Footsteps echoed down the cacophonous hallway, the double leather soles of the shoes around them clicking against the polished black marble of the floors. The leisurely tempo grew louder as the men approached Otabek and the three other men standing guard by the large, oak double doors of the study.
Viktor Nikiforov lead the pack, standing out from the pack of black suited men, cloaked in stark white silk and silver-hued merino wool, the only splashes of colour on his person being his startling, glassy aquamarine eyes and deep violet pocket square. With his sharp features and high cheekbones, Viktor Nikiforov would easily have passed as a beautiful man if he hadn’t been one of the most wanted men in the world.
Everyone in the criminal underworld knew that name, and the very whisper of it would cause unease to ripple across a room of seasoned veterans, criminals and civil servants alike.
Otabek, happened to be one of the few people in the world fortunate enough to not only be on his side, but to be within his inner circle, being his personal bodyguard.
He nodded as Christophe Giacometti, the Derzhatel obschaka of the Nikiforov Bratva, stepped ahead of the pack, sharp olive eyes meeting Otabek’s hazel as a form of silent affirmation as he turned to open the heavy double doors, Viktor leading the other member of the party into the study. An older man, Otabek had noted. Taller than he was, most likely stronger than his frail appearance would betray, his striking emerald eyes holding the hardness and strength of that of a solider, having seen many hardships in his time and most likely anticipated another. He wasn’t a skinny man, but that could mean many things, as Otabek had learned in his time living in the seamy underbelly of St. Petersburg.
“Altin?” Christophe asked, still holding the door.
“Nikiforov wants you in his study. This is a matter that concerns you, mostly.”
A matter concerning me?
Otabek stiffened, nodding briskly and following Christophe into his office.
The older man stood behind Viktor’s desk with him, piercing viridian eyes scanning Otabek as the doors closed behind him.
“Altin, lose the weapons and take a seat.” Viktor said calmly.
His voice was often even, difficult for many to interpret. It could mean a threat, or it could be nothing. Always one to follow any orders given and eager to please his superiors, he complied, unbuckling his holsters and removing the varied pistols and blades on his person before moving to take a seat, being stopped by Viktor’s empty tutting.
“All of your weaponry, Altin. I’m not an idiot, I know you keep more than that measly collection on your person.”
The older gentleman next to him chuckled gruffly.
“The boy carries quite the arsenal with him.” He commented, eyeing the varied weaponry laid out before him.
“Mouth open, tongue to the roof of your mouth Otabek.” Viktor commanded, his voice stern but even.
Otabek sighed and did as he was told, arms behind his back as he stared at the ceiling, Viktor’s slender fingers prying at his lips and carefully plucking the razor blade out from under the wet muscle.
“You can’t fool me, Altin, I know you’ve kept at least one of these in there since you were barely a teen.”
“Apologies, sir. I tend to feel relatively exposed without any form of weaponry on my person.”
“Back in my day we just used our fists.”
Ignoring that comment, Otabek took a seat.
“I was told this matter concerned me, sir?”
“Indeed it does.” Viktor replied briskly, walking to the wide, red velvet bracketed window of his study, hands clasped behind his back and spine so straight it would make a trained ballerina curse a blue streak in pure, unadulterated envy. “You’ve been good to me, over the years Otabek. Obedient, skilled, despite your youth. I may not be the most appropriate person to make such a comment, but there is no doubt you have an impressive repertoire for someone as young as you are.”
You’ve been good to me.
What could he mean by this?
Otabek tensed, shifting his feet to be at the ready to escape if necessary. The speech, the lack of eye contact, the demand for Otabek to remove all weaponry. The signs all pointed to a final resignation, if it were. Betrayal. To be offed by one’s boss, well, he’d be damned if he didn’t try to fight for his survival. Viktor knew well enough that Otabek didn’t need a blade or a bullet to kill a man. He’d been in this game long enough to be able to kill a man with his bare hands and seldom leave a trace, a print of evidence on his skin. Viktor Nikiforov was feared for many reasons, and this was just one of them.
“Pakhan Plisetsky has a proposition for you, my only role in this transaction is releasing you formally from my organisation and providing his bratva protection when needed.”
Otabek’s eyes widened.
No one had seen Nikolai Plisetsky in decades, not since the upheaval.
There wasn’t a single person who didn’t know about it, despite it having had happened nearly 20 years ago. Someone high up in the organisation - the details were fuzzy on his rank, but many had mentioned he was close with Nikolai’s sole successor, his daughter Zerina – betrayed the bratva. Many died, most were imprisoned. Nikolai and what little was left of his inner circle went into hiding after they took his daughter, no one had seen or heard from him since.
Yet here he was, no longer the picture of brute strength and calculated wit that he once was, but a tired old man who still held a gleam of warrior-like determination in his glassy emerald eyes, sharpened by a charming, snake-like cunning and wit.
“The boy tells me you’re quite the bodyguard.” He spoke gruffly, dropping into Viktor’s leather armchair, glancing over at Otabek.
“I do my best to serve him effectively, sir.”
“Polite, obedient. Not to mention your track record. Those hands of yours are quite dangerous, aren’t they? I’m surprised the boy didn’t tell you to bind yourself too. I’m sure you would have done it, wouldn’t you?”
“Kolya, I’m 32, I’m not a child. Don’t call me ‘boy’.” Viktor said tightly, glare hardening against the immaculately polished glass of his window.
“To old men like myself and Yasha, you are.”
“Forgive me for any disrespect, sir,” Otabek cleared his throat. “But I prefer to cut the bullshit, as it were. What proposition do you have for me?”
“Quite the mouth on him, huh? Direct, straight to the point… Yurachka would like him.” He chuckled, sending a crooked smile in Viktor’s direction.
“That wildcat hates everyone.” Viktor tutted. “Maybe he wouldn’t if you’d let him out to play once in a while.”
Otabek sighed under his breath and unbuttoned his shirt cuff, tugging the loosened sleeve back down his forearm from where they were pushed up for a previous interrogation, buttoning it back around his wrist as the two men bickered, repeating the process for the other sleeve.
“Yurachka is my grandson.” Nikolai explained, sobering up as he returned his attention to Otabek. “He’s all I have left at the moment and, well, he needs a new bodyguard. He goes through them quickly. Either he sends them to a med bay or they resign. Or both.”
Otabek raised a brow, looking between the older man and the pale slate merino of Viktor’s suit, stretched over his broad shoulders.
“And you believe I can handle him?”
“I believe you can understand him, Altin. He’s about your age, he doesn’t have many friends. Someone like you, I think you can both protect him and understand him. Name your price, and you can start as soon as you like.”
“What are the conditions of this position? I want to know what I’m getting into.” Otabek said calmly, folding his arms and sitting back in his seat, eyeing the older gentleman carefully.
“You know what you want, I respect that.” Nikolai commented. “You will follow him wherever he goes, with the exception of the restroom and when he bathes. You will protect him, make sure he is not followed, make sure he is safe and unharmed. You will be his constant companion, his confidant, his shield.”
“And this position would require me to, what? Move in with you?”
“It is a full time position, but your needs are to be provided for. Hospitality, food, medical care, arsenal supplies, whatever you need just so long as you do as I ask.”
“And why do you want me for this? I’m barely over 20, many would consider me too young to watch over someone as prized as the prince of the Plisetsky bratva.” Otabek asked, leaning forward in his seat, forearms on his knees and hands clasped together. “Too reckless, too inexperienced. I’ve only been Nikiforov’s personal guard for a few months.”
“And yet, in what little time you have had, you have proven yourself significantly. Not just anyone can climb the ranks of the bratva as quickly as you did without being born into it.” Nikolai countered, tired green eyes sparkling, ready for any challenge. “I’ve been watching you for a while Altin, you seem like the perfect man for the job.”
“If you choose to take this position, Otabek, you do have my blessing.” Viktor commented from the window. “I know you are loyal to me, and your loyalty knows no bounds, which is without a doubt something Nikolai would appreciate. I do believe this position would be more suited to your skillset. You’re too adept to be a basic grunt, but too much of a wildcard to be a leader. How you’ll wrangle the wildcat, I am unsure, but I have faith you can do it.”
“I’ll start you at ₽50,000 a week.”
Otabek’s brows shot up, Viktor snickering softly over the starched shoulder of his suit.
“50,000?” Otabek repeated dumbly. “That’s… are you sure you have the sufficient funds?”
“Be watchful of what you say, boy.” Nikolai said coolly, eyes narrowing.
“My apologies, Pakhan Plisetsky. Forgive my unintended disrespect, it was an inaccurate assumption, sir.”
“So, will you take my offer?”
“You have a deal, sir.”
“Excellent. You start on Monday. I will give you time to organise and send for your things.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Nikolai rose to his feet with a soft groan. Otabek could hear the varied joints cracking and popping as he stood, reaching his hand out to Otabek. Otabek took it, nodding and shaking it firmly before clapping him on his shoulder, turning to make his leave before stopping at the oak doors.
“Yes, Pakhan Plisetsky, sir?”
“Make sure you protect him…” The gruff older man’s strong stature shifted, morphing into a vulnerable stance, speaking softly and tenderly. “He’s all I have left.”