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Metro: Beyond

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In the repurposed larder of the Last Station, a seedy bar in the darkest corners of Hansa, there is screaming. 

A young man, Misha. Barely past puberty. He is tied to the ceiling, his head nearly touching the floor and his ankles high. Blood streams from a multitude of cuts, and a broken nose is only just wadded with a dirty rag. 

Kristijan has grown numb to causing people pain. The drink helps, but it merely helps him dull his mind, occupy it with violence and drink. He is only sober enough to remember why he is here. This man does not need to die until Kristijan knows what he knows. He betrayed his family. Betrayed Kristijan. He sold him out to another man, an assassin. If it were not for his skills, honed by years in the Order, he would have been a dead man. He almost died anyway. 

Alexei stood behind them, blocking the door. No one would interrupt, mind, but he spoke fluent Russian. Kristijan was less of a natural speaker. He had a growl, an edge that made him terrifying even to his closest subordinates, a rugged unease with the language. Alexei was also the farthest from Misha- the kindest man should be the one farthest away, nearest the exit. It plants the psychological seeds, that to cooperate means a swift and painless exit from this room. 

"Only you can stop this, Misha," Alexei said, his deep baritone echoing inside the cramped larder. "The boss hurts you because you have hurt him. Deeply. He aches even now, forced as he is to hurt you so. Why do you do this to him, Misha? Tell him the truth." 

"I did!" the man half-sobs, choked with tears and clogged with blood. "I did!" 

"Lažov!" Kristijan shouts, swinging a wide soccer-ball kick that rocks the boy's head that much harder. "Liar! You betrayed me! Sixty military-grade rounds! Did you really think they valued your life!? Did you think they would protect you from me!? Who ordered the hit!? Who!?

"I don't know!" Misha wailed. "I don't know, please, please, stop, please!"

"For forty-eight hours, Misha, forty-eight hours you have lied to us," Alexei muttered disapprovingly. "First you tell us that you didn't know the man was a killer. Then that you didn't know he was coming for the boss. Then that you didn't shelter him in the leadup to the hit. Then that you didn't know who hired him. Do not lie to us further."

"I don't know!" Misha repeated desperately. "The man gave me the rounds, and told me that there would be triple if I looked the other way! I couldn't refuse that! My children, Alexei, my children! If I knew who sent him, I would tell you, I swear! My children, Alexei, please, make this stop!"

His children. What right did he have to complain about his children? They had not been taken from him. They had not been stolen by this life, like Kristijan's little Steva. 

"Alexei," he rasped, his voice throaty and ragged from constant, violent interrogation. "Smanjite ga, cut him down." 

Alexei drew his knive off his belt, and began to free Misha from his ropes, while Kristijan removed his shirt, already stained ruddy with blood and sweat, revealing the web of scars and tattoos that comprised Kristijan Ristić. He threw the shirt into the corner of the larder, and let out a long sigh. 

"Misha, Misha, Misha," he muttered, before taking a long, deep exhale. The scent of blood, piss, and tears made him sick. "Misha, my boy, what have you done to me." Slowly, he turned around, just as Misha hit the floor. "Alexei, brate, go." 

Alexei grunted his approval, and left the larder. Misha whimpered quietly now that he was alone with Kristijan. He was scared. He'd tell him anything he wanted to hear if it meant getting out of a beating. 

He no longer had any use. 

"Misha, my boy, why did you make me do this to you?" he asked, his voice soft, barely a hoarse whisper. "Why did you make me hurt you so, Misha? Why? Volim te, I love you like a son, you know this. We're family, Misha. Your children are like my own, and look what I have done to their father, all because you would not tell me the truth. But it's okay, Misha, it's okay. It's over now. Alexei is going to get you what you need, and then we will sort this out together, yes?" 

He dropped down to a knee in front of Misha, who grasped at his hand with his own trembling fingers, dragging himself to bloodied, frayed knuckles and kissing them as if they were divine. "Please," he begged, a broken man at Kristijan's feet. "Please, Otac, please, forgive me... I'm so sorry, Otac, please..."

"Shhhhhh..." Grabbing a firm hold of the hands at his own, Kristijan pulled Misha up to his knees and embraced him. "Shhh... budite tihi, Misha, hush, hush. It's alright. I forgive you. It is all over now. Let us talk of your children, Misha."

He pulled Misha closer, practically cheek to cheek with the man now, his blood dripping onto Kristijan's skin as he embraced him fully with both arms, crying into his shoulder. Kristijan grabbed a fistful of Misha's hair, gently, and leaned to whisper into his ear.

"I don't give a fuck about your children." 

The fist tightened, and Kristijan was back on his feet, grabbing another handful of hair and then throwing. Slamming Misha's face into the larder floor. Again, and again, and again, and again, and the boy screamed and begged for it to stop and cried, apologized through broken teeth and jaw, and then he started gurgling and then he could no longer take it. 

Kristijan screamed. It was primal, animal. The cry of a beast in pain, of a man who no longer could recognize himself in the mirror when he went to shave, who could no longer see the man in a crumpled, faded photograph of his family. Kristijan fell to the floor, on his hands and knees, and screamed into the concrete. It felt like his throat was being torn asunder, like his head was about to explode, like his fists were shattered like glass. His stomach heaved, and his lunch, disgusting as it was, came up to haunt him again.

He didn't hear Alexei enter the room and come to his side, and didn't notice him until strong, bear-like hands came to rest on his shoulders, pulled him up onto his feet. 

"Otac, what happened?" he asked, concerned. Alexei was the only man who had ever seen Kristijan in such a state more than once and lived. He'd guarded his true self to everyone but Alexei- Alexei was a former Red. He'd understood. He was loyal in spite of everything. If only Misha had been more like Alexei. 

The man turned his head towards Misha. "He's still alive."

"Finish the poor fucker, then, Jesus," Kristijan groaned, turning to look at his ugly handiwork. It was his fault that it had come to this. His responsibility. His punishment was to bear witness as Alexei pulled his revolver from its holster, and put a bullet in the back of Misha's head. It was quick. Far less painless than everything that had come before. 

"Did he tell you anything?" Alexei asked.

"If he knew anything more, he took it to the grave," Kristijan replied. "Take his body outside. Show it to them. I'll be right behind you."

"Are you certain?"

"I'm more than fucking certain, Alexei."

Alexei complied, and picked up the corpse that had once been Misha, revealing the pulped facial features and the exit wound just above his left eye for Kristijan to etch into his memory, as he did every single man he killed. It was his penance for choosing this life. He had come too far to stop now, but he had not gone far enough yet to remember just what kind of man he had been before. To hold himself in contempt for what he had become. 

As Alexei stepped out of the larder and into the back hallways, he allowed Kristijan to pass him. The Serb wiped the blood from his face and still-bare chest, flicked it off his fingers, and cleared his throat. 

By the time they'd made it to the front, the Last Station had quieted down quite a bit. The non-regulars were easily discernible from his usual patrons- a bit of shouting from the back of house may disconcert a newcomer, but the regulars always knew that Otac took care of business, and made a point of doing so where everyone knew what was happening. If there was one things the Reds had taught him, overwhelming force may make you hated, but it also made you feared

He could not only tell who the regulars were by their timbre, but by their reaction when Alexei appeared behind him. He could tell, of course, because a young man near the back choked on his drink, and a woman at another table fainted into her companion's arms. The bartender, dear Aloysha, was normally not even bothered by dead bodies, even those that had to be made 'examples' of, was practically green at the grisly sight in front of him. The regulars? Some of them were quiet. Some of them sighed. Tolya laughed, the mad bastard.

Kristijan took the nearest table to the center of the room, and smacked the table. "Aloysha! Drinks!" Then, he pulled three chairs. The one at the center, he motioned towards and nodded at Alexei. The big brute dropped Misha's corpse into the chair, seating it so that his mashed, massacred corpse was exposed to all who dared to look. Kristijan had to keep his reputation, after all. A pall of silence fell over the room.

"I propose a toast!" Kristijan croaked jovially as cups were set out in front of him. "To Misha, dearly departed, and the stupid son of a bitch that thought he could kill a snake in its own den! This place is mine, my beloveds, it is ours, and now, for those among you who are new... welcome to the family. Drink! Drink to your heart's content! For as long as this snake has venom in his fangs, our family will never die. Let our tables break from abundance, our beds break from love, and our enemies' backs from our iron. To our family!" 

"To our family!" came a reply, some voices hearty, some voices full of fear, and some just glad that nobody else had to die.

This was no family. This would never replace what he had lost. 

He needed to drink more if he wanted to be that foolish.

 

 

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