I did it! It's posted! Finally! T_T
Thank you very much for your kind reviews! I hope it was worth the long wait! :)
My heart hammered in my chest like it wanted to break free of its confines altogether. My ears rang. I slid to the floor against the marble, my unfocused eyes on the surface of the closed door ahead.
They killed him.
Someone had been murdered right in front of me. Again. The images of dead bodies swam through my mind, their faces overlapping. Blood and gore, and the milky stare of lives stolen tormented me in their vividness. My stomach constricted as acid crawled up my throat. I blinked, swallowing it down. I had puked enough for one day.
My hand trembled as I reached up to tangle my fingers in my hair. I didn't know what to do. I wanted to claw my eyes out, tear my ears off, but none of it would undo the events that had come to pass. They wouldn't be erased from my memories. Fuel for my nightmares - that's what they were.
Green is dead.
It was strange. It wasn't like I cared about the sod. I hated him. I had wished him dead on more than one occasion. He had threatened Maddy, and had wanted to kill me. He had tortured me. Even so, watching the bullets that had finished the job smash through his skull was... disturbing. Terrifying. Monstrous. Bloody.
My lids slid shut. Shuddering, I clutched the hair at my temple harder, bending my neck to rest my forehead upon my knees. I didn't mind the pain. I was too busy trying to keep functioning to pay it any heed. This was not the time to have a break-down. I was in a strange house. Ilyushin and his men were but a few feet away.
I heard a sigh. It was quiet for a second or two, only disturbed by the strangled sobs of the doctor. Footsteps echoed, and Ilyushin's voice broke through the haze of my thoughts. "Take him away," he gave the command, then said in a softer tone, "Doctor Hart, can you stand?"
She sniffled. "Y-yes. Of course."
"I apologize for the regretful way you have been treated. Are you well? Any injuries?"
"That's good. May I offer you an escort for your ride home?" He didn't wait for an answer. Typical of the bastard. "Yushkov."
"Da?" gigolo's voice said with a grunt.
Ilyushin spoke to him in Russian, and addressed the woman when he was done. "Mr. Yushkov here will drive you. Again, please accept my sincere apologies. Expect sufficient compensation for the night to arrive on your account. I have nothing but appreciation for your wonderful work so far," he said, like a well-rehearsed PR speech. "I hope this has not damaged further arrangements. Can I count on your unrivaled services in the future?"
"I..." She trailed off, then seemed to realize who she was dealing with, and stuttered out the appropriate "Y-yes, Sir."
"Thank you," Ilyushin said courteously, though his tone suggested the answer was nothing he hadn't predicted. "Let us wait outside. Please come with me until Mr. Yushkov can be available."
I heard some shuffling, and footsteps rang between the walls. A door was opened, then shut. With the departure of the two, the small grunts and something heavy getting dragged across the floor remained the only sounds, and those were also getting fainter by the moment. Finally, there was complete silence.
I was alone, but I didn't know how long that would last. I had to get back to the room before someone found me. I didn't have any illusions about being able to leave the house undetected. Honestly, I was in no shape to run if the situation called for it, either. Convincing my body to move was hard, however. My face lifted, and I gave my roots a harsh yank as an incentive. Shudders not subsiding, I used the marble as my support, and stood. I walked to the last door, unsteady but determined to make it out of the open.
When I staggered over the threshold, I didn't bother being quiet anymore. The door was slammed shut, and I stumbled over to the couch opposite to the one I had woken up on. The bowl of sick was an effective deterrent. Letting myself fall back, I cringed as I jarred my ribs in the process. I shifted until I hit the backrest, my knees inching back up toward my chest. I wrapped my good arm around my shins, covering them with the blanket, and rubbed my eyes into my legs. I didn't try to stop the escaping tears. Not after the day I had.
- KS -
The trembling eventually tempered down. Thanks to the medication the doctor had injected me with, the pain had all but ceased as well, my body only giving the slight twinge now and again as a reminder. I must have been there for at least half an hour before anyone bothered to check on me. When the door opened, the person who strode in was a stranger. I supposed I was glad. I didn't know how I would have reacted if it had been Sasha. Seeing him kill a man put quite a damper on my friendly feelings for him. If it had been Ilyushin... Well, that was a beast best left to rage in the closet for the time being.
In any case, the guy was dressed as a right gentleman. He had neat gray hair, and wore a black suit with a bow tie hugging the collar of his white shirt. His posture was rigid. When he spotted my huddling form, he walked closer and placed a covered tray on the table.
"Mr. Kenan Muller?"
I sent him a belated nod when I realized he wanted an answer.
"I am Thomas Markman, and I've been instructed to see to your needs," he said. "There is some warm broth and a few crackers, to be eaten at your convenience." He made his way to the stand by the other couch, and brought the water and writing utensils over to my side. He sent me a measuring look. "Your clothes were ruined, regrettably, but I will have a fresh set ready for you to wear by tomorrow."
He spun on his heals before I could so much as twitch, grabbing the bowl from the floor on his way. I lifted my hand in a frantic gesture to stop him, but he either didn't notice, or didn't care, because he exited the room without a second glance. I gaped after him.
Tomorrow? They want me to spend the whole night here?
Absolutely not. I wasn't staying in the same place as Ilyushin, of all people. No. Nyet.
Right, as if anyone would give a damn about your opinion. Hah.
I was left to stew for another ten minutes, cursing the gods, the butler-servant-whatever Markman, Ilyushin, and anything else I could come up with under the vast sky, before the Devil itself made its appearance.
"Mr. Muller?" it asked in that oh-so civil way. "Are you awake?"
Even the questions were deceptions with this one. How could I have ever thought him human? I gave no indication I had heard him, my forehead pressed to my knees tight.
I am air. I'm an invisible particle of dust. Lalalala.
My happy pretense of nonexistence was effectively shattered when I felt his fingertips touch my hair. I jerked, scooting away as far as the couch would allow, calling forth the most venomous glare I could muster.
He was in the same suit he had left the office in, impeccable as always. As I kept my glare trained on him though, I did note some marks the night had left on him. His eyes were tight, as if tired, and I saw a miniscule hunch of the left shoulder, like he was favoring the wound he had there.
He bore my intense stare without a bat of an eye. The bastard had no shame. A minute passed this way, but he never said a word. I sighed, tearing my gaze away in an attempt to collect myself before my emotions got the better of me again. I honestly wanted to attack him. Fucking Devil.
With my mask blanking my face, I decided to start the conversation he wasn't inclined to. I grabbed the paper and pen, placing the stack on the cushion and bending over it in an awkward slouch.
His eyebrow rose as I held it up with a monotone blink.
"Is that your way of thanking me?" he inquired, calm as you please.
Did he really think me that stupid? Perhaps he forgot he had had his conversation with Sasha right beside me? Then again, it was possible he had thought I was too out of it to hear.
It was your fault I got mixed up in this mess to begin with.
His brows furrowed. He was a good actor, I'd give him that.
"You're blaming me?" he asked, puzzled. "Why? I could have no more predicted your presence in that alley than prevented you from offering help."
That's not it. I know you planned something like this. You wanted to catch Green, and I was part of the scheme, I scribbled furiously. My hand paused, however, when another piece of the puzzle suddenly clicked. Seeing it put like that, it was so evident. I wanted to smack myself for taking this long to put it all into context. I was bait.
He reached up for the paper I held shoved into his face, pushing it further so he would be able to read it. It took him a few moments to figure it out - my handwriting was never the best, especially not now, and I wasn't about to put in any extra effort for his benefit. When his gaze came upon the last words, the corner of his mouth quirked up.
He looked at me. I repressed the need to fidget. Maybe it wasn't the best idea to call out a mob boss on his scheming face-to-face. Possibly.
"Mr. Muller, you are just full of surprises." He barked a laugh. "This is why I like you."
He laughed again, not denying any of it. So I was bait. Really, Green's words should have clued me in. His questions had hit the nail on the head, even if he himself had been at a loss. What reason would Ilyushin have to protect me? The only thing he had achieved was to draw attention to me. Which, in hindsight, had been exactly what he had desired. His actions - the chauffeuring around, the daily visits, everything that all but screamed of plotting - had forced Green's hands, cornered him so he had no choice but to come after me. The goddamn bastard had had it planned from the very start. Green, the poor sucker, had never stood a chance.
Ilyushin was far too smart for his own good, I decided. I would have applauded him if his little stoke of genius hadn't resulted in me nearly losing my life. Werner as well.
I want to leave.
He was still amused as hell, but he gave a huff when he read the line. This brought me some measure of vindictive satisfaction. The least the bastard could have done was apologize. In lieu of that, taking his fun out of the situation would have to do. I resolutely ignored how the 'fun' went by the name of Kenan. Some truths were better avoided than acknowledged.
"No can do. You stay and rest. I had Markman prepare a guest room for you upstairs."
Which meant this mansion of a place was his home. I shook the irrelevant thought off and flattened my back against the armrest when Ilyushin sat without invitation.
No. I have no more business with you, I wrote, maneuvering the paper-stack into a new position, so it acted as a barrier between us. You got what you wanted, and Green is dead. I don't need your protection any more.
I got a quizzical furrow of his forehead. "And you know this, how?" he inquired. I shifted in discomfort. Getting caught spying on the mafia, no matter how unintentional, couldn't be healthy. "But you're right. He is no longer a threat," he said, the blue orbs frosting over like twin chips of ice.
Then let me go, please. I just want my life back, I wrote, glad he didn't push the issue. I knew I had gone too far, the disrespect obvious, so I did my best to play polite this time. I wanted to leave and forget the whole thing had ever happened; my usual way to deal with problems. Whatever anyone said to the contrary, the method worked for me.
"Mr. Muller," he began in a steely tone. He was getting annoyed, and I cringed when I met his narrowed gaze. "you are not an idiot, and I would thank you if you stopped acting as if you were. Don't delude yourself. You have seen and heard a lot in this past week."
I closed my eyes, shaking my head back and forth. What else did he want from me? Hadn't he done enough? Hadn't I been through enough? It was all his fault, and now he was telling me... what? That I was not allowed to put it behind me at all? My trembling intensifying again, I placed the tip of the pen on the paper.
He read it, but his expression remained hard, unmoved.
"I could let you walk away," he said, and hope blossomed in my chest. I lifted my head to look him in the face properly. Whatever he asked of me in exchange, I would do it. "but where would that leave you, Mr. Muller? If I was to let you go altogether, which I'm not inclined to do, the world will still not let you forget so easily. You have a connection to me now, and I have enough enemies who would use that. Your knowledge is not only a security risk to me, but to yourself as well."
My throat burned and my mouth was bloodless as I squeezed my lips together to prevent them from trembling. I swallowed as I studied the unrepentant set of his jaw, and the icy chips that were the windows to his soul. I saw a monster staring back at me.
I never wanted this. I scribbled, the feverish hate bubbling up above the surface, to the point where all common sense left me in favor of the red, hot rage. Nothing else mattered. My ears buzzed. You did this. Everything is your fault. I wish I never found you that day. I wish I left you to die.
Ilyushin stared at the paper. He nodded. "Yes, I suppose you would. Nonetheless, You have two choices," he said lowly. "You can live with this compromise, or you can die. I can promise to make it painless." He let the proclamation hang in the air, then pressed on. "However, consider this: I'm already going out of my way for you to offer at all. I have no desire to complicate things for myself, yet I'm being generous. Are you truly stupid enough to make the wrong decision?"
No, I wasn't.
My back slumped, and my right hand fell to the cushion limply. My gaze was fixed on his knee, and I shook my head once.
He was quiet and motionless for a while, and I didn't look up. After a tense minute he leaned back against the backrest with a small sigh. "Your guardian has been informed that you're spending the night at a friend's place. I would request you stay here for a few days until things calm down. It's spring break next week, isn't it? It shouldn't be a problem and I don't suppose you want your guardian seeing you in your current condition. Dr. Hart will stop by regularly to check on your injuries, and I can have my staff take care of you until you heal up a little."
What a load of bullshit. The bastard just wanted to keep an eye on me. This was his guarantee I wouldn't run and spill to the beans at the first opportunity I got. I knew it, and he knew it. The sugar-coating only made my the heat of my anger scorching.
And after that? I forced myself to write.
"I can probably find something for you to do in the office. A part-time job."
You want me to work for you? I wrote in disbelief. I'm not a criminal!
"I never said you were. I'm giving you a job at the office, not asking you to be part of my... other dealings."
I didn't see how it was any better. And for how long could it go on? I was graduating in less than two months and I would be able to move out of the foster system. What about college? Not that I had the money for it, the aid the agency supplied me with was a pittance, but I had planned to gather the funds and maybe apply for a scholarship the next year when I got adjusted to the new living arrangements. He was denying me any real choice in the matter.
Ilyushin kept his intent eyes trained on me, waiting for my reaction. I pushed it all to the back of my mind, hardening myself. I would figure a way out of this later. I would. I was not letting him dictate my life. I had options now that Green was out of the picture. Ilyushin had nothing to threaten me with if things blew up in my face. It was a dangerous endeavor, but not hopeless. I wasn't as limited any more.
For the moment, I had to focus on the immediate consequences. Careful not to show him any outward signs of the effect his demands had on me, I lifted the pen once again and changed the subject.
I can't stay here all week. Casey wouldn't let me. It was bad enough that I was staying out for one night without prior notice. Although, considering she thought I was with a friend, perhaps I was too fast to judge.
Understatement of the year.
"Don't worry about that. Mrs. Brant will be taken care of. I'll have someone pick up any belongings you may need as well."
The fist holding the blanket up clenched and I winced as the tensing of the muscle sent a sting through my wound. The thought of strangers riffling through my stuff sent waves of panic coursing through me. Ilyushin must have taken my obvious unease for worry about Casey, because he added, "She will be told you're invited to go camping by the family of your 'friend'. I'm sure she won't mind."
Oh, she wouldn't mind that at all, my subconscious interjected sardonically.
I had to be truthful here. Casey would be over the moon if she thought I had made a real friend. I didn't even bother pointing out Sunday's session with the psychologist. I knew Casey well enough to anticipate she would be only too happy to cancel for this worthy cause.
Resigned to staying, yet still very much apprehensive, I had to address the other problem. I debated on how to deter Ilyushin from sending someone for my things. There was no good solution forthcoming. If I was forced to spend the week with him, I would need my clothes at the very least. Also, I had to study and do my homework for the break's end. My backpack had to be in the mansion somewhere - I hoped - but I didn't have all my books in it. There was no way Ilyushin would allow me to pick them up myself. So I worded my request after a second of thought.
I have suitcases under my bed. Your man can just grab the smaller one. It's already packed. It wouldn't be opened this way, at least. I still despised the notion that someone would put their paws on my private belongings, but it was the lesser of two evils if my concession spared them from further invasion. My schoolbooks are on the desk and they should fit in a smaller bag.
He raised an eyebrow, but didn't comment right away. I got the feeling he was suspicious of my easy acquiescence. I couldn't muster the will to care though. If there was one thing he couldn't control, it was my mind. No matter how he wished otherwise.
"Good. It will be done," he said, and stretched his legs out in an elegant sprawl as his gaze left me. I was relieved he ceased the close appraisal. We sat in silence, him staring ahead thinking about God knows what, and me perching at the edge of the couch like a cornered animal, shooting him the occasional covert look. Why was he still in the room? Didn't he have better things to do? I wanted to be as far from him as possible. I was having a hard time controlling my reactions around him and I couldn't relax my guard. I just wanted to be left in peace.
"Aren't you going to eat that?"
I whipped my head to him at the unexpected question. My eyes followed the gesture he made with his chin to the tray on the table. My brows lowered. What did he care? I shook my head in stiff jerks when he turned to me for an answer. He sighed again, lifting his hand to rub delicate circles on his temple.
So, am I giving him a headache? Good. He deserves it.
I had the childish urge to stick my tongue out at his show of exasperation. The freaking bastard had no right to reproach me for anything. I had no choice but to accept his terms for the time being, but I wasn't obligated to do so with grace. He could damn well deal with a teenager if it was a teenager he wanted. I was even a little disappointed it was someone like me he was stuck with; I wasn't one for hysterics. He was much too lucky. Made me wish I was more open with my emotions.
Then again, if it was someone else in my shoes, he might as well shoot them if annoyed enough.
Yes, that was true. I was somewhat unnerved to realize he could have had me murdered and buried long before this point in time. My usefulness to him had expired quite a few hours ago. It would have been less of a hassle for him, certainly. Like he had said, his life would be a lot less complicated with me out of his hair. Why was he offering me anything at all? As morbid as the thought was, he really would have been better off with me out of the picture. Yet instead, he had my wounds treated, offered me a room in his home, had me supplied with food and water, and - strangest of all - was telling me I would be working at his company. I assumed that meant I would actually get paid. As things stood, it looked like he wasn't killing me any time soon.
Perhaps, the thought whispered through my mind, he just doesn't want to.
But why? It wasn't like we were on good terms. I hated him. He knew it, too. And he was such a bastard, so it made no sense for him to be so... considerate, but there was no other explanation remotely plausible. The man was confusing me to the nth degree.
My thoughts were in a big, tangled knot. Mere minutes ago I had been certain he was the modern incarnation of the Devil. His actions and the way he painted the situation didn't help his case. However, delving into his motivations deeper, the discrepancy between what he said and what his words really meant was befuddling.
Or was he just wanting to make use of me again? Did he have some other ingenious plan in the making? I considered it seriously, but I had to conclude that even if I was still good for something in his eyes, I was more trouble than I was worth in the long run. I was a risk; I owed him no loyalty - I had good reason to resent him, in fact - and the only thing he could do to make sure I didn't rat him out was to keep me on a short leash. Why the hell was I still alive?
"If you are not hungry, I think it's time you retired. Dr. Hart told you that you have a concussion, correct?" Ilyushin interrupted my musing.
I gave him a shallow nod, unsure how to behave with all the conflicting thoughts swirling through my brain. Was I angry? Certainly. Was I confused? Definitely. So how was I supposed to feel about him?
I didn't know.
"I will have Markman check in on you during the night - wake you up periodically. The doctor mentioned some stitches as well, so it's best not to move around too much until they're removed." He pulled his legs in and stood. "I will lead you to the guest room. Come."
His hand stretched forward, hovering in the air for me to take. I blinked at it. I followed the arm's path upwards, settling my eyes on his own. I didn't reach for his hand. I scooted sideways, sweeping the papers aside, and I saw the appendage drop in the corner of my vision. My legs sank to the floor and I pushed my body into a standing position. I wobbled as I straightened, but got my bearings before I embarrassed myself by falling back down on the cushion. The blanket around my shoulders slipped an inch and I adjusted it gingerly, trying not to put strain on my injuries.
Ilyushin didn't say anything, only waited for me to look at him for direction. When I tilted my head and tapped my toes impatiently, he quirked a small grin and waved his arm toward the door.
I complied, shuffling ahead. I was getting dizzy again, despite the meds pumped into me. Or was it because of them? The concussion, maybe? Either way, I was cautious and refused to move too fast. Ilyushin would just have to deal with the slow pace. Not that he appeared all that bothered. As I stepped over the threshold, I snuck a glance back at him, and saw he was quite content with waiting. He still wore that imperceptive smile, and he wasn't rushing me or getting annoyed.
"Up the stairs," he instructed when both of us were out of the room. I nodded while facing forward, staying within reach of the wall for added security as I walked. I concentrated on getting to the base of the marble staircase, pointedly ignoring the entrance hall.
Where Green had died.
I shuddered and tensed, dropping my gaze to my feet altogether. I reached the first step of the stairs and began the slow progress upward. Climbing proved to be remarkably hard, much more so than walking on even ground. I had to stop more than once, my breathing growing ragged by the halfway point. Lightheaded, I cursed the gods for making me appear this weak in Ilyushin's presence.
The top was but three steps away when my knee gave up the battle. I was about to pull myself up, putting my weight on the right leg, when it buckled beneath me. A gasp left my throat as I teetered, my balance doubly impaired by the dizziness. I clutched at the handrail, but it was to no avail. My strength had deserted me and my palm slipped off the smooth, marble surface. I started to fall back and the hand holding the blanket released the material in a futile grab for thin air. My lids slid shut.
I forgot Ilyushin was behind me. The air in my lungs left me in a whoosh as my back impacted with his body, my eyes flying open in shock. I felt arms slide around my torso to steady me. I hissed when my ribs were squeezed in the hold, hunching forward with the pain. The arms keeping me up loosened and inched a little lower, but they didn't let go. My exhales came in unsteady bursts. My skin crawled, but I was in no position to fight the unwelcome touch off. It was hard enough preventing myself from passing out, the world swimming in and out of focus.
"That took longer than expected," Ilyushin murmured. I turned my head up a fraction to glare at him, but my brows furrowed when I noticed he wasn't gloating like I thought he would be. There was no smile on his face, and his brow wasn't cocked in that angle I've come to associate with his regular mocking. He was staring at my back instead, and I jolted when I registered the blanket was no longer shielding me. It had slipped almost to my waist, the only thing keeping it there the contact between us.
I began to struggle, frantic to get it back up, no longer concerned with the precarious balance. I winced and my teeth clenched with the mounting pain, but I had priorities to consider. Ilyushin made a disapproving sound, not letting go no matter how much I squirmed. One of his arms snaked away from around me, and I froze when I felt a warm finger landing on a shoulder blade in ginger exploration. It slid to the side, then lifted and did the same again at a different spot just beside the first. He was tracing the raised lines of scar tissue, as if mapping them out.
He wasn't stopping. I shuddered each and every time a different scar was touched, the nerves tingling and my panting becoming more pronounced until it was shameful, silent sobs that tore through my lungs. I wanted him to stop. I needed him to stop. And still - I couldn't move.
"These are old," he observed, and finally let his hand drop. I felt his gaze boring into the back of my head. I kept it averted, looking at the stairs blankly. As if taking notice of the condition his little discovery had left me in for the first time, the arm holding me in place suddenly left, and I slid to my hands and knees in an undignified heap.
My arm trembled as I reached behind me in a blind move to grab the fallen material, and I worked through the throbbing ache till it covered me again.
"Mr. Muller?" I didn't look up. I heard him sigh as I attempted to gain some control back, but regulating my breathing was hard. "... Kenan."
I tilted my head, just enough to see his outline in my periphery. He had never used my first name before. I flinched violently as I noticed his arm stretching out in my direction, and he withdrew it at my reaction. He straightened up.
"I apologize. I acted out of line."
How gracious of him.
Hate and rage were not sufficient words to describe the intensity of my feelings at the moment. Screw his apology. He had no right, absolutely no right...!
With unexpected swiftness, he swooped down and I was getting lifted from the cold marble before I knew what was happening. I kicked out, my expression contorted, yet I took great care not to let the blanket go. My free arm flailed, smacking the man wherever I could, mostly his chest. I felt him wince when I landed a hit close to the half-healed stab-wound. Good. Let him feel some of the pain he had caused. It was all his fault.
"Calm down, or we will both fall. Do you want to finish what Green started?" I stilled, looking over his shoulder. He was holding me up with one arm at my back, and the other under my knees, so I had a good vantage-point. We were at the top of the stairs. "I'm only taking you to your room."
I kept my face - promptly shuttered - well away from his as he climbed the remaining steps, though the trembling wouldn't cease. Stiff as a statue, I was carried down the carpeted corridor and Ilyushin took a left turn not far in. We passed doors on both sides until he came to a halt by one. He worked out a way to push the handle down, and he walked in with little trouble.
It was a room of average size, nothing too extravagant. A lamp placed on a nightstand beside a simple double bed illuminated the space, casting its yellow glow upon the white sheets. There was a dressing table in the corner and another door leading to what I presumed to be a bathroom.
Ilyushin placed me on the bed, and I stared ahead unseeingly with my legs dangling off to the side.
"Markman will be by shortly," he said, and my eyes found themselves drawn to his unmoving form. He looked at me for a while, then nodded to himself. He turned, striding toward the exit. When he was already over the threshold, he swiveled around. "Rest," he instructed, and shut the door.