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folie à deux

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I wonder what the chances are that the death of a person in the company of a serial killer would come about by chance.
― Oyinkan Braithwaite; My Sister, the Serial Killer



Hydrogen-peroxide, if rubbed in while the blood is still wet, will keep clothes from staining. Andrey learned this from Daniil, who for his schooling was often elbow-deep in cadavers. It is a trick all the medical students know, but Andrey did not stick around long enough in the profession to ever put the advice to use that way. He has used it instead after fist-fights, after ill-advised duels and criminal endeavors that had left Peter upset and worried over him.

Chlorine-based bleach is another they recommend, that will get gore off of practically any surface. More importantly, it covers the smell. 

He remembers as much the first time he is roused from his sleep at three in the morning by a panicked-looking Peter. In the dark, half-asleep, Andrey could not see the blood that covered his brother, but he could smell it - a sharp coppery tang sitting unmistakably in the air.

Peter was sobbing, little quiet things that wracked his shoulders. It all brought Andrey to full wakefulness, bolting up to turn on the light on his bedside. The oil lamp reveals to him the state of his brother: the tears streaking down his face interrupted by a streak of blood. There is red drying on his hands and upper arms.

Andrey wipes at the tears first.

"Oh, Petya," he breathed, "Petya, what have you done?"

Peter could hardly speak, instead using those bloodstained hands to grip at Andrey's wrist and drag him along to his bedroom just across the hall. Peter had been out with a new friend when Andrey went to bed - likely a lover, he suspected - and hadn't heard him return for the night.

Inside the bedroom, he wonders how he could have slept through it. The spray of blood traveled across the wall and up towards the ceiling. It's arterial, Andrey assumes, an observation which is confirmed when he finds the body laying on the floor with a scalpel sticking out of his neck. He recognizes it as the one he took from the medical faculty before dropping out, that he gave to Peter to better sharpen his pencils.

The adrenaline keeps him from wandering out of his own body at the sight. It is not the first time Andrey has seen a body. It is not the first time Andrey has been close to a murder. He has been in confrontations where the other guy never got back up again. He had prayed his brother would be spared that ugliness; as if he were the one to take on the burden of violence, then Peter would never have to.

This, however, feels different from a fist fight.

"What the fuck happened?"

Peter avoids eye contact, curling in on himself and getting more blood on his white shirt, "He - he attacked me. I told him I wasn't interested anymore…"

Andrey wants to think his brother is telling the truth. Andrey had only met the dead man a handful of times; he was a poet with a big ego and Andrey couldn't stand to be in the same room as him for long. He thinks he can imagine the guy getting handsy and if that is the case, Andrey wishes he would have cut his hands off himself.

Andrey wants to believe Peter, but the problem is that Andrey knows his brother as well as he knows himself. When Peter looks up at him with wet, questioning eyes it really matters little in the end.

"Go pull the sheets off my bed," Andrey says, beginning to do the same to Peter's, dropping the linen to the floor to soak up the pool of blood before it bled down to the flat under them. Peter nods, shakily, and Andrey gets to work.

Hydrogen-peroxide gets the stains out of the mattress and diluted chlorine-based bleach is rubbed into the wood floors to mask the unbearable stench of death. Andrey takes Peter's shirt and the bloody sheets down to the furnace of their tenement building and stays there until he watches them burn away into nothing.

The smell of burning blood is distinct, but luckily there was no one awake to question it. The remaining sheets get wrapped tightly around the corpse who eventually gets dropped into the canals near their building.

Hundreds of bodies have washed up on the shores of this river, from all manner of crime. Andrey isn't worried about it, but his hands still shake. When he returns back to the flat, Peter has run himself a bath that is tinted pink. Andrey sits next to him on the tile floor.

"It's done," Andrey says.

Peter closes his eyes. He lets out a breath and a thank you.

They don't talk about it again once the sun rises. Andrey supposes there is no need to - what's done is done. When the poet's disappearance is brought up by a friend over drinks, Andrey can honestly say, "I barely knew him."

Peter, on the other hand, lies very convincingly: "I assumed he was angry at me when he stopped coming by."

In the end, they are never questioned about it. Popular opinion is that he finally fled the country like he always said he would. It is very good luck. Their lives return to normal, with Andrey getting into more trouble than Peter whether through bar fights, drugs, or debts. This is as it should be, Andrey thinks.

The next time Peter kills they are already architects.

It is at a fancy party of both artists and investors, held at an old historic hotel in the Capital. Their latest benefactors have paid them to have private rooms for the night and at the ballroom, there is an open bar.

Peter has always been the more indulgent drinker between the two of them. This is surprising to some, considering how Andrey is the impulsive one first to throw punches, the one who's never met a substance he didn't agree with. However, the difference is that Peter is the one who takes to habit. 

It worries Andrey, but it is difficult to bring up Peter's vices when he has so many of his own. There has always been this sort of standstill between them, where they can only watch worriedly as they each court a different sort of ruin. That night, Peter is drunk and Andrey's eyes trail him periodically from across the room.

He is drunk because a handsome and rich man keeps plying him with expensive liquor. Andrey knows him only by name and reputation, as you eventually come to know everyone in the high arts scene of any given city. He is associated with a generous donation to the restoration of the central opera house, due to a fixation on a pretty soprano who led last season's production and who was currently across the room attempting to climb into another man's lap.

Andrey wonders if this rich man’s not looking for a new muse. Peter is dressed up for the night; his long hair held up by hair pin and his suit newly tailored. The man is smitten. Peter is enjoying the attention.

His careful vigil over his brother and his new suitor is interrupted when another important benefactor to their work approaches. He wants to discuss the specifics of their latest project and it requires Andrey's full attention. By the time they are done, Peter is nowhere to be found.

There was no concrete reason for it, but Andrey still found his chest clenched in panic. His body reverted to a sort of animal instinct. Something fearful inside of him carried him through the crowd of the ballroom and back up to their hotel rooms; both of which he found empty.

He attempts to place himself in Peter's shoes - something as easy to him as changing his clothes or hair - and suddenly knows where to go.

Andrey takes the service stairs up to the roof of the building, which he knows offers a great view of their latest construction just across the street. When he opens the door to the cold night air he finds his instinct was right, of course. He knows his brother like the back of his hand. Peter turns back to him, eyes wide and caught red-handed.

Quite literally, the blood covers the entirety of his palms and has soaked the cuffs of his white dress shirt. That sharp hairpin he was wearing now lay embedded deep in the rich man's eye socket.

Peter's breath is coming in quick, in a panic, as Andrey stares at him. Before Andrey can even ask, excuses begin to tumble from his lips.

"We started arguing. He - he got aggressive and I panicked…"

They seemed to have been getting along fine downstairs, Andrey doesn't say. He just let's the cold dread set in. He stays silent, allowing all the adrenaline and fear to run its course through him.

His lack of response causes Peter to start crying.

"I didn't mean to, I don't know what came over me…"

Andrey closes his eyes. Shifts once more into the man that Peter needs him to be. He pulls a handkerchief out of his suit pocket and begins to roughly wipe down his brother's bloodied hands.

"Did anyone see you come up here?"

Peter sniffles, "I don't think so."

"Good," Andrey says, "Roll up your sleeves. You’re going to go to your room and change into a spare shirt. Then…go back to the party. If anyone asks, you just went to the bathroom. Play up your drunkenness - that'll be your alibi."

Peter nods mutely, before doing exactly as Andrey says. That leaves Andrey with the body. This one is not as easy to dispose of. Briefly, he considers attempting to haul him into the building’s water tank but it would be too much of a physical feat, and he would still have to take care of all the blood.

He removes the hairpin from the dead man’s eye with an audible squelch and drags him off to the side, so at least he won't be immediately discovered if someone were to come up to the roof. He plans to return to his room, to at least gather supplies, to at least strategize, when he accidentally stumbles upon his solution.

On the floor where their suites are, the dead man’s soprano is arguing with her new beau; an almost physical altercation that causes her hairpin to drop out of it’s elaborate styling as she screams at the top of her lungs. Several people come out of their rooms to look on in worry, murmuring before shutting their doors again. She storms past Andrey to lock herself in her own room.

Once the hall is empty, Andrey picks up the hairpin. He places it in her ex-lover’s eye socket, where it fits snuggly. Back in his room, he washes out Peter's things in the sink. He had been carrying hydrogen-peroxide to clean a wound he had been nursing from the week prior.

It lifts the red off white with ease.

When he returns downstairs, Peter is seated among a group of loud and drunk friends. Andrey slips in as if he had been there the whole time.

The body isn't found till morning. When the police question everyone, Andrey mentions being witness to the altercation outside of his suite. Yes, she seemed in a violent mood. The hairpin she wore had been encrusted with small rubies that glistened like little specks of blood. Distinguishable, everyone had seen it. And it fit in perfectly among the carnage.

With no alibi - the soprano having spent the rest of the night alone in her room - clear motive, and incriminating evidence, the case is open and shut. The police ask Peter even less questions than they do Andrey. He overhears the defenses others make of him: yes, I saw Peter speak with the victim early in the night but he was completely drunk.

After they return back to their own apartment, Andrey wants to scold him. He wants to demand an explanation and demand that it never happen again. Killing is a very ugly thing - something that Andrey never wanted Peter to have to experience. It is above all dangerous. Andrey does not want Peter to end up in any situation he won't be able to get himself out of.

He says nothing and the next time Peter kills someone, several years later, Andrey takes the fall for it and they both leave the country for some time. That time, Peter didn’t offer any stories or excuses.

It's fine, really. Andrey had already been in trouble with the law; numerous other charges regarding drugs and laundering. His reputation was already unsalvageable. It was best to spare Peter that.

They aren't able to return to the Capital, finding themselves exiled in the rural east with their relationship deteriorating and their work at a standstill. This is when the Kains reach out. This is when they meet Farkhad. This is when Peter is struck with inspiration for what is to be his magnum opus.

With so many sins piled between the two of them, the Town-on-Gorkhon promises at the very least to be a new start. Andrey uses their money to open the Broken Heart, the Kains cover their living expenses and Farkhad is pleasant company in the evenings. He may not be as genius as Peter, nor as headstrong as Andrey, but he is charming. He is a hard worker and supports their art.

Andrey is the one who sleeps with Farkhad first, after working and drinking late. It happens in a whirlwind, on the bar of the Broken Heart once they've closed for the night. It is, however, Peter who Farkhad falls in love with first.

Andrey does not hold it against either of them. At least, he does not want to. Very often he thinks that it was a mistake for either of them to have been born separate from the other. Their hearts want too similarly, they think too differently. It is the effect of being half of a whole. They always end up hurt.

Jealousy tints his relationship with Farkhad, though he attempts to keep it at bay. Farkhad stays more and more often at Peter's loft, where they argue over designs and poetry and have sex. Farkhad is there more often than Andrey is.

Andrey’s concern is that Farkhad doesn’t know his brother. He worries that he wouldn’t be as forgiving of his brother’s tendencies. When he worries, it makes Peter upset.

“You always do this,” Peter says, “You hover."

Someone has to protect Peter, if only from himself.

It all goes to hell because this is what happens when people find themselves in between the Stamatin twins. It is the first time Andrey is present for a murder.

One night, checking-in on his brother he finds the two of them. They decide to have a drink together as a group but Farkhad had begun with these implications; concerns about their exile, repeating rumors that had made it to his ears all the way from the Capital. He blames Andrey. That’s when he begins throwing accusations - that Andrey was stifling his brother, that their relationship was not healthy and it was why Peter was struggling so much to work.

Andrey had seen red. Andrey had pummeled his face until he heard his nose break, until Farkhad kneed him in the groin and managed to flip him over, his hands going straight for Andrey's neck.

Before Farkhad could even attempt to choke him, a knife is plunged into his back.

It does not immediately register. Farkhad stares at Andrey with eyes widened in shock and disbelief for several moments. Before he can turn around to look at the assailant, the knife comes out and down again.

In that single second, Andrey gets out his own pocket knife and plunges it straight up into his friend’s chest. Again, and again.

The next time Farkhad opens his mouth, blood pours out to fall upon Andrey's face like a torrent. He gasps when the warmth and copper hits his skin. Farkhad falls off of him shortly after, leaving Andrey trembling in his own crime scene.

He does not gag when the blood trickles down his throat. When his tongue instinctively reaches out to lick his lips, they are wet and tangy.

"Brother," Peter starts, "Brother, are you alright?"

Peter is climbing over him, reaching out to cup his face. It makes his hands tacky with blood, too. Andrey says nothing, just attempts to hold back Peter's touch to keep him from staining himself further.

"Brother…are you angry? Please say something."

Andrey sits up, still speechless and still holding Peter back by his wrists. He supposes he should be angry but holding anything against his brother is holding it against himself. There is no way to divide this fault. He is silent because he mourns Farkhad. He is silent because he wishes it did not have to be this way, but he knows it has to.

"It's okay," Peter says, "We're okay."

Peter stands, pulling Andrey up to his feet too. Holding his hand, he leads him through the flat to the bathtub which he runs with warm water.

Andrey catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror before then; sees his face all red. There is blood caught in-between his eye lashes, clumping them together. The white of his eyes is a stark contrast. He strips off his clothes automatically, in a daze, before settling into the water. With a rag, Peter attempts to wipe down the worst of it.

His vision zeroes in on his stained clothes sitting in a pile next to the tub.

"Hydrogen-peroxide," he says, and Peter's movements still, "It'll get the blood out of my clothes. Use bleach on the floors."

Peter considers that a moment and then nods. He leaves Andrey in the tub as he goes about those instructions. Andrey, for his part, allows himself to sink further into the water, until he is submerged completely.

Holding his breath he thinks that all of his problems started in the womb. He and his brother should have never been made separate. Because they are separate they have this: Andrey's worry, Peter's resentment, and an inextricable dependency. 

By the time the floors are wiped and Farkhad's body is wrapped up tightly in sheets, the pink-tinted water of the bath has run cold. When Peter approaches him to sit once more by his side, he looks mournful.

After a few more moments of silence, Andrey asks, "Is it true what he said? That we're no good for each other."

What he is really asking is do you want to get away from me? But Andrey does not think he could stand to hear that response.

Peter, of course, hears the real question regardless. "Sometimes I think we need to be apart, but it terrifies me. Separation shouldn't be so terrifying."

"Separation's our entire problem," Andrey says. Souls were never meant to be stretched out like this, to be cut in half and placed into distinct bodies. They are too identical to ever be apart and yet - still too different. Too discontinuous. Where does that leave them? Conjoined and unsustainable.

Understanding crosses Peter's face.

"You do so much for me," Peter says, “It makes me feel guilty.”

Being cared for can be a burden in its own way. But Andrey has to do it. Taking care of Peter is taking care of himself.

Andrey goes silent again.

Eventually, they bury Farkhad out in the cemetery, designing the headstone themselves. The only reason they are not immediately persecuted for the death is the influence of the Kains.

Both Andrey and Peter mourn him in their own way. Peter retreats into himself, drinks heavier. Andrey focuses on the Broken Heart and on a whirlwind romance with Eva Yan that dwindles as quickly as it starts. He feels his visits to check in on his brother are often unwelcome, even without Farkhad there, so those lessen, too.

He wonders if it is all beginning to weigh on Peter. He wonders if they aren't mourning more than one thing.

When Daniil shows up, he is a welcome and fond memory for their troubled times. Andrey is thrilled to see him and remembers very quickly what it was about the man that had caught his attention so thoroughly during his medical school days. He is bold, confident, and brilliant. He keeps up with the twins like no one else does; whether it be in intellect or vision.

In a short manner of time, Andrey comes to the conclusion that this is a fated reunion. He knows it by the way his chest constricts when Daniil smiles. He knows it by the fond looks he gets in return.

Andrey is inclined to tell him as much.

Daniil dimples behind a swig of twyrine, with Andrey's hand on his thigh under the table,  "Your brother told me similarly, you know."

"…Did he now?"

Daniil nods, "He did. I feel very lucky to have found the both of you. I didn't expect to stumble upon such kindred spirits in this town." 

It thrills Andrey. It terrifies him. When Daniil leaves for the evening, he makes his way straight to his brother's flat, using the spare key and not bothering to knock. Peter rises from the couch in surprise, stumbling to his feet when Andrey rushes over to meet him.

His hand goes for Peter's neck, an unpainful but firm grip. Peter goes still, but his eyes are not fearful. He knows Andrey would never hurt him.

"Peter," Andrey says, aware of the desperate edge of his tone, "I love you. I'd do anything for you."

“Andrey…What on earth are you going on about?"

Andrey swallows and keeps Peter's confused eye contact as he speaks, "About Daniil. We can't hurt this one."

We, he says, because it matters little which one of them holds the blade. They will always share the burden of each other's crimes.

Understanding clicks quickly for Peter. His hands wrap around Andrey's wrist, but he does not pull him off.

"It won't come to that," Peter says, "It won't. Daniil's different. You can tell, can't you? Whatever his soul is made of, ours is the same."

Andrey and Peter are one soul. This is what Farkhad never understood but perhaps, what Daniil might be able to. What with his theories and his visions and the avant-garde way about him. Maybe he could understand. He releases his grip on Peter's neck. 

Andrey wants to believe his brother. He brings in Peter for a limp hug and still, wonders briefly if Daniil would be willing to help him hide the next body.

He does already know the hydrogen-peroxide trick.