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Sergei liked routine. Knowing what to expect and when to expect it made it a lot easier to know how to react. Knowing the routine was what had kept him alive when he was younger, it meant he’d been able to adapt to situations before they’d even occurred, kept him one step ahead of the chaos erupting around him. For nearly a decade now, he’d been living in the same house with the same people, following the same routine, day in, day out, and had always been ready and able to jump in as soon as things turned sour to stop whatever disaster was about to strike.

Which was why, after a day of things not following the routine, Sergei was starting to feel… unsettled. As if something was about to happen that he was utterly unprepared for.

Standing in the kitchen, staring down at the gurgling coffee maker, Sergei rewound the past twelve hours in his mind and came to the worrying realisation that nothing worth noting had occurred during the day. And that, in itself, was wrong.

The antique grandfather clock in the hall—ugly thing, in his opinion, a remnant of Yuri’s short-lived interior design obsession—chimed half-nine. Sergei hadn’t had to deal with a single thing for the entire day; no arguments waged over nothing, nobody returning home covered in bruises, no calls from the local station asking him to go and pick someone up after they’d got into yet another fight that was nothing to do with them.

Just a long, quiet, boring Saturday.

The machine on the counter spluttered, beeping that it had finished spitting out its tasteless murky water, and Sergei absently wondered if he’d missed something. Had everyone else gone away for the weekend and he’d completely forgotten?

An irritated grunt from the next room reminded him that Ivan was still home at least. Both Yuri and Boris had been out for most of the day, which perhaps almost explained the relaxing atmosphere Sergei had enjoyed, even if it did send jittery, anxious signals pinging around his brain.

He eyed Ivan thoughtfully as he returned to his chair, watching him steadily slide to the very edge of the sofa, clutching the console controller so tightly in sweaty palms that his knuckles were bleached white. The console he’d managed to wrangle off one of his dirty-dealing college friends whirred noisily on the coffee table. The longer Sergei watched, the tenser Ivan became, shoulders locking up and eyes so focused on the TV they were starting to water.

The screen flashed, a cheap budget voice-over screeching from even cheaper speakers, and Ivan made the motion to stand, eager and desperate. Sergei couldn’t help but smirk at the bold ‘game over’ that bled onto the screen as Ivan threw himself back against the sofa in absolute despair.

A game restart was initiated before the options had even fully materialised, Ivan having gone through the motions so many times before that he knew exactly where to click without even looking. Sergei flipped open the tattered book he’d left on the armrest and sighed inwardly, the same tinny soundtrack he’d heard for the past hour grating on his nerves. Ivan sat back with grim determination on his face. Begin lap one of five.

Again.

Ivan was doing nothing out of the ordinary, which lead Sergei to believe that his youngest housemate wasn’t the one causing suspicion to curl unpleasantly in his gut. Unfortunately, that left both Yuri and Boris as the only other possible culprits and Sergei wasn’t sure who was worse. Yuri, who in the years since they’d left the Abbey had turned into a cold, patronising, arrogant ass, and Boris; volatile, short-tempered, as emotionally unstable as he’d been ten years ago.

To Boris’ credit, he had actually put the effort into going to anger management classes. Until he’d been kicked out, anyway.

“I’m betting on Yura,” Ivan muttered under his breath, hands jerking to the side as he scraped through a tight corner, as if moving the controller would make a damned bit of difference. He noticed that he’d caught Sergei off-guard. “Betting on Yura, it’s been a while.”

Sergei scoffed, not sure whether to laugh or cry at the fact that twelve hours in their house was actually considered a ‘while’.

Ivan was drawn back into the game a second later, so Sergei merely settled deeper into the room’s only armchair, the one he had somehow managed to claim for himself, and more importantly keep since they’d moved in, and attempted to throw himself back into his book. His traitorous mind instead decided that it wanted to imagine all the possible scenarios Yuri was likely to flip over, and it was both amazing and unsurprising just how many of them featured Boris.

They’d managed another half hour before the atmosphere of the room shifted an inch closer to hostile. Sergei watched Yuri glide in as if he were gracing the room with his presence, and a tiny, rarely seen side of him wanted to leap up and punch the smugness off the man’s pale, pointed face. He quashed it easily, he’d left that part of himself at the Abbey and wanted it to stay there, and instead focused back on the sentence he’d been reading over and over.

Yuri casually laid on the sofa, kicking Ivan away despite his half-distracted protests, and flicked his hair from his face. Sergei vaguely recalled the redhead explaining once in the past, in a rare moment of reflection, that he’d hated his hair; the way it stuck up and refused to be tamed that had led to his infamous ‘devil horns’. Sergei would never suggest it, but he was sure Yuri’s hatred had more to do with what his appearance was associated with, not the fact that he struggled to brush it. Either way, with Yuri still treading the edge of kick-starting his modelling career, he couldn’t afford to look anything less than perfect.

Instead of politely informing Yuri that straighting it would probably be just as bad, if not worse, however, Sergei had kept his mouth shut. The other man wouldn’t have listened to him, and Sergei was a firm believer in learning from one’s mistakes. It wasn’t as if Yuri’s hair wouldn’t grow back after he’d burned it all off, anyway.

Within half a moment, Yuri was buried in the colourful articles of a gossip magazine and the only noises in the room were the whirring console and the on-screen madness.

It was another minute, maybe two, before Sergei felt his gaze drift from his book to the glossy pages in Yuri’s hands. The redhead could call him old-fashioned until he was blue in the face, but Sergei still thought that the magazines he insisted on buying were a complete waste of the meagre allowance they allowed themselves. Then again, if Yuri wanted to destroy his brain cells by reading yet another ‘my boyfriend slept with my sister whilst I was pregnant with my friend’s baby’ story, that was up to him, as long as his share of rent made it’s way to Sergei at the end of the month he was welcome to set fire to the rest of his money if he wished. At least he wasn’t wasting it on countless shots of something strong, exotic and likely skimming the very edge of legal in a shady booth at the back of the seedy bar he used to call a workplace anymore.

Either the redhead couldn’t sense Sergei’s expectant stare or was being his usual, delightful self and choosing to ignore it. “Everything alright?” he said when it became obvious that Yuri wasn’t going to be volunteering anything.

“Of course, why wouldn’t it be? The sun is shining, there’s a warm breeze tickling my skin, and my Gosloto numbers came up.”

It was after ten in the evening, in the tail-end of a freezing Russian winter, and if Yuri’s numbers had come up in the lottery draw then he must have really loved living with them as he hadn’t made the slightest move to hightail it out of the house the very second he’d won the jackpot.

Sergei rolled his eyes and didn’t bother rewarding Yuri’s sarcasm with a response.

Resigning himself to not being able to focus on his book any longer, Sergei roughly folded the corner of his page and set it aside, draining the last of his cold coffee and offering to get the next round. Yuri ignored him but would moan if he didn’t get a mug, and they’d discovered relatively quickly that Ivan didn’t cope well with caffeine.

The morning paper was still abandoned on the breakfast table precisely where he’d left it, folded roughly in half through a beyblading article. Sergei flicked the paper open again and skimmed it as he waited for the coffee to brew, his mind inadvertently winding back ten years to the near-disaster that had led to the closure of Biovolt and had almost given Sergei a heart attack at only 19.

They hadn’t heard a peep from the BBA for a long time, and the thought stirred a feeling resentment Sergei had never quite managed to shake. It was almost as though they’d been abandoned, not that he would ever admit it aloud. The court case following Yuri and Kai’s secretive plan had snatched them up, chewed them to pieces and spat them back out so hard it had been a miracle they’d survived the landing.

It had taken months for Ivan to stop hallucinating reporters hanging around every damned corner.

The BBA’s involvement had been limited to accompanying them to and from meetings and hearings, driving them to lawyer’s offices and taking statement after statement after statement. There was none of the ‘hand-holding’ they’d been offered, barely any physical or emotional help at all, really, aside from setting them each up with their own psychiatrist and arranging Boris’ physiotherapy when his knee had started to buckle every two minutes. They’d tried to get him in for surgery but, unsurprisingly, Boris had flat-out refused to even go for the consultation.

The very second the judgement was made, however—that Biovolt was over and it’s director was going down for a very long time—the BBA had vanished from right under their noses. Dumped them outside their new house with a set of keys and a few measly supplies and second-hand belongs and then just disappeared. It hadn’t even been the BBA that had sorted the house for them anyway, they’d been the ones to arrange the all-clear, confirm that the four of them were ‘safe’ to be living together, sure, but it had been Aleksey Belkin, a former Abbey guard, that had found the house for them, and it had been Kai that had bought it. The only person that had stayed and who’d had to deal with the rest of the fallout afterwards.

But being the sole heir to his grandfather’s multi-million dollar empire had turned out to be more of a problem than any of them had expected. Kai hadn’t been left with much choice but to head back to Moscow, had to do what he’d needed to do for the sake of his own future, and Sergei couldn’t blame him for that.

The beep of the coffee maker yanked him back to the present, Sergei sneering down at the article before shoving it into the trash. He placed Yuri’s mug in reaching distance on the coffee table and settled back into his chair with his own. Yuri didn’t thank him.

Ivan had apparently switched games and Sergei only half paid attention to the screen as he shot poorly rendered characters with an equally poorly rendered rifle. The niggling suspicion settled even deeper the more Sergei took notice of the fact that nothing, absolutely nothing, was happening around him. He wasn’t used to it, not for such long periods of time, and being held on the edge of anxiety was starting to get frustrating.

He couldn’t hear Boris upstairs and the longer it stayed that way the better. Sergei may not have been fond of the annoying silence, but it was preferable to the arguments he usually had to put up with. Boris had come home a few hours after Yuri, despite being on an early work shift, so it was blatantly obvious that he had taken the long route home from work via a bar. Sergei hoped to whatever higher power was still listening to him that Boris was asleep, or at least too drunk to care about anything tonight.

He really, really should have known better, and the reward for his utterly foolish mistake was to watch the peaceful atmosphere shatter in slow-motion.

Ivan leapt up from the sofa, throwing his arms and the helpless controller above his head in triumph at the exact moment Boris hollered Yuri’s name from upstairs. Yuri moved to get up, caught the controller with his own head, and Ivan found himself flung backwards with such force that even Sergei flinched as his skull smacked the ground.

It only took a second for Boris’ patience to run dry. “Yura! What’s this about?”

Ivan’s string of swears died in the face of Yuri’s glare, the redhead sliding from the sofa and sweeping into the kitchen, ignoring Boris completely.

Sergei wordlessly offered Ivan a hand up, hovering in the doorway so that he could keep his eyes glued to the top of the stairs. They’d been here before—the decade-old routine, familiar, comfortable—any minute now Boris would realise he was being blanked and come tearing into the lounge looking for a fight instead. Sergei knew how to handle routine.

“Draw?” Ivan asked, gingerly rubbing the back of his head as he dropped back into his seat. “Didn’t agree the stakes anyway.”

Sergei stared at him for a moment, confused, and didn’t realise Ivan was referring to their earlier bet until Boris shouted again and Yuri screeched back that he couldn’t see through walls. Sighing and pinching the bridge of his nose as if it would ward off the coming headache, Sergei moved fully into the hallway to effectively body-block Boris’ charging form.

Yuri must have poked his head out from the kitchen as Boris lunged, choking slightly as Sergei adjusted his grip on the man’s collar and pinned him to his side.

“Well? What is it?” Boris demanded, and while Sergei knew he was certainly big enough and strong enough to separate the two, he couldn’t help but wish for something a little more substantial.

Like a wall.

Yuri smacked his lips and leaned his hip against the kitchen doorframe. “I think it’s a letter, Borya.”

“I know that, but what does it say?” Boris’ fist was tightening in Sergei’s shirt, pushing back against the weight holding him down.

“What, can’t you read?”

Boris flushed scarlet and clenched his jaw as he glared at Yuri’s completely blank expression. “Of course I can fucking read it—why was it in the trash?”

“Why the fuck were you in my room?”

Boris’ rage seemed to melt into humiliation. “I was looking for—” He swallowed, eyes narrowing dangerously. “Doesn’t matter. What’re you doing with this?” The letter clenched in his free hand waved haphazardly in the air.

The redhead moved so suddenly that Sergei wasn’t able to stop him snatching the letter from Boris’ grip. “We’re going. I spoke to Dickenson, everything’s already been arranged.”

“You’re joking.” The hint of fear in Boris’ tone and the mention of the BBA director’s name piqued Sergei’s curiosity, and without realising what he was doing, he let go of Boris and pinched the letter for himself.

“We’re going, Borya, and if you don’t like it then tough.” Yuri straightened suddenly, fists clenched, and Boris took an involuntary step back, emotion flickering over his face faster than he could choose one to stick with. He opened his mouth and closed it again without making a single sound.

There were very few things that could stun Boris to speechlessness, something Sergei knew to be an undeniable fact. So few things that he could count them on one hand. He scanned the page and the bold BBA 10 Year Reunion answered everything in one fell swoop.

Agitated by Boris’ lack of retort, Yuri yanked his magazine off the sofa, deliberately clipping Ivan on the head, and shoved Boris aside to reach the stairs. Boris suddenly snapped out of his thoughts, lurching forward and catching Yuri’s arm. The thud of his fist meeting the redhead’s cheek seemed to stun them both to silence.

Yuri stood completely still, carefully probing his mouth with his tongue. Sergei could almost see the anger bubbling under his skin as Boris gave a biting remark under his breath.

Ever so slowly, Yuri turned to look at Boris, his face utterly emotionless aside from the snarl of his lips. “What the fuck did you just say?”

Boris leered at him, aggressive and showing teeth. “I said, how’re we gonna pay for it? You can’t exactly whore yourself out in Japan like you do here.”

“It’s already been arranged.” Yuri’s anger suddenly flared and for the second time Sergei wasn’t fast enough to catch him before he tangled a hand in Boris’ hair so tightly that Boris had to twist his head to alleviate the pain. Sergei forced himself between them, one hand wrapped tight around Yuri’s wrist, jerking his hand back to release his grip, the other pushing Boris away.

“That’s enough.” Sergei stared down at Yuri as he uselessly pulled at his arm. “You want to explain this?”

Yuri struggled for another half minute, his nails biting into Sergei’s hand as he tried to wrestle himself free. “The BBA’s paying for flights and allowance, and we’ll get money from the press release which will easily cover the rent here,” he spat, “I wasn’t going to say anything yet because I knew he would—”

“Don’t you dare blame this on me!”

Sergei whirled around, ignoring Yuri’s yelp as his arm was wrenched. “Boris Mikhailovich, back off now or you’ll regret it.” Boris cowered slightly under Sergei’s booming voice and deliberately took a step back.

Yuri took full advantage of Sergei’s momentary distraction and yanked his hand away, pointing an accusing finger at Boris. “We’ll earn more from this than you’ve earned in your life.”

He’d stormed half-way up the stairs when Boris—who, as always, completely missed the signs that he needed to walk away from the argument—shouted out, “At least I’ve got a fucking job!”

Yuri stopped, stood rigid for far too long for comfort, and when he turned around, the pure, undisguised fury on Yuri’s face didn’t die down even as Sergei yelled at him to leave the fucking hallway three times before he actually got through. Once he’d heard a bedroom door slam shut and the mirror that clung desperately to the wall had stopped swaying, Sergei rounded on Boris only to find he had disappeared.

It took two seconds to spot his missing boots and work out he had gone outside.

“So, when we leaving?” Ivan asked, Sergei only then remembering that Ivan was still in the room.

Sighing loudly and pushing down his anger as he reached for his own boots, Sergei turned to see Ivan half hidden behind the living room door. Sergei couldn’t blame him, he knew better than to get involved, he’d ended up as collateral damage far too many times. “Just let me handle it, Vanya.”

Ivan gave him an indifferent shrug, scratched his chin and disappeared again. Sergei heard the leather of the sofa squeak and the game soundtrack resume. Routine, business as usual. Sergei toyed with the idea of just leaving everyone to sort out their own mess, before he thought better of it and made his way out into the garden.

Boris was sat on the big, snow covered tree stump a little way from the door, either not noticing or, more likely, not caring that the snow was soaking his clothes. With practised ease, he tapped out a cigarette and lit it as Sergei swiped snow off the stump and perched next to him.

Taking a calming breath, Sergei took a moment of silence to try and work out Boris’ current mood. He wasn’t relaxed, far from it, but the insane rage that had been burning through him earlier had nearly vanished.

“Thought you gave up,” Sergei said, gesturing to the cigarette. The last thing he knew was that a month ago Boris’ doctor had sent him away with boxes of nicotine replacement patches and he hadn’t seen the man smoke since. Unless, of course, he’d just deliberately been smoking where Sergei wouldn’t see him.

Boris took a long drag, sighing as he exhaled and pushing his jacket and jumper away from his shoulder to reveal a pink, tender looking square of skin, clearly irritated by the patches.

Sergei frowned. “I thought I told you not to keep putting them in the same… you know what? Doesn’t matter.” It wasn’t as if Boris would listen to him anyway.

“I’m only having one smoke.”

“That’s not how quitting works, Borya.”

They sat in silence for a good while, watching the odd car speeding down the road as Sergei began to notice the fact that the longer they sat, the more numb his legs became. Boris didn’t seem overly bothered by the cold; if anything he seemed far more relaxed sat outside in the snow than he did anytime he was in the house.

Sergei decided to test the water. “Why don’t you want to go to this reunion? Thought you liked Japan.” Even though his intentions were good, and it was true—Boris himself had said that he liked Tokyo, even if it was mostly due to the fact that he and Sergei had gone to a car show the last time they were there—Sergei realised that he had chosen the completely wrong time to ask the question.

“Why do you think,” Boris said, anger flashing in his eyes, “he’s going to be there.”

“You don’t know that for certain.” Sergei knew perfectly well who ‘he’ was, and he also knew perfectly well that ‘he’ would without a doubt be in Japan. “It’s been a long time, Borya.”

The deadpan look that Boris shot his way made Sergei fully aware that he didn’t give a damn.

A beat passed, Boris growled, stamped his foot violently on his cigarette butt had another between his lips and ready to go before Sergei even had the chance to blink. “Fucking stupid,” he murmured under his breath.

“What is? The reunion?” Sergei spotted the rusting fold-up garden chairs that he had stubbornly refused to throw away last winter tucked away in the lean-to. He toyed with the idea of bothering to get one for about half a second, and set it up by the side of the stump Boris was melting all the snow from.

“Yeah. Who cares? Haven’t seen each other for, what, seven years? Don’t see why we should bother.” Boris stared coldly out into the night, leaning forward to rest his arms on his knees.

Sergei shook his head. “The money wouldn’t hurt,” he admitted, “we haven’t seen them for six years. As far as I know, most of the old teams are still in contact with each other, except for us.”

Boris’ next words were a bitter whisper that was nearly muffled by the wind, “And whose fault is that?”

Yuri’s, Sergei agreed silently.

There was no need to say anything, Boris had unwillingly been at the dead-centre of the whole debacle, and Sergei had spent the last six years tying to get him to just talk about it without much luck. He spared a sidelong glance at the other man, and in the dark could just make out the thin line of a scar peeking out from his hairline, noticeable even against Boris’ pale skin.

As if he had subconsciously registered Sergei’s scrutiny of him, Boris’ hand moved to his hair and flattened it over his forehead to cover the mark.

Sergei’s observant nature was one of the reasons he’d managed to thrive in the Abbey, as much as anyone could in their situation, anyway. He noticed things about people, little habits and quirks, changes in their posture or their voice, rarely acted on the knowledge registered it for future reference. Knowing when to step in to the middle of an argument between Yuri and Boris, and knowing when it was safe to leave them to get on with it without risk of them tearing each other apart, was an extremely useful gift.

Scars had never bothered Boris. He had plenty of them, they all did, but Boris could probably put even the thick, jagged blotches on his own chest to shame. The Abbey had left permanent marks, and if anyone deserved to forget what they’d been through back then, it was Boris. But none of those scars, however, not even the worst, bothered him in the slightest. If people saw, he didn’t care. If people asked questions, he’d give them a straight answer. He found their looks of pity and sympathy amusing more than anything.

Sergei had noticed, however, that the scar on Boris’ forehead bothered him more than anything else in the world. It was a tiny thing, barely worth a mention in comparison to every other mark that marred his skin, and yet Boris did everything possible to hide it, to avoid it. It had taken Sergei a good few months to understand why the smallest scar pained Boris so much; it wasn’t the tiny pale scratch itself that was the problem, but the person that had caused it.

Something bumped into his shoulder and dragged Sergei from his moment of reflection. Boris had probably been talking at him for nearly five minutes and he had no idea what the other man had said. The snow had started to fall again, settling in his hair and on his jacket, so when Boris suggested they head back inside and have a drink, Sergei couldn’t possibly refuse.

Ivan had apparently packed himself off to bed, leaving the console out as usual. Boris shifted it aside to perch his feet on the coffee table, grinning cheekily at Sergei’s obvious disgust.

Half a crate of beer and a bottle of cheap vodka between them later, Sergei decided that they had probably both had enough. Or at least he definitely had, if the state of his reflection in the hallway mirror was any indication. He was going to have a monster of a hangover in the morning, and was deeply regretting the fact that he had volunteered to cover the Sunday shift at the day-care centre.

Boris, who’d only suffered a hangover once in his life, would be watching him stagger around the house and wonder what all the fuss was about.

An awkward silence had stretched itself between them. “Think I’ll call it a night,” Sergei muttered, sure that they had actually been in the middle of a conversation but struggling to recall what it was.

Boris merely smirked at him. “Lightweight.”

It was an attempt to rile him up, Sergei knew that, but he wasn’t foolish enough to step up to the challenge. He heaved himself from the armchair, took a moment to regain his balance, and cast his eye over the discarded bottles and glasses on the coffee table. “Don’t even try it, I’m working tomorrow.”

“Oh? What bastard managed to coerce you into that?” Boris craned his neck over the armrest of the sofa so that he could watch Sergei down a glass of water in the kitchen.

Sighing, Sergei gave him a mournful glance. “I did.”

“Idiot.” Boris laughed and shook his head, rolling off the sofa and making his way into the kitchen with the vodka bottle, tipping the dregs down his throat. “Should’ve said so earlier.”

“I did, I think. You probably didn’t listen.” Sergei held up his hand before Boris could retort and perched on one of the tall seats as his vision slanted diagonally. It registered slowly in his mind that alcohol only ever had one of two effects on Boris; he would either become incredibly temperamental, the reason he so often returned up with a black eye and a bruised ego, or he would become absurdly friendly. Sergei was thankful that on this occasion it was the latter.

Boris refilled his glass with water, which Sergei accepted gratefully and gulped half of it without taking a breath, clapped him on the shoulder and told him to go to sleep because he looked like shit.

Sergei’s bedroom was the second door down the hall. The first was Ivan’s, with the ladder up to Boris’ attic-slash-cave after his own room and Yuri somehow having managed to bag the master bedroom at the end. It wasn’t much bigger than the rest, but it did have the added benefit of a small en-suite shower room. An absolute blessing; Yuri could easily spend half the day locked in it, engrossed in his own vanity.

Ivan’s door was open just a crack, and Sergei poked his head in to check he was asleep. He was laying face-down on the bed, shivering, with the thick quilt crumpled in a pile on the floor. Sergei sighed, padded silently across the room and covered the kid up again. Ivan twitched under the covers, curling in on himself, and Sergei easily recognised the early onset of a bad dream. Nightmares were something they were all accustomed to, especially having grown up in the Abbey, he would be surprised if anyone had left that place and managed to get away with having sweet dreams every single night.

There was a worn out notebook on the floor by his feet and a smile curled Sergei’s lips when he remembered what it was. Ivan had gone through a few months of psychiatrist visits himself, and his therapist had suggest he keep a diary detailing his nightmares to try and aid the healing process. Ivan had complained, but to avoid any unnecessary fuss had duly completed the diary as instructed. The fact that he was still keeping it up so many years later was encouraging. He placed the pad back on Ivan’s nightstand in case he searched for it when he woke up, and pulled the door to as he left.

Finishing up in the bathroom, Sergei stared at his reflection. Hair greying just slightly at his temples, the lines appearing at the corners of his eyes—frown lines, most likely, hardly laughter—the blue seeming paler than he remembered. His mind shifted back ten years and he wondered how much of him still resembled his 19-year-old self. Back in the Abbey he had been a giant, an intimidating figure towering over the others his age. Now Boris wasn’t that much shorter than him, when he wasn’t slouching anyway. When his thoughts threatened to wander towards certain people he’d known, to Vasily—always Vasily—Sergei closed his eyes and forced his mind to stop. Alcohol may have made Boris either furious or friendly, but it only ever seemed to send Sergei on a downward spiral of regrets.

The therapist the BBA had sent him to after their release had told him that shutting himself off from his more traumatic memories was unhealthy, but Sergei knew it would be so much worse to let himself remember those things.

There were three other people, three fortunately very much alive people, in the same house that were relying on him to keep his shit together. Wading through his murky Abbey past wasn’t going to help him with that.

Chapter Text

Being woken up at six in the morning by an alarm clock screeching through the paper-thin walls of the house was not the best start to a day off in anyone’s book.

After the loud crash that followed, the irate one-man Yuri-stampede through the hallway, and Ivan hollering back at a decibel level that would make drilling a hole through your own skull more bearable, Sergei decided he’d much rather be at work surrounded by rowdy five-year-olds.

Stretching so tall he could almost brush the ceiling and relishing in the cracks and pops of his cramped joints, Sergei threw open the tattered curtains over his window and squinted at the blinding white light the assaulted him.

Well, he was definitely awake now.

He mulled over the thought of being the first in the shower, but only for a split-second. The water would be freezing cold, and he wasn’t going to be the idiot that forgot. Not this time. The clothes he had been wearing the day before lay scattered on the carpet and he pulled them on, shaking the bed-head from his hair as he braved the rest of the house outside his own bedroom.

Boris was already downstairs, not surprising as he was probably awake before Ivan’s damned alarm went off. He didn’t envy Boris his insomnia, whilst he didn’t exactly reach the recommended quota of sleep himself he was certainly glad for the scant hours he did manage to get.

Sergei took two mugs from the cupboard, placed the door handle that broke off in his hand on the counter, and flicked the switches on the coffee machine all on autopilot, not taking his eyes off the figure slumped over the breakfast bar in only his boxers and an over-sized, threadbare jumper, one that he was pretty sure he recognised as his own. Sometimes he wondered what would happen if he stayed in bed late one morning, whether Boris would be sat at the table for hours wondering desperately why coffee hadn’t miraculously appeared in front of him.

Lazy.

“Want one?” he asked, though he already knew the answer. Routine; they’d been through the same process often enough now for Sergei to know that after a sleepless night, Boris liked his coffee strong, black and without sugar. He scanned the to-do list he’d taped to the fridge made a mental note to call Kai if their tickets didn’t arrive tomorrow. They only had seven days to go before they were due on a plane to Moscow to meet him and catch the connecting flight to Japan.

Boris had already picked the paper up from the doorstep—awful job, trudging through deep snow at a ridiculous time in the morning just to deliver the news to people who probably used the paper to dry their boots on—and he flicked it over to glance at whatever rubbish had made the front page.

Politics. Arguments in the government over a budget that extended far beyond what was actually available. People with big mansions and fast cars, something they could only ever dream about. Unless you knew the right people, of course, it was all Boris had talked about when he’d come back from Austria to visit.

The machine beeped that it was ready just as he turned the page to an article that screamed obscenities—alongside a poorly framed photo of Takao Kinomiya that clipped his chin—and Sergei slammed a steaming mug in front of Boris’ face before settling down to read the offending story.

He noticed from the corner of his eye that the smell of the coffee had perked Boris’ interest, and quickly registered then ignored the ugly looking bruise across his cheek. He’d heard Boris going out just before midnight, and the sort of bar open that late wasn’t exactly what Sergei would call friendly.

“Didn’t hear you get up.” A slight slur marred Boris’ usually sharp tone, voice cracking around his first words of the day. He smirked as Boris stupidly took a swig of scalding hot coffee, gagged as it scalded his throat, and repeated the same action again.

Boris already being home when he came downstairs almost always equalled a bad night. If he’d turned up later, wearing the same clothes he’d left in the night before and looking decidedly dishevelled, Sergei wouldn’t bother asking whose bed he’d ended up in.

“What’s that idiot done now?”

Sergei hummed, skimming the two page article with only the smallest amount of interest. “Countdown to the reunion most likely. Not that it makes any difference, they write about him whether he’s done something or not, he sells papers.” The words ‘beyblade genius’ struck out at him and Sergei sneered; the only genius he knew was currently asleep one floor up, and Ivan had retired along with the rest of them.

The man next to him yawned, wincing when he forgot about his cheek and rubbed his face. “Gonna shower,” he said, leaving Sergei to clean up his abandoned mug. Sergei exacted silent revenge by not reminding Boris that the pipes would be practically frozen.

The grandfather clock gave a half-hearted drone and Sergei mentally prepared himself for the aggravation that would be Ivan coming downstairs and finding out that, if he wanted to waste another day playing games, he’d have to trek the to the store to top up the electric key. Normally he’d give in to Ivan’s whining and go do it himself, but Sergei’s morning hadn’t exactly started off great thanks to him.

The groan of the water pipes straining to work caught his attention as the shower started in the room above. If Boris noticed the cold he was being brave about it, as Sergei didn’t hear a single sound from him. He shrugged to himself, useless when there was nobody around to appreciate the gesture, and refilled the coffee machine to be ready to sate Yuri’s morning caffeine craving.

Four hours later, Sergei found himself in the kitchen staring down at the knife in his hand and the mangled leg of lamb he’d hacked into. An argument had been spilling downstairs for the last five minutes—Yuri and Ivan, for once—he could hazard a guess at what had caused it. Catching sight of his reflection in the kitchen window, Sergei tilted his head back and scrutinised his neck.

He wondered which would make more mess; slitting his own throat or stabbing whoever was about to walk into the kitchen.

“Damn it, Vanya, just go and fill it already!” Yuri yelled, becoming steadily more irritated the longer Ivan argued. “You’re the one that uses it up anyway.”

He wouldn’t have to clean up if he was dead.

“Really? How many times do you fuck around with your hair in the day then?” Ivan bit back. Sergei knew he was referring to the hairdryer and whatever else Yuri had in his room, clearly not understanding that having the TV and console on for seven hours was a lot more costly than switching on a dryer for ten minutes.

Once.”

Ivan made a sound a lot like a game show buzzer, “Try again.”

“Would you both just shut up?” Sergei said, pinching the bridge of his nose to try and alleviate his growing headache. Why couldn’t they all just get along for once?

Sergei found himself on the receiving end of two glaring faces and gave up. He all but threw the knife into the sink, left the kitchen and stood in front of the bookshelf in the living room, trying to get his mind to focus on the books in front of him instead of listening in to the rest of the argument. If Ivan had left when he’d first noticed the electric was running near empty, he would have been back by now and the whole exchange could have been avoided.

Boris appeared in the hallway, face buried in his mobile as he furiously mashed at the buttons. Sergei was thankful to have someone to talk to beside the living room furniture, until his brain reminded him that it was Boris who had walked down the stairs.

“You going somewhere?” Sergei asked, eyeing up the other man’s clothes. Grey joggers and a sweatshirt; it didn’t take a genius to work out where he was planning to go but Sergei was desperate for a decent conversation.

Boris didn’t even glance at him, just gave a distracted grunt and left the house without saying a word.

“Borya just go out?” Ivan asked, sticking his head out of the kitchen, “why didn’t he go get the fucking electric?”

Something in Sergei’s mind broke down and ground to a halt—his sympathy, most likely, or what was left of it—thoroughly frustrated with how everyone else in the house acted like animals. He’d grabbed Ivan by the collar and marched him to the door before he’d even realised he was moving.

“Hey!” Ivan spat, wriggling out of Sergei’s strong grasp. “What the hell’s wrong with you?”

Sergei said nothing, shoving the electric key into Ivan’s hand before holding the front door open and focusing intently at a spot on the opposite wall. Ivan hesitated, staring for a long moment at the sheer blankness of Sergei’s face, the rigid posture of his body and the fact that the only movement he was making was the steady clench and unclench of his fist.

The kid was obviously considering refusing to leave, but survival instinct took over and he thought better of it. Sergei slammed the door with such force that it shook in the frame, realising only afterwards that Ivan had left without a coat.

“You seem happy,” Yuri said from where he leaned at the end of the hall.

“Just shut up.” Sergei pushed passed him, ignoring his indignant yelp of protest as he was knocked off balance, and grabbed the first book his hand happened to come across as he walked near the shelf.

Yuri glared at Sergei from across the room for a good minute before he realised he wasn’t going to get anything from him, huffing loudly and stomping up the stairs. Sergei waited until Yuri’s bedroom door banged shut before sagging back into the armchair. He was getting far too old to deal with this.

Sergei took a deep breath, forcing out a sigh, and tried to block everything else from his mind as he opened the book in his hands. It wasn’t until he was a good few chapters in that he realised he was already familiar with the story. Flipping the book over, he confirmed what he was reading; Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the Russian edition. He’d read it before in English, a long while ago, and decided that he was feeling far too tired to go back to the shelf and choose something else.

Yuri appeared from nowhere—or he may have just been so focused on reading that he hadn’t noticed him enter the room—and slid a mug of fresh coffee in front of him. Sergei didn’t say a word, didn’t even bother to look up until he realised that Yuri was still hovering expectantly at his side.

“What do you want?”

“I need the car.”

Sergei scoffed and shook his head. “No way.”

“What?” Yuri grumbled, “but you let Vanya go out in—”

“I had to get a wing mirror and both rear lights replaced,” Sergei said, letting his annoyance show in his voice and not giving a damn. He’d let Ivan out in his car once, under Boris’ supervision, when the kid was learning, hadn’t been sure who he was most angry with when he’d had them both cowering in the kitchen afterwards. From what he remembered of Yuri’s driving skills, he knew the redhead took the attitude of ‘slam your foot on the accelerator and see what happens’. His old car wasn’t up for that sort of punishment anymore.

“Fine, whatever, I’ll just walk.” Sergei caught him muttering the words ‘fucking selfish’ under his breath as he yanked on his jacket and rolled his eyes. At least Yuri had put some effort into his attempted bribe by making a decent coffee.


Yuri flicked his half smoked cigarette into the snow just before he turned the corner, ferociously chewing a stick of minty gum and swirling it around his mouth. He caught a glimpse of his reflection in the glass door just before he hit the buzzer and groaned. He looked as though he'd just walked through a tornado. If Sergei had just let him borrow the damned car...

A lone stranger shot him a curious glance as he combed his fingers through his hair, probably because he was muttering curses under his breath, and Yuri grimaced at the flush in his cheeks and nose. Damn the cold weather, who the hell organised a photo shoot on a Sunday, anyway?

Giving up on his appearance as the wind started to pick up again, he rammed his finger on the buzzer and spat his gum onto the pavement. A woman's voice came through the intercom, still managing to sound irritated despite the flickering white noise. Yuri introduced himself and the glass doors clicked open without another word.

The woman behind the desk looked exactly as Yuri had imagined; straight-backed, perfectly preened nails that matched her sleek, cropped hair. Face all angles and points and not a single hint of a wrinkle. She directed him upstairs with a jerk of a bony finger and Yuri didn’t even bother to thank her.

There were only two rooms upstairs, one was pitch black, and in the other he could make out a backdrop and lighting set through the small window before he even opened the door. He was immediately accosted by a man who, without saying a word, Yuri knew was the manager of the set-up. They were all the same, at least the ones he’d had the displeasure of meeting. Smarmy, thought they were putting you at ease with their over-friendly looks and their blatant disregard for personal space.

They only ever came across as creepy. Yuri started to wonder, as he always did when he first arrived at these indie, under-the-radar shoots, why he had even bothered to get into modelling. Why he even wanted to. He was a closet masochist, he figured, had to be. No other explanation for why he kept putting himself through the same painful process every time.

“Yuri Ivanov, isn’t it?” The manager took it upon himself to remove Yuri’s coat without asking. “Do you mind if I call you ‘Yura’?”

He did—only the people he knew and gave a damn about called him that—but Yuri shook his head anyway and didn’t bother to listen to the manager’s name, or the name of the photographer, either.

They ran a few test shots first, standard procedure. Yuri was used to photographers needing to adjust the lighting to accommodate the contrast between his pale skin and vibrant hair, just as much as he was used to confirming that yes, it was his natural colour, thank you very much. He wasn’t sure whether the fact that the people he worked with seemed not to remember him as a Biovolt beyblader was a blessing or a curse; on the one hand, he could avoid all the awkward questions about his past, could explain away the faint scars littering his body—still visible despite the expensive cover-up he used—as childhood accidents and leave it at that.

On the other hand, they would’ve known the red was the colour he’d been born with, wasn’t exactly like he’d dyed his hair during his Abbey years. Except for that one time—Yuri shook his head vehemently to clear the memory; work now, dwell on his past never.

He was ushered behind a curtain next, plonked down in a fold-out chair in front of a mirror perched on a desk. The set’s make-up artist was a girl who had to be younger than he was by a mile, all short skirt and brightly coloured tights, platform boots and a top that couldn’t decide whether it was a button-up shirt or a corset. She didn’t even bother to introduce herself before she had his hair pulled back in a far-too-tight tail and was laying out cheap foundations and powders and god-knew what else on the desk.

None of it matched his skin tone, he didn’t expect it to. When she was done—and he was able to look at something other than her pronounced cleavage—the only thing Yuri recognised in the mirror was his hair. Credit were credit was due, though; she knew how to create a wicked eye-liner wing.

Unfortunately for Yuri, it was only when he was stood back with the manager and the leering photographer that he realised exactly what sort of modelling shoot he’d walked into. There wasn’t a clothing rack or changing room in sight.

“When you’re ready, Yura,” the photographer said, rolling his name to the point of destroying it.

“Sorry.” Yuri stared from the manager to the photographer and back. “The advert didn’t say anything about nudes?”

The manager plastered a patronising—sickening—smile on his face. “We wouldn’t have been able to advertise it if it did, sweetheart.”

Yuri couldn’t tell if it was the lecherous gleam in the photographer’s eyes or the expectation in the manager’s—as if he should be perfectly fine with what he’d just been asked to do, as if it was just part of the job—but something in Yuri’s head snapped and he was at the doorway, coat in hand, before he’d even realised he was moving.

The second job he’d turned down in as many days. Yuri reached the entrance on the ground floor and exhaled loudly whilst he waited for the receptionist to notice him and open the damned door.

The level he was at, bottom rung of the proverbial ladder, if not below it, he knew he couldn’t afford to be picky. He needed work for work’s sake right now, knew he needed to get noticed before he was going to get anywhere. Thing was, he wanted to be noticed by someone serious in the business, not by some disturbed asshole shacked up in his bedroom with a fetish for pale, skinny redheads.

Outside, with the cold biting into his skin and the wind plastering his hair to whatever they’d smeared on his face to make him seem whiter than usual, Yuri wondered if maybe he should’ve just gone with it. Wasn’t like his dignity was worth much anyway.

Too late now though, he guessed, pulling his coat tight around his neck and heading off to his last resort. He just hoped he didn’t run into anyone he knew on his way there; Sergei or Ivan he couldn’t care less, but Boris’ could’ve been anywhere. He may have been been Yuri’s one source of comfort back at the Abbey, but Boris had made it perfectly clear that whatever was left of their friendship now dangled closer to hatred.

Yuri stopped outside the club and took a deep, calming breath. The last thing he’d ever wanted to do was to crawl back here, but he was desperate and he knew there was no way Sergei would cover his rent again. He didn't even want to ask the man; Sergei had already done so much for him, given up so much, that Yuri couldn't actually bring himself to ask. Yuri wouldn't even bother to ask Boris as he knew the answer would literally be a punch in the face.

He stared up at the unlit sign above the door with a feeling of dread. What if they wouldn't take him back? He needed the money yesterday. Sergei would give him a few days at most, but with only a week to go until they would be flying out to Japan, he was running out of time and completely out of useful ideas.

Sighing, Yuri equipped his best grovelling face and descended the stairs to the basement.

The place was just as dark and claustrophobic as he remembered, and Yuri spotted only two customers; a man slumped over the bar itself, an empty vodka bottle in his slack hand, and a second person huddled in a booth staring into his glass. The usual afternoon crowd then; Port only became the crazy nightclub it was famous for being once the clock hit ten.

"Is that you, Yura?" A husky female voice called out from behind him, and Yuri turned to see Viviana, the landlady, smiling broadly. Yuri barely had the time to nod before he was engulfed in a tight bear hug. Viviana was only a few inches shorter than him, but Yuri wagered she was at least twice his weight, and he flinched as the air was crushed from his lungs. He couldn’t help but grimace as he felt the dirty cleaning cloth in the woman's hand press against the back of his neck.

"Hello, Vivi.” He managed when he was finally allowed to breathe again.

"Mamma mia! Oh, my little Rubino, you haven't changed." Viviana cupped Yuri's face in both hands as she crooned over him. A fiery, passionate, Italian woman married to probably the dullest Russian man Yuri had ever met. Viviana gestured to the bar. "Come and sit, please. What can I get you? It's on the house."

Yuri knew he hadn't come back to Port to just have a drink and reminisce with the old landlady, but he found himself perching on a stool regardless and ordering a cola. The glass he was given contained only a double shot of vodka and nothing else. He downed it in a nanosecond. "Actually Vivi, I wanted to ask a favour..."

“Of course, Yura. Anything you want.”

“Is there any work going right—”

“Nothing for you, Ivanov.” Now there was a voice Yuri could have done without hearing.

Yuri turned in his seat and smiled as he took in Nikolai’s stocky frame and terrifying scowl. Viviana’s brother-in-law, only where her husband, Eduard, was stale and monotonous, a barely five-foot-five twig of a man, Nikolai was a former heavyweight boxing champion turned eccentric club doorman and had the muscle to match. Yuri couldn’t help but feel intimidated, he was the sort of guy who would break your legs with one glance if you pissed him off.

The day Yuri had pissed him off had also been the last day he ever worked at the club. Coincidence? Yuri didn’t think so.