Slamming through the front door, Nikolai threw an overnight bag across the hall, a hand raking through his unruly hair. He was wearing the same clothes he’d had on the night before at the Underground, crumpled and stained, his shoes scuffed and his shirt torn.
-Stupid fucking treacherous whore-
He stalked through Claudia’s apartment and went straight for the liquor cabinet, pulling the lid off a bottle of bourbon and pouring himself a shot – which he downed instantly before pouring another. Leaning heavily against the shelf, he sighed, his head bowing as a hand came up to rub his temples.
-My fucking head…fuck my life-
In the study, Claudia was startled from her reading by the noise, which came crashing over the top of the quiet melody dancing from the gramophone beside her. For a moment she was confused as to how the peaceful almost-silence had been broken, her skin tingling when she realised that there was only one person she knew capable of making that much of a ruckus so pointedly. She stood quietly, adjusting her dress before moving carefully to the lounge, pausing to watch him from the doorway.
Downing the second shot, Niki was refilling a third time, turning to lean back against the wall beside the cabinet. His brow was furrowed…he looked like he was already drunk and hadn’t slept well, if at all judging by the dark circles beneath his eyes. Swirling the bourbon in his glass, he stared into it, thoughtful and brooding.
“Niki…” Claudia called to him softly, her tone tinged with sadness. His blue eyes lifted at the sound of his name, a catalogue of emotions dancing through his gaze when he saw her standing there.
Anger. Fear. Confusion. Awe. Hope. Mistrust. Dejection. Weariness. Resignation. Hurt.
She stood still, eying him for a moment longer before hesitantly edging closer. She expected him to walk away from her as soon as she got too near, but she was red-eyed and weary herself…and not keen on wasting energy pretending that she felt any differently.
“I missed you.”
He sipped his bourbon, staring at her as she approached, his lashes flickering at her words, his lips twisting into a sneer.
“I’d have thought you would have had your pet Nazi to keep you company…” he muttered, his words slightly slurred.
Claudia stopped and scowled.
“Nonsense. We are friends, not lovers, for one. And secondly, I have repeatedly chosen you over him…my only crime last night was not letting you kill someone you once saw value and even friendship in, that is until the second he stopped you trying to strangle me.”
Niki’s eyes narrowed and he drained the rest of the glass, his fingers tightening around it almost unconsciously. Claudia, however, was very conscious of it, and steeled herself.
“That was not what happened and you know it…” he said flatly, his words sharpening as he followed her gaze to the empty tumbler. His lips tightened as Claudia’s expression turned dark.
“Then explain it to me, since you obviously have omnipotent insight into the core of the matter. Tell me why Steiner has been to every party, with all your fractures chatting happily to him, and now all of a sudden you want him dead. That’s a long time to be toying with your prey…even for the most bored of cats.”
Slamming the glass onto the cabinet shelf, Nikolai fixed her with a cold glare, shaking his head as he half swayed and half stalked away from her towards the couch, flopping down on it sulkily.
“You think because I play nice and know how to keep my enemies close, that it somehow lessens my ability to do what needs to be done as required?” he asked, frowning at her, “Look at the people we associate with…it’s all crocodile smiles and honeyed words…are you really surprised? Most of them would kill us in a heartbeat if they could get away with it.” Closing his eyes, Niki lifted a hand to rub at his temples again.
“There still seems to be a flaw in you logi…” Claudia frowned, distracted by his movements, her anger dissipating considerably. “Do you have a headache?” she asked irritably, then bit her lip, taking a breath.
-This is not helpful-
“I don’t feel well,” he muttered, waving a hand to dismiss the question, “Hangovers are like that…”
Closing her eyes, Claudia shook her head, moving to a dresser to fish out some pain killers, then walking back to sit primly beside him on the sofa, holding out the medication.
“You have to stop being drunk in order to be hungover,” she told him, then her tone softened. “I don’t like it when we disagree. It doesn’t seem right…the world gets grey when you aren’t around. Everything goes numb and quiet. I can hear the blood rushing around inside people in endless, dull loops…Niki…” she reached for his hand.
He shot off the couch so quickly that he almost overturned her and himself, knocking the hand with the pills away and darting back to the cabinet to grab the bottle of bourbon, bringing it to his lips and taking a deep gulp.
“I didn’t sleep well…” he responded finally, as if to explain his behaviour, his eyes averting. He seemed uncomfortable suddenly, as if her words and the expression of honest emotion unsettled him.
Claudia lowered her eyes and nodded, standing stiffly and straightening her already perfect dress.
“Well, you can sleep here, if you like. The guest room is free, or you can drink yourself into a stupor on the couch…” she forced a smile, trying to hide the distant ache she felt, “I’m sure Andrē will deliver something fresh from the bakery if you’re hungry…” She eyed the overnight bag, – itching to organise and unpack it – before returning her gaze to the brooding man across the way.
Niki nodded, his expression glum, the bottle rising and falling from his lips in quick succession two or three more times. He didn’t say anything to indicate that he would remain, nor did he thank her for her offer, but the way he slumped against the wall and closed his eyes seemed to suggest that he would stay put – at least for the moment.
Claudia held the pain-killers out to him again, her brows lofting slightly. Licking his lips and grimacing, he looked up at her, his eyes trailing over her form and his lashes fluttering, his body swaying ever so slightly as if pulled by an invisible force towards her that he was trying desperately to resist.
Scowling, he shook his head.
Claudia lifted her shoulders in a shrug, turning and disappearing for a moment before coming back with a blanket and a pillow that she placed carefully on the couch for him. She hesitated, glancing at Niki before moving to leave him with his ‘hangover’
“Serpents,” he called after her, his body twitching. He waited until she paused, his jaw tightening. “The thing you’re looking for…it’s the Ss…Seven Serpentss…” his voice wavered and slurred again. Blinking his weary blue eyes at her across the room, he clutched the bottle to his chest. “And the seven serpents sshall entwine…and through their ssacrifice they shall awaken the Kundalini…who will be g-guided by innocence and evil into the Age of Aquariuss…” he swayed on his feet, a hand slamming against the cabinet for support.
“And they shall be Gods…”
Claudia was by his side in an instant, her hands hovering above his arm – not wanting to startle him or have him pull away again, but ready to catch him if he lost his balance.
“Is that why you didn’t sleep?” she shook her head, “You should’ve told….I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked about it. I always do this. I drive people crazy with my obsessions…”
Niki pulled back from her so violently he almost toppled and knocked the cabinet over. His eyes blazed as he glared at her, shaking his head and righting himself against the wall.
“No, Claudia…” he spat at her, “No you shouldn’t have…at our fucking party…in front of people…and then the fucking Nazi…yanking me off you like he knew a fucking thing about what was going on…” he turned and swept a hand out, knocking a row of glasses off the cabinet shelf and sending them scattering and shattering, “Poor you…poor fucking…” his words trailed off and he brought a now bloody hand to his head, moaning and wincing in pain, his eyes sliding closed.
“And then you left me…you left me there with her and I wanted to be with YOU…”
-Wow Katorga. Tell us how you really feel-
-I don’t FEEL anything-
-Looks a lot like feeling to me…-
“Shut up!” he shouted hurling the bottle he held at the wall, “Everybody just shut up!”
Claudia felt her anger flare in spite of herself as she watched the bourbon trickle down the wallpaper, her green eyes glimmering dangerously. Not only had he just destroyed some of her fine crystal, but he’d cut up his hand with his histrionics.
“You chose Asinoe, Nikolai…she asked you whether you wanted to go home with me or stay with her, you answered without hesitation. I thought that you were capable of choosing for yourself…besides, she’d had a rough night….she needed you.” Lowering her hand, she shook her head, “I reach out for you and you pull away, every time. Every time…” She pursed her lips, then sighed.
-This really isn’t helpful.-
“You’re right, I shouldn’t have gotten so excited. I don’t know how to manage at parties for long…I can’t help it. My mind wanders back to problems I’m trying to solve…like picking at a scab. I was blind…”
“You were stupid,” he retorted, “So fucking stupid…all the fucking time…you idiot girl…”
Falling forward, Niki took hold of her, slamming her back up against the wall, his fingers rising to tangle roughly in her hair as she gasped.
“What choice do you think I have?” he hissed at her, his pulse pounding as adrenaline coursed through his body, “Do you think I can leave? All I see is you, all I think of is you…and you tell me that I make choices…” he laughed, a hoarse and bitter sound, his knee pressing between her thighs, his face so close to hers their noses touched. She could smell the bourbon on his breath. “No matter how far I try to go you’re there…always there…and I’ll fucking kill anyone who tries to take you away…starting with your fucking Nazi friend…”
Claudia gripped his arms, breathing him in as if she’d been holding her breath since the previous night. Her skin lit up under his touch…violent or not, it was a sensation she craved desperately, especially after the tumultuous evening they’d spent apart.
Then of course there was her pride, still bristling at being called stupid.
“I am a genius…” she gasped at him, emerald hues blazing, “Just…not when it comes to social situations…or people…” She laughed, self-hatred glittering through the cracks of her bitter amusement, “Mon dieu, I suck at people…I was raised locked up in a lab, like a rat…not…having…friends…” she whimpered as he tightened his grip on her hair, her body grinding instinctively up against his leg.
“And I was a God…” Niki shouted in her face, yanking her head back and smacking it against the wall, “A fucking God and what am I now? I’m a bloody mess…” Claudia’s breath caught as he kissed her, biting her lip so hard that he drew blood, his face rubbing against hers. “Jesus, what are you doing to me…what have you done to me Claudia?” He pressed himself between her legs, his hands dropping to grip her thighs, “What…fuck…you’re killing me…”
She’d cried out in pain as he jerked her head backwards, the blow against the wall dazing her for a moment as he railed at her….but it was his words that made her wince.
“I…I thought I was helping. I never wanted this. I never dreamed of this…” her hands rose to his face in spite of herself, a thumb tracing over his lip, drawing her blood down his chin. She couldn’t help it, her eyes glistened with delight at seeing him in red again. “I just wanted to make things work…you and Alina, Scarlett and Eden…Bethany an….” her words cut off sharply as his fingers dug into her flesh and she gnashed her teeth at him.
Niki snarled back, biting at her hand. He was panting now, his entire body shaking violently, his pupils so dilated that his eyes were almost black.
“I don’t WANT Alina,” he snarled, driving her back against the wall, “I don’t want Asinoe…or Bethany…or Opium…or Bella…I just want YOU.” His hands tore at her clothing, ripping the expensive fabric of her designer dress irrevocably, letting it fall in shredded strips off her bare breasts. “So tell me how this fits into your plans, Doctor Monére…your little puppet doesn’t want to dance to your tune…what will you do now?”
A dark moan of desire escaped Claudia’s lips and she grabbed at his hair as he drove her back against the wall, one leg rising to hook about his waist as she pulled him in for another bloody kiss, her pale fingers making quick work of his shirt buttons, an uncomfortable thought pressing within her mind.
-What will you do now? Now that you can’t recreate your perfect little matching sets of ‘happily ever after’ couples?-
[We need to talk]
“Stay…” she whispered, rubbing her cheek against his face and licking the blood from his chin, wriggling her arms free of her dress. Niki’s breath caught sharply as she kissed him, something that was almost a whimper ending in a growl sounding against her mouth, his arms wrapping around her, pulling her in until they were pressed skin to skin.
“Stay…” he echoed, nodding and biting her lips, her cheek, her neck, “Stay with me…”
“I couldn’t leave you, even if I wanted to…“ drawing his hand up to cup her face, Claudia nuzzled into his palm, “I can’t even imagine what ‘wanting to’ would feel like, but it’s not an option.” She stared into those bright blue eyes, frowning slightly as a bubble of anxiety began to form within her. Shaking her head, she brushed unspoken concerns away for another, more stable time of discussion.
-I can’t hear you-
Diving to kiss him once more, her hands dropped to his fly and she moaned. She wanted him, her entire body ached with the need to have him as close as humanly possible…the scent of his blood heightening the dizzying arousal she felt. He was hard beneath her fingers, his body melting into her touch easily and his hips bucking against her hand as he picked her up and drew her away from the wall. Turning to stagger a step or two, Niki swayed drunkenly and fell to his knees, laughing in amusement at his own inability to navigate. He sprawled over her, his fingers moving beneath her dress to pull her underwear down around her ankles, her name on his lips like a mantra as she kicked them off and he dealt with his own clothing. Or at least he tried to, managing to manoeuvre his belt off and toss it aside, his hands shaking so much that he couldn’t get his trousers undone.
“Claudia…” he pleaded, taking her hand and drawing it down between them, his lashes fluttering in a dizzying swoon. Her chest constricted as she stared at him.
-He isn’t yours –
Shaking her head at the ghost of a thought, Claudia pushed it away and helped him undo his pants, wrapping her legs around him as if she were afraid he would disappear.
-Other people need him…-
Gritting her teeth against the internal narrative, she kissed him hard.
“My Niki,” she breathed, “My clever, vicious, wonderful Niki…” Sliding a hand into his underwear, she ran her fingers down his length, smiling softly when he groaned and made a grab for her other wrist, pinning it above her head.
-…oh…careful gypsy boy-
[Stop this. Now.]
Niki’s fingers trailed the arm between them, slinking to her hand and knocking her touch away. She could feel the hard press of him against her thigh, her body shuddering at the friction and arching up beneath his own. When he shifted his hips and shoved himself inside her it was rough, her back scraping against the carpet and stinging sharply, making her cry out. He bowed his head, his dark hair falling over her face as a childlike whimper escaped him…or something that sounded very much like one.
-He isn’t yours-
When Niki’s grip tightened on her wrist and he thrust into her again, harder, she gasped, green eyes staring up at him…at the almost angry and nasty curl of his lips and the hungry madness in his eyes.
“You belong to me…” he snarled at her, repeating the movement, the bite of the carpet against her flesh making her whimper, “Do you…understand me?”
Claudia stifled a cry, something akin to pride rising within her as she regarded him, panting and riled and glaring down at her like a petulant child trying to convince her that she was his toy. Her mouth curved into a dark smile and she wriggled her hips, making his lips part in a low moan that swelled her heart.
“No,” she murmured to him, shaking her head and cupping his face gently, “But I choose you. Above everything in the world, Mon Coeur…and I do it freely…” she writhed beneath him, her expression filled with adoration as his lashes fluttered and she almost giggled in delight. “You own the others, my beautiful gypsy boy…but I am your equal,” her tone was soft …implying that what they shared was a far stronger bond than mere ownership, “I don’t want a Master or a slave…” she breathed, “I just want you. You are as I am…a King.”
Nikolai stared at her, those cobalt eyes widening at her words, confusion and bewilderment filling his features as he suddenly halted all movement. He didn’t understand, it was written clearly in his expression, her words putting him completely at odds with his own nature. He was a hunter. He hunted and killed and enjoyed it.
But this…this was new. This was a different game entirely…and one they hadn’t played before. Slowly the anger and desperation in him faded and he blinked, his grip uncurling from her arm, shaking fingers running down her face, his head tilting as if he were thoroughly perturbed.
He shook his head, a bloody finger pressing against her lips as he drank her in. When he finally moved inside her again it was slow and deliberate, an awed expression dancing through his eyes as a soft sigh fell from his lips.
It made Claudia’s insides twist.
The way he looked at her sent a shiver down her spine, the intensity within his gaze driving her to turn away unexpectedly, her cheek resting against his shoulder as she shuddered in delight. His fingers traced across her neck, dancing down her back lightly.
“…I can’t…” Claudia squeaked at his tender touch, his name following in a gasp. A strong and odd sensation that she tried to ignore was still building in her stomach, her feet curling beneath his as she gave him the leverage to drive deeper.
-Hurt me again. I can do that. I understand that…but this…-
Green pools lifted to stare up at him, her astonishment and awe clear as a pale digit moved to run over his mouth…as if she were studying some wholly new phenomena. Niki’s lips parted beneath her finger, his breath warm against her skin as his kissed the tip of it…then looked thoroughly surprised at his own behaviour.
Clinging to her tightly, he drew out of her again, his body shifting so that his next thrust was deeper – though still painfully slow – his lashes fluttering as his body trembled. Something had changed in his face now, his expression resting somewhere between wonder and a feeling he couldn’t even begin to understand, much less identify.
“Niki….Niki. Please…god….” Claudia whimpered at him, though he just gasped and held her closer, keeping his pace torturously slow and gentle as she squirmed. The intensity of his stare entranced and unnerved her – a hand rising to his chest as if to stop him or push him away, then sliding up to curl around the back of his neck.
“Nikolai…” she whispered again, not sure what she was asking, her eyes glazing over as if she were about to cry.
“Shhh…don’t…” his finger returned to her lips, his bright eyes fluttering at the friction their bodies caused. He seemed afraid that she’d say something to send him into a tantrum and spoil the moment, his teeth grazing his lower lip in hesitation as he leaned to kiss her, their mouths hovering inches apart for what seemed an eternity.
-Kiss me or kill me…just do it quickly…-
When their lips finally met, the helpless moan that sounded between them was almost a plea. Niki’s grip tightened in her hair, his movements once again becoming faster, his thrusts deeper, those bottomless blue eyes drinking her in reverently as his lips trailed over her face, covering every inch of skin that he could reach…her nose, her eyelids, her forehead, then trailing down her neck to her breasts.
Claudia’s hands slid over his scarred flesh as if she were touching him for the first time. She knew him, she knew him so well…the smell and taste, of him…yet it all felt different suddenly, as if he were more present. As if he were somehow closer.
“Claudia…” Niki lifted his head and pressed his forehead to hers, whispering her name, the syllables coming in ragged gasps as their lips met over and again. She was whimpering softly, one hand tangling desperately around him, the other flinging out to press against the carpet – seeking something other than him to ground her. Her body twitched and arched involuntarily and she let slip a throaty moan, unsure if she was about to orgasm or have a complete breakdown.
Something that was almost amusement danced through Niki’s eyes suddenly, his head falling back and his teeth gritting before he slowed his movements considerably…teasing her and himself, a playful smile alighting his lips. With a growl of protest and frustration, Claudia glared at him, hooking her legs against his to give herself leverage and thrusting her hips up and sideways, the shift of weight driving him deeper inside her. She rolled on top of him, smirking when he cried out and bucking her hips as she leant to press her lips against his chin, her fingers tracing his mouth.
“Mmm…mon beau gitane…”
From this new angle she could see him clearly, her emerald hues drinking in his every expression, every curve of his mouth as he moaned and whimpered and sighed…and each shift of colour within his eyes.
The things she saw there both entranced and terrified her.
Niki stared back, watching wide-eyed as she moved above him, pleasure twisting his features as her pace quickened.
“Claudia…” he moaned, “God…Claudia…baby…”
The helpless sound of her name on his lips sent a sharp jolt through her and she cried out, her climax sudden and unexpected. Her body shuddered above him, her face contorting in ecstasy as she buried it into his neck. Niki’s hands gripped her hips, fingers digging in and his nails scratching at her flesh as he nuzzled against her cheek.
Somewhere in his mind, something sent alarm bells ringing for Nikolai, a sickening feeling starting to rise from within that he immediately ignored. Writhing beneath Claudia – clinging to her tightly and moaning words of adoration over and over in her ear – he was too lost in sensation to care, his ragged declarations of devotion drowning out the pounding in his head.
In the aftermath of her own release, however, Claudia was not immune to common sense, her analytical mind whispering its own misgivings as she pressed her face against his, her panting breaths catching in her throat.
-This is wrong. We can’t…he…-
She stared down at him, at his beautiful face and those half-mast eyes, deep-seated devotion washing through her and banishing her doubts…smothering them easily as she lost herself to suddenly very human feelings.
“Niki…my Niki…” she murmured in his ear, whispering everything she was feeling…except those little words that were still a mystery to her.
He was her world, she told him, and she would die to protect him…she would teach and crown him, and would lay everything he could ever want at his feet.
“We’re the same, Mon Coeur…born with the same viciousness in our blood…”
Niki buried his face in her neck, his panting moans blocking out that tiny shout of protest in his subconscious. He was babbling now, responding to her adulation with his own pledges of devotion and adoration, something akin to a sob falling from his lips as he shut his eyes tight. His breath caught as the synchronised writhing of their bodies finally tipped him over the edge, his orgasm almost suffocating in its intensity, his body convulsing as he moaned helplessly in her ear, whimpering, begging, pleading…
And something inside him cracked…just the tiniest fraction, like a pebble hurled against glass making the smallest chink. Harmless, really, but with the potential to spread and completely shatter its host if not repaired, the echo of the impact reverberating through his subconscious and awakening something deep within from slumber.
Niki had no idea it had even happened.
Claudia had pulled him close, squeezing her eyes shut tight and rocking against him, for a brief and crazy moment wishing that things could be different for them.
-I wish I could have your child-
She kissed his forehead reverently.
-A gorgeous green eyed, dark-haired heir to the four thrones. What a beautiful and terrifying creature they would be…-
Sighing, she rolled him onto his side, locking her legs around him in case he tried to withdraw, not wanting the moment to end too soon. She could feel her mood changing, could hear the insecurities and doubts starting to gnaw again at her subconscious…and she tried to fend them off as long as she could.
‘Just one more moment,’ she mentally begged the yellow eyes across the way, ‘Allow me to have him for just a little longer.’
Burying himself into her, Niki clung almost desperately, his body shaking and his breaths coming in short ragged gasps as she held him. Whimpers fell from his lips, so like a child’s, his forehead pressing into her soft chest, his fingers raking her back as if he were trying to claw his way beneath her skin and climb inside her.
And then all at once he started to cry.
Claudia wound her arms tightly around him, as if she could protect him from whatever he was feeling by sheer will alone.
“It’s ok, darling one,” she soothed, “Whatever is wrong, we will fix it…we can make whatever we want from the world, and cut out anything we don’t need…” She stroked his hair, pressing her head against his.
-Empty words and you know it-
Claudia was well aware that what was wrong was not an external force that she could fight or protect him from.
-So what? Sometimes, there just needs to be a voice.-
“I’d do anything for you…you can’t doubt that,” she breathed, her fingers touching his face, her lips trailing his flesh softly.
Niki just sobbed brokenly in her arms, coughing and spluttering as his breath caught then quickened as he struggled to calm himself. Predictably there came the panic attack – hyperventilation and shuddering along with it – his blue eyes wide and glazed with tears as he stared into nothingness.
He jolted violently, pushing Claudia away from him as he choked, rising on all fours and gagging. He crawled a few feet away from her, then a few feet more…and then he vomited, the half bottle of bourbon he’d consumed suddenly deciding that it didn’t want any further part in his shenanigans and depositing itself on a rather expensive looking rug. Moaning, Niki turned his face away from her, dragging himself free of the mess he’d made before face-planting in the carpet and passing out.
Claudia stared at him, her eyes welling as she stood awkwardly, wiping her thighs on the shredded remains of her dress before disappearing into the bedroom. She returned in a plush robe carrying sheets and pillows, dropping them to the floor and crouching beside him. Consternation filled her face as she reached out to roll him from the rug, pulling it aside for later removal and using the sheets to create, as best she could, a bed on the floor of her apartment. She dragged him onto it with some effort, ignoring the trembling in her hands as she tucked him into Egyptian sheets and fine silks, fluffing a pillow and sliding it carefully beneath his head.
She busied herself fetching a jug of water and a glass to be at hand, and a small syringe filled with something to ease his inevitable hangover, which she placed on a small table a foot or so away. With a warm cloth she wiped the vomit from his mouth and the sweat from his brow, her pale hand smoothing back his hair.
And then there was nothing left to do.
Having done every possible thing she could think of to make him comfortable, all that remained was to sit beside him, staring numbly at his prone form, his words echoing in her mind.
‘…what are you doing to me…what have you done to me Claudia..?’
That was when the tears came.
Written by R. Quin and Natalie Ristovski.
All characters and story lines remain the property of N.Ristovski and the Underground. All character writings within the Underground are fictitious. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2016. Natalie Ristovski.