2287: Blank and pitiless

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

Last night heralded the first night in forever that I actually slept reasonably well. It’s only four hours- five, maybe – but there were no nightmares. I don’t know whether it’s the prospect of seeing Niki or the oddly gentle mood that Solchov was in last night, but the effect is astounding.

The day seems brighter for it. I dress warmly; it’s been snowing all night and the Black City is covered under a thick layer of fresh snow. Everything looks sharp and white underneath a bright blue sky. When I leave the building (enforcer in tow), there are people shovelling snow all over the pod platform.

The enforcer is a tall Mongolian man who doesn’t say much, but doesn’t seem overly malicious, either. His name is Ming, that’s all I’ve gotten out of him. We ride Solchov’s pod in silence. I think about Niki and where I can probably find him. It’s the dead of winter, so with the alleys completely uninhabitable, if he’s not crashing with anyone, he’s probably in the warehouse.

He’s not. It takes a while to find him. It turns out that the warehouse where I spent so much time in the past two winters has burnt down. One of my old acquaintances tells me some idiot was high and fell asleep with his lit cigarette still in his hand. It wasn’t Niki, though. Nobody got hurt in the fire, either, so that’s a relief. I get referred to someone’s run down apartment over a seedy shop that’s supposed to sell food stuffs but has all the signs of a drug dealer. Telling the guy downstairs that I’m Irina and that I’m looking for Nikolay is enough.

“Are you Irina? He talks a lot about you,” the guy says, leaning back with his feet on the counter. He has a half-empty bottle of vodka in his hands.

The girl smoking pot in the corner laughs at that. “If by talking you mean crying.”

The guy shrugs. “Tell the tall Asian with you to stay outside. He looks like an enforcer. I don’t want him in here.”

I look at Ming, who shrugs and walks outside. “Don’t worry, he’s private,” I tell the vodka-drinking guy. “Can I go up and see Niki?”

He shrugs again and takes a swig from his bottle. “Knock yourself out. Can’t promise you he’s lucid, though. He scored quite the hit last night.”

“Asshole didn’t want to share, either. He just gave us a tiny bit and then locked the door,” the girl chimes in, but I hardly hear her. I’m already up the stairs and somehow… somehow the brightness of the day seems dimmed. Somehow it seems like something is wrong with the world, beyond the usual. The depression seems to have lifted from my eyes like a veil.

Suddenly I can feel again, and I feel despair. It courses through my veins like adrenaline. /He scored a hit, he wouldn’t share, he’s crying about you. Oh shit, please God no…/

The door is locked, like the girl indicated. There’s a glass window next to it, though. I don’t waste a second, I elbow the window. It shatters upon impact, tinkling over my boots. The first thing I do is trying to see through, but there’s nothing except a view on the curtained window. It’s the easiest thing in the world to reach through the broken window and open the door from the inside. Niki’s mates must not have been very interested in his smack, because it’s ridiculously easy to get to. They…

/Oh./

I drop dead in my tracks as I stare at Niki’s body lying on the floor. It’s immediately obvious.

/Oh…./

There is no smell yet apart from the moldiness of the room, but there is no way he can be still alive. Not with his body in that position. Not on the cold floor like that. Not with /so much fucking smack/ in the room.

There are words written on the floor next to him. /I’m sorry,/ is all it says.

He… he overdosed. He’s gone.

“Niki!” Maybe I’m whispering. I must be screaming.

I fall on my knees next to him, crying for the first time in months. Sobbing like my heart is breaking, which it might very well be. He’s gone, he’s fucking gone. He left me. /He is betraying you with every breath he takes,/ Solchov had told me. He’s wrong now. Niki is now betraying me without even breathing.

I gave everything for him and now he’s gone.

He’s gone and I’m still here. Oh fuck, I’m still here, this is going to be my life from now on. Night after night of Solchov, of revulsion and hatred directed at myself, the smell of oranges and the fear of my blood on Marat’s hands. It was doable as long as I knew that Niki was still alive. That made it worth something. Now that’s all gone, and all that is left is the rest of my fucking life in this waking nightmare. /No. Not this. Not alone. Not Solchov and no way out./

I reach out to the bag and the needles on the night stand. Grab them. Stare at them through a blurry haze of tears and only one thought rattles through my brain, like marbles. Like insanity and heartbreak and despair. So much fucking despair. /I want out. I want out./

Ming is waiting outside. Solchov is sitting in his office, waiting for me to return. I won’t. I won’t ever return to that; I’m going to follow Niki. Fuck this shit, I’m done. I’ve done what I could. I’ll probably burn in hell for the things I’ve done, but I don’t care. An eternity in hell might be even better than one more day on this world. I just… can’t do this anymore.

When it comes, the rush is like a tidal wave. It sweeps me away.

***

I open my eyes and blink against the bright sunlight that is attempting to stab me in the brain. My body feels like it has been mauled. It feels bruised and aches everywhere. Even the white sheets from the hospital bed chafe against my oversensitive skin.

/Shit. I made it./

That was not supposed to happen. Looking around I recognise my surroundings. I’m in a private room in the med center; one very similar to the one where I brought Niki, all those months ago. The place that saved his life. The place I have sold my soul for. There is an IV hooked up to my left hand and a oxygen mask on my face, but there are no life support computers hooked up to me. Crap. That probably means ean that they used regen treatment on me.

I sit up in bed in alarm and yank the oxygen mask off my face, gasping for breath and trying to get my panic reaction under control. At that moment the door slides open and reveals the last person I want to see right now.

“Good morning, sunshine,” Alek Solchov says around the straw in his mouth. He’s drinking one of his eternal fruit juices.

I cast my eyes down and try to stop my cheeks from turning a mortifying red. I don’t say anything.

“I bet you feel like arse. They had to work really hard to keep you from dying.”

“I’m sorry,” I whisper in an echo of Niki’s scrawl on the floor. I still can’t believe I’m not with him. Why couldn’t I go after him?

He sits down on the edge of the bed and lays his hand on my IV’ed hand. It aches. “I had to pay a lot of money to keep you alive, Irina. Were you that desperate?”

I want to cry, but I’m back in that state of numbness again, where the world becomes crystal clear and drowns out everything I might be feeling. My brain keeps flashing back to Niki’s lifeless body on the cold floor. “I guess I was weak, like he was. And now my debt with you is even higher, isn’t it?”

His hand squeezes mine, close enough to the IV needle to hurt like a motherfucker. The expression on his face is deceptively gentle, though. “I can tell you’re sorry this time, so I’m going to give you a pass on this one. You were weak, not willful. And I can imagine, you just had a shock. Grief can do things to you.”

All I can do is nod dumbly as he reaches out and wipes my hair out of my face. Why the sudden understanding? Was I that close to death? Is he honestly afraid of losing me? Is he playing mind games again? I have the feeling that he’s yanking on my chain again, but I can’t think anymore. I just close my eyes and lean into his touch. His hand is warm against my clammy skin.

“You still have a debt to pay. A bigger one now.”

“I know,” I murmur.

“Can I trust you to do so?”

Again with the flashback to Niki’s body on that floor. /I’m sorry./ Maybe he was weak, but I am the one who should be sorry. I was supposed to save him, after I was the one who gave him his first needle. I was the one who caused his overdose those months ago. I was the one who caused him to feel guilty over what I did – do – to pay for his survival. I was the one he cried over every night.

And I nearly followed him into death. I probably don’t deserve death. I was the one who caused Niki’s death. I was the one who caused Nakomi- no, no, I’m not touching that one. I messed up, and I still have a debt to pay.

I raise my eyes up at Solchov and look at him as if he’s a stranger. Dark brown hair, combed back. Green eyes that are so much like mine. Laughterlines around his eyes that look completely out of place if you know who he is. Slightly greasy, only slightly overweight. Warm hands. He is just a man, not a demon. In the past few weeks he has kept Marat away from me. Sometimes he’s gentle with me. The way he held me in the bath tub – it isn’t /that/ revulsing anymore. The smell of oranges still makes me gag, but maybe it’s just not that bad. Maybe I can be strong.
At that moment the door opens again and shows a dark-haired nurse that smiles at us both. ”Ah, young lady, you’re awake,” she says with artificial cheer. “We were wondering when you would wake up. How are you feeling?”

“Like arse,” I rasp, echoing Solchov’s words.

“You will need to take it easy for the next few days, but you’re going be just fine,” she says with that same plastic smile on her face. I can see her looking at the needle tracks on my arms and I could almost hear what she thinks, the same things people on the streets thought when they looked at Niki and myself. /Fucking junkies, throwing their lives away./ She is thinking it, and basic politeness and communication training barely cover it up. “You’re really lucky that you have such a great uncle,” she continues. “He’s been with you, waking at your side, ever since you were brought in two days ago.”

“Yeah,” I murmur. /You’re so lucky to have him. He’s all I have, now. It’s either him, or death – either drug-induced, or by Marat’s hands, I suppose. But what do you know of such things, lady?/

Solchov smiles a broad, winning smile. “I’m just happy that she’s awake and back with me,” he says, completely owning the role of loving uncle. I guess he could be; he’s dark-haired and green-eyed like I am and the age gap makes it believable.

“Well, I’ll leave you two alone for a moment. I’m sure you have lots to say to each other. I’ll be right back,” the nurse says. I absently fantasise about punching that demeaning fake smile off her face, but I don’t have the energy to be angry at her opinions and lack of understanding. I don’t have energy for anything anymore.

“Thank you,” Solchov says, still with that charming smile. He turns to me. “Well then, do you have an answer already, my girl? Will you honour your agreement from now on?”

I look up in Alek Solchov’s eyes and stare at the rest of my life. The sight of it is like staring into the sun, but I stare it right in the face. This is it. This is going to be my goddamn life. I deserve it, and I will overcome it. “Yes, I will,” I tell him with a steady voice.

He smiles – a real smile, the most genuine I’ve seen from him yet – and he kisses me softly on the mouth. His lips are warm, too. The smell of oranges surrounds me.

I can do this.

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