Perhaps Yuri had been right in saying that he had been in the zone too long. He had become a part of the vory v zarkone, or maybe the vory v zarkone had become a part of him. It didn't make any difference though because he was no longer sure who he was anymore. The line of distinction had blurred long ago and was now all but erased. Even months ago when he sat with his handler on the hospital roof, Yuri knew that his agent was in too deep. It was too late, the stars were on – permanently etched into his chest and knees – and he was through the door. The deep slashes on his body confirmed it. And Yuri had asked whom he had killed.
He could still recall how he felt when he got the first tattoos and how they disturbed him; an undeniable sign of what was to come. It used to bother him to look into mirrors. Though when he realized that the reflection was no longer his own he should have asked to have been taken off of this assignment. All he saw now was a flicker of Mikhail, his old self, staring back at him. That man was almost gone. Nikolai was supposed to have become a part of him, yet somewhere along the way he had become Nikolai Luzhin.
What made him refuse to tell her, when he desperately wanted to reveal everything? Anna, who saw the qualities he was all but shorn of. She should have stayed away like he had told her to, but her strong sense of justice kept urging her to see the situation through. But really, was he any different? He could look into her eyes and always find her staring back through him, trusting him on instinct alone. Everything she wanted to know and everything he wanted to tell her, only a whisper away.
It wasn't even about protecting himself – it was about protecting her. Being what he was and being with her could never exist side by side without disaster between them. Like so much else in his life he could not be with Anna part-way, it was completely or not at all. He would not even allow himself to use the word 'love' in connection with her, though it was untainted, unadorned love that motivated him to keep this aching secret. It was because of love that she would be safe from truly knowing who he was. Even if it meant never seeing her again.
The beads kept going around in his hand, each snap pulling back memories of Anna and reminding him what he was giving up, and what he had already sacrificed. Sliding the beads across his palm, he could almost feel her soft hand under his fingertips. He remembered her wet hair as it hung over her face when she couldn't get her motorcycle to start that night. He saw the way she looked at him when she found him waiting outside of the hospital. He could almost hear her voice, nearly feel the soft caress of her lips. The worry beads fell silent.
There wasn't anything he wouldn't give just to touch her one last time. But he didn't have anything left to give. Yuri already knew that he had only killed himself. Mikhail couldn't breathe; that pain in his chest under the cross cutting in deeper than those knives ever had. No amount of vodka could wash it away. Silently saying what he could scarcely dream of uttering, he prayed that somehow Anna would hear him and forgive him. His head lowered slightly and his eyes flickered as he struggled to compose himself.
Placing the beads into his suit pocket, he straightened his posture and poured himself one last shot of vodka. He let the alcohol slide down in one swift movement and paused a moment to allow it to settle within. Neatly pressing his kerchief to his mouth, Nikolai stood and slowly walked into the depths of the Trans-Siberian, his figure dissolving into the dark.
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