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While Hidden, I See and Destroy


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The Groznyj Grad Living Novel


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Viktor turned around, and spotted a sniper.

Or at least, he spotted the business end of a sniper rifle poking out from black camouflage netting, high up on the bunker near the east wall of the Grad.

The sniper usually followed, in his experience.

Awareness bloomed through him, slow and visceral, straight from the tightening at his groin to the shiver that bit into back of his neck. He felt utterly naked, standing out in the open as he was with a rifle on his back, a sniper's perfect target.

A second passed, then two.

Leshovik frowned.

There was no unknown sniper lurking the base, he reminded himself, belatedly. He had embraced Lynx's lie so wholeheartedly it had become his easy and unthinking truth.

He hesitated for a long moment, breathing steadily.

"What the hell," he muttered.

He made a quick line for the bunker, crossing the distance without catching a bullet in the head.

The door was not locked. It opened to a empty, dusty space and a ladder leading up to an open trap door in the ceiling.

Viktor braced himself in the doorway, neither in nor out, just in case.


There was a long pause.

"Sidorov." Irinarhov's voice filtered down from above.

Viktor exhaled.

His surname sounded like a stranger's. He had not heard it spoken aloud since he'd gone into black ops. Seven years.

"Irinarhov," he said, slowly. He'd heard no surprise in Kasya's tone. It occurred to him that he must have spotted Viktor approaching. "What are you doing?"


Viktor's eyes narrowed.

"If you're beating off up there - "

"Fuck you."

Another pause.

"Come up, if you want."

Leshovik scowled, then adjusted his Dragunov and grabbed the ladder rung. He climbed up with rapid-fire steps, slowing as he reached the top. He poked his head inside the space above. Irinarhov was sitting against the low wall, the stock cradled in his lap, barrel leaning against the ledge. Muzzle jutting out beyond the netting, just a few inches.

"Spending some quality time with your Mosin?"

Kasya's dark gaze settled on him, wordless and heavy. After a second, he held out his hand.

Viktor hesitated before easing one hand off the ladder and reaching back for his rifle. He pulled it over his shoulder and offered it up to Irinarhov, who took it and leaned both rifles against the wall carefully before holding out his hand to Viktor again.


Viktor climbed inside. He settled himself across from Irinarhov, who pulled the trap door closed. The space was not large. The two of them and their rifles took up most of it. The edge of Leshovik's boot brushed Irinarhov's thigh. He moved slightly.

"Izvinit." Viktor glanced around.

Small concessions had been made toward both comfort and utility, he saw. A faded rug had been cut to fit around the trapdoor, and a standard-issue blanket lay in the corner. There was a battered paperback sitting on top of an upended crate.

"So what's this place? Your little love shack?"

Irinarhov looked at him sharply.

"No," he said, after a moment. "I just come up here to think."

Kasya's voice was low, barely a mutter. The line of his jaw was dark with an extra day's stubble. He looked tired, Leshovik realized, studying him closely for the first time. Eyes bloodshot, like he'd been drinking.

"About what?" Viktor asked.

Irinarhov's eyes skipped away from his, and he turned his head to look out over the base.

"Can you picture me as a civilian?"


Kasya turned his head again, frowning at him.

"You heard me."

Viktor snorted.

"Doing what? You're not civilian material, Irinarhov. You'd never make it. Face it, you'd be happy being in the military until the day you die."

He saw a spasm ripple across Irinarhov's features, tightening his jaw in its wake.

Viktor narrowed his eyes.

"Why do you ask?"

Irinarhov's gaze shifted, down and away.

"Just wondering," he muttered.

"That's a hell of a thing to just wonder."

Viktor could read the tension in the hard set of Irinarhov's shoulders, hunched and defensive. His stubbled jaw was taut. Leshovik was struck by an eerie sense of familiarity.

"Why do you ask," he said again, more sharply. "You're not thinking of leaving."

Kasya was silent for a moment.

"Isaev," he said, finally. "It's Isaev."

"It's Isaev what?"

"Isaev's leaving the military."

Viktor exhaled, letting Kasya's words soak in. He felt something cold and dangerous coil around itself inside him.

"And you're looking for the excuse not to join him."

Kasya's eyes shot to his.

"No," he snarled.

"Don't lie to me. Or yourself."

"I didn't say - "

"You didn't have to, you fuck."

"It's not - "

"It is. It fucking is." Viktor's gaze boiled. He stared at Irinarhov, who stared back, eyes lit like coals. "You asked me because you knew what I would say, what you wanted to hear. It's just like Hungary."

"It is not."

They scowled at each other.

"I asked you," Kasya bit out, each word dangerously soft and vehement. "Because you know me."

Viktor leaned back, suddenly.

He was aware of how close they sat, how tight their confines were. How Irinarhov smelled like cordite and leather and gun oil, chased by other scents masculine and subtle.

Leshovik was aware of his pulse, accelerating under his skin.

"You're right," Viktor whispered. "I do."

Irinarhov surged forward then, before Viktor realized what he was going to do. His mouth met Leshovik's in a shockingly hard kiss.

Viktor felt his lips move against Irinarhov's reflexively. He seized Kasya's lapel, crushing the material in his fingers.

The taste of him was still familiar, Viktor realized.

A second later, he pushed Irinarhov away, violently.

"Fuck, you fucking fuck. What was that?"

He stared furiously at Irinarhov. He could feel himself shaking.

Irinarhov's shoulders rose and fell on short, shallow breath. He was still leaning toward Viktor, half-poised and predatory.

Viktor realized he had been right, that this was the Kasya he knew, the one who could return a slight tenfold, in the most insidiously intimate way. He was struck by a sense of imminent danger, like the feeling he was zeroed in a sniper's sights.

He reached for his rifle, and drew it against him. Kasya's eyes followed the motion, narrowing.

"Say something, damn you," Viktor hissed.

Irinarhov turned away.

Leshovik breathed slowly, waiting. Irinarhov was silent.

Viktor knew the drill.

"Fuck your mother, then."

He pulled open the trap door and swung his Dragunov delicately over his shoulder, positioning it so he could climb down without catching it on the ledge.

"He told me he was leaving," Irinarhov said, as Viktor began to ease down the ladder.

A taut and angry part of Viktor wanted to keep going, heedless to Irinarhov's mumbled words as if he hadn't heard them, but he found himself pausing, hands locked around the ladder rungs.

"He said he wanted to tell me now, so it wouldn't be a shock when the time came. He's going back to his old life in Leningrad. There's not much place for an ex-sniper there. Where would I stay, what would I do? Honestly, Vitya. Honestly. If Black Ops cut you loose, would you know what to do with yourself immediately? Would you know how to make a life? He doesn't want to be taking care of an old man for the rest of his life. He wants an equal, and not a responsibility."

Viktor's lips pressed together. He stared at the wall in front of him.

"And you don't think you're up to it?"

He could hear Kasya's breathing, quiet and rough.

"I don't know," Kasya whispered.

Viktor exhaled.

Silence existed between them as a subtle yet palpable thing, like the change in air pressure before rain.

"Neither do I," he said, quietly.

He turned his head, and found Kasya looking at him. There was a rawness in his gaze, in his dark, liquid eyes, that Viktor was not sure he had ever seen before. It was not so much pain or desperation as it was a terrible awareness, keen and consuming, like hunger.

Leshovik had to turn away. It took him a few moments before he found his voice again.

"But at this point, Kasya, I don't understand what you think you have to lose."

He started down the ladder again, and this time, Irinarhov let him go.
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