Something wasn’t right. Andrey had told himself that the moment he had awoken that morning, a sense of distant, nervous apprehension settling over him. Something isn’t right, he told himself again when he left his building and looked in the direction to the district where Peter lived, noticing that it seemed… darker, like the air was clouded over. Something isn’t right, he told himself a third and final time, after setting off at a brisk walk towards the Skinners District, as his eyes focused in on the odd black flakes seemingly floating in the air. Approaching the entrance to the district, he noted with frustration that it was blocked off, two patrolmen both holding up a hand to stop him.
“Sorry, sir,” one called out to him, “this district is locked down. We can’t let you through here.”
Andrey puffed his chest out at that, clenching his jaw as he crossed his arms. As if, he thought angrily, as if they could even stop me.
“What?” Andrey instead asked with a growl. “Why? Under whose orders?”
“Under Doctor Dankovsky’s orders. These districts are off-limits to anyone but medical personnel. We apologize for the inconvenience.”
“Why is the district closed?” He ground out in annoyance. “What did Dankovsky say?” The man shrugged at him and Andrey’s hands twitched.
“Dunno, some people are saying there’s been some kind of emission from the factory, toxic soot and all that. He said that the district is locked down and off limits to anyone but doctors.”
Andrey dug his heel into the pavement. He took a breath, steadying himself. His hands had begun to shake. “Listen. I need to go in to check on my little brother, Peter. Peter Stamatin? He lives in this district and I just need to make sure he’s alright. And I don’t appreciate you stopping me.” Finishing with a glare, he crossed his arms tightly against himself.
“Oh, I’m sorry.” The patrolmen shared a glance. “Listen, we can’t let you in, but if there’s a child alone we can always send an orderly to check up on them. How old is he, your brother?”
“What? No.” Andrey answered, cocking his head. “He’s the same age as me. We’re twins.”
The patrolman raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Oh? Well, sir, I’m sure your brother will be just fine. You shouldn’t worry, he’s probably entirely capable of taking care of himself.”
Andrey growled again, stalking forward towards the men before stopping himself. He could take them, he knew he could, he was bigger and undoubtedly stronger than either one. He couldn’t, however, let his actions cause Peter any more issues. Again. They were building their name as well as their creations, and nothing would sully that faster than another Stamatin assault charge. Especially another one against any type of officer.
Instead, he turned on his heel, stomping back the way he came, muttering a litany of curses under his breath. The further he went from the quarantined district, from his brother, the stronger the waves of panic crashed against him and he stomped his feet harder than necessary in hopes that the reverberations and the harsh impact through his body would keep him from his mind.
Fucking Dankovsky, he thought angrily with a growl in his throat, always pulling some type of shit. Always changing the rules, making people feel lesser. Anger washing over him, he wondered aimlessly.
A small crack came from beneath his shoe and he halted, stilling his hands that had been scratching at his arms, leaving red marks behind. He moved his foot, revealing a small, cracked hand mirror beneath it, reflection fractured into slivers.
“Shit.” Glancing up, apology at the ready for whoever the owner of the now shattered mirror was, only… nothing. There was no one there.
There didn’t seem to be anyone outside, actually, and as he whipped his head around, he found that he was now in the bridge square. The Polyhedron loomed across from him. The cathedral stalked alongside him. The air was suddenly far too thick. His fists opened and closed.
Footsteps sounded behind him and he spun. There. Dankovsky was hurrying across the street, frantically glancing around at something. Under Doctor Dankovsky’s orders, the guard had said. Andrey set off towards him, calling out, a familiar rage burning his chest.
“Hey! Hey. Daniil Dankovsky, get your ass over here, now.”
The man turned; eyes wide. At the sight of the full scale of Andrey storming towards him, he backed up rapidly, hands raised.
“Andrey, please, keep distance. You should be inside; you should be wearing something more protective, for god’s sake.”
“If you wanted me to stay in, you should’ve quarantined my district as well! Peter sure isn’t outside, is he? You want to tell me what all that is about?” At that, Daniil’s eyebrows furrowed and he stopped his retreat.
“Is that what this is about? Your sudden chokehold on him? For god’s sake, Andrey, this is serious!”
Andrey stopped mid stride, taken aback.
“What? What? What the fuck does that mean?”
Daniil ignored him and continued on. “I swear you weren’t this bad in university. I don’t know what more could have happened to get you like this, but you need to relax.”
“I’m perfectly relaxed- “
Unfortunately, Daniil wasn’t done. Unfortunately, Daniil always had an uncanny sense of just where to hit and couldn’t leave an argument without doing as much damage as he could.
Unfortunately, Andrey existed.
“Why not go find something to take or someone to sleep with so you can calm yourself down like you used to? That’s what you usually did instead of actually solving any of your problems. From what I hear, you’re still just an addict.” Daniil snarled, bitter.
Andrey’s blood went cold, contrasting his face which now burned as his breath escaped him. Is that true? Is that all I am? Awakened by Daniil’s words, a hunger clawed at him with desperate need. He drew himself up to his full height, setting a frigid gaze upon the smaller man.
“Maybe, Daniil. Maybe, just for you, I’ll go and do that. It’s not like you care too much, not about any fucking change, right? You never really have, right? It’s funny,” he took a threatening step forward, “because I remember you being right beside me for a lot of it. At least, until you were too good, too good for any of us. If I’m an addict, then what the fuck were you?”
“Andrey, listen, I’m sorry.” Daniil resumed his exit, faster now. Typical. “Just- listen, please go back inside and stay inside! Peter is fine, I promise!”
Something inside Andrey wailed. It wasn’t supposed to go like this, all you had to do was ask! Why couldn’t you just ask? Why don’t you act right? Andrey squashed the voice with a loud snarl, curling his hands into fists to avoid reaching for a knife.
“You’re lucky. You’re lucky we care for you. Otherwise, you would be strewn across the streets by now.” Back to we, huh? Cut the fucking umbilical cord.
Daniil didn’t respond to the empty yet loaded threat, as he was already out of sight and Andrey suddenly wasn’t very sure how long it had been before he had responded.
'You're suffocating him!'
The patch of loose floorboards in his apartment called out to him from the other side of town, and he drowned the call in blood as he bit down hard on his bottom lip. The distraction, however, was short lived as he felt something inside crawl through his chest. It was suddenly very hard to breathe.
Chest heaving, heart racing, he blinked hard and set off determinedly towards the Stillwater. Pins-and-needles lit up through his hands and, after a quick glance around, he clasped them together tightly and cradled them to his chest.
The door to the Stillwater was closed, sending another wave of panic through him. Eva always kept it open, anyone and everyone able to come and go as they please. He sped up, approaching the door and pounding on it before turning and pacing, hands buried in his short hair and pulling. Three seconds passed and he crowded the door again, rapping his knuckles against it more urgently.
Please, Eva. Please.
He tried not to think, heart thudding painfully as phantom claws clamped down around his chest. Why isn’t she answering? Why is the door locked?
Stumbling away from the door, his vision blurred, making him feel all the more sick. Did something happen? I should’ve checked on her, anything could have happened, the streets aren’t safe anymore and she’s always way too brave and now she’s not answering and now Daniil-
A deep, jarring, tolling of a bell broke him from himself. His eyes focused on the wall in front of him, faded stone of one of the older houses. His hands rested on it, braced for the impact of his head. His face felt wet, but as he swiped his hand across it, he saw no blood.
Rubbing furiously at his eyes, he sniffed, looking around as the bell continued to sound. A figure stood a distance away, a stroke of earthen colors. Andrey let out a shaky breath, collecting himself before starting towards the man.
“What are you doing out here, Ripper? On the hunt?” Nothing. He drew closer still.
“Hey, sawbones?” Andrey could see the man clearer now. He stood with his usual hunch, but his head was craned back as though he was focused on something atop the roof of a nearby building, however empty it was. Within six feet of distance, he slowed his approach, taking a wary stance.
“Hey?” The man still didn’t respond and Andrey could see his eyes, unfocused and still locked on the space above the roof. The air felt oddly charged. The bell continued, its mournful bellow ringing out.
“Burakh?” At two feet of distance Andrey reached out. His hand hovered, unsure, before clamping down firmly on the man’s shoulder.
Ultimately, he should have known better.
Artemy seemingly came to life with a ragged gasp and a full body flinch. In the same heartbeat he pulled away sharply from the hand on his shoulder and swung his arm out, catching Andrey across his chest. Andrey, thankfully, was no small man himself, and only stumbled back from the impact. His blood ran hot, adrenaline surging, and he relished the brief, explosive contact.
“What- Andrey? What are you-“
His question was left unfinished as his head snapped to the side, the force of Andrey’s fist sending him momentarily reeling. Artemy turned his gaze back to him and Andrey huffed a breathless laugh at the wonderfully mean look on his face.
“What the hell was that for?” His voice was quiet, seething. Andrey bared his teeth in what could have been a grin.
“Wake us both up some.” Andrey cracked his knuckles and crowded the man’s space viciously. “What say you, Ripper? Let’s go for a quick romp.” The mans eyes narrowed at that.
“I don’t like being called that. You better keep that in mind.”
“You’re the one who needs me, not the other way around." Andrey said unprompted. "I don’t need you.” The snarl wasn’t intended, but many things Andrey ended up doing weren’t.
The fist he swung was intended, however. All that came of it, though, were Artemy’s hands clasping one, then both of his wrists in an iron grip. Leaning forward, he rasped out something that Andrey struggled to focus on amidst the sudden smell of the earth.
“You’ve got strong muscles and a good reaction. You must be an excellent fighter. But I will kill you if we ever fight. Get it?” Artemy punctuated his words by tightening his grips.
Andrey could feel his knees wanting to give out at that, and was partially successful in swallowing back a pathetic noise from the back of his throat. If Artemy heard it, he made no sign before letting go and stepping back.
“You got it, I see. You can call me Haruspex instead.”
I’ve got something, all right. Andrey flexed his fingers, mumbling; “I’ll call you what I like. Maybe not that, though. I can respect your wishes.” he added with a glance. Artemy smiled.
“Good boy. Then we won’t have a problem.”
Andrey felt like choking on his tongue. I have to leave.
“Fuck off.” No, not like that. He took a breath and tried again. “Aren’t you busy with something?” He gambled on the hope that there was something somewhere the man had to attend to.
Artemy seemed confused for a moment before jumping, alarmed. “Shit, you're actually right. I have to get to town hall.” Already he was hurrying away. Andrey had half the urge to run up and trip him. Instead, he called out.
“Haruspex. That prick Dankovsky quarantined my brother’s district. Do you think you could check on him for me?” Andrey rocked back on his heels, awaiting whatever refusal or quick dismissal would come his way.
“Huh? Yeah. I can check on him for you.” Artemy called back over his shoulder. Throwing a hand up in a possible wave, he disappeared around the corner.
Andrey looked around furtively before bouncing on his heels, utterly delighted at not having to deal with the guards in order to check on his brother. His joy was short lived, though, as Daniil’s words came back to him and in that moment, the pub was the last place he wanted to go to.
There was nowhere else to go. Eva wasn’t answering, his brother was quarantined. There was Grief, but he had never sought the man out in daylight, especially not now that their arrangement had changed. Of course there was a town full of people he could seek out and- no. Even now, he clenched his jaw, even now you’re looking for someone else to distract you.
If that is how it’s going to be, then fine. There were plenty things other than a warm body that he could hide behind.
There was a telling mix of ragtag kids and scouting dog-heads littered around his pub, far more than normal. Seemed that important business was going on in his territory.
All he wanted to do was drink and wait for news of his brother, and now he had to play babysitter for a bunch of kids hanging around drunks and-
All he wanted to do was drink and wait for news of his brother, and now he had to play babysitter for a bunch of kids hanging around drunks and-
“Hey. Where are you going?”
Andrey froze mid step and turned stiffly towards the voice. A dog-head stared him down from where she perched on the back of a bench, arms crossed. He tried his best not to scowl.
“What the fu- uh. What do you mean where am I going? I own this place.”
Another dog-head spoke from beside her. “No, it’s okay. He owns the place. He’s allowed. At that, Andrey did scowl.
“Of course I’m allowed,” he muttered as he shouldered the door open, “this is my place, I’m always allowed.”
Andrey had half a mind to approach them and ask what they were doing, or if any of a certain someone’s accomplices were rifling through his storeroom again, when Notkin drawled out something about a house of death which sent him heading on down the stairs. Some things, he didn’t need to get involved in.
The pub itself wasn’t necessarily busy, though Andrey didn’t mind not having an audience to his sulking.
He crossed the room with long strides and reached behind the bar, fishing around until his fingers grazed the neck of a bottle. Hurriedly, he pulled it free, yanking out the cork with his teeth and spitting it to the ground before taking a long swig.
Whatever the liquor was, it burned.
“You’ll chip another tooth doing that,” Goose blithely pointed out from his place across the counter. Andrey fixed him with a long look that he hoped was withering.
"It adds to my charm."
Goose blinked, unimpressed as usual. “Is that what that is?”
‘He’s not breathing’
‘Do you know what it was that he-‘
Shaking himself free of his thoughts, he turned to his barkeep. The man had said something, surely, in response to him? Said man was now at the other end of the bar busy fixing drinks. As he had been for the past several minutes.
By the time Andrey started on his third bottle, he registered the heavy, uneven footsteps on the stairs. A part of him wondered, briefly, how he looked in that moment. Like some forlorn bastard, probably. The thought had him pushing his elbows hard against the counter.
Artemy stopped beside him, standing completely still. Andrey waited a few moments before realizing that, no, the other man was not in fact going to be the first to speak. Heaving a sigh, he turned to the man, smile slipping into place.
‘This is serious, Andrey!’
‘Something is wrong, people are getting sick.’
Poetic, Andrey thought as he tried to focus on the low rumble of the man’s voice. What a way with words. Had the man been through the quarantined district, yet? Did it hang on his clothes, ready to transfer?
“’And this pestilence was the more virulent for that, by communication with those who were sick thereof, it gat hold upon the sound, no otherwise than fire upon things dry or greasy, whenas they are brought very near thereunto. Nay, the mischief was yet greater…’ And why was that, I wonder?” He didn’t bother connecting the dots of that thought process for Artemy.
“…Something about touching.” Another shrug. “Can’t remember the exact wording.”
Surprised and oddly relieved, Andrey relaxed slightly. Maybe he didn’t need to connect the dots anyways. He scoffed and hoped it didn’t sound fond.
“What a lout… Have you checked on my brother yet?” Hands on his hips to hide their shaking. Artemy nodded.
“I took care of him. He’s going to be fine for the night, just a little, well, a lot drunk. He’ll still be fine.” The added reassurance didn’t help, but he appreciated it still.
“Great job. Have a drink on me, then.”
Reaching back for his forgotten bottle, he took a drink and frowned. It had been switched out for water. There was movement beside him as Artemy settled down atop the stool next to him. He crossed his large arms on the counter and Andrey did not look, especially when he was fixed with a sidelong glance.
“You know, Andrey, I’m not some handyman you have to bribe with booze? I’m a doctor, I do these things regardless.”
Andrey grunted. No one does things regardless of anything. “Take good care of my brother, doctor. If I kick the bucket, so be it. But my brother must survive. He is a genius.”
There was a short, huffing laugh that came from Artemy, who then turned to face him fully, eyes bright.
“What, and you’re not?”
He broke away from the warm stare and focused ahead at the shelves behind the bar, at the bottles lining them. “I am the battering ram that clears his path. Me and him are perfect twins.” Nothing more, nothing less.
“The local climate is good for twins,” Artemy hummed, seemingly thoughtful. After a long stretch of silence, one that Andrey did not have the will to break, he stood and placed a hand on his shoulder for a brief moment. The warmth of it seeped through his thin coat. “You should stay inside, in the meantime. Just to be safe.”
Then he was gone, and Andrey sat, curling his hands against the bar’s counter, blunt nails scratching at the wood.