“‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”
— Socrates, I guess.
“Hewwo, Mr. Obama.”
Barack sputtered and choked on his coffee, immediately on edge once he heard those dreadfully familiar words. He turned on his heels and shot his dear, extremely strangleable husband a disapproving glare made of knives.
“I hate you,” he said, eyes narrowing ever so slightly, “I hate you so much.”
Vladimir Putin, the imposing, magisterial president of the great nation of Russia, gave his husband a shit-eating, cocksure smirk, thoroughly satisfied with his work. Like a toddler having painted a house’s walls with his own feces, proud of his chef-d’œuvre and completely ignoring his parents silently having an apoplexy in the background. “What,” he responded, continuing the act, “don’t you wike being adwessed by youw twue title?”
Barack sighed, rubbing at his tired, tired eyes.
“I know this is difficult for you, seeing as you’re, well, you,” he said, “but can you at least try to speak like a regular, run-of-the-mill human being for once? You’re going to give our kid a complex before she’s even born.”
With that said, he rubbed at his round, protruding belly fondly. And yet, despite his begging, Vladimir’s grin didn’t waver in the slightest.
“If we’re lucky, she’ll inherit my sense of humor. And then it’ll be two against one.”
Barack turned back to his neglected coffee, taking an unhurried sip. The bitterness was comforting. What was not comforting, however, was his husband’s ever looming presence that haunted his every waking moment, like a sentient, idiotic shadow hellbent on making him miserable. Barack’s lips curled into a glower, the pregnancy and the hormones that came with it having eroded his patience way below its usual capacity, and he turned to Vladimir once again with a glare made of bigger, sharper knives lovingly dipped in lava and hatred.
“Vladimir, I don’t have time for your dumbassery.”
“Come on, dear, join me in the dumbassery.”
It was something akin to an unstoppable force versus an immovable object, a battle that neither of them was going to win anytime soon seeing as no party was willing to yield first. Barack knew that, and he had a sneaking suspicion his husband did as well. Vladimir, of course, tried anyway, because, much like the fabled, well-regarded fictional character of the century and sex icon, Barry B. Benson, Vladimir doesn’t care what Barack thinks is impossible.
“Pwetty pwease,” he said, blinking and clasping his own hands together in a display of endearment that did not suit him in the slightest, “I’ll do anything.”
Barack raised an eyebrow, now paying attention.
Vladimir nodded. “Anything for you, Mr. Obama.”
Gently, and in an almost lackadaisical manner, Barack placed his coffee mug back on the countertop, and sauntered over to where Vladimir was standing, hips swaying. The action would’ve been seductive had Barack not been carrying the equivalent of an inflated bowling ball in his stomach, which meant his steps were more akin to a bloated penguin waddling about. Once he was decently close, Barack leaned forward and whispered in Vladimir’s ear, his voice sickly bittersweet, like poisoned honey:
It was a cold day in Russia.
Vladimir Putin—Vladdy, to his friends—gazed wistfully outside his window as fresh, pristine snow poured from the sky like God haphazardly snorting lines of cocaine from above the clouds. It was truly a beautiful day to be outside playing with friends, as had been proven by the numerous children screaming at the top of their lungs and laughing in joy as they engaged in snowball fights with their friends before slipping on the icy sidewalk and cracking their skulls open.
With an aggravated scoff, Vladimir stood up from his window seat and closed the curtains, intent on distancing himself from the outside world and all of its joy. He did not need joy. It was a rather overrated emotion, anyway...
And yet, despite the barriers, the children’s shrill cries still echoed dully in his head.
Hesitantly, his eyes wandered to the worn calendar mounted on the wall for the briefest of moments before he averted his gaze once again like a wounded, frightened animal. Having a calendar had proved itself to be a pointless endeavor when he barely left his house, only doing so in search of the barest of necessities—food and alcohol. Besides, Vladimir didn’t need to look at any sort of calendar to know which day this was. It was something that’d been seared in his brain with the most torturous of branding irons.
The day he’d met his husband, and the day he’d lost him as well.
Before the event that would ruin his life had unfolded, the two of them had held the date in high regard, claiming it to be their lucky number. And, upon finding out their child would also be born at that same date, their belief had only grown stronger. Barack had laughed—that snort-laugh he’d slowly come to fall in love with, like a charming asthmatic pig—and said it had to be fate.
Fate isn’t real, Vladimir concluded with scathing finality. Had fate truly been real, had it been merciful, it wouldn’t have taken his husband from him. It wouldn’t have taken their child. It wouldn’t have stolen the two things he cherished most in all the world and left him to rot in this cold prison on his own, leaving nothing but memories and meaningless trinkets behind as high-pitched squeals taunted him from behind the glass window.
You could’ve had that.
But he didn’t.
He didn’t, because fate had chosen him to suffer.
Choosing to bury his memories deep within the confines of his withering mind where they belonged, Vladimir made a decision. With the same speed and willpower of a man who’d just received a wedgie while wearing a micro thong, he made his way to his kitchen, woebegotten self-loathing and reminiscing set aside for the time being. There would be time for brooding later, but for now, there was something else in his mind, and it wasn’t dementia.
It was cold, and the layers upon layers of clothing he had on would not help much against the biting temperatures that would only worsen with time. A hot drink— that was what he needed. While Vodka would usually be his preferred option for lonely, chilling days like these, Vladimir had once promised his late husband that he would not go down the harrowing path of alcoholism—not again—and he was hellbent on keeping that promise.
Coffee would have to do.
Turning on the kitchen lights with a sharp click, and unsure of whether that click came from the light switch or his bones, Vladimir immediately headed for the cupboards in search of the necessary ingredients, which weren’t many; he liked his coffee black, like an ushanka, or his soul, or his favorite suit—the one he’d worn during his election, the one he’d surely won in a fair and democratic way.
That was in the past, however.
The death of his husband had destroyed him from the inside out, his mental health slowly but steadily spiraling into a bottomless pit of alcohol and drugs until he’d become a shell of his former self, nothing but a shadow of the great and commanding man he once had been, deemed unfit for ruling a country. He’d found it ridiculous—unfit, he wasn’t unfit! He was the fittest man that had ever graced this country, fit like Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson wearing a shirt two sizes too small. Way too fit, in fact.
And yet, despite him presenting this infallible argument in a concise and logical PowerPoint presentation, coupled with a few pictures of The Rock in tight shirts to really drive the point home, he failed to convince everyone—anyone—of his very intact sanity. The only thing he’d managed to convince them of was that he was worryingly obsessed with The Rock and his shining abs.
Vladimir pursed his lips, the memory bitter in his mind. It was best not to dwell on these things.
The coffee—he needed to get back to that.
Aimlessly perusing through the cupboards, it took Vladimir a good minute or two to spot a familiar metallic container sitting in the far right corner of the furthest wall cabinets, almost hidden from view. He frowned, confused, and muttered under his breath, “Could’ve sworn I didn’t put it there.”
That wasn’t really of importance. It wasn’t uncommon for him to misplace items every now and again, maddening as the search for them may be. It could’ve been his age, or the crippling alcoholism that he definitely didn’t have, or invisible fairies, or any of the nineteen ninety-seven other reasons an old yet sexy man might have for misplacing a pen that had definitely been on this table ten minutes ago, how the hell does a pen simply disappear into thin air—
A deep breath.
One second, two seconds. In and out.
He was not going to have a second stress-induced stroke over a pen of all things. The nurses at the nearest hospital knew him by name, and though that would’ve been a more concerning issue had he not once been the president of Russia, it was still rather embarrassing that he’d found himself in need of medical assistance to begin with.
It was a good thing his status was still somewhat intact; that was the only thing that allowed his trips to the hospital to be seen as ‘the ex-president requires the utmost care posthaste’ instead of ‘Annika, that old man from down the block fell down the stairs again, can you fucking believe it.’
Vladimir reached for the container, wincing at how difficult such a task was. The layers of clothing as well as layers of age weren’t helping his case, but he’d managed before and he could do it again. It was just a matter of time and perseverance, although eventually he may have to add a step ladder to that list.
Vladimir was a proud man, and he was indeed proud enough to admit that. He liked to think of himself as independent, even though most would claim he would need some sort of aid at his age (which was, admittedly, a blow to his ego). Though that was part of the reason, it wasn’t that Vladimir was too proud to ask for help, but rather, he had nobody to ask for help at all. And, while that would be considered tragic, he didn’t think so. He’d purposefully isolated himself from society like a sadder, saggier version of the Grinch for a reason.
Perhaps his loneliness would be his eventual downfall—quite literally, seeing as the last time he’d fallen down the stairs it took the neighbors eight hours to notice and call him an ambulance—but that was just fine by him.
Having successfully grabbed the slippery item he was looking for, Vladimir asked, “How did you get there?” The container, being a container, did not respond. Vladimir sighed, pinching his forehead in frustration. “...I’m talking to myself again.”
Inanimate objects were great to talk to. Good listeners, never interrupted with unwanted advice or other similarly useless input; they were perfect for one-sided interactions (which were a good chunk of Vladimir’s conversations at that point). Much better than other people anyway... or, well, that’s what Vladimir told himself.
That was one lie he could live with.
Setting the container down on the kitchen countertop, he proceeded to then make his way to the antique cabinet next to the window, the one made of black wood and adorned with intricate patterns top to bottom, a true beauty to behold. It could take a single person hours upon hours to take in every detail, every swirl and curl that had been painstakingly carved and polished, to look at it and say, “The person who made this cabinet did not need to go this hard but they did anyway and I am truly glad for it.”
Most people could not afford such a piece of art, but Vladimir wasn’t most people. His cabinet, much like him, was a lonely beast with much to say, yet no one around to talk to. Their words were said, but not heard. Wasted.
He used it to store mugs with funny things written on them.
Having spent enough time mentally waxing lyrical about a wooden cabinet that was worth more than his mother’s coffin, Vladimir grabbed his favorite mug from his collection, one that said, ‘I Survived The Mishapocalypse And All I Got Was This Lousy Mug.’
That was truly one of the mysteries of the century. Vladimir wasn’t sure what a Mishapocalypse was, and he was not yet proficient enough in navigating the Google Dot Com to look it up. He could only assume it was a historical event of great significance from a monumental nation, with battles fought for years on end—countless lives lost, but millions saved. There were horses, and trumpets, and Dwayne Johnson. Vladimir wasn’t sure how accurate his vision of those events were, but it didn’t hurt to indulge himself from time to time.
With his mug of choice having been picked and his coffee container sitting on the countertop, waiting to be pried open and have its contents revealed to the world, Vladimir was ready to make himself a steaming cup of black coffee, which would be his only company for the hour. As for the remaining eight hours, well… he’d long grown used to the coldness of his king-sized, ridiculously spacious bed for comfort, and today would surely be no different.
It never was.
But that didn’t matter. The loneliness had long grown stale, no longer sharp and painful like it once had been. And that was—
The coffee container was gone.
The pristine marble countertop gleamed in the sunlight in all of its marbly glory, proudly displaying everything that’d been set atop it. Everything except for the damn coffee container—the container that Vladimir was completely sure he’d set down in perfect view from where he was currently standing. The container that had been there ten seconds ago and now just wasn’t, as if it had been snatched by an unseen force or swallowed by the void.
Now, as much as it pained him to admit it, Vladimir was old. He knew that he was old, and denial benefited no one, especially not him. He was old, but he wasn’t senile. That container had been there. It couldn’t have gone anywhere else; it didn’t have legs. And even if the container had somehow, within that very small time frame, magically developed sentience and decided that rolling away was its best method of escaping the unspeakable horrors that would inevitably follow and perpetually haunt any being that could pass the Turing Test, it couldn’t have gone very far.
Was there a container thief in the neighborhood?
No, that was a ridiculous line of thought. Vladimir’s house was practically a museum, filled to the brim with priceless artifacts that a petty burglar could only dream of having access to. From jewelry worth more than a house to his beautiful, masterfully-crafted mug cabinet, there were much more appealing things to steal than an old cylindrical jar that was used to store coffee.
And yet the thought ate at him.
Walking to the now containerless countertop, Vladimir carefully set his favorite mug down and glanced around, wondering if the item had been knocked down by the wind or something of the sort. It was improbable, bordering impossibility, but there had to be a logical explanation for what had happened. There was no way something could just disappear like that. He refused to accept it.
Vladimir narrowed his eyes, frustration slowly consuming him. “Where the hell…”
Not on the floor, not on the countertop—the container had simply vanished without a trace. It may as well belong to Narnia now, or wherever the fuck an eldritch being intent on making his life hell would teleport any and all insignificant objects to.
God-fucking-dammit. Vladimir had already been on the verge of having a mental breakdown, and this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. All he could do was just sit and wait for another terrible thing to happen, because the universe would inevitably hear his silent plea and throw everything else it could at him, its whimsical nature cruel and undecipherable—
With wide eyes and his breath caught in his throat, choking him like a noose, Vladimir slowly turned his head towards the back door, the source of the sounds he’d been hearing. They sounded like— no, there was absolutely no way, it was just the wind. It had to be the wind, because there was no way this was real, it sounded too much like—
“Vladimir, where are you?!”
Vladimir shook, wide-eyed, his grip on the marble countertop slipping as his breath began to quicken. The cold air became even colder as the familiar voice called for him, its tone colored with fear and desperation.
Hesitantly, he took one step forward, and then two, and when he blinked Vladimir found himself desperately pushing forth the door that led to his backyard, almost tearing it off its hinges.
And there he was.
His husband, his light, the love of his life. Barack Obama. Wearing casual clothes that weren’t fit for such low temperatures and protectively pressing a swaddled bundle to his chest, he trudged forth despite the weather working against him in every way it could—a cruel beast preying on an innocent man, intent on tearing off his throat. His garments were torn and covered in snow, yet he carried on, and on, and on. The forces of nature were truly something to be reckoned with but, in Vladimir’s eyes, so was his warrior of a husband.
When was his husband back? He shouldn’t be back, right? That was what he thought. Vladimir thought he wasn’t coming back. Because he wasn’t. He wasn’t supposed to come back...
The two of them made eye contact, and Barack cried out, “Vladimir, help me!”
Snapping out of his trance, Vladimir immediately rushed to his husband’s aid. He had no time to stand around and ask himself pointless questions, not when his husband was in danger. Winter or no, Russia’s blizzards were merciless and deceitful; the snow-covered backyard was a sight to behold, but it was also a death trap, a silent killer that hid behind its beauty before pouncing. Vladimir had to be fast, or the hypothermia would be faster, and he couldn’t lose his husband. He’d never forgive himself if Barack got hurt.
Once Barack was within arm’s reach, Vladimir pulled him into a hug, not caring for the snow that coated his partner’s shirt.
“Barack. my Barry…” he murmured fondly, pulling him even closer. His grip was tight, as if the person he was hugging would turn to ash if he ever let go. “Where were you? I missed you so much...”
Barack gladly leaned into the hug. “I missed you too, Vladdy.”
“I…” Vladimir pulled his husband back a little, but still kept his hands on his shoulders. He didn’t want to let go. “I thought you were gone.”
Barack looked confused for a second, before his expression melted into the amused smile that Vladimir loved so much. “I’d never leave, Vladdy. Not without you.” He then looked down at the bundle he’d been pressing to his chest protectively, his expression nurturing and tender. “And neither would she.”
Vladimir stilled for a second time, his eyes landing on the bundle. He heard a soft coo and his heart did a backflip. Their daughter. How could he have forgotten about their daughter? What a horrible, terrible father he was!
“Of course,” he said, nodding, “of course. I know you’d never leave. You would never.”
Why did he think his husband had left? How could he have ever thought that? What a preposterous idea.
Barack chuckled, lovingly placing a hand on Vladimir’s cheek. His palm was cold but, to Vladimir, it was the warmest thing he’d felt in his entire life. “Come with us, sweetheart,” Barack coaxed, his voice low and soothing. Vladimir felt as if the words were echoing in the back of his head, so sweet and alluring. His husband took a step closer, his words coated in honey, “Come, and we’ll all be together again. Don’t you want that?”
Putin nodded, feeling lightheaded at the thought. “I do…”
Barack took another step closer until their faces were inches apart. Vladimir, in his dreamlike state, leaned forward, closing his eyes. He’d missed this so much. It all felt like a dream, but it wasn’t. They were finally together again. Vladimir would no longer be alone, because his dear husband was—
Vladimir barely had time to open his eyes before he found himself being flung backwards by an unseen force, an action akin to God having decided he’d grown bored of snorting meth off the body of slim hookers in a very family-friendly, christian way and had found it more amusing to toss him around like a dollar store tennis ball in the jaws of an anxious chihuahua.
To say that the impact did wonders for Vladimir’s brittle bones, barely existent muscle and ebbing dignity would be a bold-faced lie.
His fragile back collided against hard wood (not in a sexy way), and Vladimir let out a strangled cry as the searing pain quickly spread throughout his body like fire in a forest, or chlamydia at a college party. He slid onto the floor and curled in on himself like a pathetic sack of mashed meat and bones. The pain was unbearable, and he struggled to breathe between waves of agony sweeping over him periodically. He could feel himself whimpering, but the sound didn’t quite reach his ears.
He then heard a cry, one that was not his.
“Barack!” Vladimir sputtered, trying to get up without much success, his broken body unwilling to cooperate with his racing mind. This couldn’t be happening. Not him. Not his husband, not their daughter. Please, God, or whoever’s up there and listening, not them. Anyone but them. “Bar—”
Vladimir looked up, his brain struggling to process the image before him. Through his blurry vision, he could see two men wielding weapons that he did not know the names of surrounding his husband as he desperately tried to escape their incessant onslaught, protectively clutching their daughter against his bosom. Vladimir closed his eyes, not understanding the situation. Why were they attacking Barack, the one person who’d never wronged anyone in his life? The sweetest person he’d ever met? The same man who cried during their marathon of Twilight? Fucking why—
Vladimir opened his eyes.
And then, suddenly, his husband wasn’t there anymore.
Instead, a foul creature that looked like the secret lovechild of Gollum and Hagrid took his place, its dying cries echoing throughout the backyard as it struggled under the boot of one of its assailants, its wounds proving themselves fatal. And, when it finally stopped struggling and moving and, you know, living and stuff, the two mysterious men allowed themselves to breathe in relief.
Vladimir, however, could not say the same. His breath caught in his throat, eyeing the corpse of the creature that once had been his husband.
He couldn’t… breathe...
His world went black.