Dimitri drove to the marina. Talin sat in the passenger staring out into the dark, the streetlights casting shadows on his features. Dimitri wished he could read minds, and then he'd know what had Talin so closed off. His heart hadn't stopped pounding since Talin had walked out of his workshop.
The thought of losing Talin…
Dimitri swallowed down bile. He didn't want to think of that at all.
When they reached the marina, Dimitri drove to the old warehouse he used for Vlad's merchandise. He held Talin's right elbow when they got out of the car, and led him to the Anastasia docked near the warehouse.
"Where are we going?" Talin asked. "Is what you want to show me in the boat?"
"Yes," Dimitri said as he urged Talin on board.
Dimitri hurried to untie the Anastasia, tossing the line into the boat. He hurried onto the Anastasia too, not wanting to give Talin a moment to change his mind.
Making sure Talin was comfortable in the cabin below deck, Dimitri sailed the Anastasia a distance away from land, stopping almost in the middle of the lake. He secured the boat for the night, before he went below deck to join Talin.
Talin sat on a comfortable bench, his arms folded against his chest; his head leaned back on the wall. When Dimitri walked in, he opened his eyes and stared at him.
"What are we doing in the middle of the lake?"
Dimitri pulled at a thin chain around his neck which had a key. Sparing Talin a small smile, he walked to the right corner of the cabin. Kneeling on the deck, he pulled out a piece of wood on the floor and reached in to unlock the safe he'd built into the boat. Removing the folders he'd put in there, he got to his feet and walked back to where Talin sat watching him. Placing the folders on the bolted table before Talin, he sat beside Talin.
"Show and tell," Dimitri said with a small smile.
When Talin didn't crack a smile, he sighed.
"Come on, Talin, this isn't easy for me either."
Talin ignored the files and turned to study him in the clear fluorescent light.
"Why did you decide to tell me?" Talin asked. "No one talks in the Bratva. No matter how bad it gets, no one talks. Why did you tell me?"
Dimitri held Talin's gaze.
"Can I start from the beginning?"
Talin frowned then nodded.
Dimitri sat back on the bench, and wished they had strong liquor. Yet, he couldn't have any, not now when he needed to keep all his senses around him.
"I wasn't always Bratva," Dimitri said with a small smile. "There was a life before this."
"You were in the army," Talin said, when Dimitri gave him a questioning glance, Talin said, "You told me on our first date."
"Yeah," Dimitri said with a short nod. "My father died four years ago. I came for the funeral and right when I was leaving Colston for good, I discovered he was murdered."
A shadow passed over Talin's features, and Dimitri reached for his hand, squeezing his fingers.
"My father," Dimitri continued, "was murdered for killing a man in an attempt to leave the Brotherhood. My family was left with a debt to the Brotherhood for my father's transgressions."
"Your family owes blood for blood," Talin said, his gaze dropping to their tangled fingers.
"Yes…something like that." Dimitri frowned. "But why would you say that?"
"Huh?" Talin looked up to meet his gaze.
"You said, blood for blood, why use that phrase?" Dimitri asked studying Talin.
"I've heard it before. Continue with your story," Talin urged.
Dimitri wondered where Talin would have heard the phrase.
"The Brotherhood wanted the marina, so they threatened my family," Dimitri said. "I had to protect Lukas and Katerina. I agreed to work for them as long as they allowed my family to operate the marina without interference."
"Why not go to the police?" Talin asked his gaze accusing. "You were in the army, Dimitri. Surely, you have useful contacts you could have called. I don't understand you choosing to work with these people."
"They killed my father, Talin. I know they did, but they made it look like a heart attack. There was no proof to show the authorities. I checked the autopsy file myself."
Dimitri let go of Talin's hand.
"Choosing to work with them was the best way to get any hardcore evidence, the only way to protect my family's livelihood, and their lives. It's taken me four years to get into the inner circle. The Brotherhood is paranoid: careful and mistrustful. Anyone who's crossed them in the past decade is dead."
Talin got up and ran a fingers through his hair.
"You're playing with fire, Dimitri. You're going to end up dead too."
Dimitri stared at him.
"These folders," Talin pointed to the pile of folders on the table. "You're trying to collect evidence, aren't you? You're finding proof that you can use with the police. Fuck, you're an idiot."
"Don't 'Talin' me, Dimitri," Talin said as he walked around the table and started pacing the small empty area by the door. "You're a fucking idiot."
"I've told you the truth, your turn. Why do you know so much about the Bratva? For someone who's lived a quiet life, you don't look as surprised as I thought you'd be. What don't I know?"
Talin folded his arms against his chest.
"Who did your father kill?"
"Who did your father kill, Dimitri?"
Dimitri sighed and opened the folder on the table to get the picture Lukas had given him that first day after the funeral.
Dimitri handed the picture to Talin.
"Ilia Pajari," Dimitri said.
Talin stopped pacing, his gaze on the picture, eyes wide.
"Talin?" Dimitri got up. "What's wrong?"
Talin dropped the picture on the table and rubbed his temple with his right hand.
"How long ago was this picture taken?"
"Four years," Dimitri said with a frown. "Talin—
"That's not right," Talin shook his head, pointing to the picture. "That picture is wrong."
Dimitri walked around the table confused by Talin's reaction. He took Talin's shoulders in his hands and shook him slightly.
"What do you mean the picture is wrong?"
Talin dropped his arms to his sides.
"Ilia Pajari is not dead."
"What?" Dimitri's fingers tightened on Talin's shoulders. "How would you know that? You're not making sense, Talin."
"Ilia Pajari is alive." Talin pushed Dimitri back and stepped away from him. "I know he's alive."
Lucian's words returned to Dimitri. The idea that Lucian knew Talin filled his head, almost driving him insane. How would they know each other?
"What are you talking about?" Dimitri asked his tone ice cold.
Talin wished there was a way to escape this conversation. He'd hoped never to dwell on his past, but it seemed as though karma was having the final laugh on this one. In one afternoon, the cloak he'd built around his memories had ripped open and dropped to the ground. He could even imagine karma stomping her sharp red heels on the cloak with glee.
He let out a soft laugh and moved to take a seat.
His gaze on the files Dimitri had on the table. What a puny approach to the Brotherhood. Compared to what he'd done after Gabriel's death, Dimitri's approach seemed…tame.
"You're not the only one with a past, Dimitri," he said when he met Dimitri's cold blue gaze. "I'm…amused by the fact that you and I have so much in common.
How small the world was, Talin thought his gaze holding Dimitri's. How could the one man who'd fucked over his family connect them?
Ilia Pajari and his association with the Bratva had taken his heart, his life, and his reasons to live. Thinking about it had Talin closing his eyes in defeat.
"How do you know Ilia?" Dimitri demanded his cold tone cutting through the illusion they'd placed on their relationship.
Talin's gaze strayed to the files on the table. He'd put to rest his vendetta, but it seemed Dimitri's was alive and well.
"I'm a smart man, Dimitri. You know what a smart man would do right now?"
"A smart man would make you get up there and drive us back to shore," Talin said. "I'll go back to being the Talin who owns a club, serving you drinks without talking to you. And you, you go back to being the thug I thought you were. Coz, that's what will save us both."
"Why? Don't you want what's between us?" Dimitri asked. "Don't you want me even a little, Talin?"
Talin sat back in his seat.
"I'm crazy for imagining we could work. Do you know why I'm calling you an idiot?"
Dimitri's fingers clenched into tight fists and Talin chuckled, the tone off even to his ears.
"What makes you think you can fight the beast with a couple of files stashed in your boat?" Talin pushed the files on the table to the floor with his right hand. "You're screwing up, Dimitri."
"Who the hell do you think you are?"
Talin broke off when a shadow behind Dimitri caught his eye. Reflex took over and he launched himself at Dimitri. Pushing off the bench, he jumped on the table and threw his weight on Dimitri. The impact surprised Dimitri, forcing Dimitri to stumble back, tripping; they fell hard on the floor with Talin on top of Dimitri just as a loud bang filled the cabin. The bullet lodged into the wall where Talin had sat before.
Dimitri wrapped a strong arm around Talin, rolling over before Talin could think past the bullet hole in the wall. Dimitri pulled out his gun and shot two bullets into the intruder's chest.
Dimitri got to his feet, and Talin tried to scramble up after him.
Dimitri clamped a hand on Talin's shoulder and pushed him down under the bolted table.
When Talin looked up, Dimitri's gaze warned him to stay. Talin sighed when Dimitri gave him a warning glance, before he turned off the light in the cabin and went off to the upper deck.
Conscious of the dead man a few feet away, Talin shifted to sit on the table. His stomach tied in knots; he jumped when he heard four more shots on the upper deck. Bile rose at the thought of Dimitri shot down.
Shit, he couldn't sit here waiting...
Talin forced his limbs to move, getting to his feet; he went to pick up the gun their assailant had dropped. His fingers searching in the dark, he cursed under his breath when he fell on his knees and touched wetness. The lights came on and he hissed when he saw his hand covered in blood. Talin wiped his hand on the dead man's dark sweater with a disgusted groan and scrambled away from him.
"What the hell are you doing?" Dimitri cursed rushing to help him up. "Damn, Talin."
"You went running off, and left me here. I couldn't just wait, I wanted to help," Talin said gagging. "I gotta wash this off."
He stood up and ran out to the head, a little room he'd seen tucked right outside the main cabin. Turning on the water in the sink, he washed his hands hard, disgust twisting his face.
"Talin," Dimitri said from the door.
He looked into the mirror to find Dimitri watching him.
"You okay?" Dimitri asked his blue eyes filled with concern.
"No." Talin slammed the tap closed and braced his hands on the sink. "That guy just tried to kill you. One second late, and we'd both be dead."
"There were three more on the upper deck," Dimitri said, his tone calm as though it were commonplace.
Talin grabbed the hand towel on the rack and wiped his hands, turning to face Dimitri. He didn't know what to say.
What could he say that made sense?
Dimitri turned and headed back to the cabin to check their assailant.
Talin placed the hand towel on the sink and stepped out into the walkway to watch Dimitri kneel beside the dead man. Dimitri moved the assailant's gun away, turning him to his back.
"I guess you've answered my question about killing people."
Dimitri's gaze flashed at him.
"He would have killed both of us if I'd hesitated. I found diving gear on the upper deck. They must have followed us out here—,"
"They're a warning," Talin said folding his arms against his chest.
Dimitri removed the ski mask on the dead man's head.
"I don't recognize him."
"You wouldn't," Talin said. "Fuck. I'm in this now."
Dimitri dropped the mask on top of the assassin and got to his feet.
"Don't tell me you're sorry," Talin snapped.
Dimitri picked up the assassin's gun.
"You know what? I don't appreciate your accusing tone, Talin. I really don't. I'm trying to be honest with you, but I'm not the only one with secrets here. How do you know Ilia?" Dimitri asked. "And don't take me for an idiot, Talin. Anyone who knows Ilia Pajari is in deeper with the Bratva more than I am. I want the truth—,"
"The Bratva killed my husband," Talin cut Dimitri off, the words torn out of him.
He'd never said them aloud before. It hurt to hear them.
A stabbing pain slashed through his heart the scene on that staircase filling his head. His hands pressed against Gabriel's chest, blood pumping out, coating his hands...Talin swallowed hard.
"They hired a man who shot three bullets into Gabriel's heart," Talin said in a whisper. "I could do nothing, nothing!"
Talin met Dimitri's vivid blue gaze.
"Gabriel bled to death while I waited for an ambulance to come and help."
Dimitri started to reach for him, but Talin stepped back. He couldn't handle Dimitri holding him right now, not with a dead guy lying between them, three more on the upper deck.
"This is how it starts," Talin said, pointing to their would-be assassin. "It won't end until one of us is dead and I'm not mourning you, Dimitri. I refuse it."
"I'm not mourning you either," Dimitri snapped.
"Great, common ground," Talin said. "What do we do now? Should we call the cops?"
"No cops. We get back to shore. We're sitting ducks out here."
Talin's gaze fell on the man lying dead on the deck.
"I'm not staying here with him," Talin said, hating that he sounded petulant.
Dimitri shook his head, amusement filling his eyes.
"I believe I'm finally meeting the real Talin."
Talin glared at him.
What was there to be amused about? Someone had just tried to kill them.
Talin stepped into the cabin, careful to jump over the dead body to get to the table. He picked up the files he'd dropped on the floor earlier, careful to get every paper. Tucking them into his leather jacket, he zipped up tight and hurried up the walkway leading to the upper deck after Dimitri.
Dimitri steadied him when he came up on the upper deck and almost stumbled on another dead assassin.
More blood on the deck…Talin grimaced.
Taking in a deep breath, he allowed Dimitri to lead him to the helm where he stared at Dimitri as they drove back to shore.
Whatever happened now, he thought, they were stuck together.
Dimitri called Lucian when they got to the dock. Thirty minutes later, a crew of five men drove up to the dock and boarded the Anastasia. Dimitri and Talin stood by the old warehouse watching them work using boat lights.
The head of the crew paced the cockpit area on the Anastasia. The man was burly with shaggy blond hair, dressed in a heavy jacket, he smoked like a chimney.
"He's Sasha," Dimitri said. "Mean son of a bitch. He can gut a man in seconds. They call him the enforcer."
Talin shuddered beside him, his arms tightly woven across his chest.
"They didn't know the assassins on the boat."
"Yes," Dimitri frowned. "Lucian is angry. He thinks it's an attack on their territory."
"Lucian," Talin said softly, his gaze never leaving Sasha who now stood at the railing watching them. "What's his last name?"
Dimitri thought about what Talin had said in the boat earlier. The pain in Talin's voice when he'd talked about a husband Dimitri hadn't known existed. If Ilia's family had killed Talin's husband, how did Talin not know Lucian?
"Pajari," Dimitri said turning to look at Talin. "Lucian Pajari."
Talin's shoulders stiffened.
"He's Ilia's brother."
Talin nodded, not looking at him. Talin's arms tightened across his chest, and Dimitri imagined Talin was doing his best to hold himself together.
"Sasha is coming over," Talin said, his tone too quiet. "He can't know you told me the truth. Do you understand, Dimitri?"
The warning in Talin's voice made him wonder more about Talin's past.
Talin nodded. He kept leaning against the wall until Sasha reached them.
"The Anastasia is clean. Are you sure you don't know those bastards?" Sasha asked Dimitri, but his gaze was on Talin.
"I don't recognize them," Dimitri said.
"Puzzling, why the hell would they want to kill you?" Sasha demanded. "Everyone knows not to touch you."
"Well, that's good to know," Dimitri said, "but someone's slipping. You're the only people I know who'd want to kill me, Sasha. Should I start worrying?"
"No. I'll handle this, which brings us to our second problem." Sasha pointed to Talin and Dimitri froze. "Is he alright? We can take care of him if he's a probl—
Talin burst out into hysterical sobs, shocking Dimitri.
"Oh gods, those men were going to kill my Dimitri. My poor Dimitri," Talin sobbed. "What would I do without him?"
Dimitri bit back a laugh and turned to face Talin because he was afraid he'd spoil Talin's game.
Talin threw himself into Dimitri's arms, and looked at Sasha from over Dimitri's shoulder.
"Are they dead?" Talin asked Sasha. "They won't hurt him, will they? You have to tell me, I'll have nightmares if you don't. I need my Dimitri."
Dimitri bit his lip and turned to look at an uncomfortable Sasha.
Sasha cleared his throat and nodded.
"Yes, they're dead. You don't have to worry about Dimitri."
"Oh, thank God," Talin said. "You make sure you get the people behind this arrested detective."
Sasha glanced at Dimitri with a small smile and nodded.
"Don't worry, we will."
Talin buried his face into Dimitri's shoulder.
"Well…I guess that answers my question. Dimitri, I'll see you tomorrow. Get some sleep, Lucian and I will check into this."
Dimitri watched Sasha leave, and didn't relax until the van drove out of the marina. Talin must have been watching the van too because he stepped out of Dimitri's arms the moment the van was out of sight.
"My poor Dimitri?" Dimitri asked studying Talin's sober face.
There were no tears in sight.
"It worked, didn't it?" Talin winked at him.
"Who are you?" Dimitri laughed.
Talin smiled and glanced toward the great house hidden in the trees to their left.
"Someone who's sleeping in your bed tonight," Talin said.
"Really," Dimitri reached for Talin's hand. "Are you sure we're sleeping?"
"I thought I was your Dimitri."
"Ha," Talin said turning in the direction of the main house. "Come on, I have papers stuffed in my chest and they're making me itchy."
"You're so hard on me," Dimitri complained as they walked in the dark.
Talin squeezed his fingers as they walked up to the house, the reality of four dead men between them. Had Talin not seen that man behind him, they'd both be dead.
Dimitri couldn't imagine Talin dead. The thought alone had him shaking.
"Are we good?" Dimitri asked when they reached the house.
Talin was handsome in the moonlight: sad and handsome. When Talin met his gaze, brown eyes filled with shadows, Dimitri held his breath.
"Yeah," Talin said.
Dimitri let out a relieved sigh.
Dimitri's bedroom was unexpected. It was on the second floor with a back view of the property. There was no clutter, Talin noted. A large bed in the middle of the room dominated the space with wine-red covers. There was a mahogany chest of drawers against the opposite wall, and an inbuilt closet right beside them. The closet doors were closed, but Talin imagined Dimitri's clothes hang in there in neat military order. There was an armchair set right by the wide windows.
Dimitri walked into the bedroom carrying an extra towel. He closed and locked the door, then stood watching him for a moment.
"You can use the shower first," Dimitri said pointing to a door to his left.
Talin unzipped his jacket, careful to hold the files in place. Dimitri placed the towel on the bed and came to take the files from him.
"You need to get rid of these," Talin said removing his jacket. "It's not safe to keep them."
"Will you read them first?"
Talin nodded taking his jacket to the armchair.
"We'll burn them after," Dimitri said, touching his left shoulder with a wince.
Talin closed the distance between them. Lifting Dimitri's shirt to see Dimitri's left shoulder. He frowned when he saw blood coming from a long scratch.
"You got hurt." Talin met blue eyes. "Why didn't you say anything?"
"There was no time."
Talin took Dimitri's hand and led the way to the bathroom.
"Talin," Dimitri stopped at the door into the bathroom.
Talin met his gaze.
Dimitri couldn't help the sigh when Talin caressed Dimitri's jaw with his free hand. The soft touch sent crazy waves of need through Dimitri. He'd waited so long, worried so much about how Talin would take his reality. The relief of having it out in the open almost made him think he was in a dream.
Talin kissed his left jaw.
"I know, Dimitri. It's okay."
Dimitri allowed Talin to lead him into the bright bathroom.
Talin undid the buttons on Dimitri's shirt. Dimitri smiled sinking his fingers into Talin's hair, sifting through the soft strands. He leaned closer to bury his nose into the soft hair.
Talin pushed the edges of his shirt apart, running hands over Dimitri's chest.
Dimitri closed his eyes and pressed a kiss on Talin's shoulder as he helped Talin remove his shirt.
Talin hissed when he saw the cut on Dimitri's shoulder.
"This looks painful."
"A scratch," Dimitri murmured, against Talin's ear.
Talin pressed his finger on the cut, and Dimitri yelped.
"A scratch, my ass," Talin said, stepping back from him. "Where's the first aid kit?"
"You're mean." Dimitri scowled inspecting the cut on his left shoulder.
He'd struggled with one of their assailants on the upper deck. The bastard had pulled out a knife almost sinking it into his chest. The cut wasn't too deep, but it stung.
"Back left," he told Talin who'd opened the cupboards under the sink.
Talin got the first aid kit and placed it on the sink counter.
"Come closer, Dimitri."
"Baby, are you coming on to me?"
"You wish," Talin said, turning to face him.
Dimitri left no space between them. He closed his eyes, biting his lip when Talin pressed a wet cotton pad on the cut on his shoulder. The sting of antiseptic almost brought tears. He opened his eyes to find Talin working diligently, carefully dubbing blood away, and cleaning the cut like a professional.
"Are you going to kiss it better?" he asked when Talin dropped the dirty cotton pad on the counter.
"Do you want me to?" Talin asked meeting his gaze.
Dimitri bent his knees slightly and wrapped his arms around Talin's waist. He lifted him up and placed him on the sink counter. Talin shifted, opening his legs making space for him.
"I want more than kisses," Dimitri said his gaze on Talin's lips.
"Me too," Talin said.
Dimitri didn't need a second invitation. He sunk his fingers into Talin's hair and covered Talin's lips with his. The kiss ignited, with Talin wrapping his arms around his shoulders, holding him close.
Talin opened his mouth, allowing Dimitri's tongue into white-hot heat. His breath hitched when Talin stroked his tongue with his. Dimitri dropped his hands to Talin's t-shirt, wanting to feel Talin's skin. He broke their kiss to tug it off. Talin raised his arms above his head to help, and that's when Dimitri saw the tattoo.
Through the bathroom mirror, Dimitri stared at the most amazing tattoo of a dark angel he'd ever seen. Wide dark elegant wings, long dark hair, face down so Dimitri couldn't see the angel's face perhaps that was the point. The elegant silhouette of the man angel, fallen on his knees, with one single blood-red tear falling to the ground.
The picture of sadness, the angel surrounded by despair...or pain, Dimitri thought.
Dimitri touched the red tear, and Talin leaned into him.
Talin pressed a kiss on Dimitri's neck and whispered.
"Show me it's okay to live again, Dimitri."
Talin says - 'So, Gabriel's on my back, and he's crying.'
Dimitri says - 'I want to be on your back, with a wide smile.'
Sui says - 'Both of you are too weird for my taste....walking away....oh, I can't you're in my head.'
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