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            It is Christmas Eve, and Kirill is drunk.

            This is not unusual; on any evening there was a good chance that Kirill would be drunk, or at least on his way there. All of his father’s establishments – his establishments, he has to remember they are his now – are well-stocked with liquor, and naturally he always drinks for free. But he hadn’t gone to his own bars tonight. Instead he’d left the restaurant’s Christmas celebration in the hands of his sisters and taken off on foot, ducking into every pub he came across, drinking his way to Nikolai’s fifth-floor walkup.

            Possibly that explains why he feels so sick. Shitty English bars and their cheap fucking alcohol. His vision blurs, and he clings to the railing, hauling himself up the last flight of stairs, cursing under his breath. Nikolai’s door looms into view. The familiar cowardice roils inside Kirill’s stomach, mingling with and augmenting the nausea, but he pauses on the threshold to fight it all back. There can be no running away from this. He has already put it off for too long, has known for three weeks and done nothing, and that is weakness. He is king now; a king has to be strong to protect his empire.

            The door is ice-cold under his knuckles as he knocks, a rapid and incessant pounding. After a moment he hears heavy footsteps approaching on the other side, and lowers his fist. There is a brief pause (Nikolai looking through the peephole, he knows) and then the lock clicks and the door swings open as a voice still rough with sleep says, “Merry fucking Christmas.”

            “Merry Christmas,” Kirill slurs back automatically.

            Nikolai steps back to let Kirill enter. He is shirtless, his torso a pale expanse above rumpled boxers. Three weeks ago that sight would have made Kirill’s pulse leap. Now the sick feeling in his gut intensifies, and he almost retches. Nikolai’s living room is sparse, with only a small table and one sofa; Kirill collapses onto the latter gratefully. He has slept on this sofa before, on nights when he was drunker than this, but he does not want to sleep now.

            “So.” Nikolai shuts the door softly and leans against the wall, crossing his arms. “How was the party?”

            “I didn’t go,” Kirill mumbles, and then he makes the mistake of glancing up.

            In the half-light Nikolai’s face is still as stone, the usual complacent smile on his lips, but their gazes lock and Kirill feels a fresh wave of nausea at the look in his second’s eyes. Have they always been so calculating, so cold? Until three weeks ago he could have sworn he has seen those eyes warm and laughing, has made them glow with fond amusement at his antics. Was it all just lies, Kolya, like the rest?

            Kirill cannot look away, even as he feels his own eyes begin to mist over with tears. Through the haze he sees Nikolai move towards him, hand outstretched in a gesture of mock concern, and he stands up so abruptly he nearly trips over his own feet.

            “Don’t you fucking touch me,” he hisses, and then he sees Nikolai’s expression of alarm – fake, it’s all fake, he’s only pretending to care – and the tears spill down his cheeks and he is weeping furiously as the words rip out of him in a hoarse shriek.

            “You’re a cop, you motherfucker, you’re politsiya, you’ve been working for them this whole time, you put my papa in jail, you fucker, you fucking cocksucker! You think I’m stupid? I saw you talking to that fucking detective! You think I don’t notice? You’re a fucking cop, man! This whole time I trusted you, Kolya, I trusted you and you lied to me, you fucking, fucking asshole! You were supposed to be my brother, you – fuck you!”

            He bites off the last insult before his rage strangles him to silence. He is panting, breathless, and he forces himself to inhale shakily, the cool air burning his ragged throat. Across from him, Nikolai is a silent statue in the darkness, so still Kirill cannot even see him breathing.



            He knows, is the first thought that passes through Nikolai’s mind once Kirill has stopped speaking. It pierces him to the core, a silver arrow of utter terror that stops him dead in his tracks, leaves him scrambling for a solution.

            The second thought that comes is, He trusted me, and he feels through the numbing dread a twinge of some distant emotion – regret, perhaps, or remorse? But it is gone before he can identify it.

            Then his instincts and his training kick in, a one-two punch of adrenaline, and he recovers his clarity and follows the second thought. He trusted me. He still wants to trust me, even now. What can I do to make him…

            Kirill is staring at him, breathing hard, lips open and trembling with anger, with fear at what he has revealed. Kirill’s eyes are fearful too, but Nikolai can see that the fear in them is different, full of pain and loss. Looking into them he remembers a basement and a bottle, a clammy forehead pressed to his in the dark. And, suddenly, he knows what he must do.

            He steps forward, fast, and grasps Kirill by the neck with one hand, by the shoulder with the other. The younger man flinches violently under his grip, trying to twist away, and another memory flickers to life: one of Kirill cowering on the floor as Semyon reaches for him with savage hands. Again Nikolai feels something that is not quite regret tugging at his heart, but he brushes it away; time is of the essence now.

            Slowly, irresistibly, he pulls Kirill close, so close their foreheads touch. He can feel Kirill’s guard begin to lower as he realizes Nikolai does not mean to snap his neck. Nikolai holds him there for a count of three, then summons every ounce of emotion he can and growls, voice low with false desire, “Kirill.”

            The change in his prince’s demeanor is astonishing. Kirill’s whole body tenses like a rope that’s been snapped taut, and he gasps audibly as though kicked in the stomach. Nikolai can actually feel his confusion, the fresh hurt of betrayal warring with years of repressed longing. With sure fingers, Nikolai gently kneads the shoulder he is gripping, and feels Kirill shudder as longing wins out.


            “Shh,” Nikolai breathes, and then tilts Kirill’s head back and kisses him.

            It is not so different from kissing a woman, he thinks, for Kirill’s mouth is as warm and soft and wet as any woman’s he has ever taken this way. He remembers Anna, blonde and serious-faced, remembers kissing her in the rain, and he slides his tongue past Kirill’s lips and sighs into his mouth.

            Kirill responds with greater fervor than Nikolai can make himself show, for all that he prides himself on being a good actor. He has wrapped his arms around Nikolai’s waist and now clutches at him, short blunt nails scraping across Nikolai’s bare skin. He is silent while the kiss lasts, either too content or too shocked to vocalize his pleasure, but his tongue and lips meet Nikolai’s with equal force and much more eagerness, and when Nikolai finally pulls away he whimpers and looks up at him with an expression of such raw desire that Nikolai feels for a moment as cruel as Semyon.



            Kirill does not remember how they got to the bedroom, only the frantic kisses that led there. He does not remember falling to his tattooed knees, but somehow he finds himself kneeling – a vor never kneels – before Nikolai on the rough carpet, and he thinks he has never been happier in his life. The shame he once felt at wanting this, a shame he has had men killed to keep secret, falls away as Nikolai murmurs his name and lowers one large hand to cup his cheek.

            Kirill mouths at the fabric of Nikolai’s boxers and is surprised to find that Nikolai is barely hard. He pulls back, his mind fuzzy. He is iron-hard himself just from kissing, already palming his crotch through his jeans, and at first he cannot understand how his Kolya, whose mouth had been hard on his only moments before, is limp and unresponsive down below. Then he glances up and sees the look of fixed concentration in Nikolai’s eyes, and in a flash he knows the reason.

            They stare at each other, Kirill’s left hand fisted in the flannel at Nikolai’s hips. He can feel the muscles there, clenching under the skin, can sense beneath his fingers the raw animal power of the man above him, and he realizes then just how easy it would be for Nikolai to kill him. But if he doesn’t want this… if he doesn’t want me, then why choose this move and damn us both?

            “Why?” he begs aloud, hating himself for the way his voice catches in his throat. “Why, Kolya, tell me why. Tell me.”

            Nikolai’s hand still cups his face, and Kirill feels callused fingers twitch against his jaw. Above him the ice-blue gaze burns with cold determination. It is a look he has seen often in his father’s eyes, a look that used to terrify him to his core, but to see it in his friend’s eyes is a thousand time worse. At least, he thinks, at least if he kills me now death will come quickly. Papa would have made it last.

            But when Nikolai finally answers, his voice is soft, though the steel is still in his eyes. “Because it is what you want.”

            And Kirill understands.

            This is the price of his kingdom, his father’s kingdom. This is the sacrifice Nikolai is willing to make in exchange for silence. All in all, it is a small price to pay for so great an empire.

            Nikolai’s eyes soften now too, a familiar fondness creeping in, and his mouth crooks into a grin. “This is what you want, nyet?” he says quietly, and his fingers are in Kirill’s hair, twining, tugging, but always gentle.

            “Da,” Kirill sighs, and lets his eyes close. Perhaps it is the empire that is the lesser price.



            Nikolai is careful to be gentle in everything he does that night. One rough gesture could shatter the unspoken contract between them, and then he would have to take more unpleasant measures.

            He thinks of skin mags, of porn, of women he has fucked, and it helps. He is mildly surprised at how much Kirill arouses him, though. It is not so much the act itself; Nikolai is not queer, though he has experimented out of necessity in the past. But the thrill of Kirill’s obvious lust for him, the fierce joy in his eyes, the eagerness with which he takes Nikolai’s cock in his mouth: all these things combine with the naked girls in Nikolai’s mind and by the time Kirill pulls back, dragging a hand across his reddened lips and grinning like a schoolboy, Nikolai is hard and beginning to enjoy himself.

            Kirill makes a shocked noise of delight when Nikolai breaches him with a spit-slicked finger. The sound tingles pleasantly at the base of Nikolai’s cock, and he smiles as he leans down to kiss Kirill’s gasping mouth. Doesn’t matter who’s fucking who, sex is still sex.

            He works Kirill open slowly, taking his time, laying kisses on fevered skin and listening to his prince beg him for more in English and Russian alike. By the time he concedes, Kirill’s pupils are blown wide and his entire body shakes beneath Nikolai’s like a leaf in a gale. When Nikolai finally enters him, he moans wordlessly and throws his head back, and Nikolai’s chest expands with pride at the knowledge that he can make this man fall apart so easily.

            Kirill shudders to release with a silent shout, lips framing the word Kolya, and moments later is mumbling the name brokenly over and over as Nikolai comes inside of him. When Nikolai has rolled off of him and they lie side by side in the dark, Kirill rests his head on Nikolai’s chest and sighs with contentment, and Nikolai knows he has won. He closes his eyes and begins, softly, to snore.



            Lying in the narrow bed, Kirill listens to Nikolai’s snoring and knows that Nikolai is still awake. He will not truly sleep until Kirill has fallen asleep first, just in case. In the morning Nikolai will be the first to wake, and once they are both awake there will be no talk of police or betrayal ever again. When they are awake, Nikolai will continue speaking to his detective, and he will also continue fucking Kirill, and Kirill will never speak of either subject to anyone.

            Kirill knows all this and it troubles him, so he pushes the knowledge away. He focuses instead on Kolya’s arm behind his neck, Kolya’s heartbeat beneath his cheek, the warmth of Kolya’s breathing on his hair and the answering warmth inside him.

            This is enough, he tells himself, just this; and he knows he is lying to himself, and he knows he does not care.