2292: Diamonds aren’t forever + These things you can’t unlearn

Posted: August 27, 2012 by Kelly in stories, the world

So don’t close your eyes, not just yet
Sleep is just a cousin of death
So throw your diamonds in the sky
We’ll stay gold forever

~ Bring Me The Horizon, “Diamonds Aren’t Forever”

I am so in the middle of my post-game management that I thoughtlessly pick up my call before I realize what I am doing. /Shit/.

Looking up, I see the familiar face of Pjotr Gershan watching me. He looks exhausted as he rakes a hand through his blond hair. There are dark circles under his hazel eyes and he looks like he’s been in a fight. There’s a cut on his cheekbone, joined by the beginnings of a bruise. It looks like it’s low enough not to create a black eye later down the line. His nose is somewhat swollen as well; there’s crusted blood around his nostrils. “I got your business with Midov sorted for you; the money should be coming over the wire as we speak,” he tells me from my screen. He even sounds tired.

I frown back at him, while making sure our channel is duly encrypted. “Ugh, couldn’t you have sent me a text? I’m in the middle of something right now. You know better than to call me right after a game.”

He shrugs. “Thought you’d like to know I got Midov in line for you, like you asked. He’ll make sure everyone gets paid. He might be trouble later down the line, though…”

I sigh as I interrupt him.. “Give me the extended recount later; I’m busy. What do you want, a kiss? Now get off the line. I’ll be in touch.” Of course he completed the task. Easily, probably, too. That’s just how good he is. Is he really fishing for compliments? /Now?/

His handsome face darkens. “Irina, the fucker had hired extra security. We might have a leak somewhere. I nearly lost Yevgeny during the scuffle tonight. Some gratitude would be nice. ”

I sigh at him and wipe my hair out of my face. It feels greasy and tangled, as if I haven’t showered in days. Which I kind of haven’t. I’ve been stuck behind my screens the past 52 hours or so. I’m twitchy from all the stimms I took. I have a couple more hours left and then I’m going to crash. Hard. I need to set my priorities straight. “Look babe, you’re catching me at a bad time. I have about a gazillion calls to make in the next hour or so and /yes/ we’ll look into the Midov stuff afterwards. You got this, as you always do. I knew I could count on you again, etcetera. We’ll talk later. I’ll take you to fucking dinner or something.”

“I’ll hold you to that.” He smiles a charming smile at me and I know it is all right between us again. He knows my moods and vices as I am familiar with his; over the years we’ve had a lot of time to get used to one another. First as bodyguard and guardee, then as colleagues in Solchov’s corporation, and in the past two years secretly as lovers, too. I’ve involved him in my embezzling; he deserves this money I’m stealing as much as I do. When I told him about it, he immediately jumped on it. He wants this ticket out of here as much as I do – he wants to tell his boss ‘fuck you’. My rebellion, his taste for danger. What a lovely couple we make.

The connection dissolves before my eyes and my call screen goes empty for a second. I stare at my own faint reflection in the plasma screen. A dark haired young woman looks back. She looks just as exhausted as Gershan did. I blink at myself. A few seconds of nothing – that’s all I need before I go back to work. Solchov will have my hide if I don’t finish this well.

Not only that, if I mess this up, it will be a tell. I /never/ mess up. It’s why I’m so fucking good at what I do. Controlling flows of information and money takes a certain kind of clear-headedness, especially during big matches like one we had tonight.

If I mess up, Solchov will know what we’ve done, Gershan and I. Gershan is the one that covers my ass while I manipulate flows of money into accounts they shouldn’t go. My accounts. It’s just percentages of margins, the tiniest bits here and there. But all of it together… all of it together it’s accumulating into substantial amounts. We’ve been doing it for years. Gershan is keeping up the appearances, taking over some of my work, while I have a double job with clearing my tracks in the system, talking to people, threatening others. Permanently silencing some of them.

So far Solchov hasn’t noticed. He’s been busy with his businesses in Shanghai and leaves the betting stations to me. I glance at my acocunts. It depends a little bit what I can arrange today, but at this rate it won’t be too long until I can wrestle this company away from Solchov. This company, and myself. I’m so fucking sick of his fucking face and everything he’s done for and to me in the past six years.

/Niki died six years ago. Why the hell should I still be bound to you, Alek Solchov? I’ve paid my fucking dues ten times over by now./

Maybe I’m sentimental. I could just kill him and get it over with. Gershan has offered it often enough. /Let me kill him, I could do it. We could disappear together,/ he whispered in my ear during the dead of night, while I was lying in his arms. /You’d never have to be here again./

He doesn’t see the full picture, though. Solchov and I have an arrangement. If I were to leave, he would hunt me down. He wouldn’t stop at anything to find me. I know he would. And if Gershan would kill Solchov first, then all that I’ve built over the past six years would collapse. I want this empire. It is mine. I bled for this; I built this with my two hands. This is the only good thing that’s come out of the past six years of hell. This is the only good thing that’s come out of /me/.

So I want to take over. I have enough money to buy the place and the rest of management respects me well enough for my skills. It’s not the time yet.

Three weeks ago Solchov gave me a diamond bracelet and asked me if I would stay with him forever. He was almost vulnerable as he told me he loved me and that he would never let me go. It’s all just headgames, I /know/ that. I should know that. And yet I hesitate. /Call it Stockholm Syndrome, pride, or just being that fucked up./ I thoughtlessly toy with the bracelet. The elegantly cut stones shimmer in the light from my screens. He never forgets my birthday. He always gives me diamonds. /Fucking idiotl,/ I tell myself. /He doesn’t give a shit, never did. He just likes to play headgames with you, fucks you around while he fucks you. And once he finds out what you’ve done…/

He won’t, though. He never did, so why would he find out now? I need maybe two or three more matches before I can make my move. I won’t kill him – apparently I’m too weak, broken and fucked up to give Gershan the order – but I will break free. It is about fucking time. And in the meantime, the truce holds and I’ll hold out.

I turn back to my screens and my administration. The money is pouring in, it’s lovely to see. All I need to do is make sure it goes to the right places. People to pay, people to buy. It’s what I do.

Time passes. I’m not sure how much – enough for my last stim to wear off. For a moment I debate taking another and to hell with the consequences – but I have only an hour more to go. I weather through the sudden headaches, twitchiness and exhaustion and finish up my work.

Eventually it all looks good enough, finished enough to take a nap. And a bath. I’m not sure in which order. Maybe both at the same time. I shoot off a quick message to Solchov that the money is in the right places and I’m signing off to bed, but he doesn’t respond. I shrug at my screens and I’m grateful he doesn’t give me the third degree about it. He has very definite micromanagement tendencies and he can drone on about details for hours. And I /really/ want to go to bed.

I click my comms around my ear and turn off the lights. Grab my bag and close the office. I’m the last one left, as usual. Yawning and rubbing my eyes I exit the building, slotting my keycard through the computer. To my surprise it’s morning. I blink bleary-eyed against the grey light of dawn. /Oh wow, that makes for nearly sixty hours without sleep, then. Must be a new record./

I look up at the office building in the morning light. The building is a marvel of post-war architecture. The glass windows reflects the gray sky perfectly, almost as if it isn’t there anymore. The first employees of the new day will probably come in soon. I yawn again.

Pleased with myself I cross the road to the docking station for the pods. I’ve got my own pod assigned to me. Usually I work from the office at home, but post-game management is best done at the office. I hit the start sequence and tap the button for ‘last used location’. Home. Solchov’s house. The pod computer acknowledges my query and begins its work.

And that’s when several things happen at once. I smell something. Something… off. Like electricity, or chemicals. Burning wires. /…What?/

My comm rings and I automatically pick up. “Irina watch out, he knows!” Gershan. He’s screaming like a girl, and then the connection gets cut off.

/Shit./

My body knows what to do before my mind registers exactly what is happening.

Before I know it, I kick the door open and throw myself out of the pod, which was just starting its ascend. And even quicker, I find myself colliding with the concrete.

There is no time to brace myself. No time to even remotely consider what the hell is going on.

And then my pod explodes above me, shrapnel is hurtling towards me, and for a while there’s nothing.

***

The light is bright in my eyes. Pain and blood everywhere. The taste of blood in my mouth. The wailing sound of an ambulance.

“Don’t worry miss, we’re going to take care of you,” someone says. A medic? “You’ll be in the med center before you know it.”

“No,” I groan. My words are slurred. My face isn’t working along. Everything is swollen and torn. Talking is agony. “Not the med center.” The med center is Solchov’s place. I don’t want to go there. “Please.”

Someone is hanging above me. I can’t see his face, outlined against the bright sky. He’s a shadow. “I’m sorry miss, but…” he starts, but somehow I find the strength to transmit my ‘in case of emergency’ instructions to his comm. It’s only one button. It feels like hell. I hold my hand up before my face while the data uploads. The blood on my hand looks nearly black in the sunlight. The blood on the diamond bracelet, however, is the brightest red I’ve ever seen.

“Ah, right. Miss Weisz? We’ll follow your instructions. Please relax. We’ll give you something for the pain as soon as we know it’s safe.”

“Am I dying?” I ask over swollen lips. It sounds like I’m drunk. I /feel/ like I’m dying.

“No,” the medic says gently. “You’ll make it.”

I close my eyes and I try to believe.

***

“Oh God, Irina.” Gershan is standing in the doorway, flowers in his arm. His face is as ashen grey as the walls of my sick room. “Your pretty face,” he gasps.

“Shut up about my face,” I growl. The muscles in my jaw throb dully with the exertion.

He sits down on the chair next to my bed and rakes a hand through disheveled ash blond hair. “I am so sorry, sweetheart. I wish I knew sooner. As it was, I barely escaped with my own life.”

“Your warning saved mine.” I close my eyes for a moment, shutting out the sympathetic look in his hazel eyes. “Now, are you sure you weren’t followed?”

He toys with thoughtlessly the blankets. “Don’t worry. I’ve been off the grid since I called you. I destroyed whatever evidence I could. Thank God for your contingency plans.”

“Yes; at least we made it out.” I would nod, but moving my head hurts. They’ve got me in braces until my face and my shoulders heal. “I know.” The doctors that I privately hired for my well-being said something about reconstructive surgery and skin grafts; maybe even a regen treatment, if we could get ourselves out of hiding. They said they could try to fix me, if we could go aboveground. I said that they could go piss themselves; I’m not taking the risk. I will heal the old-fashioned way, I will get out of this. What’s a few more scars? Proof I survived this, that’s what.

“His discovery completely blindsided me, there were no indications prior. I just saw the red flags go off in the system, the orders that he issued… His team responded so fucking fast, as if he’s been planning this, too. I still can’t believe we got away with our lives. Will he be able to find you here?” he rattles. Gershan’s distraught, he’s out of his element. I know him with an easy smile, confident and nearly lazy in the face of danger. This is completely different. When he looks at me, there’s a spark in his eyes; one that that goes deeper than what I’ve ever seen of him. It reminds me somewhat of how Niki used to look at me when he was high as a kite and telling me he loved me.

“No. I am pretty good at covering my tracks as well. There was no time to put a body in my exploded pod, obviously. But all Solchov knows is that the pod exploded and that I vanished.”

He sighs. “You know he will never stop hunting for you, right?”

“Yeah, I know. I don’t think he ever planned to let me go. Work for him or die.” The illusion of being able to buy my freedom had just been one of his many lies. He owned me. He used me. He used my mind and my body a million times, and it still wasn’t enough. Even without taking this betrayal in account, this must have been a sealed deal since the beginning – if I wasn’t working for him, I would be dead. I could still hear him say it, that night on my birthday, just weeks ago. /I don’t think I could stand the thought of you not here with me,/ he had murmured in my ear.

I had underestimated just how serious he’d been. He had really meant death, when he told me that I should never dream of betraying him. Had he known, back then, three weeks ago? Had he just been planning to take me out, before my betrayal became serious and I would break free? /I should have known. I could have killed him in his sleep a million times already. I could have let Gershan do it. I was so fucking naive./ “Which is why I called you.”

He looks up. “Hmmm?”

No more time for sentimentalities. Solchov isn’t extending me any, and I’ve learned my lesson. “I want him dead. Can you arrange it?”

Most of the time, Pjotr Gershan looks like a little boy. It’s his baby face. I don’t think he even has a full beard yet. Yet when he narrows his eyes, there is a dangerous ‘don’t-fuck-with-me’ gleam there and his killer persona surfaces. “Yes, I can. It might take a while, but I will take him down for you, Irina. It’s about fucking time.” He’s a professional. He has connections. And when he drops his charming boy persona, he’s as dangerous as Solchov is; just in completely different ways. That’s why Solchov initially hired him when Gershan was still a teenager. It’s why I asked him to be my partner in this whole heist thing, to start with. He’ll take care of it. I have no doubts.

After he’s gone, I stare at the blood-crusted diamond bracelet on my night stand for a long time. Once or twice, my eyes even mist over. But then I touch the ravage that is my face and the angry red scar that runs from my jaw to my hairline and the tears evaporate before they can roll.

/You will never give me diamonds again, asshole. Never./

***

The medical staff worries about my heartrate and my nausea today. I keep telling them I’m fine, apart from the discomfort that is to be expected. They want to give me painkillers and they chide me when I ask them for stimms instead. They stay polite enough, though. The money I give them for their care and their silence will make sure they’ll never want for anything in this life. When I ask them to leave me the hell alone, they do.

I sit up in bed, all braced up and nowhere to go. I need to sit awkwardly to be able to look at my tablet while I nuke all the attacks that Solchov has been doing on my financial identity. Bit by bit, I am able to cut off all of my financial ties to his organisation. I don’t want to remind him too much that I am still alive and out there, so I keep a wide berth of everything related to him. I keep consolidating on my own existing private accounts, my own financial setup. I’ve been able to shield him from 90% of my embezzled profits; he probably didn’t even know the money had been earned to begin with. Following the pod explosion he’s been checking though. He has been able to track some of it down, to yank some of it back to him – but if it’s not more than 10%. Most of it is hidden en completely mine, as it should be. He never paid me anything for all the money I earned for him. The medical bills – the ones he used to cement my position with him – have been paid off years ago.

That’s how the whole heist started. I created these accounts because I wanted to make sure that I could pay my financial dependence off. And when I’d reached that point, I wanted to pay off my freedom and I went on, siphoning money away, setting up my own position. Creating a doorway to my independence. Some place where he’d never have a hold on me anymore.

Little did I realise that he would never let me go. He even said as much with his “I’ll make this last forever”. I was so naive.

I have to work harder than I ever did to make sure I can take that last leap to freedom; despite my sickbed and the ghastly gashes in my face and shoulder. Despite the knowledge that he would have /killed/ me if he could have. I resolved to wear the scars as a reminder of my foolishness and my trust that it couldn’t get any worse. The scars could have been healed or lessened. The medical staff keeps trying to sell me these skin grafts and regen treatments. They don’t understand. Nobody does, not even Gershan.

Gershan.

He’s out there right now. It’s been nearly a week since he told me he would take care of Solchov and that it was about fucking time. Nearly a damn week since he went off the grid and I’m starting to realise that he could be dead by now and I wouldn’t know.

Gershan is /good/ at what he does. He has been Solchov’s own pet assassin longer than he’s been my bodyguard by now – he’s a killer. It’s who he is. I’ve seen him wash the blood off his hands. I’ve washed the crusted blood out of his hair once. I’ve watched how he moved, how he fought. I’ve ordered him to take care of business and I heard the reports of the things he’d done. He doesn’t give a shit. Yet I’ve also watched him laugh in unguarded moments and I’ve felt his kisses and I’ve heard his voice telling me to let it go, that it would be alright, that it was just another fucking headgame.

Now that he’s gone to do my bidding it is suddenly dawning on me that I sent out my only true ally into the den of the beast. Physically speaking, If it would come down to a one-on-one between Pjotr Gershan and Alek Solchov, then it would be easy. Solchov would go down before he knew what hit him. But all that I’ve learned about security, distrust and contingency plans, I learned from Solchov himself. It all depends whether Gershan can even get close.

And it’s been a week since he went off the grid. It figures that he probably won’t be in touch until Solchov’s blood is congealing on the ground, but I had not expected it would be this bloody hard to wait. Despite all of the work that Solchov’s retaliation brought with it, despite all of the physical pain and discomfort. I’m going nuts here. Time has little meaning in a bunker like this one. There are no windows. The only indication of time passing at all is when the medics bring me food and water and the clock in my tablet.

I am setting up e-mails and messages with a list of favours to call in the moment Solchov is dead when the door opens for what seems like the gazillionth time that day. My food and water from the last staff visit is still on the nightstand, untouched.

I want to tell them to piss off, leave me be. I am tired and I want nothing more than have a quick snooze. Losing consciousness seems like a great idea; my head is pounding, my eyes are sandy and I am so antsy that I am nauseated and I promised myself I wouldn’t be afraid anymore, but /fuck/…

But I look up and it’s not a medic. It’s Gershan and he has blood in his hair and he seems to be limping and he looks tired, so tired… but he is /here/.

“Pjotr,” I breathe. “Thank God.”

He cracks a smile. A slow smile, the lazy smile I know so well. “God had nothing to do with it,” he retorts as he walks over to my bed.

I want to hug him, I want to kiss him, but these braces around me keep me pretty much immobile. “I’m so glad you made it.” For a split second I don’t even think about Solchov, I don’t even care if he lives or dies. Then my ratio kicks back in and I ask: “is it done?”

He takes my hand in his and nods. “It is done.”

I don’t even have to look at my tablet. I hit the execute command on my financial files and all of my prep work takes flight, starts buying stock, calling in favours, sending out messages. Everything that was prepared is taking action now. That one button; it buys my freedom. Gershan started it, the money should finish it.

I look up at Pjotr Gershan. “Did he suffer?”

And now he smiles that brilliant smile he only reserves for me. It looks glorious, despite his exhaustion and the blood in his hair. “I had only seconds, so I couldn’t make it last. But I sent him your regards. The look on his face was priceless.”

The world swims for a moment as reality seems to adjust around me. I gasp for breath like a fish out of the water. “I’m free.” The oxygen burns in my lungs and I’m not sure whether I want to laugh or cry or scream. I shudder and shake, as if I need to sob, but it can’t tear itself loose from the bottom of my stomach. “Oh God.”

“You’re free,” Gershan says. The look on his face is oddly tender.

My fingers clench painfully around his hands. Like he’s driftwood in a stormy ocean. Like he’s always been in the past five years or so, ever since Solchov introduced him to me. Ever since he held me tightly, in the dark and whispered /It’s only fucking headgames, let it go…/. Ever since he fell asleep next to me and I woke in the early morning, gasping that if Solchov found us together like this, we’d both be dead – before I realised that he’d /fallen asleep/ next to me as if he trusted me. And now there is never that worry anymore. That shadow that has been hanging over my life for nearly seven years; it is gone. The man is dead. His blood /is/ congealing on the ground and I will never, /never/ smell oranges on his breath again, never have to stand his touch, bear his pain, never have to play his games anymore. And Gershan did that for me.

“This is the most…. precious thing…. you…” I wrench out of my throat, and now I’m crying for the first time in years. He wraps his arms around me, as much as he can around the braces, and he holds me silently, rocking me slowly.

And I love him. I love him for his gift of death and freedom, I love him for his quiet understanding.

In the back of my head a voice screams at me that love /is/ death, that it is betrayal and pain that I should remember what I have learned from Niki and Solchov. Niki’s betrayal and Solchov’s headgames. Emotions make me a punching bag for others and I should stomp on them, I should have learned by now but I can’t stop crying, and I can’t stop loving this one instant.

I cling to Gershan and I whisper my thanks through my tears.

He smiles that lovely boy smile of his and kisses me softly on my lips. Despite the ugly cuts and scars on my face, despite my fucked up everything. It is so very, very sweet.

Tomorrow I’ll go back to these things I’ve learned but right now, I allow myself the moment.

I close my eyes and do not think of the blood-crusted diamonds on my nightstand and what I’ve learned from them.

This one moment, I am free.

~~

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