Nikolai sat sprawled on the couch of the penthouse apartment, staring at the sunset through the heavily tinted windows as he swirled the ice in his empty bourbon glass around and around, almost in agitation. Blue eyes were narrowed as he watched the fading light, the room around him growing dimmer…the shadows almost creeping, whispering their dirty little secrets in his ear.
Grigori was late.
Not by much…a few minutes or so, but enough to heighten the psychotic billionaire’s agitation. There were things he could be doing…Claudia was waiting for him, he had…things.
“Nikolai, relax. He will come.”
Blinking, his father’s voice permeated his senses and drew him out of his sulk just enough to draw his attention from the outside world. His nose wrinkled and he pouted.
“I know,” he replied in annoyance, “But it’s disrespectful to keep…” words trailed off as he heard the ping of the elevator, the gears and cables groaning as someone made their way up to the private level. “About damn time,” he muttered, then seemed to brighten, his lips curving into his customary smirk as those cobalt hues fixed on the dying light outside.
Grigori watched the numbers climbing as he stood in the elevator, humming to himself with a smile. He’d deliberately gone for a quick drink before coming to see Niki, figuring that if being late irritated him as much as it did Baelian it was a win/win.
-I’m surprised that my phone isn’t consistently buzzing with passive-aggressive prompts and threats by now. Maybe he doesn’t care? Fuck it, it does him good to wait-
Grigori smirked. Niki had a nasty temper, but it was Grigori’s view that his brother needed to try and control it better.
-Can’t have him killing some random kid because his pizza was late…-
Truth be told, it was mostly just extremely entertaining to irritate him. Taunting a sadistic psychopath might not be everyone’s idea of a good time, but it was rarely boring.
-As long as the psychopath doesn’t turn on you too…-
The elevator chimed as the doors opened to Niki’s penthouse foyer. The front door was ajar, a long coat hanging from the cast iron rack in the hall. Smacking at it absently as he passed, Grigori paused in the doorway, waiting for the inevitable hurled glass to shatter by his head as per usual when his Highness was irritated with him.
It didn’t come.
Grigori frowned and stepped into the room, blinking in surprise at the sight before him.
His Grandfather, Alexei, stood at the window.
“Oh…fuck off,” Grigori swore loudly, “Niki, what the fuck? Did you drug me? Did you vent hallucinogens into the goddamn elevator again!? Who the fuck does that!?!” Grigori turned to glare at Nikolai, who lay sprawled on the couch with that goddamn grin plastered on his face, watching him in absolute amusement but saying nothing. Blinking, Grigori turned back to the window.
And looked right at Alexei.
Grigori’s eyes widened.
“What the hell is going on?” he murmured, looking to Niki again. His brother smirked, a brow lofting as he shrugged and shook his head.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about Grigori, honestly…” a dark glimmer danced through his eyes, cobalt hues glimmering with mischief before they rolled towards the figure of Alexei, leaning on his cane, across the room, “Why on earth would I drug you?” he asked almost smugly, tilting his head and returning his gaze to the disgruntled Russian, “When I am perfectly capable of fucking with you sober and clean?”
Grigori blinked again, turning to the ‘apparition,’ who merely watched him and said nothing. Narrowing his eyes, he took a step closer, a sudden grin spreading across his face as he chuckled and gestured.
“Where did you find him? He looks exactly like the old man!” Grigori said as he strode across the room to take a closer look. “The likeness is unbelievable,” he leaned in to study the man’s face.
Alexei didn’t move or smile, he simply watched Grigori as he was stared at, the faintest glimmer deep within his eyes. Nikolai sniggered, moving to a nearby table to pour two more glasses of bourbon and refill his own.
“Actually, he found me,” came the reply, “My father thought it was time that we got our house in order…and stopped fucking around with our legacy…”
Alexei’s head tilted and he smiled coldly, then slapped Grigori hard across the face.
“And settled some old debts,” the man said in Russian, “And grievances.”
Grigori stumbled back as he was slapped, standing for a moment in shock, his eyes snapping from Niki to Alexei, before they dropped down to look at his hands.
-I fucking killed you old man. You’re fucking dead…I choked the life out of you…-
Walking over to the table next to Nikolai, Grigori reached for one of the full glasses. He drank it down at once, refilling it before turning his eyes on his brother.
“How is he still alive, and why haven’t you killed him?” he asked flatly.
At the bark of laughter that came from Alexei, Grigori spun.
“Shut your mouth, old man. I’ve killed you once…don’t think that I won’t finish the job properly this time,” Grigori spat on the carpet between them, “You don’t get to talk to me about debts and grievances. The shit you’ve put me through! You should be glad I loved you enough to choke you instead of sticking a bottle in your throat like…” his words trailed off at the sound of a gun being cocked near his ear, his eyes narrowing as he heard Niki laugh. By the time he turned back to his brother, the gun was trained at his face.
“He’s alive because you’re fucking terrible at killing people and making sure they’re actually dead…” Niki said, his eyes cold, “I haven’t killed him because he’s my father and my blood…” His lips quirked into that sarcastic smirk, his head shaking, “and cry me a fucking river Grigori, your pain ain’t been shit compared to what the rest of us have been through, even Alexei…” Niki looked at the old man with admiration in his eyes, perking a brow before turning his attention back to his brother. “Now sit the fuck down. We have things to discuss.”
Grigori looked angrily at Nikolai.
“Fine I see how it is,” he muttered, moving to the nearby couch and sitting down. He let out a sigh and ran his hand down his face, leaning back to stare at Alexei.
“No sarcasm intended, Grandfather, but you’re looking well…all things considered,” he glanced at Niki, “You should have warned me. What was your plan if I was armed and shot him?”
Nikolai shrugged and lowered the gun, uncocking it and tucking it back into his coat.
“I knew you wouldn’t,” he said matter-of-factly, moving to the table and taking up the third drink, which he handed to Alexei. The old man took it from him without so much as a glance, his glimmering eyes fixed on Grigori.
“It’s time you came back to the family, Grigori,” Alexei said, taking a sip, “No more of this fucking around with the Black women, eh?”
“Jerald’s child whore…” Nikolai smirked and perked a brow, “Though I gotta say, the memories are fun…” his words trailed off as Alexei gave him a look, “We have a proposition for you,” Niki went on after a moment, turning narrowed cobalt hues onto Grigori.
“Bit rich, either of you talking to me about my taste in women, don’t you think?” Grigori laughed ruefully, “Pretty sure we’re all on the same page in that regard.”
“Yeah, but at least when I do it there’s a purpose…” Niki sniggered, looking to Alexei as if for approval or validation. The old man nodded slightly.
“Nikolai fucks to further our bloodline. You…” Alexei shook his head.
“Between a fake bride and a barren one, your track record isn’t so great…” Niki finished for his father, nodding and retrieving his own drink, sipping on it as he gave Grigori an almost charming smile.
Grigori stared at him a moment.
“Barren?” he said quietly, “What do you mean by that?”
“Oh, you know, like, unable to have children…barren…” Niki waved his hand in the air, moving to sit on the leather sofa, folding himself into it gracefully and gazing at his brother.
Grigori finished his bourbon, taking a moment to drink it down slowly before he rose to his feet. When he hurled the empty glass at the wall opposite them, it smashed into pieces, scattering across the carpet.
“Which one of you did it!?” he bellowed at Niki, his face a sudden mask of fury, “You or Baelian!?”
Completely unperturbed, Niki tilted his head, blinking at Grigori as if he’d gone batty.
“You mean was it the early arrival of twins after a fall from a second-storey window, or our constant violent sexual encounters…the things I made her put up there…or the Gods know how many abortions and miscarriages she’s had…the way she fucks around..?” Nikolai paused and perked a brow, his hand tightening on his glass, holding it at the ready in case a quick weapon was required. Grigori’s face was turning interesting colours. “Her insides were pretty fucked up by the time the doc got to her at Oakleaf…who did it is anyone’s guess and not your fucking concern, she was my god damn property at the time. Still is, in fact…” those blue eyes grew small as he glared up at Grigori, then softened somewhat as he shrugged and looked away. “Baelian,” Niki muttered, “Decided that the risk of further damage and unwanted spawn was not worth it.” When his eyes returned to his brother, there was anger and resentment in them…but not for Grigori. “It was him. It was Baelian.”
Grigori stared at Niki for a long moment, his tightened jaw working as he let the waves of anger subside, then he nodded, smirking at the sight of Niki’s whitened knuckles around his glass.
“If I’d attacked you, Alexei would have put a bullet in the back of my head. No way he’s not armed if you are…” drawing in a shaking breath, Grigori sat back down, straightening his hat, “How about you both stop jerking me around, and get to this proposition….”
Nikolai studied him in silence for a few moments, then shook his head.
“You’re worse than I am with your mood swings, you bipolar fuck…” he said, then glanced at Alexei, “It’s pretty straightforward. My father is tired of hiding in the shadows…and we feel that our families have fucked around long enough denying their true natures,” blinking, Nikolai wrinkled his nose, “It’s time that the Katorgas took control, as it always should have been. Alexei wants you by our side, to help me…so that he can take his rightful place at the head of the Family…and we can…help him.”
Grigori sat quietly for a moment, nodding, then smiled ruefully.
“They’re going to kill us,” he said, rising to stroll to the minibar and pour himself another drink, “I assume I’m not leaving this apartment unless I agree to help. So let’s just say I do, for now,” he raised his glass to Alexei, “It is tempting to have someone at the helm who isn’t going to have a mental breakdown at every hurdle. But the rest of the family won’t exactly welcome you with open arms.”
Alexei’s eyes narrowed as he watched Grigori move about, a small nod in the affirmative confirming his grandson’s questions about the chances of his own survival.
“You’ve been playing imaginary games for too long,” the old man said, facing Grigori…though one could be excused for thinking that he was speaking to Nikolai, “All this feeling and emotional attachment to things…all this pretending. It is not the Katorga way…” he looked to Nikolai, “We take what we want. We don’t fall in love with it. Or waste time playing with our imaginary friends.”
Niki flinched, looking away and draining his glass, his tongue snaking out to wet his lips.
“My father doesn’t believe that Baelian is anything more than a figment of my imagination…” he said, his tone emotionless, “We have a difference of opinion on the matter, but…”
“But it doesn’t matter,” Alexei finished, “It’s done now and we proceed as planned. The family will fall in line, you and Nikolai will make them fall in line. Or you will cut them off the line…” he moved over to the couch, standing over Niki and staring down at him with a look of disapproval. “Isn’t that right?” he asked his son in Russian.
Grigori’s eyes glimmered with amusement as he watched Alexei towering over Niki, meeting his brother’s gaze and winking at him as he made a subtle shooting gun gesture with his hand at Alexei’s turned back. Niki blinked at Grigori’s pantomime, his eyes brightening and softening suddenly like a child’s, lips curving into a smile which faded before Alexei saw it. Looking up at his father, Niki nodded.
“Figment or no, the key to bringing them on board is to turn them against Baelian…against what they thought I was…” he corrected himself, turning his attention to Grigori, “It’s in our interests to make them believe that I’m the better and safer option. I did it once, I can do it again…”
“Sure, if that’s the way you wanna play it…” his tone gave nothing away, “It will take time though.” He took a quick sip and frowned thoughtfully, “You’re probably going to need to do something about Claudia, seeing as she can still control us with just a phrase or a word…and also Alina, she’s probably the only one who won’t turn on Baelian…” Grigori picked up the bottle of bourbon and three shot glasses, bringing them back to the couch with him and sitting opposite to Nikolai, “But you two would have already discussed this, I’m sure. So the question is…where am I needed?”
Niki had visibly flinched when Grigori mentioned Claudia, and Alexei had scowled, fixing his intense eyes on his son as if to make a silent point that clearly said ‘yes we’ve spoken about this.’ Niki averted his gaze again and nodded almost sullenly, for the briefest of moments looking a lot like Baelian.
But then, in an instant, he was smiling again and winking at Grigori.
“Claudia will have other matters to worry about soon enough…and as for Alya…” he chuckled darkly, “That one won’t be a problem. I suspect Asinoe will be more than willing to help…” he paused as Grigori began to fill the shot glasses, his eyes narrowing, “I’m having trouble believing that you’d pledge yourself to the cause so simply, Grigori…I thought your loyalty to Baelian…” he ignored Alexei’s glare, “…extended a little further than this.”
Grigori slid a shot towards each of them before answering.
“Don’t get me wrong, I love Baelian. Always will,” his eyes hardened, “But I don’t trust him anymore. There was a time when I would have died for him. He made me want to be a better person…” he looked up at the two identical expressions eying him as if he’d suddenly begun speaking Japanese. “But all I found myself doing was exactly what I used to do working for Alexei…yet suddenly I was expected to feel guilty about it,” he shook his head and laughed, looking at his grandfather, “Did you hear what Claudia and Baelian did to Armand Monére? I don’t think you can eat someone and then go around calling other people monsters. He sent Bethany away to protect himself…he can cut it any way he likes, but he got rid of her because it was easier for him…” Grigori’s eyes moved to Niki’s, “So why should I help him? I mean, really? What do I get out of it?”
“What do you expect to get out of this?” Niki countered, his brows lofting.
Grigori pointed a finger at his brother, his eyes narrowing.
“If I help you, I want Bethany back.”
Nikolai perked a brow.
“Back?” he echoed, “You mean as in here, with us?” he paused and looked at Alexei, who said nothing and kept his expression neutral, “With the family?”
“With me,” Grigori stated simply. He also turned to look at his Grandfather, nodding his head respectfully, “Davayte vyp’yem za uspekh nashego dela.”
Alexei studied Grigori from his vantage point, then looked down at the shot glass, his lips curving in a wry smirk that had clearly been inherited by his son.
“We drink together when our plan falls into place and you prove yourself, Grigori, not before,” the elder Katorga said flatly.
Nikolai looked from the one to the other in silence, then shrugged and plucked up his father’s shot, winking at Grigori as he downed it. He coughed, then drank his own, waiting for Grigori to follow suit before going on.
“As for Bethany,” Niki said, “Have her if that’s what you want. Just know why you want her. You don’t love her…you can’t protect her from me, or him,” he gestured to his father, “Is that enough for you?”
Grigori laughed at that and gave Niki a fond smile.
“I didn’t know that she needed to be protected from you, Nikolai. Also, who says I don’t love her? Is it so strange that I actually enjoy her company?” he smirked at the two of them, “Besides why do either of you care? Since she’s unable to have kids, she’s not much use to your plans, except for the fact that you gain an advantage to ensure my cooperation…” he looked at the old man, “You weren’t going to let me leave here unless you got more than my word. You taught me this business, after all, so why not just accept the gun that I’m putting to my own head?” Grigori paused for a second, frowning as something occurred to him, and looked at Alexei and Nikolai quizzically. “Wait…why are you two surprised by this? If you weren’t already going to use Bethy as collateral…what were you planning to use?”
The two men exchanged a glance, Niki’s tongue snaking out to lick his lips as he ran a hand through his dark hair. It was clear he was choosing his words carefully, though whether for Grigori or Alexei’s benefit was up for debate.
“Baelian,” he began, glancing at his father’s disapproving stare and sighing, starting again, “It is always best to keep an ace up your sleeve to control the people around you. If you have something they want, you can ensure their loyalty and if they betray you they have more to lose…” pausing, Niki looked again to Alexei, who gave him an encouraging nod, finally moving to sit in an armchair next to his son, resting the cane against his leg. Niki scowled, shaking his head. “Kayla,” he said flatly, “we were going to use your sister.”
Grigori’s mouth dropped open for a brief moment, then he closed it, narrowing his eyes.
“My sister died….” his words trailed off as a rueful smile crossed his lips. “Where did Baelian put her?” Grigori’s smile disappeared at the scowl that crossed Alexei’s face with the mention of Baelian’s name.
“She’s been inland,” Niki replied, watching Grigori and Alexei carefully, his ever calculating mind whirring. “Technically she put herself there, I mean, she agreed to it. She’s been looking after Bethany’s twins…raising them alongside a nanny. Keeping them out of the way and somewhere they can’t be used against us. I don’t remember all of how she got there. I think what Baelian…what I told you was true, she was working against us in some way, back when Belladonna was skulking about. This was her penance. It was this or a bottle…” he shrugged, “It’s all still a bit mixed up in my head. There’s a lot of memories to go through…” he threw Alexei an almost bitter glance.
Grigori burst out laughing, standing and dragging Nikolai up from the chair and into a sudden bear hug of an embrace. He stepped back with a huge grin, his hands grasping his brother’s shoulders as he stared into surprised blue eyes. Niki had taken the hug graciously, more or less, his breath catching as he was crushed up against his brother’s chest, pupils dilating in arousal. His lips had quirked in a small smile, his head tilting as he studied the man before him curiously.
-Fuck you…always with the eyes…-
“Thank you, brother,” Grigori said solemnly, “You just brought my sister back from the dead!” He slapped Niki’s shoulder, then reached up to brush his brother’s disheveled hair back from his face.
“Nothing stays dead unless we want it to,” Alexei interjected, glaring up at both boys and shaking his head. Niki frowned and stepped away from Grigori, moving to sit back on the couch. Grigori also sat, his expression suddenly grave.
“I regretted killing you some days, you know…” he said to Alexei, half-smiling at the unimpressed scowl that his grandfather gave him in return, “But I’m not going to apologize, I am what you made me, after all…” he paused, “Well, what you raised me to be…and seeing as I’m not your blood. I always wanted to know…why bother raising me at all?”
Alexei shook his head, throwing a glance at Nikolai, who was sitting obediently and almost sullenly across the way.
“Plan B,” he said flatly, “Jerald Black interfered with my heir, so I thought…” he held out his hands and shrugged, “Depending on how disappointing Nikolai turned out to be, I might need another option…” The old man looked between the two before him, “And you gave me a reason to be smug every time Bellamantis got too big for his boots…” he added, smirking.
Grigori eyed him thoughtfully, then nodded.
“I thought as much. It’s good to finally know, though…” he sipped his drink quietly for a moment feeling the pair of calculating eyes weighing him, “So if I turn on Baelian, I get my wife and my sister back…and the Katorgas take their place on top, where they belong. Then we can finally stop flailing around blindly against enemies who know more about us then we do of them,” he looked up at Alexei warily, “So let’s talk about the rather large elephant in the room. I tried to kill you.”
Alexei perked a brow and nodded.
“You did,” came his flat response.
“But depending on how useful and helpful you are, some things can be…overlooked,” Niki finished for him.
Alexei didn’t speak right away, though the look in his eyes clearly said he thought differently.
“Grigori,” he said finally, “When the time comes, I will ask Nikolai to end you. And you, you will either accept your fate as deserved or you will fight it, and he…” the old man looked to Nikolai, who stared at his father with wide blue eyes, “Will either betray or obey me…” chuckling darkly, Alexei shook his head and raised his glass, “Not all of us in this room will survive to the end. But we need to get there first.”
Despite the topic at hand, Grigori couldn’t help but feel smug amusement at Nikolai’s surprise.
-Ahh kid, you’ve got so much to learn about this family…and that man…-
“God damn I’ve missed you!” he said to Alexei with a chuckle, “An honest answer is so refreshing these days…” he raised his glass, “A truce until that day, then? I’m actually looking forward to working with you again, to be perfectly honest. You’re a sadistic bastard…but I always admired your style!”
Alexei’s smile did not reach his eyes, but he inclined his head and glanced at Nikolai, who followed suit obediently, ever the dutiful heir. Confusion and mistrust swam in cobalt depths, a childlike bewilderment that whispered of many a misgiving, but Niki blinked them away, clinking his own glass hard against Grigori’s.
“You can’t see her, not til all this is sorted,” he said slowly, “Kayla, I mean. It may behoove you to go and see your wife once in a while, though. She may prove a worthy ally…” blinking again, Nikolai smiled darkly. “That is, if you’re willing to share her…and me…”
“Nikolai…” Alexei’s tone was sharp, threatening. Though by no means a prude, there was clearly something about his son’s overt bisexuality that irritated the elder Katorga. Perhaps it was the fact that, to him, it served no immediate purpose. Niki had argued that not all strategy was immediately obvious…but Alexei had countered that using the excuse of strategy for one’s indulgences was akin to weakness.
They’d called a stalemate on the subject.
Grigori eyed the pair, noting the friction between them and smiling brightly.
“Nothing wrong with a good working relationship between comrades,” he said gaily, raising his glass to the both of them.”
“Bratsva a krv! Long live the Katorgas!”
Written by A. Grant and N. 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 © 2017. Natalie Ristovski.