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If It Weren't for These Stitches @severalcrows
Chapter 2

Peter visited much later that night, a little past twilight, his presence a soothing balm on Andrey’s still overactive mind and leftover aches from his eventful trip through the streets just prior. They sat at the bar, his twin listing slightly to the side with a half empty bottle of twyrine in his hands, as Andrey slumped motionless, head pillowed on his arms as he breathed thinly through the sharp pain from his bruised ribs. He had been out for a few hours, sneaking and fighting, until a few too many good hits landed that left his ears ringing and chest burning. He had returned to the pub and collapsed on his favorite sofa, one that kept his back to the wall and near enough the exit and hideaway behind the bar. Moments later though, he had felt his twin approach (as they had a knack for sensing where and how the other was) and he had straightened, paying out of pocket for a bottle he conveniently left upon the bar.

They sat in silence, but it was comfortable, familiar. Who needed to talk when you both already knew? His mind fogged slightly, and he picked his head up, turning to face his brother.

“What’s on your mind?”

At his question, the fog had nearly blown away, no doubt in a certain someone’s panicked attempt to clear away what it was they were thinking. Peter shifted, gaze darting around the bar, even meeting the barkeeps eyes in desperation only to be leveled with an unimpressed stare.

“Goose won’t help you out of this one, little brother. What’s bothering you?”

“You're only older by two hours. That doesn’t make me little. Plus, I even feel older than anyone I know.”

Andrey grunted, lightly tapping a hand on the man’s forearm. “Changing the subject won’t help either. Let me guess…” At his searching stare, a muscle in Peters neck began to twitch. He leaned closer and his twin then began to click his tongue repetitively, both nervous tics that Andrey unconsciously mirrored.

“…Dankovsky, huh?” Peter colored at the accusing suggestion which had Andrey slumping back over the bar with a defeated groan. “I can’t do this again. Not after university. God, Peter, just go talk to him or something.”

“It’s not like that!” There was a moment's pause where he seemed surprised at how loudly he had responded, and he quickly lowered his voice to his usual hoarse rumble. “It’s- I- I heard he talked to you, yesterday, earlier, rather. Did you tell him that I’m in town as well? Do you… do you think he remembers me?”

“Christ, Peter, damn it,” Andrey groused from where he still lay slumped. “You know, I could barely focus on my studies back then, what with how caught up I was in the middle of you two clowns tiptoeing around each other. Just like two little schoolgirls, you were, blushing and giggling. And what, the most you ever did was hug when we graduated, and I was a part that! Unless I’m missing something?”

Peter studiously ignored his twins wagging eyebrows and scoffed, shaking his head. “One hug and a few months as friends at university is hardly memorable, old boy.” Something in Andrey twinged painfully at hearing that nickname. A cold removal.

“Well I sure fucking remember it,” he grumbled as he distantly heard the doors of to the pub clang open and shut heavily.

One pro of having the largest running pub in town was that business was always flowing. One con of having a Stamatin running it was that it was, more often than not, mainly occupied by regulars. Rumors had a damning effect on business, regardless of how true they were.

Suffice to say, he knew his regulars (some in different ways than others) and had an ear for patterns of footsteps. The ones he now heard were new, heavy and uneven, an almost palpable air of defeat around them. He stood up at the same time as Peter, no doubt feeling his twin’s curiosity, and they both turned to face the stairs to see the new patron.

The layout of the Broken Heart was perfect for getting a good look at new people, as they were almost put out on display for the three flights of stairs visible from down in the pub. Andrey was very grateful for this layout, as this man was… a lot to process.

More than anything else, the man bled. He bled exhaustion, pain, a heavy emotion Andrey couldn’t place, and- most notably- he bled physically. Split lip, busted knuckles, and cuts littering his face were the brushwork of the man descending into his territory, and though Andrey was never really one for muses, he understood.

Even the mans… clothes… weren’t spared the strokes of bloodstains, so fitting for material that had to be canvas, the color laying stark atop the muted earthen tones. As a traveled man who had spent an amount of time in the capital, not to mention a friend of Dankovsky’s, he was no stranger to odd attire. The clothes were definitely practical somewhere, just probably not amidst the concrete and metal surrounding him.

The man, obviously the Burakh son, though he didn’t need to know that certain connection had been made, finally finished his descent. He stumbled slightly, landing on a leg he had clearly been favoring throughout his movement. Definitely a weak spot. He glanced around lamely before focusing on the two that stood as though ready to greet him themselves. They were not. He would have to come to them, as that was just how things worked with the two. The man finally seemed to realize that they weren’t going to make the first move and he let out a heavy breath before moving forward, Andrey taking the next short moments to study him in a stronger light.

Daniil had been right; the man was large. Simply said. The Stamatin’s were not short men either, standing at a strong six foot two, and yet this man still held at least two inches over them. Although he was covered in thick materials and layers, he could always recognize a pair of broad shoulders and thick arms. He even moved in a relentless way, as though any barrier in front of him would simply fall away beneath him, which added up to the fact that the man radiated power, and Andrey’s blood itched.

The Ripper, his mind supplied, a name he had almost felt tear through the streets in frightful rage and awed disgust. A monster to the town and a promise of a challenge to Andrey.

He stood hunched, maybe in an attempt to appear smaller or more unexpecting, but it was really only reminiscent of something about to pounce. Short light brown hair, the top just long enough to curl, which meant it was just long enough to grab a hold of, a good way to control a fight. When Andrey had first came to town, he had kept his hair cut close to his scalp until he gained control of his own piece of town, and claim to a reputation that would turn away most who wished to test him in a confrontation.

I run a fine establishment now, Peter, he remembered having told his twin who had stumbled upon him meticulously doing his hair in a mirror one day. I can’t just go around looking like a back-street brawler. They should all know that fact by now, and if not, let it be a surprise.

The Ripper’s dark eyes were downcast, though, and held none of the expected fire that had preemptively set his veins alight, muscles loose, eagerly ready to swing or dodge. He looked beaten, the Ripper looked beaten in every way possible, and that just wouldn’t do. Andrey spread his arms wide and let out a bark of a laugh as the man stopped in front of them. Peter let out a nearly inaudible sigh.

“What a face! A loser’s face.” The Ripper seemed to have to process this, as he blinked, eyebrows knitting together. Dumbfounded, decidedly not the reaction Andrey was trying to pull from the man.

“…Well, appearance isn’t everything,” came the tired, mumbled reply. Even at a low volume, the man’s voice rolled with a noticeable, though somewhat covered, Steppen accent. The second he had heard the language it had fascinated him, and how eagerly he threw himself at things that managed to do so. Andrey wondered if the language would slip through in conversation, or if that had been hidden far away in the man’s ten years from home.

He pushed on.

“You’ve been on the streets, by the look of you. The rabble is out of control, at least they looked human before!” No reaction. Fine.

“Did you hear about the stabbings? There’s people with knives out on the streets now, brother!”

The Ripper’s stony face didn’t crack the slightest at the mention of knives, which was somewhat surprising, what with the cultural taboo around not just sharp objects, but more importantly ones used to cut flesh. He had been sure that one would have awarded some reaction, seeing as he came from a family that were supposed to be the only ones allowed to cut flesh, but no such luck. He was given a quirked eyebrow at the use of the term brother, but other than that it fell flat in lighting a fire in the Ripper’s eyes.

The man paused though, before answering, eyes shifting to the ground and one wide hand moving to brush at his side then dropping it and lifting his gaze again. “Yeah… At first, I didn’t believe my own eyes. It is true, however.”

Andrey quickly decided to keep talking, letting his Capital accent slide back subtly, enjoying the ways his clipped and stressed pronunciation danced along the Ripper’s harsh consonants and rolling tongue. He wondered how much further he could coax this dance along and if it could end in the sanctity of bloodshed. Peter turned to the bar to retrieve his bottle.

“I mean, I’m quite an artist with the knife, myself… but that’s different, everyone knows I obey no law.” Back to no reaction, except maybe an air of disinterest. Even worse. Fine. Turn it towards him, that got you a reaction last time, his mind supplied.

“These people, there’s no wholesome fear left in them anymore. Knifing is taboo around here, and that made it exciting! I loved this town for it. But who am I to tell you this, you seem to know the tricks of the trade, don’t you? I can tell by your hands.” Andrey didn’t try to play off sliding his gaze down to where the man’s arms hung by his sides.

The man still seemed slightly disinterested and Andrey clenched and unclenched his fists, biting the inside of his cheek. He planted his feet firmly, preemptively stopping any unnecessary movement. Peter let out another sigh and took a drink. The Ripper’s eyes flicked away to his twin and Andrey cleared his throat, decidedly not alongside a swell of panic at being left even if only for a moment, and stopped himself from clicking his tongue just as the man’s eyes swung back to him.

“I’m a surgeon,” the Ripper shrugged. “It’s part of my job.”

“Seems to me that you’re a dangerous man. I’m a dangerous man, too. You know, I think we can reach an understanding if you can behave yourself in my establishment.”

With a heavy blink, one that Andrey assumed was in acknowledgement (yet another reaction he wasn’t swinging for), the man seemed to think for a moment. “…These people with knives. Are they trying to avenge Burakh?”

Andrey had half a mind to ask the man to introduce himself, if only to watch that nonchalant act crumble right before him. “I don’t even care. If they come here, they’ll regret it. He who lives by the knife, dies by the knife, you know. Such people are outlaws, so killing them incurs no punishment, only gratitude. Fantastic, isn’t it? Judge Kain himself said so.”

Interest had seemingly been lost, as the larger man mumbled something about the old Kain before shifting over to Peter. It wasn’t the lack of attention that sent a spike of… something ugly and maybe a touch scared through him. It wasn’t. Neither was it the momentary loneliness, fortified by Peter slightly raising his shoulder closest to Andrey, an almost unconscious attempt to wall himself off from his twin, sending a sharper pain through him.

Andrey was left standing alone right beside the two as his twin offered this stranger a drink, and he clenched his fists harder, attempting to dig his short nails into his palms to slow down the panic, the anger, anything. When that failed, he bit down on the inside of his cheek again, this time harder, and then on his tongue when it threatened to click. He spun around back to the bar and didn’t make eye contact with Goose’s pitying gaze, something Andrey decided would only ever be given to a pathetic, wounded thing.

The two beside him spoke easier together than what he had just attempted, exchanging words and niceties and names with ease. When did Peter become better at this than me, wasn’t it always the other way around? he thought sordidly, then mentally yanked the words back when he noticed Peter stiffen slightly beside him. He began to tap two of his fingers in an almost frantic beat against the counter, and Goose was thankfully quick to slide a glass of something dark and strong his way which he wasted no time in draining.

The Ripper thanked Peter for something, which Andrey noticed were two bottles he had earlier placed aside for his brother for fuck’s sake. Goose let out a derisive snort, the bastard, but was greeting the man before Andrey could level him with a glare.

“Bountiful harvest?"

Peter had left not long after, a deep and quiet “See you around,” the only thing offered before he swept out, pulling his coat around him. The hole in Andrey tore wider and it was selfish, he was being so selfish because he knew Peter could feel it from him. Even still, he was left alone, incredibly alone as the night was late enough to be nearing morning and now he had to close up the pub for at least an hour. Goose had already taken his leave to the apartment he stayed at, leaving Andrey to lock up alone. He cursed the fact that he had been the first one to wake up that day and accept the job of barkeep.

He made his way through, blowing out any candles and locking each heavy door until he stood outside in the twyre thick air, the silence of the streets adding another smothering blanket over him.

Just like how you’re smothering your brother.

His hands itched and shook as he began to lightly bounce at that thought, tongue clicking as the muscles in his body began to stiffen. Peter has his own life, always has, excelling at taking care of himself until he had come here, until Andrey had brought them here. But what else would he have done? They both had achieved something great here, even if it was Peter’s ideal, his blueprints, his project. Andrey had helped, had cleared the way and muscled past obstacles just like always, and they had succeeded! That was something, surely!

“None of that either. Come on.” Grief sounded tired, whether he already was when he found him or if the sudden circumstance had drained him, he couldn’t tell. A leg swung towards him in a half-hearted kick that was too easy for Andrey to roll out of the way of and jump up.

“At least fucking try,” he hissed at the shorter, slightly built man. It had worked though, as the man had known it would, and Andrey was back in his own head and in control of his own body, he noticed as he cocked back and swung viciously, baring his teeth in a grin. He barely registered the warmth dripping down his forehead as all his attention and focus was turned and amplified towards the physicality with and of the other man.

“At least fucking try,” he hissed at the shorter, slightly built man. It had worked though, as the man had known it would, and Andrey was back in his own head and in control of his own body, he noticed as he cocked back and swung viciously, baring his teeth in a grin. He barely registered the warmth dripping down his forehead as all his attention and focus was turned and amplified towards the physicality with and of the other man.

“At least fucking try,” he hissed at the shorter, slightly built man. It had worked though, as the man had known it would, and Andrey was back in his own head and in control of his own body, he noticed as he cocked back and swung viciously, baring his teeth in a grin. He barely registered the warmth dripping down his forehead as all his attention and focus was turned and amplified towards the physicality with and of the other man.

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