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[[Continued from Blind Eye]]

She’d lied about the cab. Crisp autumn wind bit her skin the moment she stepped out onto the pavement, like the tips of a thousand knives. Looking out at the skyline this morning, she’d lamented the sunrise, like every bloody streak of it was her own blood draining out into the horizon. From the ashes of yesterday’s masochistic anger bloomed today’s guilt; not an emotion she dealt particularly well with, so she was almost glad for the sharp torment of weather urging her thoughts to focus on the physical. Not that it stopped her bracing with folded arms against the wind, sleek coils of dark hair rippling about her shoulders. She was the only moron out here without a coat.

The nearest metro station was her destination. No cash on her, of course, but a life lived on the streets had taught her everything she needed about getting what she wanted. It was warmer on the train, and mostly empty; she was not sure of the time, but she’d probably just missed the squall of rush-hour traffic. This hour belonged to the old, the jobless, and those burdened with motherhood – though this close to Moscow’s elitist centre, there was little sign of the usual hopelessness. The wail of a baby further down the carriage, the listless shuffling of the elderly too afraid of death and solitude to stay at home; these were the markers that graduated her journey home. When a guy staggered in and passed out on a seat opposite, suffused in the metallic stink of stale booze, she knew she was almost there.

Home was on the outskirts of Zamoskovreche, a residential area not quite suburbia but at least grasping at the prospect. The realtor had suggested it a potential investment, and Oriena had agreed. She’d bought it for her mother originally, but the woman had dug in her heels against leaving her own apartment. If Ori didn’t understand her need to stay in the heart of Moscow’s poorest streets, she didn’t argue either. So, despite potential, the house remained a shell. A place of practicality rather than comfort. No photos hung on the walls, and there was little in the way of decoration to distinguish a touch of personality. She had money now, but little incentive to spend it on things she deemed immaterial.

Echo slunk around her feet the moment she passed the threshold, and she picked him up without pausing to think about it. He rumbled a pleasant purr, nudging his face into her neck, trying to coerce the devotion that was his due. Little fucker was always insanely pleased to see her, which she secretly found rather gratifying. She’d never had pets as a kid – you just didn’t keep pets where she’d grown up – and this one had chosen her rather than the other way around. He stuck around whether she paid him attention or not, whether she fed him or not, until he’d chinked a little crack of fondness in her apathy. She knew she’d finally caved when she gave him a name.

After a little fuss, she plonked him down on the sofa. She was hungry, but too agitated to eat. A shower, another shower, a glass of water to battle the faint headache. Trying hard not to think. Yesterday, avoidance had burned aggressively in her chest, indignant and furious. The guilt had gnawed even then, if only a little, a nuisance diluting the force of her hatred. But it had been easy to ignore. Easy to drown under strong liquor, and then Jaxen had made forgetting even easier. But though she might brood protectively around her stubborn pride, her spine would not curl to the indignity of actually hiding. She tied her hair in a knot, changed into running clothes. Stuffed in earbuds. Zipped up a hoodie. The mechanical set of her movements flowed one set to another, culminating in the slam of her front door. Still fucking cold, and gloriously bright. She tugged up her hood.

Ori knew where she was going. Knew too the only way to actually get there was to trick herself into it.

When she was a kid, she’d had found a damp, muddy flyer stamped a thousand times underfoot in one of the mostly derelict neighbourhoods around her house. Nine years old, an age when most girls were playing with dolls, and she was sifting through trash to find little pieces of precious. She’d laid the leaflet out on a chunk of broken wall to dry, then folded it in her pocket like a prized piece of muslin. It was for a boxing club, new back then – or as new as things got in Zamoskvoreche, which meant that it was tired and worn and scabby. An endeavour in local charity: so kids could fuck each other up in a ring instead of the streets, and with fists instead of knives.

It accounted for the leanness of her limbs – that and the running, though the benefit of the latter had been a lesson learned much later. For a while, before she’d understood the talents she’d been born with, it had been a sanctuary. A place to vent frustrations, to feel that the dissatisfaction she sensed at life – and it was already burning a hole in her chest, even then – could serve some brief purpose. It was as close as she ever remembered to a little slice of acceptance. When clocking someone right in the face because they’d pissed you off was not met with shocked abjuration, but applause.

Of course, fate had fucked that up, years later, when she’d met Luka.
"You say you're a godman. So what? 
I'm the devil herself"
Alpha ~ Little Destroyer
[Image: orianderis.jpg]
She ran, feet pounding the pavement in aggressive rhythm. Blaring music blanked out the petty world around her, these hostile streets she knew so well and refused to fear. Her heart spiked, until her thoughts keened only on the process of breathing in and out. It soothed and scoured her soul; she didn’t often find comfort in the familiar, in the routine, but this marked an exception. She ran often, since that night five years ago. Sometimes she wondered if she’d ever stopped.

Autopilot guided her route, indirect and winding, her skin flushed and her lungs working hard by the time she finally slowed. No point allowing herself to pause before the solid door, pasted with old and peeling posters; she pushed back her hood, pulled out her earphones, and shouldered in. The familiar stench of salt and sweat burned her nostrils. Familiar grunts, the blunt smack of gloves. Familiar faces.

But she was only looking for one.

He was in the back, away from the others doing drills and coaching kids, and she watched him for a while, driving his fists into the punching bag. Sweat sheened his skin, soaked into his vest. One eye was pinked fresh.

Emotion balled in her gut. She didn’t evaluate it any more than that, concerned what monstrosities she’d find – or, even worse, what frailties. Instinct primed her for war, and she wondered why she was here. No, she knew why she was here. Familiar fury replaced the moment of uncertainty, the same dark frustration that had sent her to Kallisti last night on a nihilistic incentive to fucking forget. But it was the guilt that burned her temper high and inward, that turned the destruction on herself like she deserved the punishment.

It was the only thing that stopped her walking away.

“You didn’t come. You didn’t even answer your fucking phone.” His fist smashed the bag. She wondered if he imagined it was her face; she’d probably deserve that.

Still, she said nothing, struggling with her own internal thought processes, searching vainly for a way to appease that didn’t reek of weakness. Then wondering why she cared.

After a moment Luka’s forehead bowed; he steadied the punchbag, clung to it like it was the only thing steeling his spine. Or perhaps holding him back; it wouldn’t be the first time they’d come to physical blows. A second passed before he rallied himself, straightened, and turned his chasm of a gaze on her. His eyes burned. She hoped it was sweat, but she knew better.

After all, yesterday he’d buried his sister.

Their sister, though she fucking hated it when he called her that.

His knuckles were bruised and scraped bloody, hiding the layers of scars beneath the fresh wounds. That and the pink eye betrayed that he’d been fighting. He was always fighting, as if the explosive release of violence was a poison frantically bled out before it had the chance to rot away his insides. Though she had always fancied those scars in fact came from the desperate way he pieced together the bloody remains of his family. A drunk philanderer of a father; a regretful, distant mother. The sick, cherubic sister gluing his efforts. Dead.. And now Ori.

And that was the fucking problem, wasn’t it?

She should mean nothing to him, a rejected byproduct of their father’s sordid history, but he’d cut his hands all over trying to wreathe her in the title sister. Right from the start Ori had regarded Luka’s sibling affections with measures of curiosity and disgust, like he were a half-choked mutt on a leash, desperate for the warmth and impervious to the kicks. She considered herself her mother’s daughter; considered the blood they shared incidental and unfortunate, not the unbreakable links of familial tie, as he appeared to. And for a long time she’d treated him as an enemy, incarnate of the man who’d broken her mother’s heart. But she’d stuck around anyway. She’d called the club home first. She tolerated him. It’s what she told herself anyway.

She observed the rage silently, fighting off the suddenly blunt impact of guilt in a way that made her cold. Fucking and? her gaze demanded. She didn’t owe him anything, and he’d had no right to expect it of her. No right. He’d been fresh from prison release, and she a virulent and unruly teenager. Estranged from the family he was, back then, desperately eager to make amends with, and offered a shining glimmer of hope in the form of a half-sibling, he’d grasped on with both hands. But she’d never made him promises. Never called him brother.

she said. Finally. Unapologetic, but every attempt at casual disdain was thwarted by the stiffness of her limbs. She wanted forgiveness. She didn't want to beg for it.

She shouldn't have to.

Ori had always warned him to place no hope in her. Had always made it clear that their lives intersected only on the grounds of the boxing club – not that it had stopped him relating great sweeping portraits of his own life. But he knew next to nothing about her. She’d thought the boundaries clear, and then he’d wanted her to go to the funeral. Sofiya. The golden infant child, whose first mewling breath had ruptured Oriena’s family beyond repair, and ripped her father away. It was only years later she’d discovered that what her father had done was gone back, that Oriena and her mother were the fraudulent imposters. It only soured the animosity.

Worse, she’d met her, briefly. Once. And therein lie the great beating, bloody heart of her guilt.


The dwelling on unwanted memory was making her skin itch, and he was giving her the most reproachful stare – wanting answers she refused to give, and shouldn’t it have been enough that she’d told him no straight? No I will not come with you. Those words had left her lips with firm disgust. But he’d rang anyway, and continued to ring, until she’d been pissed off enough to eke her frustrations out at Kallisti. He made it feel like a betrayal. She didn’t need the added sin. Was incapable of admitting her own fault, or even of the fact she cared enough to be here at all. It was a big city. She could find other places to exercise.

A breath. She glared at him, running her fingers back over her head. Fucker knew when to let the silence eat her up. They were too similar, though she hated to think it.

It would have been far wiser to give it time, and part of her wished she'd had the patience, but she'd been perversely curious to see the depth and rawness of his pain. She had no siblings, none she counted true, none who’d fight tooth and nail to protect each other’s’ backs, whatever Luka thought. It made her blood hum, like a half-forgotten memory - enough to pull her here despite everything. She knew what love was. She loved her mother, would protect her at grievous cost against the palest of slights. But those bonds were like fortress walls. Ori knew she scared her sometimes too.

"Don't play righteous. I told you I wouldn't come."
Her words were sharp, indignant. She unzipped her hoodie, pooled it on the floor with the rest of her stuff. The anger sparked off him in waves, fuelling her own resentment, and the resultant energy was restless, volatile. Power roiled in the back of her mind, but for once she shut it out, and the dullness of light denied only made her more agitated. They were of a height, and his strength was sinewy more than bulk. Ori was stronger than she looked, and spoiling for the violence. It was the best atonement she could offer. Which was why she threw the first punch.
"You say you're a godman. So what? 
I'm the devil herself"
Alpha ~ Little Destroyer
[Image: orianderis.jpg]
It was days before she returned to Kallisti.

In the daytime, the club's interior was cast in shadow, silent and hollow. Carmen's reproachful stare took in the faded purple bruising of her cheekbone, but she was wiser than to pass comment. The consideration flashed in her gaze though, and Ori wondered why it was she even cared. It was not like Oriena modelled herself as the face of the business; her indiscretions would have little impact on Kallisti's reputation. If the concern was instead personal, Ori was not interested in the coddling. Or the chastisement. Her mood was quiet, and any questioning would be banked in silence anyway. At best.

Carmen said nothing though, and Ori passed her unmolested.

A neat pile of paperwork waited on the desk in the office. Carmen had been headhunting to fill Emma's vacancy, and recruitment was among the few things Ori still preferred to have a hand in. She ruffled through the pages, absorbed a few pertinent details to pour over later, then collected her phone and keys. "If you need me, phone'll be on,"
she said on her way back through. Though she doubted they'd be any necessity; she'd hired Carmen for a reason, and the woman was good at her job.

"Two suits showed up after you left the other night. Something to do with the guy you were with. Not the one you left with." Carmen's gaze latched to the bruising, and her mouth snapped into a firm line, which probably meant she'd assigned the blame to Jaxen. Like Oriena would have allowed him to do that to her. A wry smile twitched her lips, stretching the skin tender, and she filed the warning away to contemplate later. If Jon had brought trouble to her door she would not be grateful, but neither would she duck her head beneath the parapet. She was queen of this castle, and she would be defending it.

"Anyone else comes asking questions about customers, you call me."
Kallisti operated on non-disclosure and its employees knew to keep their mouths shut. Oriena didn't fear the slip of petty secrets, but she was wary of serpents.
"You say you're a godman. So what? 
I'm the devil herself"
Alpha ~ Little Destroyer
[Image: orianderis.jpg]
[[continued at Promises]]
"You say you're a godman. So what? 
I'm the devil herself"
Alpha ~ Little Destroyer
[Image: orianderis.jpg]

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