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Trouble in the Balkans

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Vladimir follows the grain of the tabletop with a finger, tracing the routes of his grapevine. He claims to be above rumour and speculation, and also gossips like a grandmother.

“So I heard it, through Sofia, this way, and she heard it through the man who works in -.”

“I don’t care how you heard it,” Petar snaps. He’s on edge and letting it show. Vladimir doesn’t look too offended. The meditation is doing wonders for his temper - that and an ongoing feud, which gives him a steady stream of captives to mutilate in new and interesting ways.

“But you will tell me the truth now?”

“Yes.” He gets up for more tea, first, and to listen for movement from next door. Everything is silent for now. Mischa paces, sniffing at the floor, knowing that something is wrong. Petar pushes a cup over to Vladimir and sighs. “The business in Florida was raided. They were after small fry, they didn’t know who was there. Everybody got away without being identified - but some junior cops opened fire.”

“Fucking rookies,” Vladimir says, obviously testing out the expression. He likes to expand his vocabulary as well as his mind.

“A few of ours were hit in the confusion.” He nods towards the door. “And then he fell down the stairs. Getting away.”

“He is not well?” Vladimir lowers his voice, as if uttering the words is heresy in itself.

“He was shot,” Petar admits. “Not serious, but - you will see. Soon.”

“He is walking?”

“He refuses to stay in bed.” And, as if on cue, the door opens. Mischa gives a friendly huff and goes back to pacing, tail wagging. “I told you. Go and rest.”

Milan looks pale and bruised, limping heavily. He seems to be staying upright through sheer indignation. “No.”

“You’re hurt.”

“I’m fine. They almost missed me.”

“Except for the part where they didn’t.”

“I’ll survive.” He sits on the edge of the table and stretches out his leg, his face taut with pain. Nothing short of a bullet-wound will get a reaction out of him; Petar knows this much. It’s true, more or less, for all of them. “Anyway, I have to go out. The meeting I told you about.”

“Your R-” Petar starts, before considering that this isn’t the time to tease him about his Russian ‘boyfriend’. Certainly not with an oblivious Vladimir in the room. “The new one. Call him, rearrange it. You can’t go out, not like that.”

You are not my mother ,” Milan says flatly.

“I’m telling you not to go.”

“And I’m telling you that I’m going. Try and stop me.”

“I won’t. But the way you are now, I could knock you over with a toothpick.”

“Then it’s good that you don’t have any.”