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“How long did it take you to realize that it was me?” Andrei asked, and although he was an adult man now, his eyes were wide and he was the frightened, starving child who Leo had last seen in the woods an eternity ago. He was pleading with his older brother for attention, for recognition. 

Leo thought of the child he had first found, buried in the snow with his guts ripped out. He thought of Fyodor’s boy. He thought of the girl who had known nothing but depravity and abuse until the day Andrei killed her. He thought, too, of the young man with the stunted brain, of the doctor who had tried to help Leo with his investigation, of the hundreds of nameless homosexuals who had been sentenced to the Gulags for Andrei’s crimes. 

He felt like he was drifting, looking down at the room and at himself from above. It was the same separation of self that he had used to survive for so many years now, making himself into the perfect MGB officer, into the Demidovs’ perfect son, into the facade of a perfect husband that he wanted to be for Raisa. 

“I didn’t,” he said, levelly. “I never saw it. I was blind, Andrei. I didn’t see anything I didn’t want to see.”

Andrei’s face crumpled in on itself. He used to look like that, Leo remembered, when Pavel told him not to follow him. 

“But I did this all for you,” he said. “For you, Pavel. Don’t you see? Didn’t you understand?”

And then, very suddenly, Leo felt his spirit snap back into his body, and he saw Andrei not as the child he had been but the man he was now. A twisted, stunted man with bloodstained hands. The state had said that Varlam Babinich was stunted, that he didn’t know right from wrong, that he could be capable of anything. And it has said that Aleksandr and the hundreds of other men who had been sentenced on his word were twisted, that their perversion made him capable of any crime. But looking into Andrei’s eyes now, he knew that this was what evil looked like. 

And what was worse, Leo saw himself there. He had not killed those children, had not asked for Andrei to kill them for him, but he had sentenced Varlam - Aleksandr - Doctor Tyapkin - how many others? How many others that he couldn’t even remember? He had as much blood on his hands as Andrei did.

“I didn’t ask for any of this,” he said. “You did this. You did all of this.” His heart was pounding double time, and he felt rage flooding through his veins. “I didn’t ask to be taken away, Andrei! I didn’t ask you to kill for me! I didn’t ask to have my life and my memories stolen from me! Fuck you. How the hell do you think you have the right to blame me for - to blame me for - to blame me for the one thing I didn’t do!”

“No,” Andrei said. “No, no, no, no. I’ve waited for this too long. I’ve waited for this, Pavel. You can’t ruin this for me. I did everything right. I set it all up for you. Why didn’t you find me? Why didn’t you look?” He stood, and Leo saw a serrated blade in his hand.

“Are you going to kill me, like you killed those children? Are you going to admit that it was never about me after all?” Leo snapped, and got to his feet. “Go ahead. Try it. You might find that I’m harder to kill than a frightened fucking child - ”

With a cry, Andrei fell on him, and Leo drew out his knife, and there was a flurry of metal, and Andrei was bleeding, but then Leo blinked and he was on his back, Andrei over him, the knife coming close to his throat. 

“You never loved me,” Andrei said. “You always wanted to get rid of me! You did this! You did this to me - ”

Leo felt the cold steel against his throat. He shut his eyes.

And then there was the sound of dull metal slamming into flesh and bone, and Andrei’s weight was ripped off of him. Leo’s eyes flew open, and he jerked upright. He glimpsed Andrei’s face, contorted in shock, as Vasili Nikitin slammed his pistol into Andrei’s skull again. Leo saw blood, and wasn’t sure whose it was. He was paralyzed. The knife, where was the knife?

Andrei’s eyes went blank, and Vasili kept hitting him, until his face was a ruin, until Leo could no longer recognize his brother, and the blood still kept coming, bright and fresh. 

“Vasili,” Leo said. “Vasili, he’s dead, he’s dead - ”

Vasili looked up at Leo, and his hand went limp, the bloodied gun slipping out of his hand and clattering onto the basement floor. Clumsily, he pulled back from the corpse, and put a hand to his stomach. It came away red.

“Oh,” he said. He sounded distantly surprised. “Oh.” He curled up around himself, his knees up, his hand to his stomach. 

Leo’s first-aid training kicked in, and he pulled off his coat and crawled over to Vasili, prying Vasili’s hand away from the wound and pressing the coat against it, trying to stop the bleeding. His coat began to turn dark with Vasili’s blood. 

“I couldn’t let him do it,” Vasili said, distantly. “I couldn’t let him kill you.”

Leo looked down at his former second in command, uncomprehending. Bloodied and pinched with pain, the man’s features no longer looked as heroic or as repulsive as they once had. He was just a terrified, dying man. “You always wanted me dead,” he said.

Vasili’s breathing was ragged and labored. “Thought if you were dead,” he said, “That I’d stop wanting you. But it didn’t go away. When I thought you were dead. I thought it would stop. But I just felt empty inside.” Vasili’s bloodied hand came up to curl around Leo’s wrist. “Leo,” he said, weakly. “Don’t leave. Just - just stay. For a moment more. I don’t want to be alone, Leo. Please. I know I don’t deserve it.”

Leo knew that Vasili didn’t deserve it. But he knew he didn’t deserve mercy either, and Vasili had saved his life. So he took Vasili’s hand in his and said, “It’s all right, Vasili. It’s okay. You can rest. I won’t leave you.”

Vasili’s eyes searched his, pained and unfocused. “I don’t think I love you,” he said. “But I think I could have. If I’d given myself the chance to.”

Leo’s chest hurt. He didn’t even like Vasili, never had. But he saw now that Vasili was no more twisted than he was, himself. Even if Leo died tonight, he had at least had the chance to patch things up to Raisa. To give her what he could, to let her know that he cared about her, that he could be an equal and a partner to her. And he saw that Vasili had tried to do the same thing for Leo by saving his life. 

Leo wanted desperately to believe that Raisa could love him still, that he could deserve her love. And because of that, he wanted the same thing for Vasili. 

“You deserved better,” Leo said quietly. He wanted to believe it was true.

“No,” Vasili said. “I didn’t.”

Leo pulled Vasili closer. He could feel the chill of the basement sinking into Vasili’s bones as the blood drained out of him, pooling beneath them. His face was very close to Vasili’s now. Vasili’s hand came up to grasp the front of Leo’s shirt. 

“Vasili,” Leo said. “Can I - ?”

“Yes,” Vasili said. “I’ve never . . . ”

Leo didn’t want to hear the rest of it. He knew what Vasili was going to say. Of course Vasili had never. If he had, he would have wound up like Dr. Tyapkin, like Aleksandr, like hundreds of other men. He had had no choice.

Leo leaned in, and pressed his lips against Vasili’s.

Vasili was crying now. Leo could feel the wetness against his face as Vasili clung to him like Leo was his last salvation. 

The kiss lasted a long time. Leo tried to put into it everything that Vasili had never had, that Leo had never had either, the kind of real love that they had both given up in exchange for a place in the elite. When they finally broke apart, Leo looked down at Vasili, offering him a weak smile.

“Thank you,” Vasili breathed.

And then he was gone, and Leo was alone in the basement.