Nikolina Moroz shuffled her notes in one hand and the frying pan in the other. She was trying to cook up a hearty breakfast for her family, but her eyes were fixed rigidly on the paperwork in front of her.
Watching her from his seat at the nearby dining table, Alexander, her little brother, shook his head dispairingly, "Sis, chill! I'm sure this case of yours will be fine, even if you tear your eyes away from your notes for a second!" He tried to reassure her, seeing that his older sister was very stressed.
"I wish I had your confidence," Nikolina groaned in reply, still not looking up from her work.
"Well, you better lend her some fast, Sasha, or our breakfast's gonna set the house on fire!" Another, flippant voice chipped in as Ekaterina, the duo's younger sister, ran into the room with a bag slung casually over her shoulder and plonked herself down on a chair beside her brother.
"Katya, enough! Now is no time to tease your sister!" The scolding, fatherly tones of Mr. Ilya Moroz, their single father and a fearsome parent who often forgot to reserve his sharpest tones for the criminals he dealt with as the local chief of police, thundered out across the room.
He saw Katya's frozen expression and softened a bit, "I know, I know, you were only joking. But Lina's a little busy right now..." He pointed out.
Nikolina was still intently focused on her work.
"Lina, your work ethic's been wonderful since you started on this case, but you always do so well at work, so I'm sure you know what you're doing without all this," He gestured at her paperwork, "And if you can at least put it down and put breakfast on the table, then we can get these two sorted out," He pointed at his other two children, "You know Katya can't afford to be late to college again."
He turned a sharp, emerald-eyed glare on his youngest and most troublesome child, before glancing over at his son. "And Sasha... Well, what are you planning to get up to today, Sasha?" He paused, questioning the young man.
The response was an absent-minded shrug, followed by Sasha beginning to explain to his father, "No idea. Detective Honesko said he wouldn't need me this week..." He trailed off at this point, giving a little sigh.
This made Ilya sigh too, and survey his children thoughtfully.
Nikolina, or Lina as she was affectionately known, was the eldest at twenty-eight. She was a pretty young woman, favouring her late mother in looks, as she bore Elena's long, blonde hair. It was straight and fell down over her shoulders, though this morning it was wound up on her head in a tight bun.
She was also tall and slender, with a thin face and pointed features. Again, she took after her mother here. Elena had always reminded him of an elf or pixie from a fairy story. He smiled fondly. Nikolina's resemblence to her mother always took him back to a happier time.
But she was not unlike him, either. She had deepset emerald-green eyes as well, and she had definitely inherited certain important values of his. Her strong, almost devoted work ethic put him very much in mind of himself, as did her sense of justice.
That, along with her three years of hard work at a local legal firm, told him that, despite her obvious stress, her first solo case as a lawyer would turn out just fine.
But right now, she seemed a little distracted by her family. Of course. In the nine years since her mother died, she had taken over looking after her younger siblings, to the point where it was a habit - if not a duty - for her to make the family meals and take care of their home.
He was deeply grateful for that. It allowed him to keep working as hard as his job required and still know that everything was taken care of.
Still, now of all times, it wasn't right. He turned back to Sasha, "If you're not doing anything, then help Lina out!" He told him.
The younger man got up and took the frying pan from his sister, who immediately wandered away dreamily, still clutching her papers.
Sasha soon finished making breakfast and started dishing it up for everyone. As he did so, his father's thoughts turned to the middle child.
Alexander, better known to the family as Sasha, also favoured his mother. He had short, wavy blond hair and her wide, baby blue eyes. Though he had inherited his father's strong build.
The twenty-four year old was at a bit of a loose end at the moment. He was a recent criminology graduate, but had quit the first job his father had had lined up for him - In the police force, of course - because he had a very unique way of doing things, by following his instincts, not necessarily the rulebook.
Often, Sasha was right in these cases. He had a great arrest rate in his time as a cop, and he was compassionate in his way of administering justice. But he had felt he was putting his father in an awkward position. It looked bad if the chief's son could break the rules and still have a great record.
Ilya hadn't thought of it that way, but Sasha had made up his mind, so he had moved on. Out of a sense of duty to help his considerate son out, Ilya had found him a second job, helping out an old friend who ran a private detective's firm.
But apparently business was slack right now, and it was getting the young man down. Yet, Ilya felt sure that would be short-lived. Sasha had his whole life ahead of him, he was well-qualified, with his father's sense of justice, his mother's compassion and his own sharp instincts. Things could only get better.
Right now, the man in question was busy with breakfast. He placed a plate down in front of his father, then handed one to his younger sister.
As Ekaterina took it, Sasha turned to watch Nikolina wander towards the stairs with her gaze still on the papers she was carrying. "Sis? Aren't you going to eat?" He called after her in evident concern.
Ekaterina shook her head, "She's not paying any attention, Bro. Before long she's gonna walk into something... It'll be the only way she'll look up," She thoughtfully commented on her older sister's activities before diving into her breakfast.
Ilya sighed again. And then, of course, there was Ekaterina. Katya was sixteen, the baby of the family. She stood shorter than her siblings' by at least half a foot, and had slightly darker blonde hair than the others' platinum tones, closer to her father's own locks. It bounced down her back in wild waves.
The wild hair and her sparkling green eyes reflected much of her nature. She was loud, flippant and full of mischievous cheer. He wasn't sure where she had had that attitude from. His wife had been a bright soul, certainly, and one of the reasons why he couldn't begrude the trouble Katya caused him too much was because her smile put him in mind of Elena.
But Elena had never been so... Over the top. He dispaired of Katya's endless energy, wondering how she would ever be persuaded to settle down and find herself a steady job.
Not that that seemed very relevent right now, seeing as she had no idea what she wanted to do with her life. She was currently enrolled on a writing course at a local community college, but her plans after that were vague, and she was more focused on having a good time with her friends than actually attending and passing the course.
Still, she was certainly a unique soul. He could only hope she would settle down a little.
It was here that Ilya's thoughts came to an abrupt end, as Sasha was beginning to panic, chasing after his sister worriedly.
Ilya stood up and strode over, stopping him with a simple hand on the shoulder. "You sit down and eat your breakfast. I'll go and talk to her. See if I can get her to join us... And I'll fetch Antonin down as well," He assured Sasha, who began to head back to his seat.
Antonin. That brought Ilya back to his family as he set off up the stairs, musing on the five, final and unofficial family member.
The young man had first entered his life as a colleague, eight years earlier. A trainee police officer with a fiery temper and stubborn attitude, who he suspected had just joined the force in search of an adventure... Antonin had been a huge red flag to the serious, dedicated police chief.
So he had appointed himself the man's mentor. That was seven years ago, and now... Well, Antonin was still Antonin, of course. But he had calmed down somewhat, and gained a new respect for his job, even if Ilya suspected that he still craved adventure more than anything else.
What was more important, though, was the fact that the two men had somehow become good friends, despite their differences.
They had begun to visit each other informally, away from the office. That was something Ilya rarely did, and it was also how Antonin met Nikolina.
Ilya wasn't sure he believed in love at first sight, but his student and his daughter clearly did. They had met a year and a few months ago, and now Antonin had enough of his things in Nikolina's room that he might as well live there. He certainly slept over often enough.
With that in mind, he headed there in search of the young couple.
Meanwhile, Antonin was resting on his girlfriend's bed, looking out of the window as the traffic crawled past. Even this early on a late spring morning, the Moscow suburb was busy.
Watching the cars helped him think. He needed to think right now, as he was carefully considering his future.
He was unaware of Ilya's thoughts about him being an unofficial member of the family, but he certainly wanted to be a part of the Moroz family.
He loved their house, which had soon become his second home. Estranged from his own family, his living options consisted of a tiny apartment several miles away - An inconvenient, cramped place with no entertainment - Or the Moroz house, where there was plently of space, an easy trip into work every morning via Ilya's car, and most importantly, there were other people.
Nikolina was his favourite companion there, of course. He loved her to bits. And it certainly helped that he had grown close to her father, and was beginning to get to know her siblings too.
In fact, he was considering making himself a proper part of their family very soon.
That thought made his hand slide to his left pocket instinctively. The ringbox rested in it neatly. He had been planning this for a while. Today was the day.
A shadow fell over him and he looked up expectantly. Nikolina stood in the doorway. His heart leapt when he saw her and he jumped up, but she wasn't paying attention. Her gaze was still on her notes and her brow was furrowed with obvious stress.
He hesitated. Was now the right time? She was so wound up over her case that it might not go down well if he interrupted her, whatever the reason was.
While he was still deep in thought, considering what to do next, Ilya appeared behind Nikolina and broke the silence, "Are you two coming down for breakfast or not?" He questioned.
"We'll be right there," Antonin nodded. He reached out and tugged the papers from Nikolina's hands, "There's time to work later, babe, let's go and eat," He encouraged.
"But..." She looked anxious, her eyes following her notes as he dumped them on the bed.
"The case will be fine," He tried to soothe her, pulling her into a hug and rubbing her back gently, "I know you don't believe me," He added, realising how empty his words sounded, "But can you at least eat something before you start worrying about work again? Otherwise you'll scare me."
She leant against him and let him try to calm her down. He was right, it wasn't working, but she didn't want him to start worrying as well, so she sighed and gave a small nod, "Okay, fine..." She wasn't hungry, but maybe if she ate her family and her boyfriend would all stop worrying about her.
"Great," Antonin smiled and pecked her forehead, a quick gesture of affection, "Now let's go."
Reassured now that he had got their attention, Ilya led the way as they trouped back downstairs to eat.
For Antonin, breakfast was the end of his peaceful morning full of hopeful thoughts for the future. As soon as he had eaten, Ilya announced that it was time to leave and he had dash off upstairs again to grab his bag.
On the way back out, he blew a kiss to Nikolina, who was once again lost in work and barely seemed to notice. Then he hurried to the car, eager to catch up with Ilya, who was already waiting in the vehicle with the engine running.
He threw his bag into the boot and jumped into the passenger seat hastily, fastening his safety belt. "Ready to go!" He called to Ilya.
These mornings... They were great, but they were always a rush as well. It could be stressful, but hey, at least it was more lively than his boring old commute.
As the car pulled out of the drive, Ilya struck up a casual conversation, "By the way, I have a surprise for you at work today," He revealed.
That struck Antonin as odd. Ilya usually took work very seriously. It wasn't the time or place that he would arrange a 'surprise'. Besides, he wasn't big on surprises.
"What are you up to?" He questioned curiously.
"I'm not 'up to' anything. It's just that I've been thinking," Ilya started to explain himself, "And it's about time you had your first assignment. Now I think I've found a perfect case."
"You have? That's great!" Antonin couldn't hide his excitement. It wasn't that he didn't like the everyday parts of his job, but he had been longing for a little more action, away from the confines of the station, for a long time.
Ilya chuckled, the younger man's reaction confirming all his suspicions, "I thought you might say that," He replied, "Let's get to the station so that I can officially fill you in," He added.
"Of course... Protocol," Antonin rolled his eyes. Now he was eager for the details, but would have to wait.