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Don't look at me
The first hit was so shocking, Maksim barely felt it. The sound echoed in his head, and he only registered that it it was his own skull because his vision swung around with the blow. After that, his entire body felt like rubber. If there was adrenaline, it wrung every ounce of strength from his limbs. He didn’t fight back. Didn’t even try to retaliate, but even if he wanted to, he wouldn't know where to begin.

It was like slamming his knee into the coffee table, only instead of his knee, it was his face. and tingles flung all the way around his temples. His arms flung up defensively after that, but Pavel’s fist slammed into his ribs instead. He gasped as air escaped his body like a punctured balloon. He already lost just because he woke up that day, but when he was on his hands and knees, he tried to bury his face low. Above, Pavel ordered him to stand and take it, but when he didn’t immediately stand and take it, his hair was wrenched back and the decision made for him. From the corner of his eye he glimpsed the stranger watching. Part of Maksim’s hiding was sheer defense; the rest was mortal embarrassment. 

He tried not to groan when the paramedics helped move him to the gurney. At least it came out more as a grunt.


The ambulance was rolling again, but Maksim barely noted the bumps beneath or the wailing without. His head was pounding. Everything felt like it was swelling and blood pulsed tight inside. His jaw hurt, and he imagined it was going to be near impossible to open tomorrow. His breathing was shallow, and taking anything resembling a full breath shot needles around his ribs. How was he going to explain this to Alina - to his father. He glanced at Pavel once, but he was head-down, attention buried in a Wallet and ignoring him.


At the hospital he was given morphine. It took some of the edge off and made his head woozy, but despite as much as he wanted to close his eyes and find this was all a bad dream, sleep didn’t come.

The click of high heels told him Alina arrived instead, but he didn’t roll over at the call of his name. 

He couldn’t look at her at all.
“Money won is twice as sweet as money earned.”
+ Maksim +
[Image: pavel-.jpg]
Pavel (Pasha) Vasiliev

Pavel stayed. He liaised with doctors, arranged a private suite, and assured security to his liking. There had been little in the way of conversation otherwise, in part because he doubted Maksim realised he was still there. Morphine would have flooded his system by now, robbing what little sense might remain. Even without it, Pavel suspected Maksim would understand little of what had transpired today. Or why. He stared for a long time, expression inscrutable.

“We need to have a talk, you and I,” he said as he stood. The hour had not yet passed, and the disposable wallet lay dormant in his pocket. Nina would be putting the children to bed by now. He decided he would call while he could.

In the sterile corridor, the click of heels announced Alina’s furious arrival. She crashed into his chest, and Pavel cupped the back of her head. “I’m sorry, Linochka,” he told her. Behind her Sofia followed at a slower pace, one of the family’s men at her heels. Her haughty gaze dissected the scene in silence.

Alina did not tremble, but he was none the less aware of the furnace of her emotions.

“Someone will pay for this,” she said. “You will make someone pay, Pasha.” She pushed away. No tears stained her cheeks. She was pale and fierce.

Sofia followed Alina to the threshold of the hospital room, but lingered in the doorway as their sister disappeared inside. Her brows arched for what she beheld. When she pulled away, the door closed with her.

“Put some fucking gloves on, Pasha, before she notices your hands.”

[Image: alina-sq-.jpg]
Alina Marveet


Alina’s heart beat like thunder in her chest. Her gaze roamed unabashed over the unimaginable state of him. Max did not move, and for a moment she wondered if he was unconscious, else that he might be so high on pain relief he did not even realise she was there. Nothing really shocked her, but seeing him like that broke her chest open. In the vapours was a terrible anger, but with him she set aside such feelings.

“Oh, Maksimka.” She perched on the bed with him, trying to be careful of how much he must hurt. Her hand reached for his, gentle of the taped line. She wondered if shame curled his face away. Everything was so swollen it was hard to read anything of his expression. She held it close, pressed against her stomach, cradled in both her own. Nothing yet showed. It was too early for scans, and for now it was still just a secret between the two of them. Family is an empire, her father had always been fond of saying. But theirs was an island.

He had been at the casino, she knew that much. But Sofia had fielded the call from their brother, and she had asked him no questions. Alina was not sure she truly wanted to know. She turned a blind eye to her family’s legacy, but in the back of her mind she had always wondered if something like this might happen. Max was too sweet-hearted to have ever truly considered what it meant to marry into the Vasilievs. She took his name without a blink, but it was never going to be enough to protect them.
The room was dim. The nurses turned down the lights to make the atmosphere relaxing. In a way, it soothed the beat of his heart. Or maybe that was the medicine.

His lidded gaze fell to their entwined hands. He still hadn’t reacted even when her weight sunk the mattress at his hip. Except in that moment, his thumb gently stroked the metal of her wedding ring. Even pushed into the prominent diamonds in the center.

Her hands warmed the chill flooding his own. A line pushed what felt like ice water through his veins. Years ago he showed up in the office at 9 am the next day. Nobody asked about his face or the reason he walked a little slower. He was head down and focused for a good week after that. Now, he couldn’t imagine going to the office tomorrow.

There was a stripe of cobalt blue draped across the back of a chair nearby. A white shirt speckled with red lay beside it. He didn’t look up at her despite the grip of his palm in Alina’s, but he gently turned her wrist and put the back of her hand to his cheek. It was tender but comforting. After a few minutes just feeling her hand and thinking about duty, he finally spoke.

“Can you bring me the wallet? I need to tell the office I’ll work off site tomorrow,” he spoke through clenched teeth while he still could. Maybe they could escape to the country for a few days.
“Money won is twice as sweet as money earned.”
+ Maksim +
[Image: sofi-red-av.jpg] [Image: pavel-.jpg]
Sofia & Pavel

Pasha adjusted his cuffs and frowned. The look he gave her in response was both stern and perturbed at the observation. Alina swaddled herself in ignorance because she preferred it, but sometimes Sofia thought he still saw them both as little children. Sofia’s innocence had long since been swept clean of being a burden, and Pavel’s own bullet had been the thing to do it. He forgot that too, sometimes. Her gaze slid to the man on payroll, though he was studiously looking away.

“Go get us some coffees,” she snapped. “And not the hospital shit.”

The security glanced at Pasha before he nodded and left. She hated when they did that.

“The only thing I need from you right now, Sonyechka, is for you to stay here and look after our sister.”

“You think Dima didn’t already call me? He’s raging. The Yakuza came to our casino to pull that shit, Pasha. And now this?” She made a sharp and disgusted gesture towards the red stretched skin across his knuckles. Tell me who is fucking with us.”

“It’s being handled,” he assured stiffly.

“This threat needs crushing, big brother. Not handling.” She almost rolled her eyes. Instead she turned away. Her jaw was tight.

Pavel moved closer.

“We’re being manoeuvred, Sofia," he said. His voice was low, steady. "The casino was a goad; you don’t risk fucking up a play like that when the stakes are so high. We ride this wave before we act. Before any of us act, do you understand me? There will be reparations for how Maksim has been used. But not until I say so.” His fist squeezed at his side. It must have felt like fire. By his darkened expression she knew he meant it, and it placated somewhat to see that side of him. So he was angry after all.

“Someone made contact, then,” she said slyly, meeting his eye fully. He didn’t answer, but he didn’t need to. “Seems every other cunt in Moscow can do what I can these days. If someone wants to try and take our city then it’s time to play that hand, Pasha. Take me with you. I’m angry enough for it.” She could almost feel it now at the edges of her senses. Disapproval pinched Pavel’s expression, but she knew she had him when he said nothing. A sweet smile pulled on blood red lips. He saw a woman and a sister, and neither suited for the front lines. But even their father pandered when she pulled their strings. It would only take a little. For now she cut off his deliberation of the objection with a change of tact. “You must have heard of Iásōn? It's all over the social scene. Arrange it for after. Let everyone know we have friends in high places. We’re Vasilievs, brother. Let’s show them who they’re fucking dealing with.”

[Image: alina-sq-.jpg]
Alina Marveet

He was so quiet. Alina breathed into the comfort of touch and presence, and watched his down turned expression for as long as he held her hand to his cheek. She didn't ask what had happened or why. On the drive to the hospital, Sofia had tried to speculate about how he'd probably brought it down on his own head, until Alina shut the conversation down with such viciousness even her sister had been surprised.

She got up when he asked. Blood stained the suit he'd worn to work that morning, and when she pulled out the device the screen was shattered. No glow flared to life when she held it. She glanced for Maksim's reaction, knowing what he was worried about. Who.

"I think the universe is telling you there will be no work tomorrow. And your wife too, actually." She made a face, then smiled. "I'll have someone call the office. You don't need to do that. Maybe I'm feeling a little sick, else you could take some vacation time?" She returned to his side in earnest. "We could go somewhere. Wouldn't have to see anyone. Honestly, it might be a good idea."
“Someone will take my sale.” That bothered him more deeply then the embarrassment that would haunt him forever. Pavel was the only witness to the whole dark truth of it, but it would sit between them for as long as he was married to Alina. He would never regret her, but as she held his hand close to her stomach, he couldn’t help but wonder if she regretted him in turn. Absconding to their house in Suzdal would offer privacy and isolation, but honestly he wished for somewhere more like where they visited for their honeymoon; somewhere on the sea with beaches and palm trees, but it was a fruitless dream. For now, Maksim couldn’t imagine getting up to use the bathroom let alone getting on the jet.

His gaze followed his wife finding the wallet useless. At one point a doctor listed off his injuries, but it was Pavel who fielded the information. Maksim just lay motionless and tuned him out. He’d not even considered the fact the wallet was stuffed in his pocket at the time.

He sighed. “A construction deal, Linka. Five buildings across the city. Construction. Years of trying.” His voice trailed as he realized how slurred his words were packed behind a jaw that was slowly freezing up. He’d be drinking out of a straw tomorrow, and it was hard to keep his eyes open.

He’d been trying to land his first sale in construction for years. It was the thing that Scion expected, and he was the only one on his team to fail to close. They weren’t skyscrapers, and of the projects the office fielded, it was small in comparison, but the prestige would not go unnoticed. Now, it was dead in the water for Maksim.

“And with foreigners. Japanese building some clubs…”

He held up a hand that she might rejoin him. He wanted her close. This time, he scooted over in the bed and tried to coax her to lay with him. The associated discomfort was secondary, though, as he wrapped his arms around her waist, fingers brushing gently along her navel.
“Money won is twice as sweet as money earned.”
+ Maksim +
[Image: alina-sq-.jpg]
Alina Marveet

Relations between the Bratva and Japanese were fraught at the best of times. She’d heard Sofia talking about a recent death that had muddied waters, but Alina rarely paid attention to those kinds of details. She frowned a little as she placed the wallet back down with his things, and she wondered if it really was her family’s fault this had happened. But it didn’t make sense for Maksim to be targeted if he had been closing the deal with the Japanese. She ought to mention it to Pavel, but for now she only returned to her husband’s side.

“Moscow has many clubs. We live in the centre of the world, and it’s always growing. There will be more deals,” she promised. She winced to see him shuffle aside on the bed, but climbed in beside him when he gestured. The drape of his arm made her smile, and she waited for him to find some gingerly comfortable way of laying against her. When he was settled she pressed a whisper softly into his dark hair. “But there will only be one you.”

She didn’t tell him that when he hadn’t come home after work, she had been immediately afraid the moment the wallet rang. That something in Sofia’s expression had flooded her insides with ice. He didn’t need that burden of her worry on top of everything else.

Scion would be angry. Or worse, disappointed. She knew it. Maksim could leave the job tomorrow, and she would support him to do it. But she also knew he never would. And it wasn’t like she didn’t understand the pressures of family.

“How many times did you sing for me, moya dusha?” she murmured, watching the play of his hand. “How long would you have tried? The effort paid off.”

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