Two Russians and an Englishman Walk into a Bar


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Scene Title Two Russians and an Englishman Walk into a Bar
Synopsis On the eve of the prestigious Yamagata gala, Sasha makes a confession to Tania and Logan.
Date April 7, 2018

Yamagato Park

The bar isn't crowded, not in this part of town. Tables are set far enough apart that a party could pretend there aren't any others here to eclipse their night. Tania's picked one with tall stools and a table to match, mostly because she's not ready to put wrinkles in her dress just yet. The event hasn't even started, not for them anyway. So she opts to lean against the table, a martini glass in hand. It holds a red concoction in it, with a slice of strawberry perched on a sugared rim. Given all the givens, this drink is likely far too expensive for what it is, but it stands in pleasant contrast to her black dress and the pale skin showing on one bare shoulder. The gown itself has long stripes of matte and satin fabrics, with decorative beading swirling around the bottom and up the single sleeve. So maybe she can be forgiven for not wanting to sit.

Sasha is very forgiving, these days.

Not that Tania would need to worry, even if he wasn’t; it’s not even six o’clock yet and her brother is already drunk. In contrast to her elegant glass and sugared rim, he swirls vodka cut with ice in a squatter vessel. This is his fourth drink that she and Logan know of. It should also be his last if either of them want him to make it to the event in a relatively straight line.

His clothes are a little too tight for his muscular frame, and Tania recognizes that they’re nothing he would have picked out for himself: a dark red suit bordering on merlot, black lapels, and a crisp white dress shirt that pairs handsomely with a silk bow tie knotted under his chin. It’s a fair assumption that the Englishman seated to his right is the culprit.

“Hot,” he’s muttering under his breath as he tugs at the tie in an absent attempt to loosen it. “Why so hot in this place.”

"Because it's cold out there," is definitely grousing, from Logan, who had next to a nervous breakdown about trying to dress for a spring event while the temperature remained in the low 40s throughout the week. What he's landed on makes it clear that even if Sasha did not appreciate dressing in a colour, Logan had made a concerted effort to dress him in something he wouldn't loathe. For himself, Logan has selected a Louis Vuitton tuxedo blazer, a riot of paisley floral over Egyptian blue and all with a metallic sheen. Tuxedo pants, shirt, and bow tie are all in black, offering a little reprieve, and a lapel chain glimmers silver, to match the loop of a fashion ring that he taps against the side of his glass.

In front of him is an Old Fashioned, scents of brandy and citrus. "And stop fussing." With the tie, he means, which he will inevitably look to Tania to fix for him by the time they've left. "Otherwise I'll have you walk out of here as sober as— when you woke up." The slight hitch in that sentence connotes a little hesitation about how sure Logan is that Sasha indeed woke up sober today.

Tania glances over at the pair of them, an indulgent smile coming to her face. She's quick to shift it along to amused, since she doesn't think either of them would like to be reminded that they haven't changed a bit since she was fifteen. At least not toward each other. "Not to mention the vodka," she points out, finger uncurling from her glass to gesture at Sasha's. "That certainly helps." Or maybe hurts. Depending on the angle. She sips from her drink, eyebrow lifting in Logan's direction. Because, really, there's no guarantee that there has been any real sobriety.

"How difficult was it to get him to agree to put that on?" she asks Logan, managing to keep a straight face, although the question is unquestionably a tease at her brother's general discomfort. And for the fact that he looks respectable. For the moment, anyway.

“You are talking about me like I am not here,” grumps Sasha. “I am right here.” He wipes some of the sweat beading on his brow with his sleeve, then looks down at the cuff with a muted look of horror. His hand seeks out a cocktail napkin but is unable to find one, so he dunks the whole thing in his vodka instead.

You can spray vodka on clothes to freshen them. His mother told him, once.

This done, he puts his now ice-and-vodka soaked wrist back on his forehead in the hope that it will cool him down. And it does, sort of. He blows out a juddery, uneasy breath through his nose and squint his eyes shut. “So hot,” he says again. “Not fussing. Stating facts.”

Logan watches this behaviour through a tolerant slanted side-eye, rotating the drink in front of him in lazy, idle fidget, nails trim and clean. "Fear of the alternatives," he says, to Tania, and then takes a long draw from his own drink, wincing more at chill from the ice against his teeth than the strong brandy that makes up half of the liquid volume. "At least your sister knows how to rise to the occasion," and he tips a gesture to her cocktail, "you look like you're about to stand in front of a firing line."

And god knows they've been there, done that.

"For three hundred quid a ticket, we're going to enjoy ourselves." And with that, he takes something out from an inner pocket, and dangles it from a finger — a silver bullet, in appearance, but light, affixed to a keychain. "For emergencies," he clarifies. "We're going to struggle getting you through the door as it is."

Although Tania laughs (just a bit) at the reply, because one look at Logan's choice and anyone can imagine what Sasha's alternatives might have been, her brother gets a more apologetic look a moment later. But unlike Logan's tolerance, Tania watches sleeve meet drink with a sort of hopelessness about her. Exaggerated for effect. "John," she says, almost as if she's pleading with him as she gestures toward Sasha. This, too, is exaggerated.

Tania lifts her glass, because she is quite proud of her ability to rise to these occasions even if she covers it with a more playful sort of expression. "Sasha. It'll be fun. I promise. We'll drink and dance and maybe lose a glass slipper on the way out." There's a moment when Tania debates mentioning Marlowe, but ultimately decides against it. Her fledgling friendship can be tested with her brother later, perhaps. Eventually, anyway. And Logan manages to distract her from that train of thought, the hint of a crooked smile tugging at her lips. "I thought you were our fall back plan for making sure he can get in the door."

Sasha considers making a lazy grab for Logan’s magic bullet and even has his arm stretched halfway across the distance between them before he changes direction and clumsily goes fishing in his suit jacket’s interior pocket instead. “Still I am here,” he reminds them. “Two person pronouns only, please.” He means second person pronouns, but at least he’s making a stronger effort with his English tonight.

“Not for very long, maybe,” he adds like it’s an afterthought, and though he’s trying to keep his tone casual — almost light — there’s something rougher and more urgent beneath it. It’s the same something that’s compelled him to drink a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time, and it doesn’t sound like it has anything to do with his nerves regarding Julie Fournier, who they’re due to meet in another forty-five minutes.

Whatever he’s looking for in his pocket, however, his fingers feel too thick to find. An aggravated cough hiccups at the back of his throat.

Logan, who would like to point out on a narrative level that he has definitely addressed Sasha directly like twice at least, automatically plays keep away with his hand wandering out of the potential grab he predicts coming. He palms the item securely, disappearing it back into his pocket, and he really only has time to tip a wink to Tania before the rest of what Sasha says clicks into place like a puzzle piece.

He immediately frowns, attention focused in on the man sharing a table with sudden, piercing study. "I thought you were going a little hard," he says. Still coasting off his determination for a good time, his tone is more baffled than likewise urgent, and perhaps a little accusatory, when he asks, "What the fuck is that supposed to mean?"

Upon being reminded that Sasha is here again, Tania opts not to explain that it would be very strange to address both of them as 'you' in the same sentence and instead, accepts the rebuke with a sigh. And she drinks. But while he fumbles with his jacket, she sets her glass down and circles the table to use her much thinner fingers to look for whatever it is he's after. Hopefully whatever it is, it won't bite. She looks over to catch Logan's wink, which gets a smile. Short-lived, but hard to miss.

However. The puzzle pieces click for Logan, but not for her and she looks up at Sasha with some confusion.

"Sasha," she says, pointedly maybe, "you aren't going to skip this party, are you?" And what's worse, she sounds genuinely disappointed at the prospect. "We're supposed to go and have a good time." She looks over to Logan, about to ask him a question, but at the last moment, she directs it to Sasha instead. "Why are you drinking so much before we even get there?"

Sasha’s hand emerges from the inside of his coat with a newspaper clipping pinched between thumb and forefinger. Snuffling, he sets about unfolding it and smoothing the creases from the worn paper, which has been in his possession long enough for it to have gone a little soft, but not so long that the ink has begun to transfer or bleed. He places it down on the table beside his drink and irons it under the heel of his hand.

“Ghosts,” he states, and at least he isn’t slurring. There’s still time to turn this around. When the bartender gestures to ask if he’d like another, Sasha makes an abrupt chopping motion with his free hand so his glass is refilled with water instead. “I will show you this and I will tell you something. I will tell you something only few people know about these men who were my friends.”

It’s a picture that accompanied an article that ran in the New York Times several days ago. It depicts two figures flanking the dark shadow of a helicopter, only partially in focus. One of them has tattoos. The other, a dark swoop of hair and a proud, aquiline profile.

He points to the first. “This, Butcher of Mandritsara.” Then the second. “This, Thor.

Sasha takes a swig of fresh water from his glass. There’s still some ice gathered in his mouth that he has to talk around when he finishes with, “They are both dead.”

Not so inclined to read the news — from that side of the country in particular, all the headlines read very samey to him — Logan doesn't recognise the photograph or its context, squinting at the blurry image, the low quality of the ink dotted on the low quality paper. It takes Sasha's explanation to stir anything out of him besides confusion, and when he does react, it's with a sort of

disbelieving intrigue in the angle of his look back at him.

"Friends," he repeats. "From when you were Skoll."

Tania looks at the picture, her fingers coming to rest on the edge of the paper. "I saw this. About the ambush on the Yamagato people out west," she says, serious now. Like someone flipped a switch. She looks from the paper up to Sasha. "The shooting," she starts, her voice dropping to a whisper, "here. At the markets at the bay. The man who was shot, he said he knew something about what was going on the Dead Zone there. Something he wanted to tell SESA." Obviously, he never got the chance to do that. She glances between the two of them for a moment. A more serious internal debate happening this time.

"He had a gun on him. Military. He didn't look military. His hair was blue and he— well, he wasn't military. I hid it in our mother's bee enclosure," she says, as if reluctant to give up this particular hiding place. Or maybe she's worried someone will overhear that shouldn't. She looks back to the picture again; she wasn't worried about the blurry quality when she read the article, but now she wishes the photographer had taken better care.

"What do we do?"

“Drink.” Or at least that has been Sasha’s go-to thus far. He crunches on the ice in his mouth, grinding it down into smaller pieces that he can either swallow melt on his tongue. “Volken finds you, always. Always Volken finds you, so no hiding. Only waiting.”

The bartender has taken pity on the inebriated Russian and brought him a napkin at some point that Sasha won’t be able to remember tomorrow, not because he’s drunk — but because he’s distracted. He mutters a thick thank you in his native tongue and resumes soaking the sweat from her forehead and the clammy palms of his large hands, which have begun to grow fair patches of hair on their knuckles now that their owner is creeping closer to his forties.

“Johnny, it is like you say sometimes. To be fair,” which sounds incredibly alien coming from Sasha, “I never did not fight for him. I was Vanguard until there was no more. Apollo finished, Vanguard finished. Then I stop. The end.”

The hand that rests high on Sasha's back looks companionable, sympathetic, and that Logan ensures the edge of one digit lands past the Russian's damp shirt collar to find skin contact is most certainly deliberate. Rather than slam him into sobriety, he only nudges the man towards equilibrium slowly, and when he stops, he will stop short. Taking the edge off unbearably drunk into something more manageable, he otherwise leaves his serotonin alone rather than try to manipulate the man's mood.

In his skull, his eyes are a dim glow. "So some opportunistic fucks you thought were dead are making a mess of things 3000 miles from here, probably on a salary. That doesn't mean anything, does it?"

Does it? is a query he directs equally to Tania. "There's all sorts of shit happening in the Dead Zone. God knows why, anymore, or what anyone thinks SESA's going to do about it."

This answer is not a satisfactory one, not to Tania. She looks from Sasha to Logan, then back down to the picture again. "You're not Vanguard now," she says, as if this should make some sort of difference to the dead men in the picture. And to Sasha. She sighs, but it's almost imperceivable, but for the slump in her shoulders. "I don't know what he thought SESA would do about it, except protect him in exchange for information." Which did not work out for him.

Tania looks up at Logan again, with a quick glance to Sasha. The urge to hide things from him, to make the world seem a nicer place, is present, but ultimately dismissed. It was done to her and she doesn't think she was the better for it. "That man got shot. By a sniper. Not three thousand miles from here." She doesn't say that he got his brain shot clean out of his head, which is a bit like making it seem nicer than it was, except that Sasha knows what happens to someone when they're shot by a sniper.

On more than one occasion, Sasha has even been the person on the other end of the scope. He’s vaguely aware of what Logan is doing and even allows it with the same mute patience as a large dog enduring a flea bath. Edges become sharper, his senses coming back into focus. The bar around them no longer sounds like he’s struggling to hear ambient noise through a wall, or a long, dark tunnel with no end.

He finds that he has an easier time navigating his hands, too, and discards the crumpled napkin on the tabletop. “This was quick,” he says. “Bang. One shot to head, best way to go because you never know. You do not see, or you do not feel.” Sasha slugs down another mouthful of water to expedite Logan’s work. “I am afraid they will come to look for Skoll, see. Ask me for things I cannot to give.”

Sasha drinks water; Logan finishes off his own drink, the sound of ice clicking against glass and spilling to the bottom once he sets it back down. Contact ceases, and he folds his arms back in against the table edge, looking — still — a little doubtful as to Tania's story. Not that it happened, but for what it means. Perhaps a stubborn refusal to the tectonic shifts of fate and past histories coming together, making rumbles.

Reassurances occur to him, but they sound whiney, baseless, missing too much information to be hammered in properly. He looks down at the photograph again, and then lays a fingertip on the smaller figure that Sasha skipped over. "Who's that?"

Tania can't deny that it was quick, but she also leaves out that it was gruesome and traumatized a street full of people. These are all givens. "They're supposed to be dead. Maybe they don't know whether Skoll is, too. They must have missed a few things, if they were staying hidden." To stay dead. She reaches for her drink, aiming to dip deeper into drunkenness, even as her brother is lifted toward the surface. She doesn't believe her own reassurances.

Logan draws her attention back to the picture, a look out of the corner of her eye to consider this third figure. Whoever it is, they're too out of focus for her to make out much, but she looks back to Sasha anyway, as if he might be able to tell despite the image quality. But another matter occurs to her, a frown coming to her face before she manages to voice it.

"Why now?"

Because they’re living some semblance of a normal life.

Because the universe hates them.

Because there’s no rhyme or reason to anything, and why not now?

Sasha could go on. He’s quite that articulate, though, and offers a guttural, “Fuck those ghosts,” instead. He straightens and glances over at his reflection in the mirror hung above the bar. Both his hands drag through his hair, using a mixture of meltwater and sweat to style it into something vaguely fashionable. If he had an Instagram account (he doesn’t, and Logan please do everyone else a favour and do not sign him up for one), the appropriate hashtag would be #WokeUpLikeThis.

Or maybe #WakingUpThisWay, knowing Sasha.

He adjusts his silky black lapels while he’s there and scratches fingernails at the reddish brown scruff that’s accumulated on his chin and jaw over the past few months. “Better,” he decides.

"Yeah?" That's cynical, out of Logan, for better. He exchanges a look Tania's way — a little baffled in what he expects to be a mutual sort of fashion — when the man they're fretting over goes about dismissing the topic at hand. Fuck those ghosts, indeed.

He picks up the photograph, folding it down the line that Sasha had already bisected through the image, and offers it back to the other man. "Game plan, then," he says. "We go to this little shindig, get very fucked up, crash into the better of the afterparties that'll be on when everyone gets bored of Yamagato Industries showing off all the colours they can do, probably get kicked out of actual Yamagato Park eventually— and then tomorrow, we figure out what needs an exorcism for your ghosts."

He has people he can talk to about what the fuck is going on. While Hana is one of them, in theory, he will probably sooner explore some more sideways channels before he has to exploit that connection.

That expectation does not go unfulfilled. Tania looks over at Logan, brow furrowed. Baffled. But she's not going to insist that he should be worried. Not tonight, anyway. The way she looks over at Logan, she seems to think the two of them are going to be the ones doing something about it, rather than Sasha.

It probably isn't a comfort to John Logan, the way Tania seems to have grown into the same protective impulse when it comes to Sasha that he always had for her.

Tania looks back to Sasha, though, her smile returning when he tries to fix himself up. She sets her drink down and reaches over to fix his tie. Then they'll see about better. "Sounds like a good plan to me," she says with a nod for Logan. "If you two get kicked out, though, Julie and I are going to pretend not to know you." That's just a tease, given the way her smile tilts as she looks between the two of them. "One more round," she says once she has the tie back in place, "then we'll be ready for this party." She also adjusts his lapels before she steps back and picks up her glass. To finish her drink before she calls for anymore.

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