wake. Even he and Aryol were sweating from the cross-country trek carrying their rifles and over thirty kilos of gear over rugged terrain; they hadn't wanted to chance the path that led to Groznyj Grad until the last possible minute, just in case they ran into a patrol.

Lemsky lagged behind. Leshovik hadn't particularly wanted to leave the little fucker at his back, but Lemsky obviously didn't have the physical training or endurance they did, and had struggled to keep up.

Vindictively, Leshovik pushed a hard pace, stopping every so often to glare at Lemsky, goading him on with a bluesteel gaze, sparing him the lambasting only because of the need for stealth.

In some ways, Leshovik missed the cave already. It had been simple, there.

Aryol shot him looks every so often, his gaze pointed and piercing. There were times when it felt like his spotter could see right through him. He had in the cave, Leshovik knew. Aryol had known something was wrong, though at the same time, hadn't understood.

It had been all Leshovik could do to hold it together, then, to keep packing like there wasn't an icy lump in his chest threatening to spread into a burn. A couple of times, he'd caught his hands trembling and had nearly lost it, but the thought of showing weakness in front of either Aryol or Lemsky had pulled him back from the edge.

The forced march had been good, though. Focusing. He'd had to expend so much energy walking that he hadn't had the concentration to get worked up about Lynx.

It had taken on a surreal quality in his mind now, almost like a nightmare, the kind where familiar people became the apotheoses of their own exaggerated traits. Lynx as destroyer, god of a vengeance so detached it was inhuman.

The wound still ran deep, even though his mind shied away from it, now.

He signaled Aryol to stop so they could wait for Lemsky to catch up. They weren't far from the Grad. Just around the switchback path, and they'd be in sight of the main gates.

And the men who guarded them.

Part of Leshovik still thought this was crazy, masquerading as assassin-killers rather than the assassins they were, but trust Lynx to come up with a plan that defied ordinary expectations.

Trust Lynx, he thought, a bitter slash of a smile ghosting his lips.

Problem was, he did.

He brushed his hand across his right ear, slotting Lynx's in-between CODEC frequency.

"Longshot to Lynx. We're outside the gates."
[identity profile]
He reached out and drew Imanov to him, holding him tightly, like any good brother would.

"I don't want to tell them either," he admitted, softly, close to Ilya's ear. "We'll do it together, Ilyasha. Tomorrow. Not tonight."

There was strength in numbers, Andrei knew. Breaking the news would be less than enjoyable, but it was unavoidable.

His fist stroked Ilya's back rhythmically, slowly.

"But I won't let you do it alone."

Ilya crumpled into Andrei's arms, hooking his own over Andrei's shoulders, clutching to his uniform tightly. If his body gave into exhaustion, no-one would be able to tell; Andrei would hold him upright.

His face held the expression of pain, but it was safely pressed against his friend's uniform jacket, where it was safe to let the lid off of the bottle, slowly, just for a moment. He inhaled, quietly, taking in the smell he equalled with safety and comfort.


Ilya had wanted to get it out of his system, to not have to think about it ever again, but Andrei knew him better than he knew himself. Sometimes, his sense of duty overrode his own well-being.

It was a horrid, selfish thought that prickled at his conscience, but he'd rather it was Sergei. If it had been -

... He couldn't imagine Andrei absent from his life.

"But I won't let you do it alone."

"... Promise me," Ilya murmured quietly, so no-one else would hear, "not to go anywhere by yourself."
[identity profile]
[Continued from "Meanwhile, back at Groznyj Grad..."]

Kassian didn't think he should be the one to say it, but with Imanov still reeling from the shock of their discovery, it fell to him.

"There was another killing tonight," he said to Isaev over CODEC. "Aside from the mechanic."

He paused again.

"It was one of us, an Ocelot."

Kassian realized he was feeding Isaev information piecemeal, the way he'd learned it, trying to lessen the blow. But there was little that could be done to mitigate what he had to say next.

"It was Gurlukovich," he said. "Sergei."

Kassian closed his eyes briefly. "He's dead."

There was more to say, but he fell silent, to let his words sink in.
[identity profile]
They were still for a moment, in the wake of Major Liadov's query.

Then everyone looked at Imanov.

Isaev had told Kassian that Imanov had gone to a university and studied psychology. That made him the obvious choice in Kassian's book. Kassian hadn't even completed his secondary education before he'd have to leave in order to work at the factory.

Kassian wondered if there was anything in Imanov's psychology books that talked about this, murders committed out of some deep-seated need, fueled by this cycle of escalation that Liadov had talked about.

Probably. It sounded like it happened often enough that experts had coined terms for it, after all, some deeper explanation than merely knowing the difference between having to kill, and wanting to kill.
[identity profile]
Ocelot paced and champed at the bit in the hall of the East Wing, twirling his guns and scowling at nothing.

The hall should be filling up soon.

The ALL PERSONNEL had gone out over the loudspeakers, and every unit was expected to report. He had also personally contacted his counterpart Major, his first Lieutenant, and after hesitating, sent a CODEC to Gurlukovich.

"Imanov seems to be indisposed. If he shows up with the AP bulletin, I'll have him follow me in second point. If he doesn't, Sergei, I need you."

It would be good in two ways, thought Ocelot. First, he could observe Sergei's command ability without the stomachache of putting him out front in direct conflict, and two, Sergei could be relied on.


"If Imanov shows up, I'll have him lead a second party. Either way, Serhyoza," he added, "I'll need you by my side."

As he waited for Raikov and his men to appear, he counted the diamond in the tiles with a furrowed brow.

Inwardly, he scoffed at his own impatience.

What's the hurry? Dead things tend to stay dead. Not like he's going anywhere.

How had they missed it?

Had he been selecting his victims only from non-essential personnel?

Ocelot made a short, audible noise of frustration.

If the killer had gotten ahead of them this much, he could already be selecting his next victim.
[identity profile]
[Completed - continued in Second Victim, Part II]

Kassian let the badge Liadov had tossed fall to the ground next to him, instead of making an attempt to catch it, keeping his hands on his rifle and his gaze trained.

"Sorry," he said, quickly. "No disrespect, Major."

He knew it would look that way anyway, given his background, and general disdain for the MVD. Things had changed, though, in ways he hadn't even sorted out yet.

But a sniper who lost focus, even for a moment, was usually sooner or later a dead sniper. Kassian had a faint scar at his hairline that attested to that sobering truth, save for the fact he'd been extremely lucky.

He kept what Liadov had just said about a second body in the back of his mind, a cold and remote fact. Detachment. A sniper's armor against the world.

Or at least Kassian's armor, though lately it had developed a few chinks.

The knowledge that he hadn't seen or talked to Isaev all day, not since they'd woken up that morning, lurked like a shadow in peripheral vision, one that was just a little too defined to ignore.

"I'll use it when I need it," he told Liadov, referring to his MVD clearance. "Go ahead get back inside. I'll cover you, and report when I've reached someone."

Technically, he should have called Imanov first, given that they were partners in this venture. Or at least tried Ocelot's frequency as the MENT had requested. Either would have been acceptable variations on standard operating procedure, but as Liadov retreated to the door, Kassian tuned his CODEC to Isaev's frequency instead.
[identity profile]
It had been far too long since Sergei had seen Grozynj Grad. Not many people would say that sort of thing - no, most people were eager to get out of there, not to go back - but it was closer to a home to him than where he'd just been.

When news had come that his mother was sick, he still hadn't hesitated to jump on a plane for home. The fact that he never spoke about his family was sign enough that they didn't get along very well, but blood was still thick. He wasn't about to ignore his mother's illness. If it had ended up being bad enough that she'd died from it and he hadn't gone to see her one last time, what then?

Unfortunately, the reunion had been far from pleasant, but he had been expecting that. As it was, it seemed that his mother would recover. At this point, however, he didn't want to think on it any longer. There was probably only one person that would ask him more than a few questions about it. Luckily, the major was the one person he was willing to talk to about it.

As he exited the helicopter, the artificial gusts caused by the propeller blew dust into his eyes. He turned his head and coughed. It hadn't helped that the flight into the base had left him a little queasy. Usually it wouldn't be problem, but the fact that he'd gone straight from an airplane into a helicopter meant there hadn't been much time for his stomach to settle.

Now that he was back home, however, he got the feeling he'd be just fine. Pulling out his unit's trademark red cap and placing it firmly on his head, he scanned around for anyone familiar. Had anyone caught wind of his return and decided to come give him a warm welcome, maybe? He'd been gone for a while, so it was possible some of the others had been missing him. Then again, he could be hoping for too much. But if no one showed up, he could easily get back to his room to unpack on his own.
[identity profile]

“Welcome to Groznyj Grad.” Krauss chuckled, stealing a sideways glance at the investigators. He decided it would be best to play it all off as a routine, normal occurrence, both for his own personal amusement, and because such strange sights were common around the Grad. Better to let them in on the secret now, lest for the poor bastards get a nasty surprise later on.

“Are you gentlemen alright?” He raised an eyebrow, gesturing toward the yard full of naked and semi naked soldiers. “You act as though you have never witnessed morning roll call!”

It was easy to pick out Volgin, a mountain swathed in olive wool among the fleshy-pink unclothed crowd. The sooner he was able to pawn the investigators off onto someone else, the sooner he could retreat into his office, and drown his misery in Cognac.

“Right this way then. There is the man which you seek, by that tank, that’s Colonel Volgin.” He skittered along the edge of the crowd, not particularly inclined to venture into a writhing sea of naked men. Unusual, for the Major, but he was still heartbroken over the loss of Stefan.

“Colonel!” He called out, “we have a slight --” problem, was the word he wanted to use. “We have visitors.” Krauss did his best to smile, but it was useless, and hopeless.  

[identity profile]
Senior Lieutenant Ippolit Zosimovitch Rakitin waited in the helicopter and tried not to think about wolves.

There was an old story they used to tell, about a wolf in the sky. The gods thought they could control it, but it grew too big and it grew too fast, and ferocious things turn on their handlers. They told it the binding was only a game, but no wolf is that stupid. For collateral, a god's right hand, bold interloper rappeling into the cavern of blood-scented breath beneath stalactite incisors. And when the deal was broken and the trap revealed, there lay the forfeit, sheared off at the wrist.

The first reason Ippolit had this job was that he remembered stories.

Outside of the thin steel shell, a man's voice called to another. Distant forms were outlined against the tarmac, as though it had come down with something that made it break out in uneven splotches of humanity. Life went on, motion and action, removed by an intangible membrane from the here and now of thought and stasis.

None of the figures seemed to be moving toward where the Kamov dozed, but the rising ripples of heat made it difficult to tell.

The second reason was that he never jumped to conclusions.

"Find the murderer," General Olavyenko had said, barely looking at him as he threw down a file whose emptiness spoke volumes. He had added, with a sort of gruff magnanimity, as though he should show gratitude for being handed a valuable secret, "And keep your nose out of what doesn't concern you."

Ippolit had spent most of the time from then until he was to report here - hardly any time at all, which he tried very hard to believe was due simply to the urgency of the mission - asking questions about this Groznyj Grad.

The closest thing he had gotten to an answer was a Captain who had done nothing but laugh.

And the third, maybe the only one that mattered, was that he stuck his hand where no one else would.

Restless, Ippolit's eyes ran a thousanth lap of the Kamov's interior. The other one should have been here by now.

There was that, at least. No matter what sort of place this was, he wouldn't be going into it alone.

Or, as far as he knew, he could be walking into a den of wolves with a tiger at his back.

Ippolit waited, and tried not to think.
[identity profile]
[SRIDA, 29 YANVAR, 0030 hours]

[OOC: Warning, description of dead body to follow.]

Here. )
[identity profile]

The greenhouse was barely visible from the roof of the East Wing -- over the hill and through the dense greenery. The Fury stood balanced precariously on the ledge like some great black vulture ready to take flight, transfixed with the small clearing in the woods.

Beside him, a single flame soldier waited in khaki drab, arms crossed over his chest, gasmask dangling limp in his hands, short platinum hair damp from the rain and clinging to his forehead. The infamous Lieutenant Io, never too far from the cosmonaut-commander.

It always rained at Groznyj Grad, but for once, the cosmonaut could find no reason for complaint. He only wanted to destroy the greenhouse, not burn all of Groznyj to the ground.

Not just yet, anyway. That was something thrilling to consider…

And besides, it was better rain than snow.

So he paced back and forth on the narrow ledge, radio clutched in one gray-gloved hand, detonator in the other. Absentmindedly, he noted that it was a very long way to the ground, nothing to worry about though, not equipped with a jet pack.

“Captain!” A voice crackled finally over the radio, “he’s got a fucking grand piano in here.” Distant sour notes soon followed, as if to illustrate the soldiers’ point.

He laughed, yes that seemed typical of Johann Krauss, sitting in his greenhouse and playing Bach or Wagner to his precious lilies, or whatever the hell it was he played all the time. “Fill it with C-4 as well,” he answered finally, “and tell Phobos to quit screwing off.”

The Fury did not wait for the reply; footsteps on the rusted metal fire escape that hung on the side of the building caught his attention, not the tell-tale heavy bootsteps of the Krasnogorje soldiers, burdened under their heavy gear -- no, someone else entirely.   GRU, perhaps.  Maybe even Ocelot himself, coming to watch the fireworks.

“We have company.” the pale Lieutenant announced, glancing at the Fury for some signal of how to precede.

“Yes.” The cosmonaut observed.

“Shall I kill them?”

“Not yet.  At least wait until they reach the top.”

[identity profile]
Kassian managed to keep his expression composed, though he was fairly sure that Isaev's seemingly-casual words were another innuendo.

Isaev was good at that.

Among other things.

He nodded, to Ocelot first, then Isaev. "That sounds good," he said, then saluted the Major briefly before taking his leave. Isaev followed.

As they walked to the north artillery range, boots crunching in the gravel, Kassian glanced at the young lieutenant sidelong. It had only been yesterday morning, when they'd been at the range, practicing. He recalled the way Isaev had watched him.

It felt like a lot of things had happened since then.

Sleep had barely been one of them.

Kassian wondered, briefly, if he was too old to be doing this. An affair with a hot-blooded young officer had not really been on his agenda when he'd arrived here not even two days ago.

Ill-advised, perhaps. Or even reckless. But part of him didn't care. There had been too few good things in a life whose canvas had been painted in blood and shrouded by loss.

This was a good thing, and Kassian felt willing to let himself enjoy it, until...


He let his mind skip over that part.

They arrived at the range and headed to the lanes. "All right," Kassian said as he looked down their lane, automatically judging the distance. "Before we start, you should know I'm not very good at this."


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The Groznyj Grad Living Novel

December 2010

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